Wasted Wisdom


Why do really smart people do really dumb things? With regularity, we’re shocked to hear of great men and women who have thrown away their lives with foolish actions or words. Sure, younger people can do some pretty stupid things like I did when I was in my teens. But,  how is it that some who are older and, supposedly, wiser end up following the wrong people and worshiping the wrong things?

The greatest example of wasted wisdom is King Solomon of Israel. “God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding beyond measure” (1 Kings 4:29). Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs (Proverbs 1:1-7), wrote over a thousand songs (including Psalms and Song of Solomon), dissected biology, mediated personal conflicts, arbitrated injustice, and discerned between good and evil. During his lifetime, people came from everywhere on earth, sent by kings and queens, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and stand in awe of his wealth (1 Kings 4:34). There was no one like him (2 Chronicles 9:22-23). Everyone wanted to be like him and be with him.

Tragically, “when Solomon was old, his wives seduced him to follow other gods…Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and he did not completely follow the LORD….the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD God of Israel.” (1 Kings 11:4,6,9). As a result, his family fell apart and the kingdom of Israel was torn apart.

How could the wisest person who ever lived waste his life in the end? If it could happen to Solomon, then couldn’t it certainly happen to me.

How can I make sure that as I get older that I follow the Lord completely and whole heartedly? Here are some thoughts I’ve had after grieving Solomon’s demise and reflecting on his downfall.

Stay in the scriptures and in prayer to develop an ongoing relationship with God (Proverbs 1:1-7, 9:10, 14:26, 15:33, 22:4). Wisdom must be applied to life in dependence upon the Lord (Psalm 127:1, Proverbs 16:3). For all his wisdom, Solomon was seduced to follow other gods rather than stay true to the God who appeared to him — twice. Reading the Bible and talking with God is not just a matter of discipline or spirituality — it’s about a relationship with my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer who loves me unconditionally, but cannot use me unconditionally. In order to finish well, I must actively and intentionally follow Jesus and obey Him.

Stay close to godly friends who will tell me the truth about myself. Who were the people in King Solomon’s life to remind him of God’s commands — especially about foreign women. Where were they when he needed them to counsel and correct him (Proverbs 11:14)? We all need friends who will speak the truth in love (Proverbs 27:6). We all need friends who will encourage us to keep going in pursuit of Jesus (Proverbs 17:17, Ecclesiastes 4:12). We all need friends who will keep a confidence (Proverbs 17:9). We need friends who will keep us grounded in Christlike humility. In order to have those kind of friends, I must first be that kind of friend. And the most important friendship for me as a married man is my wife (singular).

An accountability question that I try to regularly ask of my friends, co-workers, and other leaders is, “What do I need to know that I don’t know that you think or fear I don’t want to know?” In order to finish well, I must listen to godly friends who point me to Jesus and remind me of my humanity and my need for my Savior.

Stay away from foolish temptations that will lead me away from a life of integrity (Proverbs 2:10-19, 10:19). King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines who turned his heart away from the Lord. Solomon “loved” too many women. 999 too many. His heart was not completely with the LORD his God. It was his downfall. Satan’s time-proven tactic for trapping many really smart men and keeping them from finishing well is sexual immorality (Proverbs 5:3-6; 7:2-22). For men, careless eyes often leads to trouble. For women, is it careless words (Proverbs 14:1)? In order to finish well, you and I must avoid the situations and people who will seduce me to walk away from the Lord Jesus.

The heartbreaking part of Solomon’s story is that he knew what to do. He just didn’t do it. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)

In life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish. In relationships, it’s not how you much you know, it’s how you use what you know. Biblical wisdom is applied knowledge. The wise put into practice skills for understanding and living a successful life with Jesus (John 15:4-5, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25). 

As a husband and father, I’m concerned that I could throw away my relationships and influence. As a pastor and preacher, I’m terrified that I could encourage others in their race only to be disqualified in the end (1 Corinthians 10:12). Failure is not inevitable, but self-confidence could lead to a spiritual fall, as it did for Solomon, did so often in Israel’s history, and continues today. The temptations Solomon faced were not unique to him nor are they unique to us in this modern age. The Lord promises to give us grace to handle any temptation we might face as we keep our minds and hearts focused on Him (1 Corinthians 10:13). Solomon serves as a warning to us (Ecclesiastes 4:13): even really smart people can do really dumb things.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

Defenseless

Since the U. S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion 45 years ago today, January 22, 1973, it’s estimated that more than 60 million abortions have been performed in America. Unborn babies are living human beings (regardless of the circumstances of conception), created and loved by God and deserving, though defenseless, of our love and protection.

