The Trouble with Christian Bumper Stickers

1. All they do is identify car’s owner, and they do that poorly: “I’m an ineffective communicator trying to get a message across without actually relating to anyone!” or “I’m a member of the Christian Country Club!”

2. Bumper stickers are a violation of the great commission: we substitute “I’m a Christian” instead of “The Kingdom of God is among you!” We don’t preach the gospel; all we do is show a sticker on our car, and we generally stop there.

3. It replaces dialog with our culture or government with a vinyl proclamation of “I’m better than you, and here’s why!” No wonder the world doesn't like us!
4. They’re excuses: instead of living a Christ-filled life, we slap a sticker on our car. We substitute appearance for a life of obedience.

5. Many bumper stickers are written in in “Christianese”: Christian culture vocabulary – which the world doesn’t understand. Why would we want to parade our irrelevancy on our car?

6. Many of them are a false witnesses. The State Patrol in my area talk about “Flying Fish”: cars with fish stickers who drive like hell. Rude drivers with Jesus stickers are only giving evidence for the assumed hypocrisy of the church. If you can’t live up to the standard, don’t put the sticker on the car!

7. They’re an exercise in futility: Who ever heard of someone’s life – anyone’s life – being changed for the better by a bumper sticker, regardless of how witty it is?


Make Disciples, not Converts

The last great commandment that Jesus gave us before he left us to continue the work is the one we call the Great Commission. Matthew is most succinct about it:

Matthew 28:18: And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In the English translation, there are four verbs in this command: go, make disciples, baptize and teach. So we teach our people to support missions, we make doctrines about baptisms and we expect the pastors to do the teaching.

I think we’ve misunderstood the heart of what Jesus was talking.

You probably know, the Bible (including this command) wasn’t written in English. It was written in Greek. In the original Greek text, there is a single command: Make disciples.

The rest of the verbs are actually participles; they discuss how to make disciples:

· Make disciples by going.

· Make disciples by baptizing.

· Make disciples by teaching.

So there is a single command: “Make disciples.” By the way, the command is not: “Make converts.” Jesus is not commanding us to count the number of hands raised at an altar call or to finish meetings with the famous line, “With every eye closed….”

For the record, He’s also not commanding us to make “church members,” “fellow believers”, or “saints” or “new converts classes.”

He’s telling us to make disciples.

The question arises: what is a disciple. Jesus never defines the word, but He models it:

Matthew 10:25: “It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.”

Luke 6:40: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.”

Paul expounded on it a little more.

1 Corinthians 11: 1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.

2 Timothy 2: 2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

For the sake of completeness, Vine’s Bible Dictionary says that the Greek word (which is mafetew for those who need to know) says “A ‘disciple’ was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher

So here’s the assignment: clone yourself. Whatever you have, give it away. (Don’t worry about the things you don’t have: you don’t have to give that away. Yet.) As you follow Jesus, lead by example. The Book describes it this way:

1 Thessalonians 2:8: We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

One of my pet peeves is that the Church has been taught for so many years that we’re sinners, we’re bad people, and it’s only by the grace of God that we’re not like those tax collectors and harlots of the world. “Oh, I couldn’t do that. I’m not good enough!”

Bosh! The Book says we’re saints, even priests! Everyone running the race has someone ahead of them that they can learn from, and someone behind us that we can help. Let’s find those people.

Our whole purpose, from the very beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, has been to “Go forth and multiply!” That means “make disciples”, not “make converts.”

So it’s not all about keeping the midwives busy with new babies. Sometimes it’s about making spiritual babies into spiritual leaders. There are different levels of maturity, and our job is to help each other – those ahead of us, those beside us and those behind us – to keep moving forward towards maturity.

I have three suggestions for walking this out:

1) Make a conscious choice to become an influencer of people. If you see yourself as a sheep, you’ll never see the opportunities. If you see yourself as a shepherd, suddenly, you’ll see sheep everywhere. Be ready to be a disciple-maker.

2) When you have opportunity, leak. Let the character, the values, the actions of heaven show. Don’t ever be pushy, don’t try to make a program out of it, but look for opportunities. I was surprised recently to discover an opportunity to speak into the life of a successful sales rep who was concerned about the fact that his territory included Las Vegas. I had the chance to speak into him, and we prayed together on the crowded sales floor.

3) If you’re not in a in discipling relationships, it’s time to change that. It’s time to make sure that we are a disciple before we become a disciple-maker. I guess it’s kinda hard to give away what we don’t have.

But let’s make disciples!


The Gospel Has Two Wings

I have an interesting family. My immediate family consists of two adults, a flock of energetic kids, a dog, a cat an a handful of birds. One of the birds, whose name this week is Chiquita, has recently taken for herself the position as head of the household; she has learned how to work the lock on her cage, and she gets herself out and flies around the room from time to time. I figure it’s good exercise for her wings, not to mention her heart.

We’ll come back to her shortly.

My extended family gets together often, to celebrate whatever is handiest for celebration, and it’s not infrequently that we have fifteen or twenty people gathered in my parents’ house, and when we gather, the house if filled with laughter and energy.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot of talk. Most of it is about family things or community things, or peoples’ lives, and it’s an expression of care for each other. We tend to steer away from the three social unmentionables: politics, religion and sex. I appreciate avoiding the latter conversation, but I am intrigued by the former two. We have a huge spectrum politically in our family, and a fair breadth religiously as well.

One brother-in-law has a position working for a liberal politician in a liberal community, and he seems to have political and religious beliefs to match. The other one gives the impression of being a right-wing republican and religious fundamentalist. My problem is that both are brilliant men, better thinkers than myself, and both are gentle and well-spoken – well, most of the time.

When I listen to my conservative brother, I hear opinions like “Why are we surprised that so much is going wrong with our schools when we’ve banned prayer, banned any discussion of God or of right and wrong and encouraged kids to do whatever they feel is right”, and I understand his point: there is an absolute right and wrong, and his name is Jesus, and when we lose sight of him, we lose direction in our culture.

Then my liberal brother opines about how morally evil our culture is because of the inherent disrespect for the poor and weak among us, and I remember how God values the poor, and I understand his point: a religion or a politics that ignores the poor cannot be morally upright no matter how many bible verses they quote.

An over-simplification would say this:

1) The liberal church says, “You can’t love God if you don’t care for the less advantaged folks.” It’s about mercy. For example, the abortion issue is about people who are victims, people who are in a bad way and need some help getting out of it.

2) The conservative church says, “You can’t love God if you don’t live right in relationship to God.” It’s about right and wrong. From this perspective, the abortion issue is about taking responsibility for your actions, and about killing babies is not a good solution.

Neither quotes James, but they could: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

I don’t really like conflict or relational tension, and I see a fair bit of it when our family has these conversations, but I can’t get rid of this feeling that they’re important dialogs. If I take the traditional conservative position, then I need to either dismiss my liberal family members as irrelevant or uneducated – and they are manifestly neither – or I must admit a flaw in my position and in the logic that I use to defend it. The same is true if I hold to the traditional liberal position: there are some good-looking truths on the other side of the aisle, and I need to either abandon my traditional liberal position to embrace them, or I need to dismiss both those truths and the godly men and women who hold them as religious kooks. That doesn’t work for me.

James seems to have it right: there are two halves to pure and undefiled religion:

1. Helping widows and orphans (having a heart of mercy for disadvantaged folks), and

2. Keeping myself unspotted from the world (making right choices and living in right relationship with God).

I know a bunch of churches that preach the necessity of being right with God. If you were to press them, they’d acknowledge the need for mercy to the poor, but in reality, far more of their church budget (and their sermon content) is invested in “right wing” values: evangelism, moral choices, particular moral evils in our society. And I know several churches who are so invested in the homeless, in the rights of women, or of social outcasts, or of the victim-of-the-week that they seem to overlook the necessity for salvation by faith, or the reality of eternal judgment.

This is where I come back to Chiquita, our little escape artist. It seemed to me that God brought her to my mind as I was thinking about these things. When she makes her escape from the cage, she spends the next several minutes working hard to break the sound barrier flying around our living room, flapping furiously to keep out of our reach if we try to put her back where she belongs.

I felt that God was saying that His church has two wings. We tend to emphasize one wing or the other: So many of the left-winged among us have declared forcefully that if we don’t love the poor, we can’t love God, and they’re right. And the right-winged among us have emphasized that if we don’t live according to God’s standard of right and wrong then our love for the poor is empty works, and they’re right, too.

Just like Chiquita can’t fly furiously around the room with only her left wing or her right wing; she needs both wings to fly. With just one, she’d flap furiously in little circles, and those watching would either laugh or weep.

We, the church, have been stupid. (This is my blog, remember, and my opinion!) Most of us, and most of our churches, have focused on one wing or the other, and we’ve so completely missed a good portion of what’s on God’s heart. Why do you think it is that the groups with the most of God's power (as in healings, signs and wonders) are the groups with both wings in action? If we stay in a “one wing dominant” position, we too will flap around in little circles, while hell laughs and heaven weeps.

So what do we do? My recommendation is this: figure out which wing you identify with (that shouldn’t be very hard, really). Don’t abandon it, but make plans to add the strengths of the other wing into your life and ministry. If we're part of a bible-believing, then we need to get involved personally with feeding the poor or helping the homeless, or something similar. If we're part of a socially-conscious gathering, then we need to add a focus on the gospel in evangelism or missions, or the like.

Come on, folks. We need both wings to fly.


