on Defiling Religion

White Dress“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)

There is little room in the scriptures for a believer to be about the Father’s business and not attend to widows and orphans.  The Old and New Testaments are speckled with charges for God’s people to care for the least of these; most namely, widows and orphans.  It should come as no surprise then, when we read in James that God equates “pure” religion with caring for widows and orphans.  That’s not the shocking or impossible part of the text for me.  It’s that last part.

Because to visit the least of these, the lost, the forgotten, the broken, the forlorn in their affliction is going to take some getting dirty.  The challenge is not just to care for them.  In so many regards, that’s the easier half.  It’s also not just to remain unstained, orphans or no.  The challenge is to advocate in a way that does not stain or spot or tint or blemish you.  You can be changed.  You will be changed.  That much I can almost promise – or I’d argue you’re doing it wrong.  But to walk away without a dark mark seared into your soul is the key – the part that I find impossible.  Though we’re called to do it nonetheless.

The deeper I get into ministry, the more and more I feel stained.  I feel defiled before the Lord.  I find myself unable to love as He loves me.  Unable to ignore the crashing waves.  Unable to sacrifice myself and my will.  Unable to do as He calls me to do and be whom He has called me to be.  The more I try, the less I am.  Seeming to be unstained and being unstained are worlds apart.  And as my facade comes down, I’m left lacking in being.

I know that even as I have been commanded to advocate, there is One who advocates for me.  And just as my religion is sure to be impure, His sacrifice is promised to be sufficient.  It does not lessen the truth, but it lessens the blow.  With or without my service, I would be stained.  With or without my stain, I am called to serve.  It’s a Catch-22 of the worst and best kind.  That though I will never wipe away every tear, He shall.  And though I cannot save a single life, He does.  Though my trust is failing, He is fulfilling.

And even as my stain is growing, He is washing.

Less of me.  More of Him.  Less of me.  Less of me.

2 comments… add one
  • Carol Jan 21, 2016

    Very power and compelling words.

  • Chris Jan 23, 2016

    This is so very true. The closer I get to Jesus the clearer I see my sins and my deep need, even at my best, for a savior. Great essay!

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