So often we Americans celebrate the Fourth of July with hot dogs, hamburgers, pizzas, homemade ice cream and family get-togethers. We hear speeches or read articles with some mention of liberty, justice and the American way. We watch or participate in such things as road races or other special contests.

I remember one Fourth of July when, as the pastor of a local church, I was in a milking contest with a state senator on the streets of Carrollton, Ga. Incidentally, I won that contest because the cow kicked over the senator’s bucket.

Adding to our Fourth of July observance, in the evening, we usually attend some sort of fireworks display in our celebration of Independence Day. And when the day is finally over most of us retire to our beds wearily content that the republic has survived yet another celebration of itself.

But there is more to the Fourth of July and the celebration of citizenship than eating and playing and noise — or at least there ought to be. Citizens who take their faith and country seriously should be encouraged to think deeply about the meaning of freedom.

Freedom evolves. To begin with, freedom is not a once-and-for-all enterprise. It is a slowly evolving process. For sure, it is not always discernible and not always achieved, but it is always to be pursued, appreciated and celebrated.

Writing in his book “To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian,” Stephan Ambrose gives us an example. In describing Thomas Jefferson, Ambrose wrote, “He was the author of the Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph begins with a perfect sentence. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ (An affirmation that Jefferson did not live out). Eventually, with Lincoln, who articulated these truths and lived them, and slowly afterward, the idea made its progress.”

Think with me. Freedom is a constant renewal and development carried out by many people over many years under many circumstances. As freedom has progressed along, African Americans and women have gained a higher status and more legal rights. Maybe we are still not where we ought to be yet, but step by step the freedom develops. Step by step the United States has and will continue to move forward, provided we don’t self-destruct first.

As I said, freedom is a slowly evolving process. It’s not always discernible and not always achieved, but it is always to be pursued, appreciated and celebrated.

Freedom means responsibility. It has been well observed that when God writes opportunity on one side of the door, He writes responsibility on the other side. The wonderful freedom we enjoy in America today did not just happen. Someone was responsible for it. And if we plan to keep the freedom we now have, everyone is going to have to share in the responsibility of of keeping it.

I like the way David McCullough put it in his book “The American Spirit.” Mr. McCullough states, “Many a time I have gone off on a speaking date feeling a bit down about the state of things and returned with my outlook greatly restored, having seen, again and again, long-standing American values still firmly in place, good people involved in joint efforts to accomplish changes for the better, the American spirit still at work.”

Freedom and faith. For a moment, let’s move deeper as we consider freedom. The Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” (Galatians 5:1).

Here, the Apostle Paul is speaking of Christian freedom and knows it is achieved and available. He reminds us that Christ is the true liberator.

Real freedom is in Him.

The Rev. Hal Brady is an ordained United Methodist minister and executive director of Hal Brady Ministries, based in Atlanta. You can watch him preach every week on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters TV channel Thursdays at 8 p.m.

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