Two events have occurred within the past several days that have made for interesting conversation, at least. The first is the Rio Summer Olympics. With all of the American athletes doing so well it is encouraging to see the joy and national pride taking center stage for a change. The second event is the beginning of school. The anticipation of kids getting back together, and moms and dads breathing the sigh of relief as they snap the pics of the first day of school kids on their way helps to give the feeling of a new spirit in the air, a new sense of anticipation and joy.
And for just a short while both the Olympic’s excitement and the back-to-school days fervor help to take our eyes and minds off the political scene, not only around the world, but also in our own country these days.
That is a tremendous task though. Sometimes, in the course of daily living, we may become overwhelmed, feeling as though the sky is falling and the house is crashing in around us. How do you survive in times like those? What with the political ads, the economic pressures, vocational and employment instability, family and relational demands and the like, it is easy to become discouraged and indeed to feel like the sky is falling all over us.
A few years back, one of the major television networks began running, during the late part of the summer months, an advertisement promoting their new fall lineup of programs. They encouraged their viewers to, “Come on home.” Obviously, the network executives were trying to entice their viewers back to the network viewing after a summer slump, when those viewers had drifted away from their normal patterns of watching during the summer months.
Not too long ago, while praying for the members and friends of our local congregation as well as those in other congregations, I thought about that slogan, and realized that the condition of our spiritual lives could indeed be characterized as “drifting away.” I have been concerned about the state of our corporate and individual spiritual health. When I have served in churches and have inquired of various delinquent or missing congregation members about the state of their spiritual health, I have received the all-too-typical response: “I can’t believe how easy it is to drift away – especially over the summer.”
It’s easy to drift away from corporate worship, from meaningful fellowship, from responsible discipleship, and from faithful stewardship. And the truth of the matter is that many of God’s people all over have indeed drifted away during these hot summer months. Actually, sometimes it seems that the Apostle Paul’s fears for the first century Corinthians have been realized to some extent among 20th century Christians: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3)
In fact, according to a 60-page report entitled “The Church Today,” which was published not too long ago by the Barna Research Group, based in Glendale, Calif., even though most American Christians see the Bible as “accurate, relevant, and helpful,” many of them have problems “making time to study it, concentrating enough to comprehend it, and committing themselves sufficiently to adhere to it.” As a result, the report concludes, many believers have lost their moorings and are adrift in a heavy fog of spiritual ignorance and confusion. And if we would be brutally honest with ourselves and totally transparent with one another, many of us would not describe our Christianity during the summer as “pressing on the upward way.” In fact, for many of us, it has been more of a downhill slide.
But on the other side of this issue, Gregg Easterbrook writes in The New Republic: “Recent studies indicate that men and women who practice in any of the mainstream faiths have above-average longevity, fewer strokes, less heart disease, less clinical depression, better immune-system function, lower blood pressure, and fewer anxiety attacks, and they are much less likely to commit suicide than the population at large. These findings come from secular medical schools and schools of public health… In the most striking finding, Dr. Harold Koenig of the Duke University Medical Center has calculated that with regard to any mainstream faith, ‘lack of religious involvement has an effect on mortality that is equivalent to 40 years of smoking one pack of cigarettes per day.’ …Another new study, conducted mainly by researchers at the University of Texas, found that those who regularly attended worship services lived an average of seven years longer than those who never attended.”
So, I say it’s time to come on home. In the words of our Lord Himself, “Return faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding (Jeremiah 2:22). Yes, “Come let us return to the Lord… Let us acknowledge the Lord, let us press on to know Him.” (Hosea 6:1,3)
Come on home to the Lord. Come on home to the place where His glory dwells: His Church: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24,25)
As we look forward to the commencement of the fall season, why not renew your commitment to come back as the fall begins? Why don’t you come on home? Come back to church. It’s almost as easy as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” clicking the heels of those red slippers,and repeating, “There’s no place like home!”
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.