“Hypocrites! I don’t have any plans on ever going to church, because it is full of hypocrites!”
Three weeks ago as I was visiting some homes in the neighborhood a man made this bold statement to me when I asked him “why do most people not go to church?” It was good that he was honest with me. I want to know what we can do to make our church more inviting for our neighbors. This neighbor is looking for people of faith to be real.
I think that the people around us are looking for the real McCoy, the genuine article, the real deal.
We have been studying the book of James and today we get to what I believe is the thesis statement of the book. The key to the book written by the Lord’s brother is wrapped up in a few words found at the end of the first chapter. He says in 1:26, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious….” He continues in the next verse, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:…” James asks, what does a person who has real faith and real religion look like? What are the tell-tale signs that distinguish the “real deal” from a cheap imitator? What is real religion, not hypocrisy?
How would you answer that? Real religion is…?
Some one might say that real religion means going to church, having perfect Sunday School attendance, or being a member of a church. Obviously, I’m in favor of church attendance and church membership. But I also know that there is more than that to the “genuine article.”
It is a true statement that “Just because a mouse is in the cookie jar doesn’t make it a cookie.” Just because you go to church, doesn’t make your religion real.
Maybe you can tell real religion by how big a Bible a person carries. Maybe it is how a person dresses or how a lady wears her hair. Some might suggest that real religion sees visions, hears voices, and works miracles.
Folk from James’ Jewish background might have defined real religion by right ceremonies, rituals, or temple sacrifices. In fact, the word James uses for religion was the Jewish term for temple worship. James flips this definition and says that real worship happens outside of the church building and happens in everyday life. He tells us that real worship, or real religion involves three tell-tale signs that you’ve got the right stuff.
What are these three signs that define real religion? Let’s see if you can catch’em in James 1:26-27. READ
First, real religion controls the tongue. READ Vs. 26 That is quite a statement!
Later in the third chapter, James paints a brutal picture of our tongues. He says the tongue is harder to control than a wild beast. It spreads like a poison and consumes like a roaring fire.
There is not a single one of us that doesn’t know that by experience—either from the effects of our own tongue or from the receiving end of someone else’s razor sharp words.
We all know about that. I may be a preacher but I grew up in non-Christian home and worked in every job that you could think of to put myself through college. I have heard most everything. Most of you have too.
In fact, some of you probably used to be able to make a sailor blush with the words that popped out of your mouth. Some of you know how hard it is to change that. A foul mouth can be habit forming. But Jesus can change that, can’t he?
One of the stories out of the great Welsh revival in Britain in the early 1900’s would be funny if weren’t so poignant. It is said that hundreds of coal miners were so converted to Christ that it affected the production of the mines. The miners worked just as hard if not harder after they became Christians. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the profanity of so many miners was so cleaned up that their mules didn’t recognize them anymore and refused to pull the coal wagons.
Psalm 39:1 (NIV) - I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.
What’s so bad about a foul mouth? The problem is that our words are windows to our soul and our mind. Our words reveal, for good or bad, what kind of person we are on the inside. The roots of dirty, foul, profane, or blasphemous words grow deep into the human soul.
Jesus said in Matthew 15:18 (NLT) - But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.
That’s why James can honestly say, “when you can’t control your tongue, you are showing what is really in your heart… that is why your religion is worthless. Don’t be fooled!” Real religion controls the tongue.
Real religion also puts compassion into action. Read James 1:27a.
Here is another statement that we wouldn’t connect with real religion – what does taking care of widows and orphans have to do with worshipping God?
James tells us that it has everything to do with real religion.
Two of the most oppressed people in the time of James were women whose husband had died and children who were abandoned. They had no one to turn to. There were no orphanages. AND one of the worst fears of a woman in the first century was that she should become a widow. Whoever took over the husband's possessions also took over the widow as a slave.
Isaiah 1:17 (NIV) - Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
One of the people in our church that you need to meet is Mike and Tammy Connelly. They both recently were baptized and became members. I did an interview with them because they took this verse very seriously in their lives. They adopted two of the coolest kids in Centre County (show picture).
The Connelly Story:
Mike & Tammy were in love, got married, and like many people wanted children. Everyone has a need to procreate - they want to have children in their lives. They found out that they had two choices: go through fertility (which was new at the time) or adopt a child. They choose adoption (and would still choose adoption today if the choice was open to them).
