Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pride - The Original Sin

If anyone believes that he or she knows better than God what is right and what is wrong, that person has a real ego problem.  But let’s face it – Pride was the original sin.  It led to the fall of Lucifer and his followers.  It led to the fall of mankind and subsequently all of creation. So we shouldn’t be surprised that pride is behind any movement that stands against God’s Word, law, and principles.   

Humility is hard for humans, maybe because we were made in God’s image and to reflect His glory.  We can be glorious creatures filled with wisdom and beauty, but something in us went astray.  It no longer was good enough for us to reflect the glory of God.  We became selfish and wanted the glory for ourselves.  When that happens in a person or an angel, the wonder in his or her heart dies.  He stops marveling at the goodness and loveliness of God and begins striving for self. 

Pride becomes anxiousness, greed, selfishness, and lust – all trying to feed something inside of us that can never be filled with any of that.  And when it doesn’t, despair sets in and depression takes hold.  We wonder why we aren’t happy.  We ask ourselves, “Wasn’t this what I wanted?  Didn’t I get everything I set out for?  Why do I feel this way?”  This is the point when many people realize their utter need for God.  In brokenness of spirit, we reach up asking for a hand of help out of the hole we dug for ourselves.  It happens all the time with all kinds of people and has throughout history. Sometimes people just have to learn for themselves that sin destroys lives.  It always has.  But God is patient and kind.  He waits on us.  He knows that we are but dust.  He allows for mistakes and teaches us through them.  But rest assured that if anyone calls out to God for help and forgiveness, He will give it.  No one is beyond His reach.  He is God, and He is able to redeem and restore all that has been lost in us. 

Sin is going to happen.  Let it.  This is not about government or Supreme Court Justices.  It’s about the hearts of men and women.  What am I to do about my culture?  Sit back and let it devour me?  No.  You and I, saints of God, are called to be holy – to be different.  I am going love you no matter who you are, for we are all sinners in this earth. But I refuse to let my wonder be taken from me.  I will always stand in awe of the One who created me, who loves me, and has redeemed my broken life.  I’ll never shake my fist at God and blame Him for all the destruction that is coming upon the world because of sin.  And I will never stop hoping for the lost and the dying to come home to God because I know that is His desire and that many, many will. 

Don’t fret, my friends.  It is all working together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  Watch and see.  He – JESUS – the light of the world – will shine ever more brightly in the darkness.  And we are called to shine with Him, to reflect His grace, His glory, and His goodness forever.  His purpose remains the same as from the beginning.  His purpose is this – to call out for Himself a people who love Him as He loves us.  He seeks hearts to come in childlike faith and wonder to be a part with Him and His kingdom forever.   In this, there is joy and peace and love and compassion and mercy.  There is abundance of life and liberty and growth and purpose.  But the proud will see none of it.  There is but one God, one truth, and one redemption, and He who was and is and is to come is He.  Do you believe this? 

If so, there is nothing to fear.  When we realize the power of God to break down strongholds, to give life to dry bones, to make all things new, then we can rest in His strength and authority and know that He can be trusted in all things.  Acknowledge the power and authority of God right now, and know that in the end, everything, everything, will be more than okay.  It will be perfect.  Wait and see.    

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Authority of Scripture

Last night I read some breaking news:  "Federal judge strikes down Alabama's gay marriage ban."  You've got my attention, Cliff.  (Cliff Sims, Yellowhammer News)  The article explains that two Mobile women traveled to California in 2008 to get legally married.  They had been living as a couple since 2000.  One of them gave birth to a son through a sperm donor in 2005.  They went to court so that the other one could legally adopt the child since the two women shared parenting responsibilities for him.  Seems reasonable enough from a logical standpoint.

The federal court judge ruled that the laws preventing the couple from doing exactly as they wished were "irrational."  I guess so if you're basing your ruling on emotion or even reason.  I found myself understanding completely how U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade could come to such a conclusion if she were ruled by no higher authority than her own opinion.

America's founding fathers set up our government by the people and for the people.  They didn't want to be enslaved by an earthly king any longer.  They believed that too much power in the hands of one human being is never a good thing.  Humans are generally ruled by lust and greed unless they are ruled by something greater than themselves.  Knowing this, they developed a system of checks and balances so that one branch of government wouldn't end up with too much power.

