Pure and Undefiled Religion

Pure and undefiled religion is practiced by those who understand that God's way is something that should not only be talked about on Sunday mornings, but lived every day of the week.

I am always amazed at young people's capacity to serve others when given the chance. Our little youth group in Happy has been taking care of our widows' lawns for the past 17 summers. The program has become so popular that some of our married ladies have briefly contemplated doing away with their husbands in order to have their lawns done on a regular basis. Of course, they are just kidding... for the most part.

I like watching our kids, when they are serving. I like seeing young men learn how to take care of our older ladies. I like seeing the girls doing everything from the mowing, to the pulling of weeds and taking out the trashes. These are easy things for young people, but they are really big deals for our widows.

I have seen our young men come back to our widows' homes, even at times that we are not officially "serving". I have seen them do everything from installing swamp coolers and storm doors, to painting and anything else that just needed doing. Last year, two of our young men, about 13 years of age, were just roaming around town to see what else our widows needed doing.

Last night, one of the young men, not even 12, came up and asked if he could help mow another lawn that he knew we couldn't get to on our designated night. He knew that it needed doing and he knew that the 85 year old lady whose lawn needed attention couldn't do it - so he asked if he could help. Now, this won't make the evening news, but it seems to me much more newsworthy than most of the things that do.

The scriptures tell us that pure and undefiled religion is to help the widows and orphans in their distress. I know that there are many things that go into this type of religion, but I enjoy watching our kids and adults take a part, in their small way, in fulfilling God's design of the church taking care of those who need it most. It's good training, I think, and I have loved being trained by these young people with pure motives and very mature hearts.

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.   James 1:27, NIV

Why I’m Glad I Don’t Live Back East

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of My people, making widows their prey…Isaiah 10:1-2, NIV

In the news today was the story of a widow in Beaver, Pennsylvania. She was in court trying to get a decision overturned that forced her house to be sold for unpaid interest on the taxes on her home. The County that collected the taxes had noticed that she owed interest on those taxes.

The judge in the case ruled that the county was completely within its rights to sell the widow’s home – a home that was valued at $280,000. The widow’s husband had apparently taken care of all the finances during his lifetime, and his unfortunate widow just missed the fact that she not only owed the taxes – which she paid – but also interest for a late payment.

The law is the law - said the county and the judge - so they sold her home to pay for the unpaid interest on the paid taxes.

The widow owed $6.80…

In little, unsophisticated town in which I reside, at the little, unsophisticated church that I attend, we mow the lawns for our widows. If anyone in town were to ever hear of a widow’s house being placed on the auction block for a $6.80 tax bill, they would do something about it. But, of course, we wouldn’t have to get to that point because they don’t sell the houses of widows in the little, unsophisticated county in which we live – at least not for six dollars and eighty cents.

I don’t live back east. I’m sure the people who live back east are happy that I don’t… and so am I!

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…James 1:27, NIV

The Big Deal about Small Towns

It was very much like Norman Rockwell: small town America. We walked to school or rode our bikes, stopped at the penny candy store on the way home from school… ” Dorothy Hamill

I come from Main Street, from a small town that’s really depressed.” Ben Bernanke

Do you come from a small town? If so, which of the above quotes applies to your town? If you live in a typical small town and are over fifty, then it is very likely that both quotes apply to your town… the first to the town of your youth, and the second to the town of the present.

Why is that, I wonder? There are probably dozens of reasons for the decline of small towns in America, from the large shopping centers in the big cities luring small town folks from their small town merchants, to our ever mobile society, to the fact that kids are kids and typically cannot wait to shake the dust of their little town from their feet and move to where the action is.

The small town I live in is kind of a mixed picture. Our Main Street has fallen into the typical disrepair of an older, untended, downtown area. We have very few businesses and, therefore, very few opportunities for our kids to stick around when they do graduate from High School.

On the other hand, we have pockets of activity that show our town still has a lot of life left in it. We pack the football stadium with about 300 people on Fridays (the town only has 678 people when everybody is home),and pack the basketball gym with about the same number of folks during basketball season. It’s still hard to get a seat at graduation, and it’s still not unusual to have a 100 people show up for Sunday morning worship at the church I attend.

We also have a lot of people who want to do something about restoring Happy. The town is in the process of trying to bring back our old train depot that the very kind folks in Tulia, Texas have decided to donate back to Happy, if we can get enough money together to move it back.

