Parallels: Israel out of Egypt to Christians out of Earth

“The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.”

Exodus 7:5

I read this verse this morning and it got me to thinking, “I wonder if this is also a parallel for how things will be in the last days?” I know that the parallel given in The Bible is that of the time of Noah, but this just sounded like the way things have been getting in the United States. It’s not that I have a persecution complex—no one has jailed me for being a Christian or even tried—but there is a general sense of people just growing weary of Christians.

I can’t really blame the non-believer for getting weary of Christians. “Christian culture” is hitting fever pitch. There are Christian t-shirts and music and movies and TV shows and bookstores and bumper stickers and baby onesies and the list goes on … and on and on and on. What’s worse is that the ones who most often bedeck themselves and their homes and their vehicles with “Christian” paraphernalia are the worst examples of what a Christian is in the Biblical sense. The guy who blew past me in traffic (like I was standing still) had a “Christian” fish on his car. The lady tailgating him had a “Christian” plate frame. The guy berating the cashier at the fast food place is sporting some kind of “Christian” shirt. Examples of this are so abundant that I don’t even have to think hard about it. There’s a culture within Christianity of people who want to decorate themselves and everything they own in “Christian” stuff, but refuse to attend to the weightier things of holy living and loving their neighbor. Notice it is a culture. Not every Christian who digs on Christian everything is living a lifestyle that makes the non-believer look like a saint, but those people exist and in alarmingly large numbers.

There are also Christians running around picketing things. There were those who claim to be Christians bombing abortion clinics — I haven’t seen that in the news recently, thank God. There are so-called “Christian” groups in Africa killing Muslims. God never once told me to judge my neighbor. He told me to love my neighbor; in the Old Testament and the New.

The most recent thing to cause warning klaxons to sound in “Christian” circles is a movie. I will not give its title, because I don’t want it to get any more free publicity (yes, you read that right). Here’s my two cents on films: If the film is clean and decent and teaches lessons that I want to learn or would like my daughter to learn then the film is okay. If the film is based on The Bible (or any other book, for that matter) then I assume Hollyweird will get it somehow horribly, egregiously wrong. When Hollyweird gets it right, I can be pleasantly surprised and when they get it wrong I shrug and figure that I expected as much. Back to the subject at hand: “Christians” have been railing against this film on various and sundry grounds. And they’ve been very public and very vocal in their railing. Non-believers are sitting around wondering why we’re surprised that Hollyweird got a book adaptation wrong when some of their favorite novels have been shredded by the movie machine. The only thing these folks really convince anyone of is that you just can’t please “Christians”.

What does all this boil down to? I wonder if these “Christians” that are making life unpleasant for everyone (and not by living a holy life in the midst of corruption) are biasing society against Christianity in general. This film issue has some people thinking, myself included, “You just can’t please “Christians”, can you?” Pharaoh was thinking, “Man, these Israelites are entitled and lazy.” I wonder if society isn’t getting a similar opinion of “Christians”.

What does all of this have to do with the verse for today? Quite a bit. There is money to be made on all this “Christian” paraphernalia and our consumerist society loves to make money on everyone they can. So society, while it may grow to hate “Christians”, is in favor of bilking “Christians” out of every dollar it can. By contrast, we are, due to elements within our midst, becoming loathsome to our society. When God finally extracts His people from the world, everyone will be surprised by who is taken and who is not. And not a few will finally realize the truth of what was said by those taken. Just as there were Egyptians who converted due to how God extracted Israel from Egypt, there will likely be those who become Christians when God takes Christians out of the world.

Aside

Psalm 54:5

He will recompense the evil to my foes;
Destroy them in Your faithfulness.

I saw this verse while getting ready for tomorrow morning and thought, “That’s both cool and brutal. “Destroy them“? Really? Turns out that same word is translated a bit differently elsewhere. It can also mean “silence them“.

