Tuesday, November 30, 2010
By anyone's standard, the way Christmas is celebrated today is a gross commercialization of the most important birth in history. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune to this materialistic mentality for they also, for the most part, have compromised the message of giving and have adjusted to the commercialism of the holiday season. We give a myriad of useless gifts at Christmas because it's expected of us, and we feel guilty if we don't. The closer we get to Christmas, the greater the pressure to give, and the more depressed and unworthy we feel if we can't give.
As it was meant to be
For centuries Christmas was celebrated as a noncommercial holiday, and feeding the hungry, providing clothes and warm blankets to the poor, and giving special but simple gifts to pastors, missionaries, and poor children were a natural part of the celebration. Even in early America, Christmas was usually a time for feasting, going to church, giving to the poor and needy, and feeding the hungry. If gifts were given, it was of secondary importance and was usually restricted to small children, pastors, missionaries, and missionary converts. The celebration generally remained unchanged in America until the prosperity of the 1950s, when commercialism and materialism began to take the upper hand. This has happened so much that, presently, commercialism and gift indulgence have seemingly displaced the centuries-old Christmas tradition of providing for the poor and needy.
Getting back to basics
Obviously not all of our current Christmas celebration is bad; in fact, the holiday season provides opportunities for families to reunite, and it also allows a pleasant break from our daily routines. However, our celebration has become terribly imbalanced. The correct way for us to refresh and renew our holiday celebration is to take some positive steps to establish a better balance in our celebration.
The first of these steps is to pray and to seek God's guidance in determining a reasonable amount that should be spent for Christmas. The second step is to develop a budget that categorizes the amount of money that will be set aside for Christmas. We honor the One whose birthday we're celebrating by being good financial stewards of all He has entrusted to us. Step three is to stick to the budget and do not buy an item if it is not budgeted. Step four is not to use credit cards unless the entire balance is paid off in January, or when the bill comes in. Do not carry a credit card balance past 30 days. The fifth step is to do some kind of family ministry service, such as purchasing food or toys for needy families or giving to missions. Families should commit to give a minimum of a tithe of the budgeted Christmas spending amount to needy causes, but some may want to commit an equal amount spent on gifts to these special projects. Giving to meet the needs of others (usually through a charitable or nonprofit organization) allows children to see the purpose and value of their sacrifices, as well as that of their parents. "Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me'" (Matthew 25:37-40).
Although there are multiplied dozens of ministry opportunities or charity sponsored services to which Christian families can commit to give, in order to provide for the needs of others, the following are some that we encourage Christians to consider.
The poor in America
Although the poorest of the poor in America are generally more wealthy than 75 percent of the world's population, this does not negate the fact that America has millions who are trying to live by the most minimum of accepted living standards in order to exist in the most money-driven, materialistic society on earth. The total number of people in America who live below the poverty level ($16,660 for a family of four; $10,638 for a family of two) is 34,476,000 or 12.7 percent of America's total population. Of these at least 72,000 children below the age of 18 will be forced to live in poverty at least half of their childhood years. Less than one-third of these will have no gift to open on Christmas morning and 20 percent will have nothing to eat on Christmas day.
Think of the joy a Christian family could give a poor family this Christmas by including in their holiday budget funds to provide a Christmas meal for a poor family and gifts for the children to open on Christmas morning.
The unemployed in America
America's unemployed in 1999 numbered 6.2 million or 4.5 percent of the available workforce, with another 16.7 million earning less than poverty level. To these unemployed Americans, Christmas gift giving could be very meager. The funds they do have could be enough to buy a simple Christmas meal for the family, but gift giving very well could be absent from the family this Christmas.
With help from committed Christians, this could be a pleasant Christmas memory for families of the unemployed, rather than a negative memory.
The homeless in America
Seven hundred fifty thousand Americans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, as many as three and one-half million people experience homelessness for some period of time; of these, 1.35 million are children below the age of 18.
