Several years ago, we moved into a house with a big wrap-around front porch. It is great for quiet sitting or noisy conversations. At this time of year, it is also perfect for Independence Day decorating. The white railings look phenomenal with patriotic bunting hanging all the way around. I look forward each year to the day that we decorate it a couple of weeks before July 4.
Except this year.
This year, the country does not seem to be in a celebratory mood. I am not in a celebratory mood. I confess that I am just not happy with our country at the moment. I admit that I am discouraged. Maybe you feel entirely different than I do, but I am wondering if it is worth the trouble to decorate. Patriotism just seems a little tougher this year.
Don’t get me wrong. I dearly love this country. Despite our failings, I still believe that we are the greatest nation on earth and that we are incredibly blessed to be Americans. I believe that we have done more to make life better for more people than any country has ever done. I am indeed thankful that I was born right here. I still believe that among all the nations, we offer more hope and opportunity than you will find anywhere.
FAITH AND PATRIOTISM
I was recently asked how my faith affects my patriotism and the way I feel about my country.
Well, for starters, God placed me right here. I did not choose my nationality. I don’t believe it was by some random chance that I was born in this country. For whatever reason, God chose in advance for me to be an American. And He has never given me a reason to leave.
So, it seems to me that I have an obligation to be the best American that I can be. It seems that my debt of gratitude to God is manifested in my patriotism. I think I have a duty and responsibility to be devoted to this country that God chose for me.
And just speaking for me personally, if I were to show disrespect for this country, it would be like showing disrespect for the will of God since this is what he chose for me.
That doesn’t mean that I can’t be dissatisfied or that I can’t criticize. That doesn’t mean that I can’t fight for change. But for me, it does mean that I can’t disrespect.
So yes, my faith affects my patriotism and how I feel about my country.
UNALIENABLE RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
During this time of year, we often hear or read some of the wording from the Declaration of Independence. Such an interesting document.
I genuinely believe in the truth of those unalienable rights. And that in order to see those rights manifested, God ordained and blessed the founding of America. He instilled in those founders the desire for freedom that necessitated their move toward independence. Just as it was God’s will for me to be an American by birth, it was God’s will for them to become Americans by declaration.
And so began the journey toward that uniqely American creed.
A difficult, messy, and sometimes broken journey.
A journey that still continues today.
So, we understand those unalienable rights. But If God endowed us with unalienable rights, did he not also endow us with unalienable responsibilities? I believe that rights always carry responsibilities. You can come up with your own list but here is mine:
INTEGRITY- FAITH- SERVICE- UNITY
Surely, when God endowed us with those rights, he also endowed us with a responsibility to live lives of integrity. Surely, we have a responsibility to live honest lives and exhibit strong moral principles.
But it seems to me that our commitment to truth and strong moral principles has fallen out of favor in parts of our society. Perhaps that is exactly why we find ourselves in some of the difficulties we are currently experiencing.
Maybe it is the “content of our character” that Dr. King so eloquently spoke about that remains at the core of our strife.
So how do we find truth?
Well, we sure don’t find it in the media or from politicians.
Jesus said, “I Am the Truth”, so he would be a good starting point. Actually, Jesus is also a good ending point, but first things first. We will never know genuine, perfect truth until we know Jesus
And what about those strong moral principles?
We are drowning in conflict in our society over moral principles. No two people see it the same way. So where do we go to find out what is right or wrong morally?
Same place we found truth: Jesus.
If we, as individuals and collectively, could just follow the teachings and examples of Jesus, we would have no moral or integrity problems among us. Our personal lives and our national lives would be drastically transformed.
And those teachings and examples are available to us in four books of our Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are truly our guidebooks for integrity.
I know that someone out there is probably hyperventilating that I would dare mention faith as a responsibility in our nation. After all, that is not a common belief in our culture today
But it was in the beginning. Faith was an integral part of the founding of our country. God ordained us as a nation of faith and never changed his mind, but we apparently did.
And we are paying a price.
I am a slow learner and it took me a long time to realize that much of the teachings of the Old Testament dealt with the collective national faith of the nation of Israel. In it we see a constant cycle of the nation turning away from God and consequently suffering dramatically. In response to their suffering, they would return to God only to repeat the same cycle again and again.
When we too turn from God as a nation, we also see dramatic suffering. It is inevitable and it is now. Until we bring Christ back into the chaos, the chaos will remain.
The collective salvation of our nation starts with the personal salvation of us as individuals.
And that personal salvation only comes through Jesus.
It is impossible to study the teachings and examples of Jesus without recognizing our responsibility to serve. He plainly states that he came to earth to be a servant. Among Jesus’ final instructions to us before he left earth was that we go and do likewise. We clearly have an unalienable responsibility of service.
Jesus’ teaching on service was clearly re-enunciated to us as a nation in the inspired words of President Kennedy at his inauguration: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Read those words one more time.
And just once more.
I’m sorry for the discouragement, but how did we get from there to here?
And how do we return?
It is difficult right now to see how we will ever again be a unified people. We are definitely more focused on what divides us than on what unites us. Political and racial division is tearing our country apart.
We seem to have lost sight of the fact that God made each one of us different for a reason. And differences of any kind do not have to make us enemies.
The New Testament portion of the Bible gives an enormous amount of attention to unity for a reason. No entity, whether it be family, church, or nation, will ever thrive without the ability to maintain unity, even in disagreement. The name of our country contains the word “United” for a reason.
The topic of unity is certainly too big to cover here, but I do have a suggestion. Take a moment to read verses 12-27 of 1 Corinthians chapter 12. These verses use the example of the human body to talk about unity within the church. As you read, think about this example as applying to unity within our country. I promise you that it has relevance. Unity is unity whether it be in a nation or the church. If somehow, we could apply just those sixteen verses in our society, we could see transformation beyond imagination.
But it will require God’s help. We cannot do this on our own.
So here is my decoration decision:
Did I decorate my porch or not? Yes, I did, or I should say my wife did.
Despite all of our problems, past or present, I still believe that America offers hope and opportunity like no other nation on earth. I genuinely believe that God is at work amongst the current difficulties to bring us closer to him than before. I still believe that, despite some detours and failures, the journey continues.
I still believe in “One Nation Under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Happy 4th, everyone!