“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith….” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
I love to write, and in the twenty-eight years since I became a disciple of Jesus Christ, I have written many things: sermons, bible lessons, stories, skits, newspaper articles (since 2006) and even one poem and one book.
The best thing I ever wrote may have been, of all things, a bumper sticker. To my regret, I never actually had anyone make a batch of those bumper stickers, but I did make it the theme of one of my first articles for the Kingsport Times-News. And thirteen years later, I would like to share those thoughts again because I believe they provide the focus our Christian community needs in these troubled times.
We live in an age of bumper stickers, flash ads and text messaging: one-liners and catchy slogans that compensate for shortening attention spans. They are effective, much as mottos in my past like “Be prepared” (Boy Scouts) and “Semper fidelis” (U.S. Marines). It is helpful to have a phrase that is easy to remember and yet captures the essence of what you wish to communicate.
For that reason, I propose a bumper sticker for Christian discipleship: “Be with Jesus. Be like Jesus. Be for Jesus.”
To “Be with Jesus” recognizes His promise that He is with us always. (Matthew 28:20) Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus abides in us. (John 14:23) We can walk through life with Him just like Enoch walked (Genesis 5:22; Micah 6:8) It is the daily intimate relationship with Jesus that caused Paul to cry out with joy: “Christ lives in me!” (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:25-27)
To “Be like Jesus” is to recognize God’s plan to restore the image of God in us that has been broken by sin. We can’t change ourselves, but the Spirit of God will transform us into the likeness of Jesus one step at a time, “from glory to glory”. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) The fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 are the character of Christ being formed in us – what David called a clean heart and a steadfast spirit. (Psalm 51:10)
To “Be for Jesus” is to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) It is to be sent by Jesus as Jesus was sent by the Father (John 20:21), to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8), make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), “wash feet” as servants to all (John 13:14-15; Matthew 25:31-46), and even do what Jesus called “greater things than these” – the signs and wonders He did on earth. (John 14:12) Through us, His Kingdom on earth spreads like leaven in the loaf and grows from small to great. (Matthew 13:31-33; Ephesians 3:20-21)
It is crucial that we understand how the three prongs of this Christian bumper sticker are interwoven. At the risk of offending, let me suggest that some in the mainline tradition try to be like Jesus, seeing Him as a great teacher and model for servant living, but they struggle with the ideas of being with Him (too supernatural) or for Him (too theologically exclusive and politically incorrect). Some in the evangelical tradition are passionately for Jesus, but they struggle with the ideas of His manifest presence in them (too charismatic) and becoming like Him (too contrary to their identity as “sinners saved by grace”). Some in the charismatic and Pentecostal traditions fervently seek God’s presence and the gifts of His Spirit, but they may neglect developing the Lord’s character (being like Jesus) and His call to focus more on the needs of others than one’s personal experiences (being for Jesus).
There is a lot we can teach each other, with one’s strength bolstering another’s weakness. The more we are with Jesus, the more like Him we become. The more like Him we are, the more effective we are in serving Him. The more effectively we serve Him, the more we find ourselves with Him. And so we grow, and so it goes, until one day as the Lord has promised, our service will be complete because His Kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven. We will see Him as He really is because we will be just like Him, and we will be with Him forever! (1 John 3:1-2)
Break out the bumper stickers! [And here in 2019 I may finally get some made.] Be with Jesus! Be like Jesus! Be for Jesus!
God bless you, and God bless our community.