Monday, January 18, 2010

Chasing Dreams

Today, January 18, 2010, we celebrate the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. almost 42 years after his assassination. A question that continues to stir vigorous debate among Americans of all backgrounds is this: “Has Dr. Kings Dream been realized?” Responses fall along a wide spectrum, ranging from, “Of course it’s been realized – we have a Black President!” to “Not even close! Racism and prejudice have only gone underground. The struggle for equality lives on!” Perhaps it would be helpful to take a look at a part of Dr. King’s speech that are less well-known but no less important in evaluating our progress towards fulfilling the dream he shared so powerfully and eloquently many years ago.

Dr. King prefaces the heart of his oratorical masterpiece with which we are all familiar with a word of admonition for his fellow African-Americans. He states:

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.

Dr. King warns that the Dream of equality in America will never truly be a reality without a commitment to righteousness and unconditional, Christ-like love. This is a love that is selfless, sacrificial and not dependent of how one is treated, but rather it is dependant upon one’s commit to the God of History Who ultimately vindicates all who stand firm for the good. To you, my friends, who are committed to a better day and a brighter future, I solemnly charge you to walk uprightly and to take no shortcuts in seeking to gain societal ground. Shun evil. Do the right thing. Beyond that, I challenge you to look beyond your own neighborhood for others of different backgrounds who share a passion for what is right and who are prepared to pay the price to see that good triumphs over evil. Dr. King makes it plain, that moral lawlessness will only set back the clock that measures or progress towards equality. We must have a commitment to good that respects and empowers women, protects and prepares children, and upholds and guards the dignity of every man. ANY rhetoric, entertainment or action that violates this solemn trust which has been given to us by those who have preceded us is nothing short of treasonous.

Dr. King also unequivocally asserts that no one group of people can make progress towards realizing the dream alone. We must learn to create an atmosphere of trust that allows us to share our hurts without hurting each other and to share our dreams without overlooking each other. We must own the fact that our histories as people groups are part of a larger collective history we all share as people period. As we cherish and protect our unique histories, it is our collective history we must all learn to respect and celebrate in unity and love.

Dr. King also reminds us that there will always be those who seek to destroy our dreams, but we must never allow ourselves to be dragged backwards by them. We must NEVER allow ourselves to be brought down in despair to the point of using methods that would set back the cause of righteousness or pull down the good name of those who have gone before. We must always march ahead!

Ultimately, the struggle for all people to be treated equally is a lifelong one. Though many of the goals for which he and others strived have been realized – we can now all eat side by side legally and we can all utilize common public facilities and services – I’m sure Dr. King would be disappointed to see how much ground has been lost because of our failure to live up to his WHOLE speech. I have trouble feeling a sense of progress, when there are more broken homes, more single parents, more aborted babies and more community violence than at the time the speech was made during my first year of life. It’s difficult for me to whole-heartedly celebrate integrated schools when there are more young African-American men in prison than in college. It’s hard to feel completely good about neighborhoods integrating when the neighborhood I left behind in metro-Detroit was for a brief period a microcosm of Dr. King’s dream of Blacks and Whites as neighbors but has now become yet another statistic of White flight. It’s a struggle to get worked up in the euphoria of the first US President of African descent, when it seems people are content to live vicariously through his achievements rather than consider how they might break down barriers of their own and work for a better society. As I review D. Kings speech, I’m not sure that we’ve really he understood what he was challenging us to pursue.

In chasing after the American Dream, we seem to have forgotten a much bigger vision, built on much better promises. Jesus commands us to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all else will be added unto you.” In our pursuit of rights and dreams, we’ve too often neglected what is right and forsaken the development of character that makes the pursuit of dreams possible.

As I reflect on Dr. King’s speech, I’m not going to be content to lament where we have fallen short or to vicariously experience it through someone else. I’m going to pursue how I can walk a more righteous walk, live in a more inspiring way and love with more sincerity, forgiveness and helpfulness in my life and ministry. I’m going to take action to make a difference every chance I get, over and over again, rather than complain about what might have been if I only I hadn’t failed before. If you truly want to live out Dr. King’s dream, don’t just watch me, join me. Perhaps if enough of us walk together someone, someday just might be able to say, “Those people don’t just talk about the Dream. They live it.” Still chasing the Dream - Until next time…


Shaken and Stirred

A 7.0 earthquake rocks Haiti causing incalculable death and destruction. The numbers are so great, that we struggle not to become stupefied or impotent in response to the crisis. We seek to comprehend just what this level of devastation means and we work earnestly to consider what we can do about it. The ruthless Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin reflected the sinister side of this struggle in his infamous observation that, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” How can we prevent ourselves from sinking to a level of cynicism and doubt that muffles cries for help around us and stymies our sense of responsibility to others in need? The life of Jesus presents the strongest example of how we can be empowered to make a difference when the desperation of our circumstances attempt to render us powerless.

