MARTIN LUTHER KING’S DAY: How to Change the World

Martin Luther King Jr.Yesterday my phone informed me that it was Martin Luther King Day. I felt out of the loop–like I should have been attending a service commemorating him or joining a group to pray for racial equality.

Thoughts about Dr. King began piling up in my brain, each bigger and more impressive than the last. One that kept begging for my attention was his unusual style of protest. Nonviolent protest.

What does it mean? It means fighting for what’s right, without using force. Not burning down buildings,  throwing rocks through windows, or spreading vicious rumors.

It’s kind of counter-intuitive. I mean, it doesn’t come naturally to “turn the other cheek” when someone slaps you in the face! . . . Why did Jesus say to do that? Was he unconcerned about injustice? Hardly! But he knew how to defeat it. Yes, really.

Getting even doesn’t solve problems, it just makes them worse. Mahatma Gandhi, the great nonviolent activist of India puts it this way:

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Wow!

So what does work? The apostle Paul gives the solution:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21 NIV).

Nonviolent protest seems passive. Weak. A meaningless gesture. Well, it’s not. You have to be a big person to channel your anger in the right direction instead of just exploding. Big enough to wait for the right moment to act, even when people are calling you a coward. Big enough to not lose sight of your goal.

You have to be a big person to stand for what’s right and be beaten down but to stand again, and again, until evil crumbles. Until oppressors realize they can’t break you and they can’t get rid of you. Until people have to listen, after all, because you have attracted so much attention.

That’s how Jesus lived. That’s how the apostles lived.  That’s how Mahatma Gandhi lived. That’s how Martin Luther King Jr. They changed their world. They showed us how to change ours.



Epilogue or New Beginning?


Digging into Mark 5:18-20

You know how you can read a story (watch a movie, etc.) several times and all of a sudden you understand something you never did before? Something big, maybe? That’s what happened to me with this bible story. The first kazillion times I had read or heard it, all that I really noticed was this part:

When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. . . . When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” . . .

When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. . . .

But then there is an epilogue:

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed (Mark 5:2-3, 6-8, 15, 18-20).

An epilogue, right? Just small glimpse into the aftermath of a mighty miracle? Wrong! The last time I read these three verses, I saw how dramatic they are. The newly-delivered man was full of gratitude and love. He did not want to be separated so soon from Jesus. He wanted to travel with him like his other disciples. Instead, Jesus sent him on an important mission to his home town. My heart sank as I thought of his disappointment.

Then I realized: this is an example of the fact that heaven’s agenda often messes with ours. I was awed that this man had been chosen for heaven’s. Jesus was not holding the healed demoniac off at arm’s length. He was inviting him into a privileged fellowship–the fellowship of those who do the the will of the Father.

A Reprimand and a (Virtual) Hug


Digging into Revelation 3:1-18

I would not have wanted to be a member of the church of Laodicea when the Apostle John sent to it this message from Jesus:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see (Revelation 3:15-18).

How embarrassing! How terrifying! But then I noticed what immediately follows:

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:19-20).

At first, I thought Jesus had abruptly switched gears. First, it seems, he was fed up with the Laodiceans. Then, his heart softened a bit. But, no–Jesus states that the whole message was prompted by love.

First, love compelled him to set them free from the deception that was alienating them from him and thus causing them to become increasingly ungodly. Secondly, he quickly assured them that he loved them as much as ever. Then, lest they were still reeling with shame–maybe even ready to run away and quit trying to be a Christian–he stepped close and said, “I’m right here at the door of your heart. Not to chew you out, but to take you back as a beloved follower.”

When I worked in the church nursery, I was given instructions on what to do if a child was hurt. The final instruction was to ask for the parent to come in and hold the child for a bit, to establish the child’s emotions again. This passage shows Jesus’ tender concern that we not become overwhelmed by the revelation of our faults. He gives us a virtual hug, letting us know he is rooting for us all the way as we set out to do better. In the light of such acceptance, support, and affection, who wouldn’t do anything to please him?

Touchdown & Launch—In That Order

You know how it always is—a spaceship launches from Cape Canaveral, orbits the earth for days, then returns to our atmosphere, finally touching down in the ocean. First the launch—then the touchdown.

But it happened in reverse once. Last week I saw where it happened. Perhaps not the exact spot, but where tradition says it occurred. A cave in Bethlehem that stabled a family’s livestock. There the King of the Universe made his landing on earth, unbeknownst to anyone but a few shepherds and wise men.

I also saw the hill from which tradition says he was launched back to heaven, thirty-three years later.

Why the touchdown before the launch? Well, obviously, because Jesus came from outside our world. He became one of us, but he was never just one of us. On more than one occasion, dumbfounded folks asked each other, “Who is this?”  

The Word [of God] became flesh  and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory,  the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace  and truth (John 1:14 NIV).

Making It Personal

  • Who would you say Jesus is?
  • Was there a time when Jesus was real to you? How did that change things?
  • Would you share that story? It’ll help us know him better.