There are very few words that seem appropriate to remember, honor, and truly appreciate the work and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have been to the site of his murder several times in Memphis, TN. Looking out the window of his hotel room onto that balcony where his life was taken has been one of the more sobering moments of my life. King is remembered for championing the Civil Rights Movement, for dreaming dreams, and for being a leader in non-violent marches and protests. Yet, we forget that in his 39 years, he was hated, betrayed, and died a very controversial prophetic voice critiquing the American systems.
So often I listen to the news reporters talking about King’s life being cut short. I hear them talking about how much more he could have accomplished. Yet, I am also hesitant to make the same claims given all that he had been through, all that he endured, all the words spoken, the steps marched, the protests attended, the physical abuse of bricks, letter openers, and punches. King suffered bomb threats, assassination attempts, among other things. King challenged the notions that ethical ministers should not break the law and that good citizens should be peaceable and stay silent. Why would a minister be arrested? Why was it time to break silence for the common good? It was 39 years, but I bet it felt like 100 years. In fact, in his last speech he asserted that he was tired, but not fearful…he has seen the goal of the promised land but suspected he would not arrive with his people.
Today, 50 years ago on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN…a gift to American political and religious discourse, a leader of civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and killed. That act did not end in death, because King’s legacy lives, his voice lives, his words live, his dream lives, and we are better for it. Interestingly enough, it took death to enshrine on America’s collective heart the true creativity and genius of a man and a movement overlooked and unfairly criticized by a power structure determined to succeed. While the struggle continues, and there is more work to do, we are grateful for the way King called America to a higher moral standard by combining the creeds of Christian thought and American political thought.
Listening to King’s speeches and studying his non-violent philosophy has been one of the most inspiring and influential parts of my academic life. I am indebted to King, and I thank him for his courage, strength, and truthfulness in the face of danger. If you are looking for something to read today…look at the Letter from a Birmingham Jail or perhaps read King’s eulogy for the four little girls killed at a church youth gathering. It may have only been 39 years, but it was long enough to make a difference in the lives of a nation…so King’s life was meaningful, useful, and full! Again, my words fail and fall short, but thank you Dr. King.
I read a statistic that might be right…not sure. I read that since Columbine, we have had 200 school shootings that have killed 400 children. What I know for sure is that I rarely enter a theater, or enter a school building, or even attend a concert, or teach a college course, or sit in a church meeting in which I am not reminded of people going about their day only to have it end in tragedy.
I think about my children, and I morn the notion that they have drills to practice how not to be shot like I used to have drills about how not to be fatally hurt by a tornado or fire. I have witnessed “increased security” in every aspect of my life, whether I’m going through the airport or entering Beaver Stadium to watch a football game.
What has happened to us and among us? Why are the conversations always the same? Why are those who engage in violence always portrayed as deranged individuals acting on their immoral whims as if they are something inhuman and other than the rest of us? Why do we debate gun control and increased security without influence, without change, and most importantly, without result? When called upon to pray, what exactly should we being asking God for in moments that are all too common? How much loss can we experience? Who has a solution? What if this was my child?
You see, if it was my child I wouldn’t be sitting here blogging about it…I would be speaking the truth to an American Culture that is inept in its care for each other, that has closed its ears to hearing anything other than what it already knows, and that has preached a gospel of human freedom while truly being a manufacturing plant of dehumanization and oppression.
Yeah, I’m fuming tonight…but I’m angry at the very thing about which I think God is also angry. I could ask a thousand questions and I could debate dozens of solutions…but unless something fundamentally changes in our care and treatment of each other, what good are those conversations…and quite honestly—what profit are our prayers?
What if God’s response to our prayers for help would actually criminalize us? What if God asked us some real questions like: Have you read the Bible I gave to you that tells you how I want you to love each other? Have you read the part about my son Jesus who emptied himself to the point of death so that humanity might know my commitment and my love? Are you living in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit or have you reduced my presence to funny languages and moments of raising your hands in a song? And where is my church, my people, and how are they “re-humanizing” by reimagining the neighborhoods I placed them in in full view of My Kingdom?
I guess my point is that when we see the systemic problem we have, then we can hold that young man accountable for his horrific and evil actions as he opened fire on schoolmates. But we must also understand our inability to prevent an ever deepening chasm of sin and evil that continues to, for some strange reason, wake us from our apathy every so often to scream of injustice and crime before crawling back into our caves for more hibernation from the terrible wintery conditions we cannot seem to escape.
I wonder how much it would take to live out the words I said everyday in my school growing up… “One Nation, Under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Is this still a statement of core value, or just an ideal that sounds great, but is not attainable and is pursued at great risk? When I pray regarding this recent tragedy tonight, I’m going to ask God to hold me accountable for these words I profess and I’m going to ask God to create an uneasiness in my spirit until our children cease dying as a result of a degenerating cultural norm.
And when I cry out the words that so often are said by Christians in the midst of tragedy, “Come Lord Jesus.” Maybe I am asking Jesus to come back and take us home with God. But maybe I am also asking Jesus to come here and reign in our lives and influence our culture so that in His tangible presence, evil will flee. And somewhere in the midst of this is the very notion that where I am as a child of God, Jesus has come with me.
- My heart and prayers go out to the families who have lost family and friends.
- My heart and prayers go out to a young man who came to the illogical conclusion that shooting
classmates was an answer to his issues and problems.
- My heart and prayers go out to a nation that is so set on finding solutions to problems we create by our
unwillingness to admit that this is bigger than us and beyond us.
- Open our hearts, open our eyes, open our ears: let Your People lead towards love and peace!
I know, I know…if you clicked on this link then you are a brave soul! It has been one week since our presidential election, and I have seen a plethora of articles, blogs, and everything else trying to explain what happened, object to what happened, and correct all of this. That is not my intention, I simply want to plant a thought in your noggin for the next time you vote, especially if you are a Christian.
I know that Jesus said nothing about voting; and Peter, Paul, or any other Christians from our Bibles ever participated in voting. So, our ability to vote for leaders is not just foreign to the First Century Church, but they lived in a situation in which the leaders were powerful and most assuredly presented some opposition to the church. We could argue that the church stood as a treat to the government and a way to transcend the systems set up by government. But I have wondered through this election season, what if they could vote like we do? What would be the guiding principles that would guide their vote? This line of thought not only guided my vote, but changed the way I view voting.
You will hear tips on how a Christian should vote…I’ll leave that to those Christian celebrities who are able to throw their weight around and actually influence people. I have no desire to merge government with the Church. I think Jesus would agree with me, as would John who wrote Revelation…there is power of the government, and then there is the power of God and his son Jesus who reigns supreme over all governments.
So, anyway…back to our vote. So often I hear Christian people say that they voted a certain way because of two important reasons. First, they claim that a particular candidate or platform is more of what God wants for our world. I hear this from all sides, all parties, and the truth is…both have a point and both should search their blind-spots. Second, they claim that they vote for what’s best for them and their family. I get it—I want lower taxes, better benefits, and some more time to do what I want to do with my life (which is usually filling it with a bunch of busy work and social media and…ok, I’ll stop!)
So, let’s look at the two greatest commands that are from the mouth of our King Jesus. Jesus says everything is wrapped up in these commands. When asked what are most important, Jesus replied in Matthew 22: “37 ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
My question in the middle of this crazy election season was this: how do we vote in a way that fulfills these commandments?
What does it mean to Love God with everything (heart, soul, and mind) and does God take offense to us compromising our values and arguing our “yah buts” when we hear something from the other side that we know God would support? Most all of us know the fatal flaws of candidates…because they are people like us. So, we must love God through the church first, and through the government second and we can’t get them confused…one is from God and for God and the other is government.
What does it mean to love my neighbor with my vote? What if we all voted for what was best for each other instead of what was best for me and mine? What if I paid higher taxes so my neighbor with a terminal disease could enjoy his retirement healthcare? What if I fought for the rights of veterans in this country like I do my kid’s grades at school? What if helping police have a safe day on the streets most definitely matters and helping build the societal value of black brothers and sisters most definitely matters as well?
We will all vote again, and our vote is not a weapon to use against some created enemy, nor is it a valued possession to keep to ourselves; it is an opportunity to do what Christians are supposed to do with everything God has blessed us with…we are to love God and love our neighbor. So, yes, my vote is an opportunity to show love both to God and to my neighbors. How about yours?
Over the past week, I was drawn to Psalm 7 in light of some events taking place across the nation. It seems that among a people who talk about love, there is a lot of assumption. It seems that we want to think the best of people, but often in the moment we try to protect ourselves to the point of causing our neighbors harm…even death. In these moments, divided by loyalties and false lines drawn in the sand, how do we even begin to take a stand for what is right, what is just, what points to a solution to the epidemic of “Me” we witness through the media far too much? Well, I tuned into an ancient song…
1 I come to you for protection, O Lord my God.
Save me from my persecutors—rescue me!
2 If you don’t, they will maul me like a lion,
tearing me to pieces with no one to rescue me.
3 O Lord my God, if I have done wrong
or am guilty of injustice,
4 if I have betrayed a friend
or plundered my enemy without cause,
5 then let my enemies capture me.
Let them trample me into the ground
and drag my honor in the dust. Interlude
6 Arise, O Lord, in anger!
Stand up against the fury of my enemies!
Wake up, my God, and bring justice!
7 Gather the nations before you.
Rule over them from on high.
8 The Lord judges the nations.
Declare me righteous, O Lord,
for I am innocent, O Most High!
9 End the evil of those who are wicked,
and defend the righteous.
For you look deep within the mind and heart,
O righteous God.
10 God is my shield,
saving those whose hearts are true and right.
11 God is an honest judge.
He is angry with the wicked every day.
12 If a person does not repent,
God will sharpen his sword;
he will bend and string his bow.
13 He will prepare his deadly weapons
and shoot his flaming arrows.
14 The wicked conceive evil;
they are pregnant with trouble
and give birth to lies.
15 They dig a deep pit to trap others,
then fall into it themselves.
16 The trouble they make for others backfires on them.
The violence they plan falls on their own heads.
17 I will thank the Lord because he is just;
I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.
The Psalm unfolds like this:
It is my belief that we combat culture’s diseases, not through social media or taking justice into our own hands, but through worship. However, the fact that we can have a time in which people die and tragedy occurs and things happen and our worship doesn’t change to reflect what David so often does in his Psalms, our need for God in every way, shows that we have disconnected our worship with our world…hence the “leave your problems at the door and come worship the Lord” idea…a terrible one. Or worse yet, God is not to be found in our pursuit of what is right or what is just, because instead of trusting the one who transcends the world yet is fully present in it…we trust ourselves ultimately to problem-solve problems that are beyond our ability (it seems).
I am reminded of the commandments of Jesus: first, love the Lord your God and second, love your neighbor. We cannot properly engage in loving our neighbors until we have come to a place in which we understand and live in the love of God. We stand in the gap between people who think it is better to throw away God and just love people…all people equally, and people who think we should love God so much that our response should be to hate people who do things that bring God displeasure. We stand in the gap…or we should…where it is proper to love God and allow God to love us, and then as our cup is filled we move out into our community to love our neighbors.
Lord, I want to love you more, more than I ever have before because my neighbors need to be loved and I am worthless in doing that without your love in me. Search me and check my motivations, bring justice to the wicked so I am not preoccupied in a search for justice, but can be engulfed in the commands to love.
In Deuteronomy, you might pick up on a phrase that is repeated over and over, and in Deuteronomy 18, the chapter begins with it:
“18:1 Remember that the Levitical priests—that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi—will receive no allotment of land among the other tribes in Israel.”
Over and over in the book, Moses reminds the people that the tribe of Levi is different than the rest of the people. This tribe, serving as priests, are to help the people connect to God and in so doing the Bible tells us that the Levites special connection is God, not land. Now, maybe you might be saying…ok, so they don’t get land…but without land you don’t have livestock, crops, or the room to start your own business. So, the Levites are to live off of the offerings and gifts that the people bring to God. Moses says it this way in Deuteronomy 18:
“3 “These are the parts the priests may claim as their share from the cattle, sheep, and goats that the people bring as offerings: the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. 4 You must also give to the priests the first share of the grain, the new wine, the olive oil, and the wool at shearing time. 5 For the Lord your God chose the tribe of Levi out of all your tribes to minister in the Lord’s name forever.”
The priests functioned much like contemporary pastors and ministers. They were in charge of teaching the people about their relationship with God, taking care of the sanctuary and the volunteers, being an example of righteous living, and making sure the offerings given are used to God’s glory. So, for a moment let’s enter into the aged debate about ministers…
You see, there has always been some argument over whether ministers should be “of the people” meaning that the minister would work like everyone else and then stand to preach and teach as one of them each Sunday (or appropriated time), or whether ministers should be somewhat separated from the people (mostly by education and lifestyle) and then preach and teach as somewhat of an expert. So, while this dichotomy is somewhat simplistic and there are degrees of everything in the middle…here’s what I’m getting at.
Those who want a minister to work often look to Paul who was a tentmaker, but Paul was more of a church planter and missionary that moved around (hence the journeys).
Those who want ministers who are there to serve the congregation and are available to the people often go back to the Levitical priesthood, although we must admit there are differences that need to be explored (but not now, not here).
So, most congregations I am connected with want ministers who are available to them, show them how to live while teaching and preaching, and often they want a person who is CALLED by God to minister to and with their church. If this is your church, then what you want is not a Paul, but a Priest in the since of our comparison above. So, you have a family (or 8) working for your church, let’s get down to it now!
From the congregational perspective, the minister is dependent upon your support and care. It’s not just about a paycheck, but the local minister may have needs that you can help with and I think there is biblical proof that the congregation is required by God to help, support, and care for the one (or 8) called by God to minister among this people.
From the ministerial perspective, this text reminds me that I have sacrificed the land to have the Lord as a special possession, so while others work in the land I have the responsibility to be about the Lord’s work. And while I will call the congregation to help me in that, I should be leading through my example of being in service to the Lord in everything. (Yes, there are boundaries but again, not for today’s musings!) Ministers are dependent upon the Lord, and they are dependent upon the people to provide for them.
From this passage, I believe that ministers who have to work second jobs or sometimes third jobs to make ends meet are not given the opportunity to learn the dependence talked about in this passage. As Paul would say, “And when I was with you and didn’t have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone.” (2 Cor 11:9) Of course, if you read the passage Paul is rebuking the church for not being supportive and allowing other churches to give so that he could preach to them…Ouch! So, even Paul had some notion of the cost associated with ministry.
I think our doctrine of self-sufficiency sometimes gets in the way of God’s formation through community…which is found in both the Old and New Testaments. The role and care of our ministers, or divinely appointed servants, is a two way street…for they are there to nurture us, challenge us, and provide through crisis…and we are there for them. Ministers have sacrificed opportunities to serve your church, and so the congregation must realize and respond to them in gratitude for their service. That is the exchange God set up a long time ago…and we should continue to consider it worth preserving.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.