It was the t-shirt that was going to save the world. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
But I really did wear it in hopes that it would generate conversations that ended with someone falling to their knees and crying out in anguish, “WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED? Look, here is a Super Soaker 4000, what is to prevent me from being baptized right here?”
Those conversations never happened.
But let me back up.
When I was 15, I got serious about following Jesus. And no, it wasn’t because I attended an Acquire the Fire conference and realized that I was a runaway train on a one way track.
(Side note: Christians were all about using the word “fire” in the 90s. Why was that?)
It was because God did a really cool work in me. It was like he took everything my parents had taught me and then inserted the gospel key that made it all click. It was awesome.
When I started actually caring about Jesus, I realized I needed to figure out a way to share my faith with others.
Enter the t-shirt that was going to usher in the third Great Awakening.
Like much Christian apparel, it was a clever Christian version of a popular “secular” (I hate that word) shirt. These were all the rage in the 90s (and maybe 2000s?).
Like this guy right here:
A casual pagan might think it’s a Mountain Dew shirt, due to the fact that it breaks every copyright owned by Pepsi and is a blatant example of copyright infringe…
I mean because it looks like the Mountain Dew label.
However, upon closer glance the unbeliever realizes that there’s something subtly different about this shirt. He stops you right in the middle of the skating rink and says, “Hey, pal. What’s up with your shirt? It looks like my favorite type of soda, and yet I’m starting to realize there’s more to life than soda. Can we talk?”
Or feast your eyes on this one:
The possibilities are endless with this one. You’re hanging with your buds outside the high school, and one of them (let’s call him “Joe Cool”) pulls out a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. Joe offers one to you, nodding at your shirt and saying, “Hey man, wanna puff on one of these ciggies?” (Trust me, that’s how high school kids talk. I was homeschooled, remember?)
You could report this to the principal, but you play it cool. Eternity is on the line here. You take the cigarette, but instead of lighting it, you slightly grin (not too much because that’s trying too hard) and say, “Take another look Joe.”
Joe leans in, squinting at your shirt. “Wait a second,” he says. “Something’s different about this. It’s a clever play on Marlboro Light with much more…profound…message. Suddenly, I’m realizing these cigarettes aren’t my biggest problem. Who is this Messiah you speak of?”
You get the point.
My t-shirt was a witty take on this one:
Serving as a prophetic polemic against all who idolized baseball, my shirt said, “Jesus is life, the rest is just details.”
Powerful, right? A clever wordplay that speaks truth to power.
I envisioned sitting in the dugout with teammates (I played baseball) and having one of them glance at my shirt, do a double take, and then spew their sunflower seeds out in astonishment. “HANG ON JUST A SECOND!” they’d say. “You’re telling me there’s more to life than baseball?”
To which I’d gently respond, “Yes, yes there is. Let’s have a discussion right here before you go to bat.”
And just to further the impression that I was a hardcore athlete, I ripped the sleeves off it. Suns out, guns out, baby. I mean, my arms didn’t (and still don’t) really qualify as guns. More like extremely thin bamboo fighting staffs that are still really dangerous and you shouldn’t mess with me because I will SERIOUSLY mess you up.
No, I’ve never been in a fight but I’ve been preparing all my life and you don’t want to test me.
To my credit, there was ONE time when a kid said, “Shouldn’t that say, ‘Baseball is life?'”
In that moment, my faith and courage swelled to apostolic proportions, and I boldly proclaimed, “No. That’s another one.”
So much for my awesome evangelism.
Now, you may think that this post is all about mocking cheesy Christian fashion, and haha, everyone who wears shirts like this is so stupid.
That’s not my point.
My point is that whenever the church tries to imitate culture, it comes off as a bad parody.
The message of the gospel is highly offensive (in the best possible sense). It says that every person is a sinner who desperately needs Jesus. No matter what “relevant” wrapper you put on it, when you actually get to the gospel, you’re speaking an offensive, “irrelevant” (in cultural terms) message. And yet the backwardness and offensiveness of the gospel is what makes it so beautiful. I can’t save myself. Jesus can.
And there’s something else I don’t want to forget. My motive (most Christians) for wearing the shirt was good. I really wanted to tell people about Jesus. Sure, my actions were probably a little misguided, but frankly, I think I’ve lost a lot of that drive to spread the good news of the gospel. And that sucks. And needs to change.
Is Christian apparel often cheesy? Sure. Is it weird that we wear shirts that try to look like famous brands. Uhh, yeah.
(Side note: Remember the “Got Jesus?” t-shirt that was a play on the “Got Milk?” ads? Was it ever actually cool to wear a “Got Milk?” t-shirt? Why would we think a “Got Jesus?” t-shirt would be a good idea?)
But even though Christian shirts are weird, I don’t want to lose the gospel-sharing impulse behind them.
Stay weird church.
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