Reality Reflection: Salute the Flag

Thursday here in the US was Flag Day. The US flag, like some of the other flags around the world is iconic. It’s a flag that many people recognize, even though it’s only looked exactly like it does since 1960. The flag has actually been redesigned 26 times since 1777, and what’s stuck around for all the versions are both the strips and the colors. The current flag is awesome because it honors the past and the present, with the 50 stars representing the 50 states, and the 13 stripes representing the original 13 colonies.

I think the fact that it’s developed and changed over time is also an important reflection on our country. It means that we’ve become our own country (the original flag looked pretty similar to the Britain one where the original colonists were from). We’ve developed our own personality, our own values, and struggled through our own challenges. And we’re still growing, learning, and changing.

Our flag is a symbol of what we’ve been and who we are now, as well as a reminder that we’re strongest and greatest when we work together. Days like Flag Day are opportunities for us to show that we’re part of that nation and proud of it. So whether you get some small flags to stick in your lawn or hang in a window, or are able to hang one from your home or garage, make sure you’re ready for the 4th of July, the next opportunity to show your pride in the USA.

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Taking Time to Listen

Given the events of the last week as well as the big meeting between two world powers happening somewhere half way around the world, today I thought we’d take a look at the words of Proverbs 8:33: “Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it.”

My heart hurts whenever someone chooses to end their life before God has determined it’s their time. The world lost two public figures last week to suicide, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. While we may never know what truly caused them to make that decision, many who choose suicide do so because they don’t have hope, don’t believe life could get better, don’t feel heard or have been so beaten down they can’t take it anymore. Statistics show that on average over 100 people choose suicide each day, which is a really scary number, and means there are thousands of hurting families out there.

The Bible teaches us that we should love our neighbors, that we should be giving and support each other, that we should look out for women and children, to trust that the God who knows the petals on a flower and all the creatures of the sea could look out for the little details of our lives, and that God has a plan for good for our lives. But these are not assurances that everyone knows because not everyone knows the Bible.

These aren’t just spiritual messages, they’re life messages. Anyone can love, listen and be compassionate, regardless of race, sex, age, location, or language. Are you taking the time to listen to the people in your life? To the ways they’re trying to help you and things they’re trying to tell you? I encourage you to choose love and compassion this week, to stop and listen when people speak, to make time to listen to what God is trying to tell you, and make time for those who are most important to you.

Standing Strong to Make A Difference

As I’ve been thinking about our topic of the month (strength/courage/bravery) and one of my other favorite topics, victories, I had what may seem like an obvious epiphany, but here it is: it’s through using our individual strengths that we’re able to make a difference in the world. It’s not by bringing my weaknesses to the table that I can help others, that I can make the world better for the next generation, or I can have a happier life, it’s by standing on my strengths.

I can’t avoid or completely erase my weaknesses (although I can improve on them), but I can rely on other people’s strengths to help me with my weaknesses or to support me where my skills or resources aren’t as good as theirs. I don’t believe we have to be perfect people or good at every single thing. It’s OK to bring our own skills and strengths to a project but not be able to do the entire project on our own. There are tons of short cuts and supports that have been created in our modern age from “supermarket short cuts” that help us cut cooking time down, to tech templates that allow us to do some of the online design work but not have to do it all, to search engines that give us answers with a few taps or clicks with no trips to the library required (unless you want to!).

The question really is will you bring your strengths to the table for the good of everyone, or will you keep them just for yourself? While I don’t think we have to help everyone with everything, I do think we need to give back and make a difference in the world. Lawyers can donate a couple of hours a month to helping non-profits, doctors can donate a couple of hours to free clinics, teachers can donate a couple of hours to inner city students or those with learning disabilities, parents can donate a couple of hours to single parents in their neighborhood to watch their kids, and business owners can donate a couple of hours to helping veterans learn a trade or start a business. Not to mention that everyone can recycle, plant a tree, share information with the police or crimestoppers, help someone cross the street, pay for someone’s coffee, or say something nice to someone on social media.

You know what you’re good at, you know what you enjoy. How will you take your strengths and use them for good in the world?

Reality Reflection: One Small Person

This weekend in the US we’re celebrating Memorial Day. It’s a time we take each year to remember and honor the people who have made a huge personal sacrifice, as well as remember and thank their families who have suffered too with their loss. Every so often in the news we hear about one service member being killed or having died as part of whatever conflict they were working on. And maybe we think that one doesn’t sound like a lot, or it doesn’t seem that serious. And in some ways it’s not, because it is only one person and there are many others who are still out there fighting for our country and innocent people around the world.

But the simple fact is one person can have a huge impact on the world, even if that impact seems quite small. For example one soldier may save one child’s life and it seems small in the short run, but to that child’s family and who they may become in the future it is and could be huge.

With each word, action and attitude we each choose, we can make a positive or negative difference in the world, one that can be small or large. Sometimes it’s necessary to be part of a group to really see the impact, like with the Ice Bucket Challenge a few years ago. But often we can see the difference with only our own actions, like when we help someone pick up things they’ve dropped or share some encouragement with someone.

This Memorial Day I encourage you to step up. Don’t let the sacrifice that men, women and their families have made go to waste. And don’t forget to let those you love know that you love them, because you may not get another chance to tell them.

Earth Day Encouragement

Earth Day is less than a week away, and as I was reflecting on some of the earth/nature related Bible verses, the earth related events I know about coming up this weekend, about tax time, and still about Easter which is only a few weeks ago, I was reminded that it all eventually circles back to one thing: community.

Let me explain. Yes, the Bible tells of God doing things for just one or a few people, but Easter is really about everyone, not just one person or a few people. Everyone pays taxes, because it’s too big of a burden for just one person to take care of. The earth is something we all share and we’re all going to either keep it or lose it depending on how we live on it. As much as we’re all individuals and God sees us that way and has individual relationships with each of us, we’re all still part of a body of believers and called to meet together, care for each other and love each other.

Earth Day is one of those things that individually we’re responsible for doing our part to pay better attention to how we live on the earth as well as make sure we give back to the earth. But it’s only when we look at our collective effort that we can really see the difference over the years since 1970 when Earth Day officially began. It’s only when we recycle all year long, and not just on Earth Day, that we’ll make a difference. It’s only when we consistently choose the environmentally friendly choices that we begin to see a difference.

The same is true for our faith communities. You may not think you’re doing much only talking with one person about what faith means to you, but when many people are talking with others about their faith, not only does the Great commission not seem so overwhelming, but it actually looks like we’re making progress spreading the word.

So today I encourage you not to give up. Don’t be disheartedned if you don’t see your personal efforts having huge effects. Take the time to be part of your community and see what your community is doing to make a difference in the world, both your local community for Earth Day and your church community for the Great Commission. I’m not suggesting that when you see everyone else is doing the work that you let others do all the work and don’t give a personal effort, but rather be encouraged that the work you’re doing in connection with the work they’re doing is making a difference.

“Sometimes—by sheer determination–we can just kick the stone away from the door of the tomb and march out triumphantly into Resurrection Life. More often, we must wait: wait for circumstances to change, wait upon on God, wait on others for help. When Lazarus was called out of the tomb, Jesus said: “unbind him.” You –you friends and family of Lazarus—you unbind him. Sometimes we cannot unbind ourselves, but have to wait for others to help us into freedom.” Br. Mark Brown

Reality Reflections: Pictures and People

I understand that some people only respond to strength, and that’s one of the reasons that people (countries) go to war or send bombs. I wish that wasn’t the case, I wish that there was another way of making a big and clearly understandable statement without killing the people that we share the planet with, not to mention not hurting the planet either. Sometimes it seems unavoidable, like with WW2 and Hitler, or with the Rwandan Genocide in the early 90’s, those types of evil have to be stopped, and many people are willing to accept the cost of going to war or sending bombs as a result. But one of the reasons I think some people are comfortable with going to war or sending bombs in some situations that are less clear is because they don’t understand the place/people they’re attacking.

As I was thinking about what to write on today I came across this article with pictures from China. While China may not be quite the closed/secretive nation that some other countries are, I don’t think it’s a known country like France, England or the US. I certainly don’t know a lot about it outside from what I know historically or from the business side of things from the few companies I’ve advised from there. So paging through the photos I was again struck by how much China looks like other countries around the developed world, including the US. It certainly makes the people who live there seem a whole lot more like me than some unknown entity.

Every corner of the world is different, but from a few photographs some similarities are clear, maybe enough similarities that we can begin to understand that we’re not all that different after all, especially with regards to the things that matter most. We live in small homes and large high rises, we go out in nature, we worship, we spend time with family and friends, we eat, we run businesses, we work jobs, we remember history, and we work towards tomorrow. I don’t think it’s necessary to share our deepest secrets with the world or publicize everything, but if sharing photos like these can help us avoid wars in the future, or encourage us to act sooner when tragedy strikes, it’s something that should be done more often, from all around the world.

What things have helped shift your perspective or understanding of a place or culture in a positive way?

The Adventure of Easter Eggs

As many people are, I’m thinking about Easter coming up on Sunday. Whether you celebrate it more as a spring holiday and just get together with friends and family, or it’s a religious day for you, something that’s very traditional and well-known are Easter eggs. People, churches and towns around the US will gather up little plastic eggs of bright colors and hide pieces of chocolate or candy and little stickers and toys inside of them and then scatter or hide them around the house and yard for little boys and girls to find.  Maybe you’ve had the fun opportunity of filling the empty eggs with the surprises for the boys and girls.

If you think about it, Easter eggs are a lot like each of us: you never know what’s inside until you open up the egg. Sometimes you’ll find it filled with treats that you would rather trade with someone else and sometimes you’ll be thrilled with the surprise inside. Part of the gift of Easter eggs though, are the adventure of finding them, or of getting to know the other people that we share this world with. Just because the egg is yellow on the outside doesn’t mean that you’ll find the same thing on the inside all the time, or that it will always be your favorite filling because you love yellow.

As you finish this week working on victories, I encourage you to not judge people before you get to know them. Apply the breaks a bit to your speed through life and take the time to get to know someone before you jump to a conclusion about who they are or what role they may play in your life and success.  Maybe even take the time to get to know someone that you’ve not connected with in a long time or never really took the time to develop the relationship beyond a surface level.  The way you treat others can have a big impact on your ability to achieve victories, personally I’d rather have a team I can work with than find myself alone trying to be everything for everyone.