Hi, this is pastor Ken and these are my thoughts on a Thursday…Independence day!

The Fourth of July was always one of my favorite holidays of the entire year. In part, that has no doubt been because it falls during summertime when the days are long and full of fun and relaxation. That alone makes it a holiday suited for all of the family gatherings it produces. More importantly, I love it because as so many others do, I love our nation. I don’t always love the things we do as a nation, I don’t always agree with the direction our country is heading, But I am always proud to be an American. These days, the Forth is one of my favorites because our entire family, now numbering nearly thirty, and counting, gathers for “Creek Week”. That annual event takes place on Independence day weekend at our family cottage in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia. “Creek Week” is always a source of innumerable smiles and lots of laughter as well as stories recounted the entire year. The Fourth of July does have one facet that makes it bittersweet. It is also the season my brother, a patriot and a proud American soldier went to spend eternity before God.

Gary was a soldier for nearly half his life. Aside from his wife, children and grandchildren, it was one of the things he was most proud of. Being a soldier was just one of the many things he was and did that made us so proud of him. His legacy will go on in perpetuity because of the uniform he wore. I remember when Gary graduated from boot camp he told me they gave him two things he didn’t have when he got there and that no one would ever be able to take away from him; his pride to be an American, and his privilege to put on the Army uniform. I recall even now the boot camp graduation pictures with my brother proudly wearing his uniform.

Gary was many things. He was a husband, a dad, a brother, a son. He had many talents and interests, he was an awesome shade-tree-mechanic, a hard worker, and an avid runner. He had an incredible sense of humor and loved a good joke. He was all of those things and much, much more. You didn’t have to know him to though to know he loved America, you knew about him when you saw the uniform.

There was something else about Gary that defined him even more than that pressed Army uniform. Gary was a Christian. He wasn’t perfect, just forgiven. He knew who Jesus was, but more importantly what Christ had done for him. Gary lived his life doing what he did, in part, because of Christ living in him. Being a soldier wasn’t just his job, it was his calling. To a large degree, Gary was willing to give his life for the freedom of others because Christ had given His life for Gary’s freedom. Because of his faith in Christ as his Lord and Savior, my brother has a new uniform today. He has a new body fashioned for him by God Himself. This one isn’t government issue, this one is given by the Lord of heaven’s armies, the One true God.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 in the New Living Translation says, For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

My brother knew that heavenly body existed, just as all who know Jesus as personal Lord and Savior are aware of through faith. I believe Gary is now experiencing that eternal life that has swallowed up the old dying body he once inhabited. Now for him there is no pain, no sorrow, no lingering effects from the battered, battle-scarred body he formerly knew, and that is proof that God’s mercies are indeed new every morning.

Gary is not in heaven because he was a good soldier, a good husband, a good father, brother or son. Gary is in heaven because he knew and loved Jesus, and accepted Christ’s sacrifice for his life. It was The Holy Spirit’s work in Gary’s life that enabled him to be the man he was. Every Independence day I miss him, we all miss him, but I am so glad that today Gary is free and has a new uniform that undoubtedly means more to him even than that old Army one he wore with such pride. Jesus said it, and Gary believed it, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32

So now, Looking forward to the true Independence day when we all get our new uniforms, but gratefully celebrating the freedom we have today by knowing the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done to liberate us, enjoy this Fourth of July for everything it stands for…and Go Be Awesome!