Strength to Love–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! As we pause this week to ponder Dr. King’s contribution to the cause of justice and equality in our nation and world, I want to suggest a resource that I think you will love. Dr. King’s book, Strength to Love, is one of the best books I have read in years.

It is a compilation of some of his most dynamic sermons, carefully edited and arranged into book form, and it is powerfully compelling. In this book, Dr. King is  intellectual, philosophical, and biblical, and his insights are eerily prophetic for our times. In the introduction, his wife, Coretta Scott King, wrote, “If there is one book Martin Luther King, Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love.” Those words certainly proved true for me too. This book is definitely in the top ten list of the best books I have read this past decade. I have inserted a link here so you can peruse it on Amazon.

But regardless of whether you care about reading this book or not, let’s remember our three best friends this week: faith, love, and hope. As Dr. King did in his day and context, let’s live lives of intentional faith, let’s model love, and let’s never stop speaking God’s hope to our world.

God bless you!

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You will never get snared if you do not stray

You have certainly discovered how dangerous life can be right? Surely, by this point in your story, you have faced both demons and human treachery. You have had your back against some walls, and you have found ways to break through other ones. You have won and you have been defeated. You have been both elated and filled with despair. You have made good decisions that moved you forward like the ladder square in the children’s Chutes and Ladders game, and you have made other decisions that made you slip back to square one.

You have fought for the liberation of people’s hearts, and you have been awarded both trophies and scars. There is quite a bit at stake in this faith life of ours.

Sometimes, in our dizzying journeys through life the wisest counsel is the simplest. Indeed, true wisdom is usually not profound; it is so painfully obvious that anyone could dispense it. The challenge is in following it.

Psalm 119:110 presents wisdom that is powerful enough to save your life, and yet it is simple enough for a child to understand. It says, “The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.” Said differently, you will never get snared if you do not stray.

It’s true isn’t it? If we stick to our commitments…if we honor our promises…if we do what is right…if we retain our integrity at all costs, we won’t get snared. The snares are set a half step outside of the right path, and if we stick to the path we will avoid nearly all of them.

Are you on your right path today, or are you straying from it? If you are straying, beware of snares. They will take you out, and you will be remembered for your failure, instead of your exploits. It may seem difficult to walk the right path, but it will cost you vastly less than your forays off the path will.

Now, if you have strayed, and if you have been snared there is still good news. There is a way back! You won’t always be colored by your failure, and you will be able to start again. Lamentations 3:40 says, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” Psalm 119:59-60 says, “I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.”

Let’s stay on the path. Let’s pile up victory after victory in our life of faith. Then let’s cross the finish line together with our consciences clean and our heads held high.

Hard work mistaken for talent

One of several books that I have  been perusing recently is Erwin McManus’ 2014 The Artisan Soul, wherein Erwin beautifully describes the interplay between hard work and talent. He writes:

“Eventually art becomes craft. The combination of talent and passion funneled through the crucible of discipline and determination resulted in an expression of skill and execution that was later deemed greatness and genius.” (p.126)

Then later, “If we work hard enough, hard work will eventually be mistaken for talent. And if we refuse to give up, perseverance will eventually be mistaken for greatness.” (p.133)

Let’s keep working hard. Let’s keep marrying our talent with effort and discipline, so we can offer greater, more excellent service to God and humanity. Our talents and aptitudes were God’s gift to us; our dutiful honing of them can become worship that we offer back to Him.

God certainly deserves our best, and the world around us needs our best. Let’s give it. Let’s labor to do and be the best we can be for the glory of God and the blessing of our world.

Michelangelo once laughed when people praised his brilliance. He said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” If we too work hard enough and long enough our work will be mistaken for talent and our determination will be deemed greatness.

Won’t Becomes Can’t

Anne Frank, whose Holocaust diary was posthumously published as the famed Diary of a Young Girl, stated, “Our lives are fashioned by our choices. We first make our choices. Then our choices make us.” Miss Frank was a mere fifteen years old when she died in a concentration camp and yet her writings possess a wisdom that continues throughout history.

Consider those words again. We first make our choices. Then our choices make us.

