A number of years ago while at a newspaper conference in Chicago, I came upon a display of the twenty best ads of the year. There were a number of clever layouts but one of them really caught my eye. It was a full page and had a graphic of an old-time country church. There was little writing. The caption, which was printed in big bold italic letters said; Come in, sit down, relax . . . . . . and get the Hell Out!
The advertisement was for a Christian church and although it was meant to shock the reader, its message was excellent. When we think about the purpose of church, not necessarily the brick and mortar but the spiritual purpose of a church could not be better stated. Church is to help us progress more toward heaven, paradise or whatever you want to call the place your spirit will go after we leave this earth. What would be more important as far as theology is concerned than getting the hell out of our lives.
A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend I hadn’t talked to in five or more years. He was a vice president in the company I worked for in the midwest and he was a wonderful man. About halfway through our conversation he apologized for some of the ‘salty language’ he had been using, stating that this long break from attending church because of COVID 19 was having an impact on his spiritual side. His comment is one I have thought about at length because it was a clear acknowledgement that he needed organized religion to help guide him through life.
I’m not sure which denomination he goes to nor would it matter for this discussion. Religion to me is something of a road map that helps guide me through the land mines that seem to be everywhere these days. Being active in your local congregation, whichever one you are partial to, will not only help guide you, it will also help all those who share your convictions.
How did Jesus put it, love God, love your neighbor and love yourself. If we were making a cake, those three ingredients would be a pretty simple recipe. Difficulties in life very often arise when we fail to follow the simple recipe outlined by God in the scriptures.
Is it always easy to love God? Often, when things are not going our way, we like to assign the divergent path we are on as God’s will, or something he planned to happen to us. I believe that God is aware of everything that happens to us. The fact that He knows something bad is going to transpire is not to say that He is causing it to happen to us. We have free will, the right to dictate what happens to us. What we often don’t want to own is the fact that our actions over many months, years or our entire lifetime has everything to do with where we end up. You, and you alone are responsible for your actions.
If I come to a crossroads it is up to me to decide which path to take. Staying on a path that is constantly creating hardship or difficulty might not make much sense, and failing to retrace your steps and get on the right path is a choice only you can decide. It’s not God’s will that you make bad choices.
Science tells us that smoking is one of the primary causes of lung cancer and heart disease. A person may choose to smoke but the effect that smoking has on their lungs is not something they get to decide. It would not be prudent to blame your cancer from smoking on God especially knowing scientifically that smoking increases your risk of getting sick later.
Is it always easy to love your neighbor? Maybe this is the trickiest of all the commandments because we don’t always get to choose who are neighbors are. Neighbors are the people on either side of us, true, but when God talks about loving our neighbors He is talking about everybody, regardless of how close they live to us. We don’t get to decide what our neighbors do but we can decide how we will react to them when their actions affect us.
As a teenager I drove a Dodge Challenger, which not only looked awesome, it had glass pack mufflers that sounded awesome. My first job each morning required me to be at work at 3:30 a.m. six days per week. I never really knew just how annoying the sound of me firing up my big block V8 engine was until my next-door neighbor commented on what time I had arrived home the night before. I suggested that it was around midnight, but he knew to the minute that I had rolled into home at 1:36 a.m. that morning. Unbeknownst to me up to that very day, was that every time I came or left I woke him up. Rather than complain, I think he simply accepted the fact that my car was noisier than his Lincoln Town Car and that’s how things were going to be. We always got along.
Loving ourselves is also a life-long journey. Each of us is a product of our genetic history. I am tall, in part because my grandfather, born in 1867, was 6’ 4” tall. I once had red hair and lots of freckles because my mother was a redhead. I can’t change my physical characteristics, but I can change or modify things about myself that deal with self-worth. I could make a list of all the things I wish were different about me but to what end? We were born in God’s image – and that should be good enough.
In the coming weeks, our places of worship will once again be opening for religious services. I look forward to the day that I can return to my congregation to worship and I especially look forward to teaching my class of six and seven-year-old children. I would encourage you to do the same and if you don’t have a place to worship, find one. It’s been so long since any of us have been to an organized religious service that everybody will feel like it’s their fist time and nobody will look like a stranger.
After weeks of battling the COVID-19 virus it is due time we get the hell out of our lives, inviting God back into our homes and our minds.