The Gospel and Martin Luther King

This week all of America is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington and the famous “I have a dream” speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. That speech has become iconic in the history of the United States for its statement of King’s sense of justice and decency. His dream, that individuals might be judged on “the content of their character” rather than “the color of their skin,” has been realized in part, although we still have some ways to go.

Martin Luther King did not invent this notion of justice. A few thousand years before King lived, Jesus spoke about a “dream” he had. Jesus referred to his dream as “the kingdom of God.” This kingdom is a place where followers of Jesus live in love and peace and justice, caring for each other with compassion and commitment. Jesus’ idea of the kingdom was not a “dream,” of course. It will be a reality.

Martin Luther King himself was a follower of Jesus. King invoked the Bible and its images in his rhetoric of justice. King required those who participated in his protests to study the gospels. He believed that the words and deeds of Jesus provided the true model for challenging injustice.

Human beings and our institutions, including churches, are often behind when it comes to embodying the righteousness of the scriptures. God is way out ahead of us, leading us into this righteousness. But we are often trying to catch up to the justice that God’s word already embodies.

Martin Luther King alongside many brave souls, helped to make the United States into a country with more justice for everyone. Martin Luther King followed the King, Jesus Christ.  

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church  

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Suicide Prevention

“I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  John 10:10 ESV

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you… By this, all people will know that you are my disciples.” John 13:34 ESV

From the time he was 12 years old, a man I knew battled depression. He often talked about committing suicide. He had been saved in a Baptist church as a child. He believed in Jesus all of his life. He did not commit suicide, but he died in his early fifties. In spite of his faith, and many visits to doctors and lots of medication, from 12 years old, he was depressed every day.

In spite of his depression, he was a gifted and giving man. He blessed me and strengthened my faith many times over the years. Even though he could not come to love himself, he lavished love on many people around him.

Depression can affect anyone. You might be surprised to know how many people around you have contemplated committing suicide. Even a close friend may feel suicidal and not reveal those feelings to you. Depression can come about because of a desperate situation. It can also be a chronic, medical condition unrelated to circumstances.

Jesus calls us to help those in need. That call includes being a help to people who are depressed or suicidal. Some basic understanding of suicide and depression can help us be better helpers when our friends or family are facing these demons.

As Christians, we can pray that God will give us discernment and wisdom. We can also pray that God will help the troubled person to whom we are ministering. We can provide help by being a sympathetic listener and by sharing scriptural encouragement. If the person seems deeply depressed or suicidal, we should encourage them to talk to a compassionate pastor or to contact a suicide prevention line.

Threats of suicide should not be taken lightly. Taking compassionate action can prevent a tragedy. You can learn more about how to help and where to turn if you are depressed by visiting www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or calling 1.800.273.8255.

I am convinced that one of the secrets to the abundant life that Jesus talks about is for all of God’s children to help each other. Often we have built a culture that values self-reliance so much that we cannot ask for help. But Jesus commands us to love each other. That is the sign by which the world will know that we belong to Him.

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church  

The Real Purpose of Marriage

For most of my life, I have heard people talk about how the institution of marriage is in crisis. The statistics bear out this cry of alarm. Divorce rates continue to be high. Social scientists have identified a number of factors that contribute to this reality: access to birth control and the increasing economic independence of women are among the most important.

I think there is another one. We have lost a realistic sense of its purpose. We don’t really understand why getting married is a good thing.

Popular culture tells us a story about marriage. Two people “fall in love” and then they choose to marry so that they can bask in that feeling and live happily ever after. Couples marry expecting that the euphoria they feel in the early stages of their relationship will last for their lives. Then they wake up one day and realize they don’t feel the same all the time. “Falling in love” sometimes occurs for the wrong reasons. It can be a poor guide to a good marriage partner.

Some suppose that God’s purpose in marriage is to have and raise children. That is one of its purposes, but, according to Genesis, not the primary purpose.

