A Letter to Dr. King

Dear Dr. King,

I began writing this letter to you on your birthday. Though the gift of life was stripped from you, I wanted to offer you a gift that proves your legacy lives on. A gift that proves your dream has taken strides to becoming reality.

So much has taken place since you’ve been gone. The streets you once marched on tell new stories. Cracks in the pavement mark change made with every step. Rain washes away the tears that fell, the blood that was spilt, and even the gas that left a stinging pain in the eyes of many a peaceful protester like yourself. Each burn, beating, and bruise reminded them that the manifestation of dreams does not come cheap. Though Heaven’s cries wash the residuals from the streets, the cracks in the pavement remain. They serve to remind us that though the pain proves difficult to forget, the change that resulted from that pain is powerful, too.

The day to day interactions I often fail to consider would mark as milestones in your eyes. I watch girls of various races drink from the same water fountain after a basketball game. I see little boys of all shades playing outside together in the snow. The 44th President of the United States was an African American man, and his wife was an African American woman. I sit in the very front of my lecture with a sea of white, brown, and yellow behind me as President of the class in a school where, like many, racism once reared its ugly head.

Dr. King, this was your dream, and I have seen it come to life. Not just in Maryland or Michigan, but across the world. This dream that you had for the entire nation has spread far and wide. You raised your hand fervently in the fight for equality and little did you know that your fingertips would touch places you had never been. These are your cracks in the pavement, Dr. King. This is your reminder that change came from the pain. And though so much has changed, far too much has stayed the same.

You had dreamed that your four children would live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Though children of all races play amongst one another, 12-year-old black boys are gunned down in the streets. Immigrant children are locked in cages, separated from their parents at the border. The content of their character has no value here.

Churches that were once a place sanctified for dreams have become homes to nightmares. Horrors stemming from hatred such as the bombing of the 16th street Baptist Church in 1963 have been paralleled in racially motivated mass shootings such as that of the Charleston church in 2015.

Dr. King, the fight is far from over. Inequality is still present in various ways. Women do not have the same opportunities as men do for pay, whilst minorities do not have the same opportunities as that of white men for work and housing. Mass incarceration has taken its home in the black community. Gun violence and police brutality continue to speak boldly. They are shouting, Dr. King, but we are shouting louder. We are shouting Black Lives Matter, shouting Mike, Tamir, Trayvon, Sandra and Eric! We are shouting that all men are created equal; we are shouting with every brother and sister in Christ who will join us. Black, White, Brown, Yellow, whatever color – we stretch our hands out to God, even when it is hard to feel Him. We allow tears to fall from our faces into each crack our pain has left in the pavement. We feel the change underneath our feet, and we know that we grow closer with each passing day. Free at last, free at last! We are shouting free at last. We shout it, even before the freedom comes, for we still believe that who the Son sets free is free indeed.

 

Kyara Samuels




Why King Lives On

Jesus, when eulogizing his First cousin John, asked the attending crowd what turned out to be a series of rhetorical questions. He followed these questions up with the answer we find in Matthew 11:9 (NIV). He says “What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” Although I cannot theologically confer the words of Christ to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I like to imagine God pleased with His path. Dr king prepared a path for righteousness and justice as did John the Baptist in preparing the world for its savior.

I am awestruck every time I watch what most would consider to be the pinnacle of Dr. King’s influence: the march on Washington. Standing on the steps of the hallowed Lincoln Memorial Dr. King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech. I am riveted when I listen to him speak boldly and candidly on behalf of the sanitation workers in Memphis Tennessee. I am deeply moved when I read the infamous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Indeed from the pulpit to the page, Dr. King sits on the mountaintop with some of the greatest literary activists of Earth’s history.

However, I would argue that if his life was not congruent with his tongue it would not be long before his oratorical ability and his literary prowess would be a mere conglomeration of sounding brass and clanging cymbals. Yes, we are easily inspired by ones’ ability to arrange words in a manner that stirs in our souls the desire to rally the proverbial troops to get the job done. Whether it is the melodic speech of the 44th President of the United States, or the rhythmic voice of ones favorite pop/rap artist, it doesn’t take much to get us going. However, we are quick to jump ship when we find that one’s actions are not congruent with ones words.

From corrupt politicians to pocket snatching preachers we have become calloused and indifferent to leaders who attempt to swoon us with their words only to slap us with their actions. Such was not the case when we examine the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. In an era when equality dripped as slow as molasses and injustice ran free as a flowing river there was one man whose actions functioned as the mitochondria of his words.

Dr. King was a father, a husband, a friend, a theologian, an icon, but most of all an indiscriminate friend to the least of society. Where did he get his uncanny drive to continue amidst hostility and assault? On what rock was his foundation established? I could extrapolate bits and pieces from all of his known manuscripts. I could list a number of individuals as well as historical documents that influenced his thinking. However, there is one document written first in 1892 and most recently ratified in 1957 that truly moved the drum major, the pledge of Allegiance. It is the final line of the pledge that I believe encapsulates the mission and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It reads “One nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty, and justice for all”

One Nation

​Dr. King was a proud American who sought social and civil reform for his beloved nation. His message was one of unity and cohesiveness for mankind. He understood that while it was not possible for everyone to reach the pinnacle of success it was important to him that they at least have the same opportunity afforded them. As a historian, Dr. King understood that the unity of a nation was a must have variable that greatly determined its rise or fall.

