I love bumper stickers.
I am not a fan of bumper sticker theology.
I once honked at a car that had the bumper sticker “Honk if you love Jesus!” I got a very… well…. rude.. response.
Here is a sampling of other bumper stickers I’ve seen recently:
- “God loves you—some restrictions apply.”
- Don’t give up—look up! (Don’t try that while driving, by the way.)
- I pray—deal with it! (Wow. Lots of mixed messages there.)
- And one I thought was particularly self-centered: “Get your way: pray.”
A few years ago I got a promo letter for a new Kyle Idleman book that was coming out. Its title: Not a fan.
The promotional tract defined fan as: an enthusiastic admirer.
In the Gospels, Jesus never seemed too interested in attracting fans to his ministry. He never surveyed his disciples to see how his fan base was reacting. He never made decisions determined by his popularity with his fan base. I think it’s safe to say that fandom was irrelevant to Jesus’ purpose.
The promotional tract went on to say:
I am not a fan. I am a follower.
Not a fan: a follower. Now THAT would make a good bumper sticker.
But it’s also an interesting theological position.
In today’s society we “follow” people on Facebook and Twitter or the newspaper to kind of “listen in” to what they say and do and cheer or boo them from the comfort of our chairs.
I don’t know, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant by following him.
Actions speak louder than words.
Ask any parent.. Children don’t always emulate what we tell them to do—sadly. But they sure mimic what we do…
They follow our lead.
Actions speak louder than words.
“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
Do we say we love the poor—or do we do something for the poor? Do we stand up for them? Feed them? Talk to them?
How are we ACTING?
Are we FOLLOWING Jesus from our seats, or are we following him for real?
Our ACTIONS will always speak louder than our words.
And another thing–we live in a society that pushes people to be leaders.
Schools teach our kids to be leaders, the workplace is always talking about leaders, and the church is not immune from this, either. We talk about raising up leaders in our congregations.
We never talk about raising up followers.
I heard a story about a young woman who wanted to go to college, but she was worried when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Since the girl was honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst.
To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders.
We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower”.
But in our society, leadership is more to be prized than following. That makes us sound like sheep. No one wants to be a follower.
Unless it only involves cheering from our chairs.
But that’s a fan, not a follower.
And then there’s always the question of whose voice we will follow? Do we follow the voice of society, the voice of marketing, the voice of bumper stickers, the voice of pundits- left and right, the voice of the world- which urge us to pray when it benefits us? To loudly cheer from our seats? To grumble at those who oppress or hurt others – but do very little?
Whose voice are we following? Society? Or our Master’s voice?
Look at the bulletin cover—it’s from a very famous old ad campaign touting the good sound quality of gramophones. It shows a dog that hears- and responds to—his master’s voice. He’s listening because it’s the voice of the one he loves, the one he trusts.
We do the same thing. We know when what we are hearing is the voice of our master, the voice of Christ. And when we hear that unmistakable voice we listen and follow it– not because the Master rules us and will kill us if we don’t—not at all! We follow that voice because it’s the one we love and trust the most.
So–Whose voice are we following?
I guess the question we really need to ask ourselves is: are we fans of Jesus, or are we followers of the Good Shepherd?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
I give you all permission – several times a day—to stop having to be the leader. And that goes for me. Perhaps especially for me. That will allow us time to just listen for the Master’s voice, and to follow anywhere the voice leads.
Follow that voice to heal the sick. Strengthen the weak. Stand up for the bullied. Help the poor. Love everyone.
Because we’re not fans. We’re followers.