Endowed with free will, we humans have the ability to obey or disobey God. That choice is our right. However, as young Anne—and philosophers through the ages—understood, every choice that we make carries an accompanying consequence, and eventually those individual consequences harden into a consistent reality. In biblical terminology that hardening is called a “stronghold”. And strongholds are morally neutral—they can be either good or bad.

For instance, if I consistently respond to the whisper and prompting of the Holy Spirit in my life I will create a pattern/habit/stronghold of righteousness. Conversely, if I routinely disobey, yielding my mind, affections, or body to sin, I will create a sinful stronghold. And if I consistently won’t obey God (through the exercise of my free will) I will get to a place where I can’t obey Him—I will be gripped too tightly in the stronghold of my sin.

Does this make sense? If I consistently reach for things that are displeasing to God, they will eventually reach back, and then even if I want to let go, I sometimes can’t. I am bound. Addiction counselors understand this. They explain that for an addict the act of reaching for a forbidden, damaging substance is a choice; however, once the choice is made the addiction/stronghold takes over and it is no longer a choice—it is bondage.

I’m not sure if Anne Frank knew that she was paraphrasing a famous adage from the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “Our actions become our habits, our habits become our character, and our character becomes our destiny.” Variations of this quote have been attributed to Stephen Covey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and numerous others, but it actually appeared in ancient literature that pre-dated the time of Christ, and it has always been true. The exercise of our free will is dangerously powerful—it can create realities that either sabotage us or set us free.

Let’s choose life! Let’s tear down our suffocating, damaging strongholds and let’s build new ones on the rock of Jesus Christ.

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

The Temptation of St. Patrick

Hi everyone! On the Eve of St. Patrick’s Day I thought I would share an insightful, helpful article from author Stephen Mansfield about a generally unknown, but profoundly powerful scene from the life of St. Patrick. Enjoy!

“St. Patrick’s Day is approaching. There will be much beer-drinking and green-wearing to mark it. I’m moved by all of Patrick’s life but there is one episode in particular that comes back to me again and again, particularly at this time of year. It helps me. Perhaps it will help you as well.

Patrick was born in Britain late in the fourth century. Though his father was a Christian deacon and his grandfather was a priest, Patrick admitted that he was not yet a Christian when, at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders. For six years he worked as a captive herdsman, miserable and ill fed in the often-chilly pastures of Ireland. During this time, he turned to his family’s Christian faith. When he finally escaped, he returned to Britain determined to become a priest.

He was ordained in 417 A.D. and he immediately astonished his friends by deciding to return to Ireland—the land where he had been a slave so many years. He explained that God had spoken to him in a series of dreams and had instructed him to “set the captives free” in Ireland. In the years that followed, Patrick’s fearlessness, his many miracles, and his earthy ways of expressing spiritual truth won the Irish chieftains to his God and led to the conversion of thousands.

It was just at the height of his success that a nasty, undermining church fight threatened to end his important work. Reading of it these years later we can hardly believe how such a small matter nearly overthrew the progress of this heroic man.

It seems that while Patrick was studying for the priesthood in Britain, he confessed a sin to a friend. This was the standard practice among clergymen in training and it was understood that anything confessed in private was meant to stay that way. Thirty years later, the friend to whom Patrick confessed decided to make the matter known to the church. Those who were jealous of Patrick or who were grasping for control of his work viciously used this confession against him.

Patrick was clearly wounded by this betrayal and disgusted at the valuable time he lost in defending himself—time that would have been better spent changing a nation. Patrick’s famous Confession is filled with the details of this controversy. We can hear his surprise and his hurt in the words.

They brought up against me after thirty years an occurrence I had confessed before becoming a deacon. On account of the anxiety in my sorrowful mind, I laid before my close friend what I had perpetrated on a day—nay, rather in one hour—in my boyhood because I was not yet proof against sin. God knows—I do not—whether I was fifteen years old at the time, and I did not then believe in the living God, nor had I believed, since my infancy; but I remained in death and unbelief until I was severely rebuked, and in truth I was humbled every day by hunger and nakedness.

