Category Archives: Freedom

Happy Birthday America!

Happy birthday America! It’s been 241 years since you were birthed in the revolutionary belief that all men (and women) are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What an amazing experiment our founding fathers began when they agreed on the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776 and the Continental Congress ratified it on that first 4th of July.

What a grand experiment indeed! Their decision sparked a war of independence against the most powerful nation in the world at that time. A skirmish outside Boston became a shooting war that bloodied the soil of thirteen individual colonies and galvanized these sundry immigrants into one single nation. Blood may have purchased their freedom, but great wisdom and amazing cooperation secured it for the following generations.

That cooperation has failed occasionally along the way, yet that great wisdom has righted the wrongs and found a way to regain the cooperation. This is nowhere better seen than in the issue of slavery, which ultimately resulted in a great Civil War—a war between those united, yet divided states. Yet somehow, someway—the cooperation was regained and the nation endured and grew.

This nation has readily endured sending her young men and women to foreign nations to fight and even die, so that freedom would not be thing only we enjoy. We have cooperated with allies and have withstood dictators, megalomaniacs, and armies intent on world domination, refusing to turn our head to the plight of those who were weaker. Great wisdom and cooperation have been the resources that have galvanized this nation in the aftermath disastrous events like Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

Yet today, 241 years later, it seems partisanship and utter selfish stupidity has supplanted wisdom and cooperation. We are a nation divided by beliefs, political parties, morality, news media outlets, and a thousand other things. We can’t even agree to disagree. Instead, like little children who can’t get their way, we’ve taken our toys and gone home. Intent of getting what we can, canning all we get, and shooting anyone who gets close to our can. Our laws and our government are not working because neither side is willing to use wisdom and cooperate for the good of the nation. Instead, what’s good for a few tends to overrule what would be better for all.

And in this morass, we have turned away from our Creator. Our founding fathers never envisioned a country without Jehovah God. They understood he was source of the freedom they were willing to die for. He was the fountainhead of liberty that birthed this nation into existence. It is true they wanted no state church to dictate their worship, but read history and you will find they hungered to worship God Almighty. Yet, the wisdom of this age has defied his laws, in a  foolish attempt to legislate him out of power and existence. We have embraced the idols of multi-culturalism, perversion, hedonism, relativism, and socialism—and called that which were never gods, our gods. And in doing so, we have called good evil and evil good.

And wisdom and cooperation have become about as rare as the dinosaurs. The politicians of Washington, the financiers of Wall Street, or the media moguls who broadcast coast-to-coast and around the world have no answer. That’s because the answer is not found in “what I want or the group I represent wants” but rather in wisdom (which can only come from God) and cooperation (which can only come when each of us are willing to see someone else as more important than we are).

Will this nation survive and stick 250, 300 or 500 candles in her birthday cake? I hope so, but this I know—it will not happen without wisdom and cooperation and “me the people” must once again become “we the people!”

On Being Truly American

I am a Southern boy, born and bred in the land of sweet tea, grits, and high humidity. My drawl may be slow and drawn out, but I too speak the King’s English just like they do in Boston, but without the extra “r” in words that have no “r’s,” or in sunny California, but choosing “y’all” over “you guys” every time. My “i’s” are long, and sometimes, depending on what part of the country I’m visiting, I have to spell the word “ice” instead of asking for it so the waitress knows I’m talking about frozen water instead of a posterior body part. I refer to all soft drinks as Coke’s instead of pop, but I prefer a Diet Dew.

I am proud of where I come from. I have never once in my life been ashamed of my birthplace. As my wife’s grandfather used to say, “It’s the best place in the world.” I know there are folks who think I should be, but I’m not! On the other hand, from time to time, I have found myself ashamed of some of the things my neighbors have said or done down through history. But, let’s be honest, stupid people are spread thick like peanut butter across every nook and cranny of this whole wide world. Every generation, nation, culture, or people group has its own share of stupid people. As Forrest Gump says, “Stupid is as stupid does.” But stupid is an individual trait that is sometimes catching, like a bad case of diarrhea. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “stupid,” (or for that matter diarrhea).  My granddaughter tells me it’s a bad word according to her mother, who stares at me every time I say it with an icy glare that could freeze antifreeze, but it does communicate my point.

