Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pure and Undefiled Religion

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James 1:27 (NKJ)

There's a connection with the above verse and what Jesus commanded in Mark 12:29-31.  In the book of Mark the scriptures state:  Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is:  Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these."
There's a Veggie Tales movie based on the life of the real St. Nicholas.  (Of course, we have to understand that most Veggie Tale movies are "fractured fairy tales" and stray somewhat from the actual historical events.)  In one scene a young Nicholas leaves home after his parents died.  He finds a nun in another country faithfully providing food to the poor.  Nicholas tries to understand why she would dedicate her life to such a hard task, thinking maybe she did it because it made her happy to help the less fortunate.  She tells him, "I don't give to the poor to make me happy; because I am happy I give to the poor."  To be honest, since this was a parody I don't know if it actually happened to the real St. Nicholas or not but it's still a powerful statement.

We don't give to the needy to impress God so that He might love us more or save us more.  Our works can't save us nor do our works impress Him.  Nor do we give to the needy so that it deepens our relationship with Him.  We don't reach out to others to grow closer to the Lord; because we are closer to the Lord we reach out to others. 
In James' time the orphans and widows represented those within the body of Christ who had the greatest needs.  He wasn't saying to reach out to only the orphans and widows but to those who had legitimate needs which were beyond their control to meet in any way.  Jesus used the story of the Good Samaritan to express that anyone in need was worthy of care and concern.
Visiting the orphans and widows was intentional.  The Greek word for "visit" comes from a word meaning "to inspect, to select, to go to see to, relieve; look out, visit."  They didn't visit them to be nosy neighbors or to be judgmental but to inspect to see what their needs might be and to bring relief to them.
Pure religion cares and puts feet to its caring.  Pure religion also flows out of a love relationship with the Lord.  As we draw closer in an intimate friendship with Him, out of that will flow a love and compassion for others.  Love responds to other people's needs.  Always.
Application of God's Word:
1.  Do you know of any widows or orphans you can minister to within the body of Christ?  How about single moms who might be single for other reasons than just widowhood?  How about those needy neighbors?
2.  Do you even notice when someone outside your own safe circle of family and friends is suffering?  Do you even care?
3.  Before rushing to form another committee to visit "the orphans and widows" or anyone else with a great need, first run to Jesus.  Draw close to Him in an intimate love relationship for out of that intimacy with Him will flow His compassion and concern for others.  Compassion will result in action, if you will allow yourself to be intentional in walking it out.  Put feet to your care and concern once God shows you the need.  This, my friend, is pure and undefiled religion.
4.  Did you notice pure and undefiled religion isn't about what you can get out of it.  Its motive isn't selfish or me-focused.  Pure and undefiled religion is about Jesus and others.  Always.  That's what Jesus was talking about in Mark 12:29-31.

Personal Matters:

Mike Hofer is one of those people who walks out this scripture.  It flows from a heart which really cares about others and on a daily basis he quietly and faithfully reaches out.  He can't help everyone who has great needs but, because He hears and recognizes God's voice, he is guided by the Lord as to who he can help.  His motives are selfless.  He doesn't do it for honor and glory.  Most of you don't even know how he ministers to others and it's not my place to say.  He just does it.  Generosity is a deep well within him which flows out of his love relationship with Jesus.  And I'm not just talking about financial needs here.  He is a faithful friend to a couple guys who drive me crazy because they put such a demand on his time.  It's doesn't bother Mike.  He simply sees another opportunity to be Jesus to someone who is needy where he can do something or say something to make their day a little brighter.  Yeah, that's the pure and undefiled religion James was talking about.

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