Reality Reflection: The Truth about Immigration

Something that is foundational to our very world is the movement of people from one place to another. The US was largely populated because people chose to move here and spread out. Yes, it would be populated if just the Indigenous people who lived here when the settlers got here, but I doubt that it would be as populated if the settlers hadn’t shown up. Then there was the really big event of Ellis Island and the almost 12 million people who came through to NY and NJ, something that’s been memorialized in songs and movies. Today people still come to the US wanting to live here, some going through many risks to get here. And this story isn’t one that’s unique to the US, it happens in countries around the world.

The news lately has been talking a lot about the movement of people in different parts of the world, including to the US and the other day I heard someone comment about how they bet that people wished the wall (between the US and Mexico) had been further along/finished based on some of the recent events. It got me thinking about the movement of people, and to some degree I think it’s natural for people to move to live in different places around the world, whether for work or family. But what we’ve been hearing in the news is about people fleeing where they live, which means there’s something not right.

And that’s what the world isn’t talking about, what countries don’t seem to be concerned about. Yes, it’s an issue that people are disrespectful of a country’s borders and the legal process to enter a country. But the bigger issue is that people are desperate to leave a country. Those countries that many citizens flee from each year need to sit up and have a serious discussion about what’s so wrong with them that people are willing to take their own lives in their hands to escape to another country. Every country doesn’t have to look the same or act the same or even have the same governmental structure, but if they want to have people to support them financially, they have to do something to keep them there, other than the use of force at the borders.

It’s really a quality of life question. No, we don’t all have to have the status or economic impact of China or France or the US any of the other world powers. We don’t all have to live on mansions on 3.5 acres. We don’t all have to have millions in our bank accounts. We don’t all have to be high profile celebrities. But if every country truly cared and invested even a little more in the physical, mental and emotional health and well being of their people, more people would be willing to live in their countries and more countries would have more resources to do more for their people. It would be a positive, upward spiral instead of the downward spiral that some countries seem to be on.

Joining with Students to Pray

Today students around the US gathered at their flagpoles or in small groups to pray for their schools and each other as well as our country and everyone involved in making our country work. Each year during The Global Week of Student Prayer since 1990 students have challenged each other to meet one morning around the flag pole before school started and pray. This has grown from just the US to other countries around the world and now there are over a million students who pray each year on “See You at the Pole” day.

As I was reflecting on this day and the students gathering many thoughts ran through my mind, the first of which being how important it is for young people to not only be committed to their faith but also take time for it even when they have many social pressures they face and don’t usually understand all the responsibilities adults have to stop and make time for prayer. It takes courage to step up and pray in public whether you’re attending a religious or public school so I’m proud of these students finding the courage and making the time to do so.

I was also reminded of the value that Jesus placed on the lives of young children, and the great example the children showed both in Jesus’ day when they gathered to hear Him as well as the youth of today show as they gather around the flag pole. How often do we adults follow the example that children set? I love that they set the example for making time for naps and being creative and playtime with friends and asking questions and having fun, all things that we don’t necessarily make time for as adults, but we should. Yes, some things change as we grow older, but some things become even more important, and living our faith and making time for prayer are two of them.

Finally, I appreciate the reminder of how important it is to stop and take time to pray. Earlier in the post I mentioned that the students gathering around the pole may not really know what they’re praying about or the specifics of what to pray for, and that’s OK for both them and us. We don’t have to be experts in business or church health or national security or politics or health to pray for the leaders of those industries. We don’t have to know the people who have lost family members to the pandemic or murder or domestic violence or terminal illnesses over the past year, we just have to have room in our hearts to pray for them that God would support them in whatever ways they need. We don’t have to know the names of the politicians or business leaders around the world to pray for them. We don’t have to have all the answers as to how to heal the planet from the ecological and environmental damage that’s been done, we just have to pray for those who do have ideas and those who are taking action. What is your prayer today?

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up in honor.” James 4:10

Celebrating God (and Celebrating with God)

As Christians we know we’re blessed to have the strong foundation of Christ to trust and promise of great things in Heaven for the faithful, but that doesn’t make us immune to what is going on in the world. In fact, if we were immune to what went on in the world no one would ever trust us or connect with us enough for us to share the Good News with them, just like things would be completely different if Jesus didn’t come to earth as a human baby some 2000 years ago. So the fact is that each and every one of us has to deal with what goes on in the world.

