July 5, 2015
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #390: Independence, I Declare!
Happy Independence Day! Yes, I know that this holiday is commonly referred to as “The Fourth of July” or more casually “The Fourth,” but I’m not a big fan of that. We don’t refer to Christmas as “The Twenty-Fifth of December,” and I say, “Today’s my birthday,” not, “Today is June 4th,” or, “The Fourth,” To me, the holiday loses its meaning if we relegate it to just a date where we barbeque and watch fireworks. Calling it by just a date helps it become nothing more than just a date. It is a date that helped found our nation. Sure, we had to fight to defend what we chose to declare on July 4, 1776, but the act of declaring our independence made us free.
A king is only a king if he has subjects, and conversely, a person is only subject to a king if he chooses to be subject to that king. Thus, by declaring our independence, we made clear to the King of England that we would no longer be his subjects but rule ourselves by establishing our own leaders. That first Independence Day was probably anything but happy as the men and their families prepared for the inevitable repercussions of their bold declaration.
Though I don’t have my freedom today, it isn’t because our Founding Fathers were ineffective at what they tried to do. No, I still have all the freedoms they fought and died to earn for us. I’m not free to go where I want to go, but even in this prison environment, my religious liberties are carefully guarded and upheld. I have the freedom to gather with others for church services, and I can openly read my Bible and pray.
Those same religious liberties are afforded to every inmate, regardless of his beliefs. Some are in the midst of celebrating Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. (Well, the month of eating at night, anyway.) Others are Jewish, Latter Day Saints, Odinist, or Wiccan. For each one, their choice of religion is fastidiously upheld and honored.
This right to practice our beliefs, granted by the United States Congress through our Constitution, is so integral to everyday prison life that a greater percentage of inmates profess to be religious and practice what they believe than men in the free world. The reason isn’t complicated! So many other freedoms can distract us from the most important freedom we fought for, the one our ancestors came to this land to experience in the first place: the freedom to worship God in our own way. Everyday life and the many temptations that come with it can easily crowd out our relationship with God, relegating the most important part of our lives to the “if I have time” department of leftovers. Not exactly the greatest tribute to the many who died to uphold that right for us.
And what about your salvation? At the point in your life when you decided to declare your independence from the king of this world and align yourself with the King of kings, the Lord of creation, that day was your Independence Day! That declaration, in which you professed your sin nature and confessed your need for a Savior, was the beginning of your new allegiance. However, unlike our national Declaration of Independence, it isn’t the declaring that makes you free, and you don’t need to spill your blood to ensure your freedom is maintained. That right to be free from the consequence of your sin was already bought and paid for with blood by the sinless Son of God.
Several times I’ve stood by a door, waiting for an officer to come and open it for me. Just this week, I waited fifteen minutes before the officer arrived to unlock the music room, and when he tried the handle, it opened up immediately. It had been open the whole time. #embarrassing I couldn’t help but draw the comparison to all the other doors in my life. How often have I asked God to open the door when He’s already unlocked it for me? How many times have I patiently waited and prayed when God is expecting me to step out in faith?
And the door that is always open yet rarely walked through? The one to God’s throne room, accessible to us because of that freedom He bought for us. He made possible not just our salvation—freedom from everlasting death—but freedom every day from the grip of sin and its debilitating life.
And yet how often do we find ourselves in situations brought on by our own sin nature, and all the while expecting God to free us from it. You are free! Sin no longer has a hold on you! Paying attention to it is as ridiculous as if you were still choosing to pay taxes to the Bank of England. Stop paying their taxes. Stop drinking their tea.
So, ironic as it may seem to you, I celebrate Independence Day. I’m grateful for the many freedoms I enjoy while not languishing in pity, lamenting over the ones I’ve lost for the moment. I thank God for the country I live in. I thank Him for my eternal home in Heaven. And, I thank Him for the freedom from sin that He has secured for me each day. No, I don’t get to see big fireworks show, but that will come someday. For now, my Independence Day is a time to remember and reflect on so much more than fireworks.