MLKToday I re-read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I was captivated again by the rich imagery that magnifies his message.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. . . .

But Dr. King did not ascend the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver a lament. He had faith for a better future.

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

He was a motivator.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

He was a spiritual leader.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

He was an orator, repeating the refrain “I have a dream” until the hearts of his listeners–even today–catch the beat of this vision.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!


What do you admire about Martin Luther King Jr.?

NEW YEAR’S EVE: Holiday Celebrations

CelebrationOn a TV morning show today, the talk was all about counting down t0 the greatest New Year’s Eve celebration ever. It triggered thoughts about holiday celebrations in general–and how much the same they are.

Yes, each one has its own flavor–for example, the Fourth of July is about fried chicken and fireworks, whereas Thanksgiving is about turkey and dressing and–maybe sleigh rides? Depending on the climate where you live.

The thing they all seem to have in common is that the original meaning of them tends to get lost in the shuffle of “Yeah! A vacation from work and school! A time for family,  presents, and parties.”

What if, on the Fourth of July, for example, we got together with family and friends and listened to–or, better yet, recited–the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence? What if we  actually caught the spirit of the men who had to “hang together” to birth a new nation, because, if they didn’t, they would “hang separately”? (Wasn’t it Ben Franklin who said that?) What if we were filled with thankfulness for our freedoms and opportunities? What if we were so mindful of the great gift given to us by our forefathers that we personally resolved, as  Abraham Lincoln urged, “that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Wouldn’t that be a true celebration of Independence Day?

Believe me, I’m not knocking taking time off work to relax, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy seasonal festivities. Hurrah for holidays! But each one is based on a significant event, and–I don’t know about you, but–I feel cheated when that is glossed over.

That’s why I love New Year’s Eve celebrations with my church family. Last year, after a fabulous meal, and several rousing praise songs, our pastor and several associate pastors preached ten minutes each on what the Lord had shown them about the upcoming year. At midnight, I was full not only in stomach but socially, emotionally, and spiritually.

Oh, it’s 7:00 PM. Two hours until this year’s celebration. It will probably be the best New Year’s Eve celebration ever!


CHRISTMAS: On Earth As It Is in Heaven

Heaven-sun rays

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)


When Jesus came to Earth as a babe in a manger, he brought with him a kingdom.

During his public ministry, Jesus taught more about his kingdom than he did anything else. Yes, he came to make it possible for us to be forgiven and go to heaven, instead of hell, when we die. But that was just the beginning of his purpose for mankind. The forgiveness and reconciliation he won for us is the doorway into his kingdom.

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13).

What is this kingdom Christians ask for every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer? It is a heavenly realm that now exists on Earth–a realm people enter when they believe on Christ–a realm in which God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

That raises another question: what is his will? Jesus demonstrated the will of God everywhere he went. He healed all the sick who were brought to him. He stopped storms from terrifying his disciples or keeping them from arriving at their destination. He reversed untimely deaths.

His every action showed that it was his will that people live long, healthy lives in a world that is safe for humans. If, as some say, it is not always God’s will to heal people, then Jesus went around opposing God’s will in a big way–because he healed all who came to him.

So if it is God’s will for us to live thoroughly blessed lives, why is there still so much evil and oppression in the world–even for believers?

In one of his parables, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to yeast which is mixed into dough. It causes the dough to expand–and expand and expand. Likewise, the blessed realities of life under Jesus’ benevolent rule gradually take over in those who pray, “Your kingdom come.” That is, if they understand and mean what they’re saying. And if they love and cooperate with the King.

If they do, then the will of God–for everything to be healthy and good–will be done in their corner of the earth, as it is in heaven.

The Good Life, part 3: Fireworks and Wishes (4th of July)

FirecrackerLast night, standing in the parking lot of my church, I heard loud, popping sounds behind a screen of trees. Apparently, the children next door were celebrating the Fourth of July  two days early.

