On this pre-July 4 Sunday, how about a little Independence Day trivia?
In the U.S., there are 30 locations that include the name liberty. What is the most-populated of them? Liberty, Missouri.
There are 11 locations that include the word independence. What is the most-populated of them? Independence, Missouri.
Five locations include the name Freedom. The largest is Freedom, California.
One place is named Patriot. It is in Indiana.
Ben Franklin was disappointed the bald eagle was chosen as our national symbol. He saw the bald eagle as lazy. I guess they are in the habit of taking away fish that are caught by other birds. Franklin wanted what other bird to be the symbol? The turkey, which he saw as a bird of courage. I am not sure his reasoning, but he preferred the turkey for our symbol.
Two signers of the Declaration of Independence died on July 4th. Who were they? John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They died within hours of each other on July 4th, 1826.
Here’s a very important question. July 4th is the biggest holiday for what food The hot dog. An estimated 155 million hot dogs are consumed each July.
And one more. Much to my chagrin since I am not a fan of loud bangs that go on and on and on and on, how much is spent per year on fireworks? $211,000,000.
Liberty. Independence. Freedom. The celebration of those wonderful gifts. How good it all is as we once again prepare to mark the signing of our Declaration of Independence, this year something that happened 241 years ago.
Speaking nationally, our Declaration of Independence came about because of conflict in the American colonies with King George III.
Some of the conflict had to do with taxes. Colonists were tired of paying taxes imposed upon them by a king who lived 3000 miles away across the Atlantic Ocean.
There were other disagreements as well, including the law from Britain that colonists had to house British soldiers whenever the British army said they had to.
The conflict eventually led to trouble between the colonists and British soldiers. The trouble escalated when the Americans formed the First and then the Second Continental Congresses. In July of 1776 the Second Congress approved a document that listed all the grievances against King George. The document also called for independence from Britain.
The document was signed first by John Hancock, the president of the Second Continental Congress. Fifty-five other men signed it as well. Altogether, 24 of the signers were lawyers, 11 were merchants, nine were farmers or large plantation owners. The rest were various other things.
It needs to be remembered that all who signed the Declaration of Independence suffered because of their signing. Some were killed in the War of Independence fought after the Declaration was signed. Some lost their businesses or land or homes. Some lost family members.
The signers knew they might suffer. That is evident from the last words of the document, which provide another trivia question. On whom did the colonists rely for their cause? The answer? God.
Here are the closing words of the Declaration of Independence. “For the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Do we realize what that means” It means this nation was built on a spiritual foundation. This was not just the idea of a few important men. This nation, including the freedoms we enjoy, came from God. It was God on whom the signers of the Declaration of Independence relied. It was His blessing and His strength and His guidance for which they prayed.
As we know, the Declaration was followed by the War of Independence. There were times during the war it appeared the hopes of the colonists were dashed. There were times it seemed the prayers for God’s help were not being answered. However, seven years after it began, the war ended with the Americans victorious.
Eventually a constitution was written and ratified. One part of the constitution is the Bill of Rights. What important rights are granted by that part of the document - freedom from abuse of power by the national government, freedoms if we are arrested, such as protection against unlawful searches and the right to a speedy trial before a jury of peers, freedom from being forced to house soldiers in our homes against our will, the right to keep and bear arms, the freedoms of speech and press and assembly.
And the freedom of religion, which means we can be at this or any other church today and on Wednesdays and any other day of the week, freely and openly worshiping God.
Let’s be thankful for the national freedoms we enjoy. Freedoms few people around the world have.
And let’s remember there are certain things we who are Christians are taught to do that will help our freedoms to continue. We are to obey the laws of the land. That comes from Romans 13. We are to pay our taxes. That, too, comes from Romans 13. Before that, Jesus taught the same thing. And we are to pray, which takes us to I Timothy 2.
“First of all, then, I…” This, by the way, was written by the apostle Paul to Timothy, who Paul had started in the ministry. This letter and II Timothy that follows include teachings about what Timothy should do as a pastor and things he should teach the people in his congregation to do.
“First of all, then,” Paul wrote, “I urge…” This was not a request. This was something that needed to be done. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings…”
Supplications, in this context, are asking God to keep evil away. Prayers refer to requests for good from God. Intercessions are prayers on behalf of others. Thanksgivings are giving thanks for mercies already received from or on behalf of others.
“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men…” What a call that we are to pray for all people. But then Paul gave some specific people for whom we are to pray. “…For kings and all who are in high positions.”
Why are we to do that? “So that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”
That wording suggests kings and others in high positions have the responsibility of keeping things quiet, peaceable, godly, and respectful, but we are to pray for them. We are to pray they will want to do those things. That they will be able to do them.
Why is that important? “This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior so that men [and women and children] will find it easier to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”
So, what can we do that will help the freedoms we enjoy to continue? We can obey our laws, we can pay our taxes, and we can pray for our leaders. Let’s do all those things so we will be godly citizens of this nation and help others to be the same and thereby please God.
But you know what? Even if, for whatever reason, our national freedoms disappear, there is another kind of freedom we who are Christians have. Another kind of freedom for which we are to be thankful. It is spiritual freedom. Freedom to worship God, freedom to accept salvation from Jesus, freedom to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
There are some teachings in the Bible about what to do to maintain that freedom. One place teachings about that are recorded is Psalm 119. Let’s consider what some verses in that Psalm teach about what we can do to maintain our spiritual freedom.
Verses 30 through 32, reading from the New International Version of the Bible. “I have chosen the way of truth. I have set my heart on Your laws. I hold fast to Your statutes, O LORD. Do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.”
