A Life of Serving Humanity

Today in the US we’re honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was best known for his work in the Civil Rights Movement and his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, but what many people may not know was the key role that faith played in his life. He actually started his career of “serving humanity” as he called it, by attending seminary and becoming a pastor. While he wasn’t ‘just’ a pastor for long (although he did preach until his death), faith was a key part in how he led and the fact that he led non-violent movements to worked on advancing civil rights.

Each year we take a look at his life because there’s so much we can learn from it, and each time I read an article or hear a bit about him, I’m reminded of something I had forgotten or learn something I didn’t know. One of the things I was reminded of this year was how young he was when he died: he was only 39. When people die that young we often feel regret for the life that has been lost and what they could have done with the many years they were likely to have had they lived a life of more typical length. I have to say that I think Dr. King did very well with the few years that he had, packing more than most of us do in his last 14 years. He certainly didn’t pick an easy journey, even with the decision to be non-violent and work from a place of peace. But because of his bravery he made a lasting positive impact on countless lives, even beyond the civil rights discussion.

Additionally today I want to think on the many people who paved the way for his work, as well as supported him in his journey. The civil rights movement is something that had been building for years, and reached a boiling point with people such as Emmett Till and Rosa Parks, erupted right as King was becoming a pastor and was most active during his last 14 years. He was also supported by people such as Billy Graham, Mahalia Jackson, Jesse Jackson, and Thich Nhat Hanh, not to mention countless people who were never named but were present or supported in some way the many protests of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King didn’t do this alone. Yes, he was a charismatic man with big dreams, a captivating presence and the willingness to do what it took to get the attention that was necessary to finally create positive change. But he didn’t do it alone while he was alive, and because he died he couldn’t continue his work, others had to pick it up, and they did.

Maybe God has called you to be a voice, maybe God has called you to play a background role. There are no small roles, just people who aren’t content with the gifts God has given them. Today I encourage you to celebrate the opportunities God has given you to contribute to the Kingdom, however large or small, and be brave in honor of Dr. King’s life.

“The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!”” Matthew 3:3

Using Our God Given Senses

One of the big gifts that God has given us are our senses. I’m sure most people have done some experimenting to find out what it would be like without one sense or another, and I semi joked the other day that my taste buds may have deserted me because I couldn’t taste an apple. But it’s a serious thing when people are born without or lose one of their senses. Yes, people can learn to compensate, but it’s not easy and not something anyone really chooses to do, and not having a sense isn’t really something to joke about. The other day I read Matthew 13:16 ERV:

“But God has blessed you. You understand what you see with your eyes. And you understand what you hear with your ears.”

As great as our senses are, sometimes I think we forget to use them to their fullest, forget to use all of them together, or forget that we even have them, or take them for granted. This verse comes from one of the many stories about Jesus, and in this chapter of Matthew Jesus talks about the different people that are on the earth, some who are completely blind to God and can’t hear what He’s trying to say, and others who are able to see and hear what God is saying and doing in the world.

As much as it would have been nice if Jesus just said what He meant, He often used parables. Parables are a great tool because different people relate to the world differently and what one person may understand or relate to because of one parable, someone else won’t. They also might not understand or easily relate to or identify with what Jesus was trying to say if He just put it out there plain and simple. So Jesus used parables to give people as many opportunities as possible to understand what He was trying to teach them.

What about you? Are you able to see down to the heart of your life and what God is trying to tell you? Are you using all tools and senses at your disposal to make the most of your life and help others? Or are you in tunnel vision, denying the truth of life around you? Accept the blessing God has given you and use your senses to see the world around you, to see the truth about others and live the way that honors God.

A Faith Journey

When He left, Jesus gave the command to take the Good News into all the world. His time on earth showed that some people needed to rethink their idea of who was welcome into the kingdom, because Jesus did a really good job of turning them on their heads by eating with tax people, caring for those who were ill, and talking with those who had multiple husbands. God made sure the message got reinforced and shared after Jesus went back to heaven with Peter’s vision of the animals in the sheet (Acts 10-11) representing the welcoming of any nation who fears God and does right.

So it’s not a huge leap to get to the idea that anyone could get into heaven, as long as they’ve been forgiven of their sins, have a relationship with God and believe in Him. Which is why we should first and foremost be open and willing to tell whomever God puts in our path about the love that He has shown us, about how He has supported us, and how He cares for us. We should do the very best we can with each and every opportunity that God sends us, give them the care, respect and opportunity that each of us would want.

But there’s two other sides to this, neither are as hopeful. The first is the fact that you individually can’t save everyone. Even someone with the reach of a Billy Graham, Kirk Cameron, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, or Steven Furtick can’t save everyone, it’s why we are all called by the Great Commission. Sometimes we have to choose to save the one or two people that we can. The lesson applies to other areas of our lives; we should do our best and let God handle the rest. God knows the potential of that one person you may bring to God, you can only do your part.

The third side is a story that is seen in 3 of the 4 gospels (Matthew 10, Mark 6, Luke 9 and 10) and in Acts as well. It’s the recommendation of Jesus to shake the dust off your feet when you’re not welcomed in a home or town that you’re traveling through or bringing God’s message of peace to. Basically it’s suggesting to leave them to whatever fate they may have. Maybe that means years from now something will change, maybe it doesn’t, but according to these stories, it’s not our job to be overly concerned or focused on their future. Of course we can pray for them, but each person is ultimately responsible for their own future.

So this week I encourage you to walk with faith.  Do the best you can, live a life that honors God, share your faith and don’t let the negative take you down with it.

Time for Quiet

One of the things that Jesus didn’t have much of while He was on earth was quiet. Yes, there are some recorded moments of Him trying to find some quiet, but He wasn’t really here for much quiet time, He was here to share a message with others, and the primary way of sharing that message was through words. He did a great job sharing that message and inspiring people to continue spreading that message long after He was gone.

But what about those quiet moments? Jesus did have a couple, one of the more famous ones is the story of Jesus sleeping in a boat during a big storm in Matthew 8. The story goes that Jesus was taking a few moments to Himself to have a nap but when the storm burst upon them, His disciples were afraid so they woke Him, He calmed the storm and they were amazed.

If even Jesus needed naps and quiet moments, don’t we more so? Why have we let our society and lives get so focused on activity levels and productivity? Why don’t we include things like naps and/or quiet time as part of our regular schedules? Why do we have to work through lunch and eat at our desks? Why do we rarely have 2 minutes to ourselves?

Maybe it has to do with the fear of being left behind or not being good enough or missing out on important things. Some countries and businesses are doing research into schedules and numbers of work days in a week and productivity, and you may remember the book that came out several years ago that shared the possibility of having a 4 hour work week. I don’t know that all of us could manage or even want a 4 hour work week or a 4 day work week, but I do know that we need to find a better balance in our lives so that we can experience more peace and feel less rushed and pressured.

If Jesus can take a break, I think we all can as well. How will you begin to incorporate peace and relaxation into your life on a regular basis?

A Choice of Burdens

I read a quote recently that I think really lines up well with the Biblical passage of Matthew 11:28-30 but also sheds light on it. Let’s start with the Bible passage:

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.””

It’s a very well-known passage, one that is repeated and turned to during times of stress, fear, confusion, challenge and weakness, maybe one you yourself have said or read recently.  It’s one that we turn to because Jesus is clearly saying that although there will be burdens in life He is here to help us with them. Which is where the quote I mentioned comes in:

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” Lou Holtz

It’s very rare in life that we truly are out of option or that we have no choices. Typically we just can’t think of them or don’t like the ones that we can think of or see. But both the passage and the quote remind us to rethink that and be encouraged that the burden we bear doesn’t have to be the burden we see it as, and that there are options and hope, if only we would open our eyes.

Today I would encourage you to not only bring your current situations to God in prayer, but also take the time to really do your research and consider your options.  You’re only out of options and hope if you believe it is so or stop looking.  Maybe the one you’ve been avoiding is the answer.  Maybe it’s something you haven’t heard of before.  Maybe it’s something a friend has heard about and would be able to share with you if you share your burden with them.  Maybe today will be the day that brings hope back into your life.  But even if it isn’t, I know that God has everything under control and has a plan for everything, and He is here to carry your burdens with you.

The Party Before The Win

Today I have more of a question to think over with you than the usual reflections. I’m thinking about the fact that the celebration of Palm Sunday (which is happening this coming Sunday) comes before the sobering events of Good Friday which are followed by the celebration of Easter. How often do we celebrate before the sad event and after it? Why did it happen this way?

Let’s start with a bit of context and a timeline so we’re all on the same page. After being on earth for some 30 years, and doing public ministry for 3 years Jesus’ time on earth is wrapping up. In the Bible Palm Sunday (also known as the Triumphant Entry) happens less than a week before the Last Supper (the time of celebrating the Passover and the initial event of the Lord’s Supper) which comes right before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, which comes 3 days before His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. During Palm Sunday there was a large crowd that gathered and shouted “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord” while they spread garments and leafy branches on the road for the donkey to walk on that Jesus was riding on. Then a week or so later we get to Easter on which a few women find the tomb Jesus had been buried in empty, they have a brief encounter with Jesus and then they tell the apostles what had happened (Jesus eventually appears to them and others before going back to heaven some 40 days later).

So back to the question: why this big Palm Sunday celebration? It almost feels like you’re celebrating the winner of the big sports event of the year before the event is played. Maybe because God knew how much cover-up from the government there would be after the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, so there couldn’t be as public an event. Maybe because Easter was meant to be a more holy celebration and not a party. Maybe because Palm Sunday was for everyone but Easter is only for those who believe. Maybe because God enjoys a good celebration as much as we do and saw an opportunity to reveal (and celebrate) the truth. Maybe it was to just give Jesus the proper recognition of who He was.

I invite you to share your thoughts on the party before the party, and to remember to celebrate the King this Palm Sunday.

In the (Christmas) Beginning

This week begins the season of Advent which leads up to the birth of Christ.  While Jesus isn’t born each year, it’s still a special time to celebrate life and the amazing gift that He gave us when He came to earth.  You know, every story starts somewhere.  Usually it starts in the beginning.  So today I thought we’d talk about the least favorite beginning of the story of the birth of Jesus: the list of people in Matthew 1. I know, as a kid you probably skipped over the chapters you had to read in the Old Testament of people who were born, died or were just being counted. Endless lists of names don’t really seem to have a purpose, or do they?  So as I was thinking about this and about Christmas, it got me thinking.

The beginning is where people always start.  We can’t skip to the middle of the story of our lives, we have to start at the beginning.  And as Jesus’ story in Matthew reminds us, the beginning technically starts before our true beginning: someone had to come before you in order for you to exist and they had a story.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with history, mostly because some people have decided that the only way you can talk about history is to make it drier and more boring than an old wild west town during a dust storm.  The truth is that each and every period of history was exciting!  But it was only exciting if you knew where to look, talked with the right people or started looking for the stories behind the people of those times.  Jesus is no different: there are people with amazing stories who come before Him.  Those stories we’re familiar with: Ruth the courageous widow, David from shepherd to king, Josiah the boy king, and Zerubbabel of Nehemiah’s time just to name a few.

However, the truth is also that there are some people with stories in Jesus’ line who aren’t that great: like Ahaz and Manasseh.  Their less-than-stellar lives could lead some people to raise eyebrows or think less of Jesus (or anyone else who came after them).  Think about people in our time who look funny at you just because you’re related to a Kardashian or Cyrus?  But you cannot do anything about who came before you, just like you have no control over who comes after you.  Unless God decides to end the world, there will be people who come after you who may have things to say about your life.

My point today is very simple: everyone starts in the beginning.  How the story ends isn’t set in stone yet.  You’ve got the power to choose not only which ancestors you see as role models as well as where your life takes you.  Even better, just because your past is not so great it doesn’t mean that your future can’t be amazing.  In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says “Don’t think that I have come to destroy the Law of Moses or the teaching of the prophets. I have come not to destroy their teachings but to give full meaning to them.”  You can’t destroy the past, all you can do is create the future.  What will you do with your future?