Hence, therefore, I say boldly that my conscience is clear now and hereafter. God is my witness that I have not lied in these words to you.

But rather, I am grieved for my very close friend, that because of him we deserved to hear such a prophecy. The one to whom I entrusted my soul! And I found out from a goodly number of brethren, before the case was made in my defense (in which I did not take part, nor was I in Britain, nor was it pleaded by me), that in my absence he would fight in my behalf. Besides, he told me himself: ‘See, the rank of bishop goes to you’—of which I was not worthy. But how did it come to him, shortly afterwards, to disgrace me publicly, in the presence of all, good and bad, because previously, gladly and of his own free will, he pardoned me, as did the Lord, who is greater than all?

We can imagine how deflating this must have been. We can picture the frustration; almost feel Patrick’s pain. He had risked his life daily for his God and his church only to have the bureaucrats back home debate and nitpick every detail of his life. He was questioned about his basic morality after displaying nothing but good character for decades. He was humiliated and even considered abandoning his mission to Ireland.

In time, though, Patrick rose above the enemies of his soul. As we read his story, we find that he forgave his accusers, that he became deeply concerned for his betraying friend’s soul, and that ultimately he appealed to being forgiven by Jesus Christ. Though the church leaders would spend years astir in this matter, Patrick lovingly left them to their pitiful debates. He returned to his Irish mission in peace and became, in time, the greatest name in that land.

Here is the lesson: Leaders are not exempt from episodes of pain and offense. Instead, one of the traits of great leadership is the willingness to rise above the bitterness and strife that all leaders face and to do so in pursuit of a higher purpose.  This lesson is part of the legacy of St. Patrick and we should remember it—and seek to live out its meaning–on the day set aside to honor ‘the lion of Ireland.'”

Note: for more from Stephen Mansfiel check out his blog at: https://stephenmansfield.tv/

Thankful for the fight!

Do you do the whole let’s-go-around-the-room-and-share-what-we’re-thankful-for thing on Thanksgiving Day?

It’s a great practice, and if you’re like me you probably express thanks for God’s grace in your life, your loved ones, and the many blessings of freedom we get to experience in America. However, if we were able to transport the Apostle Paul into our Thanksgiving Day gatherings and plop him down on our sofas, I think he would add something unique to the conversation. I think he would stand and say, “I’m thankful for the fight.”

In his famous words in 2 Timothy 4:7 he said that the fight of faith was a good fight.

I think there are three things that make a fight good:

  1. A fight is a good fight when we’re fighting for something good.
  2. A fight is a good fight when we fight well in the fight.
  3. A fight is a good fight when we win the fight.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are destined for all three:

  1. We are fighting for the greatest good in the universe—the expansion of God’s kingdom in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on our planet.
  2. We have the revelation of Scripture and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help us fight well in our part of the battle.
  3. Finally, we are promised victory. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don’t always love the fight, but I’m grateful for it—and I can concur with the Apostle Paul that it is indeed good. Can you?

What excellence looks like

This is what my daily sermon looks like.

Every morning after I drop Maddie off at school, I watch this crossing guard work the intersection of Benson and Arrow Highway and I am inspired.

I don’t know this guy’s name, occupation, or station in life, but for a few seconds before my light turns green he preaches to me, showing me what excellence really looks like. He is friendly, enthusiastic, decisive, and strong. He tells cars when to back off and when they can proceed. He takes extra time with the children and the elderly, and he gives wide berth to the skateboarders who nearly run him over, often throwing him a high five as they cruise by.

His outfit is crisp, his demeanor is clear, and perhaps even more importantly he seems to be having fun. I watch him monitor his intersection and I vow to be a better pastor. I watch him perform his crossing guard  duties and I vow to be a better dad.

There’s something about excellence–about a job well done and well expressed–that challenges our passivity and inspires us to greater heights.

He’s only a crossing guard but he’s teaching me about worship. He’s teaching me about life, and I’ve actually come to look forward to seeing his work each morning. I hope the hosts of heaven can watch you and me at our worship and work and feel the same inspiration and awe that this crossing guard evokes in me.