The Key to Being Pure in Heart

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:8

There are three tame ducks in our back yard,
Dabbling in mud and trying hard
To get their share, and maybe more,
Of the overflowing barnyard store.
Satisfied with the task they’re at,
Eating and sleeping and getting fat.
But whenever the free wild ducks go by
In a long line streaming down the sky,
They cock a quizzical, puzzled eye,
And flap their wings and