Let Justice Roll: History for January 15

On January 15, 1929, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia.  A leader in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, he is the only non-president to have a national holiday in his name, celebrated on the 3rd Monday of every January. During this holiday, many will cite positives and negatives from King’s life and legacy, and here I will focus on one, specific positive.

His father and maternal grandfather had both been pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and he carried this religious heritage into his own studies and activism.  In pastor Tim Keller’s book “Making Sense of God” he writes that the strength of King’s arguments comes from his knowledge “that human rights have no power if they are simply created by a majority or imposed by judicial fiat. They have power only if they are really ‘there,’ existing on their own, dependent only on the fact that the wronged person before you making the claim against you is a human being.”[1]

King applied the teaching that “God created man in His own image” from Genesis 1:26-27 to argue that this image gives every person: “a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him a dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.”[2]

A mighty stream. Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz on Unsplash

In one of my favorite quotes from King, he cites the American institutions of democracy and its founding documents, but knows that even these must be rooted in religious truth to be effective: “One day the South will know that when these dis­in­her­ited chil­dren of God sat down at lunch coun­ters, they were in re­al­ity stand­ing up for what is best in the Amer­i­can dream and for the most sa­cred val­ues in our Ju­deo-Chris­t­ian her­itage, thereby bring­ing our na­tion back to those great wells of democ­racy which were dug deep by the found­ing fa­thers in their for­mu­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion and the De­c­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.”[3]

Keller continues in his chapter titled “A Justice That Does Not Create Oppressors” that “Martin Luther King Jr. did not ask white America to make African Americans free to pursue rational self-interest, their own individual definitions of a fulfilling life. Rather, quoting Amos 5:24, he called them to not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’[4]  God provides, and demands, more than “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

While His justice and righteousness will only be made fully manifest in eternity, when we bring a bit of it into this world, we provide something available no other way to our neighbors, communities and beyond.  We should not be satisfied with anything less.


[1] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 199.
[2] From a sermon King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on July 4, 1965.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.
[3] From “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, dated April 16, 1963.
[4] From King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.

“A New Leaf” – A Poem for Everyday Grace

Dear fellow travelers,

Today I am re-sharing a poem last posted in January.  While it would make a great New Year’s Day post, its point is relevant every day, every hour, and every moment we may need it.  God’s grace is available to us at all times, because God is always faithful, as Lamentations 3:22-24 says:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
            his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
            great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
            “therefore I will hope in him.

I first heard this poem years ago, recently remembered it, and found it online eventually.  The title is “A New Leaf”, author unknown, and compares a child/teacher relationship to us and Jesus.  His mercies are new every morning and every day, not just on special occasions.  God wants everyone to turn to Him at all times.  Don’t wait until New Year’s Day.

“A New Leaf”

“He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done.  ‘Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher?  I’ve spoiled this one.’  I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted and gave him a new one all unspotted.  And into his tired heart I cried, ‘Do better now, my child.’

I went to the throne with a trembling heart; the day was done.  ‘Have you a new day for me, dear Master?  I’ve spoiled this one.’  He took my day, all soiled and blotted and gave me a new one all unspotted.  And into my tired heart he cried, ‘Do better now, my child.'”

What We Need For Christmas Summary

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thank you for reading my series about what we need for Christmas.

Remember that whatever mess we find ourselves and the world in, Christmas is a reminder that God has not given up on us and on the world.  Isaiah 9:6, a prophecy from around 700 BC describes the Christ we celebrate each Christmas:

“And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

To meet our deepest, most significant needs, this Christ is provided for us.
         As Wonderful Counselor, He is our source of wisdom; (covered in this post)
         As Mighty God, He will empower us to live as He did; (this post)
         As Everlasting Father, He invites us with unconditional love into His family; (this post)
         As Prince of Peace, He buys peace between us and Him, and between us and others. (this post)

“Four gifts for Christmas. They are the greatest gifts that anybody can give or we can have, and they are all in Jesus. They are for us. They are for you, if you will have them.” – James Montgomery Boice

Celebrate these gifts today!

