My mom (a.k.a. Mama Max) died on July 4th, 1990. This picture was taken at my 16th birthday meal at Gridley’s BBQ in Memphis. Mom wore her wig with all dignity and elegance. She would die nine months later.
I’ll never forget the day. I had been watering greens at a local golf course throughout the night (Memphis summers and bentgrass greens don’t play well together). Dad was already at the hospital when I arrived home around dawn. Uncle Jimmy was staying with us for a spell and answered the phone. He woke me up; my brother Darrell was on the phone.
“Well, it’s over.”
I don’t remember what we said next, but I high-tailed it in angry tears to Methodist Central (now, Methodist University) in Memphis. I entered Mom’s room to find Dad sitting sentineled next to her like he promised in 1952. For better or worse, ’til death do we part.
I was a hellbound church rat at the time who squinted from the glare of a remarkable Christian death. Each July 4th provides an opportunity to reflect on that experience. The following is what I wrote in 2005 (the 15th anniversary) on this occasion. God be praised for kind and gracious God, who tolerated me for a season that I may enjoy him for eternity.
It was a sweltering August day when a Mississippi Delta cotton field welcomed her into this world. It was an even more sweltering July day when the Delta received her back again. Born among the cotton and buried under the magnolia, God invested fifty-eight years in His most precious servant.
July 4th marks fifteen years since her last breath on this earth. Riddled by cancer, she mounted a gallant battle against an undefeatable foe. Yet it was how, not how long, she fought that affects me to this day. Perhaps there is more to learn from fighting a losing battle with nothing to lose than winning a battle with nothing to gain. She did not fight for this world, but to leave it and so inherit the spoils of liberty.
It was appropriate that God called her home on Independence Day. There is no greater freedom than that which liberates us from this world into eternal dependence on Jesus. After fifteen years of reflection God pries open my eyes to the nature of true freedom. That freedom is enjoyed only in and by Christ. I offer three areas where we desperately need the Great Liberator.
First, in Christ there is freedom from sin. Despite what fifty-six men decided in 1776, we are not as free as we boast. And though we may be born in a free state we are not born with a free soul. American children grow up to lie and disobey like any dictator’s child.
The Bill of Rights had kept us free from political tyranny. But, it has done nothing to alleviate hatred, abuse, injustice, anger, and murder. Free market capitalism has not assuaged greed. Freedom of speech has not ended slander and bigotry. Freedom of the press has not stamped out deceit. National freedom has not and never will prevent the abuse of it. No matter how much freedom we enjoy as patriots we remain enslaved to a human nature dominated by sin’s curse.
Jesus teaches us in John 8.34 that every person who commits sin is a slave to sin. And there is no human institution that can free us from that cruel warden. Therefore, in John 8.36 Jesus said, “If [Jesus] makes you free, you will be free indeed.” In Romans 6.16, the apostle Paul explained that we are slaves to the one we obey. In other words, if we continually submit to our carnal desires and the world’s lusts, we become co-dependent on sin. Therefore, Paul taught in Galatians 5.1, “If was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
Our only hope of being freed from sin’s dominion is by faith in Christ. Otherwise, we remain shackled in a train hurling headlong off a cliff. The key to unlocking the shackles is a persevering faith in Jesus Christ. Then will we rejoice that Christ frees us indeed!
In Christ, there is freedom from death. If ever we doubt our enslavement to sin we need only to look in the mirror. Our bodies are not what they used to be. One stroll through the cemetery reveals that there is no nationalism in the grave; Americans die as surely as every other human in the world. So before we get too proud of our strength and freedom we must admit that we are not free not to die.
In Hebrews 2.15, we learn that Jesus died to “free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” Therefore, Christ’s death was the death to end all death. However, this does not mean Jesus did not prevent any person from dying physically (obviously!). If He did that would be more of a curse than a blessing. Would you really want to live forever in a world that is decaying at an exponential rate? That is no life.
Christ secured for believers an eternal life in a perfect world to come by dying and being resurrected. For Christ-followers our last breath in this life is really the first breath in the next. Simply stated, he who dies to this world lives in the next, but he who lives for this world dies in the next. What a glorious plan!
This is why Paul can say that (physical) death has no sting (1 Corinthians 15.55) and to die was gain because it meant eternal life with Christ (Philippians 1.21). Death has no power over the believer in Christ because it had no power over Christ Himself. Therefore, Christ provides freedom from death in that we view it as the door to heaven. Believers in Christ can boldly agree with Charles Spurgeon who once said, “Death! You are a welcome guest; you are an angel of light, and the best friend I have.”
In Christ, there is freedom from fear. On the surface, there is much to fear in this life. Identity thieves, terror alerts, failing economies and sexual predators would cause anyone to tremble in paranoia. We distrust most people and assume hidden agendas at the highest levels. If all that is is all there is then there is little to calm our fears and settle our souls.
This need not be! Christ frees us from the fear of this world. Again, Paul taught in Romans 8.15, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba (Aramaic for ‘father’), Father!” This verse resonates with me because we have recently adopted our first precious daughter. As our adopted daughter she will never fear being unwanted, unloved, alone or rejected. She has every right and privilege to call me “Father” without fear. She need not fear that I will intentionally do anything that would not be in her best interest or discard her for genetic differences. Likewise, Christ makes us what we are not by nature: children of God vested with all the rights and privileges thereof. And we can rely on God for every need without fear of being despised (see also Isaiah 35.4). In Christ, we rest easy that God does all things for our good and His glory (Romans 8.28).
This Independence Day may we celebrate robustly the liberties we enjoy as Americans. Yet, let us carefully remind ourselves that those liberties are hardly permanent, guaranteed or absolute. We desperately need a greater liberation—a liberation from ourselves. Praise God that He has not left that to us, but has accomplished in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ!