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After The Memorial Day Parade

It will never be lawful simply to ‘be ourselves’ until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God.

-C. S. Lewis, “The Sermon and the Lunch”

See you at the parade tomorrow?

‘Spose so. We’ve got a house to clean and a lawn to mow, but we’ll be there. 

Yeah. We need to get our garden in soon, but it seems like the right thing to do. 

Nine o’clock?  Same place?

Yup. Corner of Lincoln and Kane. 

May’s rite must go on. So we went to the parade today. Because we must remember.

My forbears were farmers. None of my near kin fought for physical freedom. No names or faces come to mind when bands and flags go by. 


What if we don’t have an Uncle John who died in Vietnam or Cousin Jack who served in Iraq? What’s to remember then? 


If we’re Christians, plenty. 


Jon Bloom says that of all people believers are a “memorial” people. Only when we remember the gracious past can we forge free into our glorious future. With or without a parade, Christians remember the high cost of freedom. 

So stand up, boys, when the flags go by. Clap your hands, or salute. We rise, guys, and remember.

Remember Freedom’s Cost

But God shows his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

We don’t often make it to that third stanza of America, The Beautiful. But it’s a good one for memory. O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.


There were and still are, heroes who love mercy more than life. There are still soldiers who fall on grenades. There are still heroes who lay down their lives. 

So guys, remember that real moms’ sons and real boys’ dads and real uncles and friends laid down their lives. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Hundreds of thousands gave their lives, if not to death, then precious time in their life’s prime, to preserve the freedom of the country they loved. All gave some, and some gave all. 

We are not our own. We-our lives, our blessed hope and our freedom-were bought with a price. 

Remember What Freedom’s From

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Romans 6:6-7

We’d all would be free from tyranny. No taxation without representation and free to speak our minds and hold up signs. Free to roam about and buy what we want and work where we will. We’d all be free from oppressive government, though we might argue the line where protecting oppresses.

But for what do we want it? Freedom to follow my deceitful heart, wherever it might lead, is no real freedom. In fact, obeying my every desire- following my lusting eyes and boasting heart-is not freedom at all. It is bondage. Paul called it slavery to sin.

Freedom to “be myself,” is not what this day is about. At least not for the Christian. George Bernard Shaw offered a definition of hell, in his play Man and Superman, which was, “having to do what you want.” This, writes Fr. Stephan Muse, leads to total depravity, and it happens a little bit at a time. 

We must remember that real freedom always means free from and free for

Remember What Freedom’s For

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16 


The Corinthians thought they had freedom all figured out. To them Paul wrote, though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant of all, that I might win more of them (1 Corinthians 9:19). That remarkable statement of freedom from and freedom for that led Martin Luther to write,

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one. 

Our freedom is for love. Christ set us free to serve. Freedom that means only free to, as my boys and my niece said driving home today, do what you want to do. This is not freedom. Freedom that overcomes what the flesh would like, and does what love would do-this is true freedom.


Fr. Stephan Muse explains,

True freedom is gained by coming to love Christ more than we love our own pleasures, likes and dislikes-by encountering God, and by coming to love the world more than we desire to possess and use it and others for our own ends. By praying “Thy will be done on earth” instead of our own, we begin to be instilled with a willingness to offer ourselves for the life or the world. We discover that we no longer have to do what we want; we are free and willing to do whatever God…wills. 

This morning from my same spot with our old friends, on the corner of Lincoln and Kane, I saw someone else. Someone from a former church. We didn’t always see eye to eye and I hadn’t we hadn’t spoken in a year at least. I saw her when the band played Mine Eyes Have Seen.


But I pretended my eyes had not. The band played on and my friend and I talked on. And I saw the estranged one when the unicycles and stilted clowns and all the scouts went past. But on I talked, pretending my eyes hadn’t seen. Free not to feel awkward. Free to ignore. Free.


But not really free.

Freedom After The Parade 

So rise, boys, and remember the high price of freedom. Stand silent, salute. Honor our freedom fighters. Let’s don’t let this parade be just a frenzy for the living. 


Count yourselves dead to sin. And alive in Christ to love. 


You know where this is going. You know just where I went. When the last red fire truck rolled by, I ambled 30 feet to the right. There she was-collecting Crunch bar wrappers, corralling her kids, folding their chairs.


True freedom overcomes what the flesh would like, and does what love would do. 


So I smiled at this estranged friend my eyes had seen. I stretched out a hand to help and asked her,

How have you been? 

And that is what freedom is for. 

