I (Andy) worked with a team that did some painting for a widow in old town Louisville. Marie asked me, "Now why are you doing this?" And I told her that in the bible it says that "real religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress." She responded, "Really? It says that? Well that's me: a widow in distress." I can't tell you how many times Marie thanked us not believing that we would serve her in this way. In the end, I think she most grateful that we took time to pray with her & for her in her kitchen before we left.
James does say a lot about what true religion is. He calls us to be more they just religious followers who hear a message or use religious words but really live out our faith. At the end of the 1st chapter, James says what I paraphrased to Marie that pure and faultless religion is to look after orphans and widows and to keep ourselves unstained by the world. I believe James is talking not just about keeping yourself unstained by not watching R-rated movies or whatever but keeping yourself unstained by a system that says we need stuff to be happy.
The problem we face as followers of Jesus living in America is that we are rich - extremely rich. I know this as I sip my $2 cup of coffee writing this. Half of the world's entire daily income is the price of that cup of coffee and a 1/4 of the world lives on $1 a day. We are rich. We are swimming in wealth - even in a down-turned economy. And its easy to be stained by our world's system that says "I need more. I have to have more. I deserve more". But that's not what God says. God says "He is all we need. If we have him and food & clothing, we have enough". God says "Use what I have given you to look after those without... those on the bottom."
James goes on to wake us up and convict the soul. In chapter 2, he says that really loving our neighbor means not showing favoritism. And that Jesus talk ('be warm and be filled, brother') without Jesus action ('caring for someones physical needs') is worthless. That kind of 'faith' is not really faith at all. It's dead. Real faith is lived out. It's not just talking a good game; its putting your faith to action. It goes beyond the surface and to the heart. That's the life what God wants us to live. That's what the world notices. That's religion that is pure and without fault.
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