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God’s Favorite Religion
What does your church teach about “Widows and Orphans”? If we were all honest, most of us rarely give this matter much thought. Or the other sermon. If your ministry, business, or even your civic group is struggling, or you’re feeling unsatisfied in your spiritual life, here’s a tip that’s guaranteed to send any ugly routine into hyperspace. Interested?
Here it is: start reaching out to widows and orphans within your sphere of influence.
The TV 700 Club recently interviewed Heidi Baker of Iris Ministries, which is experiencing a phenomenal revival among many African tribes. To paraphrase Heidi, “If you want to see revival, start ministering to widows and orphans.”
Even America, the most powerful and richest country on Earth, lags behind smaller countries shamefully when it comes to providing for their children. While we rank first among nations in terms of military spending and millionaires, we rank a dismal 14th in our efforts to help our orphans. Jesus said, “…that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
Here are the sad statistics presented by the Children’s Defense Fund about the state of children in the land of the free and brave homes: Every day four children are killed by abuse or neglect, five commit suicide, eight are murdered. firearms, 76 die before their first birthday, 182 are arrested for violent crimes and 366 for drug use, 1,186 are born to teenage mothers, 1,707 are born without health insurance, 2,171 are born into poverty, 2,341 are born to mothers without high school education. diploma, 2,455 are abused or neglected, 2,539 high school students drop out, and 4,440 children under 18 are arrested.
These statistics would make Abraham Lincoln, our nation’s 16th president, roll over in his grave. It was he who, in his second inaugural address, on March 4, 1865, said: “With malice to none, with mercy to all…to care for him who shall have endured the battle, AND HIS WIDOW AND ORPHANS… “
Today we are in a new kind of war. Even though we call it the “war on terror,” it’s still a war, and it means people die. As of this writing, on July 8, 2005, America has suffered a total of 1,752 casualties in Iraq; 210 in Afghanistan, 56 of them in 2005. Do we humans take the opportunity to reach out to women who have lost their husbands and children who have lost their fathers? Or do we leave it up to the government or say “Somebody has to do something”?
WHAT DOES THE BLESSING INSTRUCTION DO FOR US?
There is a verse in the Holy Scriptures that describes the only kind of true religion, the kind that Jesus taught and exemplified—one that had nothing to do with compulsory church attendance or obedience to man-made laws and regulations. The verse that describes the only kind of religion that makes sense is found in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself undefiled from the world.”
As you may have noticed, Jesus was not a very religious man, always butting heads with the most religious people of his day, healing on the Sabbath, hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors and the like. The religious part of any faith is nothing less than a simple return to slavery—obeying the laws and regulations that bind mankind—intended to be the freest creatures in the universe. This kind of religion – legalism, self-imposed rules and self-sacrifice – is one that no one needs or wants. After all, religion is man’s hapless attempt to reach God. We just can’t reach that high. So God became one of us.
I want everyone to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He’s real, you know. Jesus declared that He came to set us free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Relationships are what Christianity is about – reconciliation between God and man and between men (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
Look at Colossians 2:23, where religion is spoken of as follows: “It indeed looks like wisdom in a self-evident religion, false humility and neglect of the flesh, but it is of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”.
The Old Testament verse, Deuteronomy 10:18, reads: “… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow…” There have always been widows and orphans. Scripture repeatedly uses widows and orphans as a litmus test of need. Obviously, from Heaven’s perspective, there is no one more needy than a woman who has lost a husband, or a child who has lost a mom and/or dad. God’s heart is set upon them.
Ours should be too.
The religion that is acceptable to God is the religion that has the hands and feet of Christ, the Body of Christ. Now it may involve more than this, but it is never about less. Regarding James 1:27, the NIV translates “visiting” widows and orphans as episkeptesthai, which means: “to look after”. The King James translates it as “to visit.” The Good News Bible translates it as “take care of.” All these translations are quite accurate. It is more than just a visit and more than caring. It’s literally about visiting to help. It’s about taking the initiative to go to those who need help.
EXAMPLES FROM THE EARLY CHURCH
The early church actively addressed legitimate social problems (Acts 6:1; 9:39; 1 Tim. 5:3). This corresponded to the instructions of the Old Testament about caring for the needy (Deuteronomy 14:28,19; 16:11; 26:12). The example of the early church has been imitated for nearly 2,000 years. For example, Salvation Army founder William Booth described his ministry as follows: “We will wash (our victims) in the tears of widows and orphans and lay them on the altar of humanity.”
