When you hear the word "religious" what do you think of? Is it a good or a bad word in your world? If someone called you "religious," would you be happy about that or upset?
If I'm totally honest, I actually don't like it when people call me religious. I'm not aiming to be religious. Religious, to me, means rigid rules, memorized prayers, carefully laid out rituals, and a cold God that is completely detached from me. That's not what I want for my life and it isn't the way I've come to know my Jesus. My Jesus longs for a close relationship with me. My Jesus lays out guidelines for me to follow because when I don't, I get hurt (kinda like how I don't let my kids play in the streets because I don't want them being hit by cars). My Jesus still loves and adores me even when I screw up- which I still do twenty million times a day. Okay, not that much, but it's a seriously daily event. Just like I still love my babies when they mess up, he still loves me and I'm so relieved by that.
So what exactly am I aiming for if "religious" isn't my adjective of choice? I'd love to see a smile and a knowing nod. I'd love to know that when others see me, they just know I love Jesus. Because that's my aim- to love like Jesus loves just as he asks us to in Matthew 22:39 when he said "love others as well as you love yourselves" and again in Ephesians 5:1-2 (through Paul's fingertips as he wrote) when he says to love extravagantly just like God does. But more than anything that I hope others think of me, I hope God sees me doing my best to love those around me because it's His opinion that really counts for anything.
Let's look at the verses Jesus has for me to use today:
"If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. 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 1:26-27)
And also The Message translation of the same verses:
" Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world." (James 1:26-27)
At the time that James originally wrote this letter, being religious was considered a good thing. Today, there is a bad connotation with the word, I think. People often don't want to be called religious- I just told you above that I certainly don't. We call ourselves other things and describe ourselves in other ways:
"I'm a Christian."
"Yeah, I go to church."
"I just love Jesus."
"I'm on the path Jesus is laying for me."
For our purposes today, let's look at being religious through the lens of it being a good thing and as a simple describer of who we are aiming to be- people that show the world that we adore Jesus through our actions.
James actually lists out several things that he sees as non-negotiable for being good followers of Jesus:
1. Keep your tongue in check
2. Take care of the orphans
3. Take care of the widows in your life
4. Help the homeless and the loveless
5. Don't get corrupted by the world
We talked a lot about that first one yesterday, so let's look at the others today.
Take care of the orphans: Don't run away screaming simply because you are freaked out by adoption. Taking care of orphans doesn't automatically equal adoption in every family. God calls everyone to care for orphans in lots of different ways. You can adopt or foster, yes, but you could also donate to someone else's adoption, do a fundraiser for someone adopting, sponsor a child in an orphanage, send gifts using a service like "Operation Christmas Child," pray for the families going through adoptions, offer encouragement or to help clean their house- I could go on and on here. My point is, we can care for the orphans in our world in so many great and useful ways.
Take care of the widows: Sadly, widows are everywhere these days. So many people have been separated from the one they love by death and it's heartbreaking. I can't imagine losing my best friend, my husband. The least that we can do as they try to navigate this new (and sometimes not so new) life, is help them out along the way, come alongside them as they go through hard times (2 Corinthians 1:4 anyone?). Taking care of the widows is weeding their flower beds or mowing their lawns. It's spending time with them, praying for them, going out with them, inviting them over to participate in family activities. It's shopping with them, going to church with them, bringing them a gift "just because." It's offering a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. It's looking them square in the eye and acknowledging how much it sucks that they've lost their best friend and other half in life. It's a text, a message, or a phone call to say you're still here. It's doing whatever it takes to show them Jesus every single day because there is nothing in the world that I can think that would be worse than losing my best friend and spouse.
Help the Homeless and Loveless: Every day in America, we are smacked in the face with the existence of people who have lost their homes and who have no one that really cares. But daily, we walk past and ignore them. Still. This was an issue in James' time and it's still an issue today. As people who love Jesus, we should absolutely be volunteering to help out in places that need us- homeless shelters could use donations, soup kitchens could use workers, and food pantries need both. If you aren't in a place where you want to or are able to get your hands dirty serving, then buy some groceries and donate them. Check with a homeless shelter and see what they could use, then arrange a drive to collect the items. If we all worked together, we could do these things easily.
Don't Get Corrupted By the World: Jesus calls us to live in the world but not to be of the world. It can be hard to keep your eyes on Jesus when there are so many shiny new things in the world. But that's exactly what he's asking us to do. Focus on Jesus, do what he would do each and every day. Love others as well as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39).
You know, one of the reasons I pushed so hard against studying James is that I suspected Jesus would convict me on these things that we are talking about today. And he totally has. Some of it I think I am doing okay on, others? Not so much. How about you? How are you doing with serving others? Loving others?