Pure Religion

"Pure Christianity" Faith Fellowship Church...PO Box 1586...Broken Arrow, OK 74013...Terry Dashner Pure and undefiled... May I ask you a question? What is "pure" Christianity? Is it living a good moral life? Is it sharing your faith with others? Is it attending church every Sunday? Certainly these activities are included, but there is something more specific mentioned in the Bible. It is defined as "pure and undefiled religion." In the Bible (Revised Version) James 1: 27 says this: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this..." What is "this?" It's "to visit..." or "to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes" (Thayer's Greek Lexicon)...and "to keep himself unspotted" or undefiled or unsoiled from the world's affairs. Okay, let's review. Pure Christianity according to James 1:27 is to visit the afflicted, especially widows and orphans, and to keep one's self undefiled from the world's filth. Another question... Is it possible to care for others and to keep ourselves going strong? The world's ideology is to care for "self" and delegate the care of others to somebody else--like a state agency, a non-profit organization, or a big government. The world says that caring for others only taxes one's self and drains one's resources. Take care of number one. Let government take care of the afflicted. But what does the Bible say? The Bible says the opposite of what the world says. The world says that being last in line gets you nothing. The Bible says being last assures you that you are first. The way of service lifts one to greatness. The world says that if you give up your life to help others, you will lose your life. The Bible says that if you give up your life, you will gain life. It goes on and on like this. The Bible is contrary to the way of the world. The Bible says that if you give you get--Luke 6:38. The Bible says that if you help others, you are conducting yourself as a true Christian. Nowhere is this concept better illustrated than in Luke 10:25-37. Let's look there. You know the story line. I'm sure. It is the "Good Samaritan." But maybe it should be entitled, "Pure Christianity in Action." Who is my neighbor? The question is raised by the expert in the story, "Who is my neighbor?" This is an age-old question that reaches back to Genesis 4: 9 "Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is Abel your brother?' He said, 'I do not know; am I my brother's keeper.'" It seems that the church is still asking this question. Especially when it comes to helping in the community the church is asking, is it our responsibility to care for the orphans, the aliens and immigrants, the disabled, the diseased, the wretched, and so on? Shouldn't we let the state care for the afflicted? After all the state has the necessary resources to do this? When the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century, the west entered the dark ages. Ignorance, superstition, and plagues were the order of the day. It wasn't a united government that rose to the cry for help. It was the Roman Catholic Church and later the Reformed Church that ministered to the needs from which came hospitals, schools, orphanages, and assisted living quarters. So, let me raise the question again for the good of the church. Who is our neighbor? Who are we supposed to help? And do we have the necessary resources in Jesus alone to help our neighbor? History of the text William Barclay writes, "The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a notoriously dangerous road. Jerusalem is 2,300 feet above sea-level; the Dead Sea, near which Jericho stood, is 1,300 feet below sea-level. So then, in somewhat less than 20 miles, this road dropped 3,600 feet. It was a road of narrow, rocky defiles, and of sudden turnings which made it the happy hunting-ground or brigands." When Jesus related this story to the young expert in the law, He was not using the abstract. He was telling him a story that had relevance. These very conditions existed as He spoke. A top selling author was once asked how to write a best selling book. To which he replied, "Tell the story like you were there living it." This is what Jesus does. He speaks the relevant and places the first century Jew in the center of the narrative. Barclay continues, "Second let us look at the characters. (a) There was the traveler. He was obviously a reckless and foolhardy character. People seldom attempted the Jerusalem to Jericho road alone if they were carrying goods or valuables... (b) There was the priest. He hastened past. No doubt he was remembering that he who touched a dead man was unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11)..." {Ceremony was held in higher regard than charity} "(c) There was the Levite. He seemed to have gone nearer to the man before he passed on. The bandits were in the habit of using decoys. One of their number would act the part of a wounded man; and when some unsuspecting traveler stopped over him, the others would rush upon him and overpower him..." {The Levite was probably aware of this tactic and, therefore, considered his safety first} "(d) There was the Samaritan. The listeners would obviously expect that with his arrival the villain had arrived. He may not have been racially a Samaritan at all. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans and yet this man seems to have been a kind of commercial traveler who was a regular visitor to the inn. In John 8: 48 the Jews call Jesus a Samaritan. The name was sometimes used to describe a man who was a heretic and a breaker of the ceremonial law. Perhaps this man was a Samaritan in the sense of being one whom all orthodox good people despised." Barclay continues, "We note two things about him. (i) His credit was good! Clearly the inn keeper was prepared to trust him... (ii) He alone was prepared to help." {He may have been despised by all, but he alone was prepared and willing to help the man. Now let me bounce back to the young expert in the Mosaic Law. The scribe thought he could trap Jesus with this question. "Strict orthodox Jews wore round their wrists little leather boxes called phylacteries, which contained certain passages of scripture--Exodus 13:1-10; 11-16...So Jesus said to the scribe, 'Look at the phylactery on your own wrist and it will answer your question.'" Practical application: What is the application of today's message? Aside from defining who our neighbor is, it further defines "pure" Christianity. Pure Christianity is loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? The first century Jew was taught to love only Jews and to detest all gentiles. Jesus was renouncing that mindset. Jesus wants us to love everyone, even our enemies. Is that possible? Only with the love of God "shed abroad in our hearts." Recently, I saw a film of our Marines in combat in Baghdad. One frame showed a Navy Corpsman carrying a wounded soldier over his shoulders to safety. Upon further inspection of the clip, I saw that the wounded soldier was not an American marine but a wounded Iraqi soldier. Where did Americans get these high ideas of treating our enemies with compassion? These ideas started with the very religion that the ACLU is trying to remove from our society--Christianity. Pure religion which visits the afflicted--especially widows and orphans--and keeps one from the sin of the world, attends to the needs of those who are afflicted whether they are American or Iraqi, or friend or foe. The world is our field of harvest. Pure religion attends to the needs of anyone, even one who has brought on trouble to himself. This victim on the road to Jericho was obviously foolhardy. He traveled alone and got robbed. Nevertheless, he deserved compassion and help by his fellowman. The Samaritan helped him without hesitation. Galatians 6:1-5 talks about bearing one another's burdens. But verse five seems to contradict this statement by telling each man to carry his own load. What's the meaning? We, as the body, are to help each other through this life of toil and snares; however, there is one load that every man carries himself, which can not be carried by anyone else. It is each one's calling. I'm responsible to God for upholding my calling, not you. Pure religion doesn't just sympathize with the afflicted. It touches them at the point of their need. James 4:17 "Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Practical application in practice... Does Faith Fellowship Church practice "pure religion?" We are involved with the Laura Dester Shelter of Tulsa to provide school shoes to children in protective custody. We have given hair cuts, underwear, support, and financial gifts to help them. We will stay the course to help. We give an offering every month to Broken Arrow Neighbors to help displaced residents in time of crises. We participate in the "team relief" project to help the residents of Long Beach, Mississippi. This is a city-wide effort that will take years to complete because of the devastation caused by Katrina. We support the Ezra House ministry in Haskell, OK. We participate in world missions and domestic missions. We believe in pure Christianity. This year alone we have given just under $50,000 to missions and benevolent care. And we are a church of 100 people. Now do I tell you this to boast? Negative. I tell you this to share our secret for success--we give without discrimination, and we actively work to reach our neighbor in need in the authority of Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit. God bless you. Pastor T. October 7, 2005