Her attitude was not unapproachable, but neither was it friendly and inviting. The elderly woman slowly rose from the wooden pew, straightening her back and gazing straight ahead. I noticed her short grey hair and gold rings dangling her ears, but more prominent was her aloof and crusty demeanor.
Rising from the piano bench with sheet music nestled under my arm, I approached the pew where the stranger stood. I could see that a visiting non-denominational family friend was eager to introduce us. It had been by her invitation that this new visitor made an appearance at my quaint country church.
"Are you coming to potluck?" I pressed an invitation.
The older lady tugged at the handle of her pocketbook. "Oh, I don't know."
"Are you sure? The food is really good," Mrs. Fontaine, my friend added.
"I really hope you can come," I urged with a smile.
The older woman consented. "Alright."
Church members had slowly wandered downstairs to the fellowship hall where busy cooks had been setting out quinoa salad and heating plates of roasted vegetables, baked beans, and casseroles.
I led the way and stood next to my new "friend" in line. I sensed her lingering aloofness as I urged her to join the potluck line, making efforts to draw her into conversation. If I could only reach through this crustiness and show her that I care,” I thought to myself. To help her to see that this warmness in my heart is real, and no pretense.
I led her to a chair and sat next to her at the long table. To my delight, she slowly softened and the conversation grew pleasant as she asked me questions about homeschooling, my family, and my life.
I was blessed by inviting a stranger to potluck and in getting to know her. She lingered after the meal, interacting with church members and smiling.
I gave her hug before she left. "Please come and visit us again - we would love to have you back."
"Thank you," she nodded. "It was very nice meeting you."
Mrs. Fontaine left to drop the visitor off at her home a mile from the church, and returned to share a story with us.
"Why don't you?"
"I will not step foot in a Seventh-Day Adventist church."
She hung up the phone, adamant in spite of the petition. Although her brother wasn't a member, he worshiped with an Adventist congregation and found true fellowship and biblical preaching there. Faithfully he prayed that she would step out in faith and attend an Adventist church, even though he knew her answer was firm.
Mrs. Fontaine was a relative, and she invited her to attend a local church. "A thirteen-year-old is preaching, and the Cosgrove girls will have special music. You should come! I will pick you up at your house."
On Saturday morning as Mrs. Fontaine's car pulled into the church parking lot, the visitor with her could not hide her astonishment. She hesitated, half laughed, and spoke in one breath, "I can't believe this." How did you know? Why did you bring me here? What are we doing here?
"We're here, so let's go inside."
Thus, the two ladies stepped into our small Seventh-Day Adventist church - and for one of them, it was the first time.
Months later, my visitor friend has stepped across the threshold of an Adventist Church for the third time. gives when the offering plate is passed to her pew….
She listens as a benefit concert for my sister’s Youth For Jesus trip, and she gives...
And now as I sit here, I wonder….
How many times am I content to leave friend, a stranger?
How often do I rob others of the blessing of sharing fellowship, and giving to further God’s work, by my lack of open-armed welcome?
How many blessings have I missed by neglecting to love enough, neglecting to embrace the unlovely?
I think I can understand now why His mission is accomplished when we love the world as He did.
This is the love that seeks out the lost child who was found by “another master.” Breaks the chains of bitterness, and melts the hearts of stone.
It is so easy to love the lovable. I think that I’m a loving person when I love those who love me. But what if our love for God is only measured by how much we love those we love the least? What if God’s estimation of our love for Him is only so much as we love the most naturally repulsive to us?
"Love to man is the earthward manifestation of the love of God. It was to implant this love, to make us children of one family, that the King of glory, became one with us. And when His parting words are fulfilled, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12); when we love the world as He has loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven; for we have heaven in our hearts." DA, pg. 641
He made the greatest sacrifice that love could make. He loved the world with His life, with His death, and ultimately – eternity.
Love has no conditions in the heart of God. It only gives and lives that it may continue to be shared and lived through the lives of others. If every single soul on this planet rejected His voice, He would still love.
If we can embrace the world – every stranger, every lonely heart, every soul thirsting for a touch, for the opportunity to give….
Only then, we have begun to know this love.