For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 


Galatians 5:13

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A Letter To The Boys After Bad Scrambled Week

 

Dear Sons,

Last week was a rough one, wasn’t it? I’m glad it’s over too. (My, but didn’t Aunt Danielle’s cookies last night and that rhubarb crisp today taste good?)

It was tough- four whole days without dessert and five full days without a screen. I know it was hard for you. Being disciplined is hard for me too. If I told you once, I told you twenty times: Being disciplined means you’re loved. 

And more times-maybe than were helpful and good- I got on a roll and you got the whole spiel. You know- that hunk of Hebrews 12 you heard me quote so often that by the end of the week you were reciting it too:

The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there who is not disciplined? If you are left without discipline, you are illegitimate children and not sons… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 

I know it’s hard to trust us. It’s hard to believe that discipline is a sign of our love. I get that too.

Because no discipline seems pleasant (For the moment). No ice cream and no screen time did not feel like love. (And A#1 Son, it was divine poetic justice, wasn’t it, when you had to pass on the National Chocolate Chip Day treats at the orthodontist’s office because you’d dumped those scramble eggs and the reason I made those scrambled eggs was because of your new braces? You -child with brand new braces, you and me- we smiled.) Even though no after school iPad time and writing I’m sorry notes did not feel good.

But God’s promise is true. If you’re trained by the tough stuff, it will yield good, sweet fruit.

You know it’s almost strawberry season in Grandpa and Grandma’s garden. You guys know how those pale pinkish-whitish berries taste? When you were little guys you couldn’t wait and you’d pluck one or two before you knew. (Bleck!)

But in a couple weeks- come the first of June- and those once sour berries are heaven’s sweetness come down. Yes. This discipline will yield a sweet peaceful, righteous fruit. It will.

That’s why Dad and I discipline you. That’s why I tell you that over and over (Can I say it too much?): Trust us. We love you. We’re training you. It’ll be good. 

We pronounce it in the big stuff, how discipline means love. In the willful defiance that dumped those scrambled eggs upside down on the table like a toddler one-sixth of his age might do and in the video games stolen late in the night and in the blurting-out, not-so-silly “joke box” talk by which you tormented your poor substitute teacher last week.

But we remind you of that truth in the small stuff, too. Like when you have to place your mud-caked shoes on the mat and keep your napkin spread on your lap and look grown-ups in the eye when greeted.

Down to the tiny things (Believe me, these can make a wife very happy someday) like putting the lid down and the cap on the Crest and your dirty socks (Not your dirty sockballs) in the basket.

Now I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I tell you this stuff- about how discipline means love- I’m talking to myself probably more than I’m talking to you. Because this last week, these last months, the better part of the year have been hard for all of us. We’ve had some painful, loving discipline. I’ve been sifted. We’ve been in the fire. But we’ve endured.

Some of my friends say what a strong mom you guys got. But I want you to know that being trained by discipline- yours and mine- takes every bit of strength I’ve got and then some.

To run this race and fight this fight, to love you guys right and endure my hardship (And, just sayin’- part of it is the discipline of you two) as the loving discipline of my heavenly Father takes more reserve and drive than with-all my muscle- even I alone possess.

But we’re all in this together- you two, and Dad and me and God. So it’ll be okay.

That’s why I saw more than the scrambled mess I scraped off the table when you left for school Monday. It’s why I didn’t cry about the better off in an orphanage comment you made as you headed out the door (And #2, I did see that teeny smirk as you said it). Or the two Friday afternoon phone calls- one from each of your teachers. (As if you’d planned it.)

Thank God, I saw more and I didn’t lose heart. Because God gave me faith-eyes. Eyes to see that in love God was disciplining me. That is the the only way I could shake off that utterly scrambled week.

So make no mistake. I am not writing this to cause guilt or elicit sympathy. I’m writing this to remind you what you both already know. Dad and I love you so much. That’s why we discipline you.

I know in your heart of hearts you already know that. You know that only sons without moms and dads who care would dump their eggs and shove their plates and taunt their teachers and get away scot-free. You know Dad and I care. We love you-4VR, U know! (Are you almost done, Mom?)

Yes. I’ll end with that bit we just read from The Horse And His Boy. You know the part when Aravis and her talking mare Hwin and Shasta and his talking horse Bree are pressing hard to escape evil Prince Rabadash and save the Narnians?

“Quick! Quick!” shouted Aravis. “We might as well not have come at all if we don’t reach Anvard in time. Gallop, Bree, gallop. Remember you’re a war horse.”

