As we look ahead to July 4th and the celebration of Independence Day here in the USA, I want to talk a little about this special day and one of our topics for this month, taking a stand. In case you’re confused or forget your holidays, July 4th celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, which declared the US as separate from Great Britain. This wasn’t a decision like saying they’re not going to celebrate the same holidays or worship at the same type of religious center, they choose to make a really big difference in the direction that the lives of all who call the US home took and still take. The signers of the Declaration of Independence chose to take a stand in a really big way, a way that changed the future for the US and the world forever.
Are you taking the stand you really need to in your life? I’m not necessarily talking about attending big ‘save the world’ rallies or even making the big commitments that the signers took some 200+ years ago. I’m talking about standing up to the people who say not so nice things about you, or standing up to bullying and peer pressure, or learning how to say ‘no’ or find better solutions to all that you’re asked of at work that’s really outside of your job description, or getting out of the relationships that aren’t helping you grow or don’t support you.
I’m talking about choosing to make commitments that are in your best interests, being in relationships that will support you and those you care about, getting involved in the causes and organizations that speak to you personally, and taking a stand for the things that you believe are right and add value to the world. I’m talking about seriously looking out for yourself and your future as well as the life, health and happiness of those you care about most, like your partner, children or grandchildren. The signers all those years ago believed that not only did something have to change in their lives, but there had to be a clear statement made about exactly what that change meant and establish a clear separation between themselves and their past.
This week as we head into Independence Day and the next 2 months of summer, I encourage you to really think about the choices you’re making in your life and if you’re taking the stand for your life and future that you need to. I know I’m looking forward to being more proactive about that stand, will you join me?
This week I got the news that a family friend is getting very close to the end of his journey. He’s had medical problems for years and things have worsened and now he and his wife are working with hospice. The man has always had a great sense of humor, is good to his friends, loves his wife, and has really endured through serious medical issues in a positive way that you don’t often see. He’s not perfect, none of us are, and I’m sure that he’s had his moments of anger and frustration, as well as fear and sadness, especially at this point in time.
It’s not easy to know the end is very close, whether it’s your life or that of someone you know well, especially when they’re one of those ‘good people.’ No, it’s not good to wish anyone were dead or think it’s better to lose someone who has some not so great habits (everyone has a family and a mother), but when the world loses a bright soul it seems like it’s felt even more. What would you do if you knew that your end was near? I would hope that you would take advantage of every moment you have with those you love, and maybe even do a splurge or two that you’ve always wanted, like take a special trip with your partner or kids, maybe even take the opportunity to try and mend a few fences.
As I was reflecting on the impending loss of this friend it got me thinking about the other side of death and loss, the side of the living. We don’t go anywhere when someone we know or love dies, we’re still here. And often we end up at a funeral or life celebration talking about them with other friends and family. It’s not often that we’ve got the opportunity to let someone know what they meant to us and how thankful we are that they’ve been in our life before they pass. It adds something to the grieving process for both sides, to be able to share that with them and support and love them, and it can make their last days very meaningful and happy, instead of painful and sad.
Loss is never easy, especially when it’s someone we’ve known for a very long time, and known on a very personal level. But the way things work right now, everything comes to an end. So I do encourage you to take a little time to reflect on how you want your end to go and make sure that you’ve got things clearly written down, but more so I encourage you to make as many memories as you can, to love as big as you can and to enjoy as much of life as you can.
As we think about this month’s topic of love and the celebration of Earth Day later this week I wanted to share a verse that will challenge us on both topics: Psalm 24:1 says:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
First this verse reminds us that if we really care about God and are following Him, we’ll take care of what He has given us. That means being a little more aware of what you’re buying and doing and how you’re interacting with nature and the impact you have on it. We all have an impact, but we can make smarter choices to minimize that impact and protect the gift God has given us.
Second this verse reminds us that God created everything in the world, all of the plants, animals, creepy crawlers, and people. I know it’s hard to imagine the God that created you and me also creating things like scorpions. It’s also hard to imagine the God that created Billy Graham created Hitler too, but according to this verse, He did.
Which brings us to our challenge. It can be really easy to be sloppy and lazy and not take care of the earth, after all there’s a really good chance that it will last through our lifetimes regardless of the damage we do. It can also be really easy to just focus on the nice and good people and ignore those who display their faults and imperfections more than the rest of us do. But this verse challenges us to remember that God has called us to care for that which is His; all of it. That means attempting to remove our judgements, preconceived notions, prejudices and opinions and trying to see things from God’s perspective, which can be easier said than done.
But just like with caring for the earth and making earth-friendly decisions, treating all others with respect and courtesy, and maybe even love, is something you can get into the habit of doing. God didn’t say it would be easy, but He called us to set the example for our fellow man. So as we move away from Easter and toward Earth Day, I encourage you to consider how you can be more considerate of “everything” that the Lord has created. What ways will you choose to show love today?
This past week was the celebration of Purim in Jewish communities around the world. It’s a celebration that anyone who has read the Christian Bible is familiar with as well because the story is told in the book of Esther. The story is noteworthy for many reasons, but it all boils down to a queen (a woman) stepping up for her people (Jews) and stopping an evil plot that would have been one of the earlier examples of genocide. Because of her bravery she has been remembered throughout the spiritual histories of both Christians and Jews.
This story of deliverance is an excellent example of the way that one person can step up and do something great for many people. Esther took a big risk by pleading for not only her life but the life of her people before the king. While most of us are not in the position of great power and responsibility that she was, we can still learn from her courage and her story.
Royalty in that day and age wasn’t always a by-birth thing. Esther grew up a normal girl who got picked to be queen, she didn’t know her life would take that turn. We don’t know where the journey we’re on will take us. We can make some educated guesses based on the decisions we’re making and things we see showing up in our lives. Most of us do have the power to change that path if we’re not happy with it or if we want something different/better/else. If an ordinary girl can become queen, I have to believe that the options for the rest of us are just about endless. What will you choose to do with your future?
Monday we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was best known for his speech at the March on Washington in 1963 and his work for the Civil Rights campaign. What not everyone remembers is that he grew up in the church and was an American Baptist minister. He never gave up on his faith through his short life, and spoke at his church a few months before his death. Faith was important to him and he was very traditional in some of his beliefs and often referred to his faith during speeches.
Today I want to look at one of the more spiritual things he talked about. He said (referring to the Good Samaritan Bible story):
“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'”
It’s a question that I think Dr. King himself asked throughout his life and work with the Civil Rights movement, and it’s a question we should all be asking ourselves. If we choose not to get involved what will happen? I know that sometimes it seems like we’re being asked to do everything and no one else is stepping up. We get tired of that. We get tired of feeling like we’re the only one doing anything. But I think two of the reasons that many people don’t step up include that they don’t want to do it alone and don’t feel they have a personal stake in the issue. However I believe that what affects some of us will soon affect many of us.
As Dr. King and his commitment to human rights is remembered this week I encourage you to think of others and some of the causes you can support. Yes, you may have to put forward some effort or resources, but remember back to the last person you helped that was really grateful and you could see the benefit of what you did for them. That’s the feeling I want you to remember the next time you’re asked to help someone or with something.
As we work our way into this new year I want to encourage you to make time not just to make resolutions about what you’re going to change or what you want to accomplish with this year, but really to take stock in what’s in your life, what you might be blind to and what you’ve been ignoring, and see what’s really going on around you. Part of this is about facing the things that have hurt you, the things you may do that hurt others, the things that are holding you back, and the things that you’ve let influence your life for too long. But the other part of this is about really opening your eyes to see the world around you and see what God wants you to see and what He has created.
In today’s verse God’s promising Abram all the land that He sees around him and letting him know that a thriving, plentiful life for himself and his future generations is all around him. Would Abram have know that if God hadn’t pointed it out to him or took the time to listen to God and see what God was trying to show him? I think God would have blessed him anyway but Abram would not have known the impact that he would have on future generations without taking the time to look and listen.
I know that we can get really busy in our lives, let things take over, let the concerns of others take priority and forget to take time to really look around and see the world around us, not just as others are telling us it exists, but truly seeing what God wants us to see. I encourage you to make time this week to really take a good look at your life. Don’t let any overwhelm you feel discourage you and don’t let the problems you see stop you from trusting that God has a good plan for your life (and can and will forgive you if you repent, and will help you work through the challenges). And maybe you’ll get lucky like Abram and see some really incredible promises.
“The Lord said to Abram after lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west.” Genesis 13:14
I know the holiday season is really about good tidings and great cheer, but the holidays do remind us of the people we’ve lost, and with another year ending as well we especially think about the people we’ve lost throughout the past year. So while we may not want to dwell on the loss of those people in our lives or the feelings of loss (which definitely aren’t full of holiday cheer), I think it’s a good reminder of why we should celebrate: because you never know when one day will be your last.
I don’t know about you but I don’t really want to look back on my last day as I lay on my deathbed (or after I’m dead if there is no deathbed length of time) and feel disappointed by the way I treated others, the way I lived my moments, the thoughts I had, the choices I made and the things I did. With each passing day and each person who passes on it reminds me of exactly how fragile life is, how reverently it should be treated, how much it should be valued and appreciated, and how important each and every moment is.
Now I know that if we were to spend each moment considering down to the last second exactly what we should do and what we’d regret or not, and analyzing things backwards and forwards, our life won’t be as fulfilling or appreciated as it should be. There should be moments of freedom, spontaneity and play, and moments where we feel like kids again if possible in every day. I think one of the times of the year that that happens the most is during the holidays when we bring out our treasures and memories, make a point of spending time with friends and family, and taking time to use our senses and fully experience our lives. If you knew that this was your last holiday season what would you do? Would you do something different today?
“When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.” Clarence Darrow