Monday, June 30, 2008

Preventing stains


James 1:27 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 mentions two topics that come up frequently in his epistle- a call to a compassionate ministry toward the needy and our need to keep unstained from the world. Regarding the last phrase, an illustration came to mind just 2 hours before I was preaching this verse Sunday. I'll try it out again here.

The phrase "keep oneself unstained from the world" contains the word "world" which James uses 5 times, this is the first. In all five cases, world carries a negative connotation. Basically world means the world's fallen system which is fundamentally opposed to God's Kingdom. James bids us to keep unstained from the world as part of practicing worthy religion. So what does this mean, to keep unstained from the world? Obviously we live in the world. It's not possible to totally isolate ourselves from the world, though it has been tried. The text seems to imply contact with the world at some level, but we are to keep from getting close enough or friendly enough to be stained.

Think of it this way- It's practically a necessity to eat pasta with marinara sauce. Who on earth would not agree? A person should never be so neglectful of his or her needs as to be deprived of heaven's food, but what if all we have to wear is a white shirt? How can we eat our pasta and sauce without messing up our shirt? Should we just not eat pasta? No, I say! That would be a travesty! We have to eat our pasta and succulent, garden fresh marinara sauce. But we have a white shirt on! I suggest eating the pasta ever so slowly and carefully. Perhaps placing a napkin over our shirt. Eat Penne or Rigatoni pasta with your sauce instead of spaghetti (which inevitably causes the most sauce stains due to the way a strand is slurped up). Take precautions, proceed slowly, be careful, pay attention to the possibility of getting stained by the sauce. Depriving oneself of pasta and marinara is not reasonably possible and, but you must be careful, lest your shirt become stained.

In like manner, we live in the world. We have a mission that involves impacting and transforming the world. When James speaks of keeping unstained from the world, think of how carefully we eat pasta covered with marinara while wearing a white shirt. We are not called to extract ourselves from the world, but rather influence it. How can we do this without becoming stained? We have to take precautions, proceed slowly, be careful, pay attention to the possibility of becoming stained by the fallen world. We can't afford to be reckless in our relationship with the world, that will only lead to sure stains and possibly much worse. Be aware of how easy it is to be stained, employ safeguards, and proceed with great care.

4 comments:

Frontier Forest said...

Pastor Tony, as you spoke of the profoundness of James 1:27 this past Lord’s Day, your words took me back to the orphanages we visited on Moldova Mission 2007. Maybe some of the readers would be blessed by reading an excerpt from the daily journal. These “doings” speak of the practicality of your message and challenges all of us to reach out to those in need.
August 28, Day 4 Tuesday,
“We were off to the Tuberculosis hospital for children. Pavel and I visited here in 2005 and this time we are better prepared for the depressing truth, yielded by abject poverty! We warned the team of the tough-love before us, but like brave warriors for Jesus, they said, “Just think what our visit and these Barnabas bears will mean to these kids!”
The “Barnabas Bears” were arranged by one of Redeemer’s mission team members. First, Marty Basham had the vision to suggest the beanie baby project. The idea came as a way of making our youth aware of a new mission opportunity. The theme came from “Toy Story”. Remember from the movie, Woody’s mission was to roundup all the abandoned stuffed animals, those poor lonely creatures, forgotten and hidden away in toy chests. Woody’s calling was to rescue and give them a new home! As a way of teaching the “gift of giving” and also allowing our young folks a practical way to become involved in mission, Marty decided to call the outreach, “Woody’s Roundup”. (No claim here) Each Sunday our kids came by and put their gifts of love in the big blue bucket, knowing that every gift would go to an orphan or a sick child in a far away country.
Another big step Marty initiated was challenging a Christian bookstore to donate 300, soft and cuddly “Barnabas Bears”. The name taken from the disciple that Jesus called, “Barnabas, son of Encouragement.” The testimony of this “encouraging” disciple was the positive ways he lovingly pushed believers forward, making them aware of their spiritual gifts. And at the same time, always being a spiritual cheerleader! With a colorful heart-shaped tag, the testimony of Barnabas is displayed on the bear’s ear. Inside the heart is also the plan of salvation. Then on the other ear, a round tag with the powerful Scripture from James 1:27. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after the orphans and widows in their distress.” What a blessing beyond words to give these bears, and what a bigger blessing for these forgotten and sick children to receive them in Jesus’ Name! These children now have something soft to cuddle on these lonely and very cold nights.”

M. Jay Bennett said...

We are not called to extract ourselves from the world, but rather influence it. How can we do this without becoming stained? We have to take precautions, proceed slowly, be careful, pay attention to the possibility of becoming stained by the fallen world. We can't afford to be reckless in our relationship with the world, that will only lead to sure stains and possibly much worse. Be aware of how easy it is to be stained, employ safeguards, and proceed with great care.

Excellent! Reminds me of something John Owen might have written in his treatise Of Temptation, developing his teaching around Jesus instruction to Peter, James, and John in Gethsemane, "Watch and pray." Thanks for the reminder to proceed with caution.

AliGirl said...

Another avenue of stain protection is instant washing, which reminds me of Jesus' instruction to wash each others' feet. Our feet (and especially people's in his day, who would walk through dung-infiltrated streets) pick up all kinds of muck as we are traveling through this world, and He instructs us to humbly wash off the dirt, grime, and worse. Out of love, we are to help our brothers "spot" and wash out the deadly marinara before it sets into the fabric. Or, if the spot is not caught immediately, a Tide pen or Shout wipe is a gracious means of assistance. :)

Joe said...

Tony,
Just catching up on your blog brother...I love the analogy. Really do.

I also definitely have to post the 'man hug' video as well. That is a classic....

Trust you are well,
Joe