Cyndi and I once spent Independence Day in Estes Park with the Ross family at their vacation home. For some reason, we almost always stay home in midland on July 4th, but that year we escaped.
We started the day early, following Paul up his regular morning hike to the top of the tramway on Prospect Mountain. It was mostly bushwhacking and boulder-scrambling up an invisible path that Paul has loosely followed since he was eight years old. We did a pretty good job of keeping up.
After breakfast, we drove downtown and joined the hundreds of other holiday visitors in some obligatory touristy shopping for a couple of hours; then we set up the grill and cooked delicious Independence Day hamburgers and hot dogs.
Later that evening, nearly sundown, we followed the stream of pilgrims slowly moving down the walkway beside the river, chair bags slung over their shoulders, baby strollers loaded with babies, to watch the city-sponsored fireworks display. In general, I like fireworks, but not as much as Cyndi likes fireworks. It usually doesn’t occur to me to make the effort to find a fireworks show, but Cyndi loves it and I love going with her. This particular fireworks show turned out to be one of the best, maybe the absolute best, I’ve ever seen. It was amazing, it was all over the sky, it was creative and original, and it was substantial. It was great.
At one point during the afternoon between hamburgers and fireworks, I managed to squeeze in fifteen minutes in a creaking rocking chair on the front porch and read from my Daily Bible. The passage for July 4th is from II Chronicles 29, and it’s about King Hezekiah and his national movement of reform and return to God. During a previous year’s reading I had written in the margin of my Bible: “Great passage for the 4th.”
Hezekiah’s first move was to open the doors to the temple and repair them. He could have blamed organized religion for the sorry state of his kingdom, but he didn’t. It is always easy to blame religion for the evil in the world. Nowadays it’s very hip to say such things about religion, and it makes us feel clever and original, but actually there is nothing new about it. We followers of God are too quick to slam ourselves, especially since it was probably organized religion that led us to God in the first place. I expect Hezekiah would’ve thought so, too. The first reform he put into place was to repair the doors to the temple so that organized religion could get back to work. Maybe we need to put our doors back in place and stop complaining.
Later in the chapter it says that when the priests and Levites were ready to start work in the service of God, they assembled and consecrated themselves before going in to purify the temple. I had written in the margin: “How should I do this to myself before a spiritual encounter?” I think I’ve bought into the idea so deeply that God, through his grace, accepts me and loves me the way I am, I forget to get myself ready to meet him.
Just because he loves me unconditionally is no reason to take him for granted, any more than knowing Cyndi loves me is reason to take her for granted. In both cases my action (or inaction) may not affect the love from God or from Cyndi, but taking either of them for granted will do damage to me. It will harden my heart. I believe whatever those priests and Levites did to consecrate themselves had less to do with pleasing God than with preparing their own hearts. I’m pretty sure I need to do more of that.
The story of Hezekiah ended in Chapter 32 with this statement: “This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.”
The story of Hezekiah is exactly what I need to hear on Independence Day. I have a tendency to be too independent, and I need a reminder of where the strength of my life comes from.
One of the reasons I like reading through this same copy of the Bible year after year is that the lessons I learn come at me again, year after year. I have a tendency to cross my arms and think, “There, learned that one,” and move on, as if I learned it once and for all, for all time. But in reality, I never learn anything that well. It’s good to relearn important truths each year, over and over. For all my thoughts about Independence Day and Hezekiah, I know that next July 4th, whatever adventures we are taking, wherever we are staying, I will be reading this again and learning more. I hope it never ends.
(I first published this blog ten years ago, in 2009. This morning, when I once again read the passage about Hezekiah, I knew I had to publish this again.)
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32