Some may see this as just a personal issue for each individual to decide or a political one for leaders to legislate. I believe, however, that this is the most significant moral dilemma of people today because it really is a matter of life and death. Also, it seems to me that it’s a spiritual attack of our enemy, the Devil, against the image and glory of God reflected in mankind — men & women, boys & girls, and babies inside & outside a mother’s womb. It seems to me that the debate about women’s rights, fairness, equality, and situational ethics really questions God’s goodness and sovereignty. The discussion either rejects God altogether or skeptically asks, “Did God really say…?”

“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Join me in praying for God’s truth and grace to be compassionatly communicated in personal conversations and public spaces. Pray for God to continue working through credible, loving organizations like Real Options for Women who provide help, hope, and support for expectant mothers and others. Ask God to help us and defend the defenseless.

follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Tour Guide

When traveling to another country, it’s great to have the help of an experienced, knowledgeable, articulate tour guide. Sure you could do some research on your own, utilize your well-honed skills of observation, and draw your own conclusions.  But for important, once in a lifetime travel, a seasoned tour guide reveals details you couldn’t see and realities you wouldn’t know on your own.

Israel Tour Guide DyerYears ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel. Certainly, I was familiar with the Bible and had studied some geography on my own, but visiting sights in Galilee and the city of Jerusalem with an experienced tour guide who knows the land and the Book and the culture better than me made the journey so much better.

When it comes to understanding issues of race, injustice, and poverty in America, I need the help of a tour guide to see things that I can’t see through the lens of my limited experiences and don’t understand from my own viewpoint. On my own, I just can’t see or even imagine what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called, “The Other America.”

Maybe you’re familiar with his infamous, “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963 or perhaps you’ve read his stirring “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written to white pastors critical of his protests. At Stanford University on April 14, 1967, however, Dr. King pulled back the curtain to reveal the realities of literally two different Americas.

One America is beautiful for situation. And, in a sense, this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity…. In this America, millions of people experience every day the opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all of their dimensions. And in this America millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.”

He continued, “But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair…. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

Like an experienced tour guide to this other America, Dr. King points out the hopelessness of inequality, the realities of injustice, and the prevalence of widespread racism that I just can’t see through the lens of my own experiences.  The America I grew up in says that racism is a personal problem. In the other America, to which Dr. King experienced, racism is systemic, judicial, and cultural.

In my America, we’ve all been created equal, have the same opportunities, and, if someone works hard enough, can be anything they want to be. In the other America, however, Dr. King says, it’s a nice thing to say to people that you oughta lift yourself by your own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he oughta lift himself by his own bootstrapsAnd the fact is that millions of Negroes, as a result of centuries of denial and neglect, have been left bootless. They find themselves impoverished aliens in this affluent society.”

In the other America, there is not an even comparison to Irish, Italian, or other white immigrants. “The Negro came to this country involuntarily in chains, while others came voluntarily… No other racial group has been a slave on American soil… This society placed a stigma on the color of the Negro, on the color of his skin because he was black. Doors were closed to him that were not closed to other groups.”

I’m thankful, not only for the perspective disclosed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also for the personal friendships God has provided with faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who are Black, Asian, Latino, and Indian. They, too, serve as tour guides in my life to help me see the problems in our world and reflect a more accurate picture of the diverse image of God and His people, working together to make disciples and transform our communities and country.

“If we are to bring America to the point that we have one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, Dr. King says, “there are certain things that we must do.” Given the continued racial tensions we’re still experiencing over 50 years after his speech at Stanford University, there is still some work to be done. The work begins by hearing and believing the truth of what other experienced tour guides say about the state of our union.

MLK “The Other America”

MLK StanfordThe Other America

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Stanford University
April 14, 1967

Members of the faculty and members of the student body of this great institution of learning; ladies and gentlemen.

Now there are several things that one could talk about before such a large, concerned, and enlightened audience. There are so many problems facing our nation and our world, that one could just take off anywhere. But today I would like to talk mainly about the race problems since I’ll have to rush right out and go to New York to talk about Vietnam tomorrow. and I’ve been talking about it a great deal this week and weeks before that.

But I’d like to use a subject from which to speak this afternoon, the Other America.

And I use this subject because there are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. And, in a sense, this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits. In this America, millions of people experience every day the opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all of their dimensions. And in this America millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.

But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

In a sense, the greatest tragedy of this other America is what it does to little children. Little children in this other America are forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies. As we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams. Many people of various backgrounds live in this other America. Some are Mexican Americans, some are Puerto Ricans, some are Indians, some happen to be from other groups. Millions of them are Appalachian whites. But probably the largest group in this other America in proportion to its size in the Population is the American Negro.

