James 1:26-27 (the message)
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.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to chat with my baby brother. He is a new firefighter but was kind enough to come over and babysit for me. Before he left we talked for a little while about the experiences he is having as a first responder. The situations and people he deals with sometimes are a world away from his normal.
I love his heart.
Dave is seeing people, not just stereotypes. He’s seeing the effects of environment, not just bad choices. He is seeing need, not just neediness.
Although we are separated by fifteen years, Dave and I seem to be on a similar path. Starting something new…having a lot to learn…seeing things with a fresh set of eyes and hoping we keep our perspective.
Here’s the thing for me today. It’s so easy to build religion and church-world and our flavor of Christianity around a set of performance measures. It’s so easy to judge ourselves and one another by our own ideas of what being a Christian means.
What does it mean?
Teaching Sunday School?
Quoting Bible verses?
Religious bumper stickers?
Saying the blessing?
The right friends, right appearance, right denomination?
The right doctrine on prayer, healing and prosperity?
The right confession, right way of expressing worship?
Is anyone else ever weary of grading ourselves and one another with a benchmark different from the one God has given us?
I promise you that I can do every single one of those things for my whole life and my heart never really be in it. I can turn church and all my doing into spiritual proof when all along it was meant to be fruit.
How do I know?
Because true religion is about the loveless.
You gotta love James–or not if you don’t take a liking to candor.
He’s telling us not to fool ourselves into thinking we are spiritual if we won’t reach out to the loveless and guard our hearts against corruption. But we can’t reach out to the loveless if we are too busy judging them.
Loveless: void of love, void of tenderness or kindness. (Websters’s 1828)
See, we want to drop our check into the offering bucket and sing our feel-good songs and maybe even shout a little about how good God is, but we don’t want to deal with people who are hard to love…who lack tenderness and kindness. We would much rather measure our “good Christianity” in ways we find easy and comfortable.
We might be fooling ourselves.
I still fight off judgment and bitterness toward others like anyone else, but my heart began to shift as I grew into adulthood. God showed me the gaping neediness in my own life that led to destructive patterns and choices.
See, I find the only way to love the loveless is realizing I was a loveless.
I was my own kind of mess. Afraid of rejection. Afraid of being abandoned. Grieving loss. Need and hurt and fear fostered selfishness and sin and I gave myself permission. I get how the best defense against pain is a hard heart. I understand how worthlessness will make you search for validation in reckless ways. Honestly, my stuff was nothing compared to the things other people face.
Now I understand the credit for any good in my life, every good and wise choice, belongs to Jesus. He loves me so much it makes me a different person than I would ever be without Him. I don’t merely nod in Sunday agreement but am completely convinced that people need to be loved by Jesus. People need to know, see, feel and believe that they are truly loved.
But they don’t know.
Because often we are too busy congratulating ourselves on our good choices and our good lives and our good religion to show them.
I’m asking God to keep my heart tender towards the loveless. To throw stones at my glass house upon first signs of construction.
The loveless need a genuine smile…Kind eyes that really see them…Gentle hands that touch them…strong hearts that won’t back down from true religion.
These are the loudest sermons our lives will ever preach.