Martin Luther King Day

This is the weekend set aside to honor the work of Dr. King. Let’s honor his legacy by reflecting on a few of his challenging words.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

The time is always right to do what is right.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

When he would preach about the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, Dr. King suggested that the priest and the Levite might have passed by the injured man because of fear. They were afraid of what they would miss out on if they stopped. They were afraid of what might happen to them if they stopped. Dr. King said the difference between them and the good Samaritan boiled down to a question. The religious leaders asked, “What will happen to me if I help?” The good Samaritan asked, “What will happen to him if I don’t?”

Life is Precious

Life is precious. Man is made in God’s image, after his likeness (Genesis 1:26). We are formed by God’s hand and inspired with God’s very breath (Genesis 2:6-7).

You can even see this in the holiness codes in Leviticus. Unclean animals, generally, are the ones that scavenge on the dead. People are made ceremonially unclean when they come into contact with death or even things that represent new life not beginning.

In this week’s daily Bible reading, a line in Genesis 9 stood out to me. God warned humanity that he would require an accounting whenever blood was shed. That didn’t surprise me; I remembered when Abel was murdered that his blood cried out from the ground (4:10). Of course humans are accountable when they take life!

What surprised me was that God said “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man” (9:5).

Evidently, human life is so sacred that God will even call into judgment the wild animals that take it.

There’s even a law in Exodus 21:28 that calls for the execution of an ox that gores a person to death. If its owner was grossly negligent, the owner might meet the same fate.

Life is incredibly special, a gift to be cherished. Let’s make sure that we treat every human life the way God intends for us to.  

The Most-Waived Right

A law enforcement friend told me that most often when he interviews a subject, he doesn’t have any problems getting information out of him. Most of us talk entirely too much, even when it hurts our cause.

In Romans 14, when Paul is dealing with controversies about meat sacrificed to idols and holy days and a whole manner of first century issues, he gives some surprising instructions: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” (Romans 14:22 NIV)

Paul might agree that most of us talk entirely too much.

I have lots of opinions, feelings, ideas, and thoughts, and just like for you, all of them are correct. As my old friend “Makk Truck” used to say, “That’s my opinion and it ought to be yours!”

One of the great markers of wisdom is the ability to know when to share our genius insights and when to keep our mouths shut. I haven’t figured that one out quite yet, but if I ever do, should I tell you the secret?

Fortunately Paul gives us an answer anyway in Ephesians 4:29. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth.” Mostly you think of 4-letter words when you hear this line, and that’s true enough, but the word “corrupt” means something rotten that spreads decay. Can you think of a time when someone spoke to you in a way that let the air out of your tires? A time when gossip slandered a friend and poisoned a group? He continues, “…but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Let’s lean into our right to remain silent a little more, unless waiving that right builds up, fits the moment, and spreads grace.

Heckling the Preacher

In 1885 a rowdy riverboat captain decided to go to a tent revival in downtown Nashville.

He was rich, making a fortune off the family riverboat business. Not only did his boats provide transportation for goods and people, they were the 1885 version of the party barge. He made his money off drunkenness, gambling, and “assorted other vices.”

He didn’t go to church to hear the preaching. He didn’t go out of a sense of obligation. He didn’t go because he loved the Lord. He wasn’t even there out of a sense of curiosity.

He went because he thought it sounded fun to heckle the preacher.

I wish that May 10, 1885 sermon had been recorded, because something amazing happened. That riverboat captain was convicted and converted. He left meeting committed to gospel ideas. He was so convinced that he pledged $100,000 (in 1885 money!) to construct a permanent meetinghouse large enough for every person in Nashville who wanted to hear preaching in this new Union Gospel Tabernacle.

After Thomas Green Ryman’s death, the building took on the name you and I know, the Ryman Auditorium, the mother church of country music, which was first dedicated to the work of the church.

We never know what someone’s motivation might be for coming to worship, but by the grace of God, sometimes it has changed by the time they leave. And even if it hasn’t, “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1;18)

Reactions and Overreactions

Before we have time to think, we react.

In Luke 9:51-55, Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem when a Samaritan village chose not to receive him. James and John reacted. They said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

It was reasonable for them to be emotional about their rejection of Jesus. Their action was unkind and inhospitable. They could be sad or mad or frustrated or any combination of those things, but I think that they over-reacted because Jesus immediately turned and rebuked them. Some manuscripts add a line to the end of verse 56: “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (KJV). Their overreaction caused them to miss the point and forget their place.