Did we catch what we are supposed to do?
We are to choose the way of truth. The truth is the words of God in the Old Testament and the words of Jesus in the New Testament. Words to which we are guided by the Holy Spirit. Everything recorded in the Bible is the truth. We are to choose to read and study and learn that truth. That is one step toward keeping our spiritual freedom alive.
We are to set our hearts on God’s laws. We are to be determined to not only read and study and learn spiritual truth. We are to apply that truth to everything we do.
And we are to hold fast to God’s statutes. There are so many things around us that want to take our attention away from what is spiritual truth. It can be so easy to be pulled in all sorts of directions. That is why we need to hold fast to the truth.
All that indicates a conscious effort of choosing, setting, and holding. We are not to try to go through life with no thought. If we do, we cannot be spiritually steady. We are purposefully to know and follow the Lord.
And we are to run in the path of God’s commands.
There is a report about Derek Redmond, a runner in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Derek was in a 400-meter race when a hamstring tear caused him to fall. He struggled to his feet and began hopping, trying to continue the race.
Suddenly Derek’s father, who had left the stands and ran to be with his son, arrived at the younger one’s side. Together they continued the race. That way, Derek was able to finish the race. Of course he did not win. For him, the victory was that he finished what he had started.
But there is one very important detail in the report of Derek Redmond’s experience. The detail is that when his father helped his son, he was careful to make sure they both stayed in the proper lane. Otherwise Derek would have been disqualified.
We are to run in the path - in the proper lane - of God’s commands. The lane of accepting Jesus as Savior. The lane that is bounded by the Lord’s teachings so we can keep growing in our faith. We are to do that so we can keep wanting and working for continued spiritual freedom. So our hearts can continue to be free to know and do all the Lord teaches us are the best ways for us to live.
Verses 43 through 47. “I have put my hope in Your laws, O God. I will always obey Your law, forever and ever.”
Listen. We cannot hope to do that on our own. We must rely on God for the discipline to obey. But when we ask, He will provide the strength needed for obedience.
Going on, “I will walk about in freedom.” I will not sit idly by, hoping to be spiritually good. I will, with the help of God, work on freedom every day. “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts, O God.”
And then this. “God, I will speak of Your statutes.” Your laws. Your teachings. “I will speak of Your statutes before kings…” Wow. What an interesting thing to add to praying for our nation’s leaders. “I will speak of Your statutes before kings, for I delight in Your commands because I love them.”
What can we do to help our national liberty to continue? We can obey the laws, pay the taxes due, and pray for our leaders.
What can we do to help our spiritual freedom to continue? We can accept Jesus as Savior. In fact, without that, we have no spiritual freedom. But after that, we are to choose truth and set our heart on God’s laws, holding fast to them. We are to stay in the proper lane, which is the path of God’s commands. We are to put our hope in God’s laws, obeying them forever and ever, walking in the freedom they provide. We are to speak about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, speaking of them and their teachings and their laws.
* * * * *
Earlier, reference was made to what the signers of our nation’s Declaration of Independence suffered. Five were captured by the British, charged as traitors, and were tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary War, another had two sons captured. Nine of the signers fought in the war themselves and died from wounds or other hardships. One, a wealthy planter and trader saw his ships swept from the seas by the English navy. He died penniless. Another had his home looted and destroyed. His wife was thrown into a prison cell that was dark and damp, which caused her to die. Their son died in captivity as well.
Each signer of the Declaration of Independence, when he put pen to paper, knew the risk, but each was willing to take the risk so their fellow Americans could be free. Freedom they attributed to God.
Standing up for spiritual freedom can be dangerous as well. That was the case for Paul, the one who wrote to Timothy about how to maintain spiritual liberty.
Paul was often argued against by those who did not agree with him. He was sometimes threatened, other times he was actually attacked, once being stoned almost to death. He was beaten and put in prison various places. He often lacked food and proper shelter. He experienced shipwreck. And he anxiously wondered how the churches he had started were doing. He had that kind of mental or emotional suffering.
The point is that standing up for freedom can be difficult and dangerous. The same can be true as we choose truth and set our hearts and hope on God and stay in the proper spiritual lane and speak about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, speaking of them and their teachings and their laws to whoever, including, as we have opportunities, leaders.
As we pray, let’s remember the need for courage in the face of opposition so we can continue to stand up for and promote liberty, independence, freedom, both nationally and spiritually.
Let’s pray. Lord, You have blessed us so very abundantly in this nation. Your blessings include prosperity, many years of peace on our land, and so many, many freedoms. Freedoms that are unheard of in several parts of our world. Freedoms that are the envy of people in those parts of the world.
We thank You for the liberty You give us nationally. We also thank You for the spiritual freedom You make possible. Freedom to do what is right for You and for others and for ourselves. Freedom You make possible when we accept You as Savior.
Help us to realize that because we have lives of prosperity and peace, it can be easy to forget our need for You. Help us to know the importance of continuing to choose truth and set our hearts and hope on You. Help us to stay on Your path, being obedient to You now and on into Heaven.
And yes, please give us the courage to speak of You so that others can know You and accept You and follow You. That will hopefully keep us free as a nation. It will definitely keep us free spiritually.
Liberty, independence, freedom come from You. As those who signed the Declaration of Independence knew that, help us to know it. Help us to rely on You for that to continue. Amen,
For today’s benediction, My Country, ’Tis of Thee. We will sing verse 4.
Our fathers’ God, to Thee, Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing:
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!