What surprised me this week as I thought about these things were the words of Psalm 103:2-3: “Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things He does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.”

As much as we may party and enjoy spending time with others in this day and age, I think we forget sometimes to really celebrate the big and little things God sends our way. We’re so rushed, so taken over by the bad stuff, so distracted by all that is going on, that all we manage to do some (most?) days is send God some “thank you’s” and read a few verses from the Bible. I don’t know about you, but I don’t call that living and thriving, which is exactly what I want to do.

You may remember the story of the prodigal son who requests his inheritance, spends it all, returns home hoping to be accepted as a servant and instead returns to this attitude of his father: “We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” Luke 15:30

This week I encourage you to do exactly that: celebrate. But not just in little “thank you’s” and soft prayers, have some big celebrations and real rejoicing moments too. Spend time each day celebrating with God. Put on some worship music, grab a pad and paper, or just sit and be quiet and appreciate life as it finds you. You’ll be more balanced, less stressed and be open to receiving the blessings God wants to send your way.

Reality Reflection: The Question of Asking Questions

I absolutely love questions. I love how they make us think, inspire us, give us breakthroughs and teach us. The better you are at asking questions and getting to the answers, the more likely you’ll be to succeed, the more depth you’ll discover of the world, the more fun you’ll have, the more connections you can make, and more impact you can make on the world.

But it’s not always good to have questions. There is an appalling number of unsolved criminal cases, some so old they’re considered cold cases, in the hands of detectives in the US and around the world. Those families wake up, live their lives, and go to bed with questions that tear at their hearts every single day. These people have so many questions around the loss of their loved one or whatever the situation happened to be and no one seems to care enough to help them get to any type of understanding or any answers to those questions.

Is it wrong to not answer questions? I can remember being in school and the teacher asking a question and only the same 2-3 students would ever raise their hands and how much you hated to be one of those few students. I know it is also frustrating for the teacher because they want everyone to learn and be able to share what they’ve learned, and while they’re thankful for the few who do speak up, they wish someone else would speak up. So is it wrong for those few students to wait to answer the question or for the teacher to say that those few students can’t answer questions?

I don’t think we always have to ask questions, but we are born with an innate sense of curiosity, and the only way to satisfy that curiosity is to ask questions to help us satisfy our curiosity. Am I thankful for the people who are willing to put in the effort to ask and answer the important questions even if it takes years? Yes, absolutely. But in situations that aren’t life and death, I can also find an appreciation for not asking questions and not diving deeper than you really need to. For example do we really need to know what makes the trees change colors in the autumn, or can we just appreciate the incredible transformation that they go through? Or do we really need to analyze what a character in a book was going through to appreciate and enjoy reading the book? Yes, as we said at the beginning of the post asking questions can bring you great knowledge and add greater depth to your life experience, but the pursuit of answers shouldn’t take away from your ability to enjoy life and enjoy the simple things and the surface-level presentation, information or experience. Like so many other things, the power of questions is knowing when to pursue answers and when to sit back and just appreciate all that life is.

Don’t Forget the Details

One of the big keys to success of any kind that is so easily screwed up and failed at is communication. As the old saying goes: the devil is in the details. I heard on the radio recently a story about how one significant other makes this incredibly detailed shopping list for their partner. The radio hosts were split on whether this was helpful or a complete waste of time and the person who wrote the list out should have just gone shopping themselves and maybe even saved some time instead of spending all that time on writing out specifics and details for their partner.

On one hand all that detail is almost offensive because it might mean that the other person doesn’t trust you to figure things out at all or doesn’t trust you to remember what you’ve done in the past or to use common sense or that you have any capabilities. I don’t think it’s necessary to go into this level of detail unless we’re talking about something that’s very expensive or requires a high level of commitment (grocery shopping doesn’t meet either of those requirements), and really, most things don’t meet those requirements.

On the other hand I can really appreciate the idea of going into detail because most of the time it’s the details that make or break our success, especially when it comes to communication. Just the other day my partner asked me to do something and told me about the need from essentially the thousand-foot-view, so to me it sounded like he was asking something that would take a significant time investment. As it turns out he wasn’t asking for anything near as involved as I thought, but because he didn’t take the time or make the effort to throw just a couple of essential details in that first conversation, when we finally sat down to have a follow up conversation it was clear the first conversation made both of us unnecessarily anxious.

