Throughout my life I have often found spiritual role models through reading. Men and women who were flawed but despite their flaws strove to do the will that God had clearly placed on their lives. One of those who had a huge impact on me was Martin Luther King, Jr. Like most kids, I first learned about him in school and it filled me with questions about the prejudices of the past but, over the years, has made me take a closer look at those that are deep down within me and, when they pop up, disturb me for being there. When such thoughts do crop up they remind me of how sin is so rooted in man. Two books that had a profound impact on me were Martin Luther King, Jr's autobiography and A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Both revealed to me a man who truly sought after God and to live his life in the manner that Christ had called us: one of love, mercy, truth, grace, and justice.
In a culture that is too consumed with entertainers and athletes, we have too many celebrities and too little men and women of conviction. In our society where we hear the slogan "Black Lives Matter" and we need to confront that all lives matter and we will not see whoever our "other" is in that manner until we face that all are made in the image of God. As the Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who marched with Dr. King, once wrote:
We must never be oblivious of the equality of divine dignity of all men.
The image of God is in the criminal as well as the saint . . .
The basic dignity of man is not made up in his achievements,
virtues, or special talents. It is inherent in his very being.
Both Heschel and King understood this in their core being. How much would our society, our culture, our world be changed if all of us saw each other that way? What if we saw that each person is not ordinary, but a divinely created being that reflects his or her Creator? We would approach issues like poverty and injustice not as political issues but as matters that affect our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers wherever they were in the world. Everyone has worth not because of their standing in society, their affluence, their power but by the fact that they were created in the image of God.
As children we sang this in Sunday school, "Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight . . ." We sang it, but have we honestly lived it?
Believers are called to be salt and light in this world. Dr. King took this literally. His life lived this out. He gave his life for it. As he said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." These are words we will not hear on Fox News, MSNBC or in mainstream media that is fueled by distrust, fear, hostility, and drawing lines in the sand of "Either you're with us or against us."
Martin Luther King, Jr. like Old Testament prophets and Jesus Christ, rose up in his culture to speak words of compassion, truth, justice, and faith. He encouraged the broken in spirit while railing against those who worked to burden them with the shackles of injustice and hatred.
As I have blogged, this is a year in which I am called to "Live bravely. Love fiercely." One of the examples that I look to is Martin Luther King, Jr. His life personifies both of these things. His words and actions both lived this out daily and he understood that such love and courage flowed out of one source: God. "Every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God," he said. His letters, his journals, his speeches, his autobiography reveal his theology. He lived what he preached.
He was a man of courage, who understood that true courage is rooted in love, peace, and God. He understood that social justice was not a political issue, but a biblical principle. I wish the world was full of more men and women like him. Men and women don't just read scriptures but live them out in this broken world to bring about healing.
"Courage is an inner resolution to forward despite obstacles;
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity;
Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Coward asks 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 comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right."
Those words are words that I want to live out and to teach my sons to live out in their lives. They need to see the truth of his words that, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Those are not easy words to live by, but Christ has not called us to an easy, comfortable life. Dr. King knew this. Like a true disciple of Christ, he denied himself, took up his cross, and followed his Savior to the point of losing his life.
Martin Luther King, Jr's life and legacy must be more than one day to think about his "I Have A Dream" speech. No, we must take up the message of love, forgiveness, and justice because these are all a part of the character of our Creator who made us in His image and wants to remake us in His character through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Tomorrow, when so many will stop to remember the remarkable legacy and words of this man, we need to do more. As Christians, we need to " ... move into the sometimes hostile world armed with the revolutionary Gospel of Jesus Christ. With this powerful gospel we shall boldly challenge the status quo . . . By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists . . . Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit."