Have you ever had a total stranger speak such truth into a situation that you knew God was speaking through them? Well, I have not had that happen very often but today was one of those once-in-a-blue-moon kind of days.
Every Wednesday a group of key leaders from Embrace gather to pray and seek God’s guidance regarding our ministry. We gather at Commonwealth Chapel because Pastor Rob Rhoden and his church have always been very supportive of the ministry of Embrace. They have been so generous that they have given Joe a key to the church and allowed us to have full use of the building for our leadership team. Today, as with most Wednesday’s, the church is empty as we unlocked the door and proceeded to make it our home for the next couple of hours.
Every week someone wonders into the church while we are there praying. People looking for the pastor, sales people, people asking about various ministries at the church. We are never able to help them because none of us are actual members at the church. Honestly, it was getting a bit annoying. I was even thinking that we should lock the church doors each week so that our bible study time would not be interrupted.
But today we had a different kind of stranger walk through the door. The minute I saw James, I was annoyed…yet another interruption of our very important time with God. However once he began to speak, I was deeply convicted. This stranger was there for us. I wish I would have had my tape recorder out to capture his exact words but this is what I recall him saying and there were five witnesses to this event who can correct me if I am wrong;
“Hi, my name is James, and I was just released from the county jail and well I have been going round to all the churches trying to get me and my family some food but nobody will help us. I tried all the churches round my house in the east end and no one would let me in. It’s like I must stink or look bad or something. So I decided to come uptown and try to get some food. I thought that at least one church in the city would help me but seems the church don’t help people no more. I am trying to stay calm but I feeling very frustrated. Will someone please help me?”
It was obvious that James was feeling hurt, rejected, and less than the beautiful child of God that he is. James sincere rebuke of the church, broke the hearts of all five of my fellow Christian leaders and I. It was as if Jesus walked in the door, and laid bare the reality of what the church has become; a gated community, locked up with those in need of Christ compassionate touch locked out.
Our team prayed with James and an angel named Dick Denzler, with Tabernacle Baptist Church, which happens to be just two streets away, opened up their food pantry just for James and his family. While James rebuke of the church shines a telling light on the church at large, I am grateful that God put us in Commonwealth with an open door and gave us friends like Tabernacle Baptist so that we could minister as Jesus would have us minister. These two Churches helped James see that Christ spirit still dwells in the church.
It is quite ironic that James traveled from the east end, where we have a ministry, to a church, where we are not ministers, and happened to walk through the door while we were praying about how Embrace could more fully usher in the Kingdom of God in the City of Richmond. It was as if God was saying, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” Not just in a spiritual sense but in the very real tangible way that James needed food.
As a side note, we have invited James to join our East End missional community and are praying he will take us up on this offer. Please pray for James and his family and for the doors of the churches across our city to be opened up to Jesus who wears the disguise of the hungry, the homeless and the broken.
So, what do you think of James rebuke of the church? Do you think his experience is typical? If James walked into your church (assuming the door was unlocked), how would he be received? Are we so busy studying God’s word and praying for the hurting, that we have failed to live God’s word and physically embrace the broken?
Before James would leave to go to Tabernacle to get his food, he insisted on hugging each and every one of us…I feel like I got a hug for Christ today…a pat on the back…a “well done good and faithful servant” and the Lord sent that hug in an unexpected stranger named James.
(For those of you who are wondering, yes, the photo above is our very own Yolanda and if you can not read it the sign she is holding says “As Unto Christ”. We shot this picture as we were trying to come up with book covers and Yolanda is a great model!)