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What If?

I work two shifts a week at West End, one of the dining centers on campus. The job can be frustrating, mundane, insane. It can be slow and boring one minute and hectic the next. I work register a lot, and the past few weeks, with my knee injury, that’s what I’ve been doing almost every shift. In that position, it’s an understatement to say that you interact with all kinds of people. Sometimes those interactions make me wonder about the existence of intelligent life. At all. Sometimes I begin to lose faith in humanity. But every so often, something comes along that does just the opposite. I had one of those moments today.

This weekend is family weekend at Tech, meaning there are (drumroll, please…) a lot of families visiting. Read: a lot of people without meal plans. We get a lot of parents and siblings who try to pay with cash, and we keep having to explain that we don’t take cash, but we accept credit and debit cards. One of these people was a girl, probably upper high school or college-aged, who ordered pizza, and like many others, started to give me cash. I explained that we don’t take cash, but we take plastic. She started to say that she’d have to go find her brother and borrow his Hokie Passport (the Virginia Tech ID used for just about everything, including paying for meals.) At this point, the random guy in line behind her stepped forward, held out his Hokie Passport, and said, “I got it.” The girl was just blown away. She couldn’t express her thanks enough.

One of the really cool things about Tech is the idea of the “Hokie Nation.” From the bond we have with each other, to our bleed-maroon-and-orange loyalty whether our football team is ranked or can’t move the ball forward to save their lives, to our hospitality and willingness to go out of our way for visitors to our campus and our town, this is what it means to be a Hokie. I’ve heard and read numerous testimonials about people who were astonished by the welcoming atmosphere and helpfulness of people here. I even read an article about how Georgia Tech fans who were here for the game back at the beginning of the year couldn’t believe how nice and welcoming Hokies were, even to fans of the opposing team. What I witnessed today was one more example of the Hokie Nation in action.

But in the end, it wasn’t the nebulous “Hokie Nation” who stepped forward to pay for the meal of a complete stranger. It was an individual, who is part of the Tech culture, but who ultimately made the decision personally to step up and help out. Just because. He had no idea that the cashier who took that order would go on to immortalize in writing what he did. He saw a need, and while he easily could’ve let the girl go track down her brother, and meanwhile ordered his own food—and wouldn’t have been wrong to do so—he didn’t. He offered to buy her food for her. It was such a small thing, a split-second decision, but so powerful. If there was any doubt about that, the look on that girl’s face said it all.

What if each of us stepped up like that more often? What if, when we saw a need like that, our gut reaction was to jump in and fill it? What kind of impact could we have?

I am, and hopefully each of you are, part of a bigger, more important nation than that of the Hokies. One that demands more unity, more loyalty, and more expression of love to those around us. This nation is known as the kingdom of God. What if God’s kingdom was defined by, and recognized by, these same principles that mark the Hokie Nation—but more so? What if the kingdom were made up of individuals who weren’t too busy or absorbed or downright selfish to hand their credit card to the cashier for the person in front of them?

Shortly before Jesus went to the cross, he told his disciples, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35, NLT). Of course, it is also pretty clear in Scripture that our love should not only be for each other, but for everyone. Jesus said that love would be what defines us, what the world recognizes us by. Notice that he said this will be the case, not just the ideal scenario that he would like to be true someday. Unfortunately, the church in the media isn’t doing the greatest job of fulfilling that. But we can change that. There was a time, centuries ago, when the Christians were known as the most compassionate people in the known world. They were the ones who, when a plague struck the Roman empire, were willing to open their homes to the sick and give them the care they needed, instead of shunning them as the rest of the world did. And the world noticed. We know this from a secular historian of the time who recorded the story of the plague. I really wish I knew this story in more detail. I read it years ago, I think in one of Philip Yancey’s books.

But as I was saying, we can change what the church has come to be seen as. I believe this because, as I have discussed in previous posts, we are utterly helpless alone, but we have been and are being transformed by God into the kind of people he wants us to be. Jesus said that we would be recognized by our love. We can take his word for it. Because the Holy Spirit is in us, and has the power to make it happen.

So in this next week, as you go about your day, look for ways to impact the world around you. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. Just small things, like buying a stranger’s meal, can go a long way. And as Jesus also said, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones” (Luke 16:10). Let’s change the world, starting this week. To take a line from Apple’s famous “Think Different” commercial,

“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”