Yes, it’s important when planning victories and having conversations to consider and be aware of the big picture. Knowing the big picture helps you stay focused on the ultimate goal and make sure that you’re doing work and having conversations that will help you get to that point. But without the details and context, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, do the wrong thing, not ask the right questions, talk to the wrong people, or get discouraged.

So the next time you have a conversation with someone that you’re discussing something important or you’re making a plan to achieve victories in your life, ask yourself if you’ve included not only the big picture but some of the really important details that will make or break their willingness to help you, their ability to be successful at following through on your discussion, or your ability to be successful and achieve your desired victories.

Missing the Message

In my read through the Bible the other day I read an interesting passage that isn’t one we often talk about as part of the years of Jesus’ ministry on earth, probably because it’s a bit odd and doesn’t put the apostles in the best light. Check out Luke 9:51-56:

“As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. So they went on to another village.”

In some ways I love their confidence in being able to call down fire from heaven, especially since they haven’t always displayed confidence about being able to do miracles or Acts of God. But their thinking that the right way to respond to criticism of Jesus is with heavenly violence is hard to understand, especially since the passage mentions that this exchange happens close to the time of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, which means they’ve been with Jesus at least a couple of years now and should understand how He wants the apostles and other believers to act. Yes, earlier in the chapter Jesus says “And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate” (verse 5), but that’s a far cry from calling down fire.

Yes God knows about being a God of judgment, and throughout the Bible there are examples of what happen when people continually choose to disobey God. But consistently throughout His years of ministry Jesus chooses to and shows the importance of loving, forgiving, healing and helping rather than leading on a platform of judgement, punishment and fear. So my questions to you today are: are you focusing on the wrong message, are you missing out on something important, are you letting the obvious and your emotions blind you, or are you working to be better at following the leadership of Jesus and living with compassion, love and a commitment to doing what’s right?

Reality Reflection: Remembering

Everyone lives their lives gathering different memories, we will have memories of what it felt to live through 2020 and the pandemic that totally changed our world. 9/11/2001 was another one of those moments that changed our lives and those who were alive then will always remember where we were and how we heard, and many will also have memories of those we lost that day or in the days and years that followed as a result of their work on 9/11.

As I was drawing closer to the anniversary this year and reflecting on all the loss of the past 19 months, rather soberly and honestly I reflected on memorials and burials. Most of us will never know the stories of all the people in NYC, Pennsylvania, and DC and what they went through that day, but we will always remember their lives, that day and the places that they were so connected to. But what about most people? Unless we’ve done something famous enough to be remembered in the history books, written books that will be read long after we’ve gone, created buildings that leave a legacy of their own, or been part of a big event, how are we remembered?

I remember as a kid in school going to old graveyards to do rubbings of the stones and thinking about the fact that that stone was the last part of their story to be seen or known about decades or hundreds of years later. Of course we don’t do those rubbings any more, and in some ways I think that’s a bad thing because we don’t get exposed to those graveyards and reminded that people lived for thousands of years before we came along. And even as ordinary or average as their stories and lives were, those gravestones are physical and visible memorials of their lives for as long as we keep those fields open and tidy.

I wish that we were able to honor every person’s life in visible and permanent ways, that there was a way of remembering people beyond the few generations of family, friends and coworkers who interacted with them and knew them, because not everyone wants to be part of a traditional graveyard, let alone a horrific event. Maybe the best way we can do that is to remember that people have lived before us and people will live after us, that we walk where they walked, that their lives helped inspire the culture, stories, places and experiences we have today, and that our lives will do the same even if we’re not remembered by name or events.

Disciplined Victories

Something that I think we just have to accept is that we’ll never have enough time to get everything done. We probably won’t have the resources to get everything done either, for that matter. So sometimes you do have to make the hard choice of what’s more important both right now as well as in the longer term, which means some things will be put off for a day or a season or taken off the list perhaps permanently. But I also think we need to take a better look at how we use our time and how accurate we are with regard to how long it takes us to do certain things.

