Pacesetters break down barriers and help us see what is possible. Pacesetters are driven by values, not by their own ambitions or desires. True Pacesetters see the world as God sees it. Pacesetters see what should be rather than what is. They know God made all humans in his image. Pacesetters are not deterred by false obstacles or excuses about why something can’t be done. Pacesetters fight for what God calls them to do—no matter what opposition stands before them.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was that kind of man — a true Pacesetter. He believed all men and women are created by God and in the image of God, and he believed that standing up for the oppressed and marginalized was worth dying for. 

Dr. King was even a Pacesetter for President Lyndon Johnson. They were effective partners in the Civil Rights Movement. Many historians agree that Dr. King helped spur President Johnson to move faster on many key civil rights initiatives. Dr. King risked his life and imprisonment repeatedly while fighting for the rights of others. Ultimately, in Memphis, on April 3rd, 1968, he was shot and killed for his beliefs that all people, created in the image of God, should be treated as equals.

As true with all Pacesetters, the end of their lives doesn’t mean the end of their work. Dr. King lost his life fighting for the basic rights of people in our country. And he was doing it as he followed another man who died so that others could live in peace forever. That other man, Jesus, is the ultimate Pacesetter. Jesus said this, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Martin Luther King did not only say these words, he lived these words. He lived a life of purpose, sacrifice, and example—shining the light and love of Jesus into some very dark places. His example is still worth following today. This is why our country, city, and school celebrate his life with a national holiday. Here are three ways we can honor the life of Dr. King this Martin Luther King Day:

1. Learn more about him (and help your family do the same).

There are so many great resources and events where we can learn about what he did and how his actions helped change our nation. Here are a few videos, and a movie, that can help you and your kids learn more.

  • Read Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr. – This is a great book for all ages, and you can listen and see it on this video from Teacher Reads on YouTube. (It’s appropriate for all ages.)
  • Watch The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. by Kid President. This YouTube video is great for kids under 10.
  • Watch MLK50 Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop. The Gospel Coalition created this powerful video for a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of his death in Memphis. (It’s appropriate for all ages.)
  • Rent and watch the movie Selma. It is a really good movie. We watched it as a family last year, and it had a large impact on us. The movie has violent scenes, but they are educational enough to be appropriate for those 10 and older. To check to see if this is right for your family, see this review.

2. Take action like he did. Serve someone who may not have the same privileges and advantages as you do (and help your family do the same). 

Google MLK service events in your area and participate in making a difference for those that need it most.

Decide to make a difference for the poor and marginalized in your city on a regular basis by: 

  • Get involved in a job training and placement program
  • Become part of a mentoring program for children without dads
  • Get involved by reading or tutoring a child

3. Praise God for Dr. King’s life and be inspired by how he lived a life of faith that points us to the perfect light, Jesus. 

I encourage  you to listen to “The Power Of Unearned Suffering: Celebrating MLK’s Legacy After 50 Years.” This is a talk by Mika Edmonson at the Gospel Coalition’s MLK50 Conference. This conference, and this talk in particular, have made a big impact on my life.

A few highlights include: 

  • Learn about how Jesus gave us the pattern of faith and suffering with the cross.
  • Take social suffering seriously enough to get involved—weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
  • Understand that love is at the center of what Jesus taught. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
  • Take hope seriously enough to stay involved. Living what you believe, and suffering with and for others, is never easy. 
  • “The light of the world does not have an expiration date. Only the darkness in the world has an expiration date.” 

I am always encouraged by the faith of people who fully live what they believe. While not a perfect man, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of his hope in God. He knew he could live out his faith because he knew Jesus would one day make all things new. He knew he could talk about light driving out darkness, and love driving out hate, because he knew the real Light and the One who loves perfectly.

“Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12. 

Have a great Martin Luther King Day!

Howard Graham is the Executive Editor of Strategic Dads. He also serves as the Chaplain for Presbyterian Day School and the Executive Director of Building Boys, Making Men. Howard is passionate about teaching people to know God and to help them live out their faith in Jesus. He enjoys spending time with his family. He and his wife, Kimberley, have a girl and three boys. They live in Memphis, TN.