Today America celebrates one of its great leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. Although I am in Nigeria right now, I decided to honor the day by reading one of Rev. King’s great, but under-emphasized writings, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I was both moved and inspired. I would encourage everyone to read the full letter HERE and share it with your family today.
Although Martin Luther King Jr’s main message was civil rights, his words, written in 1963 still ring with resounding truth like words of a prophet with fire shut up in his bones and carry a powerful message for the people of God today. Here are a couple of excerpts that I thought were especially profound:
“There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.”
“…Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”
Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.”
And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.”
And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”
And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .”
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
This week we are back in Nigeria where we will conduct a Gospel Campaign in the city of Ugep beginning on Wednesday night. The Gospel is an extreme message about the most extreme act of sacrifice and love ever performed. And we are here as Gospel “Extremists” going to “extreme” lengths, traversing extreme distances, taking extreme risks and paying an extreme price for the sake of the salvation, forgiveness and freedom of the precious people that will hear our message. Please keep us in your prayers as we look forward to another might harvest of souls this week.