In some situations it’s a question of discipline. How likely are you to get distracted, how many things are you trying to get done in the same space of time, are you really committing to getting something done or are you just playing around and not really serious about the work you’re doing, or are you doing unnecessary extras when you should be more focused on getting the core responsibility completed? I’ve seen some great examples of poor discipline, but at the same time I also understand that sometimes you can’t help your brain’s distractedness regardless of how disciplined you’re trying to be. But if we’re assuming you’re really committed to getting something done, making progress on your victory journey, the amount of discipline you show on a regular basis can be an indication of how likely it is you’ll make swift and consistent progress.

So what are you really and truly committed to working on? What areas of your life are you displaying consistent discipline in? Are they the ones that will help you accomplish your goals in life, or will they delay those goals and draw out your work? If you’re finding yourself delaying and not using discipline, you should ask yourself if you’re really committed and if that victory really means something to you, because maybe that’s not a victory that speaks to your heart anymore. And that’s OK, we do change, our dreams change, our abilities change, the people in our lives change, so rather than being upset about a victory you’re not going to accomplish because things have changed, instead be appreciative of the lessons you learned and experiences you had and move on. But if you’re still committed, inspired and driven, it’s time to set aside some serious and focused time on a regular basis to get things done. What are you committed to?

It’s OK to Celebrate

Today is the first full day of Rosh Hashanah for 2021. It’s a time of recognizing one of the two new years that the Jewish people celebrate, often including the sounding of the shofar to “raise a noise”, and eating tasty meals that include apples dipped in honey in hopes of having a sweet (good) year ahead. This is not a holiday I celebrate, but I do know all about celebrations including praising God as part of practicing my faith. Praise has been part of our faith culture since the beginning of the Bible, but for the last 18 months we haven’t talked about it much because of the upheaval and loss that we’ve experienced as a world.

I know that it talks about praising God in all circumstances in 1 Thessalonians 5, but it’s hard to be joyful, thankful and celebrating when life isn’t going your way, when all you see is loss after loss, when there’s so much fighting and discord, when the future is more unknown than it used to seem to be, and when everything you used to know doesn’t seem to be true anymore. And even if you were one of those who was very blessed over the last 18 months or have had things to celebrate recently, it almost seems wrong to be joyful and make a cheerful noise when so many other people are struggling.

But over the last year wasn’t it those little moments with our kids that made us smile, those special opportunities with our partner, the more frequent [video!] conversations about memories with our distant relatives, the baking successes (and hilarious failures), that helped us make it this far with [most of] our sanity intact? It was the moments of joy, however small or brief, throughout the past months that helped keep us going and hopeful that God hasn’t forgotten us, hasn’t given up on us, and will help us recover and thrive again.

Yes, there are times to mourn and there are times to celebrate, but I don’t think they’re always mutually exclusive. For example, funerals these days are often celebrations of life and not strictly somber mourning gatherings, and in many church services there are uplifting songs as well as serious heart-challenging sermons. Often it’s when life is so clearly fragile that we want to live and make the most of it we can. So if you have opportunity this week whether it’s with others or by yourself, take a moment to lift a joyful noise to God.

“Young men and women too, old and young alike. Let them all praise the Lord’s name, for his name alone is exalted, majestic above earth and heaven.” Psalm 148:12-13

Reality Reflection: Work and Rest

Tomorrow in the US we celebrate Labor Day. I think it’s important to celebrate the hard work we do, and to commit to doing more hard work until next year’s Labor Day. Sometimes the only thing to do is work hard and hope that you push through sooner rather than later. Sometimes hard work doesn’t seem like it’s worth it because you’re not able to see how your part works in with everyone else’s, or because the work you’re doing never seems to be good enough for someone else.

But I think Labor Day is important because it’s a reminder that everyone, even the hardest workers, need to stop and take a break occasionally. Even for the fortunate people who absolutely love what they do and are really good at it, they need a break. No one is physically or mentally capable of working 365 days per year, 10+ hours a day. Everyone needs a change of scenery, a change of pace, or a nap from time to time.

I do understand if you’re not really wired to stop working for long, I know lots of people who are passionate about their work and after the last 18 months it’s certainly a good idea to have a solid source of income as long as you can have it so you can save and invest money for the uncertain times or times of change. So maybe instead of planning long multi-week vacations you plan a weekend or half day off consistently so that you are able to take a break from the focus of work and give your mind a chance to relax and maybe even come up with some creative solutions to any challenges you had been working on.

So this Labor Day, is it an encouragement for you to work harder, or a reminder that every hard worker needs a break?