#HarveyTaughtMe Part 1: Storms and Skeptics

#HarveyTaughtMe Part 1: Storms and Skeptics

I have been working in the city of Houston since 2012 and in my five years of living in the state of Texas I never experienced a “real” hurricane making landfall—until Harvey. What our city experienced was something much more than any of us could have imagined, as so many homes, vehicles, businesses, churches, and lives were lost.

For a bustling city of over 7 million people, Harvey seemed to freeze time as access to every major highway and feeder road was restricted by flood waters. Many families spent days in their homes unable to venture beyond their subdivisions for groceries, medication, or even to help other friends and loved ones in need.

Growing up on the East Coast, I was accustomed to the challenges of snowstorms and blizzards, but I had never experienced a natural disaster that seemed to devastate so many people so quickly. Hurricane Harvey, however, did more than simply usher in a season of destruction and devastation for the city.

Disaster seemingly brings the best and worse out of people, and while I saw a few reports of people taking advantage of the misfortune of others, the sense of love and camaraderie that I witnessed among our people in the aftermath of Harvey was overwhelming. In a season of boiling racial tension, highlighted by the acts of terrorism in Charlottesville, it was refreshing to be in Southeast Texas and watch people of all races, ages and economic backgrounds work together for the benefit of the community.

For a workaholic like myself, Harvey literally slowed me down long enough to reflect on life, God, and the needs of my community.

As our city weathered the storm, I was reminded of the story of Job, a man of God who survived a storm both in his personal life and physically (Job 38:1). As I revisited the text, I was amazed at some of the parallels I saw between Job’s storm experience and our own modern-day experience here in Houston. And, as the storm continued I gleaned lessons that I would like to share with the readers of Urban Faith.

Lesson 1: Skepticism Surfaces In The Storm

“His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’ 10 He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:9-10)

Storms never just affect us.

In Job’s case, everything he lost as a result of this “test”—his livestock, servants, and children—Job’s wife lost as well. In this text, she is grieving and her statements to Job suggest that she has a knowledge and maybe even a relationship with God. However, in the face of the loss and hurt, she is feeling her words communicate a distrust or a frustration for this God that Job seemed to cling so closely to.

As I followed social media during Hurricane Harvey, one of my major frustrations surrounded the ways in which people, especially those who were not in Houston during the storm, began to call out churches and pastors in the city for not responding to the crisis in a way that they deemed appropriate. The constant refrain seemed to be, “How could these churches and pastors who live off the offerings and donations of the people of the city be doing NOTHING to help them?”

As a staff clergy member of a larger primarily African American congregation in Houston, it was disheartening reading these posts and hearing the chatter of the skeptics in the crowd. This was especially difficult while being aware of knowing the planning, research, partnerships, and projects our own staff was working on behind the scenes to implement when it was safe to travel back to our building and re-open it.

Storms, disaster, and loss have a way of bringing out the skeptics- those looking for a reason to affirm their distrust for God and the institutions that serve in God’s name. The key is knowing the heart of God (and those who serve God) and remembering that temporary silence is not always an indication of apathy. Instead, it may be conduit to strategizing how to be most effective in the face of the storm.

Check back soon for Part 2 and more lessons on what #HarveyTaughtMe from Dr. Mitchell.

 

 

How to Avoid the Box of Limitation

How to Avoid the Box of Limitation

We have been privileged to live in a generation that has mastered the art of multitasking, being able to do multiple things at the same time and excelling. You really have to, otherwise, life will pass you by.

Sometimes the news changes so fast that if you wait too long, you are outdated. Have you ever been in a situation where you did not check your phone all day, and by the time you turned it on, it seemed as though you were on a different planet because so much had happened? That is the gift of living in a world of possibilities. Everything is possible and anything can happen. The sky is the limit.

Limitation presents itself in a very cunning way in our lives. For some, it begins at a young age through criticism from a parent or guardian, a teacher or peers that begin to conform your mind to think a certain way.

Or, it could be the environment that you are first exposed to. Unfortunately, depending on the zip code that you reside in, it can determine the kind of privileges that are afforded to you.

Limitation can enter your life through rejection, a lack of acceptance, where you never fit in and regardless of how kind you try to be, or all the things you try to do, you just never measure up. Therefore, you feel limited, constrained, suffocated and blocked.

Limitation could be geographical. The opportunities that could bring a breakthrough in your life may not be at the proximity of where you are currently located. Moving out of that geographical region would be coming out of that box of limitation and pursuing something that could change your life.

The mistakes that we make is stepping into these boxes of limitation that are presented to us daily in our lives and getting comfortable. We take our pity party pillow, and our “poor old me” throws, find a nice corner to hibernate, and hope that Jesus will come down and rescue us from our misery.

I love the Bible because it is a wonderful and precious book filled with verbs. God is all about movement, action, and purpose.

In the book of Genesis, our first encounter with God, is His interaction with an earth that was void and filled with darkness. That did not intimidate Him or make Him cower back. Instead, His Spirit “moved” upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 KJV

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Your life may be filled with void and darkness, but guess what God wants you to do? MOVE!

I created an acronym for the word MOVE to push me during those times that I sense limitation is looming over me, trying to push me down a dungeon of hopelessness.

M– Mastering

O– Of

V– Victory

E– Everyday

Sometimes you have to look at life as a classroom that you show up to master and excel in every lesson presented. By the time we get to verse 31 in Genesis 1, God had taken the earth that was void and made it to be very good. You have to take your void situation, be motivated by purpose and create the environment that makes it very good.

Genesis 1:31 KJV

31 And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Instead of throwing a glamorous pity party and sending out beautiful invitations to host limitation in your life, I suggest:

1. Returning the limitation box back to the sender

Just the way you return mail that is not yours, you do not have to receive projections of limitations that are said to you, thrown at you, or even perceived by you from others. You have the power to control what you receive. Learn how to reject that which will limit your progress. Let it “talk to the hand!”

2. Follow God’s role model

The first thing that God did was move. He was not concerned about how things looked, He got busy creating. He got busy with purpose. Instead of complaining about what is wrong and how unfair life may be (which may be true), get busy moving into purpose and finding out why you are here. Passivity is a hobby that many take up, waiting for a change that may never come. You are the agent that triggers the change you are praying for.

3. Believe in yourself

There comes a point of decision and reckoning that you are unique. You have to begin investing in self-affirmation ministry to yourself and build up the confidence muscles that may be feeble in you. You may have to cry sometimes and that is okay, but after crying let there be purpose in your tears. The greatest gift that you can give yourself is to refuse to be limited and live a life that is open to receive all that God has for you.

Dear God,

Help me with the daily struggle of limitation that overwhelms me. If I have limited myself and allowed sabotage in my life, or refuse to step on the platforms that You bring to me, forgive me. I give myself permission to succeed. I look to You for confidence, and I receive the boldness to walk into purpose and the liberty of being myself. That is a gift, a precious gift that I ask You to help me guard. The gift of being me. Thank You God for making me, me.

 Amen.

 

 

Generosity: Going beyond the tithe

Generosity: Going beyond the tithe

I’d garner a wage that if you’ve ever stepped into a church, you’re familiar with the “Offering” moment. It’s generally a time in the service where someone will get up and give a brief message about the importance of tithing.

It is almost comical how quickly the energy in the room changes in this moment. People revert back to high school tendencies and hide their faces for fear of eye contact and looming shame.

At the church I currently attend, they pass buckets down rows and I, as discreetly as possible, glance at how much my neighbor has contributed while simultaneously feeling the need to defend why I have nothing tangible to place in the bucket because I give online. All of this, of course, happens in seconds. Then, the moment passes and everyone seems to release a collective breath, almost as if to say, “OK, we’re done talking about money.”

A lot of times when we hear sermons on giving, we hear it from the perspective of “Give because God’s going to give it back to you.” Another perspective is “Give because God will punish you if you don’t.”

I’m not going to argue against those perspectives. I want to offer a new one, perhaps, a deeper one.

This Giving Thing is Nothing New

2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are basically an offering message nestled in the middle of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Without getting too much into the historical context of this passage, let’s establish a little background to set the scene.

It’s important to read the letter as a whole. Paul was attempting to re-establish his authority with the Corinthian church. There were “false prophets” trying to usurp his relationship with the church; there were questions around hierarchy within the church as it pertains to spiritual gifts, etc., etc.

Needless to say, the church at Corinth needed a stern talking to. While this was going on in Corinth, according to Colin Kruse’s The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, the Jewish Christians of Judea had been hit hard by outbreaks of famine during the reign of Claudius (emperor of Rome AD 41-54).

Theologian Tom Wright goes on to explain the sensitivity of Paul’s ask. Wright states, “[Paul] knows that at every stage the project is a tricky one: persuading the Gentile churches to hand over money, especially the Corinthian church that had seemed to rebel against him; taking the money safely, and with proper accounting, to Jerusalem; and delivering it acceptably to the church there.”

There’s one passage in particular that I’d like to highlight. 2 Corinthians 8:4 says, “… they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of
sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (emphasis mine).

We could all learn a thing or two about giving

The summer after I finished university, I moved in with a family from the church I was attending. It was a pretty new experience for me, living with a family I barely knew and having to get used to their customs. For example, every day at 6 p.m., dinner was on the table and we had family dinner. I was expected to be home for dinner every night, something I’d never experienced before.

One night, I was running a bit late. I didn’t think it necessary to call because I figured they wouldn’t miss me, or they wouldn’t notice or care that I wasn’t there. So, imagine my surprise when I walked in and everyone was at the table waiting on me to get there.

I was floored and embarrassed at the same time. I was lovingly, yet sternly, reminded that dinner is at 6 p.m. and I should kindly let them know when I’ll be late in the future. It was a shift in worldview for me. Because I was now seen as a part of their family, I was expected to act like a part of their family.

In the same way, since we, as Christians, have now been welcomed into God’s family, we are expected to act differently. We are expected to be generous.

God so loved the world that he gave … generosity is a character trait of being the Lord’s people. Our capacity to give exists only because God first gave. We give because, through Jesus Christ, it’s in our DNA to give.

It isn’t by force or threat that we should approach generosity. It is with full conviction of who we are in Christ that we live generous lives. It goes far beyond one moment one day a week. It should bleed into our everyday lives. Urgently search out ways to give.

I’ve challenged myself to carry dollar bills and bottles of water and fruit in my car because I know I’m going to pass homeless people on the street. It’s a simple way to purpose to be generous. It’s our privilege as the Lord’s people to do so.

What’s Really Going On in Syria?

What’s Really Going On in Syria?

As an American, it is very difficult for me to understand the conflict in Syria; the depth of which encompasses hundreds of years of political and religious battle lines.

Modern technology brings international attention to the plight of the citizens there. Images surface and are reposted thousands of times over and are difficult to avoid. We carry the world in our pockets, while somehow being ill-equipped to handle the knowledge that it brings.

It’s almost easier to ignore the news altogether for being crippled by an inability to immediately do something about what we see and hear. However, chosen ignorance can lead to apathy, and that we must not give in to.

FACTS AND FIGURES

Syria is a land rich with cultural and historical influence. It is one of the oldest inhabited regions in the world with archaeological finds.

Professor Joshua Mark writes, “Syria was an important trade region with ports on the Mediterranean, prized by a succession of Mesopotamian empires.”

It has six world heritage sites, but unfortunately, its current conflict has brought unimaginable damage to this historically rich land.

Over 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, and more than one million have been injured. Over 12 million Syrians—half the country’s pre-war population—have been displaced from their homes.

The Free Syrian Army formed in 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad, who has international supporters such as Russia. There has been ongoing violence against citizens that has been condemned by the UN and other countries.

On April 7th of this year, President Donald Trump launched missiles at a Syrian air force base in response to the use of chemical warfare. There are four major players in the conflict: Assad and his regime, Kurdish forces, ISIS, and other opposition. This in no way encompasses the depth of war in Syria, however it gives us at least a starting point to comprehend what others are facing.

I don’t know what it’s like to become accustomed to hearing bombs. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a perpetual state of grief. I don’t know what it’s like to hide under rubble and wait for death to come.

However, I do know that there are people in this world who experience these things and more as a part of their ‘normal’ life. I’m not o.k. with being knowledgeable of what’s going on and doing nothing about it.

We lose a sense of our humanity when we’re not moved by the plight of others. To quote a pastor I know, “we can not do everything, but we must do something.”

THE RESPONSE

While everyday people like me may not have any say on what decisions are made by governments involved in this conflict, there are certainly ways to play my part. Our response: get educated and get involved.

As stated earlier, we have access to the entire world through our phones. Do a little research, don’t just take a Facebook user’s opinion on the matter. Research viable news outlets. Look at sources outside of America.

I’m thankful for tools, such as this timeline crafted by BBC News, that help give an overview of the history of the conflict.

A quick way to get involved is to donate money. Preemptive Love is an organization that is dedicated to “Loving the People No One Else Will Love.” They are on the ground in war-infested places that were otherwise unreached by any kind of aid.

In Aleppo, they’ve set up a kitchen where thousands are being fed. Aleppo is located with ISIS forces to the west, Turkish-backed rebels to the northwest, Kurdish militias to the northeast, rebels (including Al Qaeda) to the east, and government forces all to the south.

Matthew Willingham, Preemptive Love’s Senior Field Editor, writes, “When families in Aleppo ran for their lives, they didn’t have time to pack a lunch. When bombs are falling, you don’t stop to raid the fridge or whip up a sandwich — you run.”

Since December 2016, donations made it possible to make 790,540 hot meals, 2,000 sleeping bags, and 2,000 food packages. The beautiful thing is refugees, serving refugees, run the hot meal kitchen.

Preemptive Love is passionate about restoring dignity to the person by empowering them to be the change in their community.

It’s hard to imagine leaving my comfortable home, my steady job, my family and friends, and going to a country so ridden with war. It’s easy to leave that job to the missionaries who risk martyrdom. However, all of us have a responsibility to fight on behalf of humanity. We are the answer. Don’t become paralyzed by apathy. Preemptive Love states, “Every day, you make choices that either sustain conflict or transform it.”

For more information on Preemptive Love and ways to get involved, click here.

The Me I See: My Race, My Faith, My Identity

The Me I See: My Race, My Faith, My Identity

“Are you brown all over?”

The innocence of the question did nothing to prevent me from being flabbergasted. As I stared into the almost cartoon-sized blue eyes of this 4-year-old boy, compassion filled my heart. I simply smiled and replied, “Why yes, of course!”

He nodded in understanding and continued playing with the toys that had previously occupied his attention. As I sat there watching his imagination create a world only he would understand, I wondered if this moment would be as memorable for him as I was sure it would be for me.

There’s a temptation to somehow prove my humanity, to validate my existence; especially because I live in a society that labels me a minority. The definition of “minority” is “a racial, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial, or social power without regard to the size of these groups.”

My nation, my homeland, defines me as a racial subordinate to the dominant group. It’s a label that follows me every time I check “Black/African-American” on any document. It’s a label that follows me any time I walk into a room and I’m the only one there who looks like me. I have a pre-disposition to believe that I am less than because it is what I’ve been told since I was born. It’s even printed on my birth certificate.

In indignation, I wear my hair natural. I comb through hundreds of photos on Instagram that have the “#BlackGirlMagic” marker. I recite Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” at any given opportunity. I go out of my way to compliment any black woman I meet.

I vote knowing what it cost my ancestors to grant me this right. I fight to prove that no quantifiable data could box me in and keep me from living the life I want to live.

It’s funny, all of that effort did nothing to quiet the comparison or stop the Caucasian woman from accosting me and my little cousins. It did nothing to abate the voice in my head that hurls insults every time I’m in front of a mirror. The only thing that has proven strong enough to rectify my identity is the Word of God.

I am black. I am a woman. I am southern. I am a millennial. I can come up with lots of ways to identify myself. I can make a list of a thousand superlatives. However, anything I fathom about who I am does not compare to who I am in Christ.

Society has a lot to say about who we are. In fact, we have a lot to say, ourselves, about who we are, and a lot of times we are better than anyone at putting ourselves down. Is it possible that when we say “yes” to Jesus, when we surrender our lives to Him, in doing so, we subject our idea of identity to Him as well?  Identity then becomes more than a list of quantifiers.

If the Word of God created the world and all we see, how much more powerful then would it be to believe His words about us? We are children of the Most High God. We are His handiwork. In the same way He created the earth, He fashioned us together in our mothers’ womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We, the children of God, are His royal priesthood. We are the head and not the tail. We have every spiritual blessing made available to us through Christ. We are chosen.

We aren’t beautiful because of, or in spite of,  being black. We are beautiful because we were created by Beauty Himself. My skin color becomes more than a sign of my socio-economic status; it is part of the hand-picked design as imagined by my Creator. We aren’t worthy because our society calls us worthy, but because Jesus thought us worthy enough to die for.

Our choice is this: To live subjected to societal labels or to allow this new identity to supersede what we once believed. My faith then doesn’t just inform my identity. It becomes the lens through which I’m even able to see who I really am. It doesn’t stop there.

When we are able to see ourselves through this lens, we are empowered, nay obligated, to see others the same way. It transforms a “me against the world” ideology into an understanding that it is “us under God.” The need for validation becomes obsolete and pure confidence flourishes as the love of Christ permeates the entirety of our beings.

 

An Update on Maintaining Those New Year’s Resolutions

An Update on Maintaining Those New Year’s Resolutions

With us being several weeks into 2017, you might have already gotten slightly discouraged or fallen off track when it comes to the goals you’ve set for the year, so we thought it may be a good idea to revisit those resolutions with an update. While setting goals, people tend to be very whimsical and sometimes unrealistic with their New Year’s Resolutions and how they want things to manifest in the upcoming year. So to assist with maintaining your goals, serving your purpose, and most importantly achieving the goals you’ve set, here are few tips:

SET SMALLER GOALS

Yes, I said it. You have to begin small. I know that you probably aren’t use to people telling you to think smaller when it comes to achieving something, but studies show that when you attempt to achieve smaller goals, you are more likely to be successful at reaching them. If one of your goals this year is to lose a substantial amount of weight, instead of aiming straight for the intended target, set a smaller one. If you want to lose 40 or more pounds, instead of focusing of the entire 40, concentrate solely on losing the first 10 to 15. And, don’t forget to congratulate yourself when you reach your halfway mark.

SET MORE PURPOSEFUL GOALS

Maybe this year you want to travel more, but what else? The point of a resolution is to make a positive change, but remember to ask yourself: “Will this change also be beneficial to my overall purpose?” While working towards your 2017 goals, think about the positive outcome in completing these goals and how it contributes to your purpose. And, as the months go by, remember to keep in mind how successfully completing such goals will positively affect those around you. Make sure that you are allowing the light that shines within you to beam and even reflect onto others. To be able to share your life’s purpose while achieving your goals? I’d call that a true win!

YOUR PURPOSE IS NOT THEIRS

Your year won’t look the same as the next person’s simply because your purpose is not the same. While nurturing and tending to your goals this year, make sure to focus on your own individuality. Your resolutions will never be identical to someone else’s and that’s ok! No one has the same purpose, therefore no one will have the same goals. Staying focused on one’s self is key to achieving your greatest potential. Think of it like coloring, if you stay within the lines, you will create your own beautiful picture.