The Curious Origins of Christmas

The Curious Origins of Christmas

Close-up view of ancient stones during sunset at UNESCO World Heritage Site at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK.

As we immerse ourselves in the holiday season and get into the full swing of the Christmas season, I’ve heard people accuse this celebration of having origins in paganism. Yes that’s right paganism. I’m talking about the good old garden-variety orgy and sacrifices paganism.

If you don’t know your church history you will be taken aback. When you find out that this holiday that we have known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus is rooted in ancient Roman fertility rites it may throw you for a second.

This same holiday that has inspired so many songs and beautiful movies was also inspiration for people to release their inner lusts. Yes Christmas has pagan roots, but that isn’t a reason to drop it just yet. I will get into the reasons for that but first let’s start with a little history just in case you are not convinced of its pagan origins.

Christmas was created as a holiday that coincided with the pagan Roman holiday of Saturnalia, a week-long festival that involved sexual license and human sacrifice that revolved around the Winter Solstice and the pagan god Saturn. Early Christians succeeded in converting large numbers of pagans by allowing them to continue to practice Saturnalia as “Christmas.”

In fact no one knows the actual date when Jesus was born. The date of December 25th was chosen to coincide with the Winter Solstice in which the sun was reborn. This seemed to be a likely date for the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2).

So yes Christmas does have some pagan origins and many of the things we do to celebrate Christmas (Christmas trees, mistletoe, gift giving) are leftovers from the older pagan holiday.

But it would not be fair or factual to declare that it’s a complete pagan holiday. It is a Christian holiday with some practices that contain pagan roots.

Whether we should celebrate or not celebrate Christmas is an issue of conscience. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans regarding holy days:

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.  Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves.  If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. (Romans 14:5-8)

In other words it’s not about the origins of the day but whether you can give honor to God with a clear conscience by celebrating that day. For most people, Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth and the arrival of hope in the world, not a pagan festival.

This is the way they have grown up and it does not offend their conscience because they partake in festivities in honor of Christ’s birth and not to the Roman god Saturn or to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun.

Others may have a hard time with it due to knowledge of the origins of Christmas. This is their prerogative. The key thing is whether it will bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

And that brings me to another reason we shouldn’t drop the celebration of Christmas and condemn those who do. Christmas is for pagans because Jesus is for pagans. What do I mean by that?

I think the story of the three wise men illustrates my point. The three wise men from the east were unchurched “pagans”. They weren’t schooled in the rabbinical schools at Jerusalem. They weren’t raised as children to observe the Mosaic law.

They were pagan astrologers and all they had was a star. But what that star led them to changed their lives.

Christmas is for pagans because everyone needs Jesus. Today we are always in danger of being inordinately focused on our gifts and presents. While we are decking our halls and making our lists we may be ignoring those who need to find Jesus.

If this season of toys and wrapping paper and office parties can be used as a springboard to talk about the greatest gift God has given the world then let’s keep celebrating. We must figure out ways to turn it away from the consumer-driven season it has become and make it more like the star that attracted the wise men to Bethlehem.

Let’s focus on Christmas being a tool to inspire people to worship the God of the universe. This is what the world needed back then and this is what the world still needs now.

7 Revealing Reasons Why The Black Church Lacks Influence

7 Revealing Reasons Why The Black Church Lacks Influence

Video Courtesy of Legacy Disciple


One of the things that puzzled me growing up, and still puzzles me today, is how devastated and broken many African American communities are although there are a huge number of local churches across America.

I often wondered why there were churches where so many people who claim to be changed and transformed had no effect on the community around them. Before we dive in, I’d like to emphasize that this is not a sweeping indictment of all black churches.

In fact, there are many places of worship where members are doing their part in a variety of ways to glorify God’s kingdom.

However, we can’t deny the fact that there are many street corners in the African American community where crime, violence, and poverty run rampant while the church does nothing, so, here are seven revealing reasons why the black church isn’t more influential in the community.

