Elevating Easter

Elevating Easter

Video Courtesy of Mario Moton


In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, the average Christian spends a lot of money, time, and energy preparing for the holiday. While I’ve always considered that time of year to be a very special one, I’ve often wondered why we don’t elevate Easter–or Resurrection Sunday, to use the name that many believers prefer–to the same level. After all, didn’t Jesus come into the world for the very purpose of suffering, dying, and rising again to demonstrate His love and give us new life?

So why don’t we celebrate the day Jesus arose from the dead the way we celebrate the day He came into the world? Well, if I interviewed every believer I know, I’d receive a multitude of opinions. For example, some men and women of faith would say it’s because Resurrection Sunday is more somber than Christmas. When these Christians think about the horrific thing that was done to Jesus to save our souls, they can’t help but be sad. They don’t like thinking–or talking about–the demise of any human being, let alone the torture and death of the One they call Savior. So, while they honor the day Jesus was resurrected, they aren’t inspired to engage in the same type of festivities as the ones they deem appropriate for Christmas.

For other Christians, the difference in how they celebrate these two holidays stems from the fact that they aren’t constantly being courted by retailers that promise to provide just what they need to have a perfect holiday. In other words, as Resurrection Sunday approaches, they don’t feel the same kind of pressure or obligation to buy the right presents or hang the prettiest decorations. So, they don’t do anything special for the holiday. Still others would probably say that it’s simply because, other than Passion Plays or Sunday school programs put on at churches, there just aren’t that many religious traditions associated with the holiday.

But does it have to be this way? Couldn’t we begin today to create our own family traditions that recognize the fact that Jesus kept His promise that He’d die and then, on the third day, be alive again? Isn’t that very fact pivotal to our Christian faith? Isn’t that reason enough for a celebration or, even better, kicking off certain lifestyle changes that will last long after the holiday has come and gone?

Holiday traditions have a wonderful way of ushering in greater spiritual awareness and a renewed commitment to one’s faith. They can provide us with opportunities to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as share our faith with non-believers. And they can also help us make our faith more tangible in the eyes of our impressionable children.

One way to do this is to set aside time to pray and read God’s Word every day, particularly reflecting on verses that remind us of His Son’s sacrificial love for us. Among the verses you may want to read and meditate on are the following ones: John 3:16; Romans 10:9; Luke 19:10; Romans 5:8; and I John 4:7-10. Don’t feel as though you have to do this alone. Invite your spouse, a prayer partner and even your children to join you. If you already set aside time for devotions, you may want to use the time to not only read them but memorize them. That way, they’ll not just be counted among the many that you perused this year, but listed among those that meant enough to you that you chose to engrave them into your heart and mind.

Reaching out to others during this time is another way to take your appreciation of the holiday to new level. Some people do this by inviting unsaved relatives, friends, or neighbors to go to church with them. Others may opt to host an event–such as a brunch, dinner party, movie night, or even a dessert party–in their home for relatives and friends who appreciate Christian fellowship as much as they do. In addition, those that love giving presents on holidays could consider making homemade gifts–such as sugar cookies made into shapes representative of various components of the Gospel message (e.g., a cross, sheep, stars, etc.)–or purchasing small gifts at their local Christian bookstore.

You also could fill your home, office, and car with sights and sounds that are symbolic of Christ’s life. Little figurines displayed on mantles or tables in your home, as well as small ornaments, hung on bedposts, doorknobs, or even your car’s rear-view mirror could serve as perfect reminders of what God did for us through His Son. If you’ve been thinking about incorporating more faith-based forms of entertainment into your life and home, this is the perfect time to start. Check your local library, video rental store, or favorite bookstore for inspirational titles and schedule a few movie nights. And don’t forget to set aside time to be blessed by the ministry of music, whether you enjoy the gospel, contemporary Christian, holy hip-hop, or sacred jazz. Let it play softly in the background while eating dinner with your family, as you complete chores, and as you’re commuting to and from various places.