Jesus was immersed in a society filled with terrorism, poverty, sickness and death. Nevertheless, His relationship to the Father and His focus on carrying out the Heavenly Father’s will framed everything that He did in His earthly ministry. Furthermore, it prevented Him from experiencing powerlessness in the face of overwhelming needs and protected Him from despondency in seemingly hopeless situations. As Jesus stands in the midst a hungry crowd, he is pressured by His disciples to send the people away. Yet, in the midst of this seemingly impossible situation, within earshot of cynical comments and open criticism, Jesus turns to the Heavenly Father and prays. Having followed the Father’s will in obedience, even while seeming helpless, the glory of God is exposed through Jesus and through a young boy’s offering of all he had. The result? Thousands are fed! In situation after situation, Jesus meets each crisis head-on, always trusting the Father, and always managing to make a difference. Even in His most difficult time of trial, as Jesus’ faces His own crucifixion, He once again turns to the Father and surrenders His will to the will of God. As the soldiers approach to arrest Him, we see Jesus full of godly confidence, ready to face His death not as a victim, but as The Victor, with God’s glory and our redemption as the spoils of His victory! How does knowing what Jesus did help us to cope with situations like the one in Haiti? It helps in many ways!

Whenever a calamity hits, we are jolted back to the reality that life does not revolve around us as individuals. Whether troubles are global or local in scope, they remind us that we need to always be prepared to bring Hope and help whenever and however we can. We cannot be content to remain isolated in comfort and insulated from the pain and suffering of others. It is God’s desire that we do good in this world that others might see Christ in us and know where true hope lies. The 12th chapter of Romans offers some straight forward instruction to guide us when difficulties arise and we wonder what to do:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay, "says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We must continually endeavor to be over-comers who do not tire of doing what we can to be of service to the Lord and to others. I am once again reminded of the wisdom of the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

For months to come, we’ll hear more news about the extreme challenges facing Haiti. Certainly, we’ll also be faced other difficulties that come to our attention through the news or that directly cross our paths. Whenever possible, let’s not relegate our response to hand wringing or head wagging, but let’s seek ways to help – Let’s pray to the Lord for His help and strength in the midst of our troubles. Let’s give to reputable charities that know how to practically help in times of trouble and crisis. Let’s go and lend a hand ourselves, using the gifts and talents we possess that can be of use to those in need. Let’s allow Haiti’s shaking to stir us up to make a difference, doing all the good we can, whenever and wherever we can, for as long as we can. Until next time…


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Search of Aliens

Anyone who frequented theatres in the 1970's can tell you all about a blockbuster called "Close Encounters of a Third Kind". The film featured actor Richard Dreyfuss in the role that put his career on the map and presented the story of a man who began to receive supernatural telekinetic messages from another world declaring that aliens were on the way. Dreyfuss and other "special" people who had also received the messages searched and waited for days until they were all drawn to Devil's Tower, Wyoming, where the friendly visitors made their appearance and brought along with them a host of passengers thought to have been long lost including Bermuda Triangle victims like the legendary post WWII Navy Flight 19. Highlighting the Aliens' visit was their communication with the world at large through music and hand signals. As I think back on the movie with 21st Century eyes, the plot and presentation seem a bit hokey and sugary sweet for contemporary tastes, but that premise - to search for aliens. Hmmmm.

This outlandish idea of searching for Aliens came to mind as I read a meditation this morning from the Our Daily Bread serial devotional. In today's reading,Christian writer Julie Acerman discusses the issue of Christian Credibility and she challenges believers to pursue the standard of behavior outlined in 1 Peter 2:11ff by Peter the Apostle:
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

The challenge is a serious one. Peter calls Christians to display love and forgiveness even while in life circumstances as dehumanizing as forced servitude! He instructs the faithful that a dynamic Christian life must be characterized by goodness, perseverance and forgiveness regardless of the response of those inflicting the harm! He asserts that persistently doing good regardless of one's situation has the power to silence evildoers and bring glory to the Name of the Lord! That kind of response to adversity and affliction is simply supernatural! It is certainly not human. The lifestyle that Peter demands is truly alien to common human experience, yet precisely the kind of lifestyle that humanity desperately needs to experience.

As I look at the task I face as an Outreach Pastor, called to mobilize people to touch lives through the hands-on application of the Gospel, I've come to the conclusion that I'm searching for aliens! Not the kind with silver uniforms and advanced space vehicles who repeat canned phrases like, "Take me to your leader," but folks who have a supernatural connection with and are inextricably devoted to Jesus. I'm looking for people in this world who are "peculiar" (1 Peter 2:9 KJV)- alien sojourners who are not seeking to pattern themselves after the latest fads or popular conventions, but are pursuing a higher calling of otherworldly proportions. I'm searching for people who display a transformed way of living, not through having their bodies snatched or through a Vulcan "mind meld" but through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who produces the fruit of a transformed life: ", joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22,23).

Now that I think about it, I shouldn't be just searching for aliens, I should be committed to being one myself, with my priorities not limited by the baggage of this world, but with a vision that reflects a laser-like focus on God's agenda. I invite you to become an alien too, with your heart tuned in to Heaven, following The Leader's Instructions so that other inhabitants of this planet can see you carrying out His supernatural agenda and surrender themselves to it too! Until next time...