The key to understanding God’s purpose for marriage is found in Genesis chapter 2. God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Then God found “a companion suitable for him.” The primary purpose of marriage is to complementary partners to walk the journey of life and faith together. Marriage is a sacred commitment, a pledge to God, to love, honor and cherish each other throughout our lives on earth.

The “happily ever after” myth about marriage does not work because it reinforces our selfish inclinations. As soon as our spouse no longer excites us or we “fall out of love,” we look for someone new. The story of God’s creation of marriage reminds us that marriage is not about “feeling good.” It is about selfless caring for each other.

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church   

Closer to Home in Heaven

On highway 421 south, there is a curve at a bridge as you are nearing Sanford, NC. As you get into that curve, you can see to the left, just below the road, Bethany Baptist Church.

For seven years my wife Vicky and I, along with our kids, lived in Kentucky. Each Christmas and summer vacation we would travel the 500 or so miles back to Sanford to visit our families. The trip was a long one, taking nine or ten hours depending on stops and traffic. Our daughter is named Bethany, so it was a special sign to us every time we approached that curve and saw that church – Bethany Baptist. We’re almost home.

Every morning now, I wake up and my back hurts. Some mornings it is worse than others. Sometimes it is so stiff that my first few steps out of bed are hunched over. If I travel and sleep in a strange bed, it can be better or much worse.

A stiff back in the morning is one of the signs that sometimes comes with age. Fortunately not everyone has it. And mine is not very severe. Within a few minutes I am usually pain free. But my back did not hurt every morning when I was younger.

They say that getting older is not for sissies. I am often amazed at the way older adults that I know are dealing with multiple health and mobility problems. But they are often doing so with amazing grace and humor.

Pain and loss of independence are stressful conditions. We should not dismiss the aches and pains of older friends and family. But as you experience the aches and stiffness of aging for yourselves, try to remember this. Those aches and pains are a signpost.

We don’t like to think about or talk about the fact that we will die one day. It’s natural to feel some sadness and fear as we contemplate our own deaths. But we should also remember that God has promised us an eternal blessing in His own house if we are in Christ.  Aging is a signpost, not of death, but of heavenly glory with God.

So I’ll try to remember this morning as I awake, that my stiff back is a sign along the journey of my life. I am getting closer to being home, my real home, forever with God.

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church

An Invitation to Prayer

Where is the nicest, most expensive restaurant you have ever been? Can you picture it in your mind? Perhaps there were candles on the table, the finest linen napkins and sparkling clean silver place settings. Do you smell the aroma of the chef’s finest wares being prepared in the kitchen, the saliva rising in your palate at the conundrum you face in choosing from among those many delicious offerings? Perhaps you chose a nice restaurant for a romantic dinner on a special occasion. Do you hear the gentle strains of a violin expertly played setting the mood?  Do you see in the dim light your beloved’s beautiful face across the table? Can you feel your lover’s hand? Smell her scent? Feel his strength?

Eugene Peterson suggests that this is the picture we should have of our prayer life with God. It should be like two lovers spending an intimate evening in conversation, sharing their lives.

By contrast, Peterson says that most of us imagine our lives as a restaurant where God is not our dinner companion but is instead our waiter. We show up when we are hungry. We expect the waiter to be there right away, to bring us what we want with all haste and anticipate when we need more tea. If we go to the place often enough, we might know his name, but we do not feel any loss of we don’t see him for awhile…until we’re hungry for that particular restaurant again.

The prayer life that really sustains us when we are tempted and troubled must be the prayer life that really experiences God as our most intimate companion. We cannot get that kind of intimacy with God by our own will power. It is a gift of grace. But it is a gift that God wants to give to everyone who will ask for it with a sincere and humble heart.

He is waiting for you now, in the back, in the corner, candles lit, lights dimmed, music playing. Will you come?

(I have expanded a little on Eugene Peterson’s parable. If you would like to read Peterson’s parable, he uses it in his book Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best. I highly recommend this book. Eugene Peterson is the translator of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. To learn more about Peterson and his writings visit eugenepetersononline.com.)

Love in Christ,

Greg Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church