This week is one of those many special occasion days on our calendars, that can derail pastors and congregations. This Sunday is July 3 (the day before Independence Day). So there will be a patriotic emphasis in some of our special music selections. I am somewhat concerned about all that; I know the inherent dangers and how easily our service can become profane and misguided.
So at the outset, I will preface our service tomorrow morning with a few of these thoughts:
I am an American patriot and I believe that most of our church family are too. And tomorrow, I will be reflective on the greatness of this country. I will give thanks for those who have sacrificed their lives to secure our liberties. I will praise God for His providential guidance in its formation and I will enjoy the celebrations of our national heritage. I may even eat a hot dog or two, scarf down some watermelon, and fire off a couple dozen rounds of blanks from my .22 revolver. That will be appropriate for the holiday tomorrow.
As for today, it is incumbent on us to remember that the purpose of our gathering together as the church of God is to honor and celebrate and worship Jesus Christ. So I want to put our love for our country in a proper context.
In the infancy of our nation, a foreigner, a Frenchman by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville, observed and wrote about the greatness of this country. He wrote, “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and ample rivers, and it was not there; in the fertile fields, and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
I hope you don’t miss that. There are two verses of Scripture that come to mind; Prov. 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.” And another one is Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Now I don’t know if de Tocqueville was a Christian. But I do know that he recognized that America’s greatness was a result of her goodness; and her goodness was rooted in her reverence for God and her respect for His laws and His Gospel. America was great because her God is Great.
And so as we sing the words to, “My Country Tis Of Thee,” I want you to notice that the writer of this patriotic song recognizes, in the very first line, that our country is a gift from God (You might not see that because some modern editors have not capitalized the letter "T" in the word, "Thee." In earlier hymnbooks that word is capitalized). And then in the final verse, he appeals to God for His continuing grace, and goodness, and protection.
There are many today who would argue that our founding fathers were not all Christians and even if they were, it was never their intention to recognize God’s sovereignty and providence in our nation’s formation, much less establish it on biblical principles. But they would be wrong. Listen to the words of some of our founders:
Benjamin Franklin, “I have lived, my friends, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing the proofs I see of the truth…that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”
Patrick Henry, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionist, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.”
James Madison, “We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to toe Ten Commandments of God.”
Less than 100 years later, this country was torn apart in a terrible civil was. Abraham Lincoln wrote, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray to the God that made us! All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope, authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less the pardon of our national sins, and restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”
Psalm 22:4 says, “In You our fathers put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them.”
We will close that portion of our service by singing, "God Of Our Fathers."
At that point, my pastor will open the Word of God and preach from Isaiah 33.
After the morning message, our service will end with the singing of, "If My People's Hearts Are Humbled," which is a musical paraphrase of 2 Chron. 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”