A Darlington man reflects on the lessons of MLK
Editor’s note: Renny Johnson of Darlington delivered this speech Jan. 18 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event hosted by Cornerstone Baptist Church and sponsored by several groups. His remarks were titled “Reflection.”
By Renny Johnson
Two experiences in the 1960s shaped my attitudes and perceptions of Dr. King and his life’s work.
I was given the unique opportunity to hear and meet Dr. King personally when I was a student at seminary in 1961. The day-long event gave me two opportunities to hear Dr. King speak and to participate with him personally in a question and answer session.
Something that resonates with me today came after a question we asked him. “Are you concerned your service and activism could result in your death as it did Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater?”
I wrote down the response he gave. These are his words. “If you have not discovered something you will die for, you are not fit to live. … It is not how long one lives but how well, not the length of life but its depth, not the quantity of life but the quality, and that is found only in Jesus Christ.”
In the midst of troublesome times, Dr. King recognized that the cause of justice for all was worth living for, and if need be, worth dying for.
Isaiah 6: 1-8 is one of history’s best-known spiritual experiences. It begins with the following words: “In the year that King Uzziah died …”
In the first place, the spiritual crisis forced Isaiah to turn to his God. All other resources had failed. Isaiah was cast back on the God who is high and lifted up.
The words of Dr. King:
“The love of Christ is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
“We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will die together as fools.”
“It is difficult to like some people, but Jesus commands us to love them, and love is greater than like.”
“We must not ignore the wounded person in our lives on the Jericho Road because we are a part of each other.”
The second spiritual truth in Isaiah’s experience was a recognition of evil and sin, his own and that of his society. “Woe is me, I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
The words of Dr. King:
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. That it is not good for any of us to find fault with the rest of us.”
“Forgiveness for the Christian is not on occasional act. It must be a permanent attitude.”
“When evil plots, good people must plan; freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self-denial.”
“True freedom and peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.”
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; man’s inclination toward injustice makes democracy necessary.”
“There is no justice anywhere until there is justice everywhere.”
The third truth of the national crisis was it led Isaiah to commit himself to redemptive service. He hears God’s call to do something about this sinful world and he answered, saying, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”
Dr. King often quoted others like William Cullen Bryant: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” James Russell Lowell said, “Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong. Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong. Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow keeping watch above His own.”
Dr. King’s words:
“Be strong and have within your character both a tough mind and a tender heart.”
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
In April 1968, the week of Dr. King’s assassination, I was an associate pastor in Anniston, Ala. A number of senior pastors from several denominations were asked to speak at a memorial service for Dr. King at the city’s largest black church.
For reasons many of them legitimate, none of the pastors accepted the invitation and I was asked to speak in the service. Some high school and college students from my church felt led to go with me.
When we arrived, the church was packed with over 600. The students were seated in the front row of the choir loft. And I shared the three-point outline from Isaiah I have shared with you today.
Rev. Quincy Reynolds, a close friend of Dr. King, told me later that week the most powerful and appreciated message of that night was the silent eloquence of those young people in the choir loft. Their presence told the congregation, “We care. We hurt with you. We share your pain.” Their faces in the crowd were more powerful than anything I could have said.
The world lost a great man, a man of dreams, a man who valued the transformative power of God’s love, when it lost Dr. King. Those of us left to carry on his work, to fulfill his dream, we may lack his courage, determination, and eloquence.
Just remember simple actions can speak volumes, even sitting in a choir loft.
We do not have to say a word. God knows what is in our hearts and so will others. When we respond, as di By Bill Holland
We are deep into January and I hope the New Year resolutions you made are still going strong.
The most popular declarations usually involve better eating habits and exercise into our daily routines.
For those of you that have been doing this for a while, my hat is off to you because you have something in your conscience that is immensely powerful called willpower!
There are several impressive keywords associated with self-discipline like, perseverance, determination, and dedication which reveals the evidence that you do not allow your feelings to dictate how you live.
It’s admirable when anyone chooses to put in the hard work necessary to have a healthier body and even more amazing to see a person surrender their will in order to make a stronger spiritual connection with God.
When contemplating lifestyle changes, it’s crucial to have a clear vision as to who we want to be and what we will need to do. The passage in Luke 14:28-30 comes to mind when planning to do something that will have a major impact on who we are.
Jesus said, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, this person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.”
Whether physical or spiritual, personal transformation is possible, but no one has ever said it will be easy.
Resolutions and decrees do not cost us anything and are nothing more than a whim until the sacrificial process has been accepted and embraced within our conscience. Likewise, just talking about being religious is also painless as true spiritual renewal begins with an internal conviction from God and then demonstrating what it means to take up our cross.
Whatever the case, the evidence of progress is always noticed. God changes caterpillars into butterflies, coal into diamonds, and sand into pearls, using time and pressure and this is exactly what He wants to do within us in order to produce an image of His glory.
As we study the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:10, Jesus is talking to His Father and says, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” We may not think about it often, but understanding what He wants from us and choosing to do it is the purpose and meaning of life.
It’s His world and by His grace we are given an opportunity to know and love Him.
This is also where we see a separation of the talkers and walkers when it comes to inviting Christ to be our king and leading us in all that we think and in everything we do. You see, we have a choice to draw our own blueprints or follow the ones He has already made.
Obedience is not a popular word because no one wants to be told what to do and yet submitting to His voice is at the heart of what it means to have a personal relationship with Him.
We have a lot of ideas and ask for many things, but it’s wise to make sure we recognize the difference between our imaginations and His instructions.
Maybe the reason we struggle in our spiritual life is that we are fighting God for the steering wheel. If we let Him drive, I believe we would be more likely to enjoy the ride, don’t you?
Is there such a thing as counting it all joy when the blacksmith is holding us in the fire and shaping us with His hammer? I’m not saying it’s pleasant, but I believe this is possible when we realize that Jesus is making us into what He died for us to be.
When the blacksmith is finished with his piece, he does not throw it in the corner and forget about it. He has worked hard to produce his vision and intends to use it for his specific purpose.
Likewise, God is calling us and wanting to shape us into a strong and effective instrument. He has known you before the foundation of the world and desires to use you as a vessel of honor.
The Lord loves you more than anything and is patiently waiting, but He will never be able to build your life from His plans until your determination to change becomes stronger than your desire to remain the same.