When our youngest was four, he was the only non-reading member in a household of readers. And he knew it. So, he decided that he wanted to know what all these words around him meant.
When we went on walks with him along the river near our house, he wanted to know what all the signs said. So, we read them to him.
As we read all these signs, we discovered that most were grumpy keep-away signs. One sign posted on the fence of a house along our regular walking route said, “Our dogs can make it to the fence in less than three seconds. How fast are you?”
Matthias wanted to know what that meant. I said, “If you climb over fence to rob us, our dogs will eat you.”
He was sufficiently impressed. We walked on the other side of the street.
Another sign had a hand held out in a halting gesture and the simple words, “Go away!”
The basic message from most of the signs was: “Leave me and my stuff alone; you’re not wanted here.”
But sometimes, we and our signs give conflicting messages.
In a previous neighborhood near our house when we lived in Seattle, there were two signs posted on one door. The first said, “Smile, God loves you!” The second said, “This house is protected by Smith and Wesson.”
Our oldest was the one who was asking what signs meant back then. My response?
“God loves you, but we’ll kill you if you mess with us.”
One last sign story.
Skateboarders used to use the steps of a church I used to pastor, doing tricks on on rails until they were replaced by new rails which made it impossible for skaters to use. But before the change, there was a sign that proclaimed in bold letters: “No skateboarding.”
Like all of those signs along River Dr., it was another big “No. You’re not wanted here.”
But as we thought about it, we asked ourselves if “No” was the message we were wanting to get across?
In 2 Cor. 1:20, Paul writes, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
God has said a huge “Yes” to us in Jesus and we are pass on that same “Yes” (“Amen” basically means “Yes”) to everyone we meet. But somewhere along the way, that “Yes” gets turned into a “No.”
We don’t do things that way. We don’t want you, because we don’t want you to mess up our stuff.
That’s what the “No skateboarding” sign was really saying. If you say “No” to skateboarding, you’re basically saying “No” to skateboarders. Not literally, but at least that’s how they’ll take it, which is why they kept knocking the sign down until I threw it away.
“No” is an important word. (I’ve written on its powerful importance here.) Most of the Ten Commandments are negative. But hardly any of the rest of the words of God are negative. Most are quite positive.
God gave us these few, brief “No” signs so that he could emphasize all of the “Yes” signs he’s posted in Jesus.
The “No” signs along River Dr. are there to keep people out. There’s all this great river-frontage property, and the owners don’t want us on it. But the “No” signs that God posts are meant to keep us in the beautiful places he’s set out for us and out of the dangerous places that would harm or even kill us.
In our lives personally and as people who follow Jesus together, we need to be aware of the signs we’re putting up.
When people see me, do they see a “Yes” or a “No”?
Are the “No” signs we post there to keep people out of danger or are they there to keep people from messing with our stuff (which betrays the uncomfortable truth that we value our stuff more than we value people)?
How do we go about knocking down some of our unnecessary “No” signs while making our “Yes” signs more prominent?
Do people gather around me because they see a “Yes” in my face and posture? Or do they leave me alone because my demeanor is telling them to stay away?
Am I helping people to see the “Yes” of Jesus? Or do they see just another Christian “No”?
May we never forget that Jesus is God’s overwhelming “Yes” to the world he loves passionately.