Regardless of which traditions you decide to infuse into your life in the coming weeks, what’s important is that you hold on to why you’re adding them. Celebrate the good news of Easter unabashedly so that you, your loved ones, and anyone who crosses your path will have the opportunity to experience a renewed appreciation for Resurrection Sunday and all that it symbolizes for God’s children.

’Tis the Season to Be Laid Off

’Tis the Season to Be Laid Off

The holiday season is a special time of peace, joy, goodwill toward others, and … job cuts.

Just scan the headlines of companies announcing layoffs.

It wasn’t always this way. But even before the pandemic, companies had become less gun shy about blasting employees around Christmastime. Shedding jobs in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year helps companies to balance their books and start fresh in January. For the jobless, it can make for a wrenching cheerless holiday. Meanwhile, those on the employment bubble are left thanking their lucky stars, that is, until the next round of cuts.

Heartless or just business?

Actually it’s both. The motive is certainly not about “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” This is why, ironically, losing your job during the holidays may be the best gift for you.

How do I know? It happened it me.

One November, a few years back, my supervisor called me into his office as if nothing was wrong, told me that my services were no longer needed and handed me a manila folder. This was just six months after I had joined the well-known company, relocated my family (with two teens in high school), and bought a home. As devout and God-fearing as I would like to think I am, I didn’t feel very spiritual at that moment. But the scripture is true: “What man means for evil, God can turn to good” (Gen. 5:20). I eventually chose to join God’s plan to use that dark moment to refocus me on faith, family, and a brighter future.

I got fired up.

How did it happen? My book, Fired Up, explains the four steps:

1. Talk About It. I immediately told friends and family what happened, instead of wallowing in shame.

2. Pray About It. Through daily prayer I reflected on my past accomplishments, which inspired and helped me plan my next career move.

3.  Feel It. I embraced my emotions, but managed them. When anger raged and I felt like hurting the guy and cursing the company’s owner for the cowardly classless way they fired me, I let it flow. I also took a kickboxing class as an outlet to kick and punch out anger.

4. Forgive. These first three steps helped me to learn from the situation and reject the bitter feeling of wanting harm to come upon my ex-supervisor and the company’s owner. They weren’t thinking about me, and so I was cheating my family and myself by ruminating about them. I refocused on “Me Inc.”

Job cuts come with the territory. Especially if you’re an at-will employee (and not under contract), you can be slashed at any moment. For those who have gotten the ax, wanting to return the favor to your former boss is a waste of time and energy.  The appropriate F-word is “forgive,” so that you can move up to what God has prepared for you.

As I mentioned, employers want to start fresh after the New Year, so December and January are actually good times to find your next job, if that’s what you want. Maybe God wants you to start that business he placed into your heart! Either way, stay focused, keep your head up and put your feet to the pavement. For those who are dealing with a jobless loved one or spouse, particularly a male, here’s some advice to help them press on:

1. If you’re married, encourage your spouse. The Bible teaches that women have the power “to build up” or “pull down” their homes (Prov. 14:1). Wise women understand “death and life is in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21). The guy is already feeling inadequate as a breadwinner. Instead of tossing more dirt on his fragile ego, show that you’re in the trenches with him. Likewise, men must encourage their wives through a job loss and love her sacrificially (Eph. 5:25-27).

2. If you have children, include them in the recovery process. Together, tell the kids what’s going on. Too often we shield children from bad news because we don’t want them to be disappointed. Forget that. It’s a disservice to them. Children need to learn how to handle hard times because they will become adults who will have to handle hard times. So, there won’t be any expensive Christmas gifts under the tree this year? Tell them why and that the holiday is about Jesus the giver not Santa the credit card debt creator. They’ll survive, and you will too.

3. Cut expenses and eliminate debt. Most of the economic pundits claim that America must spend its way out of the recession for jobs to return. Guess what? Those old jobs that required obsolete skills aren’t coming back. The banks — especially the ones that were bailed out by our tax dollars — are cutting expenses, investing and reaping huge profits. Do the same.

