Saturday, December 26, 2020

Free Speech, Open Debate, and the Battlefield of Ideas: The Struggle for Control of the Mainstream Narrative

An increasing number of individuals in our society think we are moving into a pre-totalitarian societal state. At first I brushed off these concerns for the most part. I didn't see any way that such cherished values as freedom of speech and freedom of thought could ever come under attack in our society.  Those were values that were universal in society, transcending cultures, groups, and political movements. But increasingly, as social media platforms engaged in de-platforming and censorship, and news media manipulated the spread of information, and only allowed for certain narratives to hold the lime light, and as increasingly people in our society face the threat of being silenced for holding viewpoints contrary to the prevailing narratives, I began to take notice. 

I also took notice as "fact checks" began to appear in droves on Facebook and Twitter. And as you read the "fact checks" you realized more and more, that these supposedly "independent fact checkers" were nothing more than the same editorial and opinion writers at the major outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, and USA Today, just to name a few.  And as you read the fact checks, you increasingly realized that it had much less to do with facts than it did with the popular narrative, and maintaining that narrative at any cost.  And you increasingly realized that the fact checks were only targeting certain people, of a certain political persuasion.  Both sides were not being fact checked, but only certain individuals and groups.

Already in our society there is a sort of silence, where debate and discussion on certain issues has been shut down. The prevailing societal elites have declared these issues resolved, and anyone who might disagree or raise a counter-perspective is evil, and must be destroyed.  People are already afraid to speak about certain things.  People are afraid to post that they support a certain candidate or policy, because they know a mob may form to try to destroy their livelihood or shame them into apology. This is already a disturbing turn of events.  But imagine if it went a step further, to laws that bound your ability to speak. Imagine new hate speech laws, that condemned any belief outside the prevailing narrative to be a sort of heresy against doctrine. Already we see hate speech laws in regards to various issues in our society, but how hard is it to see those same laws expanded to target Christians who hold to the sanctity of life, and marriage, the family, and the truth of the scriptures? Maybe these concerns aren't as far away and relegated to the old world as we thought. 

These prevailing viewpoints, which must not be challenged, this prevailing ideology, really culminates into a modern narrative. But what do we mean by "narrative?"

See typically in a free society, there are various "narratives" that take hold.  These are general soundbites about what our society is, what it was, and where it's going.  They tend to be general collections of ideas, broken down to their key elements to help "tell the story" of our society.  Typically, there are numerous narratives out in the ether of society.  And they vy for influence through public debate, discussions around dinner tables, opinions of experts and leaders, and the way the news portrays events.  And that's as it should be.  Open debate, open discussion, and we simply hope that the truth will win out, as we speak out.

But now, with the advent of censorship, de-platforming, cancel culture, and fact checkers, we see that one narrative takes center stage not because it's won the open debate in the various realms of free society, but because opposing viewpoints and counter-narratives have been stifled, censored, shut down, and cancelled.  This my friends is not good.  And it's the beginnings of what some like Rod Dreher who authored the recent book Live Not By Lies are calling "soft tyranny" or "soft totalitarianism."  

Instead of many narratives, there is only one. One prevailing narrative that doesn't have to answer any questions, or be exposed to any debate.  Either you fall into line with the prevailing ideology, or you are shut down, censored, or lose your job.  This is a development I will be keeping a close eye on, and praying about.

I'll be writing more about it as I read Rod Dreher's Live Not By Lies, and continue to pray steadfastly, observing where our society is going.  But I know this much, when free speech begins to be stifled to enforce a certain narrative, there is great danger ahead.  Let's hope we can right our course, and not lose our way in the west, and fall into soft-totalitarianism, which might eventually become a more firm and rigid totalitarianism. We often think "it could never happen here." But it's interesting, as you study history, you realize many have thought the same thing, 'it certainly couldn't happen here.' And then to their shock and amazement, it did.  Pray brothers and sisters.  And stand up for free speech.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

What is biblical heaven and what is biblical hell?

