Over 28 years ago, when I moved to small town America, I discovered the largest and best part of America, the small town part, and Independence Day came alive with color.
I felt like a deprived little rich kid growing up in a mega-church who thought he knew what a church dinner was but then found himself in a small church family, went to a church dinner, and was pretty sure he’d discovered heaven!
Oh, I’d always enjoyed Independence Day, but I never knew how wonderful some small town celebrations of it can be!
July 4 in many ways is just a date, but all wrapped up in that date for U.S. citizens, along with mental images of hot dogs, ice cream, and fireworks, are deeper impressions of freedom and liberty-and sacrifice.
Odd, isn’t it, that freedom itself is never free? Its very costly price was paid in real blood, sweat, and tears. Many, like me, who have personally paid so little of the price but who share mightily in its blessings, tend to forget what a costly thing it is.
I hope we don’t forget. As a Christian, my love for this nation pales beside my allegiance to Christ, and I realize that freedom is God’s gift, not the gift of any nation, benevolent or despotic. All of God’s children are truly free, even in lands where their own governments are deathly afraid of such freedom and kill to deny it.
But it is still true that a lifetime of love and devotion to this nation where freedom has long been recognized as a precious gift is not enough even to begin to pay back the debt of gratitude every citizen of this land owes.
It’s a debt not just to a flag or nation, and certainly not to a government. It’s a debt to the ordinary men and women who put their lives and liberty on
the line by showing extraordinary courage and unselfishness by laying aside their own comfort and personal pleasure so that other ordinary people, like you and me, could enjoy the blessings of life in a nation where freedom is cherished.
You don’t have to belong to a particular political party to begin to pay that debt. But you do need to realize that your freedom to belong to any party you choose, or none at all, did not come cheaply.
You don’t have to agree with the domestic or foreign policy of a particular administration of government to begin to pay back that debt. In fact, you can-and probably will-be quite sure that a particular administration is shameful. (Someone always feels that way.) But you do need to be thankful to live in a land where the voices of the people are heard, even if you sometimes wish they spoke with much deeper wisdom.
You do not have to be blind to serious failure and wickedness to love this nation and be thankful for what is still good and true and beautiful about it, and to pray that many of its citizens always acknowledge as their King the One who died so that we might be genuinely free.
Real freedom is never free. It is always costly. And recipients of costly gifts should at the very least be very thankful people indeed.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at