But I woke up thinking about Summit VIII going on in Southern California right now as I have some friends who are attending who have posted about it on Facebook. It made me think again about that verse in James that is foundational for the whole orphan care movement in the church:
The NIV puts James 1:27 like 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.
I asked myself this morning why James would pick caring for orphans and widows, of all of the social justice issues out there, to refer to as "pure and faultless religion."
I'm sure there are many more brilliant authors out there who have tackled this issue and come up with their own thoughts, but from my experience here are a few reasons why "orphan care" was referred to as "pure and faultless religion."
1. It involves inward stuff. When Jesus came he turned things upside down because he referred to what was going on INSIDE a person instead of outside. The religious people of the day hated that -- because they had the outside stuff down pat. But he referred to them as white-washed tombs... because their inner lives were hollow and shallow. There is nothing more challenging than pouring love into a child who is not ready for it nor open to it. It requires more internal self-discipline and change than anything else I've ever attempted. Every day it requires me to live according to the fruit of the spirit just to survive... you know the list ... joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
2. While it requires inner work, it is outward focused. Again Jesus came to turn things from being all about me to all about others. His new way of thinking took us, or should have, from our own needs, wants and desires to those of others. Adopting hurt kids has been a real challenge for me in this way because it can't be about me. I have to realign my thinking daily to make sure that I'm putting others before myself.
3. It gets us to rub shoulders with "those kind of people." I'm pretty sure if Jesus were walking our planet he wouldn't be hanging out in any church. He would be out with the people, getting his hands dirty, so to speak, and getting involved with those who were hurting most. The places that our children come from are places that most nice, middle-class, Christian Americans choose not to go... or if we do it's an in and out sort of experience. But adopting kids, especially out of foster care, involves bringing "those kind of people" into our homes and lives and loving them forever. It also brings their birthfamilies into our homes, sometimes literally and sometimes in the minds of our kids. It's intentionally not only reaching out to, but bringing into our lives, those with whom we might not otherwise have chosen to associate with. It crosses all kinds of lines.
4. It's a daily forever commitment. When we take orphan care to it's extreme and choose to adopt an "orphan" by whatever definition, it's way different than lots of other ways in which we "practice our religion." It's different because it has no end. And because it requires us to daily "carry our cross" and follow Jesus. I've been a missionary. That's pretty daily, but there are breaks from it and it has an end. I've gone on missions trips, again, they only last for a period of time. I've been involved in many ministries in my life, but I have come, and gone, and so have they. Not adoption. It's forever and it requires us to live it out daily.
5. It gives us a constant look into the very heart of God. I wrote my book, "A Glimpse of God's Heart: How Trying to Save My Kids Saved Me" after realizing that nothing else I had ever done taught me more about what it must be like to BE God... to love people who couldn't love Him back, who disappointed and disobeyed and hurt him constantly, but to keep on loving them and forgiving them and offering them grace and mercy every day. Understanding not only the concept but the emotion of adoption has taught me so much about God.
I could write a few more... and I might another day... but I think these are five very good reasons why James said that this was the kind of religion that God accepts as pure and faultless. It's a huge commitment that encompasses both the external and internal world of people, helping us to live as Jesus lived and to experience the emotional world of God himself.