True Religion

I just finished a memoir written by Elizabeth Smart.  In case you don’t remember, she is the young Mormon girl who was abducted and held for nine months before being rescued.  I’m not going to review the book here, but some of Elizabeth’s experiences are worth thinking about.  Periodically her captor took her into Salt Lake City with him — a place where she was known and people were looking for her.  Yet, since she and her companions were dirty, looked weird (wearing long robes and veils) and appeared to be homeless they were avoided and ignored.  She was too frightened by the threats of her abductor to speak with anyone or try to escape.  She felt invisible.  It made me sad to realize how most of us, every day, ignore the needy and helpless around us.  Yet, in the book of James we are told:

“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 by the world.”  James 1:27

In other words, true religion is not just about going to church every Sunday and refraining from sin;  it’s about identifying with and helping the most vulnerable people in our society.  For a review of a book on this topic, see this post:

Vulnerable by Raleigh Sadler– Book Review

In this book, Raleigh Sadler will open your eyes to the many helpless people we walk by without a thought.

Photo by Jimmy Chan on

In addition, Elizabeth Smart enumerated times when she felt grateful, even during those nine dreadful months.  The things that made her happy were so simple — a motorist giving them a lift after miles of walking in the hot sun;  someone stopping at MacDonald’s to pick up hamburgers for them;  a free community Thanksgiving feast, when she got to eat all she wanted after weeks of hunger.  In other words, things that all of us could do or help to do.  It wouldn’t cost much or take much time.  Yet we tell ourselves we are too busy, or that those homeless folks are lazy and undeserving of our help.

Now, I know we can’t do everything for everyone.  I know that helping at the mission once in a while, or handing out a blessing bag or buying some sandwiches is only putting a bandage on a much bigger problem.  I’m just saying, think about what these little things might mean to one person.  They meant something to Elizabeth.



Inner Change

Kate’s post yesterday reminded me of some verses our Bible Study group was discussing in the book of Luke yesterday. Jesus makes this statement after a Pharisee criticizes Him for failing to perform the ritual washing before a meal:

“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools!…For you tithe mint and rue and every herb and neglect justice and the love of God.” Luke 11:39-42

The Scribes and Pharisees were concerned with outer appearances.  They wanted to look good by following all the religious rules, while inside they were selfish and unchanged.  In another place Jesus calls them whitewashed tombs:  looking good superficially, but spiritually dead.  Their faith was useless to them and to others.

Here’s how the apostle James describes a living faith:

“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

It’s an easy trap to fall into.  We may go to church, tithe, attend Bible Study and serve at every church event, but have we allowed God to change us on the inside?  Do we feel compassion for the least of the least–or do we blame them for their situation?  Do we give sacrificially to the needy?  Or would we rather save our resources for our own benefit?  Do we feel true anguish for souls who are being lost?  Or do we secretly believe they are only getting what they deserve?  Like most people, I struggle with these issues every day.

I’ve been told that the actual meaning of the Greek word for repent is to “turn your guts around.”  That’s a real inner change, not an intellectual exercise or acceptance.  As Kate said, at the gates of heaven, God won’t ask you how good you looked on the outside.  He’ll want to know your heart.

“For the Lord sees not as man sees:  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7

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