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February 2018

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Learning to Love Beyond the Mask

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. - John 13:34 NIV

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At about age six Batman was my crush. I spent countless minutes smooching with pillows pretending to embrace Batman. I liked that he was tall, strong, fearless and the enemy couldn’t beat him. I also liked the shiny black mask that made him mysteriously attractive. On the other hand, Bruce Wayne -- Batman without the mask – didn’t interest me a bit. Bruce was so plain. Batman and Bruce were the same man, but I was only attracted to the man with the mask.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when people love images while ignoring reality. Social media and so called “reality shows” allow people to project images of themselves in ways that mask the true self. Large numbers of followers, “friends” and viewers attest to the growing admiration people have for images of happiness and success presented on Facebook, Twitter and on shows like the Real Housewives from Orange County to New Jersey. If a person can look successful, then they are loved and admired, even if everything is falling apart around them. Many people go through life like Batman wearing a mask to cover who and what they are. Masks practically guarantee that people will gain acceptance, admiration and love.

Sometimes I wonder if church has turned into a show for people with masks. Instead of offering a safe haven for broken and wounded sinners, has the church become a place where people cluster in mutual admiration of the images people portray? While people gravitate to the masks of happiness – “I’m too blessed to be stressed” – and the masks of success – “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz!” – are the real hurting and lost people feeling like outsiders?

This is not what Jesus had in mind when he commanded his followers to “Love one another. As I have loved you..." (John 13:34.) Jesus called this a new commandment, because he was asking for more than the Old Testament command to love your neighbor as yourself. What is new about Jesus’ command here is that his followers are required to love their neighbors beyond themselves. He wanted the church to be an extension of his love shared freely with all. Jesus’ love led him to die for man’s sins. This means that for his church, Jesus wants love that goes beyond the superficial and reaches the bounds of sacrificial.

I’ve outgrown Batman, but I’m still drawn to people who are easy to like. These people are generally happy and easygoing, which may be a mask to cover pain, anger or disappointment. My prayer is to go beyond my preference and show the love of Jesus to everyone – especially those who take off their mask. All around there are people who have unmasked their hurt, anger and shame, and Jesus wants to love them through me . . . through us . . . through his church. Let’s unleash the power of real love today.

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JANIE WHITE is a member of Star of Hope Missionary Baptist Church in San Francisco, California where Rev. Gordon Thomas is Pastor. She currently serves on the Trustee Board and is in the choir. Janie enjoys Bible Study, and in addition to studying with her congregation, she is a member of the Daughters of Zion Women’s Ministries organized by the founder and teacher, Elder Shirley Freeman.

Janie is passionate about the Word and discipleship—especially helping others by demonstrating the love of Christ through acts of kindness. She loves hosting gatherings for family and friends, and she has the privilege of being married to John White for 23 years. Together Janie and John have a blended family of four children, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her favorite scripture is Ephesians 3:20, which encourages her to say, “Yes Lord!” to whatever challenges come her way.