This article appeared in the Epihiany Suwanee Church Newsletter and with the permission of Pastor Chris I am sharing it.
…was written on a billboard I recently saw on I-85 in South Carolina. Now, faith-based billboards in the South are anything but new, but I found this one particularly interesting. Of course there was a phone number under the message (which I wonder how many folks call) but stuck in the middle of the turn-or-burn theology of freeway billboards, I wondered what the author’s intended message was? My opinion defaulted to the same turn-or-burn approach of all the others I try to ignore, or cringe at, because they seldom seem to reflect the Jesus that I follow. (Not to mention the fact that I apparently missed the class in seminary that legitimized this type of expense and encouraged this sort of evangelism.)
I wonder if I called 855-FOR-TRUTH, if they would be able to answer my questions? Which teachings specifically? The ones about selling all that you have and following Jesus. Or, the ones about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. Or, if your hand causes you to sin,cut it off, or if your eye causes you to sin,cut it out. Or, drop everything and follow Jesus. Or the one about clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, and visiting the sick and those in prison. Which teachings are you telling me Real Christians obey? Did Jesus ever say to his disciples, “Go out, rent a billboard, then watch the masses flock to me!”
There is this great parable that Jesus tells in Luke 18. In it Jesus contrasts the prayer of a religious person and a sinner. They are near one another and apparently able to hear each other’s prayer. The religious person goes on and on about how great they are and even, in the middle of the prayer, mentions how bad the sinner is next to them. The sinner, on the other hand, won’t even look up toward heaven, and prays, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Paul made this even simpler in Romans 3, saying, “No one is righteous, not one.”
These billboards make me cringe because I worry this may be the only exposure some have to Jesus and the church, and they might lump all of “us” into that turn-or-burn crowd, and I don’t blame them. I guess that means we have work to do: To tell a better story and invite them to discover the Jesus that we know. Instead of drawing a line between those who are in and those who are out, maybe we should just pray the prayer of the sinner, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Maybe that’s a better place to start than a freeway billboard.
Grace and Peace,