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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A ‘storied’ people

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” (Psalm 107:2)

In your readings through the Old and New Testaments, do you ever marvel at the constant, even redundant, telling of Israel’s story? Doesn’t it seem like the biblical writers are always rehearsing Israel’s formation, bondage, rescue, decline, and promised renewal?

It is sort of like shampoo instructions on an endless loop: wash, rinse, repeat.

Why is that? Why is the rehearsal of a story–a history–so important? And do you think it might be equally important for us?

There is power in story, in remembering where we have been and where God has brought us. Although it might get tedious to constantly be reminded how God parted a Red Sea for Israel on their way out of Egypt, that story never loses its potency. It is a constant, real-time reminder that God can still split chaos and lead us safely through to the other side.

We are a ‘storied’ people. We have a history and a life with God. And when we remember what God did back then, it can bolster our confidence for today. Remembering yesterday’s rescues, prepares us for glorious victories in tomorrow’s looming battles.

The old hymn, Blessed Assurance, declares, “This is my story, this is my song…” and it is powerful. We have a story to tell, a song to sing. We are a storied people, and perhaps we should follow Scripture’s lead and spend more time remembering it. It will bolster our courage and vivify our souls when we do.

Let’s do it this week as we pause for our Thanksgiving celebrations; let’s let our expressions of thanks become a re-telling of stories that become predictors of better futures.

Not trapped in yesterday

You would never know it is winter in Los Angeles. The leaves have barely changed colors, the temperature is in the 80s, and everyone around me is still in yoga pants or shorts.

And yet it’s officially winter—the calendar told me so.

Sometimes the seasons of our lives are like that too. The season has shifted and the calendar says the year is brand new, but everything still feels like yesterday.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that life will flow again. We won’t be trapped in yesterday forever. Yesterday ended at midnight, and whether our yesterday was full of victories, draws, or defeats, there is grace for us to get up and run again today. Perhaps you need to write it down and tape it to your bathroom mirror (or write it in lipstick as my wife, Jessica, has been known to do): “Yesterday ended at midnight.”

There is a prayer in Psalm 126:4 that says, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.” This prayer might not mean a whole lot to us until we learn that by late summer the river bottoms in the Negev (the desert country in Southern Israel) become bone dry, and the thought of retrieving water from them is laughable. However, when the winter’s rainy season finally trumps summer, fresh, clean, life-giving water begins to flow into those barren riverbeds once more.

The change over to a New Year is the perfect time to be reminded that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). Unlike Cinderella who had everything revert back to the past when the clock struck twelve, we have the promise that with every new day there comes new grace and new opportunities for life, love, healing, hope, and breakthrough. Let’s live today to the hilt.

And then let’s let it die at midnight as we run courageously into the mystery and hope of a New Year.

Will you be my Valentine?

will_you_be_my_valentineDo you remember asking the question, often with an accompanying small, awkwardly sized card and a box of tasteless, sugar hearts?

“Will you be my Valentine?” It’s a pretty vulnerable question to ask when you are in grade school and your heart is on your sleeve (I still remember the 4th grade when Dalene Whitney told me yes then no then yes again all in the same day).

It’s even more vulnerable years later when you ask a variation of the question: “Am I still your Valentine?”

Today is the 22nd year that Jessica has been my Valentine, and I’m desperately hoping that I’ve been a good Valentine for her. I hope that her years of having me as her Valentine have reinforced in her the reality of God’s overwhelming love. When she stops to count her blessings I hope she has overwhelming evidence that God—through me—has been good to her.

And this isn’t just a post about Jessica and me! It’s a question for all of us to ponder as we think about our many sweethearts today. Have we made them better? Have we been agents of healing? Have we lived and loved so well that our children, students, friends, family members, and loved ones have evidence of a good and gracious God? God is good and gracious and loving and kind; the question is: have our lives highlighted that reality?

One of the most remarkable things about the Gospel story is that God allows us humans to represent Him to our world. Sometimes we do it well, sometimes we fall down on the job. If you’ve fallen down on the job it doesn’t mean the story is over. Valentine’s Day is a perfect day for refreshing resolutions and charting the courses in life that we truly want to follow.

YOUR Olympics (a Post-Rio Reflection)

olympic_ringsDid you get your Olympics fix this summer? Did you carve out enough time to vicariously swim, jump, lift, dive, tumble, and throw alongside the greatest athletes in the world?

Fortunately, for Jessica and me, this summer’s Olympic Games occurred in the middle of our ministry sabbatical so if you missed any of it let me know—we watched it all!

We have always been Olympics fans, and every two years we clear our schedule so we can cheer and cry and pretend that we too are being crowned champions in our chosen disciplines. When we lived in Colorado Springs we routinely visited the Olympic Training Center there so we could touch the spirit of the Olympics even in the off seasons. There really is something about the Olympic Games that strikes a profoundly deep chord in the human soul.

It might be the beauty of the different people groups of the world…it might be the brilliance of watching someone set records that no other human can attain…it might be the human interest stories that augment the tumbling of Simone Biles or the pole vaulting of Ashton Eaton…or it might be something else.

It might be that the Olympics are a metaphor for our lives. WE are athletes in training, contending for victory and mastery in life. The Apostle Paul realized this, and he sprinkled his letters with powerful Olympic imagery. He spoke of competing for a crown “that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25), winning “the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14), and he compared Timothy’s calling to an athlete who longs to “receive the victor’s crown” (2 Timothy 2:5).

WE are Olympians. As the Rio Games fade into history, OUR Games are just beginning. What prize so consumes you that you are willing to sacrifice to attain it? What victory is so essential in your life that you will rival the work ethic of Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt in your whole-life pursuit of it? Let’s go for it! Let’s pay the price.

When the 2018 Winter Games commence in South Korea, let’s be transformed. When the 2020 Summer Games are inaugurated in Tokyo let’s be brandishing medals and crowns that will never fade away.

 

 

The Next Right Thing

multidirectional signsWhat am I supposed to do with my life?

Which path should I take, left or right?

Is this the right time to make a move, or should I wait a little bit longer?

Should I follow this counsel or that opinion?

And most importantly, how long is it all going to take?

Sometimes questions like these can make us crazy. We can be so concerned with knowing exactly what the next steps are for our lives that we become obsessed. We fret and stress and live under a canopy of frustration, fear, and anxiety. We fail to enjoy the present moment because we’re so desperate to get into a future moment, and ultimately, we miss what we are supposed to learn and receive today. What we don’t even realize is that today’s obsession with tomorrow can actually disqualify us for tomorrow.

There is a better way.  Sometimes rather than obsessing over the ultimate answer or our final path, we need to simply do the next right thing.

Quite often, if you and I will simply do the next right thing, our larger path will become clear. If we do the next right thing, we will be ready for the next right thing after that. Then if we do the next right thing after that one, we will be ready for the next one that appears. If we were to consistently do this for a lifetime, several things would happen. We would live really good lives, some really great things would happen, and we would always be prepared when our new seasons arrived.

This is not a diminishing of vision. Nor is it an appeal to stop dreaming. Not at all! We need a vision. It is imperative that we dream. However, it is the maximization of today’s opportunities that qualifies us for the vision that is coming tomorrow.

The Man in the Arena

cliff-scalingA recurring theme in Theodore Roosevelt’s writings and speeches was “the man in the arena.” Here is one of his classic quotes about such a person—hopefully a man or a woman like you:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

That’s it for today. Some truths are best absorbed through brevity. May Mr. Roosevelt’s words ignite a noble fire in your soul!