Now, I find that I feel the need to defend myself when people start talking smack. This statement—part of a psalm written when some folks sold David out—says different. This psalm says that I do not need to chime in with the masses and start yelling; trying to be heard. There’s comfort in that. See, I’m an introvert by nature and love writing because it allows me the luxury of being very careful about the words I use and how. I have a chance to not be as socially awkward as I am the rest of my life. So jumping into the fray and trying to defend myself when people are casting dispersions on my character sounds exhausting. Enter this verse. I don’t have to.

God knows whether or not the slights are justified and He can handle shutting people up. And He can handle defending me when I’ve been wronged. If I’m His property anyway—and I am—then it’s His responsibility to make sure I’m not maligned. And He takes things like that seriously.

Thoughts on Hell

I recently (within the last few weeks) spoke with some friends about the concept of Hell: what it is, why it is, who it is intended for, and so on. That got me to thinking about Hell in general and how The Bible talks about it.

First off, the word “Hell” is never used in the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. This is because the word is not derived from any of those languages. Hell, properly “Hel“, refers to the Norse goddess who oversees the land of the dead — not Valhalla, the other one. So, if the expression “Go to Hel.” existed in Old Norse, it very likely was a means of telling someone to drop dead — which is more or less what is meant by it in modern parlance. Hel is the Norse equivalent of the Greek Hades, Roman Pluto, and so on. Where some of the confusion, I suspect, came in is that the Ancient Greeks called the place that housed the dead and the god who presided over it by the same name. Not to mention that English speakers are not known for our cultural and linguistic fidelity when we steal words from other languages.

The words used in The Bible are Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus. Sheol is roughly equivalent, thought-wise, to Hades and was the place that housed the dead. Gehenna was a filthy, burning, foul-smelling place and no one in their right mind would ever want to go there. Tartarus was a place of torment. There is a last place mentioned, but we’ll come to that.

Having dispensed with the language lesson, we may proceed. The Bible speaks at rather great length about this cluster of places that roughly equate to our modern concept of Hell. The Bible speaks of Gehenna (Matthew 5:23, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5) as being a place it was better not to go. Jesus commented that it would be better to cut out eyes or remove limbs than to enter Gehenna in one piece. While Jesus was not advocating self-mutilation, He was making a point about how much we should not want to end up in Hell. 2 Peter 2:4 mentions that God condemned angels that sinned to Tartarus and this verse is the only place I could find the word Tartarus used in The Bible. Hades is mentioned about 10 times and all in reference to the place where the dead happen to be. That said, one of the mentions of Hades is in Revelation 20:13-15 and includes a reference to a place called “the lake of fire” which is where Hades ends up. This is also where those who are not found in the Lamb’s Book of Life end up. Jesus mentioned in Matthew 13:40-50 that this would happen to people. And when Jesus speaks of the judgment that will take place at the end of the world, He says that the judge (Jesus) will say to those not found in His book, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

I haven’t mentioned Sheol, and with good reason. Sheol is primarily used in the Old Testament — possibly exclusively used in the OT. Sheol, as previously mentioned, is roughly equivalent to Hades and exists as a place for the dead to chill while waiting for what Jesus would do on the cross. Jesus speaks about such a place when He tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) and mentions that even there a distinction is made between those who placed their faith and hope in Christ and those who did not.

Since this has been a bit meandering, how about I tidy my thoughts up a bit?

Hell, as we understand it in the modern world, is not what was meant by the ancients when they spoke of Hel or Sheol or Hades. What we conceive of as “Hell” is more equivalent to Gehenna or Tartarus: a place where the souls of the dead who did not place their faith in Christ are in torment. Devils with pitchforks probably derive from the Greek myths, as deimons helped Hades with his work. There is, however, that lake of fire into which Hades/Sheol/Hel will be tossed. That about covers the whats. Now to the whys.

Sheol/Hades/Hel was, I suspect, not a part of the original creation. God did tell Adam and Eve that the day they ate from that one forbidden tree is the day they would die. Prior to that? No reason for a place to store the dead. No dead to store. But sin brings death (James 1:15), so I think sin brought its own little playground (Sheol). That little corner that Jesus calls Abraham’s Bosom? My guess is that God cleared out a chunk of the dead place that sin brought in its wake so that His dead could be comforted while they waited for better things. So why was/is there a place for the dead to hang out and wait to be judged? I suspect it has to do with there being dead people necessitating a place to store them while they wait. Think of Sheol/Hades/Hel as the lobby of a court house. Everyone’s just waiting for their case to be called. Are the righteous still there? Nope. The Bible says that Jesus descended into Hades and “led captivity captive” (subtitled: took His peeps out of the waiting room since the charges had been dropped). Why Gehenna/Tartarus? Natural outpouring of sin, I think. Let’s just say that there was no effort wasted in air conditioning the lobby of the court house or putting in plush chairs. Those in the lobby are not there to get comfy, they’re awaiting judgment. And that lake of fire place? Refer back to Matthew 25:41 and realize that it wasn’t made for people; it was made for the devil (Satan) and his angels (See Revelation 12:9 if you’re not aware of the whole “devil’s angels” idea). Purpose of Sheol/Hades/Hel: hold the dead. Purpose of Tartarus/Gehenna: uncomfortable waiting room. Purpose of the lake of fire: future residence of the devil and his angels.

So who is all this intended for? Well, Sheol and Hades and Hel and Gehenna and Tartarus all seem to be intended for people. They don’t seem well suited to the purpose—sin tends to do things poorly—but they’re still meant for people. The lake of fire is meant for angels who rebelled (Revelation 12, again). However, since God will eventually judge the dead (Revelation 20), there will no longer be a need for a waiting room. Court is held, sentence handed down, and all cases heard. Court is not adjourned, because there are no more cases to hear. So, God does what is rational when something no longer has a purpose: He tosses it out. If I’m right about the whole “Sheol, etc. was not necessary until sin showed up” thing then God is probably not going to want to keep the place around, especially since He’s tearing down the old heavens and Earth and starting over. No reason to keep reminders of the Earth that was — Jesus’ scars are quite sufficient to that purpose.

And, of course, the question so often asked when Hell (modern context) is brought up: “Why would a God Who loves people send them to Hell?” The answer, briefly, is that He doesn’t. He is, where this whole Hell/Heaven question is concerned, The Judge. He set out His Laws (read the Old Testament, particularly Exodus through Deuteronomy if you want to know what His legal system looks like). Now, most folks who have tried to obey those Laws know that it just ain’t happening (I know. I’ve tried). It’s almost like driving down the highway, that posted number is Just. SO. SLOW. But law is law and doesn’t change for me because I’m in a hurry or because conditions are safe to go 90 or because … fill in the blank. The law is the law is the law and any law enforcement officer is well within her rights to ticket me (or jail me and impound my car, if I’m going the speed some folks are). Laws do not bend or take mitigating circumstances into account. A just judge will enforce all laws equally. So God, being The Just Judge, enforces His Law without partiality. He did leave a little out in His legal framework, though. Someone else can ay the penalty for another’s short-coming. If one person had to sell themselves and their property to pay off a debt then a close relative could pay off the debt and clear the slate. We owe a debt we cannot pay, so Jesus paid it for us. The catch? We can choose not to allow that payment to be applied to our account. Ultimately, we decide whether we go to Heaven or finally land in the lake of fire.

To sum up: There are several places intended for the dead and/or for rebellious angels that serve a variety of purposes. Where a human being finds themselves is a matter of that person’s choice.

Caveat: These are my thoughts. Yes, I reference The Bible, but I am not The Bible‘s Author and cannot conclusively state His intent in anything written or recorded therein. My thoughts are just that: mine. They are only as right or as wrong as I happen to be and only God knows that for sure.

God Made It

And the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or Who makes dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

Exodus 4:11

We have a tendency to get wrapped up in our ability or inability to do a thing. If a person is a talented athlete or performer, there is a tendency to give themselves credit for that innate ability. The reasoning, I suppose, goes something like, “The ability was there, but I had to work at it and hone it and put in countless hours to become amazing at it.” There is truth in that, but it ignores the fact that dozens and dozens of others who do not have that innate ability put in just as many hours and never became as proficient. Music is an excellent example of this. There are musicians who practice for hour upon hour and become technical virtuosos, but never make the transition to the place where a single note can bring an audience to tears.

All that is about ability. What about disability? God is claiming, in this verse, to have made the person born with a disability that way. By extension, it would also mean that He ordains others’ loss of abilities. Why would God do a thing like that? We can understand Him giving one person an ability and not giving it to another—though we wonder how He decides who gets what—but we bristle at the idea that He would make someone disabled. What follows may come across strange, but bear with me. When I was a much younger man, I thought being raised in the church and choosing to believe at an early age was a kind of disability. I heard testimonies about how people had terrible lives and God saved them and thought, “My life isn’t that dramatic.” I sat in services where I was told I should notice a difference between the life I once lived and the life I now live and, in my ignorance, thought, “But I’ve been a Christian as far back as I have memory. What past life am I looking at?” I’ve since learned that today’s walk with God should look different—better—than the walk I had yesterday, -week, -month, -year, or -whatever. Along the line, God gave me glimpses of what I might have become if He had not given me the limitations He did. One example: I’ve always been a big dude and was asked by some of my high school classmates to try out for football, but a knee that buckles when I place weight on it wrong meant I thanked them for the thought and continued swimming instead. It’s a minor thing, but that minor thing kept me out of the path of so many temptations that I have since learned I am really weak against that I began to appreciate how much God knows about which I have no idea. And I could only recognize the dangers in hindsight.

This morning’s verse is usually used as an illustration of how God can turn a disability into an ability so that He gets the glory and the passage definitely brings that message. But I was drawn to the reality that God gives the limitations in the first place. Do I have limitations? Minor ones, but they are there. I have the aforementioned buckling knee. I have color deficiency (the sky really is a different color in my world). And I have a rather generous dose of social awkwardness. Are there others? Probably. But I have nothing as serious as blindness or a missing limb. Reality? Those things could be meant to protect a person from temptations that would otherwise make them spiritually disabled. Those could be meant to show the greatness of God, as was the case for at least one of the guys Jesus healed. Those could be the consequences of things we have done. There are dozens of reasons that make perfect, rational sense, but none of that matters if a person is hurting and wondering why. My understanding, limited though it is, of the “Why?” is that it is not a “Why did this happen?” (though those may be the words used) so much as a “Why doesn’t God love me?”

My point this morning is that God has a reason for everything He does and everything He does is motivated by love. If a person is born blind then God’s love for that person somehow dictated that they should be blind. God is love, according to 1 John 4:8 and that means that we are not only made with love—viz. God’s love for us—but that we are made by Love Himself (See Psalm 139). We are made with love. We are made by Love. And whatever He has made is made with purpose.

Commissioned (Moses)

“Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Exodus 3:10

Most folks have heard or read the account of Moses. The Ten Commandments and  Prince of Egypt are two notable examples of films adapted from this account.

This place, the commissioning of Moses, is where the real story begins. The basket in the river? Cool. His mom raising him and being paid by Pharaoh’s daughter to do so? Sweet. Moses trying to stop an Egyptian slave driver from beating an Israelite? Commendable. Misguided in method, but a commendable thought. But Moses being commissioned by God? This is the pivot point in the story. This is where things get seriously crazy for Moses.

I’m going to suggest something that may or may not be totally supported by the text, so take it with a grain of salt (or, y’ know, with Lot’s wife after looking back). I think Moses was lukewarm in his relationship with God while he was in Midian. Here’s why I think so. First, God appears to Moses, but waits for Moses to notice the appearance before speaking. Fast forward to Isaiah and God appearing in the temple and God just starts in on talking. God knew He had Isaiah’s attention, Moses’ attention was somewhat doubtful, I think. Second, his sons are not circumcised. This was—and still is—common practice for Jewish males. It could be argued that Moses didn’t know that it should have been done. But, if that’s the case, why does God get angry with Moses for it? Third, no mention is made—none at all— about Moses worshiping or having set up an altar. I mean, the guy lives with the priest of Midian, but no mention of any sort of relationship with God in the years between “run from Egypt and marry Midianite woman” to “slog back into Egypt to bring out the children of Israel” is made. No mention at all. Fourth, Moses asks God who He is. God tells Moses that He (God) is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and instructs Moses to get his posterior on over to Egypt. Moses responds with, “Who’s sending me?” I know… I know… he’s asking so he can explain to the children of Israel. But the question—to my mind—reveals a lack of familiarity. If Moses had been walking close with God all those years then I think this scene would have read more like:

God turned to Moses and said, “Moses. We’ve been talking a long time now and I have decided that it’s time for you to go free the Israelites.”

