The picture (above) is from Ruthie Howard, who works with children in the Lake Victoria region of Uganda. The sparkling eyes and happy smiles spreading across their faces are beautiful, aren't they?
When I think of "religious work," I think of doing it with beautiful children like these.
The topic today is "pure and undefiled religion." (James 1:27)
According to James, religion is not merely a list of rules to follow, a litany to chant, or a ritual to perform.
Pure and undefiled religion is so much more. It's "visiting widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27)
This verse is chock-full of challenge. The visiting we're to do is not simply stopping by to say hi or drop off a cake.
The visiting we're to do is in the midst of circumstances so difficult we don't want to go, but we go anyway, and we do it with the intent of assessing the situation to see how we can help.
The "orphan" is not only the fatherless child. According to Vine's Expository Dictionary, the word for orphan also means the friendless, the desolate, the one who lacks a guide, teacher, or guardian.
That expands our area of responsibility, doesn't it?
The longer I've pondered this verse, the more I'm convinced that, though pure and undefiled religion includes doing repairs for elderly widows, buying school supplies for orphaned children, taking a basket of food to a family in distress, it is so much more.
"Pure religion" also involves finding the worst possible situation, the most hopeless person, evaluating the need, and taking action to correct the problems.
We, the body of Christ, are responsible for the widows and orphans, the friendless and the fatherless, the ones in distress, and the ones in the midst of trials so difficult they seem like tribulation.
We are to see them, to love them, to help them. No matter how difficult. No matter how hopeless it seems.
We're not helping because we're good people. We're helping because we have a good Father who cares about all His children and longs to see them whole and in right relationship with Him.
If we're to be His hands and feet in this dark world, we must want wholeness and relationship with God for people in need, as well.
If our religion is pure when we keep our hearts unstained and we reach out to the ones in distress, what is our religion if we don't?
What if we don't keep our hearts unstained? What if we nurture a bit of the world, but we do good deeds?
What if we keep our heart unstained by the world but we don't involve ourselves with those in need?
This is not an either/or verse. It's both/and. We're to keep ourselves unstained by the sin of the world AND we're to find people in need and try to help.
If we do nothing except sit on a pew once or twice a week, our "religion" is neither pure nor undefiled.
If we follow Christ, we'll do what Christ did, beginning with loving people as we love ourselves, in their need, in their distress, in their distasteful situations.
We'll step in, share love, spread light, speak truth. We will be involved.
Let's take a close look at our lives. Do we have a form of religion or the "pure and undefiled" religion of James 1:27? Are we a Christ-follower or merely a Christ-talker?
It's not too late to make a change. Let's start today.
"Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." James 1:27 nlt
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Sending an Encouraging Word
*** I'm sharing about my Jordan Journey at a brunch on Saturday. It's interactive with multiple "stations" to check out. We'll sample Jordanian food and hear stories from my trip. April 1 at 10:30-12 at Global Outreach home office, 74 Kings Highway, Pontotoc MS. You're all invited. Comment or message me if you'd like to come.***
If God has called you to help with this ministry of digital and in-person outreach (both in the US and around the world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 or you can mail your check or money order to:
Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.