My ancestors were immigrants just like yours were if you live in this country. They came from somewhere else—looking for an opportunity to make a living, build a family, follow a dream and worship God freely. My people were soldiers, sharecroppers, peddlers, and coal miners who worked long days for little or no money. They were honorable men and women, doing what it took to survive and thrive in a land filled with opportunity. They were not perfect. They did not do everything right. But—they were just people—so where yours.

I am an American. I still get a lump in my throat when I see the flag or hear the swell of the notes as the national anthem is played. I don’t determine my value based on my ethnicity, color, or country of ancestral origin. And neither do I determine the value of anyone else that way. I don’t refer to myself as Scottish-American, African-American, Arab-American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, or any other of the million and one places you can leave and make your destination America. The “where” my ancestors came from does not determine who I am or who I will be. Take away my skin and my blood is red just like yours. Cut me and I bleed just like you do. Call me a name or shoot me the finger and I want to punch you just like you would if you were on the receiving end.

Regardless of where you come from, what you call yourself, or what you believe, we are all connected—by origin and by destiny. All of us are the descendants of one single couple. God didn’t create a community on a cul-de-sac with all the colors of the rainbow. He simply created one couple and conveniently left out the explanation of their color, ethnicity, and national origin. In other words, your guess is as good as mine. It is after all, a guess. So why waste any more time postulating and prognosticating about it. We are, after all kin—brothers of different mothers and sisters of different misters.

You may not like our president or the congress, but I’ve lived long enough to realize that is the case with most presidents and most congresses. You may not like my politics and I may not like yours. But we—not you alone or me alone—are Americans. Our destiny—not yours alone or mine alone—is bound up in to our unity of purpose and our mutual respect for one another. I may not agree with you and you may not agree with me, but we desperately need each other—if for no other reason than to maintain the unique diversity of this great country. This nation was founded by a coalition of folks who came from different places and different beliefs with little in common and countless things they disagreed on except they were tired of being told what to do by an absentee king whose only interest was their tax money. In fact, the only thing they had in common was an insatiable desire to be free.

Freedom necessitates diversity. It requires all the cultures of the North, the West, the East, and yes, a whiff of the South thrown in for spice and good measure. It demands a multiplicity of races, beliefs, and politics who disagree, but find a compromise that works for all of the people most of the time rather than a few of the people all of the time. Freedom that works for only a handful is not really freedom at all. It is slavery dressed up in a cheap Halloween costume.

I celebrate my Southern culture and upbringing. I revel in the beauty and the majesty of the state in which I was born. I take joy and pride from where my people originally hail from. I feel comfortable speaking the King’s English in my own regional dialect. And I could live off grits, gravy, fried chicken, collards, and buttermilk biscuits. But I can’t be an American without you. You see, I don’t make America—America. And neither do you! It is only together—in you and me with all our differences on display—that America exists and freedom can reign.

Freedom: No Option but Vigilance

True freedom requires eternal vigilance. It is rarely lost in a moment. Instead, it is in the systematic erosion of a multiplicity of moments where genuine liberty vanishes. Countless men and women have sacrificed their time, their treasures, and even their lives to guard this God-ordained right purchased in blood. The cost of this freedom should arouse in each of us a strong sense of its value. Once lost, rarely is it regained in its original form.

I am privileged to enjoy this freedom, purchased through the sacrifice of others, and I am eternally grateful for the gift they have bequeathed to me. My great-great-great grandfather fought valiantly against the British in the War of 1812. My great-great grandfather fell in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, killed by a cannon ball in the last months of the Civil War. My grandfather was an Army doughboy in the Allied forces that assaulted the seemingly impenetrable Hindenburg Line and ultimately broke through and gained victory in World War I. And my own father served in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Theaters as a seaman in the U. S. Navy during World War II.

I am the recipient of their sacrifice and this truth became a reality to me as I stood on the deck of a cruise ship making the imgrestransatlantic crossing from South Hampton, England to Boston. It was a similar path that drew the Pilgrims and my own Scottish ancestors to this country in a desperate desire to worship, work, and live in freedom. They made this treacherous passage in the bowels of overcrowded and unprotected sailing ships, totally dependent on course of the currents and whims of the wind. Theirs was a life-or-death gamble—mine, a 17-day vacation.

unnamedDuring the crossing, I retraced the ancient trails my father (John Olen Hannah) had taken over 70 years earlier. It was there in the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, off the eastern coast of Iceland, where the swirling black waters covered with crisp white foam bury their secrets that I began to understand the sacrifices of his generation and those who preceded him.

My father was a quiet man who spoke little of his war-time experiences. Two things I knew—he had been a part of the naval cleanup crew after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and he had served aboard a Submarine Chaser (SC), as he called it, in the freezing waters off Iceland. Twenty-two years earlier, I had stood upon the USS Arizona Memorial in Oahu, watching the imprisoned 50 year-old droplets of oil eerily seep to the surface from the fatal wound of that entombed battleship, and wondered at the horror he must have witnessed as the mayhem and the carnage of the tangled wreckage washed over his own mind.

But on this day, in the North Atlantic, as I stared into the same bluish-black water he had surveyed seven decades earlier, I begin to grasp a bit of the incalculable price my father had paid. His job was to find German U-boats by visually locating their periscopes as they surfaced in that endless, frigid wasteland of murky salt water. I imagined what it might have been like to search this never-ending watery abyss, and realized rather quickly, it would have been virtually impossible. The chances of the U-boat locating the SC were multiple times greater, yet my father stood his watches and did his duty. He was vigilant. How do I know? I am here—enough said.

As we cruised through those waters, I realized my life, my accomplishments, and all my hopes and dreams come true were the result of his sacrifice. He left his family and his home so I might have a home and enjoy my family. He assailed war-time impossibilities so that I might enjoy all of life’s possibilities. He sacrificed his own personal freedom—ten years of his life—so that I might live free throughout my life. I stand on his shoulders, and it is humbling.

True freedom has a cost and those of us who enjoy it should strive to remember those who purchased it and guard their purchase vigilantly. It is their legacy to us—our inheritance. And if we are to be true to those who have gone before, we must leave the same freedom intact to the generation that follows, or we will have wasted our inheritance and failed miserably. Failure was not an option to our ancestors, and thus, it cannot be for us.

Finding Intimacy with God

photoThe difference between finding intimacy with God and talking about intimacy with God is as different as day and night. Human beings are notorious for talking about things but never experiencing them. All of us were hard-wired by God to experience intimacy with him, but few people ever do. We talk, write, teach, and preach about our relationship with God, but without a genuine intimate experience the best we can hope for is a casual acquaintance. Intimacy is the game-changer. It’s what transforms an acquaintance into an authentic relationship.

Jesus didn’t die to restore a casual acquaintance; he died to restore authentic relationship with God. He hung on the cross and suffered unbearable pain so that we could have true intimacy—a heart-to-heart connection with God, one that could be experienced.

This intimacy I’m talking about is one you must find for yourself and on your own. It’s one you must pursue with the passion God implanted in your heart. Your hunger must drive you. My hunger and passion for God is not enough for you because when things get tough (and they will) you may discover you have little or no hunger or passion of your own and give up. I can paint some pictures, describe some experiences, and point out various pitfalls, but you can’t find intimacy with God based on my own personal encounters. Those you must pursue on you own.

All I can tell you with certainty is that if you pursue God with all your heart you will most certainly find him. That’s a promise straight out of Jeremiah 29:13 and God cannot lie. I can point, but the pathway you’re on and the speed at which you are traveling are likely not the same as mine. Besides that, I can only lead you to the places I’ve visited.

Pursuing intimacy is first a choice you must make and second, a step of faith you must take. Included in the backpack you will need for that journey is a copy of God’s Word that you can understand, a journal and pen for writing down what God shows you (as well as the pitfalls you encounter), a desperate desire to carry on a conversation with God (some call this prayer), an appointed time and location for meeting God, and likely some worship music of your particular persuasion. You may choose to pack more and that’s up to you. Take what you can carry comfortably.

A word of caution and encouragement—find a time and a place where you can quiet your self and not be interrupted. Intimacy is something you have with one person—not a crowd. Don’t become mechanical and check your religious list at the door. Be spontaneous (that may take a while), experiment (keep what works and discard what doesn’t), and be adventurous in your pursuit. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid—whatever happens in the secret place stays in the secret place. God certainly won’t tell and no one will know unless you do.

There are countless ways to find intimacy with God. You can do it quietly, with shouts of praise and proclamation, with hands uplifted or on your face in the floor. You can sit, kneel, stand, jump, spin, or dance. You can sing, shout, or run about. God won’t be offended by how you pursue him as long as you do it with all your heart in a genuine manner. Find out what works for you—but don’t be afraid to take a step past the artificially installed boundaries of your denomination or your teachers, preachers, and mentors. Push the boundaries—veryoften God eagerly awaits only a step passed where your comfort level ends and his grace begins.

So pick up your backpack and begin to pursue. If you pursue God’s presence with all your heart you will find him.

Now it’s your turn to share something from your journey for others who will follow?

1) What is an artificial boundary that your hunger for God has demolished?

2)What kind of location harbors your secret place? A closet—a porch—a quiet place in your yard—a walk in the woods?

3) How has time in God’s presence changed the ways in which you worship?

The Burn Pile

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I have a huge pile of brush ready to burn. In the Deep South we call it a brush heap, a brush pile, or a burn pile. Over the last few weeks, I have been working my way around a hay field trimming the bushes and the low hanging limbs that have been slowly encroaching on this property for several years. I’ve been cutting pine and sweet gum limbs, as well as privet bushes and piling them up to burn.

All of us should have a pile or brush heap we are working on—metaphorically speaking. Or at least we all need one because we all have junk in our lives—clutter that cries to be dumped, picked up or burned. Clutter smothers us and chokes out the life God has given us to be enjoyed. But God has given you and I the responsibility for trimming the excess, pulling the weeds, and cutting the bushes that encroach and smother our lives. We all need a burn pile, a place we can deposit all those things that have no place in our life.

Some of the materials in my burn pile are the pruning from my azaleas. These are ornamental bushes that produce beautiful flowers in the summer. But, if I don’t prune them each year they get out of hand and take over. Their beauty, if left untrimmed, can become a nuisance and an obstacle in my driveway. Likewise, there are many good things in our lives that, if given complete freedom with little or no maintenance, can get out of hand. They need a pruning every once in a while to bring them back under our control. Even a good thing, if allowed to run wild, can become a bad thing.

Much of my burn pile is composed of privet bushes. Privet bushes seem to spring up when land is not carefully maintained. The birds eat the berries, then roost in the tree limbs on the edge of the field and their droppings spread the privet bushes. These tiny seeds turn into tiny plants that are easily pulled up if you catch them early. But, if you ignore them, they produce a root system on which tiny bushes soon become large trees intertwined with one another. They grow quickly and once they get started they are hard to get rid of. These privet bushes are like the unhealthy clutter we often allow to take root in our lives. We have to be diligent in uprooting the junk because it can become a major job once it becomes a habit or an addiction.

I have promised myself that once I get this field trimmed that I will not wait another ten years to do it again. Instead, I plan to do yearly maintenance to keep the growth and the junk in check. Every person needs a check list they apply to their life on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. Questions need to be asked and answered carefully. And all the junk and clutter needs to be uprooted or trimmed and the trash placed on the burn pile. Once it gets large enough—light it up and watch it burn.

One of the benefits to having a burn pile is you can always celebrate once you light it up. I plan on having a wiener roast and a couple of mouth-watering Smores on the hot coals of those pesky privet bushes once they’re gone.

The Parable of Redemption’s Price

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The light was blinding as the captives were led shackled with leg and wrist irons out from the dim, gloomy cells and into the street. Freedom and redemption were the last things on their minds. Naked, dirty, and beaten, the herd of broken humanity—prisoners of war—was pushed and prodded along the narrow streets by an unrelenting squad of soldiers to the center of town and into the market where the great auction would take place.

Cursing crowds of faceless torturers greeted the prisoners at every turn. The leg irons made walking almost impossible and so they trudged slowly through the abuse hurled at them by the cruel mob. Bloodied from the constant barrage of fists that greeted them each time they raised their heads, the prisoners finally arrived at the raised area in the center of the market. A huge crowd, with vengeance on its mind, cheered as the pitiful group of captives made its way slowly up the ramp onto the black block. This was the slave block from which each one would be sold as a slave to the highest bidder.

Men, women, boys, and girls, once proud and free, faced their tormenters defeated, broken, and without hope. Some wept silently, while others simply looked out at the merciless crowd with hollow, lifeless stares. Here on the slave stage the reality of despair became their hope for the future in the great drama they seemed destined to play out.

The dealer, a large dark individual with a loud blasphemous voice, began to call out the bid prices, and the sale began with a vengeance. Bidding was fast and furious. Strength and beauty, once considered valuable assets, made little difference to the buyers. Families were divided. Mothers silently died on the inside as their children were sold to monsters. Husbands wretched in agony as they watched their precious wives purchased by perverts. There in the market, life without hope became death without end, as each of the prisoners was auctioned to the highest bidder.

All at once, the crowd parted as a solitary figure walked to the front of the auction and stood before the slave dealer. An uneasy silence fell over the venomous crowd. The great prince offered to purchase the whole lot for a single price. With glee beyond belief, the dealer pondered what price the prince would be willing to offer for such a pitiful mass of humanity as this. Prostitutes, thieves, blasphemers, liars, drunkards, and adulterers made up this lot on the block and their value was minimal, the dealer thought, but the prince was, after all, rich beyond belief. And so with an insatiable, heinous greed in his heart, the dealer named his price.

Silence fell across the crowd. Without a word, the great prince stepped up on the block, took off his regal robes, and gently touched each prisoner with his healing hands of liberation. The chains began to fall away and the prisoners began to leap off the slave block. Families were reunited, and hope began to bloom as the little group made its way out of the dark city and up toward the great mountain, which lay to the east.

Along the road, the tiny troop heard a great hellish shout of joy go up from the city. One of the newly freed prisoners stopped timidly and looked back. The awful sight he witnessed would forever change him. As he stared, he beheld a solitary figure naked, beaten, bruised, and bloodied, hanging the air, with his arms stretched out and feet pressed together, pierced with jagged pieces of iron, as the merchants of death and the grave bid for his body.

I am the one who looked back and I tell you the truth of what I saw that day. Suspended between heaven and earth, planted above the slave block was the price of my redemption…the Great Prince Himself.

He gave His life to redeem us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to what is right.” Titus 2:14

Are You Too Busy?

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Are you too busy?

Well…what kind of question is that you might be thinking? It’s a question that’s really worth answering if you find yourself pre-occupied with other things at your kid’s ballgame, incapable of sleeping because your mind won’t stop spinning, unwilling to go home because you’ll be by yourself, unable to complete anything yet totally exhausted, or fearful of the gentle voice of God.

Is your life a blur—run, run, run but nothing gets done? If you watched a replay of your day would you look like a hummingbird tanked up on Red Bull? Are you too busy?

I know! I know! We all have things we are responsible for and chores that must get done, but is what you are so frantically engaged in really worth the wear and tear, the exertion of energy, the stress or strain, or the investment of your precious time? Is it? Come on…really?

Only you can answer the question. The problem is most people don’t slow down enough to even consider this question. They are just a blur of frenetic energy—here, there, and everywhere!

You are likely dog-tried—worn out but unwilling to admit it. Hey! It’s O.K! Everyone around you already knows it. You’re really not hiding anything…except from yourself.

Busyness is Bondage!

Busyness is not next to godliness (and neither is cleanliness for that matter, but that’s a topic for another day). Busyness for the sake of being busy or to avoid facing reality is bondage. And bondage eventually results in death—of relationships, joy, health, etc. You name it and busyness will eventually kill it.

I’m not talking about working hard. Hard work is necessary and important. But staying busy to avoid something or someone is unhealthy—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Perhaps your busyness is a choice you’ve made to avoid something God wants and intends to do in your life. Perhaps you don’t want whatever that is or perhaps you are terrified of it because it’s new to you and not something you are comfortable with. Perhaps your bondage has convinced you that anything new will create even more problems than you are equipped to handle at this moment. So you stay busy—content on enduring life rather than living and experiencing life to the fullest.

If that’s you—you’re far too busy! And busyness is one of the devil’s fundamental tools in drowning out the voice of God in your life. It’s the mindless chatter or the endless roar of static that deafens your ears to God’s  life-giving instructions. Busyness is nothing more than spiritual ear plugs in most cases.

What’s the solution?

Be Still!!!!!!!!!

God says, “Be still!” Simple, to the point, and amazingly effective. Stop moving! Stop talking! Stop doing! Just stop! “Be still” means exactly what you think—pause, intermission, time-out, take a breather, hiatus, or suspend all motion.

And listen! Silence is not your enemy—it’s the absence of your real enemy’s incessant condemnation and chatter. Hearing God’s voice is a choice. That choice results in a blessing out of the silence, rather than a capitulation to the noise of busyness.