Pastor John

Pastor John

Love Made Me Look and Learn

The month of February is primarily known for two things on a national scale: Valentine’s Day—which is this Sunday, so hustle up and get your sweetie something—and Black History Month. The one—Valentine’s Day—I have spottily observed. The other—Black History Month—I’ve scarcely acknowledged.

So, recently, when an astute brother asked if I had ever done anything with Black History Month, my answer was, “Not really.” He then asked, “Why is that?” That’s a fair question. You would think that someone who has been a pastor for over 40 years and who currently leads a large multiracial ministry would have at least said something over the years. But as one pastor points out, many people of faith, pastors included, have a way of becoming “nose-blind”–meaning we’re not affected by what we’ve become accustomed to.

The truth is I knew little about the history of Black History Month. I didn’t know, for example, that it really started in the early 1900’s by a Harvard-trained African-American historian named Carter G. Woodson and a prominent minister at the time named Jesse E. Moorland, just fifty years after slavery was abolished. I didn’t know that February was chosen to celebrate Black History Month because it is the birthday month of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two of the leading voices of abolition in our nation’s history. I didn’t know that the first month-long celebration was led by black educators at Kent State University in 1970, a college that was less than 30 miles from where I lived in Ohio and that both of my daughters attended for a brief time. I didn’t know that it was President Gerald Ford who officially recognized Black History Month in 1976 during our nation’s bicentennial year. President Ford called upon the public at that time to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

All of these historical markers and many, many more, serve to remind me that there is so much I have to learn about how people who don’t look like me experience people who do look like me. An insightful question posed by a wise leader helps bring some sobering self-awareness to issues that can be intense and contentious is this: “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?”Honestly, I haven’t always liked the answers that have been given whenever I’ve had the courage to ask. But I must ask if I’m going to grow. I must learn something different if I want to experience something new. I must be willing to see things I’ve never seen before–or perhaps did see, but was unwilling to acknowledge–if I want to see life-change. Love makes me want to look and learn.

I’m thinking of the first message I recently preached in the Love Is series back in January. The main application question we asked in that message was simply this: What does love require of me? What a fantastic question, especially for those of us who follow a Jesus that said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

We are coming to a missional crossroads section in our Daily Acts study. The ethnic and cultural majority makeup of the early church is about to change forever, as more and more Gentiles are added to the church. This started in chapter 10 with Cornelius and his household, but it has grown rapidly and exponentially through the work of Barnabas and Paul in the city of Antioch. This is not always celebrated among the earliest believers. In fact, it becomes a major point of dispute and debate. A major, high-stakes conference is convened to address it, the outcome of which is vital for the future of the church.

And at every point along the way, we see the courageous, Spirit-led leaders of the church say, “Love requires us to reach out…beyond us, beyond here and beyond now.” Love requires that we look and learn about those different than us so that we become a better us, a more gospel-centered version of us.

Paul, the most Jewish of Jews ever, who became the greatest evangelist ever to non-Jews, would one day write: Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 The Message).

Me too, Brother Paul. Me too.

Loving the looking and learning Journey,

Pastor John