They went through an agency and adopted Sean. Sean, as he was growing up, really desired a sibling. So a few years later, they took a different route - they decide to open their homes to fostering with the intention to adopt. After going through all the training, they then had to wait a whole year before receiving their first foster child named Russell. But this did not work out as he was with them for only 10 days. And then a year later, the same thing happened again – a child that they had loved and took care of for 6 months was taken away to be placed with the original family. After fostering two kids that had to be returned, Matthew came into their lives.
I had an interview with them this week:
• When you fostered to adopt, you had to "give back" two children, how did you deal with that?
o It was really sad, but we knew the kids was going back to a safe place.
o We got busy and knew that God had someone else in mind for us.
o We kept the kid's best interest first - what was best for them?
• Why should a person foster?
o THE NEED IS GREAT!
o There is emotional and financial support that you don’t get with adoption.
o People are there for you and in fact, people are still there for us even after we adopted Matthew. We always have the assistance we need, even though Matthew is no longer in the foster system.
• Why adopt?
o THE NEED IS GREAT!
o There is a real fear that you will have to give the child back if you don’t.
o Adoption fulfills the need each of us haves to procreate.
• What are some of the obstacles a person has to overcome in order to adopt or foster?
o For us, there was a time when we felt like a failure. A very true verse is: Proverbs 30:15-16 (NIV) - There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’ When you can’t have kids, you feel like God must not like you. We had to overcome this.
o You also have to be willing to have your life opened for evaluation. The process is very invasive - you live in a glass house.
o People are always very curious and ask questions that are none of their business or questions that are really unnecessary.
o With all of the fertility choices that are available today, you also have to understand – kids need love. We felt that taking a kid who needed love into our home was a better choice for us than trying the medical route. We really felt called to do this.
• What are some of the challenges you have faced with the kids?
o Typical parenting
o It is sometimes hard when you don’t know the health history of the origin family.
o You also have to decide how to tell the kid he’s adopted.
o And when you do, they have lots of questions about their birth parents. You have to walk a fine line between not exaggerating and also not tearing them own.
• Why adopt or foster?
o THE NEED IS GREAT! Just think about what these kids are missing.
o Kids need stability and permanency.
o We always had an interest in adopting or fostering. God just opened this door for us.
o We have truly been honored by God. These kids are real gifts. If they were my biological children, I wouldn’t see it in the same manner. They are truly presents given to us by God.
There is an old Jewish law: if anyone brings up an orphan in his house God looks at the child as if the person had begotten him. God says this is your child.
o If you have a big heart - then why not share it? This is the challenge that God has given us.
o "We go through life with a series of God-ordained opportunities, brilliantly disguised as challenges." Charles Udall
o If you feel that Christ has called you to share his love, then the best way is to raise a kid in your own home with this love. You can invest in these kids to fear and love God.
o Do you have something in your heart to give to the world? SHARE IT!
This is the essence of true religion. These orphaned kids are every Christian’s responsibility. Just read James 1:27. If Christians don’t step up, then who will?
People at the margins of the social, economic, and legal landscape are always open to exploitation and thereby suffer "distress". It is our duty as practitioners of real religion to show kindness. Real religion puts compassion into action.
Finally, real religion keeps your heart pure. Read James 1:27b.
I want you to notice something – James does not say remove yourself from the world. He says you are to live in the world, but do not allow yourself to get dirty. You’re your heart pure! You are to enter our culture but remain free from the evil found there.
At times us religious folk have associated being polluted by the world with such things as movies, television, certain music, hanging with the wrong crowd or going to the wrong places. Those can certainly qualify as sources of pollution, but James is asking us to go deeper.
A. W. Tozer once said, “Too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right.”
There is something that we must endure. Staying pure and unspotted is not going to happen if you continue in your own strength. You cannot live in this world and not have it throw a few spots of dirt on your soul. There has to be a continued trust in the grace of God for your heart to remain pure.
This is why everywhere he went, the Apostle Paul told people to “continue in the grace of God.”
Acts 13:43 (ESV) - Paul and Barnabas as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
If you want to remain pure – Continue believing in the forgiveness of sins. Continue believing in the love of God. Continue believing that you are justified, regenerated, forgiven, and even called a saint by God. Continue in this gospel – the good news that Christ came to show the world God’s love. We were impure people and Christ makes us pure. It is a free gift and it is called grace. The Gospel is the gospel of grace.
We are to receive the gospel, and continue in the gospel. We need God’s grace to remain pure. Continue trusting in your heavenly Father who has been revealed to you through the powerful Holy Spirit in the gospel of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Continue in grace.
This is how we must remain pure – continue in God’s grace.
I was once a spiritual orphan, but it was in grace where I found a Father. SHARE TESTIMONY
Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary!
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary.