What Would He Say Today?

king-family
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, Coretta, and the kids.

So many of the people who have a profound effect on us lived well before we did. People who lived through great challenge and turmoil, but somehow made it through. People who faced tremendous opposition, but somehow kept their cool and control of their words. People who walked a path with little company while calling others to follow or join them. The names of those women and men are too many to list, but today I am thinking about one of them – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His words, his movement, his life has made a tremendous difference in the lives of Americans now for more than 50 years. While he did not see all that he dreamed of, much of his dream has been recognized with voting rights, improved working conditions, mainstream acceptance in leadership, and an improved equality of life for minorities across the country. This is not to say that has all been accomplished and finished. Nor is it to say that all of the progress has been easy or even willingly achieved. Much has been done, but much is left to be completed. Only God knows when all things will be put to right in our country. Dr. King and the leaders of his movement are details of the American story that we can not live without a high degree of thanksgiving for what their life’s work made possible. He (and they) made us better as a people. Thank you Martin. Thank you Medger Evers. Thank you Ralph Abernathy. Thank you John Lewis. Thank you Rosa Parks. Thank you Corretta Scott King. Thanks to so many others who led in the most difficult of days.

While my life started after his ended I am thankful that his spirited platform is being honored and revisited. Churches all over the country will be remembering Dr. King today with special services. Cities will be having parades in his memory and Universities will have seminars or symposiums. Many government offices and public schools will be closed in recognition of his leadership. All well intentioned efforts to connect a historical figure with a modern need and problem. I can’t help, but see the irony that in the same week that we honor someone for a peaceful movement and reconciliation we will inaugurate someone whose platform either ignored or denied any such vision. No doubt many will see one as a shyster and one as a hero. One will be thought of as a quick tempered, big mouth that divides and conquers while the other is seen as a deeply profound speaker of faith, hope, and love. Sadly that opinion will likely flip flop depending on the political agenda of the evaluator.

I am choosing to remember today what Dr King said to us all – not to some, not to those he liked or approved of, not to those who bought into his agenda. These words aren’t the gospel, but they are good words for how people interested in the gospel applies politics and personal choice to how they live their life, raise their kids, and run their business. They are words that could possibly help us in a week like this not lose hope because the words of the righteous are a fountain of life (Proverbs 10:11).

 
If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, “There lived a great people—a black people—who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.” 

*  From an address given in Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 31, 1955

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

* From “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

* Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 1964

“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”

* The Measure of a Man, 1958

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

*From Strength to Love, 1963

What would he say today? He would say the same things. He would not vary or wane with his words or agenda. He would bet big on love and on God’s sovereignty. He would deny the power of people or words that divide and destroy. He would ask the privileged to not consider themselves, but to cast a look at those in need and those without. He would warn us against the lies of men who tell us that others are lying to us or misleading us while they move the pawns behind the scene. He would not bully others, but he would befriend the alien and the stranger. He would not urge the public to trust him, but He would call us all to trust in God who is at work in all things.

I’ve got something to say to Orlando (but it’s not my words)

Tragedy. Terrorist Act. Murder. Psychopath. Hater.

Call it what you want, but the Orlando night club shooting is a devastating loss of life on many levels. With more than 100 dead or wounded we know that thousands of family members have been effected with loss and grief. We know that a community has been shaken and stirred with fear, anger, heart ache, etc… We know that all Americans – all people everywhere – are witnesses to violence, hate, and death in the most horrific of ways. We know that with each similar tragedy we grow more numb to the reality of evil in our midst.

This event was breaking into the news yesterday as I was preaching on Psalm 24 and the sovereignty of God. It is inconvenient that the two would collide, but it is also helpful to contrast what it means for God to be sovereign and to witness tragedy and turmoil in this way. We preach and pray that God can do all things and also admit that evil is free to bring terror into our world. How can the two coexist? Wouldn’t God want to protect the many lives taken or damaged yesterday? Can’t God prevent such moments from happening? Does a shooting in Orlando tell us that perhaps God’s sovereignty isn’t as secure as we may like to think it is?

