I was driving along I-94 heading west when I saw the sign. Actually, what I saw was the overpass with the sign on it.
The bridge itself was fairly new, constructed out of yellow brick. It felt as if someone had transplanted the structure from TCU’s beautiful campus and plopped it over the grey concrete tarmac of the Michigan highway. The sign was equally impressive. It said in beautiful, all right, attractive lettering, “Jackson, Michigan.”
Someone new to the area may have looked at the placard and thought, “I bet that’s a great town to visit.” They would have thought that until the next sign, which was one of those blue marques showing available accommodations. One hotel. Best Inn…which is doubtful.
The second told me about the restaurants at which I could dine- all fast food. Then came the second exit, which was also the last exit to Jackson, this one with another sign and another slough of fast food restaurants. McDonalds had a restaurant off both exits, exactly one mile apart. As I drove between the McDonalds, I drove past a golf pro shop that looked closed, a mall that most definitely was shuttered, and a giant beer mug announcing a casino just a few miles further down the road. I wondered if the diet coke also came in 20-foot glasses. How big were the jumbo shrimp there? What about Little Debbie’s?
Then I started thinking about the church. Aside from the fact that almost anything begins a segued trail through my mind to food, this was now the opposite. I again imagined the optimistic traveler who drove past the overstated demarcation of Jackson and its attractions. It would be a fair assumption that there was very little promise in this town.
They would drive through. They may stop at the McDonalds… but exploration, commitment and residing there for even one night would be a non-consideration.
The revelation is that I know Jackson. The signs advertise the wrong things. The town has quite a few really great reasons to stop… even frequent. There are two fantastic sushi places, a quaint coffee shop with live music, some authentic Mexican bistros, a Chicago style pizza sports bar, the Cascade Falls, a hidden bike trail, bicycle shops, a prison museum, some vibrant churches and a public park which is, frankly, surprising. There is an ice rink which happens to be a rarity in this part of Michigan. There are even more hotels, but you would have to be on a different road to see their advertisements. The first sign may be accurate after all. The second set of signs undersell and simplify what’s available. Jackson is more than two McDonalds, side by side.
Sometimes, we as followers of Jesus advertise our faith with the grandest sign, but when our friends see our lives, they think we are something they can have at any life stop. They are wrong of course, because they have never driven off the one road to see what it is about. Believers claim happiness and heaven and freedom as if it’s a Happy Meal. The truth is that some things do exist 0.1 miles off of the exit, but almost never the best things. If I am interested in the richer things, the things that really make me want to stay in Believersville are somewhat further in. This doesn’t mean we can’t gain things 0.1 miles off my straight-line approach to getting somewhere fast. It simply means that our best signs should point to the deeper, richer things. These things make me stay. They help me commit. They deepen my experience, because it’s not about making my trip go faster as it is knowing the value of the investment.
In other words, the fruits of the Spirit are not a list of things added on the dollar menu to my bathroom stop. They are instead a revelation of the person I am becoming when I choose to live here in the Jesus tribe. I commit to the person I am becoming. I commit to Jesus’ vision for my life, for sometimes a filet-o-fish is great, but it is never better than sushi.