Special 7/4 Service - “Freedom – the Greatest Gift of all!”
(America - Home of the Free Video clip) USA - USA – USA – USA - There is no place quite like America. That’s what Christopher Columbus discovered, what Thomas Jefferson (and 55 other men) declared 234 years ago and what countless people have fought for – for decades. America is a special place. Here you can say what you want to say. It may prove to people that you are wise or unwise, but in America we enjoy the freedom of speech. An example of free speech happened last week in Charlotte, NC. Charlotte is one six North Carolina cities to receive billboards from the Coalition of Atheists and Agnostics. Here’s the billboard! (Image) One billboard was overlooking the Billy Graham Parkway in Charlotte. Last week the billboard went up, but this past Monday morning people woke up to find it had been edited. (Image) Now I admit – just a tiny part of me is thinking – “That’s so funny,” but in my heart I know that vandalism does not make (as the Apostle Paul said) the Gospel attractive. BUT whether for good or bad – in America we have the freedom of speech. The freedom to worship God or to not worship God. In America you can root for any team you want. Last week I introduced you to Paul & Jennifer Weaver. Paul baptized his wife on June 22 and they became ministry partners last Sunday. What I did not know is that they are Penn State fans. SHOULD WE LET THEM STAY? In America you are free to pursue your dreams – for some that dream is to make allot of money. With that money you can buy allot of stuff. Anyone here like to camp? Well, do I have the camper for you! I don’t think you can call this a motor home. It’s more like “luxury on wheels.” This vehicle has everything – living room - bedroom – bathroom – media room. And of course – what happens if you need tool around town, but don’t want to have to park this behemoth? Well, you pull out your Mercedes of course. Now someone has either written a check or they have one huge payment plan – but what makes America great is that dreams can come true! Now I know and you know - America has its problems. 125,000 jobs were loss in June alone. Maybe one was yours. How many millions of gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico? But if you don’t think America is great – go live somewhere else. Tell me if you recognize anyone in this picture? That eight year boy is none other than Andrew Bondurant, my nephew and your Summer Ministry Intern. Andrew has a bunch of brothers and sisters. This is Deborah. Deborah married a man named David Markey. David & Deborah now have a little girl named Abigail. They are missionaries (all Christ followers are missionaries) living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Looking at a world map… The US is here, Russia here, China and then Africa. Kyrgyzstan sits on the west side of China. David & Deborah ask for people to pray for them. One of their biggest prayer concerns is the political unrest that has plagued this country. Deborah emailed this: Hi Uncle Greg, The political situation here seems to still be a little unstable. Tension is high after all of the unrest between the Uzbeks & Kyrgyz in the South of Kyrgyzstan. Please continue praying as we have heard rumors that something horrible might be happening in Bishkek on June 22nd, unfortunately we don't know any other details other than the date. We know that there are some people trying to stop a referendum that is supposed to occur on June 27th. We are trying to be cautious. We are going to get a bag together today in case we would have to leave suddenly.
I’ve never experienced that type of fear. Deborah told Andrew via Skype, “Here’s what I took for granted living in America.” Drying your clothes, controlling your own heat and water. The government shuts the heat down in mid-March because that’s the end of winter, but it snowed into April. Pre-made food – if you want tacos you must make your own tortillas. And of course – toilets! For us here today – America is the Home of the Free. You don’t often realize what we have until you go without.
Yesterday was the Westerville Independence Day Parade. We distributed 10,000 freezie pops. The theme of the parade was, “Freedom – the greatest gift of all.” That theme was coined by Mitchell Whittaker, a 5th grade boy living in Westerville.[i] I like that theme – I really do, but allow me to add just two words. Freedom from sin – the greatest gift of all! Turn in your Bibles this morning to a New Testament postcard called Titus. Do you need a Bible? Titus is both a letter and a person. Paul is Titus’ mentor/adviser. Paul in essence says to Titus – this is how you “organize and oversee the church.”[ii] God has given you a task – chapter 1 - raise up leaders who love God. Chapter 2 - teach people who know God how to treat people in the church. Chapter 3 - teach people who know God how to treat people in society whether that be the marketplace or your next door neighbor. Go to chapter 2 and find verse 11. (11-15) Verse 15 one more time. Titus teach this… Let me sum up verses 1-10. Titus, teach older men, older women, young men, young women and even slaves to live for God namely by practicing Holy Spirit led self control. Now verse 11. Titus teach this… that grace brings salvation. John Chilcote and I attended a prayer breakfast for ministers back in April. We each received this little booklet called Foundations of Freedom. This booklet contains the Constitution of the United States, The Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, The Gettysburg Address, and the Ten Commandments. I have 1000 copies of this booklet today. I will admit to you that I have not read these “Foundations of Freedom” since High School. I find this interesting – why would the Ten Commandments be included in this booklet? Let’s put the Ten Commandments on the screen. The Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses and in turn the Children of Israel – not to save them, but to show them how to live. God says, you love me when you worship me and me alone. You love people when you refuse to take what doesn’t belong to you whether that be someone’s stuff, wife or their life!
The good news is that there are two ways to be saved. Never break one single command, not one – ever! OR experience freedom from sin – the greatest gift of all by accepting God’s one and only son. In Jesus we experience God’s grace – getting more than we deserve. Here again is Titus 2:14. This is The Message translation. “He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.”
Jesus redeemed us. Redeem means to liberate. To set free by payment of ransom.[iii] Jesus sets us free from sin because he paid the ransom price – all his blood. I imagine you’ve heard the phrase “All gave some, some gave all!” All the signers of the Declaration of Independence gave – some gave all though.[iv] The truth is freedom is NOT free. Do you know what Jesus did for you and for me? He took our place. Communion reminds us of what Jesus did. (Ushers please go now) We come now to remember Jesus’ gift of grace!
Paul says to Titus. Titus teach this… Jesus is to be our blessed hope. Titus teach this… Jesus will one day appear and while we wait - we are to serve him. Jesus did not set us free – so we could become independent and do whatever we want! Go to the end of verse 14. Now verse 12. Paul also said, And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Does the name Christopher Hitchens ring a bell? Christopher Hitchens is the author of the bestselling book God Is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything. In Portland he was interviewed by Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell. Sewell said to him: “The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I'm a liberal Christian, and I don't take the stories from the Scripture literally. I don't believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?” Here’s Hitchens response: “I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.” That is dead on. What we believe about Jesus creates the so what? So I’m free – big deal! Freedom is not doing whatever you want! Freedom means you’ve been released from captivity. The prison of sin and selfishness. We no longer live for ourselves. We are FREE! Which means this – people will notice. Mark Moore writes, “Children of God are known by their actions.”[v] Go back to verse 14. Our freedom should produce an eagerness in us to do what’s good. Not to deface billboards, but to live for and honor God! Are you?
Can you tell me one of the best known sentences in the English language? Is it "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind?” OR “May the force be with you!” Or this…
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Do you really want to be happy. Then do good for God! When we recite the pledge we put our hand over our heart. Would you put your hands together as a prayer of allegiance to Jesus and if you mean it – say these words:
“The choice is made, the direction is determined. I’ve become a follower of Jesus Christ. I’m ready to go or stay, walk or run, be last, not first. I won’t retreat, return or reconsider. I’ve entered the race and my future belongs to God. I am a Christian and I pledge my allegiance to the one who set me free!” [vi]
[i] Westerville News & Public Opinion/rotaryclubofwesterville.com
[ii] LAB Notes, Vital Statistics, 2618
[iii] Logos Bible Software/Redeem/Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon
[v] Mark E. Moore, The Chronological Life of Christ, 23
[vi] Excerpts from Bob Moorehead, Words Aptly Spoken, 135-139