This is where I have to warn me and you to not let fear replace faith in our hearts. We can not move so quickly to explaining things before we explore them in light of who God has revealed Himself to be – sovereign, holy, loving, faithful, etc… All creation cries out to the power of God which crescendos at the cross, the empty tomb, and the ascension of our Lord. Death did not have victory over Him then and will not be victorious over Him now. Our response is not to explain why or how this occurred, but to rest and revel in the who that is working in the midst of a tragic world. God is not far off, but is nearby. To say that God is sovereign is not to say that God CAN, but is a proclamation that God IS. He is at work in this situation – through you and through me – to bring healing and a songs of hope. We respond with hearts that are full of faith in Him and a vision/hope to see the kingdom of God spread in such a way that no one would pick up a gun towards another (or any other violent act.) We carefully choose words that bear witness to the love of God for all rather than words of contempt that will divide and devastate relationships/communities/churches.

In our tears let us praise God for drawing near to us. In our hurt let us praise God for placing graceful ointment onto our souls when we feel like we have been wounded. In our heartache for brothers and sisters we did not know, let us pray that the Holy Spirit would bring good out of bad and replace their anger/hate with love. In our doubts let us ask God to renew our faith and dig deeper into every area of our life to trust in Him in all things. In our desire to seek revenge, blame an ideology, assign guilt to political platforms, let us find the courage to let God be the judge of the all while we are friends and family to all of creation. In our temptation to give up on God and His kingdom because of great loss, let us turn towards the beautiful truth that “all of the earth is the Lords” so that we may actively participate in the renewal of a lost creation that is killing itself. In our dismay let us not focus on our loss or anguish without admitting the hurt that violence and death causes to the heart of our creating God.

May we today choose to turn towards God rather than away from Him. Violence, death, destruction, sin is all around. The only promising path is into the arms of a gracious God who generously reaches out to help and heal us. Let us be a generation seeking God and not seeking revenge, hate, division, destruction, or faithlessness. Selah.

Those are a few reflective thoughts from today, but what I really want to say to Orlando is…

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the Lord
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face—even Jacob. Selah.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory. (Psalm 24)

Is God Fair?

justice

Nearly everyday, I go for a walk. I do it for me, and I do it for my doggie because exercise is good for us. It is time well spent. I also do it for my neighbors and the cars that drive through the neighborhood because every time I walk, I pick up nails, glass and construction debris that would cause great mischief to tires or shoes. One little nail in the tire can cost between $5 and $500 to repair or replace a tire(s). One little nail in the shoe might cause a more expensive trip to the ER. That is money most of us don’t plan to expend for transportation or medical care.

Today I picked up 5 nails/screws that had fallen off of construction trucks and lay waiting in the street to ruin somebody’s day. Usually I pick up 2 or 3. Add it all up, multiply it, divide by 2, and I think over the last 3 years I have picked up 1,000 nails, screws and sharp things. That is a lot of tires I have saved. That is a lot of money I have kept in the pockets of the families of Northpointe. That is a job well done by a boy on a walk with his dog. Since I have “paid it forward” for nearly 3 years, surely God will make sure I never get a nail in my tire or my foot. That just wouldn’t be right. That would not be just – not fair – at all.

Except that my wife just called, and we have 2 tires that need to be replaced because of nails, screws and sharp things. The cost will be $475 for two tires replaced and balanced. That is just my luck! Where is the justice? How could God let this happen to me? This isn’t fair at all!

When we think that by doing something good we are preventing something bad from happening, we are not pursuing a path of justice. That is a path of karma. Karma and justice often get mixed together when we are considering or commenting on things happening in life. Most often we think that if something happens to someone bad, that justice was served. In ministry we will think that by serving God we are due for reward (or at least for protection from harm or hurtful happenings). That might be thought of as justice by many people, but it is more like karma and karma is a false philosophy. So don’t buy into it.

