In only days we will be celebrating our country’s 243rd birthday, but on the way to that celebration only a few weeks ago we were marking the 75th anniversary of the greatest invasion that ever took place in history when soldiers from free countries invaded the coast of France to push back the terrible destructive forces of Nazi domination. We were reminded as we celebrated D-Day of the thousands of soldiers from multiple countries who gave their lives by the thousands to fight back the terrible forces of Hitler. I heard from the lips of those elderly men who fought those days and survived multiple times say, “Freedom is not free.” It wasn’t. It never has been, and it isn’t now.
We will soon stop and reflect on the beginnings of our country and think about that document of just over 1,300 words that declared we would be free — our Declaration of Independence. Throughout our beginnings and long after the beginnings, it has been evident that God Himself has been involved in so many of the foundations of our country and the blessings of America. I think of that marvelous verse in Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.”
We used to take pride in saying that we are a Christian nation, but now it appears we have moved far away from an openness to call upon the Lord for help and guidance or to even pretend that we are a people of God. It seems as though we would far rather proclaim we are a secular society and we will make our own way. If that be true, the results are becoming very evident that we are indeed making our own way.
With July 4th in sight, take a moment today to think about those days when this marvelous country was being birthed. The population of this land was less than four million and our leaders were only a handful. In fact, when they finally put the document together and were preparing to send it to the king in England, the signers of the Declaration of Independence numbered only 56 men. They held nothing back. They gave everything they were and risked everything they would ever be. Fifty-six men.
I point that out only to say that while our soon-to-be country had less than four million people, 56 made the incredible decision that would affect all of those who lived up and down the east coast then and the approaching 400 million who live in our country now. Now 56 men signed the Declaration, but the outbreak of war and fighting that came lasted for eight years. There were almost a quarter of a million men who fought on behalf of the new nation. About 25,000 men died because of that document and the truth that we were going to be free.
Many of them died on battlefields and others died later from wounds and diseases. It is estimated that somewhere between 8,000-12,000 men died as prisoners of war. It would be hard for your imagination to pull into view the kind of tragic conditions in which they gave their lives so that others could be free. Freedom. The opportunity that a people could make their decisions about what their country would be. Freedom. The opportunity for each one of us to decide what we want to be. What we want to do. Where we want to go to school. Where we want to worship. What we want to do for an occupation. All of those things we take for granted and just grab hold to and think we are deserving of them, but freedom is not something that can be grabbed and held. Rather, it is always something that can be reached for and usually for only a brief moment to have in our possession.
More than any other people on the earth, we have freedoms. No, America is not perfect. It wasn’t at the beginning. It isn’t now, but there is a framework of government and opportunities that allow us to shift and change so that freedoms can be ours. They have to be sought out, protected, enjoyed, but certainly passed on to others. As I think about days like D-Day or the days that came after the 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence, I simply raise the question from our own thoughts: How much have you contributed to the freedoms enjoyed by this country? Millions have served in the military. Hundreds of millions have served at work in the classroom, operating rooms, pulpits, at the wheel of a big rig, or looking to the skies and being a part of the adventure of going beyond earth’s atmosphere. The freedoms we enjoy are only ours if they are shared with others. As we share them with others, there are others who will come and help us defend them.
In the bitterness of winter, George Washington led his men on a march from White Marsh to Valley Forge. There were 9,000 men in full gear who walked through snow and ice, rain, and sleet, and suffered from hunger and disease to arrive at Valley Forge and participate in a victory for freedom. George Washington is quoted as saying, “You might have tracked the army from White Marsh to Valley Forge by the blood of their feet.” It was only 13 miles, but 13 miles that were covered by men taking one step at a time through the harshest of weather and the most difficult of circumstances in order to fight another battle for freedom.
While you may enjoy a cookout, ice cream, some watermelon, and fireworks, pause to think about what so many have given so that we can have so much. Pause to think about what you can give in order to help freedom continue to live.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12).
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jim Futral