Federal court judges were never meant to base their rulings on emotion, reason, or opinion.  They were to base their rulings on law and precedent.  Even though the State of Alabama overwhelmingly agrees with what is written in God's Word, the Bible, about marriage and family, Granade's decision seems to be based on something else, certainly not the law because she overturned the law that our elected state legislators had made.

Where did her decision come from?  Her heart?  The Bible tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things. (Jeremiah 17:9)  We could justify all manner of evil if we allowed our hearts and minds to rule us.  So where does truth come from?  Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31)  He further explained that it's sin that enslaves us.  He came so that sin would no longer have dominion over us.  It wouldn't have to rule us in the way that it had before.  God had already taught us through the Bible what sin is, but we couldn't seem to let go of it, and so sacrifices had to be made.  Jesus gave His life for this reason. 

A human being is more than flesh and blood.  There's a lot more to us than than that.  Yes, there's reason and logic, memory and emotion, talents and skills, but there's even more.  It's the soul that makes us alive, and it's our spirit within that can have fellowship with our Maker, God.  The Bible tells us that people were created in the image of God, meaning that we are like Him in some ways.  The Bible also tells us how human beings came to be separated from God and how we can be reunited with Him once again.  The Bible is filled with explanations.  It explains what is good, right, and just, and it explains what is not.

Most people believe in God.  He made us that way.  He made us to have fellowship with Himself, to know Him, to believe in Him.  But God is holy.  He's pure.  There is no darkness in Him at all.  But man chose to live in darkness instead of the light of truth.  This is also explained in the Bible.  Scripture has been highly valued and treasured as truth throughout all of humanity.  Men and women of old gave their lives to preserve it, handing it down to future generations, translating it into the native tongues of the world, reading it, memorizing it, meditating on it day and night because it was treasured above all earthly knowledge or possession. 

Do we understand what a treasure we have in the Bible?  It is God's revealed truth to humanity.  Do we cherish this in the way that we should?  I hesitate to think what our world would look like without it.  I daresay we would have destroyed ourselves long ago.  God's Word brings law and order where chaos and destruction would otherwise reign.  Do we dare discard it in our day?  Do we dare give ourselves over to the lusts of the flesh, the indignities of our depraved minds?  Where would our hope be?  Would every enjoyment come from what we can see and hear and touch with our hands and our bodies?

True joy comes from deep within.  It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit of God within a person.  If circumstances determined my joy, I'm afraid I wouldn't find much of it.  It's the peace I have in knowing that there's more than what I can see and touch and hear and taste and experience here in this life.  I know there's more.  God's Word tells me that, and I believe it.  I don't make this stuff up, and you can't either.  No one can.  Truth is truth.  There is no other. 

The Bible says, "Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine." (1 Timothy 1:8-10)  It also says that "the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by unrighteousness suppress the truth... For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.  For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature..." (Romans 1:18-26)

Scripture makes it clear that homosexuality isn't lawful.  It is a sin based on the lust of the flesh.  According to these passages, it is "contrary to sound doctrine" and is a "dishonorable passion."  It is lumped in there with several others sins such as murder and lying.  If we begin to make laws according to the desires of the flesh instead of what is truly lawful in God's eyes according to His Word, then He will give us over to our sin to be destroyed by it.  (Romans 1:18-32)

Many people see this as a human rights issue and liken it to the Civil Rights Movement or even to slavery.  The problem with that is that God says, in these very passages, that "enslavers" are also contrary to God's law.  The Civil Rights Movement wasn't in any way sinful.  It sought dignity and honor for a race of people, created by and for God just as any other.  This is not the same thing at all.  This is about a society that has become dishonorable, reckless, does not acknowledge God as Supreme, nor gives any authority to His Word.  The bottom line is that we don't, we won't, acknowledge sin as sin.  For this reason, the wrath of God is coming. God help us.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Worth the Fight

Today I am remembering and celebrating the lives of two great Americans, Southerners, and people, Martin Luther King, Jr. and my baby boy, Bronner Burgess.  Both are in Heaven today, and both have left their mark upon on our hearts and leave legacies that won't soon be forgotten by those of us left upon the earth.  I hope they have had a chance to meet one another in the Paradise of God.  MLK Day is a floating holiday held on the third Monday in January each year near the birthday of the great man, January 15.  This year we celebrate the federal holiday, signed into law by another distinguished American, President Ronald Reagan, on January 19.  That is the day seven years ago that my sweet Bronner went home to God.

