Driving down any major highway in the United States of America, you will undoubtedly encounter more than a few billboards making you aware of crucial information for your current travels or your life in general and entreating you to respond in specific ways.
There are moments when these billboards come in handy. For instance, when it is near a meal time and the family is devolving into anarchy and civil war due to their advanced state of “hangriness” (hangriness is when hunger becomes emotional and inspires anger), that billboard for your favorite restaurant at the next exit is nigh unto an angelic chorus announcing your deliverance.
Or when you’ve grossly overestimated how much fuel was in the tank as you passed the last exit with a gas station and you are looking at a long walk of shame on a busy highway without divine intervention, that sign for a gas station in just a few miles is more than helpful.
All that said, more often than not, the vast majority of billboard signs strike me as nothing more than an overwhelming stream of optical noise.
My family and I recently spent several mind-numbing hours on several of America’s fine highways as we made our way to Florida and back to Indiana. As I drove and my family slept and/or disappeared into their phones, I couldn’t help but take notice of the numerous billboards littering the skies before me.
Some of the billboards fit into the aforementioned categories. They were signs advertising travel necessities, such as food, fuel, places to stop for the night, fresh coffee, you know, the essentials. Others advertised regional attractions, such as historic downtown areas, amusement parks and a surprising abundance of award-winning medical facilities.
Interspersed among all of these advertisements for products and services were numerous billboards with Christian messaging on them. One had a stereotypical picture of Jesus standing in the midst of a war scene and read, “I’m still in control… Jesus.” Another had a picture of a group of zombies and read, “Join the living… Jesus.”
Yet another was split in half. On the top half was a clean-cut couple in a clear, blue sky with a glowing cross in the background. On the bottom half was a dirty, battered and bloodied couple surrounded by a storm and fire. The tagline read, “You decide… Jesus.”
As I saw sign after sign like these interspersed with all of the products and services being advertised, a question entered my mind: Is this really an effective way to tell people about Jesus? Do all of these signs in the sky actually impact people where the rubber meets the road?
I understand the intent behind these billboards, and I appreciate the heart, but I don’t know that the methodology used properly presents the message. Further, I think presenting the deep, life-giving truths of the Bible in the mix of the chorus of advertisements selling products and services paints Jesus as just another option we can either take or leave.
It reduces the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done and can do, down to trite one-liners. It seems to me these signs just added to the noise on an overcrowded and busy highway.
My good friend and colleague, Pastor Mike Lyon, hosted a winter retreat a few years ago with the theme “Be a Billboard.” I had the privilege of joining him and speaking at that retreat. The main idea and takeaway was that our lives should be a billboard for the Gospel. The greatest medium for message of the Gospel is the lives we live.
While there is at times value to impersonal expressions of the truth, it is in the context of relationships and interactions with those who claim to believe in Jesus that the rubber meets the road. As our words and deeds are transformed by the truth of the Word of God, people see and experience the life-giving hope that only comes from following Jesus and trusting in his saving grace.
If we truly want to see people consider and come to Jesus, we need to make sure the message is on the billboards of our lives, not just some signs in the sky.
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected]