Dear Friends,

The other day I was thinking about putting out my American Flag for Labor Day. It’s a holiday that reminds me of the freedoms we have as a nation to work and prosper no matter where we’ve come from or what our background might be. At the same time, I’ve always found Labor Day to be filled with a bit of irony.  Only in America can we celebrate our hard work by taking the day off… Seriously, once we recognized this as a celebration of those who came before us who creatively worked to make this nation great. In our modern time it has become more a Labor Day of bargains, highlighted by mattress sales, clothes shopping, and watching football on television. What happened to the picnics and homemade ice cream? You don’t often hear about parades and marching bands playing and flags waving. Perhaps I’m waxing a bit nostalgic, but it just seems like in the past when I was growing up we had a greater capacity to really celebrate.

Maybe it was simply that Labor Day, for so many of us, marked the real end of summer, and it was our last chance to celebrate freedom. Where I grew up school didn’t begin until the Wednesday following Labor Day. It was always a bittersweet celebration as we anticipated putting all those newly purchased school supplies to good use. At the same time, it meant we gave up the freedoms we, as children, enjoyed all summer. In fact, there’s a great festival in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend called “Celebrate Freedom.” It’s a great time to celebrate before the routines of fall get fully entrenched in our lives.

Giving up freedom is a difficult thing. In fact, we don’t like to be restricted. We like our freedom! So many in the world today think that if they truly commit to following Jesus they are giving up their freedom. Sure, we know that there are blessings that come from following Him, but often we focus far too much on what we “have” to give up. Paul sheds a bit of a different light on this. He writes, in Galatians 5, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” What we often view as restrictions are things that aren’t that great for us anyway, and as we grow in Jesus they become things we don’t really want.

Paul is reminding us that if you want to experience true freedom, it finds its real beginning in Jesus. In Him we are free to be the people God created us to be. That freedom shapes our hearts and minds to be outwardly focused rather than simply focusing on ourselves. Paul goes on to write, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Paul was not alone. Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:16, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” Isn’t it interesting that both Paul and Peter point us to the fact that our freedom is not a license, but rather an opportunity to serve. There is great freedom that comes in serving others, not to mention joy. It’s a service not born of obligation, but rather from the love of Jesus flowing through us. Freedom is all about choice, and choice can be a great reminder of grace.

God chose each of us and rescued us from the sin and death we deserved. Like unfaithful laborers, we have betrayed God time and again, and yet, in love He has chosen to forgive us and cleanse us through the blood of Jesus Christ. By faith in Him we have true freedom—freedom from eternal death and condemnation. It’s a freedom that reminds us that no matter how bad things get, we still can have peace because of Jesus and what He accomplished on our behalf at the Cross. He’s the One that really made the sacrifice for each of us. That’s very freeing.

To follow Jesus does indeed mean that we relinquish some things. There are habits that need to be challenged, and places we shouldn’t go, and things we shouldn’t do. To be sure, there is some sacrifice. Jesus said, in Matthew 16:24–26, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Our problem often is that the things we think are freedoms, outside of our faith in Jesus, are sometimes the very things that restrict our freedom in Christ. Sure, we’re free to act as the world does, but in Jesus, do we really want to act as the world does?

There are times when I see the behavior of a sinful world and my heart aches as I imagine how God’s heart breaks for the world He sacrificed His Son, Jesus, to save. Everywhere you turn it seems like we have become increasingly depraved as a society. The voice of the church has often been silenced by charges of being intolerant, judgmental, uncaring and irrelevant. At times, the world has unfortunately been right. Holy wars are still being waged with accusations and anger. To the world we look like the scene in Acts 19:32, where we read, “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.”

It just goes to show you that Solomon was right—there’s nothing new under the sun! Here’s the hope to which we hold fast: Jesus died for our sins and rose again! He sent us His Spirit to give us freedom so we could be diligent in our labors for Jesus. What can we do to change the world’s perception? I think it begins by living in the love and freedom of Jesus. We can make choices that focus us more on Jesus and less on us. We can work together for the sake of the Gospel so that the light of Jesus shines in our lives, individually and as a church. God gives us great purpose in Jesus. Peter reminds us, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” We get to share that mercy with the world. We are bearers of the light of Jesus in a world filled with darkness. That dispels the confusion!

On Labor Day, if you are able, sleep in late. Enjoy the day. But remember that you have been set free in Jesus to serve others with joy. God chose you, so let’s get to work!

Your fellow servant,