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Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail

In light of Martin Luther King Day, I have posted in its entirety his letter written from a jail in Birmingham. I openly acknowledge as a biblical theologian that there are significant grounds of contention one can justly hold against Dr. King.  Perhaps I'll address those in a post on another day. For now let it suffice to say for the record that I disagree with his liberal theological bent. With that being stated, I however, firmly believe that his Birmingham letter is as profound and significant contribution to our nation as anything that has ever been authored by an American of any period and for any cause. 

The context of Dr. King's letter is as follows: It was a response to a published statement by several white clergyman titled "A Call for Unity." They reproved Dr. King's efforts in Birmingham to bring integration. They specifically questioned what seemed to them to be "extreme measures" taken by Dr. King. Here is Dr. King's response written from a jail in Birmingham after he had been arrested during a peaceful demonstration. The typographical errors are from the original and have not been corrected. 

April 16, 1963


While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I. compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Meet the Founder of the Legacy Institute—Brian Dye

Mark your calendars. On April 9th 2011, the Legacy Institute is coming to Los Angeles. Birthed in Chicago to impact urban youth and young adults, God is transforming the Legacy Conference into a nationwide movement drawing together Bible-centered urban leaders to awaken our young people with an uncompromising passion for Christ and biblical discipleship.

Here is a video clip of the founder Brian Dye and his wife Heidi. After you see it, you'll know why I posted it. God can reach our urban communities. He has the plan to impact our urban community. He alone has the power to transform our urban communities. The only question is: who will trust God enough to go? When confronted with the holiness, power, and grace of God, Isaiah said, "Here am I. Send me!" What will you say? Here's Brian and Heidi's answer. I think it will inspire you.

Click here for more information about Legacy and the upcoming April LA Legacy Institute Conference.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pray This for Your Children

Last Sunday, I preached my annual state of the church address. As one of my main points, I emphasized the need for our church to pray more. Then on Tuesday morning, I was emailed a post written by Dr. Greg Harris. Greg is the author of a series of Glory Books, the pastor of Lake Hills Community Church, and a Professor of Bible Exposition at The Master’s Seminary. You can find his works here at Glory Books Ministry.

Back to his blog. When I read it, I immediately thanked God for sending it to me. It ministered to me as a timely word to a father of six who desires to pray more effectively for his children. It instructed me with sagely wisdom in how to lead the saints to be faithful advocates before the throne of grace for their children. It gave strength to a weary warrior needing the hope of the promise of prayer for the children in his church. I pray now that it will minister to you.

I again thank God for Dr. Harris and for his gracious consent to let me share his post with you. The remaining words in this post are from Dr. Harris.

“I Pray This For My Children”
by Greg Harris
Copyright 2010

            The Bible clearly shows that parents during Jesus’ earthly ministry wanted Jesus to bless their children: “Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ And after laying His hands on them, He departed from there” (Matt. 19:13-15). Nothing has changed other than Jesus not being currently visible (1 Pet. 1:8); we still want—and so desperately need—Jesus to bless our children. This shows both our continuous looking to Him and the realization of our vastly limited capacities as parents.

As with most items related to discipleship—and parenting as Christians most definitely is a God-ordain and commanded aspect of discipleship (Eph. 6:1-4), I have learned there is much more to Jesus blessing Betsy and my children than merely asking Him to do so. Of course, asking Jesus to bless our children is not bad in and of itself—only quite limited.

For instance, when our children were younger, they would frequently accompany me many places I went, including the seminary where I taught. I was asked dozens of times, “How do you get them to do that? How do you get kids at the age be so well-behaved and be such a blessing?” Always the answer from the heart would be, “Betsy and I are not perfect parents, and our children are not perfect children.” Often people would not believe that based on the scenario they saw before them. We most certainly did see God’s blessing on our children, but we knew they were still quite young and had not at that time yet faced the teenage and adult years with all the temptations and snares and dangers before them (Prov. 1–9). While seeing God’s hand of blessing, I realized the battle was only just beginning for us—and at times it was indeed a battle, and a very intense one at that, as both the world and the evil one actively worked to attract them to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16).

