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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and When Dreams Become Movements

Go see Selma. Angie and I caught it on Saturday night and were moved by its message. Be prepared for Lyndon Johnson’s profanity and some scenes that are shockingly violent. Both represent realities of the era. Here’s the trailer…

Dr. King has been an inspiration to me for a number of years because of his intense passion for seeing a world where color no longer divides humanity. One doesn’t have to read much of the New Testament to discover that this was certainly a priority of Jesus as well. His new Kingdom would be one in which “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28 NLT)

This verse, and plenty of others, aren’t about denying the physical realities of variances in our skin pigmentation or the anatomical differences between male and female. The bigger point is that when confronted with Christ, we must acknowledge the universality of certain characteristics on a spiritual level.

  • We are ALL created equal in worth and dignity, in God’s image.
  • We are ALL sinners in need of the redemptive grace of God.
  • We are ALL made acceptable to a holy God through the same Savior, Jesus.
  • We are ALL endowed with fresh, new life in Christ.

Unity is possible between God and man because of the cross where our sins were paid for. And unity is possible between people because of the cross as well. Yet, racial division still continues to exist and fester, even within the church. In my first pastorate, a leader was upset with me for printing a bulletin that had black children on it’s cover. His rationale was that “they have their churches and we have ours.” I managed to last an entire five months as their Pastor.

Dr. King’s dream was bold. It seems almost utopian to believe that the world can be so radically changed by the power of love and non-violence that equality would eventually be achieved. But Dr. King’s dream did indeed come to pass, at least institutionally. And while there are still deep crevices in the soil of our culture ethnically speaking, a younger generation has certainly shed much of the prejudices that existed in a previous one. We should continue to hope that Dr. King’s dream will continue to unfold.

We should learn some things from Dr. King about dreaming big, audacious, impossible dreams. But even more, we should learn the power of turning a dream into a movement. While a dream is a mental picture of what reality could look like, it takes even more guts, brains, and heart to lay out a plan and pursue it relentlessly.

Selma depicts several crucial aspects of the kind of movement Dr. King led. First, there was a willingness to speak up in spite of the silencing threats of enemies. His movement has a voice. His speeches changed America. Second, there was a willingness to organize, to involve an entire community of people by going door-to-door, holding meetings, and giving real instruction to people about the non-violent approach. And third, there was a willingness to march, and to keep marching and then to march some more while being pelted with rocks, beaten with clubs, and spat upon even by unknowing white adolescents.

Sometimes, to really love is to be willing to be hated and to keep moving anyway.

I long to see Dr. King’s movement continue, but even more, I long to see a movement of awakening people to the life- and world-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our nation, and almost every other nation in our world, needs to learn the lessons of love and equality. And this unifying, hatred-breaking power rests nowhere more than in the cross where Jesus died to reconcile us to God and to one another.

Dreams are vital, but movements make dreams come true.

Diversity Was God’s Idea to Begin With

Diversity and equality have been hot topics in the last decade of American life. We’re in the midst of various shifts in our culture surrounding these concepts, especially in relation to ethnicity and gender, and some of these shifts are good. When my family lived in southern California, we were ethnically not in the majority in our neighborhood, and we appreciated it greatly. Our church was home to people from dozens of ethnic backgrounds, and we loved that even more.

All of the tension between ethnicities as well as what we have termed the “battle of the sexes” is really our problem – it’s of human origin. What is of divine origin are the ideas of the beauty within diversity as well as the equality of all peoples whom God has created. Just peruse the first chapter of Genesis to see diversity on display.

Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind… God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals… So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

– Genesis 1:20, 25, 27 NLT

It was God’s intention that there be a veritable rainbow of sights to see in His wonderful creation. Did you know there are about 8.74 million species of animals and plants on earth? And inherent to the diversity with which God created all things are wrapped up two ideas we must hold in tension: unity and uniqueness. When we fail to value uniqueness, we esteem one ethnicity over another. And when we fail to value unity, we allow cultural wedges to divide us.

When it comes to the human race (there is only one “race” represented in many, many ethnicities), God made one particular distinction. We would be male, and we would be female. Gender is rooted in our pre-fall and pre-sin story. Men are men. Women are women. And there are three essential facts we often confuse and forget.

First, men and women are of equal worth and value to God. When we forget this, one gender tends to dominate the other in the culture. Second, women and men are designed to compliment each other, establishing the basis for marriage as one man and one woman in an equal partnership of mutual dependence. And finally, not all men are exactly like all other men, and not all women are exactly like other women. There is a vast diversity wired into our unique personalities and experiences.

Diversity and equality are God’s ideas. They are not the product of any particular cultural phenomenon, though we’ve certainly fought as a human race to rediscover them at various points along the way. Diversity and equality are rooted in the history of God’s handiwork and put on display for His glory. And what and awesome God He is proven to be by the canvas we see every day we spend on planet earth!

Make Disciples Out of Everybody, Without Limits

When I was a kid, we sang a sweet song that went Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Years later, I saw a different take on that song designed to point out our tendency to be ethnocentric. They edited the words to White and white and white and white, they are precious in His sight… And the point was proven. Sometimes, even passively or subconsciously, we hug the gospel to ourselves and never venture beyond the comfort zone of other people who look like us to share the good news.

Jesus had a different idea. When Jesus told His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations,” He wasn’t referring to geo-politically defined areas, like Russia or China. Rather He commissioned His church to go make disciples out of every ethnos, the Greek word from which we get the English word “ethnicity.” His command was to go to every people group on the planet and invite them to follow Jesus and include them as fully participating members of God’s family.

If you believe your own ethnic group is the best, or is in some way superior to others… or if you simply believe your ethnic group is somehow more deserving of the gospel than any other group, you have completely missed the point of the redemptive narrative of the Bible. God is actively gathering to Himself a people from every tribe, every tongue, and every ethnic group on the planet. And our work isn’t complete until we’ve made disciples of all of them.

One of the most frustrating aspects of ministry to me is figuring out how to crush ethnic and cultural barriers to bring people together from different backgrounds. I ache when I see a sea of white before me when I preach, especially since I live in a community with large populations of Hispanics and Asian-Americans. Heaven will be marvelously multi-colored and ethnically diverse, and I want my local church to reflect the diversity of its neighborhood.

That will only happen when 1.) we pray for it, 2.) we work for it by befriending people of every ethnicity, and 3.) we celebrate that kind of diversity on Sunday.

People of Every Color: You Must See Lee Daniels’ The Butler

The ButlerWhat have we done, and why would we do it? That’s the pair of questions that kept going through my mind as I sat in a theater in Rogers, Arkansas last night as we watched Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The synopsis is:

As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man’s life, family, and American society. (via IMDb)

I’ve always been a Forest Whitaker fan, and he out-shined all previous performances in his role as Cecil. Oprah was equally magnificent in her role as Cecil’s wife, Gloria. As far as movies go, it was stellar. The acting was superb, the storyline strong, and the emotions deep. It’s a must-see on that level, but it’s also a must-see on a deeper level.

I was born two and a half years after the fall of Saigon, which ended the Vietnam War. While that war happened over there, another war was taking place on American soil – a civil war of sorts, between ethnicities. History is replete with humankind’s inability to get along with each other, especially across ethnic and cultural boundaries, but as Whitaker (as Gaines) says in his narration, while we are shocked at the atrocities of the Nazi’s in the concentration camps of Europe, we tended to ignore the same plight domestically for large number of African-Americans.

People. Human beings. Who happened to have dark skin, were murdered, hung, burned, bombed, beaten, shot, falsely accused, jailed, tried, and executed for crimes such as hoping to be served a sandwich outside the “colored” section or riding near the front of a public bus. A few fought back in hate while many fought back with love and on a large scale, America has repented of its racist past. One of the sweet moments in the film is the reaction of Cecil and his family to the election of the nation’s first African-American President, Barack Obama. We’ve come a long way.

But…

Racism still exists. It exists in places where communities find creative and legal ways to sustain an informal version of segregation using private schools. It exists in churches that refuse to embrace members of every tribe, tongue, and nation (literally ethnicity). And it exists in the heart of anyone who minimizes and ignores the past conditions under which our ancestors placed their brothers and sisters.

And that’s why you need to see this movie. You need to be aware of the potential for evil of depraved humanity. You need to see, from the perspective of one who lived through it, what the civil rights movement was really like. You need to feel the emotion of one who is slapped, spat upon, and thrown in jail for sitting at a lunch counter ordering a sandwich.

And if you’re a Christian, you need to see your responsibility in the reconciling of all people to each other in Christ. It saddens me that Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in American life. It broke my heart the day a Deacon in one of my early pastorates looked with disgust at a picture of African-American children and proclaimed, “They have their churches, and we have ours.” And it stings when I hear the “N” word, with which I would have hoped my children would never become acquainted.

Remember that famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “I Have a Dream” speech?

I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.

His dream is being fulfilled in many ways, but for certain segments of American society (including the church, on the whole), it’s still a reality that lies slightly beyond our grasp. Unless we repent. Of our intentional arrogance. Of our willful ignorance. And of our unwillingness to openly receive the entire human family into God’s family, the church, with open and outstretched arms.

Everybody Belongs, Starting with You

Stained GlassEverybody belongs. When we say everybody, we mean every color, every shape, every personality, and people with every kind of story imaginable. Everyone belongs, even before they believe.

It’s sad that we have to expound on the word “everybody” to make sure people know that we mean everybody. This is the fourth core value of Grace Hills, and like the others, it is rooted both in our understanding of the biblical role of the church as well as our overarching passion for people whom Jesus loves.

Let me clarify my theology of the church by saying that it’s a word that refers to those who are called out from the culture to be an assembly of people who commonly identify with Jesus Christ and who celebrate baptism and communion together while fulfilling the Great Commission. In other words, in the technical definition of the word “church,” it refers to Christians. But…

The Christian Church is a family that is to be constantly adopting new family members. So everybody belongs under the care of, in relationship with, and under the influence of the church. The church should be that family that always has extra guests for Thanksgiving dinner.

Though it should be enough to say that everybody belongs without qualifying who everybody is, we’ve gone ahead and made it ultra-clear who can be under the care of our church family:

  • Every color. There is neither Jew nor Greek, in Christ. We want people from every ethnicity in our city represented in our church family. We don’t want people to sacrifice their culture, but rather to share it with us as we get to know and understand one another.
  • Every shape. Though we don’t actually mean this physically, it is true nonetheless – tall, short, thin, well-insulated – all shapes and sizes are welcome. But what we really mean is, people with different spiritual gifts, passions, abilities, and experiences.
  • Every personality. Happy-go-lucky people, grumpy people, and eccentric types are all welcome. We’re a pretty positive body of people, but we don’t require everyone to wear fake smiles and pretend to be someone else. You be you, and the real you belongs here!
  • People with every kind of story imaginable. Everybody has a story and a struggle. Some have been abused, others are addicted. Some have marriages that are falling apart or have been divorced once or thrice. Others have been addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography, or promiscuity. We’ve heard it all. We won’t let your story shock us, but we will pray that God’s grace will shock you.

Everybody belongs. God formed you for His family and He wants you to come home to Him and do life under His care as part of a community of people who are coming to know Jesus and serving others for the glory of God.

You belong. Yes you!


Also check out our recent “You Belong” video, produced by Nathan Wilson: