MLK Jr. – 5 Truths (Truth 5)

Truth 5: God is pleased with us when we try, even when it doesn’t end the way we would like.

I have to be honest, this is my favorite of the truths. I have a CD set of some of Dr. King’s most influential sermons and speeches. And this truth comes from a sermon near the end of the set. But, the first time I heard it, this sermon became my favorite. And by now I must have listened to it dozens of times.

The sermon is entitled “Unfulfilled Dreams” and was delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist church on March 3, 1968, just a month before King was assassinated. And his sermon immediately gets to the point,

          “I want to preach this morning from the subject: “Unfulfilled Dreams.” My text is taken from the eighth chapter of First Kings. Sometimes it’s overlooked. It is not one of the most familiar passages in the Old Testament. But I never will forget when I first came across it. It struck me as a passage having cosmic significance because it says so much in so few words about things that we all experience in life. David, as you know, was a great king. And the one thing that was foremost in David’s mind and in his heart was to build a great temple. The building of the temple was considered to be the most significant thing facing the Hebrew people, and the king was expected to bring this into being. David had the desire; he started.

           “And then we come to that passage over in the eighth chapter of First Kings, which reads, ‘And it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the Lord God of Israel. And the Lord said unto David my father, ‘Whereas it was in thine heart to build a house unto my name, thou didst well that it was within thine heart.’’ And that’s really what I want to talk about this morning: it is well that it was within thine heart. As if to say, ‘David, you will not be able to finish the temple. You will not be able to build it. But I just want to bless you, because it was within thine heart. Your dream will not be fulfilled. The majestic hopes that guided your days will not be carried out in terms of an actual temple coming into being that you were able to build. But I bless you, David, because it was within thine heart. You had the desire to do it; you had the intention to do it; you tried to do it; you started to do it. And I bless you for having the desire and the intention in your heart. It is well that it was within thine heart.’”

I am only 33, but I guess I am an old soul, because this greatly resonates with me. I have already come to the realization that there are so many grand schemes, so many idealistic notions, even so many plans we believe are inspired by God; that simply do not come to fruition. Whether it is because of a lack of resources or because we go from being single to married or from childless to parents or the neigh-sayers dissuade us  or our waning passion for what we once held dear or if life simply keeps going on day by day and we wake up one morning and realize we have done so little of what we had planned and dreamed.

You see, Dr. King had spent the last decade dreaming of and protesting for and speaking about a beloved community where all men would love and respect one another based simply on their being human, instead of judging them based simply on their simply being a different color. And while all seats on busses were now open to all people and lunch counters had been desegregated and anti-discrimination laws had been passed, King realized that changing ordinances was much easier than changing  a man’s heart. And in spite of all of the legal victories, America was still a very divided nation.

And not only this, but as King cried out for a peaceful war on poverty be waged here in America and for an American withdraw from Vietnam, he felt the stinging rejection of those who thought he was going too far. And for the first time in his public career, it was doubtful that  King held the support of a majority of Americans. And with the rise of a more militant black power movement and young charismatic leaders like Stokley Carmichael, it was even doubtful that he was still the most prominent leader in black America.

And it was with all of this weighing on his heart and mind that King went on in his sermon to call life “a continual story of shattered dreams.”

You might be thinking this is a strange truth for me to end with. Quite a depressing note to conclude with. But, you see, why I love this sermon and why I love this truth, is it doesn’t end with the fact that many of our greatest dreams will never be fulfilled. It doesn’t conclude with the reality that many of our best intentions to do majestic things for the Lord fall far short of what we intended. Instead, Dr. King goes on to reiterate that in the end God will bless us for the effort. God will bless us because we tried. God will bless us because He knows that in our heart we truly wanted to make that dream a reality, that deep down in our soul we truly wanted to fulfill His will for our lives. King goes on to say to his congregation,

          “And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.

          “Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: ‘It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It’s well that you are trying. You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. It’s well that it’s in thine heart.’”

And when we fight the good fight, when we keep on trying in this life to do the good work the Lord calls us to, even when we fall short, the Lord accepts us because we tried. And one day all will be made right. One day for all who have bowed their knee to Jesus Christ and proclaimed Him Lord and Savior, there will be no regrets. There will be no sorrow. There will be only the eternal love and acceptance of the Lord.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

As I conclude these 5 truths, I just want to quickly review these each of them. I also want to encourage you to pass on both these truths and others that you know about this great man, so that he might be known as more to the next generation than just the “guy who gave the I Have a Dream Speech and gets us a day out of school”:

Truth 1: Our lives are not our own to do with whatever we wish. We must follow the Lord’s calling and will for our life no matter where it takes us.

