The Day We Chose Barabbas

It has been hard to pull away from watching the news this week.

On January 6, we saw hundreds of domestic terrorists fueled by White Supremacy, and radicalized by the President, launch an attack on the United States Capitol in an attempt to overthrow our democracy. I sat in horror listening to the President’s inciting speech and then an hour later watching the frenzied mob scaling the walls, attacking police, killing one officer and injuring many others.

My Lamentations

I was outraged at the image of the Confederate flag waving inside a building which symbolizes its defeat. I was in disbelief at the images of our elected officials’ ransacked offices, and American insurgents sitting at the rostrum where the Vice President and Speaker of the House preside as the President of the United States delivers the State of the Union address. Finally, and most deplorable, there were the blasphemous images of the noose, the cross, and the banner bearing the name of Jesus. As I took it all in, the opening passage of the book of Lamentations came to mind:

“How deserted lies the city,

once so full of people!

How like a widow is she,

who once was great among the nations!

She who was queen among the provinces

has now become a slave.”

Lamentations 1:1

The Power of Choice

After the flood of emotions washed over me, just like many others who grieve, acceptance settled into my heart that this vile scene is the United States of America.  Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of three evils which plague American society—racism, materialism, and militarism. Time and time again, our so-called Christian nation has preferred to embody these grave sins over and above the teachings of Jesus Christ to love our neighbor. Yes, I started to accept the fact that we chose Barabbas.

Barabbas was the murdering insurrectionist that Pontius Pilate offered alongside Jesus for the mob to decide on. Pilate would allow one man to be released and rejoin society, and the other would be crucified to die an excruciating death. Beyond all logic this Holy Nation chose the one who would murder their sons, rape their daughters, and plunder their land.

The parallels with this scriptural account to ours are too many to list at this time, I will just underscore the one similarity that allowed me to move from disbelief to acceptance at the state of our nation—we are still choosing Barabbas.

Choosing Barabbas

When European colonizers arrived on the shores of this land, they chose Barabbas. They chose Barabbas when they violently stole from the Indigenous people who had been on this land for millennia. They chose Barabbas when they brutally enslaved millions of Black people, ripping them from their families, and callously benefited from the wealth they produced. They chose Barabbas during segregation as they refused to bestow the slightest bit of dignity and honor to those created in the image of God. They chose Barabbas when they created racist housing policies, bias business procedures, unfair educational practices, mass incarceration, and countless other injustice systems and structures. They chose Barabbas in 2016, and they are still choosing Barabbas today.  I have come to terms with that now. I accept this reality about our country.

But make no mistake. My acceptance of the way things are in theses United States, does in no way deter me from standing up, speaking out, and laboring with all of my strength to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke, to welcome the foreigner, to care for the widow, and to feed those who are hungry.

I fight, not because I think that America will one day live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I fight because God’s Kingdom already does, and His love compels me to do the same!

“And in the days of these kings the God of Heaven will set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the Kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.”

Daniel 2:44




20/20 Vision

We are but a few days into 2021. But the question is, financially, do you have 2020 vision? Contrary to popular belief a person with 20/20 vision does not have perfect sight, but what they do have is visual acuity. Visual acuity means that you see things with sharpness and clarity. It means you can see things at least 20 feet away.

The financial hardships experienced in the year 2020 have left and indelible impression providing greater clarity and sharpness, motivating us towards responsible financial stewardship in the year 2021. If after the year 2020, your financial acuity has remained the same, I suggest you check your prescription!

Now that the financial wreckage or carnage from the year 2020 has been laid bare before us, where do we begin? In this blog we begin with being honest in our reality assessments. According to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System survey in 2019, the median White family wealth was $188,200.00. Conversely, the median Black and Hispanic family wealth was $24,100 or less than 15% of White families. If you’re going to improve financially in 2021 the following two action items are nonelective starting points.

PERSONAL WORTH

The terms income and wealth are used interchangeably but they actually mean quite different things. A person could be living on a fixed monthly earned social security income of $1,200.00, while dwelling in their home valued at $700,000.00. We consider that person low income. But if that’s all they have and no debt, they could be considered wealthy or have a high net worth.

In order to measure your progress towards your goals this year, the following exercise must be completed. List all you assets like money in the bank, investment accounts, your car, market value of your home, insurance policy, furniture and other assets. Then list your liabilities such as mortgages, car note, credit card balances and student loans. Subtract your liabilities from your assets and determine your net worth. If you don’t know your personal worth you can’t know your personal growth!

BUDGET

It does not matter if you had one last year and didn’t stick to it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never had one or you have one in your head. Take the time this week to create one for the year 2021. If you already have one, take the time to review and revise. There’s always a way to improve on what you already have working for you. Show your budget some love and have enjoyable spending incorporated along with your priorities.

With your budgeting process remember Rome was not built in a day, but it was built. Therefore, attack your budget goals section by section or area by area and not all at once. Don’t think of your budget as cutting your spending only. It may also reveal areas in which you should earn more income and growth. And for heaven’s sake, don’t make budgeting a hassle when there are apps available to help you better manage your finances in today’s economy. This is another action item for you to complete this week or this month. Don’t fudge it-budget!

NEW ADMINISTRATION

Finally, there is a new administration coming to Washington in a few days. While Presidents do not make or break an economy by themselves, they do have an impact. The top three United States Presidents from a stock market return perspective are Calvin Coolidge 1023-1929 with a market performance of 26.1% per year; Bill Clinton 1993-2001 with a market performance of 15.2% per year and Barack Obama 2009-2017 with a market performance of 13.8% per year. This year, as you grow in your finances pay attention to the financial changes ahead. They are coming!

 




“When Peace Becomes Obnoxious”

A Reflection on the Siege of the U.S. Capitol by Domestic Terrorists

Lord, public shame belongs to us, our kings, our leaders, and our fathers, because we have sinned against you. – Daniel 9:8 (CSB)

On January 6, 2021 Democracy was attacked. While Senators and House Representatives debated the electoral votes from the state of Arizona, domestic terrorists scaled the walls of the U.S. Capitol. Shattering windows and breaking doors, insurrectionists entered the offices of elected officials and even illegally entered the Senate floor. A most egregious act was to see an anarchist standing from the very podium only moments earlier Vice President Mike Pence and Madam Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood.

Framed as a “March for Trump” with self-proclaimed protestors decrying voter fraud and mistrust in the electoral process, the nation could not help but compare the treatment of Black Lives Matter protestors to how police dealt with the anarchists who only yesterday lived to tell of how they illegally broke into a federal building vandalizing the edifice and the private property of elected officials.

America Has Not Changed

This was not a display of liberty. This was not a display of justice. The concern of these terrorists was not national peace nor the integrity of our electoral process. Yesterday’s violence was a result of eight years of a Black president, four years of a Trump presidency, and the election of the country’s first Black and Indian, female Vice President. The anger, vitriol, and ignorance espoused from these terrorists is an outgrowth of the racist, bigoted rhetoric exemplified by the President of these yet to be United States.

This siege of the U.S. Capitol revealed to the world that White nationalism remains the greatest threat to democracy and political progress here in America. It further solidifies that White supremacist terror is not a figment of the American imagination, a memory of the country of old. This mutiny may have been incited by President Trump, but it was fueled by the wounds of a lost Civil War exactly 160 years ago.

As a White nationalist walked the Confederate flag through the halls of the U.S. Capitol it became clear to me that some Americans are still reeling over the loss of the Civil War. White supremacists and the descendants of the confederate leaders of the American South are still grieved over the federal mandate of the emancipation of enslaved Africans. They are still enraged over decades of society’s attempt to embrace and acknowledge the humanity of Blacks, the Indigenous, and other people of color.

“When Peace Becomes Obnoxious”

How American leaders and citizens respond to this moment will either show our courage or our cowardice. Now, is not the time to cry aloud for a peace that longs for the absence of tension. Exactly 8 days before the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 11 days before his national holiday, I am reminded of a sermon he delivered in Montgomery, AL on March 18, 1956 entitled, “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious.”

Delivered the day before his trial for violating Alabama’s anti-boycott law, King declared, “peace is not merely the absence of…tension, but the presence of justice.” As he continues, his words seem to resound as the courageous reminder we all need to hear: “And even if we didn’t have this tension, we still wouldn’t have positive peace. Yes, it is true that if the Negro accept this place, accepts exploitation, and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be an obnoxious peace. It would be a peace that boiled down to stagnant complacity, deadening passivity. And if peace means this, I don’t want peace.”

I can’t help but agree. For if peace means the objection of a Biden-Harris administration, then I don’t want peace. If peace means the rejection of Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, then I don’t want peace. If peace means the acceptance of government corruption, then I don’t want peace. If peace means turning a blind eye to White supremacist terror, then I don’t want peace. If peace means four more years of Donald Trump as President of the United States, then I don’t want peace.

True Peace

The peace I long for my country is the peace Jesus speaks of John 14:27 when he says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.” The peace of Jesus is a security in Him, His power, His presence, His just kingdom. It is not a peace that seeks to escape or avoid tension. But instead, it is, as Dr. King wrote a “peace [that] is the presence of positive good.”

So, as we reflect upon the events of yesterday some in shock, horror, dismay, and others a numb nonchalance accustom to such violence, my lament for us is that we do not run from these moment. “Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.” Now is not the time to backdown on the work of justice. Now, more than ever do we need a peace that does not shrink in cowardice, but stands in the face of aggression; stands in the face of racism; stands in the face of anarchy; stands though the heavens fall and remains steadfast to the work of producing “the presence of positive good.”

My Prayer

I close with the final words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon: “Our Father God, who dost overarch our fleeting years with thine eternity and dost undergird our weakness with thy strength, in the midst of the pressures of another day, as we face its vast concerns. Above all else save us from succumbing to the tragic temptation of becoming cynical.”

This is my prayer…in Jesus name,

Amen.




Serve God. Serve Country.

S

ome of the polemics from the Senate race in the state of Georgia included the, resurrected and misappropriated statement that the Reverend Doctor Raphael Warnock made in a sermon 10 years ago. 

At the crescendo of his sermon, Warnock said “You can’t serve God and the military…” . That statement has been used as the catapult to launch assertions that he is not patriotic and should not be elected to represent the state of Georgia as a Senator. 

He did say those words, but, context still matters. The larger point that he was making in that sermon was that divided loyalty is idolatry. Misplaced priorities displace integrity. When principles and policy conflict, the principle should take precedence.

If his sentiments, 10 years ago were, indeed, antithetical to patriotism, his body of work as a committed community activist and as an advocate for justice, equality, equanimity, health care and a living wage would be non sequiturs. 

Civil Servants in the Bible

The argument is a ruse and a straw man. The Biblical example of Joseph comes to mind first. Clearly disadvantaged by his imprisonment, he providentially rose to the highest ranks of Egyptian government. He served with the same honest discernment in the courts of Pharaoh as he did in Potiphar’s house, or even the home of his own father.

What about Saul and David? Both warriors and kings. Both men whom God selected to serve Him by leading the nation of their birth. Curiously, while serving in defense of their nation, both failed. Both were punished, not because of their military service, but, because of their personal folly. Saul did not recover. David was redeemed.

Then, remember Naaman, the leper. He was a decorated soldier and advisor to his king, prior to his conversion. As he is leaving the prophet Elisha, he asks for an indulgence because he served at the pleasure of his king, who was an idolater. Rather than condemn, excoriate or counsel him to quit his job, Elisha simply says to Him “Go in peace!”

Clearly, in Elisha’s mind, it is possible to serve God and serve patriotically, simultaneously. To be a civil servant, soldier, police officer, fireman or other first responder is not a sin. In fact, performing civic duty is really where the rubber on the wheels of Christian faith meet the roads of practical spirituality. 

We Will All Be Judged for Integrity and Body of Work

Deeds done in the course of civil service, or, a thought passionately expressed during a sermon, are not the only things that God uses to judge a person’s body of work and character. We should similarly seek to balance the body of someone’s work against 30 seconds of rhetoric, detached from its original context. 

Whoever wins the election in Georgia, like the other 99 U. S. Senators, will take a patriotic oath similar to the one that all military people take. It says: 

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Whatever the bent, heretofore, those who win elections to serve the people of a community make a commitment to protect the interest of their constituents and to serve with the best interest of the least among them in mind. The pivotal question to consider is whether the weight of rhetoric is heavier than the laborie corpus. Does a sentence weigh more than a lifestyle and a lifetime of committed and visible service? Patriotism is found when we act in support of the common good to advance the process of creating a more perfect union. That is a goal in harmony with the will of God.  




Resoultions

At the conclusion of each year we find ourselves engaging in the ritual of making resolutions for the New Year. What kept you from keeping your 2020 resolutions? The pandemic alone is reason enough. But, there are additional reasons why we fail to sustain our resolutions. So let’s consider some of those pitfalls as we plan for 2021.

All Resolutions are not equal

Let’s face it, some resolutions are much more difficult to follow through on than others. Financial resolutions are some of the most difficult to maintain. In other words, the failure rate of people not following through on their financial resolutions are greater than other areas of commitment. But Why? The truth is financial resolutions involve transparency. There is a sense of guilt and shame associated with our financial behavior and therefore we don’t talk about it. Hence the reason why our success rate of financial resolutions is low. In this area of your life be realistic. Financial resolutions are emotional so don’t rush into them.

Resolution Purpose

The fact that the calendar has changed to a new year is not reason enough to make a resolution. Is the month of January really the best time for you to make a resolution in this Covid-19 season? There must be purpose and or benefits driving your resolution! Think about the benefits of having a budget, how it might reduce your stress level, even cause you to become debt free so that you can enjoy vacations. The more practical and pragmatic you can make the benefit outcomes to your goals, the more likely you are to achieve success.

Is it all or nothing?

Resolutions also fail because you have an all or nothing approach. Let’s say you planned to save 10% of your income in 2021 and you achieved your goal in January but were only able to save 5% in February, then what? For some of you it means that you have broken your resolution or failed and now you want to give up. What you need to recognize is that you are actually succeeding! It’s not like you didn’t save any money in February. It’s only that you were not able to reach the 10% bench mark established as the goal. But you are a winner, saving 5%, verses nothing! Too many resolutions are not achieved because of the all or nothing approach. Is that the ”hill you’re going to die on” in 2021?

Where are you?

In making your financial resolutions you need to determine what stage of life you are in. For example, some people think that by age 22 you should have completed your first college degree and any mistakes made up until that point can be attributed to being young and foolish. Then from age 22 through 35 might be the time to get married and raise a family. From age 35 through 55 is when you should earn money and become an entrepreneur. After that, it’s time to focus on retirement. Knowing where you are in life can help guide you in making financial resolutions. It can help determine things like how much you need and what’s the next step for you. Don’t just make financial resolutions without proper context.

As you make financial plans and goals for 2021 I want you to be realistic. Think about the process and progress incrementally. Then think about your resolutions as a covenant verses contract. In a contract, if one side breaches, the entire contract is voided. Whereas, in a covenant, if one party breaches, the entire agreement remains in place. Just because you failed in keeping your commitment in one month or one time don’t give up on the covenant during the year. Keep going!  Your covenant resolution is still in effect. Plan well in 2021.




A Needle in Time, Saves Lives

A Doctor’s Perspective on the COVID-19 Vaccine

I have been asked the following question by a number of patients and family members: what will you do when the COCID-19 vaccine is available? I have taken the time to think about it and research the literature available at this time. And they, the vaccines, are here. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is here and the Moderna’s vaccine just got approval by the FDA and CDC. I have made the decision to take the COVID-19 vaccine in a few days when my hospital receives the doses. I believe there are three options for you to consider. Just three.

Option 1

This option is to disregard all the scientific research and recommendations about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and refuse to take it.

Option 2

The second option is to wait until some have taken the vaccine and see if there are any unknown side effects. (See if Dr. Berry begins to glow in the dark after receiving the injection, and then decide whether to take it or not.)

Option 3

The third option is the option I chose. To review the reputable scientific information, seek counsel from a physician you trust, pray about it, and get the vaccine when it becomes available.

Things to Consider

If you choose option one, you are at a high risk of becoming infected by the virus, especially if you have a number of risk factors like obesity, diabetes and chronic medical problems. Over 300,000 souls have been lost so far because they did not have the antibodies to help their immune system fight off the infection. Option 1 is still your choice.

If you choose option two, wait and see, you are still as vulnerable to the deadly consequences of the infection as option one. Option 2 is however still your choice.

Option three is the only option I believe is available now for our survival. Like the Polio vaccine, MMR and Flu vaccines, mankind has been saved from many deadly infections. Literally millions of us have been protected by these inoculations.

Who Should Not Get the Vaccine?

The same is now true for the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, to be completely transparent, as of the publication of this article there are individuals who should not get the vaccine. In researching the literature, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not approved (at this time) for people aged below 16, or those with severe allergies (make sure the clinic that administers the vaccine has the resources to correct any adverse reaction to the injection, like an Epipen. They must also observe you for at least 20 minutes after the injection). Also pregnant women are not eligible for the vaccines. Ongoing research by these companies, I believe, will eventually clear for pediatric and pregnancy use, but at this time, these three are not eligible.

How Does the Vaccine Work?

Prophecy states that in the last days knowledge shall increase. The production of this vaccine with mRNA technology (messenger Ribonucleic acid) has been a miracle in the making. As of February 2020 when the Chinese disclosed the virus, they had already deciphered the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus-2). This sequence was shared with American scientists who were especially interested in the part of the virus that attaches to the human cells and facilitates injection of the viral RNA into these cells. These “protrusions” on the surface of the virus, or the clusters of red triangular projections we have seen in pictures, are called Spike proteins or S proteins. If an antibody could be developed to attack the S proteins, the virus could not penetrate the human cells and therefore would die. This is exactly what was done.

The  mRNA protein sequence of the S protein is encircled in a lipid Nano molecule (because of the length of this article I will explain this at a future time) that allows this S protein to enter the cell. It never goes into the nucleus of the cell where the DNA is found. In the cytoplasm the mRNA is used to form S proteins that are eventually expressed on the surface of the cells. Your immune system sees these S proteins and produces antibodies for them. The research shows that to be 95% effective, the body needs a second injection of the Pfizer vaccine 21 days after the first.

It is important to note that after you are immunized you can still become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The difference is that you would have developed antibodies to the S protein of the virus. These antibodies would effectively prevent the virus from attaching to your cells, and therefore, you would not get very sick or die. You still however need to protect yourself by wearing an appropriate mask and physical distancing.

The Conclusion of the Matter

So there you have it. Information to aid with your decision making. This holiday season, many are contemplating whether or not to get the virus, and others are social distancing away from family. My encouragement to you, is be informed, pray about it as you have in the past, and be guided by the Holy Spirit.




Your Not to Do Christmas List

This article is for you Christmas procrastinators. If there’s anything that will throw your spending out of control it is waiting until last minute to figure out what gifts to give this Christmas. So, with one day remaining before Christmas, here is what should be on your Christmas not to do shopping list.

Gifts with Warranties

Let’s say you purchase a kitchen item for a friend and when you are about to click the purchase button the question of warranty is raised. What should you do? I know! In your haste to purchase a gift at the last minute you include the warranty in your purchase. Don’t waste your money! Are you or your friend ever going to recoup the value in dollars spent on a regular kitchen item verses its cost? Save yourself a few dollars and ignore the warranty button or skip the warranty question at the cash register.

Wrapping Paper

Now here’s one of my all-time favorites! Are you ready for this brand name wrapping paper! I know you’re already feeling guilty because you had no shopping plan, or you procrastinated and are now getting it together three days, maybe no eve one day before Christmas. But shouldn’t the gift be enough. Save a few bucks and let go of the brand name stuff. Regular wrapping paper will get the same objective accomplished. Stop guilt tripping!

Shipping Cost

At this eleventh hour you’re going to have to make some store shopping choices. First, you may need to consider purchasing a gift from a vendor where there is free in-store pickup. With shipping cost out of control and you waiting until the eleventh hour to swing into the holiday spirit, UPS and Amazon may be out of your shipping spending cost for this season. Besides, it still may not arrive on time after you have paid all that money for shipping. The people on your list may not be far away and perhaps you could consider doing the in-store pickup and delivery yourself.

Guest List

This suggestion may not resonate with many of you, but some individuals have too many people on their Christmas list. Here you should do like Santa: make a list, check it twice, and see who you can cross off. I know it sounds cold, but these are the hard realities when you begin your Christmas shopping at the last minute. You had no budget plan or shopping plan, and you procrastinated. You don’t not need to feel guilty about removing someone from your list. Especially since, you will more than likely be charging these items on your credit card and will be paying interest on these gifts for the next several months. Ouch!

All that said, have a wonderful Christmas and happy holidays!




Christmas Grief in Quarantine

This time of year brings back several good memories, and some sad. My most painful recollection is the death of my mother. Dec 20, 2004 is forever imprinted on my calendar marking my holiday by the reminder of this loss and my grief. While it was sixteen years ago, every year it feels like yesterday. Some find comfort in the age-old line, “time heals all wounds.” I have found time to be a healer of some wounds, but certainly not all as the sting of this death still lingers.

Grief in Quarantine

Hence, this will not be my first Christmas in quarantine. In fact, every year before the date approaches I isolate my emotions tucking them away until the next year. Overwhelmed by the stress of grief, I was paralyzed. And due to my emotional paralysis I found myself turning to isolation. Many of us have become acquainted with much grief this year as well. This pandemic has turned our lives upside down. And for some, it appears there will be no end in sight. But in spite of all my loss I have found that it is God’s faithfulness that remains and keeps me strong (Lam. 3:23). Sharing my testimony with you, I pray you are encouraged to hold on in spite of sorrow trusting in the faithfulness of God.

While many lost loved ones, this year I found myself as one of over 30 million unemployed due to COVID-19. After some time I was thankful for the job I found, but the truth is it did not cover all my expenses. This caused even more problems to arise. My rent was in jeopardy. Although the rental company, due to the pandemic, allowed late payments, it was stressful. I paid October and November at the end of each month, but did not want to do the same in December. I found was anxious and overwhelmed by this burden because I just could not keep up.

Casting My Cares

You know what I did? I turned it over to God. You heard me right. I got to the point where I had exerted all of my strength, all of my resources, all of my connections. I had nothing left. So, I said “God, I have done all You asked of me and I cannot do any more. Please take this.” Now, if I’m honest, although I gave it to Him sometimes I would still think about it. I’d ponder take back control. I’d think about what I needed to do to help God. But I allowed myself to “be still and know that [He] is God” and allowed the thoughts to fade. One of the ways I did this was by focusing on ministering to others.

Blessings on Blessings

While I focused on ministering to others, God focused on ministering to me. And on December 11, 2020, God answered my prayer. The apartment manager called and said the Maryland Department of Housing are assisting late tenants and all you need to do is sign a form. I went, signed the form, and now my rent is paid for December. The amazing thing is, I never applied for this program. I didn’t even know about it! Look at God! “Before they call, I will answer and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

Now, just in case you are wondering, “How will she keep up?” God answered another prayer. In January 2021, I will be starting a new teaching job. In spite of the difficulties of 2020, I have come to know that God cares about me. His heart is touched with my grief, and all things eventually did work together for my good.

God is Not Quarantined

My word to those reading my story is this: whatever you are going through during these unprecedented times of fear, loss, grief, loneliness, sickness, instability, and hopelessness, give it to God. He is not quarantined from us. He hears our cries, sees our needs, and already has the answer. All we need to do is come to him believing that He is who he says he is, “for without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).




“The Greatest Gift of All” by George Powell

It is with immense joy, pride, and excitement that we at Message present to you, again, George Powell singing his original song, “The Greatest Gift of All.” Powell wrote the verses and Chester Baldwin wrote the chorus. This song is going to make you feel warm, worship, cry, and want nothing more than be able to download this gem on all your music platforms. May this song remind you that this season, Jesus truly is the greatest gift of all. Be blessed.




Holiday Tips

With Christmas imminent I’m sure you’ve already made a list of people you want to tip this year. You usually give a tip to your hairdresser, postal delivery man or woman, babysitter or mechanic. But allow me play Grinch for a moment. Since we’ve been living through a global pandemic, high unemployment, and millions of people facing food insecurity, should we be tipping in 2020?

What’s fascinating about the whole tipping conversation is that we’re supposed to tip the people who have rendered valuable personal services to us throughout the year. If that’s the case, how is it that there is a suggested list of people who provide critical and valuable services that are intentionally omitted from the tipping list? According to holiday tipping etiquette, you should not tip your doctor! You mean the person who has helped keep you alive all year should not be tipped? Another person on the do not tip list is your attorney – the person who gave you advice all year and kept you out of trouble. Well, regardless of your tipping philosophy or who’s on your list here are some financial tips you need to need to consider before 2020 comes to an end.

Charitable Contributions/ Donations

If you made charitable contributions in 2020, you will be allowed an “above the line“ deduction of up to three hundred dollars even if you do not itemize and claim the standard deduction. This is good news and a break for most people who use the standard deduction. In prior years, if you only qualified for the standard deduction and made charitable contributions your contributions did not aid in increasing your refund or reducing the tax liability. Therefore, if you have made charitable contributions of at least three hundred dollars by December 31, 2020 be sure to apply the standard deduction on your 2020 taxes.

What if you itemize? If you usually itemize on your taxes a greater percentage of your contributions made in 2020 will be allowed. What do I mean? In the past, your charitable contributions were limited to only 60% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). However, if you provide charitable contributions by December 31, 2020 and itemize 100%, yes 100%, of your charitable contributions will count and not be limited by your adjusted gross income.

Finally, if you don’t have cash what is the best asset to donate? If you have long term appreciated securities to donate the benefits are difficult to ignore. The way it works is you donate the asset to the charity and deduct the full fair market value up to 30% of your adjusted gross income. The organization receiving the appreciated securities generally will not incur capital gains taxes upon sale of the asset. It’s a win, win for everyone!

Get Cash without Penalty

In the past, if you needed money and wanted to withdraw money from your retirement, 401k or 403(b) and were younger than 59 1/2, you would face the consequences of a 10% penalty for early withdrawal. This year, if you are struggling through the pandemic and need some cash you can avoid payday loans and withdraw from your retirement account without tax penalties. If you need the money, you have until December 31, 2020 to execute the transaction.

Match Your Retirement

Each year millions of employees leave money on the table, don’t be one of them! Check with your Human Resources Benefits Department to ensure that you have maxed out on your retirement contribution, and match with your employer for the year 2020.

Mileage Log and Expenses

If you are a business owner, now is the time to begin putting together your mileage log, review preliminary business expenses and find receipts. If you pay contractors, ensure that they complete IRS Form W-9 with the required information. Pay all deductible expenses prior to December 31, 2020 to reduce tax liabilities.

Holiday tips are about showing gratitude to those who have rendered invaluable service to you throughout the year. But while you are looking out for others do not forget to pay attention to the end of year financial moves that will better position you for 2021.