Today we celebrate our freedom as a nation. This tradition dates back to July 4, 1776 when the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. The actual vote for independence took place on July 2 but we celebrate the birth of American independence on the anniversary of the signing of this document written mainly by Thomas Jefferson.
For more than a decade before the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, tensions had been building between colonists and the British authorities. In September 1774 a group of colonial delegates met to voice their grievances against the British government. They did not go so far as to demand independence from Britain, but they denounced taxation without representation, as well as the maintenance of the British army in the colonies without their consent, and issued a declaration of the rights due every citizen. The Continental Congress voted to meet again in May 1775 to consider further action, but by that time violence had already broken out and the first shots were fired in the Revolutionary War.
On June 7, 1776, when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, the Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for the colonies' independence. The vote on Lee's resolution was postponed and a five-man committee was appointed to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain. On July 2 the Continental Congress voted in favor of Lee's resolution.
I am thankful for the freedoms that we enjoy in the country and the price that many people have paid throughout the years to provide and preserve it.
Today I also celebrate the freedom that comes from knowing and following Christ. Jesus told us that "anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave" (John 8:34, The Message). But if we admit our sin, Christ will forgive us and purge us of all our wrong doing. He will set us free!
Colin Campbell reminds us that "Freedom does not mean the absence of constraints or moral absolutes. Suppose a skydiver at 10,000 feet announces to the rest of the group, 'I'm not using a parachute this time. I want freedom!' The fact is that a skydiver is constrained by a greater law- the law of gravity. But when the skydiver chooses the constraint of the parachute, that person is free to enjoy the exhilaration. God's moral laws act the same way. They restrain, but they are absolutely necessary to enjoy the exhilaration of real freedom."
As creatures with free will, we have the ability to choose how we behave. That freedom carries with it the responsibility for our own actions and the understanding that there are consequences which we must accept. We "have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial... not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others" (I Corinthians 10:23-24).
Dr. Peter Marshall was a Scottish-American preacher who served as Chaplain of the United States Senate. One of his prayers before the Senate is appropriate for us as Christians and citizens of this free land:
"Lord Jesus, thou who art the way, the truth, and the life; hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make all free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Help us see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right."
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," July 4, 2011. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]