A movie was released this month entitled Selma in honor of the 50th anniversary of King's famous march from Selma to Montgomery.  I went to see the movie last Saturday night with a friend.  As I watched, I was surprised to find that at times during the movie, I didn't know what was about to happen.  While it is true that these events happened before my birth on August 15, 1970, they happened in my home state.  I have always been interested in the Civil Rights Movement for the courage shown by those who stood up for a cause they believed in, convinced of its worth, merit, and truth.  Many Alabamians are ashamed of what happened here, but I'm not.  I'm so very proud of my fellow Alabamians who did what it took to change a nation for good, people like Rosa Parks.  She knew right from wrong, and she did what was right.  I'm proud of her, a sister in this struggle called life.

I read through Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" last night before I went to bed.  It's long and kept me up later than I expected.  My pastor, Dr. Danny Wood, quoted from it in church yesterday.  What he read was intense and good.  It made me want to read the whole thing, so I did.  I found myself thinking of its relevance for today.  Truth is truth and can be applied wherever falsehood exists.  Dr. King's efforts are rightly celebrated because they changed us.  Our nation is not the same today as it was then.  He brought great injustices to light.  I have found in my 44 years of life that people in general are selfish.  We, left to ourselves, think of ourselves first.  But sometimes in human history, people stand up for God, for truth, for others, for what is right.  The cause, the good, becomes more important to that person than him or herself.

As I watched Selma, the movie, I said out loud, "That's right."  I was responding to something Dr. King was saying as I would in a church service.  I was agreeing with this pastor who was speaking of God's truth as I knew it so well.  A white woman in front of me turned around to look at me as if to chide me.  I felt her eyes say that I was in error to think Dr. King was right in being so selfless, selfless unto death.  He was being warned in the scene that his life was in danger, that he needed to walk carefully, and that there were those who were bent upon his destruction.  When someone stands up so defiantly against powers that be for what is right and true, there will always be people willing to kill them.  I have thought so much about this over the past week since I watched the movie.  I have tried to understand how anyone could be so compelled to murder another human being.  I've tried to see why someone felt they had the right to take another person's life from them, and I do think that it was out fear.  Maybe they did think they were protecting their families, but that doesn't make it any less appalling to me today.  I didn't live in that culture, so it is hard for me to understand.  But I do understand courage, and it's those who stood up so defiantly against a great evil, understanding the risks and doing it anyway because they were so convinced of their calling, that I applaud and relate to.

Dr. King told the man warning him that he wanted to be "happy" just like any other man but that he had come too far in this cause to back down now.  Dr. King knew the risk he was taking.  He knew people were out to kill him, and I believe he knew in his heart that he would die for what he believed in.  But he did not count his life as more precious than that.  He was no doubt well acquainted with Paul's letter to the Philippians and stood with Paul in his belief that life in the flesh is to be lived for the glory of God and not for self and that "to die is gain," for life in the presence of Christ is "far better" than life here as is.  Dr. King stands among many who have been martyred because they knew their blood would pave a path straight to God, not only for themselves, but for countless others behind them.  I have a book called Jesus Freaks.  There is a story in it about a young woman named Anne Askew, a protestant in the time just before the English Reformation.  She was tortured in such a way, and finally burned at the stake, that I could hardly bear to read of it.  In fact, the book doesn't go into the gory details but gave just enough information to compel me to do a little more research.  What she endured for her faith at the tender age of 25 is amazing to me, but I believe her to be right.  What else could she do but endure the pain?  She knew she was right, and she knew what joy awaited her in Heaven.

I am not a martyr myself, but I certainly know the sting of death and am no stranger to pain.  And I know this:  that God's truth, God's kingdom, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the way of and to Heaven is worth the fight.  Dr. King is right, God doesn't desire for his disciples here on earth to seek out the pleasures of this world to make us comfortable and "happy."  God, in fact, desires exactly the opposite from us.  He doesn't want His true followers to be comfortable in this world, for this is not our home and to be settled in it as if it were is wrong.  Our home, our happiness, and our Father await us in Heaven.  He gives us the strength to endure unfathomable pain and suffering in this life because he wants us to know true life.  For there is no real life apart from Him.  Without Him, we are doomed to eternal separation from everything that is good and right and true.  The Apostle Paul said he counted "everything" as a "loss" compared with the "surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord."  Paul was eventually killed for his beliefs as well, but I am quite sure he doesn't regret anything he ever did for the sake of Christ.  He knew, as did Dr. King and Anne Askew and countless others, that death for the Christian isn't really death at all.  It's only the beginning of a new adventure with God, an adventure I believe is worth everything we have to endure in this life.