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” -
Revelation 22:1-5 ESV 

 
Today we address our final question of our God Questions, Real Answers series. The question was this: “What is biblical heaven and what is biblical hell?”

There are many common misconceptions about heaven and hell in our world today. Many think of hell as some sort of party, where it’s gonna be awesome, and people think of heaven as angels floating on clouds playing harps. People think hell isn’t real. Others think heaven isn’t real. Some think all people will go to heaven no matter what, others believe that there is no heaven or hell and when we die we simply disappear.

Well let’s push past these stereotypes and false conclusions and see if we can understand these issues from an objective biblical perspective.

For us as humans born on the planet Earth, we have two possible destinations after we die. And our lives are very short on this Earth. Most of us will only live 70 or 80 years. But that’s a very short time compared to how long we will spend in the next life.

There are only two destinations available to us. On the one hand, you have paradise, a perfect city of joy, love, and eternal happiness. In communion with God and others, where this is no more death or pain or sorrow. Best possible future imaginable to end up there.

The other option is the worst possible fate. The worst possible place to end up in. Hell, a place described as underneath the Earth, locked away, in pain, sorrow, isolation, and constant pain. No connections with others. No presence of God. Simply flames, and regret, and pain.

I will tell you that both these places are 100% real. You will live in one of them forever. Once you land in one of these places, there is no way to switch between them. Heaven is permanent and hell is permanent.

You will still be you. You’ll be conscious. You’ll have your senses. And you will either experience eternal connection with God in paradise, or eternal disconnection from God in constant suffering. The stakes right now are very high.

The Bible has a lot to say about heaven and hell. Let’s look at heaven first.

Revelation 21:1-5 ESV Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

So when we talk about this idea of quote “heaven” what we’re really talking about is the new heavens and new Earth. This current Earth is a broken mess, God will remove and replace it with the new Earth. And a new city will be there, created by God, called “the new Jerusalem.” It’s a huge city. The bible actually lists the dimensions of the city. It’s about the size of 1/3rd of the united states, if you were to look at a map of the USA, it would be from Florida, up to Ohio, across to Iowa and down to Texas. That’s a pretty big city. And it actually has many levels, because it’s 1,500 miles across, and wide, but also 1500 miles high. Hard to imagine just how amazing this city will be.

If you follow Jesus, have faith in Christ, and have repented and turned away from past sins, you are headed to that city.

But if you don’t believe in Jesus, if you don’t follow Jesus’ lifestyle, and if you are living in your sins, then you are not headed to the new Jerusalem. You are headed to the other place, called hell.

And I would add, if you are a Christian who is living in sin, still getting drunk, using drugs, lying, cheating, stealing, swearing, not tithing, which is stealing from God, etc, you are also not headed to new Jerusalem. You are also headed to hell.

So, let’s take a look at the other place.

And this is what Jesus said about hell, warning all people not to go there, he said, “Mark 9:43-48 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Jesus warns us very severely, don’t go to hell, if your are in sin, cut it off, get rid of it.

Now let’s look briefly at a parable Jesus taught. He said this, from Luke 16:19-25 “19 Jesus said, “There was a rich man who always dressed in the finest clothes. 20 There was also a very poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus’ body was covered with sores. He was often put by the rich man’s gate. 21 Lazarus wanted only to eat the scraps of food left on the floor under the rich man’s table.

22 “Later, Lazarus died. The angels took him and placed him in the arms of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 He was sent to the place of death and was in great pain. He saw Abraham far away with Lazarus in his arms. 24 He called, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me! Send Lazarus to me so that he can dip his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am suffering in this fire!’

25 “But Abraham said, ‘My child, remember when you lived? You had all the good things in life. But Lazarus had nothing but problems. Now he is comforted here, and you are suffering. 26 Also, there is a big pit between you and us. No one can cross over to help you, and no one can come here from there.”

So we see that this rich man who cared nothing about poor Lazarus died, and went to hell. And he was in fire, and in torment, and in hell there is no water, yet he still had his senses and desire of thirst. So he’s calling out for just a drop of water, but it’s too late for him. He’s conscious, he’s aware, and he’s in fire, he’s in total suffering. He lived a lavish, rich life, and cared nothing for the poor, or for God, and so he went to the place of outer darkness.

Hell is like a place to quarantine those who refuse faith in Christ. A place to quarantine those who refuse to leave their sins. There is no place for sin in the new heavens and new earth. So those humans who refuse the free offer of salvation found in Jesus, must be quarantined, away from the holy city, in this place of darkness.

In conclusion today, that is a very brief look at biblical heaven and biblical hell. But there are dozens and dozens of scriptures that give us hints and clues about heaven and hell. Do more research on your own.

So today brothers and sisters, please, put your faith in Christ, and set aside your past sins. All you have to do is believe in Jesus, and repent, and you will have eternal life.

Come be part of God’s new heavens and new Earth. In the new city of God. It’s the place I long to be, forever. Consider it’s beauty:

Revelation 21:21-25 ESV And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

The Light that touched us & we became Light: Departing Destructive Darkness, Embracing Creative Light

 "So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." -Luke 2:16-19

As supernatural as it can seem to talk about Mary, or the birth of Jesus, or the nativity event, it really came down to ordinary, average sinners, people in the mess of life experiencing the presence of God, and be changed forever.

And that’s what we are, as the church. We’re ordinary people, confusing at times, inconsistent, flawed, sinful, yet something special has happened in each of our lives.  Our lives intersected with God.  God jumped in and changed us forever.

That’s what happened for Mary and Joseph.  God changed everything.  Their lives were exposed to the light that is Jesus Christ. 

Today we continue our Advent series, and this week we look at the coming of Jesus in the gospel of John.  John’s gospel communicates in very poetic terms.  It’s my favorite gospel.  And it begins like this:

“1 Before the world began, the Word was there. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was there with God in the beginning. 3 Everything was made through him, and nothing was made without him. 4 In him there was life, and that life was a light for the people of the world. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not defeated it.

6 There was a man named John, who was sent by God. 7 He came to tell people about the light. Through him all people could hear about the light and believe. 8 John was not the light. But he came to tell people about the light. 9 The true light was coming into the world. This is the true light that gives light to all people.

10 The Word was already in the world. The world was made through him, but the world did not know him. 11 He came to the world that was his own. And his own people did not accept him. 12 But some people did accept him. They believed in him, and he gave them the right to become children of God. 13 They became God’s children, but not in the way babies are usually born. It was not because of any human desire or plan. They were born from God himself.

14 The Word became a man and lived among us. We saw his divine greatness—the greatness that belongs to the only Son of the Father. The Word was full of grace and truth. 15 John told people about him. He said loudly, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘The one who is coming after me is greater than I am, because he was living before I was even born.’”

16 Yes, the Word was full of grace and truth, and from him we all received one blessing after another. 17 That is, the law was given to us through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only Son is the one who has shown us what God is like. He is himself God and is very close to the Father.”

Today we are talking about light and darkness.  Light is beautiful. Whether it’s the sun in the sky, or the stars and moon at night, light is amazing.  Even lighting a candle or staring up at the street lamp can give a certain level of awe. 

We see a great deal of the metaphor of light in the season of Christmas.  Many of us put up Christmas trees adorned with lights. Some of us decorate our houses with lights. 

And for us as Christians we know that Jesus is our light.  He is the one who shown his light in our darkness.  We each can remember that beautiful moment, when our lives went from darkness and changed into light. 

Isaiah prophesied, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). 

We used to live in the empty ways of our ancestors.  I recall when I used to live that way, living in the misery and stress of the world system. Public school, grades, anxiety, worry, hopelessness, a sort of rushing about in state of fretting and always angry.  Trying to pull pleasure from sources that could bring little pleasure.  Trying to live the modernist life, go to school, go to college, get married, buy a house, open a savings account, have children, on and on, and it was monotonous and meaningless. Something huge was missing.  It was like walking in an endless overcast gray day.  And you start to operate in a certain level of desperation. A quiet desperation.  Where nothing seems like it’s enough.  Nothing seems to be fulfilling anymore.  You really start to die inside, as you grow more and more hopeless.  And that empty road is what eventually led me to Christ.

And Christ lit the light in me. That’s my first point today. Christ lit the light in you at some point in the past.  A year ago, 10 years ago, whenever it was. Think about your life before Jesus. How desperate it was.  How miserable it was.  And be grateful to Jesus right now.  I’ll wait. 

So we’ve seen the light, and it’s been lit in us.

This light awakened me to hundreds of factors in reality that I never really understood.  Once you understand God, the Christian worldview, the Bible, and begin to see the world through those truths, you really have the road map for what life really is and what it means.  You realize that we aren’t bags of flesh, evolved from apes, we were made by a creator for a purpose. You realize that we have a great problem, that of sin, and we also have a great solution that of Jesus.  You realize that we have a future, the new heavens and new Earth.  You realize that there is objective truth, and there is a fundamental moral framework to the universe.  It grounds you, and expands your thought, and helps you to be seated properly in truth.  You’re no longer floating in the ether endlessly going nowhere. You have knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.  And life has meaning.  Not because we want it to, but because it actually does have real meaning.

Thus begins the battle to live as a Christian in  exile, a Christian outside his or her kingdom, making a pilgrimage from here to heaven.  And we start to have to undo all the brainwashing and old ideas that we had about life, and God slowly removes those old ideas and replaces them with biblical truth.  And it’s amazing and grueling, and difficult. 

And that I think directly references us to the darkness and the light.  We were people who once lived in darkness, and now we have the light within us.  And it’s like right now we are slowly marching out of the darkness, and into the light.  That’s a daily battle.  It truly is.  But it’s a battle worth winning, to see the world as Jesus sees it. 

That’s the second point to remember today, now that we have the light, we’re in that process of claiming the Christian worldview as our own.  We’re slowly walking out of the darkness and into the light, that process of sanctification we talk about. 

Third point I want to suggest to you today is the live consistently in the light.  And this is difficult at first, and then we claim it for our own.  We make a decision inside to say, I’m really going to walk by faith.  This happens at some point in our walk with Christ. 

We realize that we’re constantly bending back and forth between the light and the darkness. One day we’re on fire for Christ, we’re super excited, the next day we’re frustrated, angry, depressed and miserable.  The next day we’re close with Jesus again we have faith, the next day we slip into some sin and wander off into the dark again. 

But I’m challenging you today, and indeed myself, to find a more consistent faith.  A rock solid faith in God that doesn’t constantly falter and fail.  And I think inside that’s a decision we make to say yes, I’m all in, I’m totally committed to God, and I’m going to live in that faith day in and day out.  We need a consistency of faith, a faith that is not constantly wavering between two opinions. 

I’ve fought this battle in myself. And it’s a battle I think that happens inside myself, as to where my focus is going to be.  Am I focusing all my time on video games, YouTube, selfish pleasures, or am I focusing in on prayer, friendships, Christian movies, books, and attending church?  Where is my focus?  That is a question to ask ourselves today. 

That doesn’t mean your always perfect. Think of Mary and Joseph, and how their lives were changed by the coming of Jesus.  And think about how they made mistakes, and how Mary was rebuked several times by Jesus in the gospels.  Think about how average they were.  And yet God still worked through them in mighty ways.

Now you may not think it’s so important what you’re doing in Owosso. I can assure you that it is.  Your deeds in this city, I have no doubt, will one day be recounted for thousands of angels and cities of humans in the new Jerusalem, about every time you shared the gospel, or helped someone, or preached, or prayed.  They’ll be recounted like the beginning of John chapter 1.  In the beginning was the word, and the word was with Scott, was with Johnathan, was with Dorothy, was with Shannon, and one day this happened, one day that happened, and lives were changed.  And it matters.  It matters hugely.  So keep doing it.  Merry Christmas brothers and sisters. 

