Creative Extremists: Remembering MLK

As we pause to honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr, I want to share a quote I read to our church yesterday.  It’s from Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.  If you’ve never read the full letter, you owe it yourself to spend some time today with Dr. King’s words.  You can read the full letter online but this is the quote that struck me as I prepared for this past Sunday at Restoration City:

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Letter from Birmingham Jail

Our nation and our world are still in dire need of creative extremists.  So is the church.  Extremists for love, for justice, for equality, for grace, and for mercy.  Men and women who are willing to take Jesus seriously, even when He leads us well outside of our comfort zones.  Men and women who don’t settle for the cheap work of criticizing others but who do the real work of making something better.  Men and women who have found something bigger than self, something more joyful than comfort, and something more life giving than ease.  Men and women who don’t run from the world but run to the world with the name, grace, and resurrection power of Jesus. 

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.

Today I’m praying the Lord will raise up a new generation of creative extremists to meet the needs of our moment in history. 

Photo by Raffaele Nicolussi on Unsplash

Gratitude Increases Joy

But one of them, seeing that he was healed, returned and, with a loud voice, gave glory to God. He fell facedown at his feet, thanking him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Didn’t any return to give glory to God except this foreigner?”

Luke 17:15-18 (CSB)

In Luke 17, Jesus heals ten lepers. Each of the ten showed a lot of courage as they came to Jesus as a group and cried out for healing as a group. They also demonstrated a lot of faith in that Jesus didn’t heal any of them until they are already on their way to present themselves to the priests in the temple. But only one comes back to say thank you. Only one of them gets the best version of the story.

In my experience, it’s really easy to beat up on the other nine newly healed lepers as nothing more than a bunch of ungrateful degenerates. Jesus heals them and they can’t even be bothered to say thank you?!? But I don’t think they’re bad guys and I don’t even think they are unappreciative. I’m sure they were thrilled with what Jesus had done for them. So thrilled that they were at home kissing their wives or holding babies or hugging parents. Maybe they went off to play basketball with their friends for the first time in a while, to swim without shame, or to just stroll through the market without anybody caring. They’re not ungrateful, they’re just busy feasting, dancing, and laughing. Not bad guys. Just guys who missed something, something that would have only made their party better.

They missed the connection between gratitude and joy. Had they taken a few minutes to come back to Jesus, it would have made their celebration that much sweeter, the story that much better. Gratitude increases joy.

When it comes to our relationship with God, gratitude isn’t about proper manners or staying on His good side for the next time we need a miracle. Gratitude is about recognizing the grace behind the gift. It’s about saying, “You didn’t have to do this, I don’t deserve this, but I’m so thankful that you chose to do this. This only happened because of you.” Maybe that’s why the only one to come back to Jesus is a Samaritan, a foreigner, the one with the least right to expect anything from the Jewish Messiah. He was the one most able to see the grace behind the gift and he was the one who comes away as the real winner in the story.

As a final note, Jesus tells us that gratitude for grace is one of the main ways we glorify God. By saying thank you, this man was not only giving God the credit but also celebrating God’s character – He’s the kind of God who shows mercy to those who have no right to expect it.

I don’t want to live like the nine lepers who don’t come back, appreciative but entitled. I want to taste the joy that comes through grace and gratitude.

If you want to live with more joy, be intentional about living with more gratitude.

Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash

Making Space

We usually roll into this time of year poised to start some things – new rhythms, new habits, new projects around the house, new initiatives at work. At the very least, we think of the new year in terms of improving things – investing in our marriage, having more meaningful conversations with our friends, caring for our bodies, stewarding our finances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for all of that. I love this time of year with its sense of new beginnings, fresh starts, and renewed possibilities.

But we tend to overlook a crucial prerequisite to all of this starting and improving. Before we add, we need to subtract. That’s why I’m coming into 2023 wondering how I can create more space in my life for what really matters. For me, it’s easy to dream about a life filled with prayer walks, healthy eating, deep connection, and creativity. The hard part is creating the space I need to create that kind of life.

Let’s face it – none of us were all that bored in 2022. It’s not like we were sitting around with all kinds of unscheduled, undistracted, idle time and now that Christmas is over we’re finally getting around to doing something about it. We live in a world of tight schedules, limitless distractions, and physical exhaustion.

Making new years resolutions without first making space is an exercise in futility. Worse, it’s an exercise in cruelty – it’s like spending a weekend shopping for a new car that you absolutely cannot afford. Why fall in love with the vision of regular date nights, energizing workouts, and bonding around a fire pit when you’re already not keeping up with everything?

So, hold on to your thoughts, dreams, and plans for 2023. They’re important. In fact, I think those longings give you a pretty good sense of some of the work God wants to do in your life. But before you dive headlong into new plans, schedules, and activities, make some space.

That’s my prayer for us this January – make space for what matters.

Which means letting go of some of the things that really don’t. For me, making space really comes down to two things: screens and schedules. The life I want requires less time on email, YouTube, HGTV, and news websites. There’s no reason to talk about the books I want to read until I get some space from the screens I don’t want to watch. The life I want to lead doesn’t have space for unproductive meetings, constant availability, or saying yes to every request. That’s just me. You might need to make space in your finances, in your closet, in your kid’s schedules, in your social calendar, or in your social media usage.

Here’s the thing – I really want all of us to get to those hopes and dreams we’re holding on to or 2023. But they won’t happen if we don’t take the time to make some space first.

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash