Meaningful Living in the Hashtag Age

Posts tagged ‘spirituality’

Love Thy Neighbor

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Growing up I was fascinated with watching my brother, a self-taught artist and one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, draw human portraits. Meticulously, he had a way of capturing the essence of a person’s unique features and through the slight impressions of his pencil and a strong belief in his creativity, he was blessed with the talent to turn a blank canvas into a masterpiece.

Using an array of art techniques, he would always begin his portraits by sketching an oval face on a white canvas. Next, he would draw a vertical line from forehead to chin, one horizontal line across the center, from ear-to-ear, and two or more horizontal lines toward the bottom of the oval. Each line would be used to place the person’s eyes, nose, and mouth in proper proportion to one another. Each stroke was as mystifying as the next. Nevertheless, like magic, as he focused on building the person’s facial features, a beautiful picture would appear.

While watching him draw portraits, I learned to appreciate the beauty of all mankind. From the color of our skin, the shape of our eyes to our crooked smiles and pointy ears, the variations in our physical appearances are what makes us unique but also the same. We all fill our canvasses with an image in the likeness of God; we are more akin than we are different.

For as long as man has been on this earth, society has suffered due to racial and economic profiling. The color of our skin and the amount of wealth we have determines the level of respect we deserve.  People with dark complexions are more prone to criminal activity, laziness and ignorance. People who live in poverty are unwilling to work and accepting of a second-rate life. That’s what profiling suggests. That’s the misperception that focusing on the flesh instead of the heart creates.

Man’s view of man is consumed with the physical. But what does God see? And if we could see each other the way God sees us would racism, sexism or colorism exist? Would unarmed black men be killed by white police officers at a higher rate than unarmed white men? Would people of color serve longer prison sentences for the same crimes as white people?

If God had to draw an image of you, what would it look like? Would he start off drawing an oval face, perfectly placed features, impeccable hair and flawless skin? Would he use his masterful skills to capture everything that makes you unique and physically beautiful? Or would he focus on something deeper, more meaningful than the color of your eyes or the length of your nose?

I believe God doesn’t see our physical bodies. He sees our heart. He knows us by our righteousness and our obedience to him. He blesses us because of our love of others and our reverence to the holy spirit. As his children, who we are and how we live should resemble him. And we are not to judge each other based on worldly standards but to accept each other and to believe that God has the power to change hearts for the good.

The bible teaches us that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all (Romans 10:12-13). It also teaches us to treat one another equally and to remain fair and just in our interactions. In Romans 2:11 and James 2:9, it states: For God shows no partiality. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

What racial profiling has created is a false narrative about the responsibility God has placed on each of us to care for and love one another. We are each other’s neighbor no matter where we live on earth. And we are our brother’s keeper, even when our complexions, ideologies, and faiths are different. God gave the final word on the matter when he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26).

Racial profiling is the belief that white canvasses should never be marked with beautiful colors. That artists should only use single tones and straight lines. And that every picture should be of the same person with similar features, beliefs, and goals. But diversity and uniqueness bring brilliant light to the universe. Different hues and textures create a collage of people that are symbolic of the world God expects us to live in both peace and harmony.

Mark 12:30-31

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Leviticus 19:18

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.

Michelle D. Jackson is author of The Heart of a Man, a Christian novel. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMichelleDJackson/.

This article was published in the September issue of The Mount Magazine. To view the publication go to: http://mt-ararat.org/images/Mount-Magazine/The-Mount-Mag-Sept-2016-Spreads.pdf. 

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Our Kids Need a Dream Machine

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My nine-year-old son is a video game enthusiast. When I ask him about his unequivocal love of playing them; he assures me that video games are educational, and one day he will create his own, make a million dollars and buy me all the Australian licorice I can eat. The kid is smart; he knows just what to say to earn a few more hours of playtime.

When I was his age, playing Frogger on Atari was a big deal. But no matter how many hours I committed to playing that game; I never imagined creating a game of my own. So I admire my son’s ambition because I recognize that his desire to be a gamer is the start of the creation of his very own dream machine.

My unscientific definition of dream machine is the birth of personal and professional goals through the development of positive imaginative experiences. In other words, to possess a dream machine is the equivalent of daydreaming with your eyes wide open and believing that anything is possible.

Unlike my generation, my son is deeply emerged in the high-tech innovations that influence almost every part of his young life. From his fourth-grade school curriculum, which is heavily web-based, to kid-focused apps and programs on his tablet, he wouldn’t recognize a world void of technology.

But technology doesn’t inspire the creation of a dream machine. What inspires a dreamer is the belief that all things are possible. When children believe in a boundary-less world, they can envision a life of accomplishment and success. Technology is just one of many tools our kids have to help them expand their dreamscape.