To have such a calling is where true joy is found.  To do the work of the Lord is more satisfying than any gain, glory, or earthly pleasure to be found in and for self.  So let's take to heart in this day of remembrance the words of the great apostle, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:3-11)

I have posted the "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" also today.  I encourage you to take the time to read through the thoughts and ideas of this great man not only to remember the past and what great strides can be made for good when we set our hearts and lives to it, but also to find truth for us today.  The struggle has changed but the fight remains.  I believe it is the fight for good, for Christ, and for our rights as American citizens to be free to worship God in spirit and in truth, for in the words of this great American, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." 

"Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]"

16 April 1963


My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies--a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle--have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger-lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Published in:
King, Martin Luther Jr.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Come Home

Our seventh Christmas without our precious Bronner has just passed, and as this year of completion comes to a close, I am filled with thoughts of him, of all God has already done through his life and legacy, and the purpose for which he was given to us.  Memories are vivid and powerful as my heart overflows with love not only for my youngest child but also for my God, the Giver of his life. 

God gives and takes away, yes, but there is so much more.  I have hashed it all out with Him.  I have pondered and prayed and wept and wondered at it all, and now the book is written.  It was completed this year, 2014, and took so much time and effort that upon its completion a time of rest was given to me this fall.  But I know that my rest is now complete and that my work and witness must begin again.

In just days from now, January 19, 2015, will mark my son's 7th year in Heaven.

What amazing adventures has he been on?

What beautiful things has he seen?

What does he know and see and do?

I am sure of only this:  that his life still is, that he is held in the arms of Love, and that I was given a great treasure in him.

As the 8th day begins, I pray that we as a family will be given renewed purpose, strength, and determination to carry not Bronner's story to the ends of the earth, but God's.

I often wonder at those whose sympathies cannot fathom the justice in God's eternal purpose.  It IS hard to understand from our human perspective.  That is why we must try to look at it from God's.

Someone once asked me, "What is it all for?" and "Why are we even here?"

Grief is a part of our existence.  We are all grieving something.  The circumstances of life in a fallen world weigh us all down so much so that such despondency as exhibited by my question-bearer must certainly come to us all at some point in life.  I am sure I have asked these same questions before: "What is it all for?" and "Why are we even here?"

We are here because we are and because He is.  If that seems too simple, think of it in reverse.  What if you never were, where would you be then?  We ARE because there IS a Creator, Almighty God, and He is filled with good things.  He is love and light and beauty beyond compare.  He is incapable of wrong, for He is perfect.  You may ask, "If this is so, why is the earth riddled with injustices?"  For surely each of us, with the moral compass and logic implanted in us by our Maker, can clearly see much that is wrong in the world in which we live.

Even if we can see evidence of His majesty and glory everywhere and in all things, we can't overlook the fact that the opposite resides here as well.  The two extremes of good and evil can't but confuse us.  That is why an answer must be given to the questions posed by my friend.

"What is it all for?" and "Why are we even here?"

God's purpose is this:  to gather for Himself a people tried and tested in the furnace of affliction, who have walked through this valley of the shadow of death called earth, and who have come out of it with life everlasting.  The redeemed of the earth, when all is said and done, will have chosen the good portion.  They will have have been humbled under the mighty hand of God and will have bowed down before the throne of His grace. 

Our lives here and now are short; eternity is the real question.  You have heard it said that the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour, but have you considered that God's Spirit also searches the earth looking for someone to rescue and redeem?  It is a question of submission versus self-reliance, humility versus pride, good versus evil.  

