As I mentioned last week, during a storm, God can do wondrous things. 2020 has been the year of the storms. It has been a year that many of us will not soon forget. Certain dates in history always seem to stick with us: December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor; September 11, 2001 – The Twin Towers. And now there’s 2020 – Covid-19; shutdowns; racial unrest; an election, etc. When will this storm end? How will it end? Will it ever end? Will any of us ever forget 2020?
I referenced in my blog last week the book of Matthew and the passage where Jesus calls Peter to step out of the boat and to walk on water. During a storm, Peter does what Jesus asks. Peter steps out, walks a little way, begins to sink, and is saved by the hand of Jesus. There was a time this past summer when I asked Jesus to call me out of the boat. Jesus did that in a way that was beyond me and anything that I could have imagined.
Around June of this year, I was struggling. The business that Janet and I had worked so hard to build up over the last 10 years had just been shut down for close to three months. We were beginning to open up again but running at about 30% of the previous year. There was civil unrest throughout the country. Homes and businesses were being burned down and there was a racial divide that was separating cities, neighborhoods, and families. There was no end in sight and I was frustrated. I was angry, bitter, and judgmental. I had all of these thoughts and opinions but no answers.
I have been part of a men’s group for about five years now and for the first three weeks of June, this was all that we could talk about. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What needs to be done? How can we solve these problems (what egos, huh)? I just kept looking for answers but God kept laying something else on my heart. For those of you who don’t know me that well I will share with you that I am a creature of habit. I like things to stay the same. I don’t like to change. I get into a comfortable routine and don’t like to veer off track. That is not, however, what God had in store for me. He grabbed me by the heart and drew me out of the boat.
I was sitting at home one evening around this time just thinking about all of this when God laid a person on my heart. A man that I had met at a church function about five years earlier. He spoke briefly at this event but it was his energy, conviction, and deep love for God’s people that stuck with me. I decided to reach out to him. Maybe he could help me with some of these questions that I had. I sent him a quick email and within minutes he responded to me. We set up a meeting for a few days later. I asked for 15-20 minutes of his time. We ended up talking for over an hour. We didn’t solve any of the world’s problems at that hour, but it was the beginning of an incredible journey.
I have never considered myself to be racist in any way. I love people. I love all people. Yet, if that is true, why all the anger and judgment? As a 61-year-old man, I realized that I also had never had a real conversation in my life with a black man. Yes, I have had the usual surface conversations but not the type of conversations I have with my group of brothers I meet with each week. It made me ask the question, “Lord, am I part of the storm, or part of the calm?”
As you may have guessed by now, Pastor Lorenzo is a Black man. I could have just gone home that day, back to my cozy house in the suburbs, and checked off the box for “racial outreach”. But if I was going to follow what Jesus was calling me to do, getting out of the boat was my only option.
Janet and I decided to attend service that upcoming Sunday at Pastor Lorenzo’s church. The church is in Detroit. Next to a methadone clinic. Near a red light district. WAY OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE. Jesus is not about my comfort but my character. I must reflect on Him. After that first service, Janet and I were awestruck. We had never been to a service with such passion in every aspect of the church. We had never seen or felt that much emotional energy in a church setting. We both said to each other on the way home that day, “the Holy Spirit was truly present in the entire congregation today.” We have attended every Sunday since and it is now our new church home.
I have since gotten to know many people at church. And as I get to know them, who they are, what they do, what are their likes and dislikes, I realize something quite simple. We are in the same boat with the same questions. We are wondering what to do in this storm. We don’t want to be judged by the color of our skin. We are ordinary people with families and jobs, successes, and failures. We have our ups and downs and we are trying to do our best to make it through this world the best we can. And like me, some are asking Jesus to call them out on the water. We are part of a family where color doesn’t matter.
We have been able to participate in community outreach and to share meals. God continues to stretch and bless me every week. I get to meet new people and we share our lives. We have different stories and different journeys, but with the same end goal; To be part of God’s family and to love one another as He loves us.
I did learn that God truly has a great sense of humor. The new church He brought us to is called 180 Church Detroit! Here I was looking for answers, and God had a complete change of direction for my life. I told you it was something I never would have chosen for myself. I am so grateful that my thoughts are not His thoughts nor are my ways His ways. His plan is always the best!
Stepping out of the boat is not an easy undertaking. It can be very uncomfortable for me. There are plenty of times when I have begun to sink. Sometimes, down to my knees, my waist, or my elbows. But I always try to remember that Jesus is standing right there next to me. His outstretched hand ready to pull me back up. I just need to admit, Lord, I cannot do this on my own.