Originally published in MEDIUM
Oct 14, 2019 · 7 min read
we have different ways of serving God and we need the freedom to do so
Lest my lovely little bad of loyal readers think I have disparaged worship with my previous ponderings (“Does church get in the way of God?” Oct.13), let’s look at some of the many ways people serve God, and why we all need to be allowed to do so, in our ways.
If you are reading this, you very likely live in the U.S.A., a country founded on the premise of religious freedom. That is no small thing.
Our predecessors came to a rough and tumble wilderness across a dangerous sea — because they had been persecuted for their particular beliefs. Europe in the 1600s was embroiled in the repercussions of the Reformation and the actions of Henry VIII in England. The countries and cultures that had been Catholic now had protestants in their midst, and they didn’t always get along.
So when the Puritans had the opportunity to practice their form of Protestantism in a vast new place, without persecution, they took the risk. They packed their lives into tiny boats and came here and tamed a wilderness.
Our later leaders took the further step of declaring this an independent country, no longer under the laws of England. They had to fight for years to make that a reality, so when they wrote our laws, they made sure that “freedom of religion” was part of our constitution. (That is “freedom OF religion,” kids; not freedom FROM.)
It was very important to the founders of our republic that all of us would always be allowed to worship God the way we choose. They could never have imagined a country where most people worship no god at all, but that’s a topic for another day.
So, even though I do not go to church, as I explained yesterday, I have the right to do so. And so do you. And that is how it should be.
Is one church right and one church not? That is not for us to decide.
Can “churches” be dangerous cults? Certainly.
Can “religions” be theocracies? You bet! And if those theocracies do not mesh with our republic, you can also bet there will be some pushback. (Because theocracies are religions with actual civil laws of their own which supersede secular laws.)
But within the general definitions of worship, in our country pretty much everything is protected. If you are a satanist and wish to burn a pentagram into your own pasture, you are free to do so.
Which brings us to “waving for Jesus.”
We Christians are a diverse lot but one of the things most of us agree on is “service.” Jesus made that pretty clear: one of the best ways we can serve Him is to serve others.
“…as you have treated the least of these…you have done it to me…” (Matthew 25:40) is His way of saying that.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. That is a very Middle Eastern thing to do, to show respect.
When Tim Tebow’s “Night to Shine” hosts their proms for “other people” every spring, the volunteers polish the shoes of the people with Downs Syndrome and other disabilities as they arrive in their limos. That is his nod to that Biblical admonition, so it’s a good illustration, but Tim’s whole life is service. He got that message loud and clear, and he has practiced it to the detriment of his career. That’s commitment.
Franklin Graham grew up as the son of a world famous evangelical preacher. Billy Graham saved souls for decades with his powerful “crusades,” patterned after the old-fashioned tent “revivals” of early 20th Century America.
When Franklin became an adult he saw the need for a ministry of service. He started small, filling shoeboxes with items children in Third World countries could use, as well as little toys, and a small Bible or New Testament. You don’t win hearts to God with every shoebox, but the ones that result in a child finding faith….you can’t put a value on that.
Decades later, Samaritan’s Purse is a global service organization, providing comfort and relief following storms and other natural disasters. The day after Hurricane Dorian swept through the Bahamas, Samaritan’s Purse was on the islands, with their portable hospital and food tents. That is serving God in the best way, isn’t it?
We could cite examples for days, but the point is that we try to serve in the ways that God has given us.
I try to bring joy with my paintings.
I wasn’t always honest about that. For awhile, in the beginning, it was all about me, and I worked to make a small name for myself in my little art world, and succeeded. I’ve managed to make a respectable living with my work, too.
But in the last few years, removed more and more from the more competitive world of art, I’ve been able to let go of the need to constantly create “new and unique” and been able to focus more on what I want my collectors to receive from my work. What is the feeling a painting gives? How does it change your day? Does it give you a little boost to just look at it? Maybe the colors make you feel better even though you weren’t even aware you looked at it.
And because I have been more open to this little “mission,” God has been blessing me with inspirational images. You may not look at them and perceive that, but there are messages I’m not even aware of in some of my newest work.
The image that accompanies “having faith in a faithless world” (METHOD July 13, 2019) is called “glimpses of heaven.” I love the colors in it. The colors of the sky and the marsh make me happy.
The dog just appeared.
I didn’t picture the dog when I started. I had been painting a series of dockhouses, the little summer houses with amenities that people in the Lowcountry put out at the end of their thousand foot long docks. The dockhouse series has been successful, because they are somewhat iconic to our area. I was thinking about what color the tin roof should be, and instead — I painted the silhouette of a dog, facing away.
For his master to come back in a boat? Waiting for the sunset? Waiting for someone who won’t be back? I had no idea. Still don’t.
When I brought it to the gallery in Beaufort it started generating all sorts of wonderful interactions with people. It often made them cry.
I got that slip “slap up the side of the head” from my angel, that said, “see? Just listen. God won’t steer you wrong.”
So I am more cognizant now of my mission. My small talent can be a gift to other people to remind them of bigger, warmer, more wonderful things. Or smaller blessings. Perhaps remind them of God.
Which brings us back to “waving for Jesus.”
When me moved to our corner of the swamp almost five years ago, I would often pass a man on the side of the road as you drive into Beaufort. It was right after the first bridge onto the islands, and he would be there during morning “rush hour,” waving at the cars.
It was charming, but curious.
I always looked for him. And sometimes he wasn’t there, for months at a time. Then he would show up standing with a crutch. But still waving to the morning cars.
Finally, after we’d been here a few years, the local paper did a little story on him, and it turns out that he isn’t well but he wants to serve Jesus. Asking in prayer what he could do, waving to the rush hour cars was the answer. Just a little bright spot in your stressed out morning, a stranger smiling and waving at you. For no reason. For Jesus.
Once I knew that, I started looking for him more. He’s only there Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays now, and usually only an hour, between 8 and 9 am. And today he wasn’t there at all. But when he is, we smile and wave at each other like long lost friends. I toot the horn and we both point to heaven. It’s his little gift.
His little service to us. A form of worship. A reminder of God. Even people who have no idea why that man stands there and waves have to feel a little better when they see it.
So, I will defend your right to go to the church of your choice. And I will continue to ask God to point me along my path.
And now and then, one of us will perform an act of kindness, for no reason. Or “pay it forward.” These secular admonitions are the same as “even unto the least of these…” When we step outside our own needs, even for a brief moment, we all become better for it.
Because we’re all a little better when we know there is something bigger than us. And that “something” really wants us to work together here. We don’t have to agree on anything else.