Under God/Indivisible

​As a theologian, Dr. King, though a prolific agent for social change, understood that we should reckon with the truth that any nation not guided by a strict moral code cannot stand long. King did not use his influence to promote his denominational preference but understood as well as the forefathers of this nation that the past, present, and future of this great nation lies in its submission to the governing principals as prescribed by the early puritan settlers. The very character of God was communicated to Moses some 4000 years ago. It is the principals of the ancient Decalogue known as the Ten Commandments woven into the fabric of this nation that still provide foundation in America.

Still stitched in the very currency we exchange is the now controversial phrase “In God we trust”. Without these principals exalted there becomes an abundance of every crooked and perverse thing. I submit to you today as did Dr. King did over 50 years ago, that a code of success that is never translated from paper to practice is as null and void as a blank check written with insufficient funds to match. In essence, while this nation may one day desire to disassociate itself with its God, it was never Gods intention to disassociate Himself from her. Dr. King’s life of sacrifice and legacy of Christ centered justice will forever remind us of that great truth.

Liberty

​The fuel of the oppressed to make it yet another day lies in the hope of one day being free. Liberty was the theme that consistently drove Dr. King to continue when dogs were loosed in the streets during protest, and Molotov cocktails were thrown through his living room windows. Each demonstration of oppression fed his peaceful rebellion. I submit to you today that if we believe for one moment that Dr. King’s dream of liberty was exclusive for the people of African descent then we need to re-evaluate our understanding of his mission. Dr. King desired to have keys made to unlock every chain of oppression that had fettered any individual within the human race! Understanding that freedom is not free he sacrificed his time, talents, family, and eventually his own life to see that his proclamation of freedom become a reality.

Justice for All

​In his letter written while in the Birmingham jail Dr. King makes a statement that gives the reader clear picture into his political and social philosophy at the time. Now, one of his most quoted phrases, Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King was unafraid to expose the injustice that affected him and countless others. A leader is often born out of a need. There was a definite need for reform in his era. I believe Dr. King was a successful leader because he was well acquainted with the griefs of those who followed him. He was unwilling to relent in his pursuit of fair treatment for all people.

While the majority of America pledged its allegiance to the ideals of the nation, Dr King and so many others pledged their allegiance to seeing those ideals become a reality. He was ever mindful of the mountains he had to climb, and received strength and motivation when he looked back at the valleys from whence he came.  Such should be our resolve. Such should be our motivation. The legacy of his writings, his service, and even his sacrifice, live on in the lives of every one of us.




“Give Us the Ballot”

*Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech “Give Us the Ballot – We Will Transform the South” delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on 17 May 1957, the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s famous school desegregation decision.

Three years ago the Supreme Court of this nation rendered in simple, eloquent and unequivocal language a decision which will long be stenciled on the mental sheets of succeeding generations. For all men of good will, this May 17 decision came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of enforced segregation. It came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of distinguished people throughout the world who had dared only to dream of freedom. It came as a legal and sociological death blow to the old Plessy doctrine of “separate-but-equal.” It came as a reaffirmation of the good old American doctrine of freedom and equality for all people.

Unfortunately, this noble and sublime decision has not gone without opposition. This opposition has often risen to ominous proportions. Many states have risen. Up in open defiance. The legislative halls of the South ring loud with such words as “interposition” and “nullification.” Methods of defiance range from crippling economic reprisals to the tragic reign of violence and terror. All of these forces have conjoined to make for massive resistance.

But, even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic traditions and it is democracy turned upside down.

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.

So our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote.

Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.

Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an antilynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the southern states and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.

Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient misdeeds of blood-thirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will, and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a Southern Manifesto, because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.

Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will “do justly and love mercy,” and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the divine.

Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954.

In this junction of our nation’s history there is an urgent need for dedicated and courageous leadership. If we are to solve the problems ahead and make racial justice a reality, this leadership must be fourfold.

First, there is a need for a strong, aggressive leadership from the federal government. So far, only the judicial branch of the government has evinced this quality of leadership. If the executive and legislative branches of the government were as concerned about the protection of our citizenship rights as the federal courts have been, then the transition from a segregated to an integrated society would be infinitely smoother. But we so often look to Washington in vain for this concern.

In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of the government is all too silent and apathetic. In the midst of the desperate need for civil rights legislation, the legislative branch of the government is all too stagnant and hypocritical.

This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both parties have betrayed the cause of justice. The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing, reactionary northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.

In the midst of these prevailing conditions, we come to Washington today pleading with the president and the members of Congress to provide a strong, moral and courageous leadership for a situation that cannot permanently be evaded. We come humbly to say to the men in the forefront of our government that the civil rights issue is not an ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo; it is rather an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation in the ideological struggle with communism. The hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now, before it is too late.

A second area in which there is need for strong leadership is from the white northern liberals. There is a dire need today for a liberalism which is truly liberal. What we are witnessing today in so many northern communities is a sort of quasi liberalism which is based on the principle of looking sympathetically at all sides. It is a liberalism so bent on seeing all sides that it fails to become committed to either side. It is a liberalism that is so objectively analytical that it is not subjectively committed. It is a liberalism which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm.

We call for a liberalism from the North which will be thoroughly committed to the ideal of racial justice and will not be deterred by the propaganda and subtle words of those who say, “Slow up for a while; you are pushing too fast.”

