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Life lessons from (26 year-old) Martin Luther King, Jr.

In December of 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person on the bus she took on her ride home from work. Parks was arrested and charged with violating Montgomery’s segregated bus seating law. Soon afterwards, the Montgomery bus boycott was organized and the “Montgomery Improvement Association” (MIA) came into being. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who was then a preacher at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, was asked to become the president of the MIA- because he had been the voice behind the boycott from the start. King accepted the presidency and soon became the focus of white racists opposed to equal rights for Afro-Americans and the civil rights movement in general. On Monday night, January 30, 1956, King was speaking at a meeting that had been organized to support the bus boycott, at Montgomery’s First Baptist Church, before a full house- pews, stairways, along the walls, every seat in the house was taken.

The bus boycott was a couple of months long now and King was tired. The long walks, the threat of violence always against him. When they decided on the boycott, he delivered a speech that was simply amazing. And for the next 6 weeks he would preach and the people would listen. On this night, 2,000 people had piled into the church. They had gathered because they all knew that they were challenging segregation and white supremacy. This was a moment for them to come together. Consider that Martin Luther King was 26 years old.

While King was speaking, his wife and firstborn daughter, Yoki (Yolanda Denise), were home. Suddenly, a bomb, planted on the front porch of King’s residence, went off and blew out the windows of the house and causing significant damage to the porch of the family home. Pastor Ralph Abernathy kept receiving notes while sitting in the church and finally Mr. King asked what was going on and the pastor told him: “Your house has been bombed.” Not knowing if his family was okay, dead or alive, Dr. King stepped up with his normal public calm and asked the crowd to go home in peace, and he left out of a side door and went home. But the people did not go home in peace (and who could blame them?). Instead, when King arrived he found a crowd of black brothers and sisters with sticks, knives, and guns in his yard – and a barricade of white policemen out front. This did not improve the crowd’s mood. A week earlier, Clyde Sellers, the Police Commissioner, publicly joined the White Citizen’s Council, which effectively made the Montgomery Police Department an arm of the Clan.

As he walked through the destruction of the front of his house, inside he found reporters, the police chief (Sellers), and the fire chief in his house. He found Coretta and his Yoki, shaken but unhurt. Members of his church were already there, surrounding Mrs. King and her baby. And outside no one was leaving, until they knew King’s family was okay. Police Chief Sellers began to panic. He was scared as the scene outside was getting worse. Sellers asked King, “Will you speak on my behalf to the crowd?” Reverend King said, “Yes.” He stepped out on the ruins of his small white house and here’s what he said:

“Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.”

I believe this incredible moment revealed, not only the character of this young 26-year-old pastor, but the power behind his world-changing work that was to come. Consider what he could have done: He could have incited a riot. The people were ready. He could have justified violence against those who sought to kill his family. He could have refused to help the man who was joining forces to stop all that he stood against. He could have settled for a short-term win, while losing the long-term victory to come. He could have sought to appear “strong and courageous” by verbally taking down the chief and the authorities (and he clearly had the verbal skills to do), instead of pointing to the One who was truly in authority. He could have sent the people home to fight another day, instead of teaching them how the battle would be won in the years ahead. His response serves as a model for us today.

Consider what Dr. King teaches us from this single event:

  1. True strength is seen in what might look like weakness.
  2. True leadership is found in what might look like abdication.
  3. True courage is revealed in what might look like cowardice.
  4. True victory is attained in what might look like surrender.
  5. True love is displayed in what might look like foolishness.

Dr. King taught us that true change is found by following the paradoxical ways of Jesus.

A New Year Revolution: One Thing

So it’s a time for new year’s resolutions, yet studies reveal four out of five of us will not stick to them and a third of us will not get out of January without breaking them. Why can we not stay true to desired changes we long to see in our lives? It’s because a resolution is an intention, a decision to do or not do something. Let’s admit it. We clearly don’t have the power within us to do what we desire to do. Something is working against us. What we need is a revolution.

“Revolution”- from the Latin, revolutio, which means, “a turnaround”- a revolution is “a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place over a relatively short period of time”.

