Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Dream Made Possible at Easter: Remembering the Death of Another King

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wikimedia
This post originally appeared on April 3, 2010, the day before Easter, on the now-defunct Examiner.com. I thought today, the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, would be an appropriate time to share it here. 

Forty-two years tomorrow, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed at the prime of his life in Memphis, Tennessee.

“Shattered dreams,” a sermon King wrote as he sat in a Georgian jail cell, begins by recalling the Apostle Paul’s desire to bring the Gospel to Spain. Paul’s life had ended in martyrdom at Rome, and it is assumed by most Bible scholars that he never made it to Spain. Paul’s experiences, in many ways, seem to foreshadow what happened to King. While King lived to see the legal end of desegregation, the “promised land” of integration still faced a long, turbulent struggle.

King made at least two appearances in northern Indiana during the 1960’s. In October of 1963, he gave a lecture entitled ‘Facing the Challenge of a New Age” to the Citizens' Civic Planning Committee in South Bend. In 1960, just a few days after the famous march on Montgomery, he spoke at Goshen College.

Several years before his death, the famous pastor put together an anthology, Strength to Love, which consists of fourteen of his sermons and a updated version of the autobiographical article “Pilgrimage to nonviolence.” This final chapter in the book traces King’s journey from a young man of privilege “raised in a rather strict fundamentalist tradition,” (p. 146) through the embracing of Liberalism during his education, to a more moderate position as he became involved in the civil rights movement.

What is most striking through the book is King’s deep faith. Some have doubted whether the man was a “true Christian,” but it is hard to imagine even conservative evangelicals coming to that conclusion after reading this book. Staunch Calvinists may balk at much of what King has to say, but those of us who still believe in Free Will will find little to quibble over theologically.

King’s faith in God and emphasis on love is refreshing in the current political climate where both sides of the political fence, while often evoking God’s name, also seem to be intent on spreading vitriol. King sought to open up dialogs through peaceful demonstrations, entreating what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” Too often today’s rhetoric shuts down dialog by appealing to our baser instincts, such as bigotry, hatred, and fear.

King’s ideals went beyond bringing about change through nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. He knew that what the nation needed was not just a change of laws, but a change of heart. This is why he rejected the Communist model. While Communism’s ideal of a society of equals where everyone’s needs are met is laudable, the means by which it sought to accomplish this were the antithesis of Christianity. Communism was based on a materialistic philosophy which leaves out God. Change was forced on the community, with “the ends justifying the means,” and the ultimate value is in the state, not the people.

However, there is also a danger in capitalism with its ultimate in the profit motive. As King points out (p. 103-04),

Capitalism may lead to a practical materialism that is as pernicious as the theoretical materialism taught by Communism.
We must honestly recognize that truth is not found in traditional capitalism or in Marxism. Each represents a partial truth. Historically, capitalism failed to discern the truth in collective enterprise and Marxism failed to see the truth in individual enterprise. Nineteenth-century capitalism failed to appreciate that life is social and Marxism failed, and still fails, to see that life is individual and social. The Kingdom of God is neither the thesis of individual enterprise nor the antithesis of collective enterprise, but a synthesis which reconciles the truth of both.

The answer is not to be found in a political philosophy, but a change of heart. King was interested in more than forced legal integration, but a transformation of our characters as we cooperate with God, allowing him to change us from the inside out.

Evil can be cast out, not by man alone nor by a dictatorial God who invades our lives, but when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter. ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ God is too courteous to break open the door, but when we open it in faith believing, a divine and human confrontation will transform our sin-ruined lives into radiant personalities. (p.126)


Tomorrow we remember the death of a great leader who was a catalyst for social change in America. He would also have us remember the life, death, and resurrection of the one who stands at the door of our hearts inviting us to let him in. It is only then that the ideals which Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed and talked about can become a reality.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

C S Lewis, Easter, and the Dramatization of Christ

A version of the following first appeared in this blog in November of 2008. It was re-worked as an Examiner.com article in 2010. I thought this Easter was a good time to reproduce this version. (Examiner.com is no longer in existence, and all its contents have been removed from the internet.)

It has been said that C S Lewis, the famous author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, and dozens of other works, read The Man Born to Be King every Easter.


Dorothy L. Sayers, who was an acquaintance of C S Lewis, is probably most famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series. She was also a writer of “religious” plays and other works with theological themes. In a time and place where representing any member of the Trinity on stage had been illegal (See Sayers’ Introduction, p. 17.),The Man Born to Be King, a BBC radio series which dramatized the life of Jesus Christ, was groundbreaking.