The American Negro finds himself living in a triple ghetto. A ghetto of race, a ghetto of poverty, a ghetto of human misery. So what we are seeking to do in the Civil Rights Movement is to deal with this problem. To deal with this problem of the two Americas. We are seeking to make America one nation, Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Now let me say that the struggle for Civil Rights and the struggle to make these two Americas one America, is much more difficult today than it was five or ten years ago. For about a decade or maybe twelve years, we’ve struggled all across the South in glorious struggles to get rid of legal, overt segregation and all of the humiliation that surrounded that system of segregation.

In a sense this was a struggle for decency; we could not go to a lunch counter in so many instances and get a hamburger or a cup of coffee. We could not make use of public accommodations. Public transportation was segregated, and often we had to sit in the back and within transportation — transportation within cities — we often had to stand over empty seats because sections were reserved for whites only. We did not have the right to vote in so many areas of the South. And the struggle was to deal with these problems.

And certainly they were difficult problems, they were humiliating conditions. By the thousands we protested these conditions. We made it clear that it was ultimately more honorable to accept jail cell experiences than to accept segregation and humiliation. By the thousands students and adults decided to sit in at segregated lunch counters to protest conditions there. When they were sitting at those lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and seeking to take the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Many things were gained as a result of these years of struggle. In 1964 the Civil Rights Bill came into being after the Birmingham movement which did a great deal to subpoena the conscience of a large segment of the nation to appear before the judgment seat of morality on the whole question of Civil Rights. After the Selma movement in 1965 we were able to get a Voting Rights Bill. And all of these things represented strides.

But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It’s more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job. It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality. And so today we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality.

It’s not merely a struggle against extremist behavior toward Negroes. And I’m convinced that many of the very people who supported us in the struggle in the South are not willing to go all the way now. I came to see this in a very difficult and painful way. In Chicago the last year where I’ve lived and worked. Some of the people who came quickly to march with us in Selma and Birmingham weren’t active around Chicago. And I came to see that so many people who supported morally and even financially what we were doing in Birmingham and Selma, were really outraged against the extremist behavior of Bull Connor and Jim Clark toward Negroes, rather than believing in genuine equality for Negroes. And I think this is what we’ve gotta see now, and this is what makes the struggle much more difficult.

So as a result of all of this, we see many problems existing today that are growing more difficult. It’s something that is often overlooked, but Negroes generally live in worse slums today than 20 or 25 years ago. In the North schools are more segregated today than they were in 1954 when the Supreme Court’s decision on desegregation was rendered. Economically the Negro Is worse off today than he was 15 and 20 years ago. And so the unemployment rate among Whites at one time was about the same as the unemployment rate among Negroes. But today the unemployment rate among Negroes is twice that of Whites. And the average income of the Negro is today 50% less than Whites.

As we look at these problems we see them growing and developing every day. We see the fact that the Negro economically is facing a depression in his everyday life that is more staggering than the depression of the 30’s. The unemployment rate of the nation as a whole is about 4%. Statistics would say from the Labor Department that among Negroes it’s about 8.4%. But these are the persons who are in the labor market, who still go to employment agencies to seek jobs, and so they can be calculated. The statistics can be gotten because they are still somehow in the labor market.

But there are hundreds of thousands of Negroes who have given up. They’ve lost hope. They’ve come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor for them with no Exit sign, and so they no longer go to look for a job. There are those who would estimate that these persons, who are called the Discouraged Persons, these 6 or 7% in the Negro community, that means that unemployment among Negroes may well be 16%. Among Negro youth in some of our larger urban areas it goes to 30 and 40%. So you can see what I mean when I say that, in the Negro community, there is a major, tragic and staggering depression that we face in our everyday lives.

Now the other thing that we’ve gotta come to see now that many of us didn’t see too well during the last ten years — that is that racism is still alive in American society. And much more wide-spread than we realized. And we must see racism for what it is. It is a myth of the superior and the inferior race. It is the false and tragic notion that one particular group, one particular race is responsible for all of the progress, all of the insights in the total flow of history. And the theory that another group or another race is totally depraved, innately impure, and innately inferior.

In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion. He ended up leading a nation to the point of killing about 6 million Jews. This is the tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide. If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.

To use a philosophical analogy here, racism is not based on some empirical generalization; it is based rather on an ontological affirmation. It is not the assertion that certain people are behind culturally or otherwise because of environmental conditions. It is the affirmation that the very being of a people is inferior. And this is the great tragedy of it.

I submit that however unpleasant it is we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America. It is still deeply rooted in the North, and it’s still deeply rooted in the South.

And this leads me to say something about another discussion that we hear a great deal, and that is the so-called “white backlash”. I would like to honestly say to you that the white backlash is merely a new name for an old phenomenon. It’s not something that just came into being because of shouts of Black Power, or because Negroes engaged in riots in Watts, for instance. The fact is that the state of California voted a Fair Housing bill out of existence before anybody shouted Black Power, or before anybody rioted in Watts.

It may well be that shouts of Black Power and riots in Watts and the Harlems and the other areas, are the consequences of the white backlash rather than the cause of them. What it is necessary to see is that there has never been a single solid monistic determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of white Americans on the whole question of Civil Rights and on the whole question of racial equality. This is something that truth impels all men of good will to admit.

It is said on the Statue of Liberty that America is a home of exiles. It doesn’t take us long to realize that America has been the home of its white exiles from Europe. But it has not evinced the same kind of maternal care and concern for its black exiles from Africa. It is no wonder that in one of his sorrow songs, the Negro could sing out, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” What great estrangement, what great sense of rejection caused a people to emerge with such a metaphor as they looked over their lives.

What I’m trying to get across is that our nation has constantly taken a positive step forward on the question of racial justice and racial equality. But over and over again at the same time, it made certain backward steps. And this has been the persistence of the so called white backlash.

In 1863 the Negro was freed from the bondage of physical slavery. But at the same time, the nation refused to give him land to make that freedom meaningful. And at that same period America was giving millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest, which meant that America was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor that would make it possible to grow and develop, and refused to give that economic floor to its black peasants, so to speak.

This is why Frederick Douglas could say that emancipation for the Negro was freedom to hunger, freedom to the winds and rains of heaven, freedom without roofs to cover their heads. He went on to say that it was freedom without bread to eat, freedom without land to cultivate. It was freedom and famine at the same time. But it does not stop there.

In 1875 the nation passed a Civil Rights Bill and refused to enforce it. In 1964 the nation passed a weaker Civil Rights Bill and even to this day, that bill has not been totally enforced in all of its dimensions. The nation heralded a new day of concern for the poor, for the poverty stricken, for the disadvantaged. And brought into being a Poverty Bill and at the same time it put such little money into the program that it was hardly, and still remains hardly, a good skirmish against poverty. White politicians in suburbs talk eloquently against open housing, and in the same breath contend that they are not racist. And all of this, and all of these things tell us that America has been backlashing on the whole question of basic constitutional and God-given rights for Negroes and other disadvantaged groups for more than 300 years.

So these conditions, existence of widespread poverty, slums, and of tragic conniptions in schools and other areas of life, all of these things have brought about a great deal of despair, and a great deal of desperation. A great deal of disappointment and even bitterness in the Negro communities. And today all of our cities confront huge problems. All of our cities are potentially powder kegs as a result of the continued existence of these conditions. Many in moments of anger, many in moments of deep bitterness engage in riots.

Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

Now let me go on to say that if we are to deal with all of the problems that I’ve talked about, and if we are to bring America to the point that we have one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, there are certain things that we must do. The job ahead must be massive and positive. We must develop massive action programs all over the United States of America in order to deal with the problems that I have mentioned. Now in order to develop these massive action programs we’ve got to get rid of one or two false notions that continue to exist in our society. One is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. I’m sure you’ve heard this idea. It is the notion almost that there is something in the very flow of time that will miraculously cure all evils. And I’ve heard this over and over again. There are those, and they are often sincere people, who say to Negroes and their allies In the white community, that we should slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray, and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem.

I think there is an answer to that myth. And it is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that the forces of ill-will in our nation, the extreme rightists in our nation, have often used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words of the bad people and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time. Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated Individuals. And without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always right to do right.

Now there’s another notion that gets out, it’s around everywhere. It’s in the South, it’s in the North, it’s In California, and all over our nation. It’s the notion that legislation can’t solve the problem, it can’t do anything in this area. And those who project this argument contend that you’ve got to change the heart and that you can’t change the heart through legislation. Now I would be the first one to say that there is real need for a lot of heart changing in our country, and I believe in changing the heart. I preach about it. I believe in the need for conversion in many instances, and regeneration, to use theological terms. And I would be the first to say that if the race problem In America is to be solved, the white person must treat the Negro right, not merely because the law says it, but because it’s natural, because It’s right, and because the Negro is his brother. And so I realize that if we are to have a truly integrated society, men and women will have to rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable.

But after saying this, let me say another thing which gives the other side, and that is that although it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. Even though it may be true that the law cannot change the heart, it can restrain the heartless. Even though it may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, it can restrain him from lynching me. And I think that’s pretty important also. And so while the law may not change the hearts of men, it can and it does change the habits of men. And when you begin to change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes will be changed; pretty soon the hearts will be changed. And I’m convinced that we still need strong civil rights legislation. And there is a bill before Congress right now to have a national or federal Open Housing Bill. A federal law declaring discrimination in housing unconstitutional.

And also a bill to make the administration of justice real all over our country. Now nobody can doubt the need for this. Nobody can doubt the need if he thinks about the fact that since 1963 some 50 Negroes and white Civil Rights workers have been brutally murdered in the state of Mississippi alone, and not a single person has been convicted for these dastardly crimes. There have been some indictments but no one has been convicted. And so there is a need for a federal law dealing with the whole question of the administration of justice.

There is a need for fair housing laws all over our country. And it is tragic indeed that Congress last year allowed this bill to die. And when that bill died in Congress, a bit of democracy died, a bit of our commitment to justice died. If it happens again in this session of Congress, a greater degree of our commitment to democratic principles will die. And I can see no more dangerous trend in our country than the constant developing of predominantly Negro central cities ringed by white suburbs. This is only inviting social disaster. And the only way this problem will be solved is by the nation taking a strong stand, and by state governments taking a strong stand against housing segregation and against discrimination in all of these areas.

Now there’s another thing that I’d like to mention as I talk about the massive action program and time will not permit me to go into specific programmatic action to any great degree. But it must be realized now that the Negro cannot solve the problems by himself. There again, there are those who always say to Negroes, “Why don’t you do something for yourself? Why don’t you lift yourselves by your own bootstraps?” And we hear this over and over again.

Now certainly there are many things that we must do for ourselves and that only we can do for ourselves. Certainly we must develop within a sense of dignity and self-respect that nobody else can give us. A sense of manhood, a sense of personhood, a sense of not being ashamed of our heritage, not being ashamed of our color. It was wrong and tragic of the Negro ever to allow himself to be ashamed of the fact that he was black, or ashamed of the fact that his ancestral home was Africa. And so there is a great deal that the Negro can do to develop self respect. There is a great deal that the Negro must do and can do to amass political and economic power within his own community and by using his own resources. And so we must do certain things for ourselves but this must not negate the fact, and cause the nation to overlook the fact, that the Negro cannot solve the problem himself.

A man was on the plane with me some weeks ago and he came up to me and said, “The problem, Dr. King, that I see with what you all are doing is that every time I see you and other Negroes, you’re protesting and you aren’t doing anything for yourselves.” And he went on to tell me that he was very poor at one time, and he was able to make by doing something for himself. “Why don’t you teach your people,” he said, “to lift themselves by their own bootstraps?” And then he went on to say other groups faced disadvantages, the Irish, the Italian, and he went down the line.

And I said to him that it does not help the Negro, it only deepens his frustration, upon feeling insensitive people to say to him that other ethnic groups who migrated or were immigrants to this country less than a hundred years or so ago, have gotten beyond him and he came here some 344 years ago. And I went on to remind him that the Negro came to this country involuntarily in chains, while others came voluntarily. I went on to remind him that no other racial group has been a slave on American soil. I went on to remind him that the other problem we have faced over the years is that this society placed a stigma on the color of the Negro, on the color of his skin because he was black. Doors were closed to him that were not closed to other groups.

And I finally said to him that it’s a nice thing to say to people that you oughta lift yourself by your own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he oughta lift himself by his own bootstraps. And the fact is that millions of Negroes, as a result of centuries of denial and neglect, have been left bootless. They find themselves impoverished aliens in this affluent society. And there is a great deal that the society can and must do if the Negro is to gain the economic security that he needs.

Now one of the answers it seems to me, is a guaranteed annual income, a guaranteed minimum income for all people, and for our families of our country. It seems to me that the Civil Rights movement must now begin to organize for the guaranteed annual income. Begin to organize people all over our country, and mobilize forces so that we can bring to the attention of our nation this need, and this is something which I believe will go a long long way toward dealing with the Negro’s economic problem and the economic problem which many other poor people confront in our nation. Now I said I wasn’t going to talk about Vietnam, but I can’t make a speech without mentioning some of the problems that we face there because I think this war has diverted attention from civil rights. It has strengthened the forces of reaction in our country and has brought to the forefront the military-industrial complex that even President Eisenhower warned us against at one time. And above all, it is destroying human lives. It’s destroying the lives of thousands of the young promising men of our nation. It’s destroying the lives of little boys and little girls In Vietnam.