A revolution is an uprising, a mutiny, or insurrection. In spiritual terms a revolution is transformation; it’s a conversion. As you enter into 2018, you need a personal revolution. You need to revolt against all that is not allowing you to flourish, all is keeping you from pursuing God with all your heart. To revolt is to renounce allegiance, to rebel against an authority. Many of us need that attitude in our spiritual lives. In a general sense, we know that putting first things first helps put everything else in it’s place. Most of us know that prioritizing our lives is important, particularly if we want to live balanced lives. But Jesus never talked balance. Jesus talked about an all-out pursuit of one thing. He said: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 If you don’t have one thing that you’re all about, you will be distracted by a million other things. And what constantly distracts you will eventually define you. You must realize the power of a singular focus in your life. The apostle Paul understood this concept, and if you do, it will revolutionize your life.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

A New Year Revolution

1. A holy discontent (v. 12) “not that I have already obtained all this.” You must have a desire for more, a desire to change, and not stay where you are. This is the first and most critical piece of the equation. Many of will not move beyond this first point, because you do not have a holy discontent. Are you satisfied with where you are? Is your singular passion an all-out pursuit of Jesus? And if not, are you okay with that? This is why you don’t have a holy discontent- you need to rediscover who God is and His amazing grace toward you in Christ! I hope I never get over being saved. Have you lost the awe and wonder of being rescued by God? Is your entire life a response to that? We should all be longing for more of Him. No one would trade a bottle of water for gold if they were dying of thirst in the desert. Are you dying of thirst, for more of Jesus? Brethren theologian, J.N. Darby wrote, “necessity finds Him out.” He noted that apart from need, we don’t pursue anything in life. Do you truly sense a need to know more of Jesus? To be drawn closer to Him? Do you have a deep discontent, a dissatisfaction, a restless desire for more of Him? That’s a good thing.

2. A singular focus (v. 13) “one thing I do”. In vs. 8 he stated, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Our problem is what Augustine called, “love out of order”, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection for God, in Christ- for the Gospel- what Christ has already done for us. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him and the explosive power of a new affection. Chalmers wrote:

“The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity and that irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. The heart is not so constituted (made up like that); and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”

Chalmers is speaking of the importance of having one, singular focus. The disciplined pursuit of less, and an all-out chase of Jesus, one magnificent obsession: Jesus Christ. The problem for many of us is not that you don’t have plenty of good things to do, you need to focus on the best thing.

What does this look like? Simply put, it looks like saying NO, and it looks like saying, YES. First saying “no” to lesser things. Some of you the story of Nehemiah. Broken over the state of God’s people during the exile, he went to rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem. And to call the people back to God. His rivals, Sandballot, Tobiah, and Gesham, sent for him (seeking to kill him). They wanted him to “come down from your work and meet with us.” And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Nehemiah 6:3 Nehemiah had a job to do. He was obsessed with one thing. See, the power of a new affection, means that you can say NO to other things, even good things.

If you do not prioritize your life someone else will. As a pastor, this has been my greatest challenge though the years. I am constantly asked to do good things; not always easy things, but good things. So if I am to do what I’ve been called and gifted to do, I must say NO to good things, which means saying no to good people, people I love, and people I want to help. But here’s what I’ve learned: I will never accomplish God’s greatest plans for me, if I do not say no to lesser things. Some of us need to determine that we will NOT come down. Greg McKeown, in his book, Essentialism, writes:

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” Greg McKeown, Essentialism You may think, “No, everything matters!” If everything matters, then nothing matters. And McKeown’s statement is only true if you have a singular priority, ONE magnificent obsession.

