Monday, January 28, 2013

Unstained religion?

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  James 1:27 NIV

I had a friend ask recently, "what is religion; how does it differ from belief and faith?"  I think I told her this was probably a question that many wrestle with and told her my best answer was that religion is something like an ordered practice.  One can be religious about many things; the way he or she does his or her job, cleans his or her home, takes care of others, works for a cause, or, of course, practices their faith.  It really does not necessarily have to have anything to do with God.  Therefore, does this 'religion' save you?  My easy answer was, "no!"
Belief is more than that.  True belief in God is more than religion.  Following and serving begin in the heart.  This will come out so much more as I begin week four of my James study.  I wish I had been posting every Friday as I finished each week's homework - but this study has been monumental and I want to share some of the beauty I have found in what Jesus' little brother penned!  In following up with my friend's question - I thought it fitting that I write James' definition of religion - because his is so much better than what I could come up with! 
The ESV (English Standard Version) says it like this: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."  James 1:27
Unstained?  This is hard; take care of others when it is sometimes hard to take care of ourselves, love the unloveable, help those who need it, get down in the mud so to speak?  In other words, why speak of our love for Christ if it doesn't compel us to get out of our pretty places, roll up our sleeves, and WORK?  But wait - don't get dirty!  What! I live in a tiny house and I have 6 children (some still at home and the others come to visit now), I babysit toddlers and an after-schooler, and I have a granddaughter.  I have never been able to clean this little place without getting dirty - even a light tidy will cause me to break a sweat!  So that causes me to pull back the reins and say, "whoa, how can I work without getting dirty?"
James gives us the answer - but the answer is so familiar, I think I missed it until now.  Love your neighbor (let's be honest, I'm asking him, "do you really mean all of them")?  Seriously?  I already know this stuff James....I quote them easily!  Between loving God, and serving Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself; I have said those things so much I figured I had them down pat!  I mean Jesus says they are the greatest commandments, and I say them all the I got this, right?
NO!  I've read those words on cute, little needlework prints you could buy out of magazines that my grandmother used to receive since before I knew a thing about God.  Long before my dear, sweet Papa introduced me to my amazing Father, I quoted those words like a mantra.  I knew, when I was 6, to be nice to my neighbor and I even knew that that meant more than the lady next door.  I knew it was anyone I came in contact with.  I could read, but to REALLY love my neighbor, I just wasn't grasping that.  You see, God is LOVE, and before I knew God, I only knew love from a worldly perspective.  I think I just thought being nice and hurting no one was enough.  And if I were to dig a little deeper and try to reach out a little beyond myself, and do something to really help someone else - well - I must have really grasped it, right?
I don't want to say much more because I have begun my homework for week four now - and I must say - today's study was BIG for me.  So I will close by reverting back to the thought of remaining unstained.  How can we do that?  I think James is saying we can - if we continually keep bathing everything we do in real, pure love.
" "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied, " 'Love the Lord our your God with all your heart and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." "  Matthew 22:36-40

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