I, like my son, had big dreams as a child. I wanted to be a best-selling author, President of the World and a Fly Girl dancer on the show, In Living Color. My dream machine empowered me to believe that anything was possible in spite of my circumstances. It didn’t matter that my parents weren’t college-educated, and I grew up in public housing. Nor did it matter that my dancing skills were sub-par and my grades were good but not stellar, my dream machine provided me with the inspiration I needed to believe in a bigger and better tomorrow.

My machine was composed of three key components:

  • My ability to believe
  • The power to dream
  • My desire to achieve

My imagination was endowed by five power sources:

  • Books
  • Music
  • Art
  • Faith in God
  • Freedom to explore

Although I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was positively influenced by my family, friends and teachers.

The power source that I leaned on most as a child was reading. When I read a good book, I envisioned myself to be as gifted as Helen Keller; fearless as Anne Frank and inspirational as Maya Angelou. Books helped me to create a world filled with possibilities and adventure.

Countless youths today struggle because of their inability to dream of a better life and to work towards achieving it. Their imaginations are stammered by crime-infested communities, failing schools, substance abuse, gang-life, and a lack of good-paying jobs.

Many of our youth are not being encouraged to explore their imaginations, build on the foundation of strong communities and look to the future for new opportunities and adventures. Instead, they are directly impacted by overworked teachers, underpaid parents, no playtime, and a lack of positive influencers who should be mentoring, encouraging and motivating them to build a dream machine of their own.

In addition, our children are struggling because of social and parenting changes that force them to be independent too early in life or not independent at all. These factors make it difficult to envision a world much different from what is currently around them. These changes include:

  • Permissive parenting – the end to parents taking a leading role in the discipline and guidance of their children.
  • The destruction of the village – we are no longer a community-oriented society. The positive influences of being integrated into the community are getting lost.
  • Lack of spirituality – our world has moved away from encouraging youth to build a strong relationship with God.
  • Over-criminalization of youth – the criminal system is imprisoning youth longer and for less offensive crimes and therefore, robbing them of any chance of securing a good job and creating a decent life for themselves. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, on any given day, approximately 70,000 juvenile criminal offenders live in residential detention facilities, and about 68% are racial minorities.
  • Overexposure to drugs and alcohol – kids are making illicit drugs and alcohol their substitute parents. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drugs, abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs extract more than $400 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care. Furthermore, young adults (ages 18 – 25) are the biggest abusers of prescription (RX) opioids. In 2014 alone, 1,700 young adults died from prescription-drug overdoses.
  • Increase in gang-affiliation – gangs create a false sense of security for youth in inner-cities. According to the National Gang Center, annual estimates of the number of gang members have averaged around 770,000 nationally. Gang-related homicides decreased 2 percent from 2010 to 2011 and then increased by 28 percent from 2011 to 2012 in cities with populations over 100,000.

How do we start to fix this?

Although many kids may find it difficult to imagine a life beyond their current circumstance, that doesn’t give us (adults) the right to fail to teach them how to create their dream machine. However, to do so, we must be a unified voice of encouragement, and we must think creatively on ways to get youth involved in positive activities.

From sports to youth entrepreneurship, we must expose our children to new ways of seeing the world. Encourage them to read a book, learn to code or write a song. Help them to envision a world of possibilities that is worth their hard-work and commitment.  Inspire them to activate their own dream machine by sharing yours. Be an inspiration by living well and sharing your passions, joys and failures. Let them know that a good dream machine can take them far.

The challenge is placed before all of us and not just parents and teachers. Kids need to be inspired and included. Playtime should be encouraged, and integration into the community must be required. Kids need a safe place to explore.

No matter how challenging life can get, our kids deserve to know that day-dreaming is a form of art, and their minds are already equipped with the tools they need to create a beautiful and fulfilling future.

Michelle D. Jackson is Founder & Executive Director of i.Invest National Youth Entrepreneur Business Competition , CEO of PR Solutions LLC and author of The Heart of a Man.

I’m Satisfied

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I was baptized at 12 years old but I wasn’t spiritually awakened until 23. Young and ambitious, my approach to living was to seek gratification first instead of placing God at the head of my life. I, like many people at that age, struggled to discern what was good for my soul verses what was bad for my salvation.

My experience in building a relationship with God can best be described as finding water in the middle of dry and deserted land. For years, I’d walked through the hot sands weak, dehydrated, and in desperate need of nourishment but God found and restored me. He protected me from my own depraved decisions, He prevented me from walking in the shadows of immorality, and He shielded me from the influence of bad company. It is because of His love that I can testify to the power of His salvation.