Many of us need to follow Nehemiah’s example: “I’m doing a good work; I will not come down.” Remember this, say it often! Prioritizing your life is not as much, “What do I need to give up?” but “What do I need to go BIG on?” What is my focus? What is that for you? As you think about the great things that God has called you to in these days- what are you up on your ladder doing? Parents: “I’m doing a good work, I will not come down.” Dads: “I’m going to spend more time with my family. I will not come down.” Or perhaps, “I need to care for an elderly parent or friend in this season. I will not come down.” “I need to spend every morning in prayer. I will not come down.” For many of us: “I need to finish something. I will not come down.” “I need to finish my degree, I need to finish this job, finish my commitment. I need to pay off this debt. “I will not come down!” “I need to stay the course in my marriage. I will not quit. I will not come down. “I’ll continue to disciple this person or group.” What is for you? What do you need to finish in this season of your life, in the year ahead? What are you doing on your ladder? If it is God’s call on your life, do not come down.

3. A dedicated plan (vs. 13) – Paul’s one thing involved two things- because you cannot move into a preferred future without leaving the past behind. You can’t say, “I want things to be different in the future, but I’m not going to change anything in the present.” No, you must leave behind whatever doesn’t help you get to your goal. What was Paul’s goal? His ultimate goal was Christ Himself. In order to pursue Christ with all we have, we must rid ourselves of all that is not Him. Following Christ includes repentance and pursuit. Simply put, in a general sense, we must love God and hate sin. Reject your past and embrace the new.

O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of His saints; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 97:10

The most common resolutions include: stop eating so much, drinking less, spending less money, exercising more, sleeping more, and volunteering. For the Christ follower, resolutions should include naming SIN in our lives. Martin Luther noted, the entire Christian life is one of repentance. Confess sin and repent. Determine to be more like Jesus- be more loving, forgiving, less judgmental, stop gossiping, quit thinking the world revolves around you, and be more generous. Name a sinful habit. But first you need to stop focusing on your sin, and focus on the one thing- the One Person- who can actually deliver you from that sin. A new year revolution involves overcoming sin in your life.

But here’s what happens. We approach sin by thinking: “I need to work harder to overcome this sin! I will pray more. I will even be accountable. I will tell others about my sin and desire to overcome it. I will read books on it, and I’ll find verses in the Bible to help me. I’ll even memorize Scripture so I can quote it when I’m tempted.” Okay, so just work harder and seek to get better. How’s that working out for you? How’s that going? You must learn this: Moralism says that we can become better people by keeping rules and striving to be good people. But Scripture rejects this idea. Instead, the Bible reveals that character development happens only in the context of freedom. Change comes not from striving in our own strength to be like Jesus, but by developing a habit of being with Jesus, abiding in Him.

Moralism calls for change from the outside-in through cosmetic, behavior modification and sin management. Grace produces change from the inside-out as our hearts are renewed and motivations are transformed. Change happens only as our motivations and desires change. Only the Spirit can do that. I don’t know exactly what this looks like for you but I know where it begins for all of us. I know exactly what this looks like on a daily basis. The picture is found in Luke 10:38-42 where we see Martha “distracted” (by good things, by the way), “much serving”. Jesus said to her, “you’re anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Time with Jesus reaps temporary and eternal reward. In 2018 goal-setting and resolutions starts with TIME WITH JESUS.

ONE THING will set everything else in your life in its place. Set your heart on knowing Christ, pursuing Him, and serving Him above all else. This is the essence of the Christian life.

As you decide to pursue Christ above all else, then I challenge you to bring your focus down to one word for the year. Pray, think on it, and then write it down. Share it with a friend or family member. Let it guide you daily as you seek to live out this new year revolution.