The fastest growing group of homeless people consists of families with children. Today, families make up about 36 percent of the people who become homeless. The typical homeless family consists of a young unmarried or lone mother with two or three children.
Unless private or city homeless shelters or organizational missions provide a Christmas meal and small gifts like gloves, hats, blankets, or small toys to homeless families, chances are their Christmas will be just like any other day on the cold and cruel streets. What better way to fulfill the words of Christ spoken in Matthew 25 than to provide for the needs of the homeless.
Those alone in America
In 1998 there were about 64,518,000 family households in America (households with at least one dependent child living at home) of which over 54,317,000 were married-couple families.
Single-parent family households (a single parent with at least one child living at home) numbered almost 38 million. Of the 78,382,000 children that lived in these single-parent households, 32 percent lived with the mother only and 4.4 percent lived with the father only. Many of these children will have only one parent with whom they share Christmas this year.
Childless households numbered about 27,430,000. Of these 22,581,000 were households in which the householder was living alone. Almost nine million of those were over the age of 65. Today about one in eight Americans are aged 65 or older. Of these, approximately five million live in assisted-care or full-care facilities. Unfortunately, less than 45 percent of these receive more than two visits per year from family and/or friends.
In 1999 America had in excess of 12,850,000 high school students and over 2,300,000 college and university students. Of these close to 15 million students, 460,000 are foreign exchange students who had come to America for educational opportunities that they could not find in their home countries. Most of these foreign students will not be able to return to their homes for Christmas. So, unless they are invited to spend Christmas with American families, a major portion of them will be alone for Christmas.
There are also 27,000 American students studying abroad. Some of them will not be able to afford to fly back home for the holidays, which will leave many to face Christmas alone. What joy a card or a phone call or even a ticket to come home could bring to these students who are so far away from home.
Loneliness is devastating enough to deal with on a daily basis, but during the Christmas season it can be the catalyst that drives those who are alone into deep depression—in some cases irreversible depression. What better way can Christian families show the love of Christ on the celebration of His birth than to provide comfort and fellowship to those who will most likely be alone this Christmas? Locally, Christian families can either visit those who will be alone or invite them to share Christmas with their families. For those who are farther away, Christian families can write letters, send cards, send gifts, make telephone calls, send money (check or money order), or arrange for someone locally to visit those who will be alone this Christmas.
Those behind bars in America
One out of 150 people in America is incarcerated. There are 1.8 million this year who will spend Christmas behind bars, which will leave over 500,000 children without at least one parent this Christmas.
Many of these prisoners will not even receive a card from family or friends, much less a gift or a visit. In addition, many of the half million children of prisoners will have little or no Christmas unless we as Christians submit to the commandment of Jesus and provide for the needs of those who are in prison. For prisoners, physical and material needs are generally met by the controlling governmental agency, but their emotional and spiritual needs often are neglected and the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of their children very often are forgotten.
Although largely ignored by the mainstream media, Christians in many countries worldwide are suffering forms of persecution unrivaled since the time of the early Roman martyrs. There were more people martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ in the 20th century than in all the previous nineteen centuries. According to World Mission Digest there were some 100 million martyrs in the 20th century alone. Many countries officially condone torture, arbitrary arrest, and summary executions. Out of more than 200 countries in the world, only 30 are truly parliamentary democracies in which human rights are guaranteed by law. In most of these 200 countries, Christians and Christian families will celebrate Christmas either in secret or privately with very little fanfare. Most may have enough funds perhaps to buy a simple meal for Christmas, but because the majority have an annual family income of less than $700 (on a percentage basis the cost of living is much higher than in America. For example, the average cost for a loaf of bread is $.75 or almost a half day's wages.), virtually none will have the funds to provide gifts for their children. Without help from Christians in America, most of these oppressed fellow believers will have an extremely sparse Christmas celebration, if any at all.
Presently America has 410,000 missionaries from all branches of Christendom, of which 140,000 are Protestant missionaries. However, 303,500 of these missionaries minister to people who are already Christian in the 30 countries in which human rights are honored.
The total U.S. income in 1998 was $12.3 trillion. Of that amount, 1.73 percent went to Christian causes. Of the 1.73 percent, 5.4 percent went to foreign missions and 87 percent of foreign missions giving went to support work among those people who were already Christians in the countries where human rights are upheld.
In these countries, most missionaries will probably spend Christmas with their local Christian friends, because they will not have the funds to return home to celebrate with their families. The meal probably will consist of local and cultural delicacies and gifts will be simple—perhaps hand-made—if there are gifts at all. In the other countries of the world where human rights are not guaranteed, many of the missionaries will not be able return to America and spend Christmas with their families because of lack of funds, and they will not be able to celebrate Christmas in their field countries unless they celebrate in secret or privately. It is almost certain that local friends will not be part of the celebration, for fear of detection. Depending on available funds, a meal may or may not be part of the celebration; but, because most missionaries serving in these countries lack funds, gifts more than likely will not be part of the celebration.
Providing enough money to a missionary family to buy a Christmas meal and a few gifts could very well turn a lonely holiday far from home and loved ones into a joyous and memorable celebration.
Of a world population in excess of six billion, one billion are starving to death (not having eaten anything for 50 days or more) because of drought, pestilence, war, or others forms of either man-made or natural catastrophe. There is little hope for their survival. Another one billion are starving (not having eaten anything for 25 to 50 days). The chances of their survival is 50-50 if food is given to them immediately. A third billion are hungry (not having eaten anything from 5 to 25 days), but chances are good that they will survive if food is supplied. Eight hundred million more are malnourished (not having eaten the right food for at least 10 days). Recovery is near 100 percent if these people can receive the right kinds of food. So, of the six billion residents of the world, more than half are starving, hungry, or undernourished. Surely American Christians can afford a few dollars to help feed those who have no way of feeding themselves.
This Christmas season 13 percent of Christians in America will give at least one dollar to the homeless and 51 percent will give either funds or their time to some nonprofit organization. Notwithstanding, the typical Christian family in America will also spend $1,000 this Christmas season on gifts and the family Christmas meal. In light of Jesus' Matthew 25 mandate, shouldn't we as Christians re-evaluate our giving habits this year and try to move a little closer to what Jesus had in mind?
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving? Lots of good food and no need to shop for presents. It’s a day of turkey dinners, family gatherings and reflection; a holiday with deep roots dating back to 1621. Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday, our time to focus on everything for which we’re grateful.
Especially while job hunting, Thanksgiving is about seeing the good in our lives and feeling appreciation despite outer circumstances or conditions. Our happiness isn’t about how much stuff we’ve accumulated. Rather, it’s about feeling grateful for who, what and where we are right now. It’s about gratitude for how far we’ve come, what we do and for the challenges we’ve worked through.
Gratitude and the Law of Attraction
Gratitude is critical to the success of our job search. According to Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, we attract what we think about and concentrate on through the universal Law of Attraction. When we focus on our cup being half full, we attract more abundance and prosperity. This includes job opportunities.
Conversely, when we think that job hunting is hard, and focus on the jobs we didn’t get offered, we attract more rejection and disappointment. It’s been said that, “Attitude is everything.” That’s especially true in job search. Although we may not control anything outside of ourselves, we are in control of what we think, feel and do.
This Thanksgiving, why not try these 4 simple gratitude steps to improve your job search?
1) Start a Gratitude Journal
Oprah Winfrey has credited her success in part to keeping a gratitude journal, logging in at least five items each night for which she’s grateful. This shifts your energy. “What we think about and thank about, we bring about”, according to Dr. John Demartini, The Secret. Adopt an “attitude of gratitude” and start writing down five items each day for which you are grateful. This gets easier after a few days and soon it starts to shift your mindset from lack to prosperity.
2) Focus on Prosperity
Jack Canfield, co-author of the series of books, Chicken Soup for the Soul, suggests focusing on prosperity and abundance. Focus on inner joy, peace, vision, and the outer things appear naturally. “Your voice and vision on the inside”, he adds, “must be louder than the noise outside.”
3) Visualize Without Limits
Joe Vitale, also featured in The Secret, suggests closing your eyes in the morning and visualizing what you want without limits. Then focus on what you’re grateful for. He mentally reviews a gratitude list in the shower. He then releases all of this to the Universe, while breathing deeply. Canfield adds that, “Energy flows where attention goes”.
4) Be Grateful When a Job Falls Through
This may sound strange at first. However, when you pursue job opportunities, always leave the Universe the option to deliver the “right” job to you. It’s important to acknowledge that you don’t know which exact job is best for you. Be grateful when a certain job opportunity falls through, and always detach from a specific outcome. When job opportunities fall apart, the job wasn’t right for you. Who knows why? No matter. Surrender to the Universe, knowing that the best job for you, will come to you at the right time.
The wise give thanks for what most of us take for granted. Spend a few quiet moments during this Thanksgiving holiday to try some of these simple, yet powerful steps. These steps, based on gratitude and the Law of Attraction, will not only help move you toward the right job for you at the right time, they’ll also enrich your Thanksgiving weekend and last well beyond the turkey leftovers.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Year-end reviews may seem like light years away, but it pays to plan ahead and prepare. That's what Lindsey Sparks did while working for a staffing company in Oklahoma. "I keep both a hard copy and an electronic folder with achievements and compliments I've received," she says. "When review time comes, I pull those out and incorporate them into my self-review, and bring some of the best compliments and successes to my review."
Those strategies have served her well. In fact, her preparation and initiative have made her one of the youngest people in her company's history to be promoted to management. Whether you yearn for that corner office or simply hope to survive your first review at a new job, we've compiled expert tips on how to ace your annual review.
Solicit feedback before your review.
The last thing you want during a review is to be blind-sided by negative feedback. To avoid this scenario, seek out your boss for periodic check-ins. "This gives you a chance not only to report on things but also to get his or her input," says Shawn Graham, the author of "Courting Your Career." "It doesn't have to be formal. It could mean sending an email. Running into them in the hallway can be just as helpful. In those cases, you can transition into the conversation with 'If you have a second, I'd like to get your input.'" Then implement whatever suggestions you get, to ensure that you're on the right track come review time.
Document your achievements.
As mentioned above, Sparks keeps a list of her accomplishments and achievements, and you should, too. "Look for ways you can say how you saved money or increased revenue," suggests Alexandra Levit, a workplace consultant and the author of "New Job, New You." "This requires a couple of weeks of thought. The goal of this is to be able to go into your review with a clear sense of how the organization is better off because you worked there."
Set realistic expectations.
People often go into a review expecting a promotion or a fat bonus. In this economic climate, though, that may not be realistic. However, Levit says you can look at the company's organizational structure to see what the logical next step might be in your own career progression. "You want to make sure you understand how [promotions] work at your company," she explains. If you're hoping for a raise, she adds, you can look at salary statistics from PayScale.com or similar sites to see what's reasonable for someone with your job title and level of experience. Your list of achievements also comes in handy here, because it helps show why you're worth more than your current salary.
Prepare yourself for negative comments.
Unfortunately, even with the right preparation, sometimes negative feedback is simply part of the review process. According to Graham, "It's safe to say there's going to be some negative feedback at some point in your career. Stay calm and don't get defensive. If you tend to get overly emotional, it [may be] hard for you to do that, so visualize possible feedback in advance. Your boss looks for cues about how you're able to incorporate and address the feedback, and the worst thing you can do is receive feedback and shrug it off." Instead, see it as a growth opportunity and look for ways to demonstrate improvement at your next review.