Looking at James 1:27 as it might apply to the life issues we face today, it is interesting that the two groups James instructs us to care for are single women (widows) and children left without parents (orphans ). The Church is not called to choose between the two – as we are, say, in the issue of abortion – but to love both. Indeed, the most God-honoring solution to this particular issue is one in which both mother and child are served, rather than pitted against each other as pawns in a battle for rights.
If a child becomes an orphan, James asks the Church to take care of it. If a woman loses her husband, James asks the Church to take care of her. The practical implications of the abortion issue are clear; if both mother and father abandon their child, even an unborn child, it is the duty of the Church to offer an alternative and speak for that child. Proverbs 31:8 exhorts us, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all the needy.” If a man abandons a pregnant woman, then the church – NOT the government – must also step in and take responsibility.
EXAMPLE FROM THE ARTICLES
Dorcas was a very kind person who always looked out for widows and the poor. A perfect example, she was. In Bible times, when a woman’s husband died, she had no way to earn a living. This condition exists even today all over the planet. The law in those days said that if a widow’s husband owned land, it went to the eldest son, not the deceased’s wife. If the eldest son failed to take care of his mother, she had nowhere to turn for help. If there was no son, she still lost her property and could only get it back if her husband’s relative married her off. Remember the story of Ruth and Boaz? That was what it was all about.
God had commanded the Jews to care for the poor. They could not harvest the edges of their fields, but had to leave the crops for the poor people to “pluck” or gather. Also, the owner could not go across the field a second time to collect the fallen grain. It was to be left to the poor.
Every third tithe of the year was to be reserved as a festive tithe, where they brought all the tithes and their crops, where the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, the widow, the poor who were in their city could come and eat and be satisfied (Deuteronomy 14 :28-29; 26:12-15).
In the New Testament local congregations organized giving to care for believing widows and orphans who had no other family to rely on (Acts 6:1-4; 1 Tim. 5:1-16). As we see in the book of James, those who care for the poor receive God’s approval, and those who do not care are displeasing to him.
True, there is NO New Testament example (after Christ’s Resurrection) of the “tithe” of the early Church. In Acts 4:32-37 there were many wealthy Christians who sold some of their possessions and laid the money at the feet of the apostles. Was it for the apostles to make them rich? No, it was for the Christian community. The apostles distributed what they received. The only time we find a New Testament example of God’s judgment involving money is in Acts 5:1-11. Ananias and Sapphira were convicted of lying because they withheld part of the proceeds from the sale of land that they had promised with others. Despite what some preachers may say, this judgment had nothing to do with “tithing” and nothing to do with keeping one’s word. Message: Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.
DETACHED BASED ON OBEDIENCE
As Heidi Baker said, I believe that if the Body of Christ would reach out to help widows and orphans, it would receive a blessing from Heaven that we could not contain.
It’s true. To be blessed, we must remain blessed. Frankly, I believe this also applies to civic groups, businesses and individuals. Why else would it be that so many countries, except the United States, are experiencing exponential Christian growth during times of famine, war, disease, and pestilence? I believe this is because so much money and aid goes to help the refugees, most of whom are widows and orphans.
Let’s read Acts 6:1-7. It says: “And in the days when the number of disciples increased, there arose a murmuring of the Greeks against the Jews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service…brethren, take heed among the seven men. honest, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, that we can appoint for this matter. But we will constantly devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word… and they chose… And the word of God increased, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a great company of priests obeyed the faith.”
Did you notice? As soon as the Church addressed widows, their number increased. So simple! You see, the bottom line is this: it’s not OUR money. We are only stewards of it, and if we perform our duties well, it calls for God’s blessing. Simply put, it’s called reaping and sowing.
“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for what he has done,” Proverbs 19:17.
I hope most people reading this have some sort of religion. Hopefully many have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I want it to be like that for all people everywhere. But for those who only have religion – even if it is the ‘religion’ of Christianity (not a RELATIONSHIP with God through Jesus Christ), please ask yourself this question: how pure and undefiled is it? Does this fit James’ description of pure and undefiled religion? Devoted church attendance means very little in comparison.
While there are some who claim that James 1:27 applies only to those in the Church (specifically THEIR church), there are many who will never join ANY group of Christians because those groups did not carelessly show the hands and feet of Christ to the widows and orphans right there in the community.
Again, Jesus has the final say on this matter. Matthew 25:40 He says, “…inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Love one another.
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