Sunday, January 15, 2012

On this King Holiday, what I’m thankful for

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States, a personal incident from many years ago comes to mind.

I no longer remember when this happened—it was probably back when I was in high school or junior high. But, one day, having seen films in school, and documentaries and movies on television, about the Civil Rights movement and the white racism that at one time was so pervasive in the American South—and knowing that my great-grandma (born in 1896) grew up in the “Heart of Dixie”—the state of Alabama—I asked her if she ever saw the Ku Klux Klan in person.


“You never saw them marching or anything like that?”

“No, I never saw that.”

That puzzled me, because I got the impression, from the documentaries and movies I saw, that the Ku Klux Klan was everywhere in the South.

“Well,” I asked, “did you have any trouble with white people down South?”

“We didn’t really have any trouble with the white folks,” said Grandma.

Now I was thoroughly confused. I had been taught about Jim Crow and lynchings and the black struggle for Civil rights, and here was Grandma—who grew up in Alabama—telling me she didn’t have any trouble with white folks down there.

“Well, how did you not have any trouble with whites?”

Grandma said, “Because we stayed in our place, and the white folks stayed in their place. So, we didn’t have any trouble.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever considered what it means to have a “place” you must stay in. It means all your dreams, hopes, goals and ambitions have all been circumscribed by society. It doesn’t matter your intelligence, gifts or potential. You can only be what others say you can be. You can go thus far, but no further. And the implied message was, “Stay in your place, or else!” That was what life was like for black people in the rural South when Grandma was growing up.

For Grandma, staying in her “place” meant that she could only go as far as the 8th grade in school. Staying in her “place” meant that she spent a lifetime doing menial labor, first on her father’s small farm, planting and hoeing and picking cotton and other crops. Then, after the family migrated north to Illinois, working as a maid, then as a short-order cook and, finally, as a self-employed hairdresser for 37 years, working out of the basement of her home, until she was 80 years old.

Imagine the potential damage to one’s spirit knowing “people like you” must “stay in your place.” Regardless of your talents, regardless of your abilities, because you are born “not white” you cannot aspire for anything higher or better in life than what society says you must be. Imagine the feelings of inferiority, resentment and bitterness that could develop.

Yet, I never detected a note of resentment or bitterness in Grandma. In fact, she was one of the most unresentful and contented individuals I’ve known. What was her secret? I never discussed it with her, but I think I know what her answer would’ve been: as a teenager, Grandma came to know Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. I believe it was Jesus who gave her contentment in spite of the limits imposed on her by society. I can hear her now, saying those words she often quoted: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11 KJV).

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m thankful for two things: I’m thankful that God raised up a Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead a Civil Rights Movement that broke down societal barriers that kept black people like me in “our place.” Because of Dr. King, and countless others, doors were open to me that Grandma never dreamed of. But, I’m also thankful to God for the example of my great-grandma, and others of her generation who, by the grace of God, not only survived life in a racist society, but came through it without hatred or bitterness, because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


This would be my advice to Tim Tebow: Pay no mind to your friends or your detractors; listen to Jesus.

Jesus said,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1, 5-6)

Now, before all of Tim Tebow’s fans rise up in his defense, I’m not insinuating that Tim Tebow is kneeling and bowing on the sidelines in order to be seen by others. I have no idea what his motivation is (and don’t want to know, actually). However, I can read what Jesus said. Jesus said, “Beware”, so we should heed the Lord’s warning and carefully examine our motives because, “The heart is deceitful above all things...” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Something else to consider: Tim Tebow’s act of kneeling on the sidelines after he makes touchdowns, to some degree, has been a subject of controversy (and yes, I realize most, if not all, of the controversy has been stirred up by the media). The apostle Paul wrote, “‘All things are lawful’ [quoting what, perhaps, some in the Corinthian church were saying], but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor. 10:23). In light of all the tongue-wagging in the media, I can’t help but wonder if Tebow’s public acts of prayer might be unhelpful.

Does it matter? Well, Paul goes on to write, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33). So, as believers, we should be concerned to not unnecessarily give offense and, as best we can, try to please everyone, with the goal of seeking their salvation. I don’t think this situation is as much about a Christian being criticized for his faith as it is about the need for Christians to set aside their “rights” and put others before themselves. Since prayer is directed to God, it is not necessary that others see and hear us pray. And since prayer doesn’t require kneeling, it is not necessary to kneel. So, if people are bothered by a quarterback kneeling in prayer on the sidelines after he makes a touchdown, what harm is there—how is his praying hindered—if he just takes his seat on the bench with his teammates and prays from there?

Please understand I have nothing against Tim Tebow. In fact, I’m not a sports fan at all (sorry), and I watch very few sporting events (my wife is the sports fan in our household) so, before I started writing this, I hardly knew what Tim Tebow looked like. From what I hear, he is a fine, upstanding, Christian young man. I have no reason at all to question his faith, sincerity or Christian devotion. My questions are mostly about Tim Tebow’s Christian fans. Why are they so quick to defend his public kneeling in prayer, when Jesus said “go into your room and shut the door”? Remember, we’re not talking about a gathering for Christian worship; we’re talking about a football game! Is it really necessary to kneel at that time and place? Can’t Tim Tebow (or any other player who wants to pray) pray just as well sitting on the bench?

More importantly, are the Lord Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 and the Apostle Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 10, optional?

Maybe we should all listen more carefully to Jesus. He said, “Beware”.

Monday, January 09, 2012

God is there

Heaven is heaven because God is there, and hell is hell because God is there.

Have you ever thought about that? There is simply nowhere that an omnipresent God cannot be. If there was someplace where God was not, then God would not be omnipresent. It is a sobering thing to consider. The same Holy One who, for the righteous, is the joy of heaven is also the torment of hell for the unrighteous: “He will be tormented in the presence...of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10).

“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: ‘Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’” (Isaiah 33:14).

“For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7).

The reality is there is nowhere to go! That truth alone should motivate us who trust in Christ to do all we can to warn sinners of the wrath to come.