But one of the greatest things that this war is doing to us in Civil Rights is that it is allowing the Great Society to be shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam every day. And I submit this afternoon that we can end poverty in the United States. Our nation has the resources to do it. The National Gross Product of America will rise to the astounding figure of some $780 billion this year. We have the resources: The question is, whether our nation has the will, and I submit that if we can spend $35 billion a year to fight an ill-considered war in Vietnam, and $20 billion to put a man on the moon, our nation can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.

Let me say another thing that’s more in the realm of the spirit I guess, that is that if we are to go on in the days ahead and make true brotherhood a reality, it is necessary for us to realize more than ever before, that the destinies of the Negro and the white man are tied together. Now there are still a lot of people who don’t realize this. The racists still don’t realize this. But it is a fact now that Negroes and whites are tied together, and we need each other. The Negro needs the white man to save him from his fear. The white man needs the Negro to save him from his guilt. We are tied together in so many ways, our language, our music, our cultural patterns, our material prosperity, and even our food are an amalgam of black and white.

So there can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white groups. There can be no separate white path to power and fulfillment short of social disaster. It does not recognize the need of sharing that power with black aspirations for freedom and justice. We must come to see now that integration is not merely a romantic or esthetic something where you merely add color to a still predominantly white power structure. Integration must be seen also in political terms where there is shared power, where black men and white men share power together to build a new and a great nation.

In a real sense, we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. John Donne placed it years ago in graphic terms, “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I’m Involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” And so we are all in the same situation: the salvation of the Negro will mean the salvation of the white man. And the destruction of life and of the ongoing progress of the Negro will be the destruction of the ongoing progress of the nation.

Now let me say finally that we have difficulties ahead but I haven’t despaired. Somehow I maintain hope in spite of hope. And I’ve talked about the difficulties and how hard the problems will be as we tackle them. But I want to close by saying this afternoon, that I still have faith in the future. And I still believe that these problems can be solved. And so I will not join anyone who will say that we still can’t develop a coalition of conscience.

I realize and understand the discontent and the agony and the disappointment and even the bitterness of those who feel that whites in America cannot be trusted. And I would be the first to say that there are all too many who are still guided by the racist ethos. And I am still convinced that there are still many white persons of good will. And I’m happy to say that I see them every day in the student generation who cherish democratic principles and justice above principle, and who will stick with the cause of justice and the cause of Civil Rights and the cause of peace throughout the days ahead. And so I refuse to despair. I think we’re gonna achieve our freedom because however much America strays away from the ideals of justice, the goal of America is freedom.

Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America. Before the pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. Before the beautiful words of the Star Spangled Banner were written, we were here. For more than two centuries, our forebearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king. They built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality, they continued to grow and develop.

And I say that if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face, including the so-called white backlash, will surely fail. We’re gonna win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands.

And so I can still sing “We Shall Overcome.” We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward Justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right, “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right, “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne — Yet that scaffold sways the future.” 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 discourse of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the 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 live together as brothers and sisters, all over this great nation. That will be a great day, that will be a great tomorrow. In the words of the Scripture, to speak symbolically, that will be the day when the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.

Deception

55e6058111d73e5b91f402cec054db7bManipulation and deception might get you or me what we want when we want it, but at the high cost of relationships with our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and others.
Reading through the Bible, I’m reminded how the patriarch Jacob became a deceiver by following the example and encouragement of  both his father, Isaac (Genesis 26:7-9), and his mother, Rachel (Genesis 27:5-13).
He controlled his brother, Esau, to wrestle away his birthright (Genesis 25:27-34). He deceived his father, Isaac, to received the family blessing that was rightfully his brother’s (Genesis 27:1-36). Later, Jacob was manipulated by his father-in-law, Laban (Genesis 29:18-30), and then Jacob returned the favor to steal Laban’s wealth (Genesis 30:29-43) and, later, run away with his daughters and grandchildren (31:17-21). Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, carried on the family tradition of deception and manipulation by persuading Shechem, his father Hamor, and all the men of the city to be circumcised, only to kill them and steal all their possessions (Genesis 34:13-29).
What a messed up family! What Jacob accomplished by control led to complete chaos in all of his relationships.
Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me twice now. He took my birthright, and look, now he has taken my blessing” (Genesis 27:36).
Not until Jacob wrestled with God Himself (Genesis 34:24-32) did he finally yield his life and begin walking, or limping, with the Lord faithfully.
“Jacob then named the place Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face,” he said, “and I have been delivered.” The sun shone on him as he passed by — limping because of his hip.” (Genesis 34:31-32)
Jacob was changed in character and in name, to Israel. Trust is not just a spiritual thing with God; it’s relational in how we demonstrate the work of His Spirit as we interact others.
This pattern of manipulation and deception that we see in Jacob’s life and family is still alive and well in our world of relationships today. Many are leaving a dynasty of deception and disaster. How often do we hear these familiar phrases? The end justifies the means. Do whatever it takes. God helps those who help themselves. Look out for yourself, #1.
In contrast to the selfish ambition and vain conceit of controlling others, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23) as we wait on the Lord and trust His goodness.
There are certainly times that I’m selfish. Times that I want my way. Occasions when I get frustrated by others. Situations where I would rather take control rather than wait on God. Or trust Him. But, if I’m actively reading God’s word, surrendering my will to His, praying rather than manipulating, submitting to His Spirit, God will do not only what is right, but so much better and cleaner than the mess I would make (and have made).
Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

A Mad World

When did the world get so angry? How did it happen so quickly? As we look ahead to a new year in 2018, we have some serious issues to deal with in the world of relationships - especially relationships in regard to race, religion, and politics. How did we get so full of frustration that the slightest disagreement or difference of opinion overflows to unkind words, unloving hate, and even outright violence?

Read the comment sections on any public news site or dare to scroll down the comments of someone’s controversial FaceBook post or Twitter feed­ and you’ll probably be sorry you did. It’s become painfully clear that racial, religious, and political conflicts are part of a long-simmering, decades-in-the-making anger. In a world that promotes strict tolerance, people seem to be anything but that.

We’re tired of what’s going on in our world and many, including followers of Jesus, are angry about it. What is a believer in Jesus to think in times like these? To feel when life is out of control? To do when we’re angry?

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the prophet Micah, on behalf of his people, asked the LORD a similar question (Micah 6:6-7). In times of social and political turmoil, Micah prophesied about the coming destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) by the Assyrians and the later defeat of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) by the Babylonians. Micah then told the people of God how He wanted them to act, love, and live:

“Mankind, He has told each of you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

This verse contains one of the most succinct and powerful expressions of the LORD’s essential requirements for godly living in a mad world. At first glance, we bristle at the thought of requirements. As people, we don’t like to be told what to do.

Micah explains the essence of spiritual reality that is not just a set of rules; he encourages much more than mere ritual worship. God wants us to obey Him because we want to (for our good), not because we have to.

In Micah 6:8, the Lord wanted each of His people (“Mankind”) to live with Him. There is a progression in these requirements from what is external to what is internal and from human relationships to our relationship with God Himself.  The verse explains, “He has told each of you.” He had already told the Israelites what would be good (beneficial) for them:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:12,18)

“Above all, fear the LORD and worship Him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things He has done for you.” (1 Samuel 12:24)

It’s related to Jesus’ “Great Commandment” in the New Testament: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:38-40):

A right relationship with God that results in great relationships with others requires three things: to act justly, love faithfully, and walk humbly with God.
1. God wants us to act the right way:  seek godly justice for the fair treatment of others.

Specifically, the Lord wanted them to practice justice rather than continuing to plot and practice unfairness and injustice toward one another (cf. v. 11; 2:1–2; 3:1–3). I realize that in our contemporary society, “social justice” has become a convoluted term meaning different things to different people. So let’s use the term “godly justice” that provides a biblical frame of reference that guides how we act.

The active infinitive (act justly) indicates something “to do” - to carry out or perform an action or course of action. In order for there to be justice, judgement is required in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards or punishments. In the OT, this Hebrew word for justice (מִשְׁפָּט mišpāṭ) describes it as a rightness which is rooted in God’s character, compassion, and action. In contrast to the anger of injustice in our day (both personal and systemic), the Psalmist said, “How happy are those who uphold justice, who practice righteousness at all times” (Psalm 106:3). In other words, JUSTICE leads to JOY!

The Bible explains that wise people think of justice (Proverbs 12:5), speak of it (Psalm 37:30), seek it (Isaiah 1:17), provide it (James 1:27), and enjoy it (Proverbs 21:15), because God requires it along with a heart of love and a spirit of humility (Micah 6:8). Justice, however, isn’t self-righteous or prideful. Justice is humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly defending or depending on our “rightness.”

Justice shows no favoritism nor is persuaded by politics, power, position, or economics. Justice requires empathy as we consider how we would feel in another’s shoes, It doesn’t give preference to the either the poor or to the wealthy (Deuteronomy 1:17). Justice doesn’t favor the citizen or to the resident alien (Leviticus 24:22). Social justice is godly justice.

2. God wants us to love the right way:  be personally committed to meeting the needs of others.

He also wanted His covenant people to love faithfully and practice loyal love (Hebrew חֶסֶד ḥesed) by carrying through their commitments to help one another, as He had with them. This Hebrew word is used 240 times in the OT to describe God’s grace, mercy, goodness, and devotion in His loving-kindness. His love is unconditional, unending, constant, eternal. God’s love is not just sentimental or emotional. It’s based upon His actions, specifically His strength to fulfill His promises to His people (Micah 7:20).

