The other night my bride and I watched and enjoyed the newly-reinstated Hillsboro edition of the traditional Fourth of July fireworks on display for the first time here in several years. We did not have to go far, just out on our front stoop, but we could see them pretty clearly. The atmosphere in our neighborhood was alive that night as friends and family gathered together and on front porches all throughout the neighborhood. There was a joyous and celebratory air to the goings on up and down the street. We joined in as well, but as I observed the bombs bursting in air, and the rockets’ red glare, I found myself thinking, contemplating the fight for the freedoms that we all enjoy.
I have been surfing social media probably too much these days, but enough to be impressed with some of the more patriotic displays which various friends have posted and have come to realize that I am not alone in my gratitude to God and to those who have sacrificed so very much for those freedoms I personally experience and enjoy on a moment-by-moment basis.
One of those posts was a video which was taken in an airport when a platoon of soldiers were returning from a tour of duty in the Middle East. A welcome home committee had come to the airport to show the returning troops just how much they were appreciated by those who did not have to go to battle in foreign lands, or even here at home, to preserve those freedoms. Another showed a single soldier in a restaurant receiving the support and admiration from a young child, while an older veteran was ignored – until the younger soldier directed the child to him, and acknowledged him as a hero.
The closest I ever came to serving in the military was a stint in the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps, or Rot-Cee, for short) in college. But I have always felt one in heart and spirit for those who have served, and who are currently serving wherever the call of duty takes them. The separation from family and friends is difficult, and the added trauma and stress of battle often takes its toll, especially in a day and age when the enemy does not seem to value human life in the same way we do. It is extremely difficult to fight an enemy for whom death is better than life.
But in another sense, that very concept is true for the true follower of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said it best when he said, “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Paul was in prison when he wrote those words. He was awaiting an audience with the emperor of the Roman Empire. He was not necessarily expecting a positive result from that encounter. In these words he was saying that for him, if he should live, it would mean that he could serve Christ more and spend more time telling others about Jesus and His love for them. But Paul was also saying that to him dying was better than living because it would mean that he would go on to heaven sooner and have more time to be forever with Jesus.
To live is Christ, to die is gain. For the young today, that concept may be a very difficult one to grasp, primarily because we are so caught up in the present that we think little of the future. But thinking of the future is what freedom is all about. It is what Jesus Christ went to the cross to do – to set you and me free. Not just from the outside political forces – that’s what the people of his day expected of Jesus. But also from ourselves, and from the enemy of our souls, who will do anything and everything to take our eyes off the ultimate goal.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his autobiographical look at his political life, tells the story of a Jewish family in Europe who had come to New York to live and work. The parents were not wealthy at all, but their son did very well in his endeavors. When he became wealthy enough to do so, the son offered his now-widowed mother the opportunity to travel outside the United States. She constantly refused his offers for such luxurious experiences. When she died, the son went back to recover the safety box where she had kept her valuables and jewelry. He found there also another box, but there was no key for this second box. So he had to drill it open. He wondered what precious jewel must be in it. He lifted the lid. There was wrapping and more wrapping and finally an envelope. Intrigued, he opened it. In the envelope were her U.S. citizenship papers. Nothing more. That was the jewel, more precious to her than any other possession. That was what she treasured most.
My friends, the next time you watch a fireworks display, take the time not just to enjoy the show, but to think about your most valuable treasures. What do you treasure most? Your citizenship here and the freedoms that come with it? Those are very important and very valuable. They are worthy of respect and treasuring very greatly. In fact, many men and women have fought and died to give them that value. But are they the most important?
For the true follower of Christ, the most important papers are not citizenship papers for America, but rather citizenship in heaven. That citizenship cost the One who died for all everything. It gave you and me everything as well – for all eternity.
Chuck Tabor is a religioncolumnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.