April, 2003
Lessons from a Freshly Freed People

"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget (Deuteronomy 8:10).

It is stirring to see new freedom through the eyes of others, the kind we've seen celebrated by Iraqis in recent days as coalition forces liberated their country ­ although been saddened by the looting.

Certainly one defining moment was the pulling down of that statue of Saddam Hussein in Al-Fardus (Paradise) Square in Baghdad. We've seen other celebrations erupt in many places: crowds happily waving; embracing and kissing the coalition soldiers; an older Iraqi man saying in his broken English, "Thank you Mr. Bush"; an expatriate Iraqi kissing the American flag; and on and on. "It is the beginning of our new freedom," an Iraqi shopkeeper shouted.

Humans aspire for freedom. People want to come to countries with freedom. We have poor people; but poor people in many nations would love to have the freedom to come here and be as rich as our poorest!

Perhaps we have become too used to freedom, and too jaded in our appreciation of this precious gift from God, particularly in this age when the foundations of our country are under attack, especially our Christian heritage. One Iraqi said liberation was "like being reborn," For America, and other nations with freedom, what a moment to see a rebirth of thanksgiving for the blessing of freedom. The scenes of jubilant Iraqis rejoicing in their new freedom should be like a revitalizing tonic stirring us to do so!

Such a moment is opportune for the pulpits of our nation. Thomas Jefferson asked, "Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed the conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?" In Jefferson's time the pulpits of the nation were prime places where this conviction was taught. So as we watch exuberant Iraqis celebrate their newly birthed freedom, it could be a good time to revive pulpit teaching that our liberties are the gift of God!

Look again at our founding documents. The Declaration of Independence begins, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Note the absolutes in the Declaration ­ "truths" that are "self-evident" and "unalienable rights." Our permissive societal conscience needs to hear these principles. Then the Declaration refers to a "Creator" and "all people are created" ­ fundamental beliefs that are much under attack today along with "In God We Trust" and "One Nation under God."

The first line of our American Constitution begins, "We, the people of the United States..." Consider in the 18th Century how revolutionary, how radical, the idea was of "We, the People" establishing and ordaining a government when monarchy was the political system and kings were sovereign and people were subjects! Our founders said that sovereignty was to be in the people; and government was to be accountable to the people, to secure human rights given by God ­ important principles to keep in mind in our age of bigger and bigger government.

Freedom is not free. Iraqi freedom is costing lives ­ graphic reminders that countless Americans throughout our history have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. In a message of support to U.S. troops in Iraq, actor Charlton Heston said, "You walk in those same righteous footsteps of all those patriots who, before you, fought to preserve liberty for all..."

We can go back to Valley Forge in December 1777, when the Continental Army entered their winter quarters, the beginning of a long, dark chapter of American suffering. That winter almost a third of the 11,000 who camped there died. The wonder is that they stayed. It would have been easy to melt away into the woods, go AWOL, and go back home. Instead a group of men were welded together through pain who remained committed to their vision of freedom and their commitment to one another.

Prior to Valley Forge, those men had been routed in battle again and again by the most powerful army on earth, the British Army. But after Valley Forge, they never lost another battle. In three years the war was over.

America was born ­ The Land of the Free.

But freedom can turn to license ­ look at the looting in Iraq. License arises from the corruption of freedom, when the values and principles upon which true freedom rests are spurned. Today many argue for the "freedom to choose" which is code for killing our unborn, a rejection of our country's historic view that human life is sacred.

When we stand in our pulpits, not only should we teach the conviction that our liberties are the gift of God, we should call our congregations and our nation to return to that God.

Let us join in prayer:

Our gracious heavenly Father, thank You for our nation, and for the freedoms You have given. We thank You for the emerging victory in Iraq, and ask that proper government be installed in good time. Grant an open door to the Gospel in Iraq. We pray that the pulpits of our nation will again instruct that our liberties are Your gift. Let a call to return to You come from those same pulpits. Father, we have turned our freedom to license in so many ways such as killing our unborn. We repent. Forgive us. In the Name of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.