The old green house at 1125 Fairmont Avenue wasn’t much different from any of the other houses that could be found in that neighborhood, but to Jim Daniels it seemed like a bit of heaven. His mind wandered back to the first time that he had been brought to this place...
It was almost sixteen years ago, and Jim had been a rebellious teenager, angry at the world, but craving recognition and acceptance. The social worker had advised him that this was only a temporary placement, until a space became available at the group home. “Oh well, so much for ‘family stability’!” Jim Daniels grinned cynically at the concept that he had heard so much about, but had never yet experienced. This was his third placement in the last year- and-a-half, so he figured that it may be good for another six or eight months. That appeared to be the limit to people’s patience with Jim, who seemed to have an unavoidable propensity toward mischief.
He had been introduced to the Crofton family a few weeks prior. He didn’t quite know what to make of their attitude – they were so unlike any home where he had ever been placed before. They seemed almost too ‘gushy’ for the young Jim Daniels – were these people ‘for-real’? There were two kids in the family – Thomas, who was a year older than Jim, and Tracy, who was two years younger. His social worker had indicated that it was for that reason that this family had been chosen as the ideal placement for him.
After thirteen months of living with the Croftons, young Jim Daniels almost dared to believe that he had finally found a family. Hesitantly at first, but then with more familiarity, he found himself referring to the elder Croftons as ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’. He found that he was under the same privileges and constraints as Thomas and Tracy, as well as enjoying the same recognition and approval. It was still so incomprehensible to Jim.
Adding to his bewilderment was the fact that this was a ‘Christian family’. Jim Daniels had been taught to be wary of any and all Christians. But with the gentle, consistent love of these people, Jim found himself being drawn into their faith. If this was love, he wanted to know everything about it. The constant exposure to the Gospel through Sunday church services, and the Friday night Youth Group inevitably convinced Jim of his need for a Savior’s love. By the time he graduated from high school, Jim knew that he was headed for a career in ministering to Youth in the same manner that he had received so freely.
Over the years, Jim had maintained contact with the Croftons, though his career had required some geographic distance. Two years ago he had grieved with the family over the loss of ‘Dad’ Crofton, then, last June, Tracy had phoned to tell him that ‘Mom’ wasn’t doing well either. It wasn’t too much of a shock, then, to receive another phone call on Monday that ‘Mom’ had gone home to be with her Lord. With the scenes of the funeral service fresh in his mind, Jim Daniels walked across the street to the house on Fairmont Avenue.
Praying for just the right words of comfort for the grieving brother and sister, Jim hesitantly rang the doorbell. The emotion was still evident in the eyes of both Tracy and Thomas as he embraced them each in turn. They sat for some time, each sharing pleasant memories of the impact that both Mom and Dad had made in their lives. When it was time to take his leave, Jim reached for the plastic bag that he had been carrying.
“I want you to have this in memory of your parents. It’s just my way of saying ‘thanks’ to both of them for the influence they had in my life.” Fresh tears of emotion brimmed in both siblings’ eyes as Tracy retrieved an elegant, handcrafted plaque from the bag. In bold lettering it declared – “Then shall the King say ... I was a stranger and you took me in ...”
“Yes,” Tracy mused, “those were probably the first words that Mom heard as she entered Glory!”
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: the Apostle Paul exhorted the Hebrew believers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. In fact, from the earliest of God’s commandments to His people, we find references to the ministry of mercy to strangers. We all remember the first verse that we ever memorized – For God so loved the world... but so often in our modern world we forget His admonition to share the gospel with every creature. Many, who have been faithful to that commandment will truly be surprised in Heaven to find just how many lives they have touched by a simple act of kindness.
I was a stranger, the King declared, and you took me in. It is interesting to note that the words ‘took me in’ can also be translated to gather, or to join together. The drive for acceptance, the need to be included as ‘one of the group’ is so acute in some people that, by their actions, they at times become repulsive. The more they strive to be accepted, the more they find themselves ‘excluded from the group’. For those who are not sensitive to such actions, these people appear to be deserving of their fate. Jesus, however, surrounded himself with those who were unacceptable to society. Who else would have chosen a ‘tax-collector’ as part of His ministry team, and who would have allowed a ‘prostitute’ to anoint Him for His burial?
But the trouble with a lot of Christians is that they are so gullible – they simply accept anybody and everybody. Doesn’t the Bible say that we are to be “wise as serpents?...” Many of us have heard the argument countless times. The implication being that, in accepting the sinner, we become a partner to his sins. Such was not the case in Jesus’ ministry. By responding to the invitation to dinner at Simon’s house, Jesus was clearly not capitulating to the pharisaical mindset. That became quite clear in His firm rebuke to the smug host. Nor was He condoning the lifestyle of the woman who had come to minister to Him. Clearly, Jesus cut to the heart of the matter with His declaration – Your sins have been forgiven! If we can glean any example from Jesus style of ministry, it would be that, in His sight, there is an acute distinction between the sin and the sinner. God hates all sin, but He loves all sinners. That is a principle that we would do well to remember as we seek to fulfill the ministry that he has committed to us.
Because of the message of love and hope with which we have been entrusted, we will often find some of the most undesirable of characters being drawn to us. Rather than ignoring them, or even turning away from them, Jesus taught that we should provide them with the measure of acceptance that they so desperately crave. A simple act of including them in our circle of fellowship will so often give them the strength that they need to abandon their undesirable actions. In a sobering application of such a principle, Jesus reminds us that, ultimately, in so ministering to the needs of others, we minister to Him.
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My thoughts just prior to reading your article were along these lines: "People who are caught up in sin and come desperately seeking God often feel condemned by the attitudes of 'holier than thou' Christians and leave the church before God can deliver them. It just shouldn't be so." So, your article really ministered to me... confirmed my thoughts. I wonder how many angels have walked into our churches and right back out without us ever knowing it. It's a scary thought, especially knowing that those same people are the very ones Jesus used. Maybe "churches" walk into, and right back out of our man-made buildings.