While I stumbled through the desert looking for water, God was building wells all around me. One-by-one He filled them with an everlasting flow of His love and strategically placed them in my path. But my fears and worldliness often caused me to overlook the table that he had prepared before me. And as my faith grew, my vision improved and eventually God’s destiny for my life became clearer. I knew, in time, my thirst would finally be satisfied.

What I learned over the years is that there is no well deeper, wider, or more sustaining than one filled with God’s love. He can pour out oceans of his kindness and patience and still have oceans more to give. That’s what makes Him a wonderful Father – His children are incapable of being thirsty in His presence.

The salvation that I needed was greater than the salvation that I sought. God knew this, and He allowed me to experience the faultiness of my small ambitions by forcing me to feel the weariness of a thirsty soul. I was walking in the desert looking for a cup filled with tap water when God had prepared before me a cool and life-sustaining stream.

God is the only one that can satisfy our needs. Scripture teaches us in Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” In Psalms 61:1, it reads: “My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is not water.” And in Psalm 36:7-9, it states: “How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house: you give drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

By drinking from God’s fountain of life we find peace sustained by His strength and wisdom. We are rejuvenated each time we swallow a morsel of His word and drink a thimble of His grace. It is in God’s everlasting waters that we are exposed to His light and provided a clearer understanding of His destiny for our life.

As we struggle to find satisfaction in an insatiable world, we should never forget that God is always at work building wells in dry and weary places. Through faithfulness we will find our way to His sustaining stream and learn to drink daily from His living waters.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for thee, O God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2)

“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture said, streams of living water will flow from him.’” (John 7:37)

This original article was published in the May 2016 issue of The Mount Christian Magazine

Michelle D. Jackson is author of The Heart of a Man, a Christian novel and Founder of The Charity Supper Club, a program designed to raise money to benefit local charities and families in need.

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Dance!

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Our spiritual dance is a powerful weapon against the enemy. It is a successive movement endowed by a harmonic beat. A reaction, sometimes physical but mostly spiritual, that serves as a gateway to our Heavenly Father’s ensemble of praise. It is our manifestation of joy that arises at the culmination of mourning.

Our spiritual dance is symbolic of our faith in God’s renewal process. At the end of a season of hurt and pain, God transforms us by the renewal of our mind in preparation for the next season. Our spiritual dance is a celebration of what He has done for us and how boldly He brings us through tough times in our lives. It is because of this renewal that the grieving mother who just buried her child can still rejoice and a man who recently lost his job can find comfort and peace in spite of their circumstances.

The Bible teaches us that spiritual dancing is a form of praise. In Psalm 150:4, we are reminded to praise Him with tambourine and dance, praise him with strings and pipe. And in Jeremiah 31:13, it reads: Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

I believe that when we embark on a spiritual dance empowered by our triumph over difficult times we are mounting an attack on the devil. After we have dressed for victory by putting on the full armor of God, we move in unison through our spiritual dance towards defeating the enemy. Our movement forces Satan to see us as God sees us – as conquerors filled with grace. Whether we pirouette like a beautiful ballerina, sway like a Chicago freestyler or simply bow our heads in prayer, our spiritual dance is kindled by His majestic orchestra, which permeates a sound that awakens the soul.

A Christian’s eagerness to dance is often a sign that the storm is coming to an end. Our dance reflects our desire to ruin Satan’s plans to keep us immobilized and afraid. It reminds him of God parting the Red Sea and Jesus feeding the masses with five loaves of bread and two fish – miracles only an awesome God can give.  When we dance, Satan is assured that his limited power cannot stop us from believing in an all-powerful God.

In his attempt to control our heart and mind, our spiritual dance is a thorn planted deep within Satan’s side. A constant reminder that we are covered by God’s love and evil has no power over us.

Through His blessings and grace, God creates the sweetest melody. And when he does, and the doors of His salvation are opened to us, we must find it in our hearts to praise him with every instrument we have. Our dance should not be led by darkness; it should only be led by the Holy Spirit.

I dance for you, Lord. I dance with you. I dance in celebration of you. It is my praise.

Psalm 149:3 ESV

Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!

Ecclesiastes 3:4 ESV

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Psalm 30:11 ESV

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.

This article and photo appeared in the April 2016 issue of The Mount Christian Magazine. To subscribe go to http://www.mt-ararat.org/2015-04-30-15-47-47/the-mount-magazine.

Michelle D. Jackson is author of The Heart of a Man, a Christian novel and Founder of The Charity Supper Club, a program designed to raise money to benefit local charities and families in need.

 

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