It fit in with my thoughts. I had wanted for this week’s blog to relate to Independence Day, so was seriously considering interrupting my series on The Good Life. But then I saw that the events of July 4, 1776, were a perfect illustration of what was on my heart to say next about “the good life.”

In 1776, many Americans  were ready to be done with English rule. They desired “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Does that sound like “the good life”?) But the 57 men who signed the Declaration of Independence didn’t just wish for the freedom to pursue these things, they did something about it. Over ninety declarations of independence were circulating around the colonies at that time. But these 57 men sent their declaration directly to the king of England. In so doing, they laid on the line their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor (as the last line of the Declaration says).

They are examples of what the previous blog said about The Good Life: they desired something passionately, and that desire motivated them to achieve something that made their lives worth living.

They also show that desiring things is a necessary beginning, but it’s only the beginning. As the old nursery rhyme says, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

Wishing, alone, will get a person nowhere. Some people wish for something with all their hearts and feel robbed because what they desire never happens. But things do not become ours just because we want them. It doesn’t work that way when we go shopping, does it?

“Well,” some people might object, “I’m not just wishing for something to happen. I have faith that God will do it.” That’s an excellent statement in the sense that only God can guarantee good outcomes. But it implies that God fulfills His promises all by Himself.

One of the events that says otherwise is the story of the Israelite’s possession of the Promised Land. God had promised it to them. But the first generation of Israelites didn’t receive their promise. They didn’t think right–they believed the giants in the land were more powerful than God. They had no faith in Him.

The second generation did have faith in God, but their faith was not passive. They didn’t camp on the east side of the Jordan and wait for God to give them the “all clear” signal. No, they understood that God had guaranteed them the land, but He required them to play a part in taking possession of it–a part that required faith and courage. It took faith and courage to show up for battle. It took faith to follow God’s unusual battle plans. Then, after He performed a miracle (like causing the walls of Jericho to fall), they needed faith and courage to follow up on that and complete the conquest.

As James 2:20 says, “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, faith that does not do its part, is not really faith. It’s wishful thinking.

When Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites, the Lord said to him,

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8 NKJV).

Hmm! There’s a part for us to play if we want to experience the success God has promised.

Fireworks&PeopleThere’s a reason why our memory of the Fourth of July, 1776, is emblazoned on the skies every year with multi-colored bursts of fire. On that day, a group of men rose above mere wishful thinking. They placed “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” then courageously played their part in birthing the great nation known as the United States of America.

What kind of “good life” do you desire? If it is, indeed, a good desire; that is, a healthy, God-inspired one, don’t say it couldn’t happen. Don’t doubt your ability to partner with God in reaching such a goal. You will no doubt need new attitudes and behavior in order to be successful, but God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). If you let Him, He will make you a person of faith and courage who can lay hold of The Good Life of your desires.








EASTER: Blowing on the Embers

WP_000157 - Version 2Today it may seem as if I’m backpedaling. Yesterday–the joy of Resurrection Sunday. Today–referring again to Gethsemane. But, believe it or not, my thought about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is not a somber one. It is touching and encouraging.

By the way, this photo is one I took last summer in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is an olive tree that Jesus would have seen. You can see that the branches are small in comparison with the massive trunk. They have been trimmed many times, no doubt.

. . . If there ever was a time Jesus needed his friends, it was that night in the olive grove of Gethsemane when he was staring the Cross in the face. He had brought his closest friends–Peter, James, and John–with him to a secluded spot, told them his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow, and asked them to support him in prayer while he went a little further to pray. But three times he emerged to where his disciples were and found them asleep! How did Jesus react? You choose:

  1. Jesus woke them up and reamed them for not caring very much and not being there for him when he needed them.
  2. Jesus began rebuking the devil for trying to weaken him by lulling his support team to sleep.
  3. Jesus woke them and urged them to pray for their own sakes, so God could strengthen them to respond well to the coming events.

