Let Freedom Ring!

“Come on, Mom,” my son-in-law urged. “I won’t burn anything down.”

“You say that now,” I countered, “but I’m not so sure. Besides, isn’t it illegal to shoot off fireworks in the city?”

“Mom, it will be fine. I know what I’m doing. Do you have one of those flame throwers?”

This otherwise sane young man had a thing about fireworks. Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, birth of a child, sunshine on a Saturday – it didn’t matter. A great excuse or no excuse at all – it was always a great night for fireworks!

We had the optimum site for it – high on a hill with a large asphalt area free of things that could catch on fire. So the rest of us set up the lawn chairs while he set up the show. I grabbed a bucket and sat next to the outside spigot, water hose in hand, just in case.

He was right. It was beautiful. People saw the display and drove up the ridge to join us. It was quite festive. When it was all over, it was still not all over. He dragged out the sparklers to delight and terrify small children and grandmas. We got through it with no injuries and even had a bit of fun.

It’s not all about the fireworks, you know. The Fourth of July has great significance for Americans. Men and women pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor that we might live in a free society. But before the birth of a nation, there was a re-birth in the spirit of man.

During the Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century hearts were changed. The young Patrick Henry and many in his family received Jesus. Rich and poor, young and old, slave and free, master and servant – stood together in the freedom of Christ Jesus. People were born again. As a result, there was a clear break from government-mandated religiosity. Perhaps the next logical step was a clear break from a tyrannical king.

I saw a living history re-enactment of the reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Capitol in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was thrilling to re-live that special moment in time, to sense the excitement and the danger and the great sacrifice that our founding fathers must have experienced. The battlefield at Yorktown reminds us of the tragedy turned to triumph when Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington in 1781, cementing the freedom of our young nation.

My son-in-law was right. Fireworks offer just the right setting to capture the excitement, the danger, and the sacrifice of 1776. There is great cause for elaborate, loud, and light-up-the-sky celebration.

Now that he is in a foreign country, I miss his zeal for the pyrotechnics. But wouldn’t you know it? (Well, God did.) The country where he and my daughter are living today is noted for its grand fireworks celebrations – YEAR ‘ROUND!!!!

 “ … and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” — 2 Corinthians 3:17b (KJV)

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Manning Up

He always got a tie. And a shirt. And a big meal. That was Father’s Day at my house when I was growing up.

My daddy loved a party – whether it was for him or somebody else – he loved a party. And he loved his children. He loved being a father and was really good at it. We tested him often – kind of a performance evaluation. He always passed, usually with an “A.”

Now I enjoy the day with all the fathers in our church. The pastor preaches a rousing sermon calling on the men to be the “priests” of their homes – taking the lead in the spiritual lives of their families. They are given special gifts – inspirational books, pocket knives, coffee mugs, or other manly tokens of appreciation. Then we pray for them.

We beseech all of heaven on their behalf, understanding only a portion of the heavy burdens they bear. Usually a son or a father comes forward to offer his testimony of the love of a father. There is something special about seeing all the men standing together at the altar, thanking God for the blessings afforded them and asking for His guidance and instruction for the things that lie ahead.

Individually these are just guys.

“Hey! Thanks for looking at my car last week. It’s been running great
ever since you did whatever it was you did.”

“Hey! Can you get about four guys and set up tables and chairs in the Fellowship Hall for about fifty people – before service is over?”

“Hey! Debbie said for you to wait here in the foyer. Here! Take this.
She wants you to hang onto her purse until she gets back.”

“Hey! Would you look in the Men’s Room and see if little Justin is
still in there? Ask him if he needs some help.”

“Hey! Sister Wallace needs somebody to carry these things to her car.
Can you guys help her? Oh, and she might need one of you to keep
her from falling in the parking lot. It’s icy out there.”

“Hey, guys! Did you cook all this BBQ? Smells great!”

See? Just guys.

But collectively, well, that’s another thing. They are not just smelly, sweaty, talented, helpful guys. They are men, and they man up. It is a wonderful thing to observe as they gather in unity to behold the Maker of heaven and earth. As they seek the Master of the universe for wisdom and knowledge. As they offer themselves completely, willingly and wholeheartedly as servants of the Most High God.

They love the parties, the gifts, the food, and they love to be appreciated. Remember to tell them how much they mean to the family of God. And remember to pray for them. They have a lot on their shoulders. Being a father is a big job.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ” — Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

Forward-Thinking Mother

My first Mother’s Day didn’t go so well. I was pregnant out to here … and very ill. Looking for a lift, I knew that Sunday would bring gifts, cards and pampering. Not realizing the protocol for my special day, my husband (after I hinted strongly, ok, after I browbeat him to a conscious understanding of the importance of the impending event) ran out to Sears and bought me gifts — a mop and a broom. Granted we needed them, but not on that particular day.

Three years later I gladly spent the day tidying up with the mop and broom, singing mother songs to the baby in my womb. “Mommy and Daddy and Bud and Birkelbach and Mommy’s little baby,” I crooned.

Bud, my firstborn, and Birkelbach, the dachshund, loved hearing their names set to music. As we added babies and changed pets, I added lyrics and changed the music.

When the children started school, Mother’s Day assumed perhaps its highest ranking position. This was the time of unparalleled devotion to Mom, lavish displays of affection and gratitude, boastings of, “My mom’s prettier than your mom,” and, “My mom’s cookies are better than your mom’s.” In the land of macaroni necklaces I reigned supreme. I was Queen. I was invincible. I was a perfect 10.

The children were at their creative best. They made elaborate construction paper cards with hyperbolic sentiments printed in crayon with great care. If I had been a forward-thinking mother, I would have kept those cards close to me at all times – especially when the little cherubs became teenagers.

“Mom, you never let me do anything. You are so mean. Do you even care that I am the only one not going?”

“Read this,” Forward-thinking Mother would have said, holding out a card in his first grade printing.

“You R the bestest mom forevr! XOXOXO”

Or, “How come I have to do all the work around here? Nobody else’s mom makes them do slave labor.”

Forward-thinking Mother would have reached into her stash and handed him the coupon from third grade: “Good for helping you do anything you want me to do. Your loving son. XOXOXO”

Or, “You let them (the siblings) get away with murder! Why don’t they ever get grounded?”

Once again Forward-thinking Mother would have produced the note he penned at ten: “Dearest Mom, I know I’m not always good, but you always love me special. XOXOXO”

See what I mean? Forward-thinking Mother has her act together. Forward-thinking Mother has all the bases covered. Forward-thinking Mother is cookin’ with gas. Forward-thinking Mother lives on a Hollywood set just past Bailey’s Savings & Loan. But I can dream.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise— that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” — Ephesians 6:1-3

Resurrection Sunday

“Yeah, I like Easter. That’s when our Savior died, and we get lots of chocolate,” said the four-year-old boy eating a marshmallow bunny. With modern commercialization it’s easy for kids to be confused about the true meaning of the holy days.

To many of us Easter was one of the two times during the year when you really “ought to” go to church. That meant a new dress, maybe a hat and new shoes, too. My daddy always made sure the women of the family had a spring corsage to set off the new outfit. Then there was the bunny thing with baskets, egg hunts and “lots of chocolate.”

We often attended the community sunrise service on Jamestown Island in Virginia when I was a little girl. What a beautiful setting! An old rugged cross (to my young eyes it looked as tall as a building) with the rising sun sparkling on the James River in the background. I fully expected Jesus to come walking out of the clouds, arms extended in welcome.

And the songs with lyrics like – “Up from the grave He arose,” “He lives!,” and “Christ the Lord is risen today.” They were so jubilant, so filled with hope and the promise of a new day coming.

As an adult I was in the Handbell Choir. We played outdoors on the hillside at the church sunrise service. At the 11 o’clock service we were situated in the balcony. To those seated below it sounded like bells ringing out from heaven with the good news of Christ’s return.

Our Easter dinner usually included ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, hot rolls and coconut cake. Of course, the kids never ate much. They were already stuffed with chocolate, candy eggs, jelly beans and Peeps. And spent the whole day running around with a sugar high!

One year my daughter and I were without transportation on Easter Sunday. A man at our church dropped off his construction truck for our use. Dressed in our finest finery we decided to throw a clean sheet over the cracked, torn and grimy seats of the truck. Then we climbed in and took off for church! We arrived on time and emerged from the vehicle looking as if we had just stepped out of the Vogue-mobile instead of the twenty-year-old rattletrap with the rusted-out panels and a truckbed full of shingles and tar paper. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

When my daughter was eleven, she asked a friend to spend the night. Sunny was her name. I was taken with her sunny personality and her curiosity about everything. She was very bright. Since it was springtime I decided to ask her about Easter. I wanted to know what she knew.

“Uh, the Easter bunny? And candy and stuff?” she answered.

“Would you like to know the real reason we celebrate this holiday?” I continued.

“Well, sure. Tell me.” So I did.

She couldn’t believe she had never heard this before. I couldn’t believe it either. She was amazed that Jesus died in such a horrible way. She was amazed that He died that she might live. She was amazed that He didn’t stay dead, and that He is alive today! At Kid’s Camp two months later she gave her heart and life to Him in gratitude for what He did for her.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ” — John 11:25-26 (NIV)