In closing here is a video of the Royal Choral Society performing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, for He, the Christ of Christmas, shall reign forever and ever:

A Prince of Peace: What We Need For Christmas…Part 5

Over recent weekends, I’ve described Jesus as filling our need for a Wonderful Counselor, guiding us into the choices that are best for us, as Mighty God, empowering us to love Him and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and as Everlasting Father, who meets our need for relationship in His holy family. These names come from from Isaiah 9:6, a prophecy from around 700 BC concerning the Christ we celebrate each Christmas:

“And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

We may not feel we deserve the gifts in Christ I’ve described in these posts.  We may know for sure that we don’t, and so we don’t accept them.  As James Boice wrote: “We are also conscious of having done wrong things. We need to be forgiven. We need somebody to deal with our guilt”.  Which is why there needs to be a fourth name, and gift.  Our need for peace and unity is met by the Christ of Christmas, as described in Isaiah 9:6 as our Prince of Peace, who Boice says “highlights the gifts of peace both between ourselves and God and internally.”

What kind of peace?  Most of the New Testament of the Bible was written in Greek, and the word “peace” often comes from a Greek word meaning “to join.”  Peace does not just mean we aren’t fighting; it means that we are joined in a beneficial relationship.  This peace came at a steep cost, but He bore it all.

Jesus was born to live the perfect life so that we won’t have to earn His approval, and He was destined to die as payment so we may have peace.  He did not have to rescue His people.  He could have left this world without a Savior, but as Prince of Peace, He instead took the initiative of joining us to Himself and to each other.  Our failures are not ignored, but our Prince of Peace willingly takes these failures upon Himself.  This is what He was born in the famous manger of Christmas to do.

Consider the story of Good Friday: Hours passed while Christ was on the cross.  He was mocked as helpless and unable to save Himself, while knowing that at any moment, He could just save Himself.  In those hours, our Prince of Peace considered all the sins of His people and decided: “Worth it”.  The all-powerful actively chose to embrace powerlessness in the face of hours of torture to save His people.  If God wanted to change His mind about you, He’s had plenty of opportunity before now.  He will not turn His back on you now, or ever, if you have accepted Him.

By bearing the cost for us, our Prince of Peace can accept us into His eternal family.  He can empower us to live lives like His, of love and sacrifice for others, giving meaning to our lives.  He can open our minds to His wisdom, providing the ability to make better decisions.  It won’t happen instantly, but it can begin today.  He was born on Christmas to make sure this all happened.

This Christmas Eve, we have the gift of Jesus as Prince of Peace, who meets one of our deepest needs:
“To be forgiven and at peace! Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He has made peace for us by his death.” (Boice)

He gives us peace with God, within ourselves, and toward others, granting us forgiveness and overcoming our guilt.  He asks us to also take the initiative and bring His peace to others, forgiving them as He forgave us.

This is the fourth gift of Christ in Christmas, and it makes possible all of the other gifts.  Have you accepted it?

The Savior Among Us

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” – Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23

In the Gospel of Matthew, this verse from Isaiah is applied to our Lord Jesus.  The name Immanuel means “God with us” and the name Jesus means “the Lord saves.”  In these two names is a beautiful picture of salvation, which means a restoration to a life lived with God beginning imperfectly here on earth, but eventually perfectly in His paradise.  Salvation and togetherness go together.  What we are saved from is our inability to live with God because our sin and His justice were unreconciled until the cross.

Among Jesus’ last words on earth were His command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  Included in this is bringing the hope to the world that He brought to us by being present.  God did not leave us alone but bore the cost of our reconciliation on Himself.

Today, be among those who need the hope God provides through the salvation He bought.  His desire is to live among the world through us, calling His current and future people to live with Him.

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash