When I turned fifty my wife surprised me with a trip to Hawaii, a place I always wanted to visit. As you might expect we took many photos as it was the first visit for both of us. Upon our return we couldn’t wait to go through the pictures we had taken. I wasn’t impressed with many of them that I was in. My initial response was “honey, who’s the fat guy you’re with?” I knew I was out of shape compared to my earlier athletic years, but photos show what mirrors don’t-reality! I was embarrassed.
There is an epidemic of laziness and lethargy in our country. The U.S. boasts some of the best Medical Schools and facilities in the world. Regardless of your opinion of our current healthcare system, most anyone can find treatment for their ailments. The F.D.A. has stepped in to inform all consumers of the dangers of the foods they consume. We know what foods contain the highest levels fat and calories, which foods can elevate our cholesterol and blood sugars, which foods can lead to heart issues and even which ones have known carcinogens in them. As a food loving society, we can not plead ignorant to what we consume. Nor can we hide behind the veil of ignorance when it comes to daily exercise. And yet with all this publicized knowledge the U.S. consistently ranks low in the overall world health reviews. Forever we were the most obese nation in the world with over 30% of all citizens being obese-we are still #2! We rank higher on all preventable illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, COPD and cancers due to smoking and UV exposure. We know, what to do, or what not to do, but like the Apostle Paul, we do just the opposite.
Each year as I observe the mass rush to local churches for Easter I am compelled to draw the same comparisons to the overall spiritual health of our country and the Christian church in general. We live in perhaps the most religiously tolerant country in the world.
We have the freedom to express our worship and live out our faith to the unlimited degree we desire, or not. Unlike many world countries, the U.S. has more than 450,000 churches, temples or synagogues to choose from. There is no shortage of facilities available for spiritual fitness. There are radio formats and cable television stations broadcasting daily in most US cities. Bible sales as well as phone and computer apps are profitable ventures, and even Hollywood is starting to cash in on the religious demographic, so that our senses are constantly aware of the spiritual realm.
But on Easter Sunday, churches prepare for the largest service of the year, some even scheduling multiple services to accommodate all those who will show up for their annual pilgrimage to a house of worship. Thank God for every person who pulls themselves away from the sofa to attend church on Easter Sunday. But the very next Sunday churches are back to half capacity. What are we doing to enhance our spiritual fitness the other 51 weeks of the year? Why are we, especially of the faith, less than zealous to be in service early enough to get a good seat and not miss anything? Where is the local church marketing and evangelism team when it is not Easter or Christmas? Why are many churches closing their doors due to reduced attendance and consequential funding instead of fighting for the fitness of their entire congregation?
There is little urgency in the body of Christ for the same reasons there is little concern over our physical health. If we aren’t sick, haven’t had a stroke or heart attack, haven’t yet developed diabetes or coughed up a lung, we assume all on the inside is well, and why fix something that isn’t broken on the outside. We will get to the gym when we get that first bad medical report. We have heard all our lives that Christ will return, but it hasn’t happened in over 2000 years, so what’s the rush. We will find our way to church when we lose our job or when we suffer through a nasty divorce or when we have some serious crisis that is bigger than our daily routine. We will exercise our unique religious freedoms by going to church when we feel like it. We will continue to treat our spiritual health on a symptomatic basis, when a pain arises or for an annual checkup.
However the comparisons between our physical and spiritual fitness only go so far. There is a unique difference that many fail to acknowledge. Our physical bodies are deteriorating every day toward an eventual physical death, no matter how hard you fought to stay in shape and apply your knowledge of physical fitness. Our spiritual being, however, goes on into eternity after physical death, in the state and level of fitness you maintained during your lifetime. Those things we do now to enhance our spiritual fitness, or those ways we simply ignore it, will last an eternity.
When I finally realized the seriousness of my lethargic lifestyle I forced myself to head for the gym at least 3 times each week. While I am not big into repetitive exercise, being around a group of people all there for the same purpose, I felt encouraged to push on and increase my level of activity and stretch myself beyond my current limitations. Might I suggest the same dynamic happens when we attend church with fellow believers. Going to church to worship is only half of our purpose. According to scripture we are to be there to encourage and be encouraged, to motivate and exhort each other to greater levels of spiritual fitness, something that can’t be done by watching your favorite TV evangelist from the comfort of your sofa by yourself. How many time this week have your worked on your physical and spiritual fitness levels?