What I Admire About MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

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.?

The Good Life, part 4: LET IT BEGIN WITH ME

PANNING FOR GOLD

Digging into Psalm 34:12-14

Do you recognize the words in the title? They are the second line of a timeless song from the 1950s.

angel with halo

Let there be peace on earth,

And let it begin with me.

Actually, peace on earth–and THE GOOD LIFE, which is the theme of this blog–do not begin with me or any other person. They begin with God. Peace and a good life are possible for us because God is the Prince of Peace and He is good.

Hold it; hold it! I can hear some folks thinking. If God is good and the Prince of Peace, why isn’t the world in better shape? Why isn’t my life better?

I’m glad you asked. 🙂

Jesus brought the kingdom of heaven back to earth, but not everyone chooses to become  a citizen of it. And not all who have become citizens of it live there full-time.

Similarly, the good life is available for “whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days” (Psalm 34:12), but — well, let’s look at this verse in context.

12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,

13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.

14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:12-14 NIV).

Oh! You mean desiring the good life is not enough? You mean it is not even enough to pursue the good life with faith and courage?

Well, according to the psalmist, if you want the good life–if you want to change your world–you first have to change yourself!

A sterling example of this is the heartbreaking scene towards the end of the epic adventure film “Lawrence of Arabia.” The unconventional, charismatic British army officer T. E. Lawrence had done the impossible–he had managed to create a coalition of fiercely independent Arab sheiks, and, with their assistance, had conquered a major city.  However, in the following weeks, the sheiks refused to work together to restore normalcy to the city. It became a nightmare of rubble, disease, and starvation.  Lawrence, himself, fell into depression and made no attempt to re-forge their former unity of purpose.

Better a patient person than a warrior,

    one with self-control than one who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).

If I want real, lasting victory–it has to begin with me.

What are some of the things that need to change about me if I want a really good life? Let’s go back to verses 13 and 14 of Psalm 34:

  • “Keep your tongue from evil.” That would include gossip, sarcastic remarks, off-color jokes, and pessimistic talk, right?
  • “Keep your lips from telling lies.” In other words, don’t mislead or take advantage of others by giving them false information. Don’t bury your heart by pretending to be someone you’re not. And don’t say things to yourself that are contrary to God’s gracious plans for you. Don’t say, “I can’t,” “Nothing good will ever happen to me,” “I’d better be content with a little. Who am I to expect anything special from God?” You’re of great worth to God. He delights over you with singing (Zechariah ). He has great plans for your future (Jeremiah 29:11). That’s the truth. Stick to it!
  • “Turn from evil and do good.” Well, that covers the waterfront: Don’t do what’s wrong, and do do the things you know you should.
  • “Seek peace and pursue it.” Stay out of strife. Did someone insult you? Don’t let it under your skin. Is you co-worker in a foul mood? Do yourself and the whole workplace a favor–be extra cheerful. Wherever you are, replace anxiety, frustration, and contention with faith, calmness, and harmony.

Imagine how good your life would be if your were this positive, mature, and holy.

Holy. Free from the internal garbage that keeps you from being and doing all God created you for.

Is that impossible? It must not be. God doesn’t ask us to do anything He doesn’t enable us to do.

15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16 NIV).

And it’s not as hard as it might seem. It’s not so much a matter of fixing yourself, as it is letting go of your old self and letting Christ’s life flood into your thinking and your desires.

not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:9 NIV).

put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and . . . put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV).

Three years ago, the Lord said to me, “It’s time to dream. It’s time to plan.” My dream to move from Illinois, which had been my home for over forty years, happened quickly because the Lord caused my house to sell in ten days! Another dream–to write a novel based on the life of the apostle Peter–hasn’t taken off so fast. But as I have held onto the dream and learned to cooperate with God, I have changed a lot. It had to begin with me.

 

Super Natural

SailboatYes, I know. It should be one word: supernatural. But I’m dividing it for a reason.

The usual way of thinking about the supernatural is that it is separate from nature. That it is separate from the world with its natural laws. That it is separate from people with their physical bodies and human personalities. Even though miracles do happen, and even though we sometimes know God is speaking to us, we believe these things are not supposed to happen very often. When we get to heaven, everything will be supernatural, but here on earth, things are natural–99% of the time. So most of us think. So I used to think.

The first crack in that type of thinking came when I read the gospel of Luke for the sole purpose of becoming better acquainted with Jesus. As I read it, I had to admit Jesus did not play by the rule that the supernatural has no place in everyday life. Since then, reading other gospels, I noticed something else about Jesus: he was surprised, and a little upset, when his disciples did not expect the supernatural to happen–whenever.

 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:37-40 NIV).

The best way to explain what the Bible shows here is to use some illustrations–some parables, if you will.

Without wind, a sailboat merely bobs up and down on the waves. Without gas, a car stays parked. Without gasoline or electricity, an oven cannot turn a panful of batter into a cake.

There may be nothing supernatural in any of these examples. After all, a car is a natural object and gasoline comes from nature, as well. But they are examples of the Bible’s revelation that God created this natural world as one half of a divine equation.

Look at it this way: the natural world is like a computer–the hardware half of the equation. The supernatural presence and power of God is like the software that operates in it. God created us (the hardware) then breathed into us the breath of life (the software). Whether we are aware of it or not, his provision, protection, and guidance are with us every day.

When we get a revelation of this partnership, it’s like discovering apps that we didn’t know were on our computer. We can do things we had not dreamed possible. No, we’re not in heaven yet. But when we understand God’s place in our natural world, it’s like heaven on earth.

Let’s back up a minute. Aren’t unaided natural processes pretty remarkable all by themselves? Yes (although they’re not really unaided. I mean, God gave us the raw materials to construct boats and he gave us the wind to drive them). But using the natural stuff God gave us only gets us so far. Have you ever thought, There’s got to be more to life than this? That’s because there is. Do you have a deep, impossible dream? You’re glimpsing the super for your natural.

You know, even without gas, a car looks impressive. It even has some practical uses. A homeless family can sleep in it. With its rubber tires and metal body, it can keep a person safe from electrical shock during a thunderstorm.

But, are you satisfied with a car that doesn’t go somewhere? Isn’t “going somewhere” its main purpose?

What about gasoline? You can dampen a rag with it and wipe tar off your car. You can spray a bit of it on charcoal or wood to jump-start a fire. (Stay far away when you toss the match on it!) But oil refineries don’t work day and night to produce gasoline for these uses!

A car alone has its benefits, and gasoline alone has minor functions. But put them together, and–look out!

God did not create a great divide between the natural and the supernatural. Sin and satan caused that estrangement. Jesus came to re-unite us with God.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18 NIV).

Notice–this does not say Christ died just to make it possible for us to go to heaven when we die. He mainly did it to bring us to God. To re-introduce us to the companionship and partnership with God that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden.

Sin caused a detour.  Jesus died to remove the effects of sin. It wasn’t his main mission. It was a necessary first step–to get us back on the road with him. To bring us back into a life in which God is king. To put the super back into our natural.

 

When a Dream Isn’t Just a Dream

One of the amazing things about the story of Jacob (Does He Even Know I Exist?) is that God pointed him in the right direction and gave him heart for the journey . . . with a dream.

Jacob wasn’t the only one who received from God a dream that made all the difference. A young man named Joseph had a dream in which his family all bowed down to him—and he shared the dream with them. You guessed it—his brothers hated him . . . more. They were already jealous of him because he was their father’s favorite.

You probably know the rest of the story: How his brothers sold him to a caravan of merchants headed for Egypt. How Joseph became slave to a high-ranking Egyptian, won his favor, but ended up in prison due to a false accusation. How, in spite of all that, he ended up second to Pharaoh in authority over Egypt—and his father and brothers came from their drought-stricken home to him to buy grain. And, yes—not recognizing who he was—they bowed to him.

As a spoiled young man, Joseph could easily believe a dream that set him above his brothers—and even his parents. As slave and then prisoner in a foreign land, how reasonable was it to believe then? But the dream was no fluke. And the history of his family and the world was changed because he held on to it.

 “Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time . . .
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come . . . (Joel 2:2b-3 NKJV).

 

Making It Personal

  • What is your dream? (If you can’t identify your dream—who is your hero? That says a lot about the identity and destiny God planted in your heart.)
  • Have you thought, “Oh, that couldn’t happen. Not for me.” Why not?
  • Are your negative circumstances any greater than Joseph’s? Is your dream really impossible?
  • Could it be God gave you this dream for more reasons than you know? Are you taking hold of it?

 

 

Does He Even Know I Exist?

Do you wonder sometimes whether God even knows you exist? Jacob, grandson of the Israelite patriarch Abraham, may have felt that way during the twenty years he worked for his Uncle Laban. During that time, his uncle changed his wages ten times, trying to avoid paying him. But here’s what I noticed about God and Jacob:

After twenty years, the Lord spoke to Jacob, telling him it was time to return to his home. Jacob gathered his large family, servants, and herds and left without telling his uncle. When his uncle caught up to him, the Lord warned Laban in a dream not to cause Jacob any trouble. After Laban said his good-byes and departed, the Lord sent angels to Jacob. Then, at the end of the journey, on the eve of meeting his brother Esau (who had threatened twenty years before to kill him), Jacob prayed fervently and the Lord appeared to him in the form of a man.

My point is this: God had spoken to Jacob as he was fleeing from his home to go to his Uncle Laban. Then . . . a twenty-year silence. But God had not forgotten Jacob. In fact, he appeared to him three times during the stressful time of escaping from Laban and then re-uniting with his brother.

Well, yeah—you might think—that was Jacob. He was a key player in the founding of the Jewish nation, so God gave him special attention.

How about this: the Lord showed personal concern for Jacob’s wives. Yes, they were important because they (and two concubines) gave birth the the twelve sons who were the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. But God saw to it that Leah had four sons before Rachel had any. Then he “remembered” Rachel, and she had a son. Here’s why:

When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. . . . Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive (Genesis 29:31; 30:22 NIV). 

Making It Personal

To what kind of people does God pay attention?

  1.  “Important” people or ordinary people?
  2. Honest, hard-working folks or folks who have gotten themselves in trouble?
  3. Plain, unloved people or beautiful, beloved people?
  4. All of the above?

Does God know what is happening to you and me—all the time?

Will he “show up” at all the right times?