October 31, in 1517, was a day that changed the world. It was “All Hallows Eve”, the day before the day when all “hallows”, or “saints” who had died were recognized and honored. Hallows Eve is now our Halloween, still the day before all saints day. On that day, in 1517, a little known priest named, Martin Luther, posted 95 theses (grievances, complaints) that he had with the Catholic Church, by nailing them to the front Door of the Church in Wittenburg, Germany (where he was a priest and university professor). Though odd to us today, his act was a way to post an opinion to the public (like a writing on an OpEd page or posting on Social Media). The printing press was just coming into play – which would be as dramatic as the advent of the internet- but by nailing his 95 theses on the church door he was launching his opinions for anyone in town to discuss, deliberate, and debate. This single act sparked the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation was a rediscovery of the major beliefs of orthodox, biblical Christianity. It was a rediscovery of the Gospel. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Historians and theologians observe that, about every 500 years, the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable covering, or a hard shell, that is broken, even shattered, in order for renewal and new growth to occur. It’s an unsettling time, but the result is always a fresh and revitalized expression of the Faith, and advancement of the Gospel. Consider, of course, the Great Christ event (His incarnation, perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection) that split history into BC and AD. Then around 500 years later we see the Great Fall of Rome occurred and the Great Pope (Gregory) brought reform to the Church and the Gospel spread westward into Europe. Then the Great Schism (of 1054) took place, that split the Church between the West (Roman Catholic) and East (Orthodox Church). Then, in the 1500s, the Great Reformation took place, resulting in a dramatic shift of theology and practice- called Protestantism. And now we’re experiencing what some are calling the Great Emergence. We’re praying for a Great Revival that will bring dramatic changes.

Historically, when this upheaval takes place, there is first, a more vital form of Christianity that does indeed emerge. Secondly, the organized expression of Christianity (that up until then had been the dominant one), rediscovers a more pure and less fossilized expression of its former self. And thirdly, every time the fossilized form of an overly established Christianity has been broken open, the Gospel has spread dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas, which exponentially increases the range and depth of Christianity’s reach as a result of its time of unease and distress.

So what we see in the Reformation is that the birth of Protestantism not only established a new, powerful way of what it means to be “Christian”, but it was a history-making shift that resulted in social and cultural movements of global proportions. We are experiencing that kind of historic shift in spirituality and Christian life in our day. Through it all the Church remains the most resilient movement on the planet because she is constantly being driven back to her roots, by faithful preachers and Gospel-centered teachers who are found devoted to the Scriptures and centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “New Reformation” that is critical in our day, is calling us back to a biblical, orthodox Christian faith. It is again, a rediscovery of the Gospel and all its implications. It is a rediscovery of Christ Himself and how His Spirit lives in us. As we celebrate the first reformation throughout the month, we will be exploring the new reformation that is needed in our minds and hearts today. I hope you will join me and pray for revival in your heart during this significant time.

One One Year Later – Let’s not give up. – July 7, 2017

A year ago tonight, fourteen people were shot and five Dallas Police officers were killed during a peaceful protest in downtown Dallas. It was the single most fatalities among law enforcement since 9/11. And Dallas was brought to her knees. The peaceful protest had been formed in response to the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two black men who were killed by law enforcement in Minnesota and Louisiana, just days earlier. The sniper said he wanted to kill white people, and white officers in particular.

Like many, my summer evening was interrupted by images on TV, as I watched in horror, struggling to believe that this could happen here in our beloved city. Immediately my mind raced back to a few years earlier when my friend, Pastor Bryan Carter, and I asked the question, “What if Ferguson happened in Dallas? Would we be ready?” The quick was answer, “no”, we realized we were not ready to respond. The greater Church of Dallas was not ready to respond, so it would be difficult for the city to come together and respond in peace with a collective response to bring hope and healing.

The broader church of Dallas, across racial lines, simply did not know each other. We began pulling pastors and leaders together to talk about the racial divide in Dallas and our nation. Over time, we did come to know each other. As a result, we came to love each other. We began meeting, praying, swapping pulpits, serving together, and members of our churches met members from other churches across racial lines. And God showed up. Through Movement Day, Transform Dallas, the pulpit swaps, prayer meetings, men’s and women’s gatherings, our hearts were softened, grace was extended, and we were ready to love others, only after we came to love each other. We learned that empathy truly is the pathway to peace.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

We began to ask : How do we do justice in Dallas, Texas? How do we love kindness? How do we walk humbly? We discovered that humility leads to empathy, kindness leads to progress, and justice leads to healing.

We have a long way to go, but we know this: Racial reconciliation is a result, an implication, of the Gospel. If God’s people love Him and embrace the Gospel and its implications, we will display the Gospel in every aspect of life. And in its corporate expression, its diversity, would reveal the love of God, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:10 Literally, the “multi-colored wisdom of God” would be on display.

