February 23, 2015

Polluted?

Devotion for the Week...

We have lived in small town Newfoundland for almost 10 years now. For much of that time, the town was under a "Boil Water Advisory," because our tap water was unsafe. We were to boil the water before drinking it, using it in cooking, washing produce, brushing our teeth or anything else that involved us consuming the water. We mostly avoided that by filling jugs with purified water at the store several times a week, but, while I don't actually know what was in the water, I am glad that the Boil Water Advisory is over now and the water is safe to drink and use.

I thought of the advisory last week after reading this verse in James: "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). When I first think of pollution, I think of things like urban smog, or oil spills that contaminate lakes or coastlines. Glaring, visible, examples of how humans have mistreated the environment and turned something beautiful into something ugly and dirty. But the water that was coming out of our tap while we were under the advisory didn't look, smell or even taste any different than the water that comes out of our tap today.

Contaminates in water are measured in ppm (parts per million), or mg/L (milligrams per liter), which means the tests are looking for very, very low levels of the contaminate compared to the amount of water being tested. Many of the contaminates that water is tested for must be at zero ppm for the water to be considered safe (see this table from the EPA). When a contaminate in the water exceeds the safe level, that water could make people sick, or it could even be deadly, depending on what has contaminated the water. This is true even though the water doesn't look, smell or taste any different than safe water would look, smell or taste. Also, the effects of consuming the unsafe water may not be noticed immediately. Often the effects are cumulative, so the more of the contaminated water a person consumes, the more effect it would eventually have.

Spiritually speaking, God wants us to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world. Unfortunately, spiritual pollution is a lot like physical pollution. Some of it is obvious, while a lot of it may be invisible, insidious and hard to identify. Sometimes the effects are immediate, but mostly they build up over time and with repeated exposure.

Since we are told to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world, that means the pollution comes from outside sources. And there are many sources:

*television and movies
*social media
*friends
*co-workers
*books and magazines
*family
*false teachings in the church

I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that spring immediately to mind. How careful are we to screen those sources, to guard ourselves against the contaminates of the world? And how high is our tolerance for those contaminates? How many 'parts per million' do we allow before we deem something to be polluted?

Paul wrote, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8). That seems like a good test for the things we intend to allow into our lives. If it is not any of these things, perhaps it is nothing more than pollution.

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