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Don\'t Mess with Texas

Dan Syrek is the nation’s leading researcher on litter. He has worked with 16 states on anti-litter initiatives. He often begins his projects by selecting random stretches of road – from interstates to farm roads – and walking the roads personally with a clicker in hand, manually counting the litter. In the 1980’s Syrek and his Sacramento based organization were hired by the State of Texas. At the time, Texas had a serious litter problem… each year the state was spending $25million per year on clean up, and the costs were rising 15% a year. The States attempts to encourage better behavior – “Please don’t Drop Litter” signs, roadside trash cans marked “Pitch In” – weren’t working. Neither were the fines, punishments and penalties. One of their campaigns centered on a cuddly cartoon owl who says, “Give a hoot – Don’t Pollute”. It wasn’t working and the state knew that they needed to new strategy.

Research discovered that the biggest contributor to the litter problem was 18-35 year old males, who liked country music and drove pickup trucks. Good ‘ole Texas boys. This demographic had nothing to gain by throwing things away appropriately, and no obvious rewards for following the rules. As they thought through and wrestled with the anti-littering issues, Texas adopted a new slogan in their anti-litter campaign – “Don’t Mess with Texas”! For the next year or so the state ran all kinds of Ad’s, featuring tough sports stars, Texas icon’s and celebrities aggressively cleaning up the state, and then proclaiming “Don’t Mess with Texas!” The message of the campaign was that Texan’s don’t litter. It's not who they are... we're big, we're brave, we're tidy... and we don' litter! The campaign was an instant success. Within a few months of the launch, an astonishing 73% of Texans could recall the message and identify its antilitter message. Within a year, litter had declined 29%! During the first 5 years of the campaign, roadside litter had decreased 72% and the number of cans on the roadside had dropped 81%. By 1988, Syrek had found that Texas had half as much trash on the road as other states!

The reason why this campaign was so successful? It is because this slogan became, for Texans, an identity! The rules were posted, people were aware of their responsibility, but it wasn’t until people’s identity was shaped that real change happened. It wasn’t the rules or the call to be responsible that changed Texas, it was when Texans realized their identity that they stopped dropping litter This same principal is true of us as Christians. We know the rules, we are aware of our responsibilities… but real change does not happen as a believer until we realize that our identity has been changed, or more accurately, our identity has been restored! As Paul says to the people in Ephesus (Eph 2:8-9) following the rules isn’t going to change you. It is not going to make much of a difference at all. What will change you, and change our circumstances, is when we understand our identity in Christ. Change does not happen when we follow or don’t follow the rules, it happens when we realize what God says about who we are. Let me take this metaphor a step further. As Texas had a trash problem… so we human beings have a trash problem! The stuff that pollutes and damages us it not empty soda bottles and discarded plastic bags. It is a trash of much greater proportion… the Bible calls it sin. Scripture tells us that all of us have ‘trash’ and have fallen short of the perfect environment that God calls us to live in. But cleaning up our trash is not done by following some prescribed rules or law…. It is done by changing, understanding and restoring the identity that God has given to us.

“Don’t mess with Texas” is a slogan that you can see on bumper stickers, pins and pens. You see it on billboards and commercials and T Shirts to remind people of their identity. We need similar slogans, written not on our T Shirt’s, but on our hearts if we are going to fully understand what it means to be and live as God’s masterpieces. What are the slogans that we would need to put of T Shirts’ if our identity was to be shaped to the point that we could understand and live, with great humility, as masterpieces of God?

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