A third area that we must look to far strong leadership is from the moderates of the white South. It is unfortunate, indeed, that at this time the leadership of the white South stems from the closed-minded reactionaries. These persons gain prominence and power by the dissemination of false ideas, and by deliberately appealing to the deepest hate responses within the human mind. It is my firm belief that this closed-minded, reactionary, recalcitrant group constitutes a numerical minority. There are in the white South more open-minded moderates than appear on the surface. These persons are silent today because of fear of social, political and economic reprisals. God grant that the white moderates of the South will rise up courageously, without fear, and take up the leadership in this tense period of transition.

I cannot close without stressing the urgent need for strong, courageous and intelligent leadership from the Negro community. We need leadership that is calm and yet positive. this is no day for the rabble-rouser, whether he be Negro or white. We must realize that we are grappling with such a complex problem there is no place for misguided emotionalism. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate or malice. Let us never become bitter.

There is another warning signal. We talk a great deal about our rights, and rightly so. We proudly proclaim that three-fourths of the peoples of the world are colored. We have the privilege of noticing in our generation the great drama of freedom and independence as it unfolds in Asia and Africa. All of these things are in line with the unfolding work of providence.

But we must be sure that we accept them in the right spirit. We must not seek to use our emerging freedom and our growing power to do the same thing to the white minority that has been done to us for so many centuries. We must not become victimized with a psychology of victors. In our nation, under the guidance of the superb legal staff of the NAACP, we have been able, through the courts, to remove the legal basis of segregation. Every person of good will is profoundly indebted to the NAACP for its noble work. We must not, however, remain satisfied with a court “victory” over our white brothers.

We must respond to every decision with an understanding of those who have opposed us and with an appreciation of the difficult adjustments that the court orders pose for them.

We must act in such a way as to make possible a coming-together of white people and colored people on the basis of a real harmony of interest and understanding. We must seek an integration based on mutual respect.

I conclude by saying that each of us must keep faith in the future. Let us realize that as we struggle along, but God struggles with us. He is leading us out of a bewildering Egypt, through a bleak and desolate wilderness, toward a bright and glittering promised land. Let us go forth into the glorious future with the words of James Weldon Johnson resounding in our souls:

God of our weary years,                                                                                                                       God of our silent tears,                                                                                                                         Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;                                                                               Thou who has by thy might,                                                                                                                           Led us into the light,                                                                                                                                     Keep us forever in the path, we pray.                                                                                                            Lest our feet stray from the places, our God,                                                                                   Where we met thee.                                                                                                                                             Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world.                                                                                                            We forget thee;                                                                                                                                       Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand                                                                     True to our God, true to our native land.

 




How Partnerships Help Us Prevail in Purpose

You cannot accomplish the purpose of God unless you partner with His posse.

In Exodus 17:1-13 the writer tells of how the Israelites journeyed out of the Wilderness of Sin and came to a city called Rephidim. A Hebrew word meaning “rest or stay,” the Israelites believed Rephidim was a place they could set up camp and rest from their long journey out of Egypt. To their surprise there was absolutely no water in Rephidim. Disgruntled the Israelites complained to Moses saying, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (v.3) The children of Israel were frustrated with their condition because their current location seemed to be a contradiction. Rephidim meant rest or stay, yet it lacked the very resources necessary to foster such activity.

I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated when I’m in a particular country, restaurant, or facility and what I expect is not available. For example, I can’t stand going to express fast food places in the airport. These establishments annoy me because they do not carry all the options found in the restaurant outside the airport. It’s frustrating to be somewhere whose very name means what you need, yet it lacks the actual resource. The children of Israel are frustrated because they’ve camped in a city whose very name promises an environment that is conducive to their rest and stay, yet it lacks the very thing they need in order to rest and stay – water.

Quench Your Thirst

Physically and emotionally weary from travel and leadership, Moses cries out to God asking what he should do. God gives Moses the most awesome response ever! He says, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink” (v. 5,6). In these couple of verses we see that God does not simply provide the children of Israel with water. Instead He is the water from which the children of Israel drink.

Look at the text again! In verse 6 God is standing in front of the rock. Moses is not striking the rock, but he is striking God Himself! What we learn here is that God is the first and most important alliance you will ever have because He will position Himself in front of the very barriers that are keeping you from having life and having it more abundantly. In that position, God will even allow you to go so far as to strike Him to get what you need.

God will allow your location, your environment, or your resources to fail you so that you learn there is only one entity that is inherently capable of not simply meeting, but also being all you need.

So, the first and most important alliance you need when you’re in a place that seems as like it doesn’t have the resources you need is an alliance with God. He will not simply give you what you need. He will be what you need.

Battle Grounds

Rephidim failed at being a place of stay because it lacked water. But it quickly failed at being a place of rest because it became the place where the Israelites had to fight their first battle.

In verse 8 the writer tells us that the Israelites fought the Amalekites in Rephidim. This leads me to believe that the Israelites initial experience with God as water was paramount. The Israelites needed to learn total dependence upon God for their livelihood in order to have faith strong enough to totally depend upon God in battle. This is of the utmost importance because we are victorious in battle when we fight with God, and not simply for God. What’s the difference Claudia? When you fight for God you’re attempting to do what He asked you to do in your own strength. But when you fight with God you’re doing what He asked you to do in His strength.

But the battles God often calls us to also require armies. And in order to fight with God and be victorious we need to partner with godly men and women. In other words, you need a “Godly Alliance.” Now, a Godly Alliance is a small group of people who hold you up while the power of God works through you so that you can prevail in within purpose.

Godly Alliances vs. Ungodly Alliances

Come with me to verses 10 through 13. The Bible says, that when Moses’s hands were up the Israelites started to win the battle. But when Moses became tired and his hands began to fall the body count quickly went in the other direction. Moses’s brother Aaron and his friend and colleague in ministry, Hur, were up on the mountain with Moses. (Side note: You can’t take everyone to the mountaintop, but you gotta take someone. Choose wisely). Watching Moses and the battle Aaron and Hur noticed a pattern in the power of God. Seeing how the Israelites would win when Moses’s hands were up and they’d begin to lose when his hands fell down, Moses and Hur grabbed a stone for Moses to sit on. Then they got on either side of Moses and held up his arms until the Israelites successfully defeated the Amalekites.

 

Aaron and Hur were a Godly Alliance because they had the spiritual discernment to see how God’s power was operating through Moses. They then took it upon themselves to position their friend in such a way that he would be successful in the assignment that God had given him. Furthermore, they positioned themselves at his sides as support. They did not encourage Moses to rest. No, his Godly Alliance positioned him, and themselves, in such a way that Moses could prevail in purpose. They did this because

Godly Alliances care more about you being victorious in the battles that God has purposed for you to fight than you being comfortable and rested; even in places where comfort and rest are expected.

Ungodly alliances, on the other hand, encourage you to take breaks. They see your fatigue, observe how drained your purpose has made you, and not recognizing God’s flow of power in the situation encourage you to rest. This is because

Ungodly Alliances care more about your present comfort than your long-term victory.

They encourage you to make decisions based on your present feelings and desires not thinking how those decisions could lead to defeat. Not a Godly Alliance! A Godly Alliance encourages you to resist what you want to do in present so that you can live victoriously in your future. I encourage you to find two people you trust. Two people who when your mind, body, and spirit are failing and all you want to do is rest, they go out of their way to change your environment on your behalf. Find an Aaron and Hur who are willing to help place you in the best position to prevail in purpose. But who also place themselves in the best position to support you.

God has given each and every one of us a purpose. In 2020, there will be times where we will find ourselves frustrated, drained, and just flat out failing. The question is, who do you have around you? Do you have a Godly Alliance, or an Ungodly Alliance? Do you have people to hold you up? I encourage each and every one of you to ask yourself

Who are my Aaron and Hur?




10 Steps To……2020

Surprise! You didn’t expect it would come this soon, did you? It’s shocking how surreptitious time can be.

For many people, the new year can be a stressful time. Sure, there are a lot of feel-good moments taking place. I mean, you’ve got Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, Carson Daly, Steve Harvey and a host of other celebrities to help start your year off with excitement, right? 

But, the truth is the emotional high dies down. And soon after, we all go back to the struggle. You know the struggle I’m referring to. Pick one:

  • Your weight isn’t where you want it to be
  • Your relationship isn’t what you thought
  • You hate your job
  • The kids aren’t listening
  • The Williams’ (aka the bills) are getting on your last nerve
  • Somebody is sick
  • You don’t have enough {insert your favorite complaint here}

The list is endless.

In fact, our stress levels continue to increase yearly. According to Gallup, 55% of Americans report feeling high levels of stress throughout their day. This number increases around the new year because of the insane amount of comparison taking place. People begin looking at themselves and what they accomplished or more truthfully what they didn’t accomplish. Then, we hop on Instagram and Facebook to see everyone else’s Year In Review slideshow. It’s a recipe for hypertension.

But, your new year doesn’t have to be stressful. It can be a time to create new levels of success and opportunity. Here are 10 things to consider as you build out your 2020. I’ve divided them into 4 areas I call HIER (pronounced higher).

Health

  1. Sleep – We know that good sleep is essential to health yet we are getting less of it.  But I’m in bed for 6+ hours a night, you say. Blue light from our phones, computers and devices interrupt circadian rhythms and make it harder to wind down. Try plugging in your device in another room. Seriously! It will be hard at first but you will notice a difference in your sleep and even your level of anxiety
  2. Write or Speak – With so much information bombarding us constantly, we need a place to explore and process outside of our brain space.  University of Rochester researchers lists journaling as a healthy way to manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression. You may not write well or like writing so pull up the voice memo app on your phone and speak your thoughts for 5 minutes a day. It’s cathartic and can help you verbalize ideas before you need to pull on them later in the day when it’s more stressful.
  3. Exercise – There is no shortage of research on the benefits of exercise. So, why do gyms stack up on January 1st but see losses by January 31st? And we’re not talking about weight loss here. People get overwhelmed by long periods of time, especially when they find themselves less motivated. Keep exercise simple. Download an app like the 7-Minute Workout or 8Fit to keep exercise short, simple and interesting. Then, do other simple healthy activities like using stairs instead of elevators or park further away at the mall.

Intention

  1. Who do you want to be? – Several years ago, I read a book called Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. It talked about the process of writing your own eulogy. What would you want people to say about you at your funeral? If you know what you want to hear, then you can create it now. Who do you want to be and what will it take to become this person? Take on one action daily. If you want to be known as a kind person, how many kind acts can you perform daily? Make a plan.
  2. Why do you want to be this person? We often quit because we aren’t invested deeply enough in what we are doing. If your why isn’t strong enough, you won’t be around long enough. Figure out why it’s important to you to be a certain way. The more invested you are, the longer you will stay the course.
  3. How can you be this person? You know who you want to be and you know why. But, the challenge for many is “willpower.” Here’s a shock…willpower is overrated. We fail often, not because we aren’t strong enough, but because we haven’t put systems in place for success. We have not created accountability around each plan. So, ask yourself, who can hold you accountable? Is there a community or small group to help you stay fired up about your goal? The more levels of accountability you have in place, the greater your chances are for completing your plan or achieving your goals.

Execute

  1. Plan in chunks – Several years ago I read a book by Brian L. Moran called The 12 Week Year. It revolutionized how I thought about my goals. Instead of planning out an entire year for my life and/or my business, I focused on one main activity for 12 weeks. The first time I instituted this plan, I was focused on writing. I wrote everyday for 12 weeks. After that 12 week block was complete, I found that I had written more content in that 12-week time period than I had over the past 5 years combined. If you want quantum leaps in specific areas, consider a 12-week year for that area.
  2. Create a repeatable system and make less decisions – Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerburg is famous for wearing grey t-shirts and jeans. When asked why he does this he responded, “It’s one less decision to make.” We make numerous decisions daily and many of them are small decisions. Are there small things you can repeat and put on auto-pilot daily so you can save your brainpower for the larger, more consequential decisions? Audit your day and see what you can systemize.

Recharge

  1. Regular Sabbatical – God did something amazing when He created the concept of Sabbath. (Controversy coming) Unfortunately, for many of us, Sabbath has turned into just a “spiritual job.” We do just as much work or running around and don’t get a chance to…you know…rest! Without reaching into a theological discussion, one of the best decisions I made was to claim several sabbatical times during my year. I scheduled them on my calendar and they were non-negotiable days where I disconnected and spent time away from everyone except God. You may not think you can afford to do this. You don’t have to head to a cabin in the woods or a luxury resort. Find a cheap Airbnb or spend a day on your own at a park. Whatever you have to do, find a way to create some sabbatical time for yourself.
  2. Review – We live day to day and moment by moment. But when do we take time to review where we are and what we’ve done? Get out your calendar and schedule time to review and celebrate daily. It doesn’t have to be long and it doesn’t have to be big. Find time, even 5 minutes, to intentionally celebrate the God moments in your life daily.

God has plans for you and He wants you to be intentional about planning also. Plans don’t mean busy all day every day.

Plans mean being intentional about how you live each moment.




The Other Side of Christmas

The clandestine escape from Nazareth to Egypt covered 487 miles, one way.

He was a child on the lam, fleeing to Africa where He could secretly survive in a natural environment without obvious detection. The promised Savior, sent to redeem a renegade world, now was a refugee seeking asylum in His ancestor’s Motherland from would-be assassins.

For centuries only half of the Christmas narrative has been told. Shining angels singing. Lowly shepherds are in awe. His mother is doting. The Babe is asleep in an animal trough. Christmas, the yearly classic re-run of the centuries has long-lost its sacredness to a world that prioritizes getting gifts above receiving its Redeemer.

The Other Side of Christmas

However, for people who live on the outskirts of hope, or in the crosshairs of oppressive systems, or languishing in an unjust world as social refugees, they exist on the Other Side of Christmas. Here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, groups of people live life in polar opposites.

While one group stands and removes their hats putting their hands on their hearts during a national anthem, the other group drops to one knee, bows their heads, and ponders the injustices and brutalities continually perpetrated against them. The dichotomy of the Christmas narrative actually depicts “two unreconciled strivings.”

Merry Mayhem

In this yearly season where debt increases to simulate a Merry Christmas, many people in this country live in the vice grip of man-made poverty and pain as collateral damage of the inhumanity of man against man.

The 2017 U.S Census Bureau report cited 40 million Americans living in poverty, while 41 million people in the U.S. faced hunger in “food-insecure households.” These numbers have increased almost three years later.

Ironically, as this Christmas season kicks off, the Washington Post reported on December 4, 2019, “The Department of Agriculture played the part of Grinch, finalizing a rule to cut billions of dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The rule will remove nearly 700,000 from the program and jeopardize the food security of hundreds of thousands more, representing a callous escalation of the Trump administration’s war on people in need.”

For disenfranchised and discarded people, the Merry Side of Christmas is not their reality. It’s the Other Side of Christmas, the Side on which Christ was born and lived. Oppressed peoples can better identify with Christ from His wounded Side – for He too experienced poverty, hunger, suffering, verbal and physical abuse, abandonment, false arrest, police brutality, a hanging judge, torture in custody, and lynching.

The African Hebrew prophet Isaiah penned, “But He was Wounded for our wrongdoing, bruised for our iniquities. Our chastisement upon Him brought our peace, and with His Wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

The Greatest Risk and Rescue Mission

On the day celebrated as Christ’s entrance into this world, humanity was under great duress. This day commences the greatest risk and rescue mission ever undertaken. The Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) that was carried out against Him throughout the duration of His life was unprecedented. Yet, He would not be deterred from His mission impossible. He accepted His assignment to redeem a lost world.

In Christ’s first public discourse He read from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of Yahweh is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). Unfortunately, the commercialization of Christmas has conveniently muted the real message of Christ’s birth.

A prolific author encapsulated His life’s mission this way:

Many feel that it would be a great privilege to visit the scenes of Christ’s life on earth, to walk where He trod, to look upon the lake beside which He loved to teach, and the hills and valleys on which His eyes so often rested. But we need not go to Nazareth, to Capernaum, or to Bethany, in order to walk in the steps of Jesus. We shall find His footprints beside the sickbed, in the hovels of poverty, in the crowded alleys of the great city, and in every place where there are human hearts in need of consolation. In doing as Jesus did when on earth, we shall walk in His steps.” (Desire of Ages 640.2)

During His life on earth, the multitudes came to Christ. It was through His wounded side that they received help, hope, healing, and wholeness. Their joy of salvation became the result for many who received Him through His wounded side. Is it possible to be healed from our wounds? Yes. Christ went from Victim-to-Victor, and you are only two letters and one decision away. It’s time we live on the Other Side of Christmas – the Wounded Side – where people are called and equipped with the knowledge and skills to help those who suffer the deep and painful wounds of life. If you or someone you know lives on the Other Side of Christmas, know that you can seek help, your wounds can be healed. Be encouraged. Your wounded side can be changed into the merry side of Christmas. Just receive the refugee redeemer into your heart.

“People who enjoy joy the most are the ones who’ve experienced sorrow at its depth.”

– Stephen E. Patterson




Jesus: The Refugee Redeemer

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Matthew 2:13-15 (NIV)

Christmas is the time where many of us reflect on the birth of Jesus. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of cooking, shopping, gift wrapping, and tree dressing, many of us pause to reflect on the birth of Christ in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Usually, we read how the angel came to Mary and told her how she’d become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, how Joseph accepts Mary and her calling in spite of the social stigma attached, how they both travel to Bethlehem but there is no room for them in the inn, and how wise men came and brought gifts of gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

But with our country in the midst of a heated immigration debate, it is paramount that we reread this story. When The Guardian publishes that US immigration officials blocked doctors from giving flu shots to detained kids, leading to even more deaths of migrant children behind bars, it is crucial that we begin to see our favorite nativity characters in their most appropriate light: as immigrants.

Jesus was an Immigrant

Whether migrating to Earth from Heaven, migrating to Bethlehem from Nazareth, or migrating to Egypt from Bethlehem, Jesus was familiar with immigration and the plight of those seeking asylum. In fact, Jesus’ travels to Bethlehem did not take place during a random moment during the first century. According to Luke, “in those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world” (Luke 2:1 NIV). So, because Joseph was of the line of David he and his new wife Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to register.

What would have happened if Mary and Joseph migrated to the United States of America today, arriving in time for the 2020 Census?

What if they were undocumented? Do you know how vulnerable they would feel? Thankfully our nation is not including the citizenship question on next year’s census, but many of our undocumented brothers and sisters are still feeling an intense fear and pressure around completing it. If they do complete it, some feel as though they are exposing themselves, turning themselves in to the system. This creates a fear that they will be detained and ripped away from their families. Many fear registering on the Census will cause them to lose the only life they’ve ever known. 

Jesus was an Immigrant

What would have happened if Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus migrated to the United States of America today as undocumented immigrants from violence ridden countries like Honduras or Mexico? According to Matthew, Jesus and his parents were acquainted with the plight of fleeing an administration that is legislating and executing genocide: “[Herod] gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he learned from the Magi” (Matthew 2:16 NIV). 

Fleeing to protect their newly born son, Joseph and Mary migrated to Egypt. Weathering the heat and sand of the North African plain, Joseph and Mary sought refuge for their young redeemer. Imagine fleeing the death threats of Herod to be met at the Egyptian border with cages. Imagine, Joseph and Mary arrive in Egypt only to be stripped apart, their no more than three-year-old son locked in a cage, and each parent separated. Not knowing the language they struggle getting the help they need to reunite. In fact, Egyptian officials have not even disclosed how long they will be caged or separated from each other. Imagine this is the care your refugee redeemer received fleeing for his life.

The Caged Nativity

One congregation didn’t just imagine it. They brought the images into reality. The Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, California set up their annual nativity scene only this time they placed Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus in separate cages. The controversial images quickly went viral. All over the internet people shared the story about the church that put this “sacred family” behind bars.

Rev. Karen Clark Ristine, the lead pastor of Claremont United Methodist Church, said in a Facebook post, “this is a sacred family to us. We hold this family dear. And part of our vision is that they’re standing in for all the nameless others. For us, this is theological, this is not political. In a time in our country when refugee families seek asylum at our borders and are unwillingly separated from one another, we consider the most well-known refugee family in the world.”

The nativity scene at the Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, Calif. Credit: David Swanson via The New York Times

The Truth About Border Crossing

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus separately locked in cages is shocking and gut wrenching to see. But it is not far from the truth. If they were to arrive at the San Ysidro, San Diego border crossing (the busiest border crossing in the US), after walking and hitching rides 2,000 miles beginning in Mexico, they would most likely be turned away. If not, they would be asked to “go to the back of the line” of over 338,000 people. This is nothing close to what we would ever experience in any line–even your seemingly eternal proverbial after Christmas return line.

According to Gretchen Frazee, the asylum backlog in the US is 338,000 asylum seekers long. To give you some history, in 2014 it was only 40,000. Read that again. Shocking isn’t it? Let’s say USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) processes 20,000 asylum applications a year, the line would still be approximately 17 years long!

For the 2020 fiscal year, which started on October 1, 2019 and runs until September 30, 2020, the current administration has lowered it’s asylum/refugee cap to 18,000–the lowest admitted under the modern-day refugee system. Now, if the number grows to 400,000 in 2020 (which I predict it’ll continue to increase substantially), 18,000 of 400,000 means that 22.22% of refugees will be accepted.

What happens to the other 382,000 individuals who are going through anguish? They are either sent home to die or left on the border to die in makeshift tents. At the time of me writing this, the temperatures at the Juarez, Mexico border are below freezing. In fact, my heart sank as I read an article on Reuters by Julio-Cesar Chavez entitled, “Mexican children shiver in tents at U.S. border as temperature freezes.”

As we celebrate today with family and friends cuddled by crackling fireplaces with hot chocolate and cookies, let’s remember these children.

The truth is, people do not abandon their homes and families for leisurely purposes. They do not risk their lives by crossing oceans, deserts, and violent territories just to pass the time. Our brothers and sisters are leaving their countries and comfort zones seeking to live another day. They are dying in numbers whether due to violence, extreme poverty, untreated illnesses, persecution, extortion, and a myriad of other heinous crimes against humanity.

For thousands of people around the world, and even within our own backyard, migration is a life or death decision. The choice for many is “you die or die trying.” Desperate for safety and sanctuary, refugees struggle to wait a year, five years, a decade, or almost two decades to escape their awful situations. Their circumstances are so dire that many are willing to take extreme measures to dodge the wait. 

The bottom line is that this reality proves that we need comprehensive immigration reform. We need a Christmas miracle of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between to come together and pass legislation that considers the safety and sanctuary of not just ourselves, but others as well. Unfortunately as a consequence of living in a sinful world, we may never see a bipartisan bill like that pass. So, until we are all united in that Holy Land that will not require paper documents let us find creative ways to love the immigrant/refugee/asylum seekers within our churches, our cities and our nation. May we love the refugee as we would our refugee redeemer. 




Message Daily: Holiday Break

Message Daily is our daily devotional podcast hosted by Pastor L. David Harris. Because of Pastor Harris’ diligence and consistency we’ve published 108 devotionals to you since we began in August. Wow! I’m so excited that we’ve reach OVER 100 Episodes in 3 months!

This most recent series entitled, “Power!” has truly been a blessing. It is season 2 of the podcast and has 84 life changing episodes. God has truly blessed and has shown up in really powerful ways in each and every episode. We know many of you have been tremendously blessed by each 15 minute segment, and we are grateful for your support.

This update is to let you know that Message Daily will be on a break until the new year. And we are excited about starting season 3 in January bringing you a whole new series for the new year. We know you’re going to be blessed.

But until then, please keep Message and all of us here in your prayers as we continue to curate and create new content for you for 2020. Also, please rate the podcast. The more people that rate the podcast the easier it is to find and promote. So rate! Share! Comment!

I encourage you to spend the holidays catching up on many of these awesome episodes. They’ve been so transformative in my own life and I know they will be for you as well. Take this time to reflect on God’s love and how He is dedicated to enacting His power in our lives.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Claudia M. Allen




Learning to Have Righteous Rage

“BLACK LIVES MATTER”, “ALL LIVES MATTER”, “ME TOO”

These are the shouts from those who have not been heard, who have been mistreated or felt forgotten. Injustice plagues our society, our countries and has always been a part of the human culture for centuries! So now what?! Will we continue to cry out, is there no end in sight, no solution, no restoration?! What is God saying or showing us through the life of Christ that will push us past social justice and into the realm of restorative Justice?

As Christians, do we follow our own knowledge and understanding rather than look to God and his examples? There is countless social justice paired with restorative justice narratives that God has outlined in his word. The answer to “Now what?” is there! Here is a glimpse of one of the devotionals in our new book, The Book of EL: A 31-day Devotional for Love and Justice.

Righteous Rage

Get mad! When we get angry at injustice we connect our hearts with the heart of God. We learn to “be angry and sin not” as we are filled with righteous indignation. Being complacent in the face of injustice is being complicit with the wrongs in your community. Too many of us dismiss inequities because they do not seem to directly affect us. Lost in our own world, we are aloof to the suffering of those on the other side of the tracks. We think that what we don’t know won’t hurt us. But truthfully, we are lost in lala land fighting over rubbish while people are dying, unjust laws are passed, and our own liberties are being removed.

Deceptive Distractions

We have sat in too many church meetings that entertain pointless conversations that have nothing to with the real life issues of people in the pews and neighborhood. We’ve seen too many people whose conversation is always about self.

The truth of the matter is this: when we fail to observe our world through the lenses of Christ, we miss opportunities. We love to hide behind the walls of the church, our homes, careers, or relationships instead of opening our eyes to the world around us. Jesus needs your talents, your gifts to do your part in weaving the fabric of love this world desperately craves. But oftentimes, the world’s problems seem too big and we opt to focus on our own comfort and self-interest. These pursuits are often entangled with the devil’s plan to keep us from engaging in the war against sin and keep us from fulfilling our purpose. We must learn to get angry.

”Be Angry and Sin Not”

 

Anger is not always bad. God has given us this emotion for good.  We often use it for our own desires, revenge and outbursts.  But if we lean into the emotion of anger we will begin to hate what God hates. We will begin to love what God loves.  We will burn with passion to move into action and transform His world. Righteous anger fuels the engine of God’s justice. So reflect for a minute and allow the Spirit to consume your desires.  Where is the Holy Spirit leading you?  What disturbs you?  What is he asking you to help change? Allow His anger to fuel your life’s purpose.

Reflection

Take a moment now and think about the questions above. Answer them if you can and accept the challenge this year by starting with the month of January to seek out injustice and create a space of restoration through out your communities.

The book of El magnifies the Bible’s narratives of Jesus restoring the least, the last, the lost and the left out. The 31-day devotional helps you to process and put into action small or big steps that you can do individually or with a group to infiltrate communities and answer the question of “Now what?”

Through prayer and reflection, you will be challenged to seek his face, hear his voice and actively engage your community with simple steps of restorative justice. Join us starting January 1st and every month after in 2020 to “Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God!” (Micah 6:8) Let’s live Micah 6:8 every day of 2020!!




Stewardship and Estate Planning

My church has had a stewardship ministry for decades. That ministry essentially addressed tithes and offering. It evolved from including financial management which facilitates the payment of tithes and offering to later including healthcare management which incorporates the principle that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit.

I am encouraged by the expansion of the stewardship umbrella. Yet, I would like to expand it even further to include another concept: estate planning. Estate Planning is often defined as the management of an individual’s assets because of incapacitation or death. The planning generally includes the distribution of the individual’s assets to heirs. It also involves management of an individual’s health in the event of incapacity. 

The typical estate planning documents are:

1. Last Will and Testament

2. Financial Power of Attorney

3. Medical Power of Attorney

4. Trusts

While we should all have an estate plan, I am most concerned about the need for families with minor children and the elderly to have estate plans. To illustrate the importance of estate planning for families with minor children, consider the following scenario: 

John and Tracey Evans die while on vacation.  They leave behind two children, a 15-year-old and a 4-year-old. While the couple vacationed, the children were left in the care of Tracey’s best friend Kim and her husband David Nelson. John and Tracey do not have a Will or a Trust, however, Tracy had always had an understanding with the Nelsons that they would be the children’s guardians, should the Evanses predecease their children. The Evans’ together have life insurance of approximately 1 million dollars; the beneficiaries are the children. The arrangement with the Nelsons was significant because the Evanses and Nelsons are Christians and have been friends since childhood. They have similar values and parenting styles. John’s parents are deceased, Tracey’s parents are Christians, but Tracey has many negative memories from her upbringing and would not like her parents or siblings to be the guardians of her children. Moreover, both her parents and her siblings are financially irresponsible.

Documents Make Decisions

Without a legal document authorizing the Nelsons to be guardians of the Evanses children and ultimate trustees of their life insurance proceeds, a court will make the decision regarding the guardianship of the children. There are many factors that would influence the court in awarding guardianship. However, one of the most important factors is the family relationship. Unless there is solid documentation that the parents or siblings are unfit to care for the children, it is very likely that a court would award the children to Tracey’s parents or siblings. Additionally, while the guardians would have to give an accounting to the court for the proceeds of the life insurance, at the age of 18 the children would be entitled to any unused funds.

With proper planning the Evanses could have executed Wills in which they appointed the Nelsons’ as guardians. Additionally, they could have executed a Trust in which the Nelsons’ are names as trustees of their life insurance policy. It is unlikely that in 3 years when the 15-year-old receives his share of the million dollars that he would be financially responsible to manage those funds.

Failure to Execute

If an individual fails to execute a Will, the state of residence will distribute the assets based on its default provisions; such distributions could be detrimental to the surviving family members.

Estate Planning becomes very important as we age. In many cases individuals become incapacitated and a guardian is needed to make financial and healthcare decisions. The financial power of attorney allows the agent, the person authorized to act, to make financial decisions. It is important that a financial power of attorney be executed while the individual giving the power has the mental capacity to do so. In cases where one spouse becomes mentally incapacitated, the other spouse may need to sell the home. Depending on the titling of the property the healthy spouse may have to obtain a court order to be appointed guardian in order to sell the house. Executing a financial power of attorney while both spouses are healthy is a good planning strategy.

Successful Appointments

A successful appointment requires a trusting relationship and financial acuity on the part of the agent. It is not unusual for an elderly parent to be in the care of a child who lacks financial management skills. If the parent does not make an affirmative decision while having the requisite mental capacity, the child in the home may well be the person with access to the parents’ funds.

The advance healthcare directive authorizes an agent to make routine healthcare decisions as well as end of life healthcare decisions. The advance healthcare directive eases the burden of making decisions for a parent. For example, a parent executes an advance directive that states the following: If my doctors certify that I am in a persistent vegetative state, that is, if I am not conscious and am not aware of myself or my environment or able to interact with others, and there is no reasonable expectation that I will ever regain consciousness: keep me comfortable and allow natural death to occur. I do not want any medical interventions used to try to extend my life. I do not want to receive nutrition and fluids by tube or other medical means. If there is disagreement among the children as to whether the parent should be kept on life support, the document will provide the answer. Disputes among the children, guilt, and other emotions may be reduced.

Estate Planning is Stewardship

There are numerous estate planning issues that cannot be addressed in this article. However, the general principles and the need for estate planning are highlighted.

While there are many forms available online for preparing estate planning documents, such forms do not address the more nuanced yet critical legal issues and therefore are not recommended for making life and death decisions. Consult an estate planning attorney to ensure the documents you execute are effective.

Disclaimer. This material is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.