As followers of Jesus, we are to love our enemies – whoever and wherever they may be – just as He has loved us. Christ-like love gives others what they need the most when (based on attitudes, words, or behavior) they deserve it the least, at the greatest personal cost just as He loves us (Romans 12; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 John 4:10).

3. God wants us to live the right way:  walk humbly before God in our relationships with others.

He wanted His people to live their lives humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly relying on themselves (cf. Micah 2:3). Pride is the enemy of justice and love. Whereas pride divides people; humility cultivates unity. Worldly Pride says, “Look what I’ve done.” Godly humility says, “Look what God’s done.”

In this mad, angry world today, the truth is that sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. Only by God’s Spirit will we see justice and experience it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to do what’s right before God, love others as He has loved us, and remember how His justice was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in our place – my place – for our sin – my sin.

Every New Year’s Day, many people plan their day around watching a couple of fights between grown men. This New Year’s Day is no different. Today at 4:00pm, guys from Oklahoma will travel to the Rose Bowl in California, looking for a fight with some Bulldogs from Georgia. Later tonight, there will be another fight between some guys from Alabama taking on another group from South Carolina in New Orleans. Two football games will take place between two rivals who are enemies on the field with fans representing both in the stands.

But there will also be another group of people on the field. The referees. Their job is to be impartial. Their job is to ensure a fair game. They must be humble to make sure pride doesn’t cloud their vision. Their job is to establish the rules from a rule book given by a higher authority - the NCAA. At times, the referees/officials get yelled at from both teams on the field, both coaches, and from most fans in the stands, but they are to be just in their decisions. If the referee begins to choose sides, it results in chaos. If the referee is influenced by the fans in the stands, there is confusion on the field. But when the group of referees impartially and fairly applies the rules of the game established by NCAA, the game can be played and enjoyed on the field as intended.

In the same way, followers of Jesus are God’s referees here on the Earth as His representatives from Heaven. The LORD has told each of us what is good and what it is He requires of us: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

After Acts

rembrandt-apostle-paul-in-prison-750x914What happened to Paul after Acts? On the surface, it appears that Luke left Theophilus (Acts 1:1) and other readers hanging by not fully concluding Paul’s life story in Acts 28.

“Then he [Paul] stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30-31)

But if we realize that Acts was most likely written by Luke in AD 62-63, Paul was still alive. By combining church tradition from writings of church fathers in the first, second, and third centuries (Clement of Rome AD 100, Eusebius AD 300, etc..) along with certain events mentioned by Paul in letters to Titus and Timothy, we can design a reasonable outline of the remainder of Paul’s life.

– After two years in Rome under house arrest, Paul finally stood trial before Nero and was acquitted. Freed in AD 62, Paul embarked on his fourth missionary journey. It had long been his desire to reach Spain (Romans 15:23-29). Following his visit to Spain by way of Philippi, Paul’s travels can be traced through the details of his final letters (Titus and Second Timothy).
– In Paul’s absence from Rome (AD 63-67), the climate for Christians changed dramatically. The tolerance exhibited by Roman officials throughout the Acts narrative was eliminated and severe persecution, instigated by Emperor Nero himself, had broken out against Roman Christians beginning in AD 64.
– In late AD 67 or early AD 68, Paul returned to Rome where he was arrested again, along with Peter, and subjected to harsh imprisonment, an impulsive trial, and was unjustly convicted.
– In early AD 68, according to Eusebius, Paul was beheaded outside of Rome on the Ostian Way. Eusebius further documents that “Peter suffered martyrdom at the same time . . . he was crucified with his head downward, having requested to suffer this way.”

Paul’s journey with Jesus began on the road to Damascus and finished in Rome. He was faithful in (vs. 31) “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance.” From prison in Rome after his final arrest, Paul wrote a final farewell to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Paul finished well! So did Peter, James, Philip, Lydia, Aquila, Priscilla, Apollos Timothy, Titus, and many other faithful witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria and on to the ends of the earth.

It doesn’t matter how you start; it’s how you finish that matters.

What will our narrative say about the continuing story of Jesus’ ministry on Earth? Like Jesus’ first Disciples, let’s turn our world upside down (Acts 17:6). Like Peter and Paul and so many other faithful followers of Jesus, let’s finish well as we wait for Christ’s return when we’ll see him face to face.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

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For more info about what happened after the New Testament was complete, check out these resources:
After Acts, Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles, Bryan Litfin. Moody Publishers. Chicago, IL 2015
Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. F.F. Bruce