Is 1, 2, or 3 the correct answer? Check it with this narrative:

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41).

Notice that the question was addressed specifically to Peter. A couple hours before, during the Last Supper, Jesus had told them they would all soon desert him.

Peter blurted out: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

Jesus answered: “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same (Matthew 26:33-35).

So, in the garden, Jesus pointedly addressed Peter, saying, in essence, “You need to pray for your own sake, so that you don’t cave in under the pressures ahead. Think about it–you didn’t even stay awake to support me in prayer. Your intentions are good, but you’re not as strong as you think you are.”

. . . Are you as overwhelmed by Jesus’ response to the drowsy men as I am? He knows their fickleness but still treats them as his special friends. He is disappointed by their actions but still sees the loyal intentions of their hearts. He is engulfed in dread of torture and death but understands and cares about his friends’ much smaller struggle.

There’s a wide-spread belief out there that God views us with a frown, much of the time. This scene shows me a completely different God. It convinces me that he does take note of our glaring failures. But then he bends down and blows on the embers of our good intentions.

He so wants us to succeed. And he is able to make that happen. It makes me feel safe to trust him with my life.


EASTER: Celebrate!

CelebrationOne day, when my son was about four years old, I was playing the sound track to the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. When Judas sang his haunting song, Mark asked, “Why is he so sad?”

“Because he helped some mean people arrest Jesus. When he saw those people were going to put Jesus on a cross and make him die, he was very sorry.”

Mark took that in. Suddenly, he brightened. “Then on Easter, Judas was happy!”

When I recovered from my astonishment, I realized Mark’s take on Easter was perfect. Even Judas–had he not already taken his life–could have been restored to gladness. Today, Jesus’ resurrection life still displaces all that is ugly and wrong in our lives and hearts. That’s something to celebrate!

Click to join the Resurrection celebration.

EASTER: The Clash of Light and Darkness

It appears I bragged a mite early about Kentucky weather. The past week has been the coldest yet, and the last day and a half have featured heavy snow showers. However, the daffodils are in full bloom, and they don’t appear to mind the snow. 🙂
Kind of like Good Friday. There was nothing but gloom and despair in the disciple’s hearts. But before the day was over, Father God rejoiced.

Sunrise over Cross

It was high noon, but an uncanny darkness gripped the land. At about 3:00 p.m., Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (verse 46). A short while later, he cried out again and yielded up his spirit to God. As he did, the earth quaked, rocks split, the veil of the temple was torn in two, and many dead bodies were resurrected.

At first glance, it appears that the darkness of those few hours and the cataclysmic events afterwards were a sign of the grief and anger of God as he watched His Son suffer and die. Yes, those three dark hours were no doubt a supernatural expression of God’s anger toward sin and agony over his Son’s suffering. But I believe there is another reason for the darkness. It is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” No wonder there was no light on the earth during those three hours. The Light of the World had taken on the darkness of sin.

What of the earthquake when Jesus died? Was it still part of God’s anger? Think about this: it is not reported that the earthquake caused any harm. It brought dead people out of their graves, alive. It also tore the thick veil of the temple.

Before this time, only the High Priest could enter through the veil into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies.  But when Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (the plan of salvation had been accomplished), God, by means of an earthquake, tore the veil to the Holy of Holies. What a gesture! The Son took the sin that had separated us from God, and the Father threw open the door. His Son’s suffering had ended, and now his other children could come home.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18, emphasis added).

The Light had triumphed, once for all. Now darkness could no longer hold those who believe on Him.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).

When Jesus entered the world, the night sky in a nearby field was flooded with his light. When he left, he took our darkness with him. Do we struggle with sin-consciousness? Low self-worth? Lack of confidence to be a mighty man or woman of God? He took that with him. We don’t need to take it back.          – Celia Willard Milslagle


Adapted from Streams of Living Water: A Daily Guide to Devotional Meditation onGod’s Word by F. Burleigh Willard Sr. and Celia Willard Milslagle.



