I was in my car, on my way to Indianapolis. I was in the right-hand lane (going the speed limit…really!) and a car drove past me, pulled in front of me and slowed down. It was obvious, from my vantage point, that the driver of the car ahead of me was busy on his smartphone, texting. I wasn’t really in a hurry, but did at least want to go the speed limit, so eventually I signaled and moved to the left lane. This action apparently jarred the driver from his text conversation and made him upset as, to my amusement, he sped up the minute I was beside him so that I could not get around him. I didn’t care, as I didn’t need to be in the right lane for a while. After a few minutes he slowed down, abruptly passed behind me to the turn lane coming up on my left, honked and gave me a “sign” (and it wasn’t the sign of the cross). I was a bit confused as to his anger with ME, but not enough to care. I was more humored than anything else.
Oh, did I mention that he had an ichtus (sign of the fish) on his bumper?
I assumed the car was purchased by the current driver at a used car lot.
And once again the words of a friend came to me, “If your car has a bumper sticker about heaven, you probably shouldn’t drive like hell.”
That quote is far-reaching implications for any of us who identify as Believers & Followers of Jesus. If we are going to put our identity out there, we should probably BE what we advertise. After all, I don’t expect to find SKITTLES in an M&M bag. If M&Ms are advertised on the packaging, they had better be M&Ms inside.
Now we all do some things, as Believers & Followers, that some other Believers & Followers would call “unchristian.” Example: as an actor I have been called upon to play characters that are NOT Believers & Followers. One of those times, I had to carry (not smoke) a fake cigarette through most of the production. A dear saint wrote a kind note to me, making her case that she thought it was inappropriate for a minister to carry a cigarette. I, of course, disagreed…on several levels (1. a minister WASN’T carrying the cigarette, the character was, 2. I know several spirit-filled ministers who smoke, and 3. if you’re offended by THAT, then I could tell you a few other things about me that might make your hair curl…etc.) but what I actually said was that I was sorry she was offended and hoped that my carrying a fake cigarette around, as an actor, didn’t shatter her faith. And I realized that in this large community we call the Kingdom of God, social norms, geographic boundaries and tradition often define what some might think is “Christians behaving badly” while another group doesn’t see an issue.
At the core of the community should be the unity of the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, no matter what we wear, how we cut (or don’t cut) our hair, how we worship, when we worship…etc. A person ADVERTISING they are a Believer & Follower, either by carrying around a Bible, wearing a big cross, or even putting a bumper fish on their car need to at least PRACTICE (if not perfect) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (GALATIANS 5:22-23). These things, and not anything else, are the mark of those who believe Jesus is the Son of God and follow Him as sheep follow a shepherd. If one is not willing to at least attempt to practice these things, then they shouldn’t advertise they are something they are not.
I say “attempt to practice” because many of us are not there yet. However, the practice and attempt are obvious in people who DO practice and attempt to be who they claim.
Those who are obviously (by their lack of “fruit”) not who they profess to be give a bad name to those who ARE, because the world tends to paint all Believers & Followers with the same broad brush, and God gets a bad reputation. The FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT; the evidence of a Believer & Follower’s roots, plays out in large and small ways, sometimes those ways are how we DRIVE, how we treat people we don’t HAVE to be nice to, how we tip, how we serve.
Jesus called this sort of false advertising “whitewashed tombs” (MATTHEW 23:27), a far more colorful description even than “If your car has a bumper sticker about heaven, you probably shouldn’t drive like hell.”
Even better is to make sure that one’s fruit of the Spirit is so self-evident that a bumper fish isn’t necessary.
Drive safely. Advertise accurately. Produce fruit.