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Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."- Galatians 6:2

It is quite amazing how many people absolutely love the Fourth of July. Not that it isn't a meaningful celebration for our country or a special day in the summer season to enjoy. It's just that I have been surprised to hear many people who rank it near the top on their list of favorite holidays. The way some people speak of Independence Day, it even ranks right up there with Christmas! There is no denying that the Fourth offers an amazing combination that makes for a grand celebration: Going to the beach or being at the pool; great food (traditionally BBQ); patriotic colors; and of course what steals the show and seals the day's celebration, FIREWORKS.

Our family enjoyed the 2017 rendition of this holiday by going to the pool, grilling burgers, and heading to a neighborhood spot in Newbury Park to enjoy the sky lighting up with some friends. As we arrived at our spot and were getting situated, I ran into a buddy that I had not seen in quite some time. As we greeted each other, he began to share the recent developments within his family. his mother had been diagnosed with cancer and he had made a special trip to spend some time with her. Upon hearing this news the entire focus of the moment went from watching a grand fireworks display, to waiting on my friend in the midst of a great burden he was facing. As our kids watched the 15-20 minute show, my eyes and attention rarely left my friend as I asked questions, listened, and offered any comfort and encouragement I could in his moment of need. Before I knew it the fireworks were over, but I was confident that I didn't miss a thing, because I was busy doing what was most important (what Jesus would have done if He had been standing on that street in Newbury Park at 9 pm on July 4, 2017).

As I look back on that (Divine) encounter with my friend a few weeks back I am reminded how what we scheduled as priority, such as watching fireworks, must be discarded and replaced with what is most important, which is to be present for people by being a loving and radiant representation of Christ. I believe that if we would be paying more attention we would not have to look very far or very hard to see the fireworks going off in the lives of people around us. Even as I write this article I know of an elderly person in the church who struggling to transition into a new living situation; I know of a married couple whose relationship has rapidly and painfully deteriorated; I know of a dear brother who has seen both of his parents pass away in a matter of a couple of months. The very real pains, struggles, and needs of people are all around us and should be as obvious to us as the first set of fireworks in the sky. I know that we all can be guilty of being too distracted, too busy, and too self-centered to be available to help people, serve people, and walk with people through their struggles. It will cost us time, as it often comes at the most inconvenient moment and unexpected hour. It will take a toll emotionally, as being truly present causes us to experience a level anguish as we understand, invest in, and connect with the person's plight. It will require living sacrificially, as it may mean staying up later to talk on the phone, providing transportation, or even assisting financially. We must allow our days to be interrupted in order that we may intentionally care for those around us. This must be an ultimate priority and a barometer we use to live as followers of Jesus. For our Savior spoke this command to His disciples (and to us by the Holy Spirit) in John 13:34-35, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another."

In the same way we plan out our day on July 4th to OBSERVE the fireworks, let's become more aware of the "fireworks of life" that are going off in the people around us. Perhaps, you have noticed that a co-worker's countenance has soured recently; a friend has stopped responding to emails, texts, and phone calls; you read about a new development of a family member on Facebook; you haven't seen a certain person at church for a few weeks; you remember about someone going in for a medical procedure or getting test results back. These examples serve as an everyday reminder for us to look around, to express loving concern, and to offer a listening ear and a helping hand. There is a true independence celebration that transcends the one our nation celebrates. It happens when God's people live in His love and light. As Proverbs 17:17 tells us, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity."

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