It’s reasonable for me to be frustrated when someone says or does something silly, but I need to take care to keep my overreactions in check. Proverbs says that “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”

You’re Not There…YET!

The literary genius Tolstoy was considered average. During his life Van Gogh sold only one painting. Golfer Ben Hogan was a klutz as a kid. Famous Photographer Cindy Sherman failed her first photography class. Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After performing at the Hi Hat club, a young Elvis was told that he should go back to Memphis and drive trucks.

I am where I am right now, but I am not where I will be.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Don’t give up. Don’t get stuck. Keep pressing forward! It took you a lifetime to get to where you are. It’ll take a while to get where you want to be. Never give up.

Attractive Christianity and Questionable Lives

We rightly warn about those people who “tickle itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) and water down faith, but we shouldn’t let this warning confuse us about another Biblical teaching.

Paul told Titus that the church should be “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our savior.” (Titus 2:10 ESV)

That phrase might not be immediately clear. Let me show you some other translations:

  • “in order to bring credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything” (New English Translation)
  • “in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (NIV, NLT)

All of the commandments in Titus 2:1-10 have an eye towards how outsiders will perceive them. Young women should live in such a way “that the word of God may not me reviled” (2:5). Young men should be “in all respects” a “model of good works” (2:7), in a way that will put opponents of Christ to shame.

How Christians behave either makes Christianity attractive or unattractive. Our lives cause outsiders to ask questions. “Why is that slave being so kind to his master?” “Why is that mom so patient with her husband and kids?” “Why is that college kid acting so differently than everyone else at the frat party?”

Our lives should make Christianity attractive and cause people to ask big questions. What do they have that I don’t? How can I get it? How is she at peace in such a difficult time? Let’s make Christianity attractive by living questionable lives!

All Hands on Deck

In 2019, the school calendar drives our lives. It determines when we take vacation and travel. In the 1800s, life drove the school calendar. Classes met during the summer and winter, not during the spring and fall, because in an agricultural society, every single person was needed to plant and harvest. Planting a little too early or a little too late could have disastrous results. Every day longer that it took to complete the harvest meant the produce was a little less ripe and the work was a little less profitable. Every worker was needed. Too much delay could cause the loss of the entire crop.

In Matthew 9:36, Jesus looked at the incredible task in front of him. He preached and taught and healed and loved. He felt compassion for the people, because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  Then he spoke to his followers and said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Jesus said that the harvest is huge—but it will be lost without workers.

Let’s obey Jesus and pray that prayer. Let’s ask God to send us workers and helpers and people who can get the job done. God has answered that prayer at Burns time and time again. Let’s pray it some more!

Let’s be the answer to the prayer, too. Let’s pray that God makes us into workers. Let’s look past our excuses and our fears and step out and become harvest workers. People are depending on us!

President Roosevelt

Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt taught Sunday School classes?

One Sunday, one of his students came to class with a black eye. He confessed that he had been fighting—and even worse, on a Sunday! Roosevelt asked the boy what happened and the boy explained that a bigger, older boy had been pinching his sister, so he stood up for her—and ended up with a black eye.

Roosevelt told the boy that he had done well defending her and gave the boy a dollar. The Sunday School superintendent thought this was inappropriate, so they relieved the future president of his Sunday School teaching duties.

I certainly want our kids to learn to solve problems with their words more than their fists. (“A soft answer turns away wrath” Proverbs 15:1)

I want them to be willing to turn the other cheek when they are insulted or abused (“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39)

But I also want our kids to know Psalm 82:3: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4).

It’s not wrong to defend the defenseless. It’s exactly what God himself has done.

What We Need

We don’t really need more technology, better educational systems, or more promising politicians. Do you know what the world really needs? Christians!

We need people who are called to a radical simplicity of lifestyle, to remind the rest of us that we don’t need what we think we need.

We need people committed to celibacy, to tell us that sex is neither a necessity nor a god.

We need people who are lavish in prayer and spiritual disciplines, in order to remind those of us with harder spirits of where our real help comes from.

We need communities of Christians willing to commit themselves to support each other in risky, venturesome ways, to goad the rest of us out of our autonomy.

We need Christians willing to resist the many ways in which the dominant in our world crush the weak.

We need Christians who find a thousand joyful ways to take the screwed-up values of this world and turn them upside-down.

“The greatest need for our time is for the Church to become what it has seldom been: the body of Christ with its face to the world, loving others regardless of religion or culture, pouring itself out in a life of service, offering hope to a frightened world, and presenting itself as a real alternative to the existing arrangement.”

(Excerpts from Van Gelder, Confident Witness, 139, and Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus)