Last week I had the privilege of attending our church's global quadrennial conference held in Indianapolis. With organized churches in 162 world areas, nearly 20,000 representatives gathered from around the world for times of worship, fellowship, and administrative decisions that will guide the denomination for the next four years.

One of the highlights was the opening session which featured the march of flags. It was awe-inspiring to watch as 162 national flags paraded up and down the aisles to a rousing anthem. Every person in the auditorium swelled with as much pride for their country's flag as you and I do for ours. I am blessed to be part of a global church.

The oldest national flag still in use has represented Denmark since 1478. Its cross design has been used on the flags of many other countries.

The flag of the Netherlands is the oldest tri-color flag. Its three colors of red, white, and blue trace back to the days of Charlemagne in the 9th century.

Our American flag, also bearing the red, white, and blue, has been modified 26 times throughout its existence. The current design was introduced in 1960, and it is the longest-used version of the American flag in our history.

The flag is more than a mere piece of cloth. It is a symbol, and a symbol never shines its own light -- it always points to a greater object beyond itself. When we see our American flag, what we really envision is a nation of unity, freedom, courage, and strength.

When that flag is abused, then, it strikes at the heart of our emotions because of what it represents. Our outrage is not about the flag itself; it can be replaced. We are offended because we take it personally. The perpetrators are denouncing our liberties and national pride. Their intent may have more to do with making a political statement, but to us they scorn our very lives. Whether it is by burning, or stomping, or refusing to honor it, we who pledge our allegiance to the symbol of our nation take offense.

As we celebrate our nation on July 4, we not only celebrate our declaration of independence, but we also declare our unity, tenacity, and strength. We too often demonstrate our ability (and freedom!) to focus on divisiveness. However, the greater exhibition of courage and strength is found in creating unity. It often requires more work, resourcefulness, and concession to agree than it does to divide.

I recently saw a placard which read simply (in the context of marriage), "Unity over Preference." If we could adopt that idea as a nation, life for us all would truly change. Unfortunately, we are too headstrong promoting and fighting for our own personal agendas to even consider such an ideal.

Nevertheless, you and I can do our part everyday. Let's give thanks for our blessings and privileges. Let's show our colors on July 4. Let's strive as one for the sake of our country. Let's pray for God to bless the USA.

Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.

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