We rolled up to the old school style church, one of only two Baptist churches in our small Minnesota city. I was three months pregnant with our first child and constantly making us late due to a combination of fatigue and wardrobe dilemmas, so it was a rare Sunday that we got to watch people go inside for a few minutes before jumping out. A trickle of older folks flowed through the front doors. No one our age, but we weren’t deterred. As we were new in town, we were determined to survey all our options. And I was the rare Baptist up here. Clearly, I needed reinforcements.
Though we didn’t know anyone, we were greeted warmly by some white-haired folks by the sanctuary doors, and they ushered us to a pew near the front. The pastor stood, greeted us, and then sat back down to play his trumpet for worship. I have been told that my face critiques whatever I’m hearing, so I tried to stop my eyebrows from tuning off-key notes and told my heart to simply worship.
“Today,” the pastor afterwards piped up from behind the pulpit, “my son will be sharing a passage from James.” He gestured to a row of people who Leif and I had been trying not to stare at. They were so…different. The church was primarily northwards of fifty years old and Caucasian, but this pew was full of children—white, black, and some in between—and one forty something white woman with a pleasant calmness about her.
The children tittered and giggled as their father stepped up onto the stage. He was a much younger version of the trumpet-playing pastor. When a family photo was projected onto the back wall, the children laughed at some private joke between them.
Then their Dad began to read.
I tried not to choke.
There are occasions in life when I feel followed around by certain verses. Like everywhere I go, they’re there. And this passage in James popped up a third time in the short span of a week:
You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.
I thought of all the times I had blinders on regarding my own sin. And when I realized, how distorted a view I could still hold to, thinking “it’s not so bad” or comparing myself to someone else to feel better about what I was doing.
But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
Do what the Law says, I thought, and don’t forget. I paused. What does the Law say?
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.
Ah, yes. I talk too much. I’ve heard that before. Definitely could use some work. Got it.
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
A chord struck somewhere in my heart. Elsewhere, as in the gospel of John, the “work of God” was said to be simply belief. But James was expounding on the fruit of belief: if you really believe, won’t you work? And if you work, here is the work that He would have you do…care for the orphans and widows and fight the corrupting influence of culture and people apart from Christ.
The pastor’s son then shared about his family’s journey of obedience to this command, by an unexpected serial adoption through foster care. They had had one child on the way when a social worker had asked if they would accept a sibling group of four under four…for good. It was a flurry of diapers and excitement as well as an equal measure of trepidation, as his wife was eight months pregnant at the time and what would they do with so many babies?! But God had comforted them, and the church had rallied around them to provide and encourage.
“It’s been the hardest thing we’ve ever done.” His voice caught, but it was without added theatrics, the truth of the statement resonating in the quiet church room. “But it’s been absolutely worth it.”
He looked around the room.
“Today, I challenge you. If you don’t have any idea where to start, go to adoptuskids.org and pray. Ask God how He would use your family to serve orphans in your community. Will you do that? Will you let your life be poured out for the sake of His little ones?”
Leif and I sat quietly in the car on the way home. I didn’t want to be the first to speak. Often in the past, I would rush to comment on whatever had transpired and ask leading questions that scribbled over what Leif’s original thoughts were.
When words finally came, Leif said that he wanted to rethink adoption. He wanted to learn more about the Christian organization that my friends had recently adopted through, and he wanted us to pray.
I felt lightheaded. Was this the man I had married? Were we really considering this?
(Italics drawn from James 1:24-27 NLT)