Reason #1: Failure to Make Faith and Life Intersect

We hear a lot about how Jesus died and rose again but we don’t often hear how this affects us in our everyday lives.

How do the scriptures inform our marriages? How do the scriptures inform our economics? These are just examples of what is left out in most black churches on Sunday morning.

There needs to be more of an understanding of how faith and life intersect.

Reason #2: Systemic Injustice

The primary culprit behind the Church’s lack of influence in the community is plain, old systemic injustice.

Black communities in the inner city are the way they are because of decisions that were made years ago. Whether it was poor and inadequate housing or the choice to build freeways over thriving neighborhoods, most of the problems boil down to systemic injustice.

 Reason #3: Church Hypocrisy

Another reason why the Church is not effectively helping the black community is because of widespread hypocrisy. Many people are in church on Sunday but the Church is not in them throughout the rest of the week.

Sadly, there are some closed-minded “regulars” in the Church that are wreaking havoc on the black community.

And as a result of this, many people in the community opt not to attend church for anything other than pacifying their relatives on Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter.

Reason #4: No Leadership Pipeline

There is also a case to be made for a lack of leadership.

Many older preachers and other leaders have held on to their positions and are not training the next generation to replace them.

It never occurs to them that not only will they have someone to succeed them when they’re gone, but they will be able to multiply their efforts in the present through the recruiting and training of younger leaders.

Reason #5: Lack of Connection with Youth

Another reason why the church is not more influential in the black community is because it is not willing to tip over its sacred cows.

Traditions are not to be tampered with in the eyes of leadership and older members of these churches. What they are failing to understand is that many of these traditions are irrelevant to young people, which can get in the way of effective ministry.

 Reason #6: Pie in the Sky Mentality

One of the things that you will sometimes notice in the black church is a pie in the sky mentality. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Everything’s going to be alright when we get to Heaven. Why do anything now?”

Now, there is nothing wrong with aiming for Heaven. In fact, author C.S. Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you will get neither.”

But seeking heaven is to aggressively act as instruments of God’s kingdom here and now. Seeking Heaven is not an excuse to be passive.

When heaven just becomes the reason we don’t do anything that’s being too heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.

Reason #7: Lack of Vision

The final thing that stops black churches from affecting the community is that there is no vision for anything beyond Sunday morning.

As long as the tithes are paid and the people are running around shouting, then we can all go home and say “We’ve had church.” This is a far cry from Jesus’ exhortation to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-15).

So, there you have it. And just to be clear, this is not to bash the black church. This is an autopsy of what needs to happen if we are going to see true and lasting change.

African Americans are the most devout and religious group in the United States and so this remains a challenge as we seek to show that Jesus is the hope of the world.

 

How about you? What reasons would you add to this list?

 

5 powerful secrets to finding Mr. or Mrs. Right as a Young, Christian Single

5 powerful secrets to finding Mr. or Mrs. Right as a Young, Christian Single

Let’s face it. Being single and Christian is hard. It’s even harder to find that person you want to spend the rest of your life with. There are so many factors to consider: age, personality, looks, and spirituality. It can all become a blur. How do you even figure out if someone is a match for you? What does God have to say about it? Here are five powerful secrets to finding Mr. or Mrs. right as a young Christian single.

Serve

The first thing to consider is whether you and the other person are serving the Lord. One of the first things I discovered about my wife was that we were both passionate about serving God and looked for ways to bless others.

In fact, I met my wife preparing for a short-term mission trip. The funny thing is it wasn’t love at first sight for either of us. We continued to serve together at different times and in different places for about four years.

One day I looked up and I realized we were spending a lot of time together and I had stars in my eyes.

Be Yourself

You can’t find the right person for you if you are putting on a mask in public. The person you attract will be drawn to the mask and not the real you.

So don’t be afraid to share your real opinions about things. Put your likes and dislikes on full display.

Yes, some people will be repelled but the right people will be drawn to you. Now, don’t get me wrong.

You don’t want a clone of yourself who thinks and believes the same way you do. You want someone who will be attracted to your authentic self.