The prideful will never submit to the authority of God and His Word.  They make THEMSELVES judge of what is good and what is evil or perhaps deny the existence of evil at all.  This is a very sinister spirit, and our culture is filled with it.  We do not accept God's law or standards for living as written in His Word, for it we do, we are convicted of our own sinful nature.  And we must never feel badly about ourselves.  We are all good, says the culture, just misunderstood.  Sin has become a thing of the past.  No one sins anymore, therefore no one deserves punishment for sin.  This is what we have come to believe as a society and in the world at large, but the truth, as written in God's Word, tells a very different story.  It tells us that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.  That Savior has been given.  The Way of Salvation has come. 

God commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)

To repent means to turn away from sin.  It involves an acknowledgement of one's own sin, the acceptance of God's mercy, grace and forgiveness, and a renewed life in the Spirit of God by faith in the One who died to pay the price for the sins of the world, Jesus Christ. 

This may seem narrow-minded or obsolete, but look around and you will see the truth of it.  The world in its current state is in need of salvation.  Look into the face of danger or death, and each of us will cry out for help.  Where does that help come from?  It comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth.

God has provided a Way of Salvation for us all.

Will you take it?  Will you submit to the Lordship of Christ Jesus?  Will you acknowledge your sin before a holy God and be ransomed as His own?

Sin is selfish and brutal and unrelenting.  It visits us day and night in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  Jesus, alone, turned away every and all temptation by the word of His mouth.   We can't boast that nor can we boast a love greater than His.

Some look at God and see a tyrant ready to throw us all into Hell unless we do as He says.

The Bible does say, "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with an unquenchable fire."  (Matthew 3:12)

We don't like to think about this, but herein lies the answer.  The earth is God's threshing floor, and He is asking us not to be its chaff.  It's up to us to accept what has already been freely given on our behalf.  This place and time we exist in is for a purpose, God's purpose.  It is where God separates what is good from what is unusable and unworthy.  Wheat makes bread to eat. Chaff is good for nothing, and it will be discarded and burned.  That is God's truth.

We don't like to believe that anyone under any circumstances can be discarded.  In our pride, we see ourselves as more compassionate than God and our own righteousness above His because we would never cast anyone aside.  We believe we love others far too much for that, but consider this:  Until it is you who wears the crown of thorns upon your head, until your beaten body hangs upon a cross and a sword pierces your side, you cannot say you love them more.

The cross reminds us of an unsurpassable Love that pursues us with the kind of unrelenting passion that none of us could even fathom.  Our bleeding hearts grieve and offer sympathy, empathy, and love, but He, alone, is able to redeem anyone or anything.  He has, He does, and He will.  We are the reason He hung there.  Sin is what crucified our Lord, and it is His love for us that motivated Him to go through with it.  The cross brings life into death, hope into hopelessness, peace into despair, love out of hate, and a place to belong for the wandering soul.

Come home, it cries.  Come home to the place for which you were created.  "Come to Me, all who are weary, I will give you rest.  I love you, and I will never forsake you." 

It is His kingdom to reign.  Will you submit to Him?  Will you follow?  Will you be bread and not chaff?  Will you choose the good portion, the Bread and Living Water, whose name is Love?  I pray you will.   

Monday, October 27, 2014

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of God

I was recently asked to speak to a group of baseball moms, and the first thing I thought about was America.  I don't know if baseball is still "American's pastime," but it is certainly a part of who we are, a part of our heritage and culture.  Americans like baseball and football and lots of other sports that are wholesome and good and fun because that's who we are, wholesome and good and fun.  I've been around the world and have seen places where this isn't the case, where kindness and compassion aren't the norm.  I've seen poverty and sickness and injustice like you can't find here in America.  A lot of it has to do with oppressive governments, but most of it lies in the prevailing religion of the land.

I have a book called Jesus in Beijing written by David Aikman, the former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine.  In it, Aikman writes about a study done by a leading research group in China.  They wanted to find out what makes America so great.  This is what they said, "One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.  We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective.  At first, we thought it was because you had the best political system.  Next, we focused on your economic system.  But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion:  Christianity.  That is why the West has been so powerful.  The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics.  We don't have any doubt about this."   

China knows what makes America great.  Do we?

William Tyndale was an Englishman who lived from 1494-1536.  I share his story here because he was a man of conviction who lived and died for what he believed in.  He was a clergyman with a gift for languages who felt called by God to write a translation of the Bible in his native tongue.  The problem was that it was illegal to do so at the time.  He had to go into hiding to to do the work.  He had completed the New Testament and much of the Old when he was caught, strangled to death, and burned at the stake.  Two years after his martyrdom in 1536, King Henry XVIII authorized the Great Bible to be read in the newly established Church of England.  The Great Bible drew heavily from Tyndale's work as did the Geneva Bible released in 1557.  But the top dog of them all came in 1611 when the King James Bible was printed and released, just 75 years after the death of William Tyndale who had laid the foundation for its publication.  Within a decade, in 1620, the pilgrims set sail for America.  On board the Mayflower were two Bibles, the Geneva Bible and the King James.  Before those pilgrims ever set foot onto Plymouth Rock (and no coincidence that it was a rock either ), they had formed a compact that drew them together as a society that was based on what they had learned and read of God and His law, His standards, and His freedom in those Bibles.  That Mayflower Compact set the groundwork for the law and the liberty that would prevail in the yet to come United States of America.

Two things we can glean from this story:

1.  Never underestimate the impact that one person can have on a society and on the world at large.

2.  America was founded upon the truth of God's Word, and that, most assuredly, is where its goodness comes from.

America has done and still does a lot of good in the world.  We provide food for the hungry, shelter for the weary, and send out the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere.  We are the peacekeepers of the world keeping evil at bay.   I read a book this summer called Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand about an American POW during WWII who had been captured by the Japanese.  We have all heard of the atrocities of the holocaust and what happened in Germany under Nazi leadership, but I had never really studied or read about the horrors that went on in those Japanese war camps.  The prisoners of war in Japan were beaten and starved and tortured in ways a normal human being couldn't fathom.  There was a great darkness there.  Louis Zamperini had been an Olympic runner.  His athleticism was probably one thing that kept him alive.  The other thing was the conviction that someone would come for him.  Salvation did come.  When the American bombers finally flew overhead and tipped their wings at the prisoners, Zamperini knew he would survive the war.  He did and lived to tell the story. 

America is a force for good in the world.  As I've said before, a strong America doesn't just benefit America.  A strong America is important for the whole world.  Our values, beliefs, and religion are needed everywhere.  Salvation came that day for Louis Zamperini in the form of American fighter pilots, but true peace came to his soul through Jesus Christ years later.  Believe it or not, it was at a Billy Graham Crusade.  Never underestimate the impact one person can make upon a society and upon the world.  William Tyndale and Billy Graham certainly prove that point. 

A few weeks ago, a friend of ours called Rick to see if he could fill in for him at a church in Russellville, Alabama, for a Wednesday night service.  Scott Dawson, an evangelist in the tradition of Billy Graham who speaks at churches and youth events around the country all the time, had double booked himself.  His conflict was that he had promised to take his teenaged daughter to a One Direction concert on the same night.  Of course Rick understood and gladly accepted the request.  He later got a call from the church where he would be speaking that a young man in their community had been involved in an ATV accident and was clinging to life in the ICU.  He was a star football player for the local high school team.  Rick knew it was no accident that he was the one called there to comfort and encourage that community at such a tragic moment.  Rick's message was basically this:  that this is a world where star football players cling to life in the ICU and where beautiful baby boys drown in their own backyards.  Bad things happen in this world, but if you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, this is the worst of life you'll ever know.  But if you don't know Him, this is the best you're ever going to get.

Many gave their lives to Christ that night including at least one of the football player's teammates.  Tragedy works like wildfire in the Christian church spreading it like nothing else can, mainly for the reason that Rick gave in his speech at the church that night.  People want more than this.  Tragedy makes us realize that things aren't right, right now, and it makes us want more.  It makes us want what we were created for, God - holy and righteous and good.

Some of the players on the football team asked their coach and team chaplain if they could be baptized on the football field after practice in honor of their friend and teammate and brother.  Who could deny a request like that at a time like that?  The boys were baptized, but somehow a group from Wisconsin called "Freedom From Religion" got wind of it and began to threaten the school, coach, and chaplain with a legal fight because of it.

It seems the most illogical of complaints to me.  First of all, how far away from Russellville, Alabama is Wisconsin?  How could they make any claim at all that their freedom was infringed upon?  And what freedom can they claim from religion?  It is religion itself that is protected as a first amendment right, not the lack thereof.  I don't believe the "Freedom From Religion" group has a leg to stand on, but the point is that they exist at all.  Groups like these have never before existed in America, nor should they.  No one has the right to be free from religion, not in the way they expect.  They expect me to be quiet, to sit still and let them take away my religion, which tells me to bold in proclaiming the truth of the gospel to any and all who will hear, to be a light and a witness to an unbelieving world, to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ Jesus EVERYWHERE.  That is my religion, and to prohibit my free exercise thereof is a violation of the constitution upon which this great nation was founded.