In many ways, by the sovereign Hand of God, we were ready when the shootings took place a year ago. The Church was ready and responded. We came together the next morning at Thanksgiving Square (credit the work of our mayor, Mike Rawlings, who reached out to the faith community). We came together the next night at Concord Church to declare, Together We Stand. In the days that followed we organized a clergy mobilization meeting that continues to meet. Pastor Richie Butler has led an initiative called, The Year of Unity that continues on throughout this year. We have discovered that we need each other in ways we never realized. We’ve learned that we must recognize and embrace the definitive source of our Hope. The Good News of Jesus Christ actively undermines the sins that feed racial strife, and leads to a many-colored and many-cultured kingdom expression of God’s people. If we go at this alone they will not believe. But together we challenge presuppositions and prove that the Gospel makes one what was formerly divided. Our love for each other proves our faith in Christ.

A year later I think progress has been made, but we have long way to go. We must not give up. We must walk in humility, seeking to understand and empathize. We must, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 When someone’s life is taken (black, white, officer, civilian) it is not the time to talk about the “facts”. There’s a time and place for the facts, but it’s first a time to weep. Can we not simply weep and grieve with families who have lost loved ones? Can we pray with them and for them? And when our brothers and sisters are weary and sad, it is time for the entire Body of Christ to respond with understanding, in prayer, and love. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Let us empathize. Let us intentionally pursue one another. Let us persevere. Don’t give up. Increase your ethnic I.Q. You cannot get a G.E.D. if you don’t understand white culture, but you can get a doctorate and know nothing about black culture. Expand your relational world into places where people don’t look like you.

Thank you to my black brothers and sisters who have not given up, who put up with us, who have forgiven us for saying things we did not understand. We are sorry that it has taken such a long time to understand. We are sorry that many of us have not stood with you in the past. It is a new day and many are ready to stand with me, with you, as we seek one nation under God. Even more, let’s be the answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17 – one Church, under God, in Him. Let us not give up. May this anniversary help us grieve, weep again, determining to be the change we want to see in the world. Let us be angry over injustice and yet not sin. May we pause, pray, and remember. And then, let’s finish the work that God has called us to.

 

The Key (and almost always overlooked) Ingredient to New Year’s Resolutions

new-years-resolution-statistics

45% of all Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, while only 8% actually achieve them. The more troubling number is the 55% who make no resolutions at all. Goal-setting is the beginning of a pathway to growth, improvement in certain areas of your life, and the accomplishment of greater things in the coming year. If you have not set goals for the coming year, let me help you begin by focusing on what matters most.

If you are a Christian, you are called to follow Jesus every day, always motivated by the Gospel – that is, what He has already accomplished for you. This is critical:

The most important goals that you could ever set or achieve for yourself, have already been achieved for you, by Christ Himself.

Jesus lived the perfect life on your behalf, suffered the punishment for all of your sins, and He died your death on the cross. He rose again from the grave to conquer death and hell, so that you could live the resurrected life now, and into eternity. So, the key question you face as you set your eyes on the coming year is this:

Now that Christ has already done everything necessary for your salvation, what will you do?

This question sets up all the hopes, dreams, and goals for your life in the coming year. If all that really matters has already been accomplished, you can now live without fear of failure or a need to gain the approval of others. It means that all you need to do is worship Him daily and follow Him as His Spirit leads you, one day at a time. You are now free to love others without any need for love in return, because all the love you need you have already found in Him. So, as you set more specific goals in the freedom and rest of the Gospel, begin with these key truths:

  • As you pray for blessing, remember that Jesus Himself is the Blessing.
  • As you pray for guidance, remember that Jesus Himself is your Guide.
  • As you pray for rest, remember that Jesus Himself is your Rest.
  • As you pray for joy, remember that Jesus Himself is your Joy.
  • As you pray for success, remember that Jesus Himself is your Success.
  • As you pray for direction, remember that Jesus Himself is the Way.
  • As you pray for truth, remember that Jesus Himself is the Truth.
  • As you pray for life, remember that Jesus Himself is Life.

Now, set specific goals for the coming year in light of these life-changing truths.

“… Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:11