4. Pray together. Job losses often trigger divorces. God allows us to face challenges so that we can shed the excesses and distractions of daily life in order to refocus on Him — the source of our increase. Losing income is a wakeup call to recognizing who your Provider truly is.

It hasn’t been easy, but these God-directed steps worked for my family and me. None of us have been hungry or without shelter. I moved on to better employment. I have my own radio show. I’m pursuing a doctorate. My book and consulting business are doing well. (These things likely would not have happened had I remained in that old position.) Our two teens are in college. My wife and I remain on the journey.

Losing your job is never easy, but it’s not a death sentence. What you do afterward is an opportunity to grow in your relationship with God and think more creatively about the days ahead.

The Christmas season is about faith, family, and future. Don’t let a job loss — a painful but temporary thing — take your focus off of what really matters.

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.

 

Are you embracing the 4 C’s of financial literacy?

Are you embracing the 4 C’s of financial literacy?

Video Courtesy of NABE Webinars


A lot of people have heard of the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. I was thinking the other day, the reason why people have a sense of belonging for a community or a city or an estate is because of the people who live there. The experiences and support they bring to that environment promotes a positive culture that draws everyone who lives there to feel as though they belong. They become protective and nurturing of their “village”.

That is the same way we should think about our finances. You do not get to financial stability and freedom by guesswork, feelings or emotions. It is an act of intentional commitment, discipline, education and accountability and it will involve you, and those you are willing to listen to.

I am a firm believer that money is a magnifying tool that reveals the intent and the character of your soul. Who you really are will always be revealed in the abundance of money or lack of it in your life. I have been around people who seemed humble and kind when they did not have money, until they reached a place of financial prosperity. All of a sudden, a sense of being rude and dismissive becomes appealing as though it is supposed to be fashionable. Pride becomes a regular smoothie partaken to make sure that you prove to everyone you made it.

On the other hand, having a lack of money can bring out the insecurities, fear, withdrawal and lack of confidence of embracing true purpose. I have also seen people sabotage great relationships, their integrity and character, because the struggle of not having enough turned them to desperation. They ended up doing things they wished they had not, or going back into situations they should not have, to get back to that place of financial comfort.

The reality is, having financial stability is a great feeling. Waking up each day with the amazing peace that you can pay every bill or anything you owe and have so much left over is a wonderful blessing to experience. However, the biggest mistake we make including myself is, camping in that place of wishing that could happen if we are not yet walking in that reality.

To embark on a journey to success regarding your finances, it has to begin with your outlook. What do you think of yourself regarding money? Proverbs 23:7 KJV states “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he”. Your outward behavior and reaction including your relationship with money is a direct reflection of how you think about yourself.

To create an outlook that will push you and motivate you to a healthy relationship with your finances, including being vulnerable and honest with yourself, as to why you push yourself each day to financial success, practice the “4 C’s to a positive outlook on money” as given to me by Holy Spirit”:

1. Courage

Be willing to face yourself and examine the true motives of your heart. How do you view money? Is it dreadful? Are you stressed out every time its payday or do you have a heart of gratitude for Gods provision? Are you courageous to admit that a lack of money has created a void that you need God to fill? Are you willing to admit that you have used money to attain a status that will make people like you? You have to be courageous to face yourself on your outlook of money.

2. Commitment

You have to commit to change. Denial is not a choice. It is an invisible wall that you create in the circumference of your mind to convince you to cope with the assumption that everything is okay when it is not. Commit to have a positive outlook regarding money. This will give you a fresh perspective of the root cause of your behavior and relationship to money. If money is a tool that motivates you to live a purposeful life, it will be revealed and you will be encouraged to continue working hard. If it is not, you can pause and find out why and adjust your outlook to route you in the right path.

3. Confidence

Confidence is very connected with faith. God always tells you to believe the opposite of what you feel or see. Sometimes at your worst, when you are experiencing lack, God encourages you that “He is your Shepherd and you shall not want” Psalms 23: 1.

As a child of faith, you have to remember that God orchestrates each of our steps and as we live yielded to Him, He will guide us to wisdom, knowledge, education that will equip us to great stewardship. However, we have to first be confident in Him. I am learning that daily, God never gets tired of empowering us with confidence. Seek Him, ask Him, He is right there, and He is willing to release to you the measure of confidence you need to handle the financial obligations at hand.

4. Consistency

Consistency is what icing is to a cake, what syrup is to a pancake, what salt is to soup. Have you ever had soup with no salt? There is no taste to it. But you add a bit of salt and the flavors seem to be awakened as you drink it. It is the secret ingredient that so many of us miss. We start, but don’t finish. We set the budget, but don’t follow it. We open the savings account, but never deposit any money in it. I look at consistency as pacing yourself to savor the sweetness of life.

I love drinking tea. I specifically enjoy a nice cup of Kenyan brewed tea. It takes a special skill to brew a really good cup of Kenyan tea. To add up the flavors and make sure the taste of it is not bitter. The key is time. I consider myself a “master” at making tea especially for a large group of people but, it took me years and years of making tea everyday to learn. I could make tea in my sleep. Was it exciting? No! In fact, sometimes I dreaded it. But, when I see people close their eyes and smell the tea as they drink it with a smile and savor the taste, it brings me great joy!

It is the same way with consistency. You are not going to have butterflies and feel a sense of excitement truth be told you may get bored, not want to do it, dread it, but that is when you should do it. Be consistent in your commitment to be courageously confident about your outlook on money and watch how open you will be to learning how to be a wise steward of what God has blessed you with.

 

How’s Your Relationship with Yourself?

How’s Your Relationship with Yourself?

Video Courtesy of Dr. Minnie Claiborne, Ph.D. LHD


A column by Dr. Minnie Claiborn, Ph.D., a licensed counselor, life coach and author. 


There are seven basic areas wherein all human challenges lie. One of these is our relationship with self. We form many of our opinions of ourselves based on what others around us say to us and about us, or how we interpret what they say and do.

In some respects, we do come into the world with a “blank slate” and we write on it based on how we are treated. Some of us encounter rejection, abuse, abandonment, and many other hurtful experiences from our primary families or caregivers when we are young. From these experiences, which may be accompanied by ugly words, we often form unhealthy opinions of ourselves.

I had a young woman client once who in her mind and experience did not fit the societal standard of beauty. When she told me that she had been raped, she asked with incredulity, “Why would anyone rape me?” Her opinion of herself was so low, she felt so unattractive, that she was amazed that even a rapist would want her.

On the other hand, I observed a young lady whose body shape and physical features also did not meet the society standard of beauty, yet she exuded self-confidence. I discovered that she was a daddy’s girl, had a loving, doting mother and had married a man who also adored her.

Many young men who were not affirmed by their fathers suffer from a sense of insecurity, fear, rejection, lack of self-identity and a lack of belonging. Other people contributed to our being broken, but God can heal us (Luke 4:18). We can’t go back and change what was said or done to us or about us, but with new information and truth, we can change how if affects us.

Truth trumps facts. Divine truth (truth from God’s perspective) is greater than the facts of our experiences and thoughts. If you were not told that you are beautiful, or handsome or valuable by anyone else, know that God made you and He thinks you’re all of that (Psalm 139).

How do you change a wrong or bad opinion of yourself? Put God’s Word in your mouth and speak it to yourself out loud. A good place to start is by saying, “God loves me.” The entire Bible bears witness to that truth. I have witnessed the power of Scripture-based affirmations. An affirmation simply means that you affirm and agree with what is being said. Here is an affirmation that you can use every day that will help you to begin to have a winning relationship with yourself. You might know it in your head, but you need to SAY it over and over so that your subconscious will receive truth and your conscious thoughts and behaviors will begin to change. God told young Joshua to meditate on His word day and night and he (Joshua) would have prosperity and good success (Joshua 1:8). I suggest that you say this out loud at least five times per day until you know in your soul that it is true.

AFFIRMATION: God loves me. God accepts me. I love and accept myself. I invite God to change the things that do not please Him and things that are detrimental to me.

READ: Psalm 139, Joshua 1:8, John 3:16