Tuesdays with Sarah… Let Freedom Ring

For anyone that knows me well, you know that I’m not really that big a fan of summer. Most people think that is crazy. But when your skin is as fair as Snow White’s, then summer is not your friend! Scott has often said that the sun hates me 🙂 I burn, I peel, and then end up whiter than I did to begin with!

But one thing that I do love about the summer is the 4th of July holiday. There’s just something about flags flying, fantastic food, and fireworks that fills my heart with pride for country and love of family.

One of my favorite memories growing up was seeing the fireworks over Red Mountain in Birmingham. It’s now called ‘Thunder on the Mountain’.   I’m not sure if it was always called that, but my Dad has taken us Clements girls to see those fireworks many times growing up. We’d take blankets, camp chairs, and Dr. Peppers (that was mine and Dad’s favorite soda), and head to a parking lot at the intersection of 21st Avenue S and 21st Street S. We’d claim our spot and get comfy for the night.   We’d spend the evening talking, laughing, and burping, waiting for 9:00 to come and the fireworks to begin.

Me and Dad - Junior Class Homecoming Rep '93

Me & Dad – Junior Class Homecoming Rep ’93

Scott and I have recently moved back to the Birmingham area, and I was excited to begin new July 4th memories for my girls. Scott surprised us with tickets to the Birmingham Barons game at the new Regions Field. He got tickets along the third baseline, so we had a fantastic view of ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ after the game. I was so excited! I was going to be able to share with my girls the joy of Birmingham fireworks that I had been blessed to have grown up with. Plus, we had not been to the new Regions Field. It is beautiful! I sat there with my girls and my husband in perfect weather, with a beautiful view of Birmingham and the field, eating hotdogs and drinking Dr. Pepper, and I felt blessed beyond measure.

New July 4th Memories!

New July 4th Memories!

Of course, being July 4th, I knew that the national anthem was going to be powerful with a sold out crowd singing and cheering. When it was time for the national anthem, there was an honor guard that presented the colors. But the Barons had also gotten a group of men to re-enact the famous photograph of Iwo Jima, and it was so moving. I found myself shedding a few tears as I watched the men assume the position of the photograph, and stayed in that position for the entire song. So moving. I loved it and was grateful for the reminder of our freedom.

Re-enactment of Iwo Jima at Regions Field

Re-enactment of Iwo Jima at Regions Field

Ahhh, freedom… the other ‘F’ word that I forgot to list above along with ‘flags flying, fantastic food, and fireworks’.

Beautiful Regions Field

Beautiful Regions Field

When I think about freedom, I think of America, wars fought, abolition of slavery,   liberation of women, voting. I think of the freedoms we have as a country, given by the spilt blood of many men and women – of religion, free press, the right to bear arms, right to assemble, right to privacy. I think of the national anthem being sung from sea to shining to sea. And although all those things are absolutely wonderful, there’s an even greater freedom to be had – given by the spilt blood of one man, one perfectly human, perfectly divine man… Jesus.

When I think about freedom, I think of America, wars fought, abolition of slavery,   liberation of women, voting. I think of the freedoms we have as a country, given by the spilt blood of many men and women – of religion, free press, the right to bear arms, right to assemble, right to privacy. I think of the national anthem being sung from sea to shining to sea. And although all those things are absolutely wonderful, there’s an even greater freedom to be had – given by the spilt blood of one man, one perfectly human, perfectly divine man… Jesus.

A few years ago, 2000 to be exact, I spoke to our New Covenant youth group on a mission trip to Middleton, Ohio. I spoke about freedom. Over the weeks prior to the trip, when I saw our youth, I felt like God had gave me supernatural vision to let me see them as they really were. They seemed so weighed down, so burdened. And I felt as though I could literally see them bound by chains. But our verse for the week was Isaiah 61:1. It reads:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners.

That’s why we were there in Middleton, Ohio – to work with Habitat for Humanity to help those in need, but in all actuality, we were there to ‘proclaim good news, bind up the broken, proclaim freedom, and release from darkness’. That’s what the purpose of our lives should always be. And what God kept asking me was, “How can you proclaim freedom to the captives when you are captives yourselves?”

God first freed me at the age of 5, on a Sunday night in 1982, at the altar with my family at Huffman Assembly of God. That’s when I first asked Jesus to live inside my heart. Then in high school, about 10th grade, there was another level of freedom that I experienced. When God worked on my heart, showing me He had plans for me, and that I needed to not worry about what my friends thought of me, but only care about what He wants from me. I really started to ‘own’ my faith at that point, rather than be dependent on the faith of my parents.

But although Christ freed me at such a young age, and then continued that ‘freeing’ process when I was in high school, it does not mean that I do not struggle with worrying about what people think of me. I am a people pleaser. It can be one of the most binding characteristics to have. And now that I’m a pastor’s wife, it’s even harder. Especially in a church that is in the midst of great change. But I have to let that go. I cannot live everyday trying to please every person I come into contact with. It’s exhausting, it’s binding, and it’s impossible to do. My sister, Bekah, and I just had a conversation last week about this same topic, and she said, “I’m done worrying about what everyone and their brother thinks.” And honestly, that’s how we need to be. It doesn’t mean that we have to walk around being obtuse and totally unaware of people around us and be rude. But we cannot let our lives be dictated by the opinions of others – only by God. He sees the big picture, and He knows what’s best. So I’m going to focus on Him, and let Him take care of the rest. Oh my word, that just rhymed! Maybe I’m a poet! 🙂

There are many things that bind us. There’s the hard stuff – alcohol, drugs, sexual sin. Then there are the very subtle things – unforgiveness, fear, insecurities, cynicism, other’s opinions, anger, physical handicaps, racism, failure, our past. Sometimes it’s the subtle things that wreak the most havoc. Unforgiveness, for example, can destroy any peace in your life. My Nanny told me that unforgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts you. With unforgiveness in your heart, you can never move forward. And actually, Jesus said in Matthew 6:15, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Yikes! That is a hard scripture to swallow. But it’s doable. We can forgive, especially when we ask the Lord to help us. Sometimes it takes time, even years, but it can be done with the Lord’s help.

Free to think on our own with God’s direction – that’s what God set me free from. It’s what He continues to set me free from, usually on a daily basis. The thing about those chains I saw in the ‘vision’ God showed me is that the chains weren’t locked on tight, nor were they on the students unwillingly. The students were actually holding the chains themselves. They had wrapped those chains around themselves and were holding them with their own hands. And the only thing they had to do was let go. That was it. Let go, and those chains would drop. Seems so simple, huh? Why do we choose to continue to hold on to things that bind us, that do nothing but harm us? Hebrews 12:1 says, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Just throw it off! Drop those chains!

Last week, we went to the new Yogurt Mountain in Gardendale. It was several people from the young adult Bible study, and we had 4 little girls with us. We let them sit at a table by themselves; so of course, they thought they were so grown. All the sudden some music started playing and those girls put down the yogurt and started dancing! They definitely let the ‘rhythm get them’! They did not care one lick about what anyone else thought in that place. They were happy, having fun, eating yogurt, and decided that their response would be dancing! I loved it. The Bible says that a child will lead them, and that night, they led me. I had the discussion earlier that day with my sister about not worrying about other’s opinions, and these girls dancing with reckless abandon gave me the visual I needed for another spiritual lesson that God was trying to teach me.

Fun times with fun friends :)

Fun times with fun friends 🙂

There are so many great scriptures about freedom. Some of my favorites are:

Psalm 118:5 – “Out of my distress I called on the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free.”

John 8:32 – “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:36 – “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Galatians 5:1 – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.”

II Corinthians 3:17 – “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

As I mentioned above, we are free as Americans by the spilt blood of many selfless men and women, but we are free as human beings by the spilt blood of one selfless man named Jesus. Whatever chains you might find yourself tightly holding onto today, let them go. People-pleasing, anger, pride, unforgiveness, addiction… whatever it is, let it go. Don’t take for granted the price paid for your freedom. Don’t turn away the gift of freedom purchased for you. In the words Scott used from his sermon this past Sunday, “Don’t waste Jesus.”

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