When my youngest daughter began her college search 6 years ago she was determined to go somewhere far away from home. Her preference was to play field hockey on the east coast. After visiting six states and six colleges in the course of five days we still didn’t land on the perfect place. And then out of the blue she got a call from a school in Missouri who wanted to recruit her. Her reaction, “no way am I going to school in the Midwest.” After a solo visit to the school and the team she changed her mind. She loved it. Set on the banks of the Missouri river, just 20 minutes from St. Louis is St. Charles. It’s a quaint town mostly known for being the starting point for Lewis and Clark. The school, Lindenwood University, fit all our requirements. It also was a Presbyterian founded school. Sitting on the board was the pastor for the large, local Presbyterian church.
The weekend she moved in I took a trip over to that local Presbyterian church. It shared a fence with the university. I asked to speak with the pastor and see what programs they had in conjunction with the school. As I spoke with his secretary, he could see me from his open office door. He could hear me speaking to her. He never got up from his desk. In fact, the answer to my question about the partnership with the university students brought a blank stare. I asked what mission projects they do in St. Louis, and again I got a blank stare. My heart broke. Here was a large church, founded in 1818, and 1952 it formed a partnership with the college. About 68 years later it has failed the thousands of students that pass through the college each year.
Why tell this tale? James admonishes us to love our neighbors, not pass judgement without mercy, and to show our faith with deeds. And yet this large church found it difficult to do all of these. They were stuck in the success they already had and lost focus on their purpose – to always be bringing new people to Christ. Like so many churches they waited to see who would show up for church. The secretary told me they had once tried a Sunday evening worship designed for the students but hardly anyone came. So, they gave up. I asked her, “Did you try going to them?” Another blank stare.
James 1 and 2 are all about shaking us awake. Pleading with us to be “doing Christians” rather than pew-sitting Christians. Real justification – a saved life – leads to a changed life. He reminds us that serving our Lord may make us uncomfortable when we invite the poor or unknown to sit next to us. He also points out that the rich or those we show favoritism to frequently are the ones that treat us the worst.
A poor, lonely college student would jump at the chance for a free meal at a campus BBQ or an invite to dinner into someone’s home. They don’t have much to offer us, except their company. They might not look like us, talk like us, or believe exactly like us. They probably won’t find their way to a church by themselves. The mere act of reaching outward and being a friendly face to those who don’t feel comfortable walking into our church doors shows them mercy. Think about the last time you were at a social gathering and didn’t know anyone. Finally, someone comes up to you and strikes up a conversation. You are filled with relief that you are no longer alone.
When we stand in front of the gates of heaven, expressing our thankfulness for the gift of salvation we will be judged. Jesus may stand there smiling that gentle smile back at us. And then say with sadness, “Why didn’t you ever open and use my gift?” We beg for God’s grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. And when we are bestowed all those, do we open them up for all the world to see? I once asked my husband for a fancy mixer. It could whip, grind, shred and all manner of cooking/baking related activities. But if he had given me exactly what I wanted and I thanked him profusely yet never opened the box and used that mixer, wouldn’t my husband think I didn’t truly appreciate it?
When we don’t judge people for their age, what they wear, how they talk, what their background is, their politics, etc., and just accept people as we encounter them, they are open to our love and our message of God’s love. Imagine that church in St. Charles holding a first weekend BBQ for anyone who wanted a free hotdog and an invite to a worship service. Or, a helpful church team assisting parents and students moving into the dorms along with a care package with a card welcoming them. A contact number to call if they need help. And each month having an outreach event to just say, “we are here and we love you.”
You see, when we accept the challenge of loving our neighbors and showing them mercy, God opens the doors to all the best deeds. And even if just one person responds, that’s one more person on God’s side of the ledger. We should all be praying regularly for opportunities like this to be placed in front of us. When you become God’s co-worker (1 Cor. 3:9) you lose count of all the blessings that unfold. As for my daughter, the Christ-centered group Athletes In Action met regularly on campus and another student invited her to come. It saved her in so many ways. She eventually become a leader and a speaker who told her testimony to many other student-athletes. She also met her future husband through the organization. As a parent living almost 2,000 miles away, I still remain ever thankful there were Christians who took up James’ challenge.
Will you take up James’ challenge this weekend? Pray for your eyes to be opened to opportunities to show your faith by your deeds, love and mercy. Click on the photo and listen to this song by Danny Gokey and Mandisa called “Tell Somebody.” It’s a great song about opening up that gift!