 Part of the answer I gave people who asked me about raising our children would be that we repeatedly prayed for them and tried to raise them as God would have us do, especially as shown in Scripture. Even then, Betsy and I knew we were not in full control; you cannot save your own children; you cannot live their lives for them. We would stand on the sideline and actively watch as our children walked with God, or, in one case, not walk with Him for a prolonged period. I have been both the Prodigal Son and the father of a prodigal—and by the sheer grace of God and by no means a given—I have been the rejoicing father of a prodigal who has returned to the Lord.

Then following along the lines of “The Cup” chapter question repeated in The Cup and the Glory of “What do you pray for . . . when you pray?” would repeatedly come a similar question by many, especially from younger parents: “What do you pray for your children when you pray for them?” I have also been asked this question dozens of times.
Below is the answer for some of the prayers prayed for our children. It is not that my answers are exhaustive, nor does it mean that each element had to be prayed in every prayer session. Also, seasons of life necessitate changed elements within the prayer. But here is what I pray/prayed for my children:

I pray . . .
—as a child to my heavenly Father before praying as a father for my own children (1 Peter 1:17).
—for my own walk with God (Eph 4-6) before I pray for their walk; it starts with me, not with them. 
—for my wife Betsy’s walk with God (singular) and ours collectively as husband and wife.

Any true ministry (and parenting most certainly is a ministry, and an incredibly responsible ministry at that) is merely an extension of your walk with the Lord (or lack thereof). And though we fail miserably at this at times, I pray that our children will see Betsy and my relationship with God (Eph. 5:22-33)—although obviously imperfect—will be a natural carryover to our working with them (Eph. 6:1-4). 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Rev. Jesse Jackson That's Not What Christmas is All About

A very discerning friend shared this article with me a couple of days ago. It represents the type of thinking that urban Christians really need to start rethinking. I have included the entire article, and my response below it. 

Jackson Shares Views on Christians and Christmas
The Los Angeles Sentinel - Dec 29, 2010 at 11:51 PM
© The Los Angeles Sentinel

Here's the article.

By Cora Jackson-Fossett
Sentinel Religion Editor

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson is urging Christians to explore the real meaning of Christmas and take action to improve conditions in Urban America.

He delivered the passionate message on December 20 during a visit with the editors of the L.A. Sentinel as he prepared for convening an Economic Summit in New York City in January.

"I see more and more people going to church, but that doesn't mean more people have faith and substance.  During this season, so many of us are worshipping Santa, not Christ," said Rev. Jackson. 

"Christmas has nothing to do with Santa Claus, the culture of St. Nicholas, reindeer and electric lights. Christmas is about a people, who are oppressed under Roman government, looking forward to an Emancipator - a kind of Martin Luther King or Caesar Chavez, upon whom shoulders governments will rest.  An Emancipator who will help the poor, delivers the needy, and heals the brokenhearted."

Comparing the main figures of the Christmas story with today's times, Rev. Jackson described Mary as a freedom fighter. "When Herod sought kill all the first-born, Mary didn't submit. She and Joseph went to Egypt and made Jesus a refugee until He was 12.  Jesus grew up poor, under Roman oppression.  Today, 45 million Americans are in poverty.  How do we treat that? Jesus was an at-risk child. How do we treat at-risk children today?"

Rev. Jackson recommended that congregations mobilize and work together to fight oppression.  "Churches must act en mass, fighting the Herods of our times and Roman governments of our times until righteousness and justice come. 

"In the past, ministers were revolutionaries fighting injustice. They fought illegal segregation with Dr. King and marched to fight for the right to vote.  But our mission is not accomplished because in many areas, businesses are closed, houses are in foreclosure, and we seemed to have adjusted rather than fight back."

Explaining that people who are oppressed must not adjust or get comfortable, Rev. Jackson said, "One thing works in slavery and that's adjusting. Instead, we need a plan for reconstruction of urban America. Until there is some plan, we must be restless about unemployment, about housing, and about more black boys in prison than in colleges."

Rev. Jackson concluded by urging Christians not to become only admirers of the cross of Jesus Christ.  "Jesus said to follow Him, pick up the cross. Believers must pick up the cross to fight for justice, peace, fairness, equality.  We must not have silence from the pulpit during these times.  We must have hope and substance to survive these times."''

Here's what the Bible says:

I couldn't agree with Rev. Jackson more that "Christmas has nothing to do with Santa Claus, the culture of St. Nicholas, reindeer and electric lights." But when Rev. Jackson say Jesus was "An Emancipator (like Martin Luther King and Caesar Chavez) who will help the poor, delivers the needy, and heals the brokenhearted," I scratched my head and asked, "Doesn't Rev. Jackson know that Jesus was much more than a social-economic emancipator?"

John the Baptist, whom God sent to announce Jesus' ministry, called Jesus, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" The writer of Hebrews elaborates, "...when He comes into the world, He says, 'SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME;' Hebrews 10:5. Luke grapples with the indescribable nature of Jesus' advent and purpose with the words "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood."

These biblical passages are proclaiming that Christmas is announcing the historical miracle when God became a man in order to liberate us from our sins by dying for our sins. Amazing, isn't it? But that's the meaning of Christmas. In order to save mankind from our sins, God became a man, and He became a man in order to die in place of man.

With all due respect to Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez and their amazing lives, Jesus is more amazing. His work is greater, and He has no parallel in human history. He is God, and history is His story. That is the substance of the Christian faith. Sadly, it is true that many who attend churches don't possess the reality of a faith in Jesus as the God-man who died to save them from their sin.  Yet for all those who know the real meaning of Christmas, they live for Jesus and daily bear their cross to die to this world. True Christians know that because Jesus died for their sins, when they die they will live with Jesus, the King of Kings, forever. Real pastors aren't political revolutionaries (John 18:33-36). They preach the Gospel which is the power of God to rescue sinners from their sin, Satan, and death. They don't fight against flesh and blood (political parties); they wage war against rulers, against world forces of this darkness (Eph 6:10ff). 

My plea to the urban church is that we stop confusing politicians wearing spiritual titles with reverends. Politicians have their place, but they are not substitutes for real spiritual leaders and what they say should never ever be confused with the preaching of the cross of Christ (especially when they distort the Scriptures by ripping them out of context to fit their political agendas). When we get this straight maybe we will see merrier Christmases in our community.

John Piper’s Report on His Leave of Absence

Like many of you, I was stunned by Piper's announcement 8 months ago that he was going on a sabbatical for the rest of the year. In a very discreet way, he confessed that he needed to work through spiritual concerns in his life, marriage, and ministry. This announcement came on the heels of a conference in LA that I helped to organize where Piper preached to a group of urban pastors. His sermon "What is the Bottom of Your Joy?" was the most spiritually nourishing meal that I had all year. It stirred my soul. I blogged about it here. I was also thoroughly impacted by the godly force of his character in our private time driving from the airport. He was in every sense the man of God that I thought he would be.
Then I heard the announcement. Stunned is the word I used earlier, but I should add fearful as well. I was fearful not only for Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Chuch, but I was fearful for my own soul. His announcement turned my eyes not to him, but to my own life and failings. I wondered deeply if I needed to step back for a while and earnestly seek God's help to purge my soul of my besetting sins. I felt compelled to respond to his announcement since I had just hosted him to speak and had just introduced him for the first time to pastors in LA working in our minority communities. As I started to gather my thoughts, I came across a post by Voddie Baucham. In it, he said everything that I had in my heart to say. He graciously allowed me to post his piece as a guest blogger on my site. It is rich. You can read it here. In his post, Voddie encouraged us to pray for Piper during his sabbatical, and I did. And today I was deeply relieved to learn that he is returning back to his preaching shepherding ministry as an enriched man. I won't steal his thunder. I'll let you read about Piper's time away in his own words. I hope it blesses you the way it blessed me.

John Piper’s Report on His Leave of Absence: "John Piper’s Report on His Leave of Absence from the Desiring God blog."