Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – My Brother from Another Mother

dr king

I was 11 years old when President Reagan signed the law making this Monday in January a celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, three years would pass before the day was nationally observed for the first time – January 20, 1986. The idea had been discussed and debated since shortly after Dr. King’s death in 1968. It is still amazing that it only took 18 years to recognize the weight of his work on the shaping of American society, despite never having served in political office, military leadership, business and industry, or higher education. He was a preacher from Atlanta, and man… could he preach.

In my state during that time (and many other states), the MLK holiday was shared with another important (Southern) American hero, General Robert E. Lee. I think it is fair to say that the only Jesus and Elvis are loved more in the south than the Confederate General who had been dead for 113 years by the time President Reagan signed that bill. Yet, these two Southern gentlemen are tied together because of the proximity of their January birthdate.

Their birth month may be all they had in common.

– One of them was trying to change America through cultural renaissance. The other was trying to reject the American ideal in holding onto a cultural legacy.
– One staked his life and his career on state’s rights. The other died for his sermons on civil rights.
– One was the leader of a failed secession. The other was a champion for a movement that has overthrown legalized hate and discrimination.
– One could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives by not fighting. The other fought so millions of men/women like him could have lives with more rights, better freedoms, and equal justice.
– One marched with men carrying guns going into battle to kill other men. The other marched in peace appealing to men of power in his day and hoping for transformation.
– One was a brilliant and inspirational American icon that should be a hero to all people. The other was Robert E. Lee.

I am not awed by the idea of Martin Luther King. I am thankful that he was born and that in his life he was given the opportunity to be so effective. I am grateful that he brought the dialogue about race into American life so that my children were born believing it to be normal that people of all color are equal in word and in deeds. Dr. King’s 39 years were poured out for others so that minorities in this country could be free to pursue their dreams (not to mention basic rights) and so that majorities could benefit from the brilliance and beauty of what minorities represent as a people. Together, with all things and all people considered equal, we are better as a nation. Only the ignorant reject that. It is not “them” or “they.” It is “us” and “we.” We are “one nation” with “liberty and justice for all.”

This year has shown that things are not perfect. Race is still a very divisive issue in our country and that makes me sad. The granting of civil rights to people of color (red, yellow, black, brown) was only half of the necessary change in the vision of Dr. King. His real hope and dream was not for politics to produce new rights and freedoms, but for brotherly love to propel everyone to consider each other as brothers/sisters and act accordingly. That means that I would treat my neighbors like I would treat or want my little brother treated (with respect, dignity, equality). Brotherly love is a better way to live than the political preference or brute force of majority rule. We clearly have a long way to go for that part of the dream to be realized, but at least we know where to start.

If I see Dr. King as anything else besides my brother, I am wrong. He was truly a great preacher, leader, American, and many other qualifiers of greatness, but his being my brother makes his accomplishments my accomplishments. While not being “with him” in ethnicity or experience, I am forever “with him” in spirit and support. His dreams are my dreams. His hopes are my hopes. His frustrations are my frustrations. His loss is my loss. His day is my day.


And most importantly, I think, his Father is my Father.

Hey Buddy, Watch Where You Are Going!

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.  –  GK Chesterton

You can’t travel any distance on the road without stopping for gas, a bathroom, snacks, or all three. You just can’t. Don’t even try it.
When you finally give in and pull over: beware. There is a tourist trap waiting. A tourist trap is the kind of place that draws you in under the assumption that you will be given or provided something of need (or want.) What really happens is that the trap actually takes more from you than it ever gives back. You enter as a tourist in search of something to help continue the journey. You depart from the trap feeling like you were shaken down and wondering why you stopped at THAT place to begin with.

tourist trap

Every highway, in every county, in every state has them. You have seen them and their fancy advertising to lure you in. Your pockets are still empty from the last time you stopped in. Mine are, too.

Buc-ee’s Fun Store is a tourist trap promoting their cheap gas and clean restrooms so that you stop and buy their overpriced beef jerky and obnoxious t-shirts. (How else could they afford to pay twice the minimum wage for a cashier?) Disney turns from family fun to tourist trap when they route you through the gift shop after a ride that has everyone screaming “let’s do it again!” (How else could they afford to buy ABC, ESPN and anything else they want?) Starbucks is a tourist trap by advertising coffee and profiting from our music and food purchases. (How else could they afford to pay for college for employees?) And we love all of them enough to keep going back and empty our resources for an experience, an association, a memory.

buccees

Tourist traps like these and others are literal. They are real and the smart adult should be aware of their tricks, even if you willingly participate over and over. Tourist traps are also figurative, but just as dangerous and might even be more damaging because we don’t even see what is going on. We stop in a life tourist trap hoping to get a little rest and/or some fuel and find that we leave baffled, bankrupt, beaten down and brokenhearted. It would be helpful if someone could/would stand by on our life journey with a sign warning us “Don’t stop – Keep going -Danger on this exit” because we are too easily trapped by cultural norms that derail us from the best and easiest route.