It was all Shasta could do to prevent himself from shouting out similar instructions; but he thought, “The poor chap’s doing all he can already,” and held his tongue. And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which is not quite the same thing.

At that moment everyone’s feelings were completely altered by a sound from behind. It was not the sound they had been expecting to hear- the noise of hoofs and jingling armor, mixed, perhaps, with Calormene battle-cries. Yet Shasta knew it at once…Bree knew it too… And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast- not quite as fast-as he could.

“It’s not fair,” though Shasta. “I did think we’d be safe from lions here!”

He looked over his shoulder. Everything was only too clear. A huge tawny creature, its body low to the ground, like a cat streaking across the lawn to a tree when a strange dog has got into the garden, was behind them. And it was nearer every second and half second…the lion rose on its hind legs, larger than you would have believed a lion could be, and jabbed at Aravis with its right paw. Shasta could see all the terrible claws extended. Aravis screamed and reeled in the saddle. The lion was tearing her shoulders.

Discipline pushes us on, guys. It gets us doing more than we thought we could do to get away from the dangers to our souls. It gets us home safe in the end. But it is not pleasant at the moment. It’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it hurts.

It took Aravis until the second to last chapter to realize that truth. It wasn’t until Aslan introduced himself face to face that she finally understood.

“Draw near Aravis my daughter. See! My paws are velveted. You will not be torn this time.

“This time, sir?” said Aravis.

“It was I who wounded you,” said Aslan. “I am the only lion you met in all your journeyings. Do you know why I tore you?”

Aslan told Aravis, then. I want you guys to know now that tears and scares and roars are needful for us. But identical for no two. (Remember what Jesus said to Peter, ‘What’s that to you. You follow me!’)  

When Aravis asks Aslan the fate of the slave girl she hurt, Aslan tells her the truth we – all four of us, desperately- need to hear.

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

God loves me. He wants me to look and act and think more like his A#1 Son. And so he gave me you two to to train me into Christlike lady I need to be. Scrambled eggs and teacher telephone calls and orphan talk and all. That’s part of my story.

And God loves you guys more than you know. He wants you to grow into godly men with strong faith, big love and stout, soft hearts and he knew you’d need a mom and dad like the ones you’ve got. That’s part of your stories.

We’re all being disciplined. But I know you know all that, after last week, guys. This week’s a new week. We shake off our bad stuff and run on.

Dad and I love you two and discipline you and God loves Dad and me and disciplines us and that’s all how it’s supposed to be. Sour now (Like strawberries in May). Sweet later (Like in June). 

That’s all how it’s supposed to be.

I love you guys,

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Can They Tell How Much You’ve Grown?

Sanibel Causeway, Beach Island A

Hey, Dad. Can we stop here, like last year? 

Sure, guys. Let’s do it. 

Breathe in. Love is patient. Breathe out. Love is kind. Breathe in. Love does not insist on its own way. Breathe out. Put on love. 

And by the time I pushed that third breath out, our Caravan had coasted off the highway and onto Sanibel Causeway Beach Island A. Not Sanibel Island Beach. A causeway beach.

Which just so happened to be the exact site of an ugly show a year ago. After 2 days and 21 hours in the car, this let’s-just-get-there Mom pushed back against laid-back Dad.

Taking The Causeway Test

You see, the Causeway is the super-long bridge that connects the mainland with the island. It’s the last three miles of the 1,500 odd miles from Wisconsin to Sanibel.

For perspective, think: grilling out on a Friday night, table set, dinner starting to sizzle when the grill runs out of gas. Stopping to play at Causeway Island A is pausing to fill the grill when the scent is in the air. It almost hurts.

Because while love is patient, Abigail is naturally not. She prefers her own get-settled agenda to their let’s-get-out-and-explore interest.

As if a measly 20 minutes tagged on to 22 hours could steal her joy and get her to grumble.

Alas, it was enough. Last year, it did. She failed the causeway test.

But as long as there’s life, there’s hope. 

If God Commands It, We Can Do It

Bad habits, sinful patterns, aren not a life sentence for those who are in Christ. They needn’t keep us bound. We grow. We change. We progress. Christians are real lifelong learners

Peter said, Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18), and Paul said others ought to be able to see our progress (1 Timothy 4:15). John said everyone who practices righteousness is righteous (1 John 3:7b).

So even though impatience plagues me, or worry or bitterness plague you, we don’t have to give way.  We grow and progress and practice.

Andree Seu takes status quo Christians to task.

If God commands it, we can do it. Just because you have never done it before is no proof that you cannot do it starting today. Just because you don’t know anyone who seems joyful is no proof that it’s not possible. Be the first on your block. “Let God be true though every man a liar.”

We don’t have settle. In Christ, abiding in His Word, we grow. We progress. We bear the fruit of righteousness. We don’t have to accept that how I am is how I will be. No- Beholding his glory we are transformed. We don’t have to stay how we are.

You Don’t Have To Settle

Past experience- say, previous Causeway Island A failure- needn’t dictate present reality. Patience is possible.

But our enemy would have us believe it’s not; that we can’t change. He’d gladly deceive us into thinking that impatient, or worrier, or grumbling me is the me I will always be.

That’s flat out wrong. We ought to encourage one another, as long as it’s called today, not to hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. And one of the big deceptions about sin is that we’re stuck where we’re at.

I’m just impatient, and he’s always had a bad temper. She’s just that way. But we are no longer slaves to sin.

Seu again, talking about her own fight with a besetting sin of worry,

The last thing [the devil] wants us to know is that we are able to wake up on any Tuesday morning and choose joy—and keep choosing it all day long as often as the buzzards of worry start to gather overhead. It may not be easy at first, due to force of habit. But we’re called to warfare, to fighting the good fight. What else can this mean but to talk to yourself rather than listening to yourself?

So I did. By grace, as we pulled of the causeway and onto Island A, I did. I breathed in: Love is patient. I breathed out: Love is kind. I breathed in: Love does not insist on its own way. And I breathed out: Put on love. Put on patient love. 


And without a word, I got on my shoes and followed the boys onto the sand. 

So All May See Your Progress

I passed the test. God was gracious and I took a breath and talked to myself. I spoke God’s truth to myself. I was a little more patient than last year. And that’s progress.

It’s a small thing, really. So why do I even spend the time to record it?

Only because I want you to know that this- baby steps, having soaked in God’s Word, breathing it out- this is how we grow.  We talk to ourselves and don’t let past failure dictate obedience now. It’s not one and done, all or nothing. We don’t arrive until heaven.

Life is struggle. And Christian life is progress. Progress that can be noticed. Paul instructed young Timothy to set an example in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity, and to use his God-given gifts.

Practice these things, Paul wrote, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress (1 Timothy 4:15).

Better Than Before

If your friends or sister or husband or wife compared you now with the you they knew 2 or 22 years ago, would they, like Paul wrote to Timothy, see your progress? Could they note growth?

Are you less irritable, more kind? Do you worry less, trust more? Are you less pushy, more patient? Are you conquering in some measure?

But, we all stumble many ways, you say. And they’re not the same ways. True. Different sins beset each of us.

But if we’re in Christ, we will grow up into Christ. We don’t all grow at the same rate, but fixing our eyes on Christ, we will progress in the race marked out for us. Causeway Island A was a sort of mile marker in mine.

So that all may see your progress, Paul wrote Timothy. Progress in faith means growth in grace means better- more like Christ- than before. Matthew Henry wrote, May every believer be enabled to let his profiting appear unto all men; seeking to experience the power of the gospel in his own soul, and to bring forth its fruits in his life. The ones near us should see our growth. Every one of us, in Christ, should be better, holier, more like Jesus, than we were before.

Compared with the you your friends knew 2 or 22 or 42 years ago, are you better than you were? Are you less irritable, more kind? Are you less worried, pray more? Are you less pushy, more patient? Slower to anger, quicker to forgive? Are you conquering in some measure?

With Christ in us we should be better than before.

Celebrate And Keep On

It strikes me that progress in grace is worth celebrating. Pressing on when it’s slow-going is too.

Here are two takeaways for us who want to grow:

1. Celebrate the progress we see. I know it’s risky to call this sort of progress out. After all, it implies that there was room for growth. In my case, it means admitting the ugliness of my impatient outburst. When we celebrate these baby-step successes, we’re not celebrating ourselves. We’re celebrating the God who is at work in us to will and act for his good pleasure (Philippians 4:13).

2. Don’t give up if progress is slow. Direction not perfection. Still, we don’t excuse our failures because of bad experiences, or temperament or how we were brought up. We don’t give up because we know the Father who knows our frame (Psalm 103:14). So we keep on. God knows.

If you are a poor creature-poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels…nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends-do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) he will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all-not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school.  (Mere ChristianityNice People or New Men)

But grow in the grace and knowledge of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. 

Amen. 

2 Peter 3:18

Sanibel Causeway Island B, Facing the Sanibel Island Lighthouse