Pure and Undefiled Religion

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

James 1:27, ESV

This post is dedicated to the memory of Rachel Held Evans, a kindred spirit.

Something that my sister Laura mentioned in our opening blog post was that not only are we bound by blood, but also by faith. We were all raised in the Baptist church, where we became members of the Church of believers. As we’ve grown up, our faith has affected us in different ways, and manifested itself in our lives in different ways.

I can’t speak to my sisters’ faith, or my mother’s faith, but I can speak to mine. In recent years, my faith has been something personal and private to me. I have been broken and humbled by hardship, and have become more open and accepting of others. I do my best to do as Jesus would, to meet people where they are, without judgement but with love. In recent years, I’ve become disenchanted with “mission trips”, and interested in supporting my local community. It is my view that building friendships with people I interact with on a daily basis has a larger impact than a week in a beautiful place, reading Bible stories to children.

A disturbing trend that I’ve noticed is the idolatry of the United States by the politically-conservative church-goers. The first and second of the Ten Commandments state that we shall have no other gods before Him, and that we shall have no idols that we worship instead of Him (Exodus 20:3-5a, ESV).

Despite the fact that the United States of America was not, in fact, established as a Christian nation (which is a whole other issue to unpack at another time), the Lord forbids the worship of anything and anyone but Himself. The worship of the flag, of conservative icons such as Ronald Reagan, and of the 2nd Amendment are all blatant violations of the first and second commandments.

However, this is not to say that we should live in caves and have nothing to do with the country within which we reside. After all, we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Matthew 22:15-22, ESV). It is just to say that we should not worship the sovereignty of the United States, and that we should not use the idolatrous worship to justify hate of those who don’t participate in it. To those church-goers who do worship the sovereignty of the United States, and use that worship to look down on others, I would remind them of Matthew 7:1-5.

That brings me to a second point, and a supporting point for why my faith has become something between Jesus and me. The sermon at my husband’s and my church this week was over the passage in Matthew about praying and giving in secret.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “

Matthew 6:1-6, ESV

Our pastor put a point on it – if his longest prayer is the one that he prays during service over the congregation, then he is a hypocrite and has his reward. Thus, if Sunday is the only time we worship, because people see us at church worshipping, then we have our reward and are hypocrites. If we fill our Facebook feed with photos of us on mission trips, then we are hypocrites and we have our reward.

I, like many Christians, am guilty of all three of the examples given. Every day, I am doing my best to be as consistent in my actions and words as the Bible commands me to be. Every day, I am doing my best to remove the log from my eye before removing the splinter from others’. Some days, my best is not very good at all. Other days, my best is mediocre. But in spite of my failures, my salvation is secure. God’s grace covers me in my darkness and my brokenness, and He loves me anyway.

Therefore, the pure and undefiled religion that I follow says to pray in private, to give to the needy in secret, to love my enemies, to love my neighbor as myself, to care for the widow and orphan, not to judge, and generally, to treat others as I want to be treated.

My testimony is this: I am a sinner, Jesus died for me, I believe in the power of His resurrection, I am covered by His grace and mercy, and I strive to be Christ-like in all that I do.

Jesus loves you, and so do I.

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