when we the people all want a real declaration of freedom

Straight up — the guy just liked the frame.

Four bucks.

That’s all this guy had to dig out of wallet at that flew market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania that morning in 1989 to buy one old, odd picture frame.

He handed over the four dollars and frankly, didn’t care one wit about the painting.

It was just a dismal little country scene dabbed across a grimy, torn canvas with a signature he couldn’t even make out — it  was only the gilded and ornate frame that caught his eye.

The flea market seller took his four bucks — with absolutely no idea. With not the faintest idea that the frame and painting —  were not at all what you’d think. 



Flea Market in Brussels



Punk Rock Flea Market

When the guy got home?  The crudely-made frame pathetically fell apart in his hands. Unsalvageable.

Great — four bucks wasted on a bunch of garbage. 

But when the unsalvageable frame fell apart in this hands, fell away from the torn canvas?

There, between the slashed canvas and the wood backing of the crumbled frame — was this crisp, folded up piece of paper, the size of a business envelope.

He unfolded it slow. Ran his finger across the inked calligraphy.

It couldn’t be what it read — or was it? 

When a friend who collected historical memorabilia dropped by, he took out that crisp piece of paper, unfolded it slow, for him to take a look at it. Laughed a bit when his friend shook his head, mouth agape.

“Well —- what do you think?”

“Get it appraised.”

Turns out?

That folded up piece of paper, one-tenth of an inch thick, that had fallen out between a torn canvas and a falling-apart frame? Was printed by John Dunlap.  On July 4th, 1776. 

Turns out that it’s one of only 500 copies of the first printing of  — the Declaration of Independence.

Turns out only 23 copies are known to still exist, only of which a mere two were privately owned — and then this one.

A flea market find. 

Replica of the Declaration of Independence





UU Church Newburyport




That copy was auctioned off on June 4, 1991 — and when the gavel finally sounded “Sold!” —- that four buck flea market frame — had become a 2.4 million dollar find.

And it’s not the only time it’s happened.

Stan Caffy, a pipe fitter, bought a copy of the Declaration of Independence at yard sale in Donelson Hills in 1996. He nailed it to the wall of his garage. He thought it was a dime-a-dozen dollar store copy. Not everything is what you think it is. 

The piece of faded paper hung there on the garage wall for 10 years, while Stan fixed a steady stream of old bicycles.

Till finally Stan’s wife, Linda, said it was time for Stan to clean out the garage.  “I used to be a packrat” Stan admitted. “The best I can recall, we had a little debate about whether to keep it that copy up on the wall or donate it  —- and Linda won.”

So Linda took an antique table, a shower massage head, and a faucet — and the supposed every day copy of the Declaration of Independence —to the Music City Thrift Store in Nashville on a morning in March.

Where Michael Sparks ended up browsing and stumbled upon this yellowed, shellacked, rolled-up piece of paper.

Two bucks and 48 cents. That’s all Michael Sparks had to shell out for the document.

Which turned out to be?

One of the 200 official copies of the Declaration of Independence that had been commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1820. 

Which turned out to be sold at an auction for —- $477,650. Nearly half a million dollars. 

When Stan heard? All he could say was:

“I’m happy for that Michael Sparks guy,” Stan said.

“If I still had it, it would still be hanging here in the garage and I still wouldn’t know it was worth all that….

But… can’t help but feel not very smart.”

Turns out?

You can have in your possession an actual declaration of freedom — and not actually value it. 

You can hold in your hands something valuable enough that it could change everything about your life — and you could send it right out of your life.

You can think you know what to think — and it turns out: it’s not what you think. 

Maybe that’s the whole point? 

You don’t think Jesus is your everything —  until you have nothing but Jesus.

You don’t think of Jesus as anything but ultimately useful to getting the life you want — until you experience Jesus as ultimately the most beautiful in the life you already have.

When you become God’s, all duty becomes beauty. 

You don’t think of Jesus as anything but an example to follow — until you experience Him as a Lover to fall into, as a Lamb to forgive you, as your Lord to free you.  

Like having an exorbitantly valuable declaration of freedom in your hands but not thinking you do, Christianity and a life of faith — may not be what you think:

Christianity is more than going to heaven when you die; it’s about dying with Christ now so you can live now.

Christianity is more than performing a good life —- it’s about Christ performing an entirely perfect life for you — so you can live the abundant life in its entirety. 

Christianity is more than going through the motions — it’s about letting about Christ touch the heart of your emotions  — and going through life with Him. 

It’s time to check behind the cheap frame of things — because it turns out:

A life of faith may not be what what you think — or what most people live.

It’s infinitely more. 




Declaration of Independence - National Archives - Washington, DC


Old Scotch Church


And there is a Freedom that rings and won’t be silenced — freedom that calls out the false freedom that a man can do whatever he likes, and rings of the true freedom — that gives a man the freedom to do what is right.

Freedom that grace can be found and hope rises here and this life of faith is infinitely more freedom, a world of higher up and deeper in. 

The greatest freedom we have is the freedom to come right to God at any time.

There under the bloom of fireworks, you can feel it —

the love of Christ exploding a heart — 

the way a people can live a declaration of independence from all else and breathe the freedom of dependence in the One who explodes grace across all our skies.