Warning: This is a semi-long post. Grab your coffee or tea or whatever you like to drink and find a comfy spot (oh and your Bible!) before you start...I couldn't find a way to condense this one!
I hate that word. I hate being called religious, but don't always have a quick response
to someone who asks me the question, "Are you religious?"
I know all the possible responses..."No, I have a relationship with Jesus" would work I suppose.
But if I really think about it, am I religious? And if not, what makes me not religious?
A few years ago (make that four, to be exact), I started feeling restless.
I would come home from work or have a day off, and in my spare time (mind you, this was well before getting married and having kids), would go wander the upscale mall nearby, or go out for lunch or an
afternoon drink with friends. I would get lost for hours watching, um, Lost (still love that show).
I did devotions in the morning, prayed, went to church and tithed religiously (sorry, had to throw the word in there). I wasn't doing anything technically wrong at this point; my party days were over
and I truly loved the lord and was doing my best to follow him.
But my restlessness grew and while I knew it was the Lord stirring my heart, I wasn't sure what he was stirring it toward.
This might sound weird, but Isaiah 58 kept running through my head,
not the actual passage--I hadn't read it yet--but the reference.
Isaiah 58...Isaiah 58...Isaiah 58...
I ignored it, not stopping to think that maybe God put the reference in my head for me to actually look it up and read it!
The restlessness grew.
I joined a Bible study that was doing the book Interrupted, but couldn't make it very often,
so I stopped going altogether, but now I had another book to add to the collection.
One rainy day a couple of years later, I got that book out.
The content of that book seemed to resonate in me; it started to wake something up inside that was there to some level, but not at any level that God or I was satisfied with.
Here's the funny thing: I got to the last chapter of this book, and the author starts going on and on about ...yup, Isaiah 58. Dissecting it. I decided to open my Bible and read it.
I'm sure it was a good-grief moment for God...it only took years for me to read what he had quite obviously been whispering in my ear.
Just what is Isaiah 58?
Open your Bible and read it! God might turn you upside down too.
Couple this chapter with Matthew 25:31-46 and prepare to be wrecked.
Take these two chapters literally, as I do believe without a doubt they were written,
and your perspective will be changed.
Why do we (why did I) overlook these passages, or if we look at them, why do most of us take them lightly? We've all heard about helping the 'least of these', about feeding the hungry and the poor.
But we live in a society in which the majority of people truly believe that the homeless or the poor in America must have gotten themselves into the situation they're in, so 'why should I help them?'
At least that's the attitude I hear most often. I used to think along those lines..."If I give money to the man on the street with a sign, he'll probably just waste my money on beer or something."
First of all, it's not my money. It's God's. Second of all, there's so much more we can do besides throwing a dollar out the window to erase our uneasy feelings for the day.
In case you didn't read the above passages, here's part of Matthew 25:
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'"
We are thus commanded to care for those in need.
The greatest commandment, Jesus says, is to love God.
Second to that is to love others as we love ourselves.
And loving others is actually one way that we show love to God.
Now, my personal conviction, my passion, the thing that pulls at my heartstrings, the thing that leaves me feeling like I'm doing the Lords will for my life, is helping the homeless, and for right now anyway,
I'm talking about the homeless here in our country. The ones in my own little town, where I honestly didn't think at first glance that there were any problems at all (well there are!)
My husband and I aren't exactly rolling in dough, as he is a school teacher and I am a stay-at-home-mom, but this doesn't create a hinderance to being able to help those in need.
I ask God for ideas and then I brainstorm and start writing and start moving and we find ways to serve the least of these.
In no way am I trying to place my passion or my convictions on your head...
rather, I want to encourage you, reader (if you've actually read this far!), to pray and read through these passages and ask God to speak to your heart, to turn your world upside down for Him.
Ask him to fan the flame of whatever it is that may be just a spark in your heart that you've been shoving aside or unsure of what to do with.
Maybe it's taking your little ones to the nursing home for visits (that would be modern day 'widows').
Maybe it's taking your clothes that you are tired of to a women's shelter instead of the thrift store.
Or keeping food in your car and feeding someone in need instead of driving on by trying not to make eye contact to avoid feeling bad (I'm guilty of this...don't think I'm preaching at you. This is a wake up for me too, as I easily go back to my old ways on feigned ignorance...ignorance is not bliss!)
Maybe your heart cries for sex trafficking victims all over the world (including the US)...check out Mercy Market Ministry and any number of others and get involved.
Maybe women who are victims of domestic violence make your heart cry.
Or is it other global issues like extreme poverty, lack of clean water, AIDS, children forced to fight in war...the list goes on and on.
If you think you, one little person in a ginormous world with ginormous problems, can't make a difference, think again. I find myself going back to that way of thinking, but read this quote from Beth Moore and be encouraged:
"Social consciousness beckons each of us across the board, but the ways we could respond are as varied as our holy passions. We are called to tend to the poor, but adjust your lens and see what specific opportunities make your heart jump...or maybe sink. Casting your bread upon an ocean doesn't seem to do much good, but find a clear pond and suddenly you see the fish."
There's so much more rattling around in my brain and there are a thousand rabbit trails I'm tempted to take, but I'll save them!
Back to my first statement, about hating the word religious.
Yes, I do things that are religious: prayer, church-going, Bible reading, tithing, taking communion, Bible study...these are all religious activities I suppose.
But being a Christian isn't just about these things we do.
It's about relationships. First and foremost our relationship with the God of the universe, Jesus.
A real relationship...one where we talk and listen and just spend time together.
Next is our relationship with others, the family of believers, and our neighbor, meaning everyone we come into contact with! Being a Christian is about walking out LOVE every single day.
Being intentional about loving others more than we love ourselves. Making love a beautiful habit in our lives.
Love is the light that will overcome a dark world.
Christ died for me. Showing love to everyone around me, including and especially the 'least of these' is the least I can do to show my gratitude for his unspeakable gift to me.
One last thing before I curtail this...
James 1:27 says this:
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.
Orphans and widows is skimming the surface.
Don't be religious. Be in the world but not of the world. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Take care of the least of these. Find your passion and run with it. Step out in faith and out of your comfort zone and see what God does. He will change you as you take small steps in obedience. I know he's changing me, and it's the most comfortable kind of uncomfortable I've ever known! Let him beautifully wreck your heart:)