A time to recall the freedom we enjoy as Americans
July 4th is not just another day on the calendar. It is a day we should cherish, a day on which we should find time to give thanks to God for the freedom we enjoy as Americans.
If we are wise, we will teach our children the sacred meaning of “Independence Day” lest they view it as merely a holiday devoted to barbeque, fireworks, watermelon, flag waving, parades, concerts and family gatherings. When we give thanks on the fourth for our tasty ribs and sweet watermelon, we should also praise God for the favor he has shown our nation from its beginning.
Secularists reading this will be quick to shout me down for ignoring “the separation of church and state.” However, they fail to understand that to acknowledge God’s sovereignty is not to reject the principle of separation of church and state. It is to affirm the abiding truth that all men, and all nations, are accountable to God.
George Washington, our first president, would have thought it preposterous to remove all references to God from the halls of government as some insist upon doing today. He would oppose those who wish to remove the phrase “one nation under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Consider Washington’s own words: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”
Washington’s faith in God is a matter of record. Here, for example, is a prayer from the collected works of the first president:
“Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the Lamb and purge my heart by Thy Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of Thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in Thy fear, and dying in Thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy son, Jesus Christ.”
President John F. Kennedy may not have left us many prayers but he will be long remembered for these words: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. . . ." Kennedy’s speech writer may have “borrowed” that idea from a speech made in 1884 by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. -- "Now It is the moment when by common consent we pause to become conscience of our national life and to rejoice in it, to recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return."
That is a good question to ponder on July 4th – What can I do for my country? There is much we may do! We may build bridges of friendship and respect rather than denigrate and scorn others. We may become champions of civility in a society that is infected with epidemic rudeness. The need for civility in America is unequaled in our history!
To practice civility does not mean that I must agree with everyone or that I condone the behavior of those who ignore biblical principles. It does mean that I will refrain from conduct that employs bitterness, rage or violence. It means that I will stand my ground without vilifying those whose opinions about God and country differ with my own. I must remember that my freedom to believe as I choose is the same freedom that allows my neighbors to disagree with me.
In recent years I have been privileged to join more than one hundred men and women who are committed doing all we can to restore civility and tranquility to America. We desire to restore the practice of kindness toward others in a nation that is being torn apart by hatred and ill will. The civility crisis in America threatens to deny us the “more perfect union” that all good men prize.
In addition to the practice of civility, we can and must pray. If we can find time to enjoy the lake, barbequed ribs, fireworks or a baseball game, we can surely find the time to pray. It is a matter of record, for which we should offer thanks to God, that our founding fathers did not seek to establish a nation separated from God but a nation that would bring glory to God. For example, Ben Franklin, one of our more prominent founding fathers, appealed to President George Washington to let every assembly of the new government begin with “prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven.”
Franklin reminded the president that in the beginning of the contest with Great Britain they were so aware of danger that “we had daily prayer in this room for Divine Protection.” Those prayers, Franklin insisted, “were graciously answered by a Superintending providence” whose favor was given. Then Franklin asked a question which we need to answer in our own day: “To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance?”
Franklin went on to affirm his profound conviction that “God governs in the affairs of men.” Then, though not a preacher, Franklin reminded his good friend, the president, of the scriptural warning that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.”
Declaring his firm belief in this scripture, Franklin issued this warning which we should surely heed in our time: “I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.”
Standing then on the shoulders of Ben Franklin, I implore my fellow Americans to pray on this fourth of July for the wisdom to live as people accountable to God so that our nation may continue to bring glory and honor to God and remain known to all nations as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” And may all our prayers be drenched with heartfelt thanksgiving for God’s abundant favor! + + +