LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN
Last fall, I started using a C-PAP machine to sleep. It was the result of years of warning from doctors that I had sleep apnea. Because I have bad lungs, I also have to sleep with oxygen. Prior to going on the machine, I suffered from severe body aches. I and the doctors thought I had systemic arthritis. I ached all over. Some days I could barely get out of bed and I would have to spend an hour in a hot shower just to be able to move. I accepted that this was my way of life from now on. I had arthritis that ached all over by body and I just had to live with it. It had been that way for several years.
About a month after I started using the C-PAP, I woke up one morning and realized that I no longer ached and I was no longer stiff and needed a hot shower to be able to move! What an exciting discovery. The fact is, my body was starving for oxygen. Once I got the oxygen, my body improved, and my cloudy thinking cleared up. I am back to by old grouchy self!
Recently this condition was reinforced. I forgot to turn on the oxygen machine and slept all night without oxygen. The next day, I felt like I had fever and I ached all over. Sure enough, without the oxygen, I felt horrible.
Do you remember a group from the 60s called Sweet? They had a song called Love is Like Oxygen. The lyrics say:
Love is like oxygen
You get too much you get too high
Not enough and you’re gonna die
I don’t know about getting high on oxygen, but I know that too little oxygen can make you feel like you are dying.
You may be wondering why I would write about this. I see a spiritual connect, or more precisely, a spiritual analogy. There are a lot of people, who say they are Christians, but have fallen out of regular church attendance. You often hear them say, I am right with God, or I am close to God as always. Being right with God is impossible when one is deliberately disobedient to the commands of God. Lets face it, the commands of God are not hard to understand nor are they that hard to obey. Jesus said that if you love me, you will keep my commandments. The Christian life is that simple and that difficult. I’m not talking about a kind of legalism where we have a list of commands and we tick off each command that we keep. I am talking about a lifestyle where we have deliberately decided that we will live as God would have us to live. We will soon discover that keeping God’s commands are as necessary to life as oxygen is to our living a healthy life.
One of God’s great commands is that we not forsake the assembling of ourselves, that is, attending worship and fellowship with God’s church. We are to bear each other’s burdens. We are to love each other and lift each other up. We even are to admonish one another when we are slipping off into sin or some behavior dangerous to our spiritual welfare. Regular attendance of worship and fellowship with God’s people is essential for a healthy spiritual life.
James Torrance defined worship as fellowship with the Father, in the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Worship is a total God thing. In corporate worship, the church is drawn into a deep fellowship with God. That is too amazing for words. It is facilitated by the fact that we are in Christ, that deeply mysterious relationship we have with Jesus when we are drawn to him by his grace and received by faith. It is the Holy Spirit, who is always with us as the church, who takes our feeble attempts at worship and turns it into a deep, spiritual experience.
Our participation in worship, in turn, facilities a deep fellowship with our fellow church members. Fellowship is more than saying hi or eating a meal together, which we Baptists are really good at. Fellowship is a deep sense of belonging to each other, to share with each other on a soul level. Fellowship with God is at the deepest level of our being. Fellowship with God is literally, awe-some, in the most basic meaning. We stand in awe of God and of his grace and love which drenches us, excessively dripping all around us. It is the ultimate act of being loved, and the ultimate sense of belonging. We know through worship that we belong to God.
On the human level, we have the same kind of fellowship with each other in Church. We are finite and we cannot love, perhaps, as deeply as God has loved us. But as children imitate their parents, we imitate our heavenly Father. Our fellowship can be deeply powerful. It is God’s earthly means by which we grow in grace. It is the shelter from the storm that God provides for us so that we might live faithfully in the world. It is our feast, our table of abundance; our place of counsel; our soul hospital when injured. It is a place where we become accountable to each other concerning the stewardship of our lives. We learn the deep things about God by studying his Word together. We pray for each other and we help each other in times of need. None of this is available to the one who refuses to attend church and be a part of God’s fellowship.
When a Christian tells you that they are doing just fine even though they do not go to Church, is deceiving himself, or outright lying. It is impossible to claim to love Christ and not keep his commandments. And it is impossible to be right with God and not attend worship and to be in fellowship with the people of God. You cannot worship God on the golf course or in the hunting stand or in the boat while fishing. You may admire the beauty of God but you are not worshiping as God has commanded. This is not my opinion; it is a statement of fact derived straight from Scripture.
The words “right with God” or “Close to God” do not exist in the Bible. Scripture does not speak in those terms. One is either obedient or disobedient. It is true that in various writings, the Psalms is a good example, that the writer feels distant from God in deep soul pain or euphorically close to God with his emotions soaring. But for the Christian, there is no way to be far away from God. We are in Christ, Christ is in us. It is mysterious relationship that takes a life time to experience to explore. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. The moment you are justified in Christ, the Holy Spirit becomes a part of your life. But the Holy Spirit is particularly with us when we gather as the Body of Christ. The promise is that when two or three are gathered in his name, he is in our midst. We may never fully understand these mysteries, but we can experience them by being faithful to God.
When someone says, “I am doing just fine, I am as close to God as ever,” or, “I am right with God,” and do not attend church, they are a lot like my body when I have a lack of oxygen. I thought my life was normal; this is just the way it is. But suddenly with a supply of oxygen, I found out that my life had been a lie, deceived by my lack of oxygen. I was a lot healthier than I thought!
The person who says they love God, yet does not attend church is just like me without oxygen. They think they are normal. Their dullness of Spirit is normal. The sense of depression and being cut off from something meaningful is just the way it is for humans.
Christians, who separate themselves from church, often do so for some odd reasons. Sometimes someone offended them. The offending party may never know that, what she said or did, was offensive. But in a moment of immaturity, the offended goes off vowing to never return. Other times, lack of attendance is caused by shame in one’s circumstances. A change of income, a sin that they are afraid someone will discover, or perhaps problems in their marriage or with their children will cause them to hide from God and his church.
It has always baffled me that when church members are in trouble and need their church family the most, will run away from the church and will not tell why. When they need their family support, prayer, love, acceptance, they run in the other direction. I guess they become overwhelmed by their guilt or shame. It points out to us all that our secular attitudes creep into our church life and stagnate our souls. We have to leave social acceptance, demands, and expectations, all outside the church and adopt a new culture of love and grace. Love is truly like oxygen and it is necessary to live. Real love, Godly love, is hard to recognize and it is something that must be cultivated in God’s church. We have to leave our secular views of love outside, and learn to love like God. That kind of love will make us thrive and soar. It bears witness to God’s love for the sinner.
The person, who does not attend church, is love starved. He or she is oxygen starved and has no idea of the life they could be living if they only spent time in fellowship with their church. Ok, I know that church can be boring, particularly if we are looking for an excuse or if we refuse to love others the way God loves us. The music might be too hot or too cold. People may not always talk to you. You may fell left out. The preacher’s sermon might be dry or confusing. And things will stay that way as long as you only attend on occasion and keep others at a distance. But if one immerses his self into the life of the church, worship with intentionality, small group Bible study, fellowship on all levels, you will find that suddenly your soul comes alive. One day you will discover that you do not have all those old aches and anxieties. They are gone because you have the oxygen needed feeding your soul. You may even discover that all those odd people, who are members of that church, are not so odd after all. In fact, they are just like you with the same needs and are willing to love you with the love of Christ. All they want is that you love them back with the same godly love. You will be amazed at what you have been missing.
Love is like oxygen. I don’t think you can ever get too much. But I know that without it, you will die.