The Work of Giving Birth

There are a lot of promises in the Kingdom that still need to be birthed.

Just sitting and waiting for them isn’t enough to make them come. I can sit and wait forever, and some things just won’t come to pass.

Maybe you know that you’re going to have children, you’re going to be a parent someday. That’s not enough to make it happen. Knowing something will happen does not make it happen.

If you want to give birth, first you need to become intimate. I understand that you can’t get pregnant without getting intimate: just doesn’t happen that way. You will be a parent of that child; the one you become intimate with is the other parent. That’s just the way it is: no intimacy – no pregnancy. No love – no sons and daughters.

Then you need to make preparations in your life for the change that’s not yet come: pregnant women live somewhat as if they already have a baby: they decorate the room, buy furniture and clothes and those silly little dangly toys that hang over the crib. They have baby-parties (which they call “showers”) and they celebrate the child that is coming. Some activities need to be given up altogether: if she doesn’t stop bungee jumping or scuba diving, she may unintentionally kill her child.

Obstetricians don’t need to advertise their services. It seems that expectant women possess an almost a genetic urge to place themselves in the hands of a medical doctor: “What do I do? How do I get ready? How do I protect this little one inside?” They take large pills and vitamins specifically designed for expectant mothers.

Being pregnant appears to be terribly uncomfortable; it’s awkward, inconvenient. Her body changes and things work completely differently. The digestive system changes; the bowels stop working right, the bladder shrinks to a fraction of its former size. Various portions of anatomy change size or dimension. Her chemistry changes and therefore moods change. She want to eat pickles. Right now. It’s really weird living with a pregnant woman!

Everybody can see that she’s pregnant: her belly eventually precedes her wherever she goes, and her gait is unique to the pregnant. Other women get weird around pregnant ladies, and it seems impossible to speak to them without rubbing their tummy.

Eventually it comes time for the child to be born, but even that requires pretty aggressive, assertive action. The doctor commands, “PUSH!” and she pours every fiber of her being into pushing, even though the urge to push was incomprehensible until the transition is upon her. But when that time comes, her whole person is focused on the birthing of the baby. If she cannot or will not push, the child is not born correctly, and the insurance company is displeased because the alternative is expensive.

We have some promises that we’re looking forward to. Like children. But having the promise isn’t enough. Having a prophetic word isn’t enough. The prophetic word gives us a target to aim for, it promises that if we work that direction we will be successful, but most of the time (there are exceptions), the prophetic declaration does not make the thing happen. That part is up to us.

If we want to give birth to the promise, first we must get intimate with the one who can inseminate us with promise. We must come to His private chambers and uncover ourselves. We must draw near with love and let Him plant the dream in our uncovered heart.

Then we need to make preparations in our lives for the changes that are not there yet: we must live in some measure as if the thing which was promised was already here. We need to make room for it. Has God promised you a teaching ministry? Then you’d better spend hours in the Word. Has God promised you riches? Then you must learn responsibility and restraint. Has God promised you a mate? Then you must make room in your house, your budget, your personality for him or her. There are some activities and more attitudes that must be eliminated altogether; if we don’t, we may unintentionally kill the promise.

Being pregnant with promise is as terribly uncomfortable, awkward, inconvenient as physical pregnancy. Things work completely differently. You’re in the “Now but not yet” place that makes no sense. My relationship with God is different: He sees the promise fulfilled yet, even though I can’t see that fulfillment to save my life.

My relationship with my church family is different: some of them can see the bulging promise, and some cannot. We can’t see the promises ourselves sometimes. Those that can see it can’t help but speak to it, rubbing our belly as it were; those that can’t see it don’t understand why we’re acting the way we are; they complain and whine about the changes we are making in favor of the promise.

Eventually it comes time for the promise to be born, but even then, aggressive faith is required. There’s a “push” that is needed, and often, we don’t understand it until it’s time. But if we don’t push, the promise may be stillborn.

Babies and promises are alike in that they don’t happen without a whole lot of participation on our part.

There are many among us that are pregnant with promise in these days. Some are aware, are under the care of a “doctor” in the form of a mentor, and as a result, many are moving well towards their goals and dreams. Others have no doctor caring for them, but the Father of their pregnancy is counseling them wisely, and their birth is approaching well; there are no complications.

Yet there are some who sit around watching TV and wonder at what’s happening to them. Some keep bungee-jumping or deep-sea diving, and reject the counsel of those older and wiser around them, and they wonder that the birth of their dreams is not proceeding well. They make no room in their lives for the promise, and they wonder that the promise does not come in the way they expect it, in the time they expect.

Do you have a promise that has not been fulfilled? Have you submitted yourself to the care of a mentor, to the care of the Father, or are you still living as you did before you received the promise? Are you making room for the promise, making preparations to birth?