Moses thought a moment before nodding and replied, “Will do. I’ll just drop off the flock, pick up the fam, and we can be on our way. Do I need anything specific or should I just get on the road?”

Et cetera.

 

When Isaiah is commissioned, it goes more like:

God: I have a job that needs doing. Who can I send to do it?

Isaiah: Ooo! Me! Pick me!

God: Yes, you, the little scribe down in front.

 

I’m being flip, to an extent, but it’s about like that to my thinking. Notice that both speak with God and both are commissioned and both fulfill their commission. But Isaiah speaks with God as a matter of course. God appears and Isaiah doesn’t have to be told Who’s in front of him. He faceplants and repents of the words he knows God didn’t like coming out of his mouth. Moses has to be told Who he was dealing with.

What does this have to do with anything? Plenty. See, each of us is commissioned by God to something, even if that something is just the general commission given to all believers in Matthew 28. And many of us, if not all of us, will go through times of not walking as closely with God as we should. We will all, probably, have times when we are lukewarm. This does not mean that God is done working with us or that He is not still trying to get us back into right relationship with Him. In Revelation 3, Jesus calls the church of Laodicea to stop being lukewarm and repent and come back to relationship with Him. The burning bush is, I think, both Moses’ commission and his call out of lukewarm relationship into something far, far more intimate with God. Every Christian is likewise commissioned by God with some task. We may not be sent to rulers or any such thing, but we have work that God wants done and He has chosen us to get it done. And, if there is any merit to the idea that Moses had a lukewarm relationship with God at this point in the story, there is hope for every lukewarm believer who hears their commission and is hesitant to step out because of that distance between them and God. God is near. And we need only take the first step toward Him and we will find Him there with open arms and a return to His work.

Change of Management

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

Exodus 1:8

I’ve noticed that this pattern happens often. For example, when I first began teaching I had an administrator reviewing me who was helpful and insightful and praised the good things happening in the classroom without feeling like she needed to make up some kind of bad if she had not seen one. That year was a wonderful year. Then came the administrator who seemed to find fault with what I did every time. Some of the things mentioned in the reviews I didn’t even remember being a part of the lesson. This is just the “under new management” phenomenon and it happens to everyone.

But, as with Israel, I’ve noticed that God may have a purpose for His children in their hardships today. See, I loved teaching that first year, but every year thereafter became progressively more difficult to find the wherewithal to keep getting up and going in to be told everything I was doing wrong and never being told I had done anything right. I, eventually, crossed paths with an administrator who dealt the hand open and told me precisely what was likely to be expected of me by other admins who shared her views. Her input convinced me that it was time to consider leaving the teaching profession. For her, by the way, I have nothing but respect. She was difficult and demanding and utterly devoted to what she perceived as the good of her students. But God (often my favorite words) used that. I left the teaching profession and have been with the company I work for since then. My stress level has gone down, the demands on my time and attention are far less, and things are just plain better. Sometimes God’s purpose in afflictions is to prod us to move.

There are other purposes: to test our mettle, to reveal our character, the list goes on for quite a distance and we don’t have a complete accounting of why God does what He does when He allows us to be afflicted. In the psalms is the verse, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray.” Affliction disciplines us. During war time, America has been known—not recently, as we have not been in a conflict of WWI or WWII magnitude—to buckle down and be a disciplined, sacrificial group of people. It was those afflictions; those hardships that disciplined us. But they also changed us.