Truth 2: We can lean on the Lord’s promise that He is always with us to get us through the difficult trials of life.

Truth 3: Whatever we have to forgive others for and love them in spite of, we are forgiven of much more and God’s love is much greater.

Truth 4: We must do what we know is right, even when it leaves us alone. We must seek to shape other’s views, not be shaped by the most popular view of the time.

Truth 5: God is pleased with us when we try, even when it doesn’t end the way we would like.

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MLK Jr. – 5 Truths (Truth 4)

Truth 4: We must do what we know is right, even when it leaves us alone. We must seek to shape other’s views, not be shaped by the most popular view of the time.

As with any public figure, Dr. King’s popularity ebbed and flowed during his time in the spotlight. But there may have been nothing that caused him more criticism then when he took a stand in opposition to the Vietnam War. Some labeled him a communist. Those who already opposed him saw it as an opportunity to point the finger and say, “I told you so. We’ve been saying this guy is no good all along and this finally proves it.”

What might have hurt the most though, was that even many of those who supported him as a Civil Rights leader, even those who were in the movement with him, found fault with his going public in his criticism of America’s part in the war. They said he needed to stay in his own lane. Stick to what he knew. Others told him he was hurting the cause for equality for black Americans by speaking out against the war.

And King was one who liked to be liked. He was always the peace maker for SCLC. He kept an eye on polls that tracked his approval rating. King wanted others to think highly of him. Yet, when it came down to it, when push came to shove, he knew staying true to his conscience was more important than popularity. In November of 1967 King spoke on the domestic impact of the Vietnam War at the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace. And at the end of his speech he addressed the opposition he was facing.

          “When I first decided to take a firm stand against the war in Vietnam, I was subjected to the most bitter criticism, by the press, by individuals, and even by some fellow civil rights leaders. There were those who said that I should stay in my place, that these two issues did not mix and I should stick with civil rights. Well I had only one answer for that and it was simply the fact that I have struggled too long and too hard now to get rid of segregation in public accommodations to end up at this point in my life segregating my moral concerns.

          And I made it very clear that I recognized that justice was indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And then there are those who said ‘You’re hurting the civil right movement.’ One spoke to me one day and said, ‘Now Dr. King, don’t you think you’re going to have to agree more with the Administration’s policy. I understand that your position on Vietnam has hurt the budget of your organization. And many people who respected you in civil rights have lost that respect and don’t you think that you’re going to have to agree more with the Administration’s policy to regain this.’ And I had to answer by looking that person into the eye, and say ‘I’m sorry sir but you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader.’ I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of my organization or by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion. Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

          On some positions a coward has asked the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question is it right? And there come a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

As with the previous truths we have taken from Dr. King, this truth is founded in scripture. In the book of Acts the apostles are out preaching of the resurrected Christ. An angel comes and lets them out of prison and the apostles immediately go back to breaching in the temple. The high priests would have none of that and they send the captain of the temple and his officers to round up the apostles and bring them in. The high priests demands that the apostles stop teaching the name of Jesus. And in verse 29 of chapter 5, Peter gives his reply, “We must obey God rather than men.” Just for good measure the high priests had the apostles beaten and charged them one last time not to speak the name of Jesus before sending them away, to which verse 42 shows the apostles reaction, “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”

On the contrary, seeking the approval of man above God is one of the main points of emphasize in Jesus’ frequent scoldings of the Pharisees. John 15:42-43 says, “Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.”

There are times when we must take a stand for something we know will be unpopular because we know it to be right, and when we stand for what is right we obey God rather than man. It may cost us popularity, a friendship, some money, or even a job. But, these types of stands, ones that put our backs against the wall and even alienate us from others, are the ones that drive us deeper into the arms of the Lord. These stands are the ones that solidify and deepen our faith.

As Christians we know that in order to speak the name of Jesus and stand firm on the principals of God’s word, we will at times stand alone.

MLK Jr.- 5 Truths (Truth 3)

Truth 3: Whatever we have to forgive others for and love them in spite of, we are forgiven of much more and God’s love is much greater.

In Dr. King’s last Christmas sermon delivered in 1967 at his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta he said,

           “I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many   sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say:

           ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you….and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”

These are very powerful words coming from someone who had been imprisoned, threatened, physically assaulted and had his house bombed by people who hated him simply for the color of his skin. These words cary great weight coming from a man who delivered the eulogy at the funeral in Birmingham, Alabama for three out of four young African American girls murdered when a bomb went off during a church service at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. These words mean much coming from a man who lived out over a decade of his life just waiting for one of the thousands of death threats he received to become a reality.

And this may put some perspective on some of the people you or I find it difficult to love and be kind to. And it should make us reconsider some of the grudges we hold and forgiveness we refuse to give. How many relationships are ruined over seemingly trivial matters? And even those whom we despise for good reason, those whom have wronged us deeply, what good does this bitterness do?

As Dr. King pointed out, hate is a great burden. Our hate and lack of forgiveness causes far more harm to ourself than it possibly could  to the one whom we are angry with. I have heard it said that refusing to forgive is like drinking poison yourself and then hoping it will kill the one you hate.

And of course Dr. King’s belief in loving and forgiving others, no matter how they’ve wronged you is deeply rooted in Christ’s teachings. During Jesus’ sermon on the mount he instructs us to not only to love our friends, but to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Christ gave us the ultimate example of this teaching in his most agonizing moment. As he hung bloody, beaten and dying on the cross, Jesus asked the Lord to forgive the very ones who had driven the spikes through his hands and feet.

When we hold a grudge or withhold love from another, we must not forget to consider how great a debt we have been forgiven through Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. No matter how badly or how deeply someone has wronged us, the forgiveness the Lord has shown to us is exponentially greater than that which we must show another.

Jesus drives this point home when he tells the parable of a man who is forgiven by a ruler of a  $1,000,000 debt only to go out and find another man who owes him $100 and have him thrown in prison until he pays back the debt. When the ruler finds out about this, he takes the man whom he had forgiven of the enormous debt and has him thrown into prison to be tortured until he has paid his entire debt. And if there is any doubt of how serious Jesus is about this, he closes the parable by saying. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

Loving those who love us is easy. Forgiving those who apologize and show genuine remorse is natural. But both MLK Jr. and Jesus remind us that a Christ follower is called to love all, even those who treat him disgracefully; and to forgive all, even those whom do not seek nor deserve their forgiveness.

MLK Jr. – 5 Truths (Truth 2)

Truth 2: We can lean on the Lord’s promise that He is always with us to get us through the difficult trials of life.

It was the beginning of King’s rise as a Civil Rights leader. He had been thrust into his place in destiny when he emerged as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was now several months into this boycott that King and others had expected to only last a few days. King was weary. Since the boycott had begun, he had been receiving a steady flow of death threats over the phone and that night he had received a particularly nasty call. And to be quite honest, he was afraid. King, unable to go back to sleep after the call, sat at the kitchen table sipping a cup of coffee. As he sat at the table and prayed, the Lord came to King and reassured him that He would be with him always. And King hung onto this promise for the rest of the life. King recounts this moment in his book “Stride Toward Freedom.”

               “I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

               “The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.

               “At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’  Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

 

In an essay entitled “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Kitchen Table,” Catholic Priest Father John Dear writes of how King would continue to hold on to this moment at some of his most difficult times in life.

               Three days later a bomb blasted his house and his family escaped harm by a hairsbreadth. “Strangely enough,” King later wrote, “I accepted the word of the bombing calmly. My religious experience a few nights before had given me the strength to face it.”

               Exactly one year later, King awoke to find twelve sticks of dynamite on his front porch; the fuse had smoldered out. That morning he thanked God for the strength he had received one year earlier to carry out the struggle for justice, even in the face of ongoing danger. “You gave me a vision in the kitchen of my house,” King prayed, “and I am thankful for it….So I am not afraid of anybody this morning. Tell Montgomery they can keep shooting and I’m going to stand up to them. Tell Montgomery they can keep bombing and I’m going to stand up to them. If I had to die tomorrow morning, I would die happy because I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the promised land and it’s going to be here in Montgomery.”

               On April 3. 1968, the night before he was assassinated, King repeated the same claim of having seen the mountain top and the promised land. The strength he found to witness for justice and peace had its roots in that midnight experience of God at his kitchen table years before.

 

Most of us will not go through the same type of trials Dr. King faced, but we certainly will all face hardships of some sort. From the loss of loved ones to a serious medical diagnosis to the loss of a job to the day to day struggles we call life, we all face difficulties. And whether you have had an intense encounter of peace with the Divine as King did or not, the Lord speaks these same words of reassurance to all of us through His word.  Hebrews 13:5b-6 says:

(5) …God has said,

“Never will I leave you;

never will I forsake you.”

(6) So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.

What can mere mortals do to me?”

 

Psalms 16:9-11 give us more assurance, stating,

(9) Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure

(10) because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will let your faithful one see

decay.

(11) You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your

presence; with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

 

And Jesus Himself, after calling the disciples to the Great Commission, gives these final words before ascending to Heaven, “And surely I am with you always, to the very ends of the age.”

 

Dr. King held onto a promise that he was given in a very intimate experience with the Lord. It is a promise that we can all hold onto because the Lord gives us all the same promise in scripture.  The Lord is with us always! And in our times of great trouble, it is a truth that we must never forget.  

 

MLK Jr. – 5 Truths (Intro & Truth 1)

Introduction:

Sunday, January 15th was Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and my church hosted a community event in remembrance of this great man. And it was wonderful. It brought congregants from five different churches together, crossing both racial and denominational lines. That evening I stood in the sanctuary thinking how pleased the Lord was to see His people with different shades of skin, different backgrounds and different theological leanings all coming together to celebrate MLK Jr and what he stood for. At church that evening there was a focus on the fact that Dr. King was first and foremost a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And also a focus on his call for peace, equality, unity and brotherhood. All truths Dr. King eloquently vocalized in his most famous “I Have  a Dream” speech. And those ideas indeed still resonate today, just as they did nearly 55 years ago.

As I drove home from the service that evening, I felt blessed to have been a part of it; a part of a coming together that surely pleased the Lord and would have pleased Dr. King, himself. But, I also started to think to myself that there is so much more to this great man that I am afraid will soon be all but lost if we do not take the time to remember, especially at this time of the year, when we celebrate both the MLK Jr. holiday and Black History Month.

Twelve years ago when I graduated from college I took a job teaching on the west side of Baltimore. Needless to say, I did not look like most of my students, nor the residents of the neighborhood. And I felt is was important to learn about, and to try to understand at least a little bit of black history. As I began to read starting all the way back with the first Africans being brought to America as slaves and leading all the way up to current history, I became fascinated with the life of Dr. King and the entire Civil Rights movement.

Over these past twelve years, as I have read about this time period and MLK Jr. in particular, I learned that there is much to this man that does not typically ever get talked about, that all people, but especially those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ, could learn from. I would like to point out just a handful of these, as over the next week or so I will post five (of the many) important truths I think we can take from Dr. King; starting with Truth #1 today.

 

Truth 1: Our lives are not our own to do with whatever we wish. We must follow the Lord’s calling and will for our life no matter where it takes us.

In what is probably still the most thorough biography on Dr. King, “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” author David J. Garrow focuses in on Dr. King’s belief in this truth for his own life throughout the book. Dr. King did not feel like he had chosen his role as leader of the Civil Rights movement, but that it was his calling. In  fact, King himself said:

               “History has thrust me into this position. It would be both immoral and a sign of   ingratitude if I did not face my moral responsibility to do what I can in this struggle.”

You see, as the name of the book suggests, Dr. King saw his role in the struggle for equality as his cross to bear. He saw the suffering  he faced throughout his life as redemptive suffering. And he marched on as the drum major for justice, knowing that with every beat of the drum, his own death was not just a possibility, but a probability.

It was not a human calling, but it was his destiny. King was destined to lead the struggle for equality for Black Americans, and not only black Americans, but for all the impoverished and oppressed of America and even the world. MLK Jr. did not take Jesus’ words metaphorically, but literally when Jesus said:

               “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

We must learn from this truth, from the example of Dr. King and ultimately the example of our Savior. There are many times where we have an abundance of choices in our lives. Many situations where there are multiple good options. But there are also times in our life when we come to pivotal moments where it no longer becomes simply a choice, but it becomes a matter of answering the call of our destiny.

I’ve heard it called the “rich man moment,” referring to Luke chapter 18, when the rich young ruler comes to Jesus wanting to inherit eternal life. After affirming to Jesus that he has followed all the commandments, Jesus tells him that he still lacks one thing. He must sell everything he owns and give it to the poor and then indeed he will inherit eternal life. But, the young ruler just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t give up his wealth to truly say yes to Jesus.

And when we come to our “rich man moment,” as each of us inevitably will,there are not a lot of choices, in fact only two. Yes or no. And in this type of moment to say yes is simply right and to say no wrong. To say yes is to answer the Lord’s call for that moment in our life and to say no is to harden our hearts to His will.