The twelve-part “Play-Cycle” was aired in Britain during World War Two from December 1941 through October 1942. The series was so popular that a book of the plays, including all of the director’s notes, was published in 1943. In the Foreword to that book, J. W. Welch, the Director of Religious Broadcasting of the BBC, commented (page 12):

The minimum duty of religious broadcasting to those outside the churches is to say: “Listen: This is the truth about the world, and life, and you”. But how were we to say it so people would listen? Conventional church services and religious talks were of little avail. Obviously, something new was needed.

The archaic language of the Authorized King James version of the Bible had long been a hindrance to people understanding the reality of which it speaks. While using the King James verbiage in the introductory narratives, Sayers put the dialogue in the language and dialects of mid-20th-century England. Although criticized by much of the religious community for the “liberties” she took, she connected with the people.

Before there were books, God’s Truth was spread by word of mouth. After the invention of writing, God instructed his followers to record his teachings in written form. These scriptures were collected and compiled into a book that became known as the Bible. The invention of the printing press made it possible for more and more common people to have their own copy of God's Message. We are now in a time when communication has come to the point where video can be transported around the world in an instant by satellite and the Internet. Certainly God is using modern technology to reveal himself to the world.

Scripture tells us Jesus was the “exact representation” of God while he was on earth (Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV). His life dramatized in a visible way what God is like. That is not to say that radio plays or movies about the life of Christ have the same weight as the inspired scriptures. The Bible is the final authority. But the Truth of scripture is not dead dogma; it is “alive and powerful” (Hebrew 4:12), and should be presented as such to the world.

As we seek to dramatize the deity through modern technology, we must remember to present Truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Part of that love is conveying Christ in a language and manner that will resonate with the common man, woman and child. Presenting the drama of Christ's life – whether in a simple Easter pageant at a local church, or an elaborate screen play – is one way the Church can resonate the message of Christ.

The Man Born to be King was reprinted as recently as 1990 by Ignatius Press. Used copies are available on Amazon.com and other online resources. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Letting Scabs Heal

Healing Scab
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b2/Scab.jpg
The following was posted as a status update on Facebook April 30, 2012. It well describes what I believe God is doing with me at the present moment. Trying hard not to pick at the scab.

I was thinking today about scabs. No, not those who cross picket lines, but that crusty stuff that forms over a wound. Our tendency is to try to remove that scab before its time. We don't like that ugly, itchy patch of clotted blood, and want it to go away.

But scabs indicate that healing is taking place underneath. It is needed to cover the wound until the body has completed the job of healing.

When we are wounded emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually, healing takes time. Remember that Jesus did not always heal people immediately; sometimes there was a process involved. (Mark 8:22-25) We like to try to force the process to an early completion, but, like picking at a scab, our efforts can end up making things worse and hamper what God is trying to do.

Even after the scab has loosened and the wound has healed, there is often a permanent scar. Scars can be a reminder not to repeat stupid behavior so an accident is not repeated.

Scars can also be an indication that something good has been done to you. Those of us over 45 or so have a vaccination scar from when we were inoculated against smallpox. The healthcare professional who gave us the injection didn't do it because she wanted us to have an ugly mark on our shoulder. She did it in order to prevent a fatal disease.

God sometimes allows us to be scarred for our own good. He allows certain circumstances into our lives because He is trying to lead us in a certain direction which will avoid greater heartache, because He wants to create an empathetic spirit within us... or for a myriad of other reasons that might never become apparent to us.

Is it obvious that there is a "scab" or "scar" in your life? Be patient. Let God use it for the purpose for which He allowed it.

"Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves... and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." Romans 8:26-28 in The Message

Monday, January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King and racial intolerance

The following post was published on the new-defunct Examiner.com on this date in 2010. I reproduce it here for posterity, for whatever it's worth.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wikimedia

Although Friday, January 15, 2010, was actually the 81st anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth, the official holiday will be observed throughout the United States Monday. The South Bend Tribune lists a variety of activities which will mark the occasion.

The activities include free admission to South Bend’s Center for History, which will show three films from the 1960’s with racial themes:

10:00 a.m. – To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
12:30 p.m. – A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
3:00  p.m. – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Even as we remember his birth, there is a debate about whether King was a true Christian and believed the Bible. There has been talk for years about his moral lapses. (See The 'Truth' About Martin Luther King.) But who of us is without sin?

One website has an article which purports to show King’s doctrinal position was heretical. It quotes two papers written while King was attending Crozer Theological Seminary. Although the contents of these papers would cause most conservative Christians concern, it must be remembered that these were written when he was a young college student, and do not necessarily reflect his beliefs as he got older.

On the contrary, an article by Charles Gilmer on EveryStudent.com indicates King had a very high regard for the Bible and its teachings. Gilmer points out that the civil rights activist did not teach racial “tolerance,” which is often based on moral relativism, but love.

 “At the center of the Christian faith is the affirmation that there is a God in the universe who is the ground and essence of all reality. A Being of infinite love and boundless power, God is the creator, sustainer, and conserver of values....In contrast to the ethical relativism of [totalitarianism], Christianity sets forth a system of absolute moral values and affirms that God has placed within the very structure of this universe certain moral principles that are fixed and immutable.”
 ….
 “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (Strength to Love, p. 51) [Cited by Gilmer.]

That Martin Luther King understood the message of the Gospel is clear in another passage quoted in the article.

 "Evil can be cast out, not by man alone nor by a dictatorial God who invades our lives, but when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter. 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' God is too courteous to break open the door, but when we open it in faith believing, a divine and human confrontation will transform our sin-ruined lives into radiant personalities." (Strength to Love, p. 126)


As we remember Martin Luther King this weekend, remember these words. He was not striving for us to just “tolerate” each other, but to let God’s love transform us so that we would truly love one another.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Treasures of snow from God's storehouse

Where I live, 2017 has come in with most of the snow cover melting, and there are prospects for only light snow this coming week. 2010 was a bit different, and I wrote this piece for Examiner.com "inspired" by the weather. Although I probably would have gone a different direction if I had written this today (even if we currently had heavy snow), the themes of God's provision and providence are still near to my heart. 
Photo by Mark Sommer

Many places in Michiana have already seen close to a foot of snow since the New Year rang in, and there is still more lake effect snow on its way. This area had been spared much of the wintry weather this season, but, if the weather forecast is even close to being correct, there is plenty more to come this week.

Although snow can be a nuisance, there is also a beauty about it that cannot be denied. And in the land of the Bible, mountain snows can bring refreshment as they melt and form streams which provide water for thirty plants, animals and people.

In Proverbs 25:13, the refreshment of snow is compared to a faithful messenger.

Like the cold of snow in time of harvest
Is a faithful messenger to those who send him,
For he refreshes the soul of his masters. (NKJV)

To appreciate this verse, the reader needs to understand something about messengers, and the harvest, in Bible times.

If you needed to get an important message to someone, you couldn't just pull your cell phone out of your pocket, or send an e-mail, or use a phone. You couldn’t even put a letter in a mailbox. You would have to send someone you trust to deliver the message in person.

The harvest time was the hottest and driest part of the year, so the reference to snow pictures quite a contrast. Some scholars interpret the reference to “the cold of snow” as meaning cold water from a snow-fed stream. Thus the American Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version translation of this verse:

A messenger you can trust is just as refreshing as cool water in summer.

Winter snow was designed by God to give refreshment to us during the rest of the year. It melts in spring, giving added moisture to the soil. Snow-fed streams provide water throughout the year.

God’s ability to control the weather is a major theme of Job 38, where God answers Job’s complaints about how he was being treated. Verse 22 talks about the “treasury of snow” – a figure of speech used to show how God in his wisdom reserves the snows for the time which will suit his purposes. The whole point is that God knows how and when to direct the forces of nature. We often do not understand what he is doing, but his wisdom always assures that the timing of the weather is always for the best.

If we are to live biblical lives, we need to trust that God knows what he is doing even when we don’t understand. That is much of what faith is all about. His wisdom and understanding is beyond description. Remember that as you shovel out your car for the umpteenth time this week.


The verse in Job about the “treasury of snow” was part of the inspiration for the song Indescribable by Chris Tomlin. A video of that song with the lyrics is available on YouTube. Take some take to listen and reflect on God’s wisdom and power.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fighting over Christmas and missing its meaning

I originally posted this to the now-defunct Examiner.com seven years ago today. The supposed "War on Christmas" debate continues to this day. Donald Trump declared recently that we are going to hear "Merry Christmas" in stores again. My thoughts on the subject are pretty much the same today as they were in 2009. Why are so many obsessed with political power instead of spreading goodwill?  


Blessed are the Peacemakers Wikimedia
You find it in Examiner.com articles, message boards, e-mails, and all over the blogosphere: “Don’t say ‘Happy Holidays,’ say 'Merry Christmas.’" We are being told that there is a “War on Christmas,” and it is implied that people are trying to undermine Christmas by using the generic phrase.

But using the phrase "Happy Holidays" does not necessarily mean the well-wisher is consciously avoiding the term "Christmas." The generic greeting is, first and foremost, shorthand for "Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." And when we talk about the "Holiday Season" in today's culture we are usually including Thanksgiving as well.

Not everyone who says "Happy Holidays" or "Holiday Season" has insidious motives, as some might have us to believe! This time of year good cashiers used to mix up their closing remarks to avoid sounding stilted: "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" or even "Have a great evening." But with the attitude of some today, retail workers are afraid to say "Happy Holidays" lest someone thinks they are heathen!

On the other hand, some of the nonsense from the other side of the issue is just ridiculous. Calling a Christmas tree a "Holiday tree" is just silly. One ad even went so far as to say that their item would cause joy when it was unwrapped on "Holiday morning." Come on. Have we really come that far in this culture that we are afraid to call things what they are lest we offend anyone?

In the 1960's and 70's the big deal was X-mas. Don't put X-mas on your store signs--that's blasphemy! That's X-ing Christ out of Christmas. Well, not exactly. Christians have been using "X" for Christ since the first century. The letter X looks exactly like the Greek letter Chi (pronounced khee), which is the first letter in Christos--Christ.

A ladies singing trio from the late 50's and early 60's, The White Sisters, sang a song titled "Keep Christ in Christmas." Whether the whole X-mas controversy "inspired" the song or not is unclear. Part of the song speaks about letting "Christ have first place" at this time of year. But it does not seem that Christ is having "first place" in most of the complaining about and campaigning against "Happy Holidays." When Conservative groups send out e-mail newsletters saying "Send us money because we’re getting Christmas back into the stores," is Christ getting first place? When the average person sees "Christmas Tree" instead of "Holiday Tree" is he more likely to think of the "true meaning of Christmas"? These questions should give the Christian pause.

Christmas is about giving, not winning. Christ himself was the first Christmas gift. If Christians spent their time giving themselves to feed the poor, visit the sick and generally spread goodwill among men, instead of organizing boycotts and sending threatening e-mails, wouldn't that better reflect what Christmas is all about?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Manger and the Swaddling Bands

The following was originally published on the now-defunct Examiner.com on December 22, 2009.
Modonna & Child Ambrogio Lorenzetti 1319 Wikimedia


Sweet little Jesus boy
They made you be born in a manger….

So begins a traditional Christmas song. In a few words which seem almost an afterthought, Luke 2:7 tells us why Jesus was placed in a manger: “because there was no room in the inn.”

Bethlehem was so crowded there was only room in a cattle trough for the Child. Much has been made of the five small words “no room in the inn,” and rightly so. These words picture what the Apostle John tells us in his Gospel.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1: 10-11 ESV)

Sweet little holy Child,
We didn't know who you was.

But there were two at the scene, Mary and Joseph, who did know who he was. They didn’t understand everything, but they had been told by God through his angels who the child was. They only had a manger to lay him in, but they received him.

Luke 2:7 tells us Jesus was placed in a manger. Why? Because there was no room. But what they did before they laid him there is significant.

Mary "wrapped Him in swaddling cloths." Swaddling cloths or bands were a tradition that had been handed down for centuries. When a child was born, its skin was rubbed with salt and oil, and cloths were wrapped around it. It was thought that this would also insure the child’s limbs would grow straight. In Ezekiel 16:4, a baby that had not been wrapped in cloths is used to describe an abandoned child.

With this in mind, note the paradoxical scene. Here is a baby in a cattle trough, probably cut into the wall of a cave used to shelter domestic animals – not the place you would normally find a baby. There is a horror in the sight of a child so treated.

But there are also the swaddling bands – an indication that the child was loved and cared for. Mary and Joseph made the only room they had available, and cared for the child as best they could. His own people had not received him, but Mary and Joseph did.

The scene of Jesus lying in a cave wrapped in swaddling bands is reminiscent of another scene – Jesus wrapped in grave cloths lying in a tomb. Again we have a picture of horror, and yet of the love which prepared the body for burial. It was another Joseph, the one from Arimathea, who had provided the tomb and had wrapped the body in linen.

The only room for Jesus according to those who rejected him was in the grave. He was there because the religious leaders of the day had no room for him. But even in his death there were those who cared.


But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12 ESV)

Do you have room for Jesus?