We’ve seen the light.

The light has changed us.

We’re slowly walking out of the dark and into the light.

Our worldview is being changed.

Have a firm unshakable faith in Christ

Share the light with others

Those deeds will be remembered in paradise. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Brilliant Oratory of Martin Luther King Jr.

  The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil rights leader during the 1950s and 1960s. He was instrumental in the civil rights movement to bring about transformation in race relations and to abolish the practice of segregation in the United States.  Martin Luther King Jr. did many great deeds in his lifetime before his death in 1968, but perhaps the greatest impact he had was through his powerful speeches and sermons.  We will examine several of his speeches and sermons and consider the impact of his words on modern Christianity then and today.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Altanta, Georgia on January 15th 1929 (Lewis & Carson, 2020).

King grew up in a relatively wealthy middle-class family (Lewis & Carson, 2020). His father was pastor of a prominent church in Atlanta (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  Though he did find himself impacted by prejudice, even as a young child, when a white neighbor child’s parents refused to allow their child to spent time with the young King (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  His father and his grandmother were very influential in his early upbringing (Lewis & Carson, 2020). At age 15 King began an early college program at Morehouse College in Atlanta (Lewis & Carson, 2020). He graduated from Morehouse in 1948 (Lewis & Carson, 2020). King studied ministry at Crozer Theological Seminary and later at Boston University (Lewis & Carson, 2020). While in Boston King met Coretta Scott and they got married, later having four children (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  

In 1955 King was pastor of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama and took leadership of an initiative to fight back against racial segregation on the bus system in Montgomery (Lewis & Carson, 2020). This occurred after the incident in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, and was arrested (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  King organized a boycott and a little over a year later the bus system was desegregated (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  

King developed a new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership conference (Lewis & Carson, 2020). King began traveling the country preaching and speaking about race relations and prejudice and injustice in the nation (Lewis & Carson, 2020). He had the opportunity to spend time with Gandhi in 1959 and became increasingly convinced that non-violent resistance was the best course of action for the movement developing around him (Lewis & Carson, 2020).

In 1963 King was leading a movement for desegregation of lunch counters and hiring practices in Birmingham, Alabama when police in the area turned fire hoses and dogs against the protesters, arresting several hundred including Martin Luther King Jr (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  He was imprisoned and there he wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  

In late 1963, MLK Jr. joined with other civil rights leaders to organize the March on Washington, and under the Lincoln memorial King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech to over 200,000 in attendance (Lewis & Carson, 2020). These events led to a mass movement and change in the nation, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed into law (Lewis & Carson, 2020). At the end of 1964 MLK Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (Lewis & Carson, 2020).

King desired to launch another march on Washington event but was strongly discouraged from doing so by government officials (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  Nevertheless, he led a march of protesters, black and white, in Selma, coming to a bridge where police were arrayed to stop them (Lewis & Carson, 2020). In a stunning turn, King fell on his knees and prayed, along with those gathered in the protest, and then turned and retreated from the scene (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  But the public was once again roused and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed into law (Lewis & Carson, 2020).

But another movement was coming about that did not favor King’s non-violent peaceable approach to racial justice (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  Rioting occurred in the Watts district of Los Angels in August of 1965 (Lewis & Carson, 2020). King responded to growing discontent in urban areas due to discrimination by leading a campaign in Chicago to push back against unjust segregation policies in housing (Lewis & Carson, 2020). The peaceful demonstrations resulted in an agreement between justice activists and city officials that did little to bring about change in the community (Lewis & Carson, 2020). Increasingly younger black-power activists were challenging Dr. King and publicly decrying his cautious approaches to racial justice (Lewis & Carson, 2020). Malcom X even called Dr. King’s approach of non-violence in the face of violence as “criminal” (Lewis & Carson, 2020). Malcom X believed anyone under attack should defend themselves and strike back with violence (Lewis & Carson, 2020).

Martin Luther King Jr. began to broaden his approach to social issues, dealing with wider topics, such as the Vietnam War and national poverty (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  King devoted himself to speaking out consistently against the Vietnam War which he considered to be an immoral war (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  And he began to take on poverty not just for people of color, but for all races, attempting to gather a union of various impoverished individuals from all races to bring about social change (Lewis & Carson, 2020). In 1968 King was planning a Poor People’s March to Washington, but these efforts were interrupted when King decided to join in a city sanitation worker’s strike in Memphis, Tennessee (Lewis & Carson, 2020). King gave his last public message at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis, seeming to prophetically point to his passing, when he indicated that he had “seen the promised land” (Lewis & Carson, 2020).  And the next day, April 4th of 1968, while King was standing on the second-story balcony of the Lorraine Motel, King was killed by a sniper’s bullet (Lewis & Carson, 2020). His death sparked protests and civil disturbances in over 100 cities in the United States (Lewis & Carson, 2020). But his legacy would live on in a nation roused to the concerns of racial justice, and the various pieces of legislation produced on the local, state, and federal levels to deal with systemic injustice.

When discussing the life of Martin Luther King Jr. it’s important to note that King was not a perfect individual. There are numerous reports of sexual misconduct, and repeated affairs from FBI surveillance records of his activities over the years of his civil rights campaigns (Greenberg, White, Sitrin, & Gerstein, 2019). It was reported that he was involved in group sexual activity (Greenberg, White, Sitrin, & Gerstein, 2019). And one particularly disturbing incident records that a fellow pastor, Logan Kearse held down a woman and raped her, while King laughed, and offered advice as it happened (Greenberg, White, Sitrin, & Gerstein, 2019). These revelations came out with reports from the FBI, who were monitoring King, which were made public due to Freedom of Information Act requests (Greenberg, White, Sitrin, & Gerstein, 2019). It was also revealed that King had continued to take money from his friend Stanley Levison, a Communist Party member, though he had claimed he had broken ties with him (Greenberg, White, Sitrin, & Gerstein, 2019).  Though many of these revelations have only come in the last twenty years some of this was known much sooner, such as in 1989 when Ralph Abernathy, one of King’s close associates revealed that King spent the night before his murder with his mistress (Greenberg, White, Sitrin, & Gerstein, 2019). Though Martin Luther King Jr. clearly had some serious faults, these faults should be considered in light of all he accomplished for racial justice, unity, non-violence, and race relations in the United States in his life.

The Speeches, Letters, and Sermons of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr’s brilliance was of course largely found in his organizing and action to fight against the evils of segregation and prejudice. He was able to mobilize a huge movement to overturn unjust laws on the local, state, and federal level. But behind that power of organizing and action was the incredible power of King’s spoken and written word.  King spoke in a way that inspired others. He spoke moral truth in spiritual terms. He spoke in terms of justice and injustice. He spoke in terms of hopes, dreams, equality, and unity.  Let us consider some of his famous and not-so-famous messages, and how they poured forth a fundamentally Christian message that helped change the world.  King managed to organize, empower, and guide the people who gathered under him, galvanizing a massive movement as they waged a desperate fight for justice.

Let’s consider one of his earliest recorded sermons from a message he gave at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church titled “Loving Your Enemies.” King spoke of the command of Jesus to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. King (1957) said, “…far from being an impractical idealist, Jesus has become the practical realist. The words of this text glitter in our eyes with a new urgency. Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.”