Israel, despite all the issues they faced there, had grown comfortable in Egypt. They had grown accustomed to their rations and acclimated to the work. When, eventually, God does lead them out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, they complain because they were leaving behind all that they had known. There is that same danger when God moves a Christian from one place to another. I can be comfortable and not want to move. When my wife and I married, I left the fellowship I had been with since I was eight years old. I had grown up in that fellowship and was comfortable there. When I started attending the fellowship where we are now, I had to rein in my impulse to complain about things that weren’t the same anymore. The pastor’s teaching style is different and the fellowship is smaller and I had to step out and get to know people again — the last is proving the most challenging, as I am not energized by social interaction.

So, a change in management; in leadership is often a signal that God is about to do something new. In this verse, it is a signal that He is about to make Israel uncomfortable so that they’re asking to be moved. When the kings of Israel are succeeded, it goes both ways. Sometimes it is a signal that the new administration is going to be terrible and lead the people astray while other times it is a signal that the king will be calling Israel back to faithfulness to God. In my life, I need to cooperate with God when He starts moving things around. He has been teaching me that lesson where I am now and I do not anticipate He will stop teaching me that lesson until I have mastered it.

God’s Place (Judgment)

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?”

Genesis 50:19

This is one of those verses I’ve heard taught on dozens of times. Most every teaching on it I can remember involves being forgiving and getting the right perspective. In the next verse, Joseph says that what his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good, so that line of teaching works very well for this passage. But there is something else that caught my attention this morning. Joseph’s brothers are asking him to forgive them for having done him a wrong. They’re worried that he will seek retribution now that their father is gone. His answer? Not his place to mete out judgment. I think the modern Christian needs to learn a thing or two from Joseph.

The first thing we need to learn is that it is God’s place to pronounce judgment on people. When Jesus told His disciples about the separation of the sheep from the goats, it was Jesus doing the judging. When John sees the White Throne Judgment in Revelation, it is God sitting on the throne. In any and every passage in The Bible that deals with judging people, God is the One doing the judging. What this means is that we Christians need to stop pronouncing judgment on people. I’m looking at you, Westboro Baptist, but I know you’re just the obvious symptom of a not-so-obvious disease in the church. Feel free to picket my blog, by the way, I could use a good laugh. We Christians need to stop with the judging of other people. I do not know the heart of the person next to me. I can barely fathom the shallows of my own heart. If we’re honest with ourselves, we none of us are in a position to be taking over God’s job of judging. Jesus set up the criteria when He said, “Whoever among you is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” Unless any of us believes ourselves to be without sin, there will be no stones lofted. And if any of us does believe him- or herself to be without sin, that person has a rude awakening on the horizon.

The second thing we need to learn is what our place is. If our place is not to be judging others (and it’s not) then we need to know what our place is. This lack of understanding of our place might be part of why places like Westboro crop up. Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, to teach those disciples everything Jesus had taught His disciples, and to baptize those new disciples in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. My paraphrase is out of order intentionally. Baptism is great, but it won’t save a person. In order to make disciples, we must be teaching what we want those disciples to learn but we must also be living out those lessons in front of potential disciples and active disciples alike. And Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets in this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. That is my place as a Christian. It is my place to love. Some will assert that it is loving to tell a person who is going to Hell that they are going to Hell in order to save them. I reply with, “Sure. So long as the telling is done in love.” Does picketing someone’s funeral show love? Does picketing anything show love? Picketing is, to my mind, one step shy of rioting, because the picket line and mob have much the same mentality. And the mob is not loving. Joseph, by the way, models loving behavior when he tells his brothers that he will take care of them and their little ones then does it.

The application is pretty straightforward today, but I’ll summarize for my own benefit. One: It is God’s place to judge, not mine. If I’m judging someone else then I am wrong and I need to seek God’s forgiveness for trying to take His throne. Two: It is my place to love my God and my fellow human beings. For Joseph, this meant providing for the needs of his brothers and their families. Since I’m not second in command of an empire, that’s not my bag. But I should be meeting those needs I am able to meet. I should be comforting others with the comfort that God has given me (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and loving my brother and sisters in Christ as Christ first loved me and the unbelieving would then know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35). To end this as it should be ended: I may not be holding a picket sign, but my heart can be just as judgmental. It is my judgmental heart that God wants to root out. Once it’s gone, there won’t be any picket signs to worry about.