You might be wondering what an old depot has to do with restoring a town, but I will tell you that I think it has a lot to do with it. Happy is clearing a lot, and raising funds to bring back and restore a part of our town from a by-gone era… an era in which things were simpler and people were maybe a bit kinder and the town was certainly a more thriving community - with multiple grocery stores, drug stores, barber shops, car dealerships, and the like.

Tonight, we are having a family night in the park. No big deal, perhaps, just a bunch of families getting together for games and hotdogs and that rare fellowship that good friends in small towns just seem to share… when they take the time.

So, if you have nothing pressing on your schedule, why not come on out tonight (Friday, June 27 at 8:00PM). You will see old friends and make a few new ones. And, you will have a chance to do your small part in helping restore our little town back to the cheery times that good old Norman Rockwell used to reflect so well in his vision of what was good and right in the U.S.A.

And that, dear friends, could be the beginning of a very big deal!

"Thus says the Lord, “Stand in the ways, and see. Ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16, NKJV

Small Town, U.S.A.

“I come from this really small town… where everything was la-di-da and normal.”

Miley Cyrus

In the small town that I am privileged to call home, most everything is normal.

We normally worship with the church on Sunday.

We normally go about our business the rest of the week.

We normally don’t make headlines for things that decent people normally don’t talk about.

We normally help out our neighbors when they need the help.

We normally fill the school auditorium and gym to support our kids.

We normally go to Bible study on Wednesdays.

We normally keep our word.

We normally pray in public, even at school events, because the normal people in this la-di-da town have read both the Bible and the Constitution.

We normally look after our widows.

We normally honor one another.

We normally like each other.

We normally pray for one another.

We normally believe in Hell, so we try not to live a life that will get us there.

We normally believe in Heaven, and are making plans to go, by the grace of God.

We normally mind our own business.

Recently, I visited a big city – they have everything. They have hookah shops and voodoo shops and people that sleep on the street in broad daylight. They have bars and fine restaurants and the smell of raw sewage in the air. They have pictures of naked people on display on their sidewalks – right out in the open… where their kids can see. They have a lot of sorrow, from what I can see, but at least they live in a place that is not all “la-di-da” and normal.

Did I mention that we normally go to worship on Sundays in the small town that I am privileged to live in?

“Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”

Hosea 14:9, NIV

Back to School

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Andy Williams

One of my all-time favorite commercials is the office supply one where the parents are gleefully prancing through the aisles, while their children are plodding along behind with tears in their little eyes. Playing in the background is that old Christmas carol, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year".  My kids did not much care for that commercial - they were not yet sophisticated enough to enjoy it's deep, philosophical message.

I remember the first day of school for our oldest child. A.J. was five and he went to the first day of Kindergarten in the same manner as a convicted man goes to the gallows. There he was, a five year-old male in the prime of his life, being plucked out of summer and thrown into school. We might as well have been taking him to prison from the crushed look on his face. But A.J., like all children, eventually got used to school (I believe it was about his sophomore year) and all was well.

Our second child was a different story. For four years she had watched her big brother get to do something she was not allowed to do and she was ready to go. For her the first day of school was like being released from prison. Cherise pulled away from mom and dad's loving hands and strode a full twenty feet ahead of us into the classroom. For five full years she had condescended to her parent's meddling ways and now she was free from their tyranny. Her teacher took one look at her and said, "Now there goes a confident child".

Our third, Rebecca, was different - at least I think. I confess that we were so ready for a house free from toddlers that by the time we placed our last child into school that we could have been entrusting her into the care of gypsies - and would have had no pangs of conscience whatsoever. But at Rebecca's kindergarten graduation, you would have thought that Carolyn and I were being marched to the gallows. It had been eleven years from our first child's first day of school, and now we were at the end of an era. Where do the years go?

Rebecca is now in college, Cherise is a college graduate and A.J. has been married for seven years. The years go by, quicker than we could possibly imagine, but it is a good life. The point of this article is not to throw all of the parents into a deep bout of melancholy. Rather, it is to say that we are truly a blessed people and we need to enjoy each stage of these blessings. The really fine thing for Christians is that this life is just the beginning of an eternity of Joy that our Lord has planned for us. We should enjoy the ride with humble thanksgiving!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24