It was the end of a very long, hot day. A friend and I were participating in the annual RAIN ride — a shortened name for “Ride Across Indiana.” Cyclists start in Illinois at sunrise and ride their bicycles straight east to the Ohio border in one day, a distance of just over 160 miles.
Seasoned participants often talk about the quality of the break stops. Spread out every 30 miles or so, local volunteers and small communities take great pride in preparing a delightful assortment of iced beverages and high-energy snacks for the riders. Cyclists’ families and friends also use these designated places to meet their loved ones and cheer them on to the finish line.
The atmosphere is electric because of the convergence of civic pride and athletic accomplishment. There is nothing quite like getting off your bike and having a complete stranger hand you a cold drink and an energy bar, accompanied with a pat on the back and an encouraging word. The various stops along the route even have friendly competition between communities to see which can serve the riders best.
On this particular afternoon, as a group of us were coming to one of the final stops, I spotted a beautiful church building with a large parking lot. As a pastor myself, I wondered if any of the members of that congregation would be joining their friends and neighbors to serve the athletes and their families. I started making mental connections between a vacant church parking lot on a Saturday afternoon and a host of people needing a place to park for a few minutes to serve and celebrate with the ones they loved.
As the scene came into clearer focus, I saw a man dragging a sawhorse down the church driveway with a homemade sign hastily affixed to one end. He was on a mission for sure and my first thought was – “I hope that sign does not say what I think it does.” Sure enough, I reached the spot just as he was erecting his instructions – “no parking allowed here.”
In all fairness, I suppose the church may have been preparing to host a giant event in a few minutes and simply could not spare a few parking spots for these neighbors in need. But honestly, I highly doubt it. The more likely explanation is that he had fallen victim to an attitude and philosophy that seems to affect many churches regarding the way they think about sharing what they have with others – “Say no, unless you have to say yes.”
The Scripture suggests otherwise. Paul told the legalistic Galatians – “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10). Wise churches look for as many opportunities as possible to share love and resources with those around them. We ought to be guided by the principle, “Say yes, unless you have to say no.”
I can almost hear the pushback on the part of some who will consider this vignette. There will be those who object because this mob might leave trash all over the church grounds just before the Lord’s Day. Is that really that important? Maybe our worship on Sunday would be sweeter if we had to step over a few empty water bottles that had been distributed in Jesus’ name the day before. Others might fret because the bathrooms would not be pristine when the church folks came in the next morning. Would that be that be such an insurmountable problem? Why not recruit two volunteer teams, one to serve alongside the church’s neighbors to help make the break spot the best one in the state, while the second group came in later to spruce things up for church the next day?
Churches can be incredibly insular and myopic. The focus so frequently becomes – “how is this going to affect our comfort, our security, and our convenience?” Perhaps we would all do better to focus on serving and loving others regardless of the price that has to be paid. Isn’t that what it means to take up our cross and follow Christ?
The ultimate tragedy here is the view of God this ambivalence and apathy gives to a lost and dying world. Many in our culture have concluded that God does not love and care about them. Little wonder, when His children are busy crafting “no parking allowed here” signs. It might be time for some and perhaps many of us to try a new approach. Say yes, unless you have to say no.