Careful where you park.

This past weekend, I took 100+ teens to our annual VA district winter retreat in Harrisonburg, VA. On Friday night, one of our high school guys came to me and asked for a ride to Walmart, because he has forgotten something. Happy to help, I said, “Sure, I’ll take you.”

However, the only vehicle I had at my disposal was the minibus I drove up to Harrisonburg. So, he and I climbed aboard and off we went to Walmart which could be seen from our motel. We could have walked but it was late and cold and we were two guys with access to a minibus.

This Walmart, like most, had two separate entrances. One entrance had “Low Prices” over the door, and the other had “Food Center” over the door. Because of what he needed, I figured parking near the “Low Prices” entrance would be the better choice. Because it was so late at night though, only one entrance was unlocked. And you guessed it, it wasn’t the “Low Prices” door we were at.

I should have figured it out because the handful of cars that were there were all parked at the other entrance; the one that was actually open.

Instead of getting back in the minibus, we decided just to walk the distance to the other entrance. We left the minibus where we parked it, essentially in the empty part of the parking lot.

We weren’t inside for probably more than 10 minutes before he found what he was looking for. I decided that while he was checking out, I’d go and walk back to the minibus and drive it back and pick him up. Nice guy, aren’t I?

When I walked outside I looked across the distance of the parking lot and saw someone standing at the door of the minibus. Instantly I realized that this person was trying to break into the minibus. He was trying to pry the door open. The one thing I can say for this person is that he doesn’t discriminate. Here was a person breaking into a minibus which has the HUGE sign on the side which reads “Guardian Christian Academy”. Yep, this guy was a real winner.

For whatever reason though, I didn’t stop walking toward him and the bus. He tried for a few more seconds (while unaware that I was moving toward him), and finally gave up. He walked toward the front of the bus where I noticed a second person standing.

In hindsight, perhaps I should have gone back inside, out of the way of unknown, potential danger. After all, these guys could have been armed. But instead, I continued to walk. And not only did I walk toward them, but I stared them down.

As I approached the bus, I took the keys out of my pocket (in a none-too-obvious fashion) and unlocked the door. The sound of the door opening got the man’s attention and he turned toward me and returned my stare. And I stared back.

And while I climbed into the driver’s seat, I stared. And so did he.

And as I turned on the engine, I stared. And so did he.

And as I revved the engine, I stared. And he turned away and began to walk.

For no reason whatsoever, I told no one about this encounter. I simply gave it some thought.

God speaks to me through experiences. Through His Word, yes. By His Spirit, yes. But most clearly and most often through daily experiences like this one.

I’ve been in ministry (and breathing) long enough to have learned an unswerving truth. You ready? Here it is: When we go it alone, we get in trouble.

“I’ll just park over here by myself, away from the safety and security of the numbers of the other cars in the parking lot. What could happen?” These are the thoughts I had as I pulled that minibus into that parking spot of that empty part of that parking lot of that Walmart.

And while I escaped with my life, many don’t. Not in spiritual terms, at least.

I’ve seen time and time again people lured away from spiritual community by the enemy and instead choose to go it alone. And never–not even once–have I seen that work out well for anyone. Consider the Garden. The temptation of the fruit wasn’t about a snack. It was about satan’s unending desire to destroy community wherever he finds it. The temptation satan placed before Eve was that of “C’mon, go it alone.” Satan’s #1 weapon in his arsenal is not porn, it’s not drugs, it’s not infidelity, it’s not lying, it’s not cheating. It’s isolation.

Months ago, I watched the BBC special “Planet Earth”. If you haven’t watched this series, do yourself a favor. Not only is it visually stunning in the purest form, but its got God written all over it. Funny, because I’m fairly certain that the creators weren’t aiming at pointing out God. One of the things caught on video was the hunt of the coyotes on a particular herd of animal. I wish I could remember what type, but that’s not important. The way the coyote was able to capture the prey was separating it from the rest of the herd. And Satan works just like that. Whether emotionally or spiritually–if he can get you away from the herd, or even feeling that way, he’s half way there to capturing you with some destructive temptation.

When God created us, He created us to need us. Even atheists have friends in which they trust and confide in. That’s because God has hardwired humans to crave and thrive in oneness with others. And while that certainly works well on the back of a Harley, or on a golf course, or around a quilt, or in a common novel, or at a poker table, the thread that runs through it all is that I am safe when I am surrounded by those who love, support, and look after me; no matter how old I get.

I’ll wrap it up here because I’ve got to go and get ready for small group tonight. We eat together, share the details of life together, read/study God’s Word together, and pray together. And we have all found in the others a safe place to fall. A comforting fortress of spiritual community and oneness. A full parking lot in which to park.

The Warmth of Community

At 7:50 a.m. this morning, when it was time to trek down the street with my 4 kids (though the middle schooler must walk at a significant difference to maintain her “cool” quotient), it was a crisp 5 degrees. That’s a spring day for some places on earth, but for Richmond VA, it’s downright cold. It was a cold that slapped me in the face the second I cracked open the front door. A cold that says, “I dare you to inhale through your nose.” Just plain cold.

Now, my wife and I have a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” approach to parenting. We’re not too big on coddling or making things comfortable for our kids. There’s a kid down the street who sits in a Knight Rider look-alike Mustang every morning, keeping warm with his dad. Me? I’m more of a “Oh, you’ll be fine” kind of dad. But this morning, I conceided and offered to crank up the ol’ 92 Crown Vic and drive the kids the short distance to the bus stop, and allow them to sit in relative warmth until their bus came.

I had one taker. Macy, our 6 year old. She climbed in and we picked up our youngest on the way. And even though you could still see your breath in the car, it was warmer than being outside where your breath seemed to freeze to your face. So, the three of us sat…waiting for the bus.

But within the first 2 minutes or so, their friends began to gather at the bus stop. And it didn’t take but a second or two for my 5 and 6 year old kids to make a clear decision between warmth with me and freezing snot with their friends. I don’t have to tell you who won that one.

And as I sat there alone with warm air from the vents thawing me out, and watched my kids playing with their friends, I was reminded of the power of friends and community. It’s innate in us to crave connection with other humans. It matters to us if we matter to anyone else. And when it comes down to it, most would rather suffer with others than be comfortable alone. If you’ve read the first 3 chapters of the Bible, this is no shock at all. It just makes sense.

And it was probably within 60-90 seconds after my kids left the car that I made the same decision. I turned the car off, opened the door, and stepped out into the 5-degree cold to stand near another dad who was there with his son. Our desire for connection drives us to do crazy things.