We are caught in a tourist trap when we…
Pursue cash for work over our calling in life. Of course everybody else seems to be chasing the bigger check, but happiness is not found by making the most money. Our value to society is not our bank statement or balance sheet. Warning SIGN: Don’t trade your self worth for an increase in your net worth!

We are caught in a tourist trap when we…

Choose competence over character. What we can do is not equal to or higher than who we really are. Honesty, goodness, being genuine, reliability are all worth more than expertise in math, science, technology, even theology. Be careful not to spend your whole life becoming something that boosts your reputation or hire-ability while wasting away at the center of your soul. Warning Sign: Don’t do all you can do. Be all you can be!

We are caught in a tourist trap when we…

Mistake fellowship for friendship. We can have many associations that entertain and not have one real friend in life. Fellowship is for the party. Friendship is for when the party is over. We need friends who accept us as we are, encourage us when we are down, and speak truth into our lives when we are self-deceived. Fellowship avoids anything that is uncomfortable or awkward. Healthy relationships in life bring healing and help to us in the darkest parts of our lives while producing joy and laughter when the sunny side is up. Warning Sign: Don’t be fooled into thinking you can do life alone. Be a friend and make a friend!

We are caught in a tourist trap when we…

Follow the crowd instead of the small voice inside. Americans like crowds. It is why big schools, big restaurants, big churches are thriving these days while smaller ones shrink more every year. We like crowds because they give us confidence that we are going the right way or doing the right thing. If everybody else is doing it, then it must be right, right? Um…not usually. Crowds while popular are not filled with courageous thoughts, noble purposes, or pure intentions. It is usually the loner who acts and lives with courage, nobility, and purity. The small voice inside will tell us not to follow the crowd, but we aren’t good at listening. The small voice inside will serve as the affirmation we need to stand alone, but we aren’t asking. Listening to that small voice and acting independently of social or cultural influence may cost us something in the short run, but in the long run will almost always prove to be the best of our decisions. Warning Sign: Don’t follow the path that others are making. Find the path that was made for you.

There are many more tourist traps out there. Some are obvious and others are subtle. They are all dangerous and will empty us of what is rightfully ours. You will find tourist traps in your family, your church, your government, your circle of friends. Be careful. They intend to profit from your slumber.
When you discover that you are in a trap, don’t panic and don’t give up. Walk away. Drive away, if possible, but get out as quickly as you can. Perhaps you can’t get out of the trap alone. You might need a friend to help. You might even discover that only God can help you break out of the trap you are living in. He will. Ask Him. Then move quickly in the direction He shows you. It is the best way out of the trap and into a life that is full of faith, hope and love.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6

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Reflect on this…
1 – Are you chasing a paycheck or chasing a dream for your life to have meaning and be meaningful to others?
2 – How much time and resources have you invested in the “person of you” compared to time/resources you have dropped on the “professional you”?
3 – Who are your real friends and how are you a real friend to them?
4 – When was the last time you listened to what your body, mind, soul was saying to you? What were they saying?

The Church that Resolves Together Stays Together?

pews

Everybody makes a New Year’s resolution. OK, actually only about 45 % of people actually make a resolution. Those that do have an 8 % percent success rate at keeping said resolution. Now I was not a math major, but 8 % doesn’t seem like a high success rate to me. Nonetheless, about 8 % of the 45 % who attempted a resolution out of a total of 100 % of people make improvements in their lives each year. That tells me that we aren’t getting better very quickly or easily.

The top 5 resolutions are usually something like:

1 – Lose Weight
2 – Get Organized
3 – Spend Less, Save More
4 – Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5 – Stay Fit and Healthy

All are worthy resolutions and should be monitored more than once a year. These are valid goals in life and, even in failure, should be attempted again and again so that the individual is pursuing things that are worthy and enduring over a lifetime. I have made all of these resolutions at some point and likely will make them again, because they should be life goals and not New Year’s goals. Being healthy, happy and whole are not yearly goals, but a lifelong pursuit. Achieving a resolution does not make us a champion and will not guarantee our happiness, but it will help to identify what is important to us and where to invest our best energy and effort in working on an area of need, weakness, or desire.

