This year was a first for my family. We tapped into the courage of our nation’s founding patriots and allowed our three children to stay up past dark to watch the 4th of July fireworks. (Ok, that is probably overstating it. The leaders of our nation’s revolution certainly faced more difficult dilemma’s than dealing with a set of cranky young kids who didn’t get enough sleep because they stayed up way past their bedtime.) But, as a family, we were moving into uncharted waters. It would easily be 10:00pm before the fireworks would begin and my four-year-old son is usually unconscious by 9:00pm. However, with generous doses of lemonade, a couple cookies and a large wedge of thickly frosted cake topped with red, white and blue M & M’s, he and his two sisters succeeded in staying awake past dusk when the first explosion of color lit up the night sky.
The next few moments as a family were glorious. Huddled on a couple blankets, faces a glow, ooing and awwing with each sudden burst of color. The scene would have inspired Norman Rockwell. Parenting side note: I am finding that creating memories for my children is rarely convenient and often involves occasionally breaking well-laid family policies about things like bedtimes. Reclining next to my wife, Shelle, to the left and my arm around my nine-year-old daughter to the right and my son’s head resting on my knee, my other daughter laying nearby with a friend, we took in the beauty and wonder of a night commemorating our nation’s most important event in history. It was the day we as a people took our first steps of freedom.
Freedom is an often misunderstood word.
I have to believe that the people of 18th century colonial America had a whole different concept of the word freedom than we do today. The meaning of freedom as the found in the Declaration of Independence can easily be lost on our generation where today the “freedom plan” is a telephone package that includes unlimited long distance and easy online payment options. In this generation, celebrating freedom on the 4th of July often means getting a great deal on a mattress and a box spring during the Independence Day, “everything’s got to go,” furniture sale. It means cooking up some brats, wearing funny styrofoam hats and lighting up some sparklers. Is there anything wrong with all of that? Not at all. In fact, I love a good pillow top bed as much of the next guy and God could not have made anything more heavenly than a bratwurst with a wide bead of mustard. But, I have to confess that without a spirit of intentionality, I find that I can completely miss the big picture of freedom.
Throughout the last three centuries men and women have made major sacrifices so that we could have the freedom of choice. The freedom of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But what is the value of being able to have free choice? Looking at “freedom” from the lens of scripture gives us an interesting answer.
Freedom is a political term, but it is also a spiritual term. The apostle Paul spoke of freedom this way, “You…were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13 (TNIV) Here is the big idea: You were given freedom in order to be released to serve. Don’t you just love the tension in that passage. Free to be a servant. That is at the heart of the Christian life.
Christ was free from the sinful nature. He had the ability to live the perfectly free life. And the model we see of the free life is one that is released to love. Christ’s freedom was a life giving freedom that ultimately led to self-sacrifice. And I think the key is self-sacrifice–it was a choice of his own free will to give his life for the world. Tyranny and the abuse of power in any form is forced-sacrifice, not self-sacrifice. Love is always a choice and can never be foisted upon someone.
As we celebrate our nation’s freedom, take a moment to reflect also on our personal freedom in Christ–a freedom that releases us to impact the world through servanthood.