What Cost Freedom?


Today in the United States we pause to celebrate Memorial Day.

This is not a new post, but as I paused to consider writing something new for this day, the same words echoed in my heart, mind, and spirit to share again. I hope its understanding remains ever fresh.

Most will celebrate it with picnics, boating, ball games, swimming, family, and friends. A few will pause for those remaining public celebrations to commemorate the day. Fewer still will visit the graves of those fallen for the sake of freedom or know when this commemoration began or the cost for those who gave us the freedom to celebrate it.

Originally it was called Decoration Day and that is the name I recall when I was a young child. Its purpose? To provide a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Their graves were decorated with flowers and flags to honor them.

It was born out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed the day officially on May 5, 1868, and asked that the 30th of May 1868 be designated for the purpose of strewing the graves of those who had died in the defense of their country with flowers and flags.

Most of us would not recall that Memorial Day began with that bloodiest of all United States wars. The country would be torn in two with the Union of the North raising an army of 2,128,948 and the Confederacy of the South mustering a total of 1,082,119 troops. It was a war that would be fought in thousands of places from southern Pennsylvania to Texas, from New Mexico to Florida with most of the battles fought in Virginia and Tennessee.

Between April 12, 1861, when Fort Sumter, South Carolina, was fired upon until April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the McLean House in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, 620,000 would die for the cause they believed in. They would die from combat, accident, starvation, and disease. Of that number, the three-day battle on the fields around Gettysburg, PA, in 1863, would see the largest number fall. A total of 51,000 would be dead by the end of the battle.

It can be easy to forget how significant the losses were during the Civil War. Yet, our love for freedom would stir the hearts of others to serve in battles far from our own coastline. In World War II 405,399 would give their lives following the brutal conditions faced during World War I when 116,516 would fall in battle.

Of course, these would not be the only battles where men and women would give their lives for the cause of freedom. In Vietnam we would sacrifice 58,209 and in Korea we would lose 36, 516.

To establish this nation, 25,000 would die in the Revolutionary War. Another 20,000 would die in the War of 1812 and 13,283 in the Mexican War. The Spanish-American War would result in a loss of 2,446.

More recently 6,626 would be lost in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan with another 258 falling during the Gulf War. And the numbers continue to climb in different places around the world as too many seek to rob others of freedom or pose a risk to all.

How much do we value this freedom? How much do we take it for granted or use it to serve our own ends rather than for the good of our brothers and sisters?

When we speak of a fight for freedom, men, and women, despite their fear or condition, held the value for liberty and the release of tyranny so foremost among their beliefs that they were willing to leave those they loved most to serve those they had never met.

As I took time to visit a small country cemetery in Ohio near where I live, I was struck as I always am by the number of American flags that had been placed on the graves of our veterans. This cemetery is adjacent to a church founded in the 1840’s.

In the oldest part of the cemetery where the gravestones are often not readable, I found flags adorning the graves of two Civil War veterans. One had died in 1865 and another in 1866. I read their names: James Turner and James Shaw. I wondered what they had seen in their time on the battlefield and if their deaths shortly after the war came because of wounds that never healed.

We can never repay the debt we owe to so many.

We can also never repay the debt we owe to the One who came to give us grace and freedom from sin, the One who suffered for us at great expense to purchase what we could not gain without His payment.

In the midst of all the fun and celebrating we may do this day, let us not forget to be thankful, to sober our hearts, to give thanks for so many who gave all they had for our sakes. Let us also thank God for His love beyond measure in what He sacrificed for us.

Freedom is never free.

Others will always want to take it from us, to enslave us. Let us remember to cherish it, not abuse it for our own selfish ends, or fail to recognize the responsibility we have to uphold and guard it as a result of the great cost paid to grant it.


The Subtlety of Discernment

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Dame’s Rocket

Along the roadsides in our area there are several beautiful flowers growing in abundance. They brighten my days as I travel up and down the roadways. They look inviting and I have been thinking of finding a time to stop and create a wildflower bouquet, but I really was interested in what their names were.

I knew exactly who would know.

I have a good friend whom I got to know when we were both tutoring in a local school some years ago. She was a biology major and had a keen eye and knowledge about nearly anything and everything in nature. I have fond memories of taking some hikes with her in nature areas near us, hearing her name nearly every tree, plant, and flower that we passed. Sadly, I don’t recall most of the names save one, Trillium, Ohio’s state wildflower, which brightens the woods and hillsides in the spring.

I connected with her to ask about these two lovely flowering plants I have seen such a plethora of. One had an abundance of purple, lavender, and white blooms. I thought that one might be phlox. The other looked a bit like Queen Anne’s Lace, but the blooms were smaller and arranged differently on their stems.

Within a few minutes, she responded with the information, as I knew she would. The varieties of purple blooms were not phlox but do look similar except for the number of petals on each flower. She told me that these known as Dame’s Rockets (hesperis matronalis) are what she called “invasive aliens”. They are a part of the mustard family.

The second flowering plant that looked like Queen Anne’s Lace was actually Poison Hemlock (conium maculatum), member of the parsley family.

Poison Hemlock

Despite their lovely appearance, she warned me that the plant is toxic posing a health risk to anyone or anything that might have close contact with it. They are masters of disguise and appear like many other harmless plants. All parts of the plant are poisonous and should not be touched. They comprise the fourth most common cause of nationwide poisoning, more than 100,000 reports to poison control centers. Area farmers have great concern about the risk to livestock as the plants are multiplying rapidly.

I was so glad to learn the truth about both plants from someone with the knowledge and discernment to recognize each of them accurately for what they are. It reminded me of the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:24-30.

Many times, it can be very difficult to discern whether something we see is good or harmful.

It is very important for us to learn and know the difference in not only things like plants, berries, trees, and the like, but also to recognize other choices that are good or harmful as well.

What gets in the way of our discernment is not simply whether we see that as one of our giftings.

We have a lot of information and experiences coming into our knowledge base. Some of it is accurate. Some of it is true. But not all of it is true or accurate.

All data points are swirling in our thoughts and reactions creating a logjam that hinders our power of discernment.

All these unfiltered data points affect our ideas, judgments, and responses. Never is this truer than in my relationships with others.

Added together, these can create mistrust, fear, and suspicion creating false judgments and discernment causing our hearts to be harsh and sometimes fill with criticism, resentment, and bitterness. They distort our perception.

Since our perceptions have great influence on us, this can be dangerous or even deadly for us. They hinder our capacity to love and without love and peace in our hearts our judgments on others will be harsh and most often false.

Discernment comes from abounding love. What is abounding love? It is love that leaps out from us toward others. It is motivated by long-term commitment; it is anointed by sacrificial charity. True discernment is rooted deeply in love.”

Francis Frangipane

Frangipane also indicates that such false discernment has coldness to it that might on the surface appear to be packaged as love (cold love), but really comes from criticism.

So, how can we discern rightly?

First and foremost, we must seek the Lord, quieting our hearts so we can truly listen and focus on what He is saying to us. This is foundational to wise discernment and righteous judgments. It is also hard to accomplish. We can be so impatient and want to respond, defend, react, set right, or fix.

Secondly, we need to keep in mind that how we perceive life is always based on the condition of our hearts. If our hearts are not right, we must not assume we have accurate discernment with, toward, or about anyone.

When I wanted to learn about two plants, what they were and if they were good, I did not assume I knew. I went to someone who did.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB)

Battle Lines We Must Not Forget

What do we love about The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien? Each of us might respond with a slightly different answer if we are fans of the books and the films. But perhaps key to the answer is our desire to see light overcome darkness, good prevail over evil, and the lust for power brought into subjection. Maybe we recognize that in the current time and everyday lives we live out that theme is still present, and we are all caught up in the story that began long ago.

One of the vital things we must remember as the battle lines are drawn is that evil is not always initially obvious. It never has been and that is why it can take territory before we even recognize it is happening. Doubt is put down to cause us to give pause to words that we hear, and never before have we had so many opportunities to be drawn off the path of righteousness as words bombard us from every direction, and possibly thought about less before they are spoken or written than ever before.

“With the great emphasis on words, you might think they are studied and valued and understood more than ever before. But that is where the odd thing appears. They are not. They are used badly, sloppily, carelessly. They are wasted away. It turns out that words themselves are not nearly as important as what they can do, and when they have done their work, they are tossed aside like Kleenex. Words are used in order to influence, to sell a car or a candidate, to seduce, to persuade, to win for propaganda or for advertisement. The skill of our times is not using words as words but using them as weapons, as tools.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

In the midst of all the words meant to influence and seduce us we are faced with the dilemma of trying to sort out what is true if we are even recognizing that not every word we read or hear is true. Because we live in a swirling world of lies, we can get lost in the bombardment and the keenest of discernment can fail us if the words chosen are ones we long to hear. And that points to the unseen challenge of how much truth we know and how much it permeates our thoughts, heart, and behavior. We would like to think we are lovers of truth but whether that is truth is not something we should so quickly determine. Truth is not easy to hear oftentimes, and it is not easy to speak at times as well. It reminds us of the DNA we inherited in the Garden of Eden and even as “good” people and as believers it is not painless for us.

“One of the large and persistent tasks of living the Christian life is learning to tell the truth. The opposite of telling the truth is telling lies. We lie a lot. Most of us lie a lot. We lie more than we are aware of. We lie even when we think we are telling the truth. The reason we do so is quite clear; we want to be at the center of attention; we want to subordinate all reality, persons, things, and events to our willfulness. We want to control people’s responses and manipulate their perceptions. In order to do that, we arrange the data, filter the facts, and shape the information so that we can influence the way things will be heard and seen, so that the response will be congenial to us.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

OUCH!! The words of Eugene Peterson in his newly released book, This Hallelujah Banquet, that looks at the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation in the Bible are piercing. The chapter on “The Test of Our Truth” focuses on the letter to the church at Pergamum and pulls off the masks and attempts to deny the facts we frequently do not want to face. Too often they are easier to ignore because we fail in loving well enough to share truth and hold ourselves and others accountable to it. We forget that Jesus IS Truth!

“Lies are not usually blatant falsehoods. In order to be successful, they have to be mostly the truth.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

And that is what makes it so easy to fall prey to in each of our lives and a truth we must recognize if we are to challenge this in our own lives. One thing that can help is how much of the Word is in us, not just what we can quote.

The author of lies, Lucifer, was skilled in the Garden of Eden when he used words to seduce Adam and Eve. He is skilled today as well. Not unlike our ancient relatives, we are prone to want to hide when lies are revealed.

“It is no part of the Christian duty to run away from a difficult or dangerous situation. The Christian aim is not to escape from a situation, but conquest of a situation.”

William Barclay in Letters to the Seven Churches

What is the lie that deceives us?

“To separate what we say from the way we live. To make a division between our confession in worship and our conduct at work. Truth is lived truth. Truth is not simply what we say but what we live.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

So, how do we test for truth and pass the test?

“The truth test asks not What do you think? but Who are you? Not What is your opinion? but What is your decision?

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

We must accurately discern the battle lines if we are to pass the truth test.

“The battle is not between good and evil but between truth and error. To fight it well means to throw one’s life on the side of truth, to discern between what is right and what is spurious.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

Who Are the Heroes?

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Once upon a time hero was easy to identify but I wonder if we have misappropriated the word in recent years. A hero is identified as someone we admire or idealize. If you asked someone 50 years ago who his or her hero was, he or she could likely tell you without much thought. Usually, he or she would be a person who stood for strong principles, a person of character, the cowboy with the white hat who stood up for justice in the town torn apart by scoundrels. They represented qualities we hoped to emulate perhaps.

As time passed heroes became “superheroes” in films and cartoons for many children as they were growing up and the TV western disappeared from the scene. And along the way our models of heroism began to change and often became more of those that we viewed as successful – athletes, entertainers, millionaires – those who had excelled in performance in one area or another whose character often had nothing to do with the designation “hero” even though we called them heroes.

What happened along the way?

We celebrated the warriors who returned from WW II but seldom any conflict or war afterward. Changing times were punctuated by changing values except here and there when something so heinous occurred and someone stepped into the fray so that our perception of heroism was adjusted for a time. We did that again when the pandemic blasted across our lives in 2020 and we saw the toll on doctors and nurses struggling to save thousands of lives without the equipment or medicine to do all they hoped.

At times and places, we have viewed firemen, police officers, and military service persons as heroes as we observed behavior that we pronounced heroic but far too often we failed to look at the person’s sacrifice or what it said about their character to do those things. Earlier we would recognize that sacrifice is always involved with heroic acts. We would have known it meant a willingness to lay down our life for someone else that we likely did not know.

But maybe our definition of sacrifice has changed as well. If we are blessed to live in a free and prosperous culture, we might consider not being able to see a film on opening night a sacrifice if we need to work or not being able to get the model of car we want. But sacrifice, real sacrifice, connotes suffering is involved at a level beyond hours of rehearsal or going to the gym at five in the morning.

Heroism has a long history of looking far different than it often does in recent years.

“For three hundred years of the church’s life, the single most important model of the Christian life was that of a martyr – the person whose witness was authentic to the point of death.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

And for some in different places around the globe that is still true today. These are examples of the heroes of the faith the writer of Hebrews talks about in chapter 11 of that book. One not named there was Polycarp who was influenced by the life of Christ and his disciples like John. He was a pastor during the days of the Roman Empire, was arrested and taken into a large arena and ordered to curse the Christ he loved and served. He refused not once but multiple times as the threats intensified. In the end Polycarp stood serenely as he was set aflame.

Who are your heroes and why have you chosen them?

Perhaps this quote by Charles Spurgeon gives a clue to our choice and the choices of others as well. Spurgeon challenges us all to consider carefully what rules our hearts and minds because he knows that it will become central to us and guide our choices, our decisions, our values, and likely our heroes. If we dream of fame, fortune, and recognition, our path will take us along the journey of performance as the primary measure of our worth. If we choose the path of service and sacrifice, of delighting in blessing and helping others, that will also take us down a path, and it will look different. It isn’t that excellent performance is bad but maybe we need to consider that principles should be what we revere above performance.

Each day we are given presents multiple moments of time where we are given a choice to make. Most of those choices will be small decisions that appear inconsequential at the time and yet each of them adds up to what means the most to us, what rules our mind, governs our affections, and becomes the object of our delight.

“If we spend all our energies trying to protect our interests, to preserve our safety, and to negotiate and compromise with the opposition in order to keep what we have at all costs, we will live meagerly. But if we live at risk, giving up all in witness and commitment and love, we are released from death to live in the power of the Resurrection.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

If our goal is to become a hero, we will miss the mark.

It is not the extraordinary thing we do that matters most but rather how well we love and what we love most that will one day grant us a crown as we finish the race. We are never taller than when we bend down to serve or help another. We are never wiser than when we admit we don’t know it all. We are never stronger than when we admit our weakness. We are never as courageous as when we acknowledge our fear. We are never richer than when we sacrifice what we have for another. Our character is never as bright as when we stand for principle over popularity.

Harder Than We Think

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When we are young and looking at things we want to do and be, we set goals and move forward toward them but often we learn it will be harder than we think. That comes to mind often during this season of graduations for young people from every level of educational institution. Those dreams and goals are not impossible but when we set them, we don’t have enough knowledge of ourselves or what lays ahead to be realistic about how many challenges there can be along the way. Perhaps that is God’s grace, so we do not risk starting toward those goals.

We, the generations above them, cheer them on and support their steps offering tips as we can without a desire to discourage and only give them a hint or two about where the potholes might be along the route. That’s our responsibility and our privilege. We are currently cheering on new graduates in our family. One grandson just graduated from college, a granddaughter is about to graduate from high school, and our oldest grandson is about to dig into his third year of medical school. Each of them has a direction, a purpose, family cheering at every step as well as praying for God’s direction, provision, wisdom, and more.

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But academic pursuits and new jobs are not the only things we discover might be harder than we think. Some of us look forward to new adventures in new locations and after moving discover that we miss the old haunts we used to visit, the friends from before, and the family we left behind. Making new friends, finding a new church, getting settled in a new place and job are not easy under some of the best of circumstances and yet we do it. If we are blessed to have had people in our lives who believe in us in the stands cheering for us, we know they still are, and we put one foot in front of another and each step teaches us something more. We tuck what we learn into our pockets and memories and use it for the next goal we set.

We discover that relationships are harder than we expected – relationships at every level. They show us how prickly we or others may be, how much we don’t know about how to effectively communicate certain things and we might also discover how hard forgiveness can be when we are hurt (even if the person did not mean to do so).

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Then we realize we want to share life with someone and if we are fortunate, we find a person we are willing to commit to for the rest of our lives. We enjoy all the new things we do together and the “falling in love” emotions. We get caught up in the excitement about a future together, planning a wedding, choosing all the little details to make our wedding day special, looking for our first place to live, and dreaming about what the future will be like. We cannot believe it’s all really happening and love and loving feels easy. If we’re fortunate, others have told us that marriage will have challenges and not always be easy and yet we can be so “in love” that the words don’t sink in as we move forward. Even as we repeat the vows on our wedding day and promise those BIG things, our awareness of what that can mean ahead is not in our sight line. We have more to learn than we know we need to learn and that is also a grace to us because God gives us each what we need at the point. We don’t quite grasp that love is often hard.

“This is the human consensus – love is the best thing we do, and it is not a luxury or an option but a necessity if we are to be truly human.

With that quite incredible consensus before us, we are faced with puzzling questions: Why don’t we love more? Why aren’t we better at it? Why do we settle for so much less? Why do we get diverted and distracted from a life of love?”

Eugene Peterson in The Hallelujah Banquet

Over and over again scripture exhorts us and is clear that above all else we are to love – first God and then one another. Paul writes about this as does John. All the good things we do (even the best things) count for little if we do not love. And this love is not sloppy syrupy soft loving. It is tenacious, courageous, challenging and often hard. Christ reminds us as believers it is what is supposed to set us apart, show we are somehow different. That difference doesn’t come from how many ways we serve in our church or community or what we try to do to keep showing others that we can love well, but it needs to come from the indwelling Christ who IS love.

It’s that kind of love that helps a new mom cope with no sleep as her new baby adjusts to life outside the womb. It’s the kind of love that sustains us when we stand at the bedside of someone we love who is dying. It’s that kind of love that doesn’t give up when times are hard whether in income, job, or relationships.

Absent the One who IS love we will never be able to do that kind of love. Absent his grace to operate in and through us as fallen and often flailing lovers, we will not be able to do it. Because the truth is that love and loving is harder than we think.

“For love is not what we do after we get the other things done, if we have any energy left over. Love is what we do, period. It is not how we work; it is our work. Other things can support it, they can grow out of it, and they can lead up to it. But if we don’t love, we aren’t doing what we were created and saved to do.”

“Love is what Christ requires of us. It is what he won’t do without.”

“In the end, we will be judged on our love.”

Eugene Peterson in The Hallelujah Banquet
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