"But take heart," Jesus said, "I have overcome the world."  Jesus is greater and more powerful than anything.  He conquered the grave.  He has the power of resurrection.  He holds the keys of death and Hades, and He will triumph over all evil with the breath of His mouth.  He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and He will reign forevermore.  With this kind of power on our side, what are we afraid of?

"No power of Hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand."

Be bold, brothers.  Be of good courage, my sisters.  Fear not, for He is with us.  We are living in a day when we will have to stand up and fight for what we believe in.  We are living in a day when we must be bold.  We are living in a day when we must say with the Apostle Paul that "it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." 

If the rest of the world is an indication of the health of the church, then let the persecution come, for a persecuted church is a thriving church.  Let it be.  What will come will come.  I will not fear persecution.  What can man do to me?

"What then shall we say to these things?  If God be for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the One who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  What shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:31-39)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Work of Worth

"Every woman has a story," says the tag I snipped off my Village Artisan handmade necklace that I bought from the woman I want to tell you about.  I've known Kristi Griem for a long time.  Her husband is the minister of missions at my church.  When I wanted to go to Israel for the first anniversary of Bronner's Heaven-going, he coordinated the trip.  He also coordinated the one Kristi and I were a part of that kind of begins this story.

We were two of nine women from our church who visited a work ministry in India called Freeset in May of 2010.  What I mean by work ministry is that the mission is to give women caught in the sex trade another choice.  Freeset employs women who live and work in Sonagacchi, the largest, most infamous red light district in Kolkata, India.  Instead of selling their bodies for profit, the women are now employed to sew unique handbags of jute and old sari material.  A sari is the beautifully draped and usually colorful and ornate traditional dress of Indian women.  Freeset also makes and sells fair trade tee shirts, but they'll tell you that they are in the business of freedom.  The women in Sonagacchi aren't there by choice.  Many of them were trafficked and even sold by their own families when they were young girls because of dire poverty.  No one wants to sell their daughter, but maybe they felt that was their only choice.  Freeset and others like them want to break that cycle of prostitution and give women hope, life, and gladness.
Kristi Griem, Work of Worth COO

Kristi has always had a heart for the poor and a passion for justice, but something awakened in her on that trip.  Maybe it was anger, anger at the exploitation of young girls, and in that righteous anger, she knew she wanted to be a part of it all.  She began working for Freeset in the USA giving voice to the women who formerly hadn't one.  "I feel a particular calling to exploited women.  I want to give them another option.  I want to help give them dignity."  While working for Freeset, Kristi discovered many other groups doing similar work and realized she could help in a bigger way.  "I like connecting people," she said.  "What I can do is connect the need to the impact point."  That's what Work of Worth is all about.

The Village Artisan jewelry and journal I bought were made by women who have been "employed in dignity" in Northern India, the rice bag in Mumbai, the scarf in Bagladesh.  They'll still feature items from Freeset, but this way more and more women and girls can be impacted.  There are even men involved.  "We're really excited about some leather goods we'll be getting in soon," she said.  The concept behind Trinajit Leather Works is to employ men in impoverished areas so that selling their daughters is no longer a necessary evil.  That way we stop the trafficking before it begins.  And the artistry is impeccable, hand sewn works done in the old ways.  Everything Work of Worth International sells is a work of art.  That's the best part to me.  We, the consumer, can get really cool hand made products and know that what we're buying is so much more than a bracelet or a scarf.  We're buying hope for a human being because we are all a "Work of Worth."  I just love that! 

Kristi, Chief Operations Officer for Work of Worth,  along with Executive Director Barry Morehead and Brendt Blanks who works with volunteers and online sales want to invite you to the Work of Worth Launch this September 9th from 5 until 8 p.m. at the Christian Service Mission in downtown Birmingham.  There will be music and food and, of course, Work of Worth products to buy.  "It's a great opportunity to participate in setting someone free," Kristi said.  The address is 3600 3rd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35222.  I hope to see you there!