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

I grew up in a small storefront church in Los Angeles. Most of my family still attends this church.

My heart will always be there, but staying within this circle made my choices for a mate slim.

Once I got out and started becoming involved in leading a Bible study on campus, and eventually going overseas on short-term mission trips, the dating pool started to widen.

I started meeting different people and more people who were going in the same direction I was going. That all started with me stepping outside of my comfort zone.

Decide That You are Dating to Marry

Wedding CoupleThis should be a no-brainer for Christians but oftentimes we just date people because we don’t want to be alone.

Other times it’s just hormones taking over. If you didn’t know, Christians don’t date just to date. We date to marry.

I can remember hearing a sermon about marriage and being a single Christian man. The pastor said that if we’re not going to a hostile mission field or secluding ourselves in the Amazon jungle to find a cure for cancer we need to plan to get married.

That basically put me on blast and I started actively seeking to find the wife God had for me.

Be willing to let go

The last secret is this: Be willing to let go. Sometimes the person you are dating is not the right person.

Still many people go on dating someone when they know that they don’t want to be with this person for the rest of their life.

There are more red flags than a Chinese political rally yet the person still holds out hope that maybe they will change. Most of the time they will not.

It’s best to stop holding on to hope that this person will change their ways or their basic personality traits. When you do that your perspective on the situation changes.

You begin to compromise. You want the relationship to work so badly that you will do anything to make it happen.

Eventually, either you both move on after wasting time or you end up marrying them and committing to a person who is not for you.

Trust God. Be willing to let go.

 

The Simple and Hard Facts About Being a Healthy Black Person

The Simple and Hard Facts About Being a Healthy Black Person

Young african american woman eating an appleBeing healthy is pretty simple, but most people in the United States find it pretty hard. And for an African American, it’s over-the-top hard. Not only is the struggle of getting healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle embedded in the culture, but there are sometimes actual physical and financial obstacles to overall health.

There are many things in life that are simple and hard. Like staying committed to your spouse. It’s simple. Just stay faithful to one person for the rest of your life. It’s hard because there are all kinds of ups and downs you go through.

Alongside various temptations, you will also lose that euphoric feeling you had when you first met. That’s what makes it hard for the long haul.

Following Jesus seems simple. Jesus is to be the Ruler and number one priority in your life.

Sounds simple, right? It is but it’s also hard to do it. It means you have to deny yourself. Who wants to do that?

It means that you have to trust someone you cannot see. That’s a pretty high expectation, and if you have ever tried it, it’s extremely difficult.

Application is Key

The simple part about being healthy is summed up in a maxim from Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: “Eat [real] food, not too much, mostly plants.” It can also be summed up in the overall guideline of staying active. That seems simple enough but even in the overall culture, it is a tall order. Folks who try often get buried in a mountain of guilt over late-night binges and how that occasional donut in the morning becomes a habitual.

There seems to be no end to the people telling us that we need to eat better and stay active. The problem is not more information but application.

Usually where application fails is when we try to break ourselves from our normal routine. It’s all about habits. Habits are what shape our lives.

In his book the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that habits can be broken down into three basic steps.

First there is a cue or the trigger that tells our brains that we need to do something. The next step is the routine, which is the behavior that leads to the reward. The next step is the reward that reinforces the habit.

This is something he has labeled the habit loop.

Breaking Old Habits

Woman Doing Resistance TrainingIt seems simple to break a habit then. All we need to do is recognize our cues. Then we can choose alternate behaviors that lead to a different reward.

The problem comes when your whole culture is made up of cues that go against the habit you are trying to break. That’s when the mountain of unhealthiness seems insurmountable.

At that point, you have to choose between your cultural identity and your personal well-being. What do I mean by that?

It’s Sunday afternoon at Big Mama’s house and everyone is famished after spending hours at church. Big Mama’s table is full of all kinds of things that are detrimental to your health: creamy mac and cheese. Fried chicken. Chocolate cake.

The only thing that’s decent is the collared greens and those have been overcooked with ham hocks. So the health factor is reduced.

What do you do? Do you skip the meal? You’re hungry and after all, you don’t want to disappoint Big Mama. Plus your family has been eating this way for years.

Besides that not only has your family been eating this way but millions of African American families have been eating this way. It’s embedded in your culture.

You begin to remember that time when your unusual cousin from California came and ate salad the whole week and everyone ridiculed her and said she had been hanging around white folks too much.

You don’t want to be thought of as betraying your race. So you reach for the fried chicken. It’s only right.

Limited Time and Resources

Bald office worker eating burger while typing on laptopHow about the many African Americans who are single moms? You don’t have time to cook healthy meals for the kids. You are just trying to make it through the day and get some peace once they are finally put to bed.

So what do you do? You give them the quickest and easiest thing.

Most of the time the quickest and easiest thing is also the unhealthiest. It is loaded with sodium and sugar. It is targeted to parents and children and has been tested and refined to produce a bliss point.

I learned about this concept from the book by Michael Moss titled Salt Sugar Fat

The bliss point is the perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that will get people craving for more. You don’t want to hear this but you’ve been had.

The food companies are deliberately making you unhealthy so they can make a profit from your lack of time to cook healthy meals for your family.

What if you did choose to live healthy in spite of the inconvenience of cultural identity and time? You still may face other challenges.

Let’s say you decided to follow Michael Pollan’s food maxim of eating real food and mostly plants. The economics are against you. Real food just costs more.

When you’re faced with feeding your family with the amount of money for food in your budget you have to make some choices. If it doesn’t add up you will buy the junk. And then you’re pulled back into the cycle.

There is also the existence of food deserts that totally trump eating healthy. A food desert is a swath of a usually urban community that does not have a grocery store.

There is no access to healthy food and families resort to buying food from the corner store which is usually processed and packaged. No fresh fruits or vegetables in sight.

If you are part of the 23.5 million people (mostly African American and Latino) in the United States who live in a food desert, this is a huge obstacle.

Let’s Talk Money

How about if you said that you wanted to stay active? You want to get a gym membership. That’s going to cost. You also have a family to take care of and a job to go to. You have to find time to squeeze it in.

Not only that but when most of your friends are not active then you won’t be active. Jim Rohn, the popular self-help guru, is often quoted as saying “You are the average of the five people you most spend time with.”

When it comes to being active, most black people don’t hang around other active black people. Watching sports on TV doesn’t count.

This is the essence of the struggle many black people face when it comes to health. On the surface, it seems like the struggle that anyone who wants to make a major change faces.

In many ways it is. What makes it unique is the cultural factors surrounding health.

For most African Americans eating processed, cheap, nutrient-absent foods and sitting on the couch watching reality shows has become a way of life.

Gathering around the table to consume salt, sugar, and fat in copious amounts has become the symbol of what it means to be family.

History of Soul Food

Man on ScaleDon’t get me wrong. I love soul food. I think that the distinct flavor of the cuisine that we grew up with is worth having once in a while but I also believe that some of the ingredients have gone the way of just wowing the taste buds instead of delivering the sustenance we need.

Bryant Terry, author of Afro-Vegan, in his article “Reclaiming True Grits” points out that once upon a time African American food was nutrient dense and less processed.

He recalls the meals that his Ma’ Dear made in Tennessee and how they were organic and contained ingredients from the garden. It is important to note that we didn’t always eat like this.

So what happened? Corporate America happened. Concern for profit became more important than concern for humans.

In the 1960s, Soul Food became a hit and the recipes became more dangerous to our health. We have come to equate soul food with the fare showcased in the episode of the Boondocks about the “itis.”

You know, that feeling you get after a big meal and you just want to fall over and go to sleep.

TV or play video games on the couch is not what we are designed to do.

It’s a way of life I’ve seen played out in too many homes. Personally, I’ve tried to break away from it. I do it in fits and starts.

Some leafy greens here. Some HIIT workouts there. Then sooner or later the holidays come. That’s when the temptation levels are the highest.

My mind has two thoughts battling each other. The first thought is to not give in and pursue my highest ideals. The second one is that I’m not only missing out on the stimulation of my taste buds but the community that I’m a part of.

Community Woes

Most African Americans are a part of the church. It would seem that this makes things even worse. When church people get together, they eat.

And they don’t just eat but they eat good (or bad depending on your point of view). Treating our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit seems to only apply to sex, smoking, and drinking in the church world. Packaged foods and large meals get a free pass.

I can remember when I was a strict vegan for six months in college. I was filled with energy and it was mostly from the food that I was eating and not eating.

I felt like I was lighter than air. My mind was clear and I didn’t have any illnesses. Why did I stop? Family telling me I was eating rabbit food.

To put it simply I had no community to support me. And when it comes to food and many other lifestyle choices, the community always wins. That’s why for most African Americans, eating healthy is simple and hard at the same time.

Thankfully there are those in the African American community who are banding together to promote good health. Here are just a few websites to help you find community for your new fitness habits:

 

Resources

Beautiful Women Do Workout

Black Fitness Today

Black Girl’s Guide to Weightloss

Urban Faith does not endorse any of the content on these sites. These links are provided only as a resource.

 

So what about you? Do you find it hard to live a healthy lifestyle? Do you find African American culture presents a barrier to a healthy lifestyle?

Racism: We’re Not Making This Up

Racism: We’re Not Making This Up

light and word of Racism for background Racism seems to be a proverbial boogey man under America’s bed. When activists and spokesmen against racism cry out, they are usually met with the same suspicion as a young toddler who claims there is a monster under the bed.

“Okay, son. Let’s check this out. See, there’s no monster under the bed. Go to sleep. Everything is fine.”

Those who point to racist acts, or a racist system, are summarily dismissed and encouraged to go along and get along with the times. After all we are living in a post-racial America.

Something about this strikes a subtle but dissonant chord among the many who see racism interwoven throughout our political and economic system.

Not only that, but it is also seen in the outright and unmistakable acts of terror committed against people of color in general and African Americans specifically.

A General Overview

For example, from 1999 to 2014 there were over seventy unarmed Black citizens murdered at the hands of the police. Some of these people were criminals or had a criminal record. Others were ordinary, upstanding citizens who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time—and the wrong color.

These people were objects of a racist-tinged system that immediately perceives Black as bad, no good, and evil. Many were just in the wrong place at the wrong time but that has something to do with their Blackness and being at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Their social location made them casualties of war.

So, there’s that. And then we come to the highest appointment in the land and in the world: The Office of President of the United States. From the beginning of the campaign until now, President Barack Obama has been suspected of being everything from an undercover Muslim extremist to the Antichrist and leader of the One World Government.

Now, every president that has been in office in my lifetime has been accused of being the Antichrist, but the first Black president has been accused of not only being a Muslim extremist but also not being a citizen of the United States.

No one questioned any of his predecessors’ citizenships. They only questioned his, because he did not fit into the neat “WASP” (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) category that so many of our commanders-in-chief have in the past. The last one who didn’t, John F. Kennedy, was shot. Hmmm…

Racism is now seen as the conspiracy theory that Black people rely on when things don’t go their way. The truth is things do not go anybody’s way all the time.

We live in a world of pain and suffering. Ever since the fall of man, our world has been plagued by failure and disaster.

Job put it simply that man who is born of a woman is of few days and full of suffering (Job 14:1). On the other hand, Black people in America and around the globe have had more than just a few days of suffering.

When a group of people as a whole are met with oppression and made to be scapegoats for 500 years, then that’s not the everyday suffering of an individual but the collective oppression of racism. It’s not that everyone’s racist.

Believe me, I have better things to do than play the victim and go around blaming people for attitudes that I can’t see. That’s not how I roll. No racist blaming here. What I focus on is this: racism is not dead.

Racism is an invented social hierarchy that is still in place today. You may not be racist but that doesn’t mean you are not affected by racism. Everyone is affected by it.

It has colored our view of the world so much that if you are directly or indirectly benefiting from it, you can’t see it. It’s those who are affected by it that see it best.

The Proof is in the Facts

Philadelphia, PA USA - November 24, 2014; Police Officers with the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) block a road as protestors pass by. (photo by Bas Slabbers)Following a jury decision from Ferguson, MO protesters nation-wide take the streets to protest the decision not to indict the Ferguson Police Officer that shot 18-year old Michael Brown in August of 2014. In Center City Philadelphia more then two-hundred protesters take to the streets that evening and the following days.It’s hard not to notice that one out of five African American applicants face discrimination at job interviews.

It’s hard not to notice that when a company receives a resume with a “Black-sounding” name, the applicant is 50% less likely to get a call back than one with the same credentials but a “White-sounding” name.

It’s hard not to notice that Black drivers are twice as likely to get pulled over by the police than White drivers. It’s hard not to notice that Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites.

It’s hard not to notice these statistics…unless they do not affect you.

As a Black man, I see that police murdered 70 unarmed Black citizens within the last fifteen years and it alarms me and scares me and makes me think: that could’ve been me.

I see that, even after careful research done on the people of ancient Egypt and the genetics of the first humans, a movie focusing on those times such as Noah or Gods of Egypt can depict only White men being in power. So, when I walk into a room I’m not seen as someone who can lead but someone who will be on the bottom.

I see that the median wealth of White households is 13 times more than the wealth of Black households since the Great Recession of 2007 and I have to ask myself, “How did we get here in the first place?”

A Historical Context

Well, way back in the 15th century when the European world was being awakened to the vast riches and natural resources beyond its borders, the then mostly Christian nations of the time needed a theory. They needed a theory that allowed them to justify them subjugating and oppressing those who were “other.”

Out of that need for a theory racism was born. A social hierarchy was created where the fair-skinned people were on top and those who were darker were on the bottom.

Out of this social hierarchy came slavery, genocide, colonialism and the conquest and rape of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It’s not pretty but it’s something that we have to deal with.

This same social hierarchy persisted into the Jim Crow era. It gave license to separate but unequal schools, housing, health care, jobs, and anything else you could think of. It gave a blank check to the Ku Klux Klan terrorism and lynching.

This same hierarchy is embedded in the fabric of our nation.

It can be seen in the mass incarceration of African Americans.

It can be seen in the huge gap in African Americans being hired for tech jobs.

This hierarchy creates a subconscious bias against people of color. It causes us to unknowingly—and knowingly—give in to stereotypes. We write our screenplays and vote a certain way because of this hierarchy that has influenced people for over 500 years.

You can’t just get rid of something like that without sustained, focused effort.

Renewing of the Mind

It is the kind of stronghold and a principality that Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:12). It’s bigger than just individuals.

In the same letter Paul says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood.” Racism is bigger than people. It is a cultural force that has swept America up in its path.

In his book Brainwashed, Tom Burrell talks about the powerful propaganda campaign that has been executed to perpetuate the myth of Black inferiority. He states that, as a Black man, he is personally repulsed, but as an advertising executive, he can’t help but admire the genius of the strategy.

Holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” can’t fix it. It takes a renewing of the mind and a casting out. It is a demon that sits in the haunted corners of our national psyche and it needs to be evicted.

Yes, America. You are possessed. There is an unclean spirit in you that has caused you to act against your better self. Its name is “racism.”

We can get rid of slavery and segregation, but until we get rid of racism, Laquan McDonalds will still get shot in the streets in cold blood.

People will still get called the N-word, even if they are the President of the United States. Our children will not have equal education and opportunities, and many African Americans will continue to hate themselves.

As long as racism is allowed a free pass while we hold to not being racist, then we are doomed. It’s bigger than you as an individual. And no, we are not making this up.

Let’s talk about it. What are your thoughts on racism in America? Do you believe that the solution begins with changing one’s current mindset?