In the summer of 1974, I met Ben Cohen. He owned the small grocery store known as Ben & Leo's in downtown Colchester. I turned 16 and I walked into the store and asked to speak with Ben. A few hours later I got the call and began working as a bag boy.
Ben trained me himself. He was the kind of owner who was right out front. It wasn’t uncommon to see him ringing the register, bagging groceries, doing a magic trick and chatting with the customers. Everyone loved Ben. He was an institution in Colchester.
The only time I ever saw Ben get mad was the day I was fooling around up front at the cash registers. He took me aside and told me something I’ll never forget. He said he was disappointed in me. That hurt. He went on to explain that what I did, how I composed myself while in the store, and how I treated the customers, was a reflection on him.
He said that when I was at the registers they didn't see Cal Lord. They saw Ben Cohen. My actions would shape how they felt about shopping at Ben & Leo’s. I took Ben’s words to heart and it changed my thinking forever. I would never want to hurt him or the store.
It wasn’t long before I realized that this had repercussions on the way we live out our faith as well. The truth is that words are cheap. The way we live says so much more about our faith than what we say. And people notice. Just like that bag boy at Ben & Leo’s, we are on display for the whole world to see. Our actions reflect back on the God we love.
If our faith is a source of comfort and strength it will tell the world that God is trustworthy and true. If our faith compels us to love and forgive, it will tell the world that God is compassionate and full of grace. People will be drawn to this God we love and serve.
On the other hand, if we are critical and judgmental, angry and lashing out at everything, the world will see God as hard and unforgiving. If we turn a blind eye to the hungry and homeless, the single parent, the poverty ridden family and those who are crying out for justice, then we tell the world that God doesn’t care about the human situation.
Like it or not, when we step out in faith, the world doesn’t see us, they see God. Ben Cohen was right. So live to the glory of God. Reflect his love and his grace. Turn away from sinful practices and embrace all that is good and pleasing to God.
The Rev. Cal Lord is pastor of Central Baptist Church of Westerly.