Firstly, God brought the first explorers from Europe to what became the United States centuries ago--they literally stumbled upon a land they didn't know existed. It seems they had a desire to find wealth and riches for their purses, but He had something greater in mind. Less than two centuries later, God-fearing people ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to seek freedom in worship and the blessing they believed God had for them in America. Through much trouble and tribulation, ultimately that freedom of religion was realized--and 400 years after the Mayflower landed in America, we know what religious freedom is (and what it looks like to have it threatened).
But what is true freedom? Is it the ability to worship as we desire? There are countries all over the world where governments feel threatened by religious people and lock them up or kill them for their faith in one god or another. Are those people experiencing true freedom? The early Christians in the first century AD faced great hatred and persecution by the religious Jews of the time and later by the Roman government. Ultimately, Christians have faced persecution throughout the centuries following Christ's death and resurrection around 30 AD. If we go by the ability to worship as we please as the standard for freedom, then Christians would not as a general group have experienced freedom since they began following Christ two thousand years ago!
The Apostle John records a conversation Jesus had with some Jewish people who had believed in Him. Not understanding that they were enslaved to sin in their lives and not truly free, they argued with Jesus--not understanding their lack. They needed to be set free by Jesus! They needed to abide in Him and the Truth of His Word and He would set them free from their enslavement to sin. He told them, " 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' " (John 8:31b-32 ESV)
This freedom is not contingent upon our circumstances, our government's position on religious freedom, nor our own perceptions or emotions. The Apostle Paul wrote regarding true freedom, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:1-4 ESV) This is true freedom. Knowing that Christ, by His death, has set us free from sin's eternal effect upon our soul. If we accept this Truth and walk now according to God's Spirit, we have true freedom.
This true freedom brings real peace in the midst of life's storms. This true freedom brings comfort even when persecution is on every side. This true freedom brings hope when the foreseeable future seems grim.
Let us cry out like the psalmist, "Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is at my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is at my side as my helper...." (Psalm 118:5-7a ESV) In Him, we are truly free. Let's set a memorial stone for that!
(This photo was taken at the very impressive WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. the end of November. Our memorials of places or things we've witnessed is to take a picture of all the feet that experienced that spot together. This was with some sweet friends from the area--hence the 11 sets of feet!)