Sitting with my family on a sand dune at the beach in South Haven, Michigan, with Gatorade in one hand, glow stick in the other, I watched the 4th of July fireworks display. For 30 minutes we were mesmerized by the awesome and reverberating sound of the shells exploding, revealing their colorful display. Sitting there I couldn't help but be thankful. This is America the beautiful, and for now, home of the free and the brave.
I wondered, as one of the shells exploded revealing a smiley face in the sky, what it might have been like to be Francis Key, watching from the water, as the British bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Standing on the deck of the ship, Surprise, sometimes in heavy rain, Key and his friend John Skinner, watched, hoping and praying for America's successful defense of the fort, the port, and the city. The White House and the U.S. Capitol buildings had already been burned. Would Baltimore be next?
Then, as the rain stopped, and the sun began to rise, I imagine that Key peered intently for the first glimpse of the flag flying over the fort. Somewhere in the midst of that pre-dawn twilight, Key saw it. The 15-star and 15-stripe, 42-foot-long flag that had been especially commissioned to be big enough that British would see it at great distance, was proudly waving.
Here on the shores of Lake Michigan, my heart was filled with pride for our country, and thanksgiving for the men and women who work to ensure that freedom.
But I am thankful too, for another type of flag. It was the one on a cross that said, "This is the King of the Jews." That cross, that sign, those nails, mark the spot of the greatest victory ever gained in any war. And that victory of Christ guarantees our freedom not just for today, but for eternity.
While the U.S. celebrates its independence, let us Christians celebrate grace and redemption.
—This is adapted from a blog written in 2012 by Benjamin Orian, who recently accepted a call to pastor the Springdale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Arkansas.