This time of year and this type of reflection makes me wonder something. Should a church make resolutions for a New Year? I guess a church can choose one of two paths: identify areas that need to be addressed/faced for improvement as a congregation OR continue “as is” as a dysfunctional, declining, and/or dead body of believers. With thousands of Christian churches closing each year, it seems that some new goals for church health and wholeness would not be a bad thing.

My top 5 resolutions for every church in 2015 are:

1 – Become intentional about teaching the Biblical truth from birth to death; don’t rely only on your favorite Bible or simple stories to teach or engage people into God’s story; and don’t just drop in a verse that justifies your preaching/teaching point. God has a word for every person and every situation that predates our service planning. Listen to what God says to your heart, and then speak that into the heart of those you are shepherding in faith. Enlist liturgy to help you say it. Let the grace of God pour over the problems of our world and transform our churches for holy living and loving.

2 – Become aware of what is happening in your community. Each church (and therefore each pastor) is uniquely planted to reach the people in your area. Don’t focus on a preferred demographic. Look right around you for people in need of the gospel. Make missions a priority for active outreach and not a program for educating or accounting. Preach, plan and be partners in assimilating your community into your church and your church into your community.

3a – Become available to children and teens who need to be adopted, mentored, protected, and/or accepted. Some of the kids in our community need forever families because they aren’t with their biological family. Some need an adult to show interest in them because parents are busy, addicted, clueless about their kids. Some have families and available parents, but don’t feel accepted and don’t quite fit with other teens. Relationships are the greatest asset every church has. Let’s not entertain kids. Let’s love them and personally lead them in the right way.

and also

3b – Become active in reaching older adults. About 1/3 of the US population is over the age of 50. That is roughly 105 million people. We cannot assume they are all churched, and we cannot neglect their faith development and ministry engagement in order to focus on a different generation. Some are widowed/widowers, and many are living alone. Older adults are some of the most needy Americans in terms of hunger, loneliness, poverty, and/or vulnerability. These are all causes the Church cares about and can address.

and also

3c – Become answers to problems in the lives of young to middle aged adults. The middle of life is full of problems that can affect our faith and involvement in the church, even though we often think we have life by the tail. Money, sex, and power are primary causes for detachment from those that matter most, divorce, obsession with our career, and unhealthy lifestyle issues involving food, alcohol and drugs. Many adults are dying spiritually and have no clue what is causing the dysfunction in their lives and homes. The church can offer a place of healing and hope if/when adults in chaos put their trust in Christ and allow him to be Lord of all things in life, marriage, family, career, etc. Gospel centered churches invest their energy and efforts in areas where sin reigns so that struggles don’t become failures which become factions or frivolous separations.

4 – Become aware of cultural perspectives and changes, but not addicted to being liked or approved by culture. If chasing cool or being trendy is your church’s passion, then you need a new one. If being relevant or modern supersedes being faithful and/or focused on missio Dei, then you have lost your way as the body of Christ. Jesus Christ redeems culture. He does not assimilate into culture, destroy it, or withdraw from it. His presence in culture is transformational; not conforming or incorporating. Culture is transformed through the practice of prayer, a commitment to holiness of heart and life, and engaging in mission where God is working.

5 – Become forgiving in everything. While forgiveness is central to the Christian message, the church may be the worst at practicing it. Not forgiving others will destroy our personal lives, our families/marriages, our congregations, our communities, and our country. Without forgiveness we are angry, bitter, fearful, full of regret, doomed to isolation and turmoil. The church in America could have a tremendous impact if we learned how to forgive others easily and then practiced forgiveness frequently. Every church needs a forgiveness “revival” to kick start how our people forgive themselves and others. Without a spirit of forgiveness in our personal daily practice our weekly corporate gatherings are weak, impotent and likely void of grace, mercy, and love.

Setting these goals will not make them come true. Putting your best leaders in charge and keeping these 5 priorities is not enough to be successful in changing the culture of your church and ministry. God must be at the center of it all. He will make our resolutions valid. He will make our struggles bearable. He will meet us when we fail and pick us up. He will take what is useless in our own power and make it useful in His. He will give us a future and a hope. He will be our God and call us to be His people. Resolve this year to embrace the life that God gives us in Christ Jesus. Everything else will begin to make sense and fall into place.

Amen and Auld Lang Syne.

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January 4, 2014 – Christmas 2B
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1)