EASTER: Dare to Look

When I opened up Office.com Images to find an illustration for this post, colored eggs, chickies, and cherry blossoms popped off the screen. Easter! Spring! Love it, love it.

Beautiful to behold. Unlike what came before Easter–the Cross. That is hard to behold, at all. But one day I did, and here’s what I saw.

Three crosses On the Cross

Read Colossians 1:21-22; Luke 23:26-46.

There’s a reason why the Cross is the primary symbol of the Christian faith. On the Cross, Jesus gave his life to redeem mankind from sinfulness and rescue us from the tyranny of the evil one. It was the turning point of history on this planet.

In remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice, I have worn a cross around my neck, taken Communion, and fasted during Lent. But I never had the courage to look squarely at Jesus suffering on the Cross.

That is, until Cheri Brisbin, my “Life and Teachings of Christ” instructor, caused me to look. As she described the scene, I saw a Man big enough to bear the Cross and still support Peter, and the women of Jerusalem, and his executioners, and the thief on the Cross, and his mother…and me.

I kept looking at the Cross, and I wondered how Jesus’ sufferings and demeanor on that day affected his disciples. Peter had marveled when Jesus had said they were to forgive seventy times seven times. But after Calvary, I’m sure none of the disciples ever again wondered if that was possible: they saw Forgiveness incarnate, Love that could not be offended.

And then there was the matter of servanthood. Jesus’ washing of their feet was startling enough that the disciples probably finally got the picture that love and service were the ways they would have to operate to please him. However, that was insignificant compared to the demonstration of servanthood they were going to witness in the next 24 hours.

He gave his very life; and even in the midst of his agony he did not allow the pain to keep him from reaching out to the last few people who needed his encouragement and salvation. Truly, when we perform great labors of love and suffer for Jesus’ sake we are still like children helping their daddy: our work is small compared to his. He did, and still does, most of the work. And our part we can do with grace, because he’s right there to help.

I used to think that it was the strictly the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that made lions out of the disciples who had scattered like sheep at Jesus’ arrest. But now I can’t help but think that some backbone was put into them at the sight of Jesus taking the worst that hate and evil could dish out, behaving like a prince, and coming out a victor.

Instead of being afraid to look at Jesus’ agony, let’s look—and weep—but catch his love and his courage. In the light of the Cross, let us see the pettiness of sin and carnality and accept the grace to live as he did.                               Celia Willard Milslagle

9781425978358_cover.inddFrom Streams of Living Water: A Daily Guide to Devotional Meditation on God’s Word  by F. Burleigh Willard Sr. and Celia Willard Milslagle.



EASTER: The Pretender

I can hardly believe it! Yesterday, my thermometer read 70 degrees. This morning, the temperature was back in the 40’s, but I heard the birds singing before dawn. I asked someone if spring typically begins in March in Kentucky and he said it does, pretty much. What a great place to live! About three months of nippy air and snowflakes, snuggly sweaters and hot cocoa–then spring again! All of which makes it easier for me to believe that Easter is right around the corner.

This week I’m continuing the Easter theme  by sharing another of my father’s essays about the events of Passion Week. It is taken from the devotional book we co-authored.

Hypocrite_two-faced The Tragedy of Religious Pretense

Read John 13:21-30

After the joyous conclusion of Jesus’ last Passover with his disciples in the Upper Room, he led them out to Gethsemane. There he suffered through the greatest struggle of his earthly life as he pleaded with his Father for strength to endure the torture of the Cross. When the struggle was over, he rejoined his disciples to prepare them for what was about to happen.

While he was still speaking, a crowd came up. The man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”  (Luke 22:47-48).

Would you name your son Judas? Why not? He was one of the Twelve Apostles like James and John.  I am sure he was a sincere follower of Christ when he left all to follow him. But somewhere along the way he drifted from his original commitment. He became dishonest in his business dealings and openly criticized Mary for expressing her devotion to Christ by anointing him with expensive perfume. At last he betrayed Jesus to his enemies.

We don’t know why he betrayed his Lord. Some people feel that he thought he could make a mockery of the haughty scribes and Pharisees. He could point Jesus out to them, but Jesus could walk through their ranks and escape as he had done at Nazareth when the townspeople tried to throw him over a cliff.

Perhaps he wanted to earn some money to replenish the treasury. He had said that Mary should have sold the expensive perfume so they would have money for the poor.

It seems likely that he was trying to force Jesus to declare himself king and drive out the Romans. His hopes had been high when Jesus made his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, but nearly a week had gone by with no further action. He could confront Jesus with the soldiers and force him to act now.

Whatever his motive, it was the way he went about it that has forever condemned him in our sight. He pretended to be Jesus’ close friend and follower to the end. He shouted “Hosanna” at the Triumphal Entry. He attended the banquet at the house of Simon the Leper. He was present at the Passover feast in the Upper Room until Jesus dismissed him. He pointed Jesus out to the soldiers by crying “Hail Master” and kissing him!

In Judas we see the tragedy of religious pretense. Let us carefully examine our own lives to be sure we are not betraying our Lord by deceit, unkind acts, or spiritual apathy, while pretending to be his devoted followers.            – F. Burleigh Willard, Sr.

9781425978358_cover.inddFrom Streams of Living Water: A Daily Guide to Devotional Meditation on God’s Word  by F. Burleigh Willard Sr. and Celia Willard Milslagle.



EASTER: How Could He?

This Saturday, it will be time in the United States to set our clocks forward to Daylight Saving Time. In Kentucky, I have already spotted lawn care crews at work. Spring must be around the corner.

And . . . Easter is only four weeks away. My blogs during these weeks will be about the tumultuous events preceding and following Jesus’ crucifixion. I say “my blogs,” but only two of these essays are mine–the other two were written by my father in a devotional book we co-authored in 2007. . . . This week I’m sharing one of my father’s.


Judas’ Defection

Read John 13:18-20.

“The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (John 13:24).

Jesus’ final Passover with his apostles in the Upper Room was one of the most sublime experiences of his life on earth. Yet in the midst of his jubilation, he had to deal with at least two very trying problems. The worst of these was the defection of Judas.

Judas’ betrayal has always been puzzling to earnest Christians.  How could a man who had walked with Jesus and worked miracles in his name turn against him? Some have argued that he always planned to betray Jesus and joined his company to learn his habits so he could do so. Others feel that he was predestined for this purpose and could not help himself.

The most likely explanation is that there was a gradual deterioration in his relationship with Christ and the other apostles.  He seems to have been somewhat of an outsider, the only disciple from Judea among a group of Galileans—men from the hinterland—that he probably considered uneducated and unsophisticated. He became dishonest, appropriating money from the common purse for his own use. He became critical of Jesus and took offense when the Master chided him publicly for his condemnation of Mary when she anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. The final tragedy was that he allowed Satan to enter his heart.  It was then he sought occasion to betray his Lord.

But Jesus did not give up on him! Even as he prepared to partake of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus made one final appeal. “Don’t do it, Judas!  Better never to have been born than to commit this deed!” It was too late for Judas. Satan had already taken control.

Should we not pause to reflect on this tragedy? A traitor is not made in a moment. Most people who abandon their Lord do it little by little, almost unconsciously: a little neglect here, a slip there, wounded pride, spite, anger – they can build up until Satan finds a way to lead us astray. But still the Master pleads. Don’t ignore his love and his call.

Are you ever tempted by selfish ambition, pride or jealousy to forsake your Lord or put him to the test? Beware, lest Satan finds a way to enter your heart and destroy your faith.

–F. Burleigh Willard Sr. 

From Streams of Living Water: A Daily Guide to Devotional Meditation on God’s Word  by F. Burleigh Willard Sr. and Celia Willard Milslagle.