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Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. A dream where people of all backgrounds would be considered equal despite the colour of their skin. He gave his famous “I have a dream” speech 50 years ago today. The “I have a dream” segment is the best remembered and most quoted part of his speech, despite the fact that there was no reference to it in his written draft. Having been advised against including it because he had used that material before and it was cliché, he chose not to include it. So when he changed his mind in the middle of his speech, that section had to be completely ad-libbed.

Although I’m sure Mr. King would be pleased to see that our society has made some progress since then, I don’t think he would yet be satisfied. Fifty years ago he said, “No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” I think he would still have a dream, a dream for true freedom. Mr. King elaborated on what his vision of freedom looked like. His vision included unity and justice, safety from violence, and relief from oppression. He also dreamed that one day “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together”. This was his hope and the faith that he would take back home with him to face the challenges which would continue or perhaps even be intensified after this one day demonstration of solidarity at the nation’s Capitol.

I think it is unlikely that we will ever see everyone living in the freedom that Mr. King envisioned. That certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for it, but I believe that the only true freedom is eternal freedom, and it is only available through Jesus. I have discussed in previous posts (July 4, 2011, March 2, 2012) that when Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), the truth He was referring to was Himself. In John 8:36, we are given further assurance. If we accept the truth offered in Jesus we shall be really free, truly free. That doesn’t mean that we will be above the law of the land (I Peter 2:13), but that we will be free from the bondage to sin. Free from the eternal penalty we deserve because of sin. Free from the need to find approval in the ever-changing beliefs of society. Free from the fear of death. Yes, we should make our time on Earth the best we can, upholding justice, helping our neighbours, and sharing God’s love. But we should also focus on eternity. Eternal freedom comes through Jesus, and we can have it starting right now.

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I wrote last week that our hardships serve a purpose and that God can bring good from our suffering. I wrote that God wants us to focus on what matters for eternity. Did I really believe that when I wrote it? This week has certainly tested that. Someone I’ve known for most of my life, and all of his, was killed in a car crash on Friday night. It all happened in an instant. No one had a chance to say good-bye. No one had a chance to resolve differences. No one had a last chance to say I love you. We are never guaranteed those opportunities. We are not promised tomorrow.

I had already picked this week’s verse (Psalm 121:1-2) before I finished last week’s post. Last week was about suffering and hardships. This week I would talk about looking to God to be the source of our help, trusting Him to be our provider and protector. The only thing is that as I look back now, last week’s hardships seem so minimal, while this week life itself seems so fragile.

Psalm 121 talks about our Creator not allowing our foot to slip, not allowing the sun to harm us by day or the moon to harm us by night. The Lord will protect us from all harm. He will protect our life. He will protect us in all we do now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:3, 6, 7, 8). The Lord never goes off duty; He does not slumber or sleep. (Psalm 121:4) How do we reconcile that with all the tragedy in the world? With the fact that a life can be taken in an instant?

I believe two things are true. First I believe that if we specifically ask for protection of our physical bodies in the circumstances we face day by day, God will protect us, unless His larger purpose will be served by allowing our suffering. Secondly, I believe that the protection which is promised in this Psalm is the protection of our souls. Everything about our life on this earth is temporary. What matters for eternity is the condition of our soul. Turn to God and trust Him to protect that for eternity. Since we are not promised tomorrow, please take time to consider this today.

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Why do bad things happen to good people? If you haven’t asked that question before yourself, you have very likely heard it asked by someone else. We have all known people who have gone through incomprehensible tragedy, and we have wondered why. Some will even ask what the person did to incur God’s wrath? What sin in their life is unconfessed? Why is God trying to get their attention? If you are one of the friends who has tried to help a loved one by gently trying to discover which sins are the root cause of their misfortune, please stop. Jesus very clearly told His disciples that a man’s affliction was not a result of his sin or his parents’ sin. (John 9:1-3) That is so much more true since Christ paid the price for all of our sins on the cross. (John 3:17)

So, punishment for sin is not the answer, but hardships do still serve a purpose. First of all, this life is temporary. If life were easy, we would either be content to stay here for the rest of time, or we would have no incentive to focus on what matters for eternity. God wants us to realize that the important things are not the temporal, worldly things that we spend so much time and energy on. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to help us see what matters. Suffering also leads us to depend on God instead of our own strength and resources. We are humbled when we realize that we can’t manage everything on our own. When we are humble we can be pleasing and useful to God. (Psalm 51:17) God can work through us, and we can bring glory to Him.

An additional purpose for our suffering is outlined by the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 1:3-4. Our trials give us the experiences we need in order to know how to comfort others who will go through similar struggles. Biblical comfort is not sympathy, but strength, not a way out of the problem, but a way through it. Our trials help us to understand what others are going through. I know of many people who have gone through unimaginable tragedy, but because of it have started organizations to help others who find themselves in similar situations. Many have testified that they have found their life purpose through the tragedy they endured.

Paul understood suffering, both external and internal. (II Corinthians 4:8, Romans 8:35, Philippians 1:17, II Corinthians 7:5) He faced many hardships, (II Corinthians 11:23-27), more than most of his listeners (or readers) ever would. But he did not view these circumstances as being outside of his faith in Christ. He did not wonder if his faith wasn’t strong enough. He had had a personal encounter with Christ, and he knew that these sufferings were a part of his mission, his purpose. (Acts 26:14-18) He also knew that no matter what hardships or afflictions he had to face, God would provide more than enough grace, and comfort (strength) to get through them. (II Corinthians 1:5, II Corinthians 12:9) And God would use them for His good purposes. (Romans 8:28)

Today's post was written by Rusty Wright.
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Does experiencing God’s love make you want to give? Some current social scientific research suggests it might.

University of Akron sociologist Matthew T. Lee says, “Millions of Americans frequently experience divine love and for them this sense of God’s love not only enhances existential well-being, but underlies a sense of personal meaning and purpose and enlivens compassion for others.”

Godly Love National Survey

Lee and his colleagues Margaret M. Poloma (a sociologist) and Stephen G. Post (a theologian) interpreted the results of the Godly Love National Survey (GLNS), a “representative random survey of 1,200 people – both religious and nonreligious – from across the United States.” Their Flame of Love Project studies how spiritual experience relates to benevolence.

The project’s ambitious goals include “establishing a new field of interdisciplinary scientific study” and seeking “to transform social science by taking God seriously as a perceived actor in human events….”

Sigmund Freud, call your office.

When the father of psychoanalysis branded faith in God as “an illusion,” did he ever imagine this?

Of course, the GLNS studies perceived influence of godly love – individuals reported their own thoughts, feelings and experiences. No one is claiming to have a machine that sees God or definitively confirms divine existence.

Numbers and Stories

But the GLNS results – numbers and stories – are impressive, and certainly merit consideration in a discussion about divine influence.

Among the numbers: People who claim to feel God’s love more than once daily are over twice as likely as other Americans to help others, and to donate over $5,000 annually for the needy. Experiencing divine love most consistently predicted six kinds of benevolent behavior the researchers studied.

Among the stories: The researchers – funded by the John Templeton Foundation – interviewed at length 120 people and included five stories of “exemplars of godly love”in their book, The Heart of Religion. One of the five is Anne Beiler, whom you may recognize as the pretzel lady.

Darkness, Light, and Pretzels

It’s hard to walk though a major US airport or shopping mall without seeing Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. She and her husband parlayed her successful business into funding for their hometown Family Center to promote mental, physical, and spiritual health. But life was not always pretty.

Jonas and Anne Beiler’s lives plunged into darkness when a farm tractor struck and killed their young daughter, Angie. Anne’s pastor, whom she approached for assistance, sexually abused her during her first counseling session. The abuse continued; her marriage deteriorated.

Eventually, the pastor was dismissed from the church and the Beilers began repairing their relationship. As he saw wise counsel benefit his own marriage, Jonas wanted to help others by offering free counseling services.

Anne’s work to support Jonas’ dream morphed into what became “the world’s largest hand-rolled soft pretzel franchise.” Accolades for her entrepreneurship recognized her efforts to inspire, serve and give. Today, The Family Center partners with community organizations to offer counseling, healthcare options, education, and more.

A Hiding Place

Anne credits God with sustaining her, quoting David, an ancient Israeli king: “For you [God] are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.” (Psalm 32:7)

“We all need that hiding place,” she affirms. ”The reason I never wanted to tell anyone about the secrets in my life was that I was ashamed, and afraid, and scared that people would no longer love me. So I tried to hide my ‘stuff’ from everyone. But this kind of hiding only made it worse. … Confession allows us to hide in God and be surrounded with songs of victory and not floodwaters of judgment.”

So … can experiencing godly love prompt benevolence? Certainly worth considering.

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Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.rustywright.com