1. We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility, not social respectability. Our goal as Christ followers is....wait for it....to follow Christ. There is no other scorecard which should guide our lives - not money or popularity or anything other than whether we are being faithful to what God has called us to do. Jesus told us that if we gain the whole world and lose our soul in the process, we've missed the point entirely. He also told us that following him is not a good way to arrive at popularity.
2. The hardhearted person lacks the capacity for genuine compassion...He gives dollar to a worthwhile charity, but he gives not of his spirit.
In Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton argues that the last thing we should give to a charity is money. Prayer and volunteer hours require a much greater investment, and will therefore impact both us and those who we serve to a greater degree. We are never called to outsource our love for people to others. Giving money without giving of ourselves smacks of Paul's warning that undertaking the noblest of actions without love simply doesn't fulfill the call of the Gospel in our lives.
3. (On the story of the Good Samaritan) I imagine that the first question the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" The good Samaritan engaged in a dangerous altruism.
If King were a baseball pitcher, I would call this one 'chin music'. I spend an awful lot of time on providing for my own comfort and convenience; but what if I let injustice or desperate need which exists in the life of fellow human beings to determine my actions? I bet that kind of life would feel like dying to myself.
4. We must recognize that Jesus was nailed to the cross not simply by sin but by blindness. The men who cried, "Crucify him," were not bad men but rather blind men.
We don't have to hate people we don't agree with, like people who think Starbucks cups are evil, or people who angrily call other believers ignorant. Most people don't wake up in the morning wondering how to spread hate and evil - we simply don't understand the abundant life Jesus is calling us to.
Sharing the Gospel - the Good News - is all about making people aware of God's generous promises, not telling people how bad or dumb that are. On the day of Pentecost, Peter told a large group of people, "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!" When confronted by this truth, they immediately asked how they should respond and Peter gives them the Good News - that you can be forgiven and restore your relationship with God.
5. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: he is the practical realist
When Jesus says things like 'don't lust', 'love your enemies' and 'don't worry', it sure can seem like he's giving us demands which are impossible to fulfill. Yet Jesus isn't interested in back breaking rules and requirements. In fact, Jesus says following his guidelines is much easier than living under the laws which were present under the First Testament. Jesus isn't guilting us, he's freeing us from guilt - calling us to live through the power of God's spirit rather than our own effort.
In reading the biography of the Wright Brothers (an excellent book by David McCullough), the brothers noticed how easily birds glide on the air and designed their flyer on this model rather than ones which attempted to use exuberant force or motion to achieve flight. I think Jesus points us to an elegant simplicity which is infinitely practical, yet requires experience for us to learn how to take advantage of it.
6. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.
Far from being an ethereal concept, King can speak to this out of his experience. Helping to lead the American Civil Rights movement, he spent much of his time dealing with people who considered King an enemy, yet King refused to resort to violence. Clearly, it was because King was able to forgive those who wished and did ill upon himself and the others in the movement.
7. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.
In the aftermath of the Parisian terrorist attack, many of us probably want to do great violence to the organization which perpetrated the attacks. Indeed, French bombs have already sought out ISIS strongholds. I read a quote by a military official on a cable news network saying that the way to deal with terrorists is to hunt them down wherever they are and leave a smoldering crater and crying widows. Yet, after more than a decade engaging in warfare in the middle east, we are seeing an organization more radical than we've ever observed before undertake shockingly violent actions.
Is it not possible that we have greatly contributed to the creation of our enemy by attempting to use hate and violence against them? King became a fairly staunch pacifist toward the end of his life, and while I am not attempting to argue here that everyone should embrace pacifism, does our world not validate King's statement?
8. How often the church has been an echo rather than a voice.
We have been given the greatest message in the history of the world: the God who made you and knows everything you've ever said, thought and done utterly and completely loves you and wants you to have a life of abundance. Yet our message has often been derided or ignored because of hypocrisy and corruption.
We must not allow this to stop us from continuing to point to Jesus. The Body of Christ has survived great persecution and corruption and hypocrisy because God has given us a mission - to be a blessing to the world as we share the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is when we become disconnected from that purpose that we become irrelevant.
9. Prayer is a marvelous and necessary supplement of our feeble efforts, but it is a dangerous substitute.
10. We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith but superstition.
9 & 10 are closely related, so I'll talk about them together.
In the 14th chapter of the Exodus narrative, the Israelites find themselves backed up against the sea, facing the army of Egypt. Here's what God says to Moses, who is leading the terrified people:
“Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! Use your shepherd’s staff – hold it out over the water, and a path will open up before you through the sea…” (Exodus 14:15-16)
God had already equipped Moses for the challenge, all that was left was for Moses to carry it out.
God has created us with a purpose in mind. He has prepared us for this purpose. It is important that we continually seek God’s guidance as we work to complete that purpose, but the greatest error we could commit would be to do nothing.
Like the parable of the talents, God has entrusted us, and we are responsible with what we do with what has been given.
God has chosen to work in and through us to accomplish his purposes of making all this new. It's a shocking realization how involved we actually are. We are God's plan A and there is no plan B. We are God's best, and it is in our joining the work of redemption and never forgetting our dependence on God in the midst of our work that we can expect to receive the fulfillment of the promises he makes to us and to everyone of a full realization of redemption.