King managed to breathlessly take a biblical truth of loving enemies, and helped his people understand that this command must apply practically to the real world.  But King then indicates that the first step in loving one’s enemies is looking inwardly, through self-examination. He said we must then look at the person who hates us, and try to see the good in them, because some good exists in everyone. He said you should see the “Image of God” in that person, and you can love them despite their own hatred for you. King says then you will inevitably be faced with a situation where you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. But you must not do it. You must not defeat them. You must let them win.  King (1957) continues by indicating, “That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”

In this message we see the incredibly brilliant yet paradoxical way in which King achieved victory where so many had been defeated. King’s ethic of love was so incredibly powerful it overcame hatred by being overcome by it. Rosa Parks simply sat in her place and refused to move.  She hated none of them. She wasn’t rude. She didn’t throw bricks or burn down city blocks.  She loved her enemies and simply fought through dogged determined love.  It was the same at the segregated kitchens, where activists simply sat, and refused to leave.  They weren’t rude, they didn’t riot or destroy, they politely sat and refused to be moved.  They were beaten, had drinks thrown on them, they were spit on, and slapped, but they refused to strike back.  Looking from the outside, it looked like defeat. But actually, in the love of Christ, it was victory.  Their dogged, dignified, loving resilience was so powerful a public display of love surrendered to hatred, that hatred died out, and love replaced it.  Defeat became victory.  Laws were changed. Hearts were changed. Segregation was defeated, and people’s hearts were changed to see people of color as equals, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  All of this came about due to this radical idea of love by Martin Luther King Jr.  He fought the system but loved the person.

Next, we consider the 1963 letter that King wrote from the Birmingham Jail. King wrote a rousing letter to the clergy of the area that would live on in history.  He wrote that he had come to the area as a prophet does to declare “thus saith the Lord” and that he had come like the Apostle Paul came, to spread the good news of freedom (King, 1963, p. 13).  He had come from Altanta to Birmingham because, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (King 1963, p. 14). The pastors of Birmingham were upset and had written a public statement decrying the protests in the area.  But King wrote to them in response to that, “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” (King, 1963, p. 14). Birmingham at that time in history was regarded as the single most segregated city in the entire country. There were regular bombings of black churches and homes. Negotiations with the city had led to little change. So King believed only non-violent protest could bring about real change.

In the letter King called the church leaders to rally their congregations to be salt and light to the world around them. 

He wrote, “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.”

In a time when the church had fallen away from the radical approaches of the Reformation era and into general concord with modernism and patriotic society, King once again called the church to remember who they were, not ones to be folded into modernity, but those to stand against injustice and transform society from within. He knew how much the church had grown to dislike any criticism, and how quickly the church would fold to outside influences, and instead King challenges the church to stand firm in the face of criticism and public backlash to end injustice, just like they had ended child sacrifice, and gladiatorial death matches.

We would be remised if we did not consider the incredible world-shaking message King gave in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, famously known as the “I Have a Dream” Speech. King (1963) said, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity..But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”
King powerfully portrayed the history of slavery and how those chains were symbolically broken by Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation, but nevertheless people of color were still shackled by segregation.  He painted the picture of a people still caught up in exile, as if they were a people freed from Egypt but only condemned to wander in the wilderness, just as Israel once did.  King spoke in biblical terms, but in clear reference to history and present conditions, inspiring the people around him to see deeper themes in the world around them.  King indicated in his speech to the nation, that there would not be tranquility or rest in the United States until all people in the country had been granted their rights as citizens (King, 1963).  He challenged the system and clearly tells the country that they will not be pushed aside from this struggle.

But then King addresses his own people, declaring the highest standard for the movement he leads, stating, “But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

This goes to the incredible genius of King. He knew there was a reasonable danger that the movement he led could degenerate into violence, riots, and destruction. There was much legitimate anger and rage out there for the systems and people who were oppressing his people.  Yet he calls his people to a higher standard, the standard of loving their enemies while stoically standing up to the system, refusing to be moved.  He called his people to fight not with destruction but with dignity, drinking heartily from the cup of bitterness, that same cup that Jesus drank from when was crucified. And like Jesus, King knew they would paradoxically win the victory from defeat.

King (1963) continued, “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” He knew there was a danger that people of color could begin to consider all white people as evil, racist, and suspect. But he urged against such a response, urging instead for his people to unite with whites in brotherhood and love.

King knew that many of the people at the rally that day had endured years of oppression, and years of peaceful protest and non-violence that had yielded little fruit. Yet King saw great hope, where many others would’ve only found despair and hopelessness.  He said, “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."”

In the post-modern era many seek to fight injustice by tearing down the entire system, and replacing it with something else.  Many fight the system by seeking to destroy it completely.  King did not fight in such a way.  He saw great hope for people of color in the American dream.  He saw hope in the original creed of the country, that all men are created equal. He saw a day when white men of Georgia, and the children of freed slaves would sit down together in brotherhood (King, 1963, p. 25).  King saw a day when Mississippi would be a place of freedom and equality.  He saw hope for a country unified in diversity (King, 1963).

King (1963) said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He dreamed of a time when people would not be obsessed with skin color but would be more concerned with the individual and their character. He called his people to hope and faith.  Faith that God would guide them to win the battle against prejudice and segregation. 

King (1963) said, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

King painted a picture of hope, faith, and love in the hearts of his people.  He didn’t speak about how terrible whiteness was.  He spoke of hope, of brotherhood, and of faith working itself out through action against injustice, and the trusting knowledge that unity would win the day.

In conclusion, King (1963) said, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! God Almighty, we are free at last!”

He knew that all the divisions within the society needed to be replaced with a brotherhood of love and unity. He saw that when blacks or Jews or Catholics or Protestants weren’t free, it meant no one was free. But he saw the day when the country would be united, and all would gather together to declare freedom at last.  King mobilized the English language and sent it into battle, just like men and women before him had done, who needed to galvanize and strengthen a movement toward acts of creative justice done in love. King and his followers drank repeatedly from the bitter cup of injustice’s wrath, and paradoxically as a result, they won the day, ending segregation, and enshrining in law equal rights for people of color in the country.  And they inspired millions of whites to begin to see people of color as equals, as brothers and sisters in common cause for liberty and justice. 

In King’s last message in 1968 at a Memphis church, he wrote, “Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” 

King seemed to prophetically see his own end was coming soon.  He perceived the future that one day his people would be truly free. But he knew he would never see it. He knew his time was quickly coming to an end.  But he saw the glory of the Lord.  He saw hope in the future.  And he taught the dream of hope to his people, through the power of his spoken word.  And fundamentally, King spoke a Christian message. The message he spoke was deeply rooted in biblical Christian fundamentals like self-sacrificial love, non-violence, resistance to evil, and victory through seeming defeat. But more importantly King put that Christian message into practical action.  He managed to translation the Christian truth of Jesus Christ into real action in the world.  And this translation of biblical truth into the modern era managed to change the country and change the world. He brought justice through painting biblical truth into the real world, through his words and his actions, replicated in his followers.  And through love’s defeat, paradoxically, defeat turned into victory because of God’s hand in those events.

References

Greenberg, D., White, J. B., Sitrin, S. S., & Gerstein, B. M. (2019, June 04). How to Make Sense of the Shocking New MLK Documents. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/06/04/how-to-make-sense-of-the-shocking-new-mlk-documents-227042

King, M. L., Jr. (n.d.). Dr. King's Last Sermon. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.ucc.org/sacred-conversation_dr-kings-last-sermon

King, M. L., Jr. (1957-1968). Eleven Speeches by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from http://wmasd.ss7.sharpschool.com/common/pages/UserFile.aspx?fileId=8373388

King, M. L., Jr. (2018, April 04). "I've Been to the Mountaintop". Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/ive-been-mountaintop

Lewis, D. L., & Carson, C. (2020, July 27). Martin Luther King, Jr. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Martin-Luther-King-Jr

Martin Luther King Jr. (2020, October 29). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from https://www.biography.com/activist/martin-luther-king-jr

Share this Post!