Most of the time we have our definition of justice all wrong. Justice is not about being fair or making things fair in life. Justice is not a new fangled political action or platform on which to build your identity. Justice is not a about keeping or upholding the legal letter of the law, and finally Justice is not (merely) a clothing store for tween girls.

Justice – God’s justice – is a whole other cool thing. And just to be clear, the pursuit of justice is not something new that was birthed in this millennium by hipster Christians. Justice – God’s brand  of justice – is as old as Israel and as modern as the new heaven and the new earth on the horizon. This kind of justice is rooted in God, but branched out through Christian action and witness. We don’t own or control God’s justice. Instead, we act on behalf of just causes that matter to our just God. Causes like water, earth, orphans, world peace, sanctity of life and the homeless are near the heart of God and therefore are to be near the heart and hands of Christ followers. Justice is not an “add on” to the Christian life. It comes standard in how we join ourselves together with other believers in mission and ministry.

Acting justly in our world is not about creating a climate where everything is fair, or whereby doing good we prevent harm from coming our way. Justice is about working to make things right that have been wrong. The work of justice in a religious sense is about acting rightly in a situation where wrong has been done. Acting justly is acting righteously with purpose, conviction and cause. It is setting to right what has been turned or twisted in life. When we do work in a just way, we are setting aside our own claims to privilege or profit for the purpose of guaranteeing that others receive equity when they can not claim it for themselves.

The focus of our work is to make the world a better place by announcing that God’s righteous kingdom has come. We are to be both a righteous witness and a righteous warrior for others who are caught in the weight of the world so they may encounter our just God in ways they never before thought possible. Likewise, we are to band together in Christian unity and say enough to the powers that be in our world who make victims of so many people, places and things.  To be clear though, it is not our justice or American justice or any other brand of organized justice that we are working to provide. It is the justice of God who desires to fix broken things, help broken people, restore broken families, redeem broken governments. He is not just a “fix it” God. He is a righteous Father who by His very nature restores order, reclaims the lost, and recreates beauty in our lives. No matter what sentence life has pronounced over us or over those we serve, God’s justice speaks love and mercy into us and into them, causing us/them to turn away from what is wrong in life and turn into God to receive Him fully.

Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.

For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.

The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.

The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
(Psalm 37:27-34)

Justice is precisely what God is doing to bring His kingdom into the world’s view because justice is who He is. When we see or hear justice planted into dysfunction we are witnesses to one of God’s mighty acts. The grace of our Lord poured out for us preaches justice in the desperation of all people. Even those who don’t know they are desperate benefit from the justice of God announced in the ministry of Jesus and carried forward in the work of the church through the ages. When we care for the orphan (and the widow), we are joining God in his justice mission by helping kids and strengthening the family. When we protect the unborn we are joining God is his life giving work to the world of a new gifted generation. When we oppose slavery, speak up to protect/preserve marriage and appropriate family structures, pick up those in poverty, shelter those who are homeless, give water to the thirsty, preserve both the beautiful and the ugly places of the world for another generation, we are agents of justice in an unjust world bent on turning in on itself. Speaking up for and doing justice work for the kingdom of God and that is a calling worthy of our full pursuit and investment.

Is God fair? Maybe. Are some lucky to be born into faith? Probably, but those are the wrong questions to be asking about God. Those questions are more about us than they are about Him. Is God righteous and just? Absolutely! And the more you grow to know Him, the more you will trust in Him to bring righteousness and justice – His righteous, life giving justice – into your world.

Thanks be to God for calling us to such a place in such a time as this. There are so many causes and conflicts waiting for a bold witness to speak faith, hope and love into chaos and confusion. May the righteousness of Christ flow through us in a just way so we may work for justice for those hoping to see a sign from God in their life. Let this be a week/month/year where we see clearly what our calling is so that we are certain in what we our being poured out for.