Read His Words Before Ours!
I was born in Mississippi and currently live in North Carolina. Both states are part of the Bible Belt, “an area chiefly in the southern part of the U.S. where there are many people who have very strong and strict Christian beliefs.” (Merriam Webster)
The Bible Belt is well-known for church attendance, and I remember attending my grandma’s Baptist church in Mississippi during summer visits. Mind you, I was raised in Chicago, as a member of a Catholic Church.
“North” church equaled a scripted, subdued, short service in comfy clothes.
“South” church equaled a long, exuberant service in my “Sunday best,” whether comfortable or not.
At my grandma’s church, there was much shouting, clapping, and spreading contagious joy in knowing the Lord and His faithful goodness. But sometimes, they’d peel back a layer to reveal this praise was how they survived the hardships accompanying being Black in America. This is especially true in a South where Christians historically not only upheld slavery, but where racism continues to thrive in the present day.
Psalm 13 begins, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
I heard this lament during hot summers at my granny’s church when the pastor preached on persevering in the face of trials, difficulty, and unfair treatment. I didn’t realize then how personally this passage would address my experiences in life and church. It wasn’t until I was older I understood how much African Americans still dealt with the roots of racism.
It was a turning point for me to realize that as African Americans, our faith was born out of a need to find unconditional love and hope. We weren’t going to get it from the world. So we gathered in churches and we leaned into Jesus, Who didn’t rebuff us because of our melanin. The first verse of Psalm 13 has been read and prayed for hundreds of years in the Black church.
But let’s not forget the end of the chapter:
“But I have trusted in your faithful love;
my heart will rejoice in your deliverance.
I will sing to the Lord
because He has treated me generously.” (Psalm 13:5-6)
I realized no matter what the world thinks of me or does to me, God loves me and I can trust Him. He sent Jesus to die for me. And not just me, for everyone.
John 3:15 says, “so that everyone who believes in Him”. (emphasis mine)
John 3:16 goes on to explain, “For God loved the world.” (emphasis mine)
Finally, John 3:17 tells us, “Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned.” (emphasis mine)
The message of Jesus’ sacrificial love and redemption is for every. single. person.
When we embrace Him as our Savior, we enter into His eternal victory, regardless of our present struggles.
Ephesians 4:11-13 reveals God has equipped us to do ministry for the growth of the church and unity in Christ. I remember the first time I volunteered with my church serving “under-privileged communities,” which translated to African American and Latin communities in Raleigh. I volunteered to teach kids’ Bible lessons.
Reading through the material, I realized the “canned” examples wouldn’t work, because the kids couldn’t relate; their experiences were nothing like those the lessons referenced. Some examples would even be offensive. Therefore, when I served, I would change the “life situation” examples and the kids would light up with recognition of their own lives in the lesson.
I have frequently encountered this problem with cross racial ministry. If you haven’t walked in another’s shoes, or taken time to learn about their experiences, you’re ministering from a blind spot. I think of Saul, who believed in Yahweh, but not “The Way.” Once he met Jesus and became Paul, he made it his business to walk in other’s shoes when ministering. To the Jews, he became like a Jew; to those under the law, like one under the law; to the weak, he became weak. (1 Corinthians 9:20-22)
Why? Paul says, “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) This, sisters, is where the Church often goes wrong. The Church often ministers to communities based on what we think they need. Instead, we should intentionally devote time to understand what the need truly is.
Want to minister to a “not like you” community? Partner with and support a church already on the ground. Paul demonstrated this idea by working alongside Priscilla and Aquila, who had already been in Corinth. (Acts 18:1-4) I would venture to say that sometimes when we don’t lead with empathy and authentic relationships, ministry comes off like we’re trying to be a savior. But Church, there is only one Savior, and His name is Jesus.
Please don’t misunderstand. I love the Church.
But sometimes, she doesn’t act like she loves me.
For instance, during an online racial unity discussion, a woman I considered a friend asked, “Why can’t Black people just get over it, like the Jews did with the Holocaust?”
Unfortunately, in the American Church, this is not an uncommon sentiment. Therefore, it can be hard to attend church, knowing the people there might be against us just because of our race.
Despite the hardships, I fix my mind on this: in the new heaven and new earth, Jesus will wipe away every tear and death, grief, crying and pain will no longer exist. (Revelation 21:1-4) The city’s gates will never close and “Nothing unclean will ever enter it [. . .] but only those written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27)
On that day, all nations will come and worship Jesus. (Revelation 15:4)
So I live for the day when we’ll be one before our King.
Amen and Amen.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!