Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Remembering our heritage as we approach July 4, 2014

Our Heritage
Heritage – “the status acquired by a person through birth; a birthright.”

(American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

Whoever we are, wherever we are from, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are heirs to a rich heritage, passed to us thru family, and country, and God.

Family Heritage

We are shaped and formed by our family heritage, maybe more so than we know or care to acknowledge.

Our former first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wrote a book titled, “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child”, and like so many other things, she got it about half right. Now I don’t know about your village, but I’d rather not have some of the folks in my village raising my kids. No, it takes a family to raise a child. God invented families. He invented them to raise children. And like so many things that God created with perfection, human weakness, and sin have made imperfect. But God uses all things to good, even these.

We are not all born to perfect homes. My mother certainly was not. Her father died when she was twelve, leaving her and her sister with a mother who was incapable of raising children on her own. She was raised by two aunts. But she survived adversity, and found God, and he provided her with everything that she needed.

My father was born out of wedlock, to an Irish Catholic girl who was unable to be his mother. But God provided him with parents, and to a young couple, desperate for a child of their own, a son was given. Together, they made a Christian home.

It soon became apparent to them that this child would not be a farmer, due to severe hay fever, and allergies, but he excelled in his studies. They aspired for him to be a doctor, or lawyer, perhaps a political leader. But God had different plans for him. They were not altogether happy the day he announced that he was determined to become a preacher of the Gospel. I’m sure that they wished for him to have all of the best and finest things in life. But he chose the path of God over worldly gain. Eternity will judge whether he chose well. I think he did.

Being preacher’s kids, my brother and sister and I were raised in the church. As a preacher’s kid, I have had sort of a love/hate relationship with the church. My experience would lead me to believe that preacher’s kids require more instruction and discipline than average. I would also have to say, at least in my case, that their wild reputation is well earned.

 I am fortunate indeed, to have benefited from the mentoring and training which I received in the church, from many Christian saints, both men and women.

 I won’t name them. They know who they are, and so does God. I thank God for them, as I sit in church and reflect upon all of the blessings that I have received in my life.

Any child, raised in the church or not, must one day finally decide for himself, if he believes. In spite of the finest examples of living Christian saints, in spite of all of the instruction by parents and dedicated Bible teachers, we must finally decide for ourselves if we believe. Some fall away, some find their faith in the church, and some find their faith in spite of the church.

The church, of course, is an extension of the family. It is the family of God. Through it, we all share in a rich heritage.

The problem with the church, like the family, is it’s full of people. Because of this fact, it’s far from perfect. But God uses the church to train us. He uses it to teach us tolerance, and forgiveness. He uses it to teach us how to love one another, even when we’re not very lovely, even when it’s hard. He uses the church to teach us to serve one another, and to learn humility.

Despite all of the flaws and failures of our families, and church families, we should thank God for them; for the blessings which we have received from them, for the lessons we have learned, for the sustenance we have received, for the love and discipline we have received, for the sacrifices that have been made for us. This is our heritage.

American Heritage

We should also thank God for our national heritage, for our American heritage, for the liberty, which we enjoy in this great nation. We should remember the price of this liberty, paid for with the blood of our finest young men and women, on so many shores, in so many places across the centuries.

So on Memorial Day, or Independence Day, we celebrate our heritage, and we sing again the old patriotic hymns. My favorite is “America The Beautiful”. It is difficult for me to sing it without choking back tears. The words are so fraught with meaning:

“O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife. Who more than self the country loved, and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears! America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!”

Our heritage has been insured by the courage, and sacrifice, of uncounted heroes.

Gary Hildreth’s essay on the fate of the signers of the Declaration of Independence reminds us of the debt that we owe to our forefathers.

He writes:

“Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and executed. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants; nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and his properties to pay his debts, and died in rags. Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him and poverty was his reward. Vandals or soldiers, or both, looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton. At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she lay dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Such are the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more.

Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with the firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”  This is our heritage.
Heritage In Christ
We should not, however, confuse Liberty with Freedom.
 We should remember in our prayers, our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, without liberty, suffering persecution and bondage, but still they are free. That cannot be taken away from them. Kings, and despots, and goverments have the power to bestow liberty, and to take it away, but freedom comes only from God. He bestows it, a gift, through Jesus Christ.
We can read of our heritage in Christ in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. There we find God declaring our birthright through Abraham.

“And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place, which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.

 And the angel of he Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:1-18)

This is our heritage, our birthright under the covenant that God made with Abraham.

It is the covenant that was fulfilled by God, who did not withhold his only son, but sacrificed him upon that terrible cross, that we might be redeemed from sin and from death. This covenant is fulfilled, and a new covenant is offered to us in Christ. It is the  covenant spoken of by Jesus in the upper room, when he instituted the Lord’s supper (read Matthew 26:28). It is our heritage, our inheritance, which is spoken of by Paul in Romans 8:14-18, and in Galatians 3:26, and 4:4-7.

Jesus himself describes our heritage, our birth right in his parable of the Prodigal Son.

“And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called they son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found…” (Luke 15: 11-24)

We stand before God, as the prodigal stood before his father, having squandered our birthright in sin, but in Christ our birthright is restored. In Christ our heritage is assured.

Christ receives us back with open arms. All accounts are settled. All debts are paid.

He paid them with his blood. For you and for me.

So I am reminded of the story of the little boy and his boat. Of all of the stories that I have heard my father tell from the pulpit, across the many years, this is my favorite, because of its simple, beautiful message:

There once was a little boy. He was a bright lad and good with his hands. One day, he went into his father’s workshop and he built a toy boat, crafting it from wood, and string, and glue and paint. And when he was done, he had built a beautiful sailboat.

He took it down to the shore, and he set it in the water. He stood there watching, first with wonder, and then with dismay! A breeze filled the sails, and carried it out into the lake, and it sailed away. It was gone!

Weeks later, as he walked through town, the boy stopped in front of a shop window. There, displayed in the window, was his sailboat.

He went into the shop, and he bought the boat from the shopkeeper. He didn’t say a word. He just paid for it, and he left. As he was leaving, grasping the boat in his arms, he was heard to say, “You are mine! I made you, and I bought you! Now you are mine!”

That’s exactly where we stand with Jesus. He made us. If you don’t believe me, go back and read Genesis again. You will find him there, at the creation. He bought us, with that long journey from Heaven to Calvary. With his blood, he bought us, at that terrible place called Golgotha. We belong to him. Whether we acknowledge him as Lord, or not, whether we believe, or not, we belong to him.

This is our heritage!

You are a Child of the King. Won’t you claim your inheritance?

How, you ask, do you claim your birthright? By confessing before men that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, by repentance, which is a conscientious attempt to reform and turn away from sin, by obedience in Christian baptism, through which you will receive the Holy Spirit, and by continuing steadfast in your faith and fellowship with the body of Christ, which is his Church. If you do these things you will claim your inheritance in Christ, and receive your crown of glory, and eternal life.

It sounds so easy, but what I have just described entails a very long journey. It entails a lifelong struggle, with every ounce of courage and strength that you possess. It may require you to suffer. It may require you to give up what you have, your most loved possession. This journey may take you far from home, along dangerous, dark, narrow passages, up steep, winding, rocky paths, towards a lone cross. It may mean giving up your life.

It won’t be all gloom, darkness and struggle. There will be light, and beauty, and laughter, too. Along the way will be rest when you need it, and love, faith, and fellowship with other pilgrims who are on the same road as you. And in the end, the struggle will be forgotten. It will be left behind. It will be sloughed off, like an old garment, as we put on the raiment’s of heaven, and are made new.  

This is our Heritage, from our Heavenly Father, thru Jesus Christ.