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True Religion

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27 NIV)

A few times in the past few weeks, I’ve noticed posts from some of my Facebook friends that are, let’s say, not very flattering toward Christians. To be honest, I can’t say I even disagree (much). These are people whom I know IRL (in real life), and I’m reasonably certain they weren’t passive-aggressively trolling me. Christians just don’t have a very flattering reputation among those who get the majority of what they know about us comes from glancing through the news.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus would even recognize the religion that he started. I do believe that there are faithful, loving, God-fearing Christians in the world today, as there have been down through the ages, but humans also have a long history of messing up good things. From the Hebrews complaining in the desert to Israelite kings committing religious atrocities for political expediency, from the Jews persecuting early Christians as heretics to medieval Christians burning people they named as heretics at the stake, we never seem to get it quite right.

As Pastor Doug so eloquently put it in a recent sermon, the Gospel is pretty simple: focus on following God first and yourself second, and you’ll be fine – but if you reverse those, you won’t be. Following God first isn’t supposed to be complicated, either. I think we sometimes approach the Bible as we do our Form 1040, dreading all the complex rules and looking for every possible loophole. The Bible may be as long as a tax workbook, but its overarching message is the same throughout: love God and love people.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV)

If Christians in America consistently practiced James 1:27, or Micah 6:8, or Matthew 22:37-39 – well, first of all, I think we’d be in a lot different place as a nation, and some of the imbroglios just wouldn’t happen. But second, people wouldn’t care about minor missteps. Even if something like the tempest in a red Starbucks cup went viral, people would laugh at whoever started it, since everyone would know Christians aren’t that petty. Even if people didn’t agree with your beliefs, they’d respect what you did.

And if you’re reading this and think you might be one of those Facebook friends of mine, no hard feelings. I am grateful when anyone can hold me accountable to true religion.

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