Celebrate Freedom!

    Fireworks, BBQ’s, block parties, friends and family…Independence Day is one of my favorite Holidays. Some of my favorite and scariest memories are from the 4th. I’ll never forget the time I decided to make my own firecracker and ended up burning my eyebrows, eyelashes and most of the front of my hair off. My parents were so amused at my appearance they didn’t even punish me for doing something so reckless. I remember riding down the Chehalis river in a makeshift boat my friends and I made at my house and almost drowning when we hit the rapids near the bridge. I loved being a free American kid in the country and I’m also amazed I survived it!
     Nowadays, I love the annual reminder that to be an American is to be free and that in some ways I’m obligated to enjoy that promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I’m glad to remember that our nation is an anomaly. Here, we can worship God freely. No government, no official, no ruler or power, no one…can take away our right to worship God as He has revealed to us. It is the founding principle of America. The hope of freely living and worshipping God compelled men and women from all over to face the oceans, the unknown, starvation and death to make a new home here.
    Our nation, especially its founding and adolescence, has its dark histories and flaws. America today still struggles, still fails and it still has its blind spots. I don’t believe that “God is an American” or that we are His chosen nation…pretty sure that’s still Israel. All that said, I still love being an American. I cherish knowing my wife, children and church family live in a place where we can freely worship God, however He has revealed to us. Not everyone can say the same.
    Today, I read the story of a young Pakistani Christian girl who was forcibly converted to Islam by a neighboring family and is now living in indentured servitude. Her impoverished family cannot purchase her freedom. She is living in slavery as a cook and made to practice a Faith she doesn’t believe in. In China, right now, there are over one million Uyghur Muslims detained in “re-education” camps. They have been imprisoned on the basis of their religion and according to many reports, the women are being forcibly sterilized and the men and women alike are used as forced labor in the cotton fields and factories in Xinjiang, where one-fifth of the world’s cotton is produced. Early in my ministry I served at a Farsi church, where many members had fled Iran to escape religious persecution under the Ayatollah. They told me horror stories of their Pastors being abducted, tortured and then thrown into a ditch near the church, their dead bodies riddled with bullets. I heard the stories of new Christians being hung from cranes in Tehran because they had committed the ultimate sin of renouncing Islam. I still hear stories like this today.
    I wonder sometimes, how people in other countries view the faith of American Christians. In so many other places in the world, being a Christian could very well cost you your opportunities, your freedom and even your life. Yet here, where we have freedom of speech, of assembly and of religion, we subject ourselves to our own forms of oppression like peer pressure, fear of rejection, fear of the mob, not being liked or possibly not having the career opportunities we wanted. How cheaply do we treat our freedom to share the Gospel? To pray out loud? To read our Bible in public? To quote Scripture at work or in school? More recently, how have we treated the freedom to gather together in church and praise Him loudly! How much would others, from all faiths across the world, like to enjoy those same freedoms? Would they so willingly give them up like many of us have done over the years?
    This Independence Day, I hope you, your family and friends have an amazing time! Eat lots, watch fireworks, play hard and laugh loud! I also hope you take a moment to reflect on the freedom you have, not only as an American, but also as a Christian who is saved by the blood of Christ and empowered by the Spirit and commit to living out that truth and that blessing, sharing His Gospel, loving your neighbor, and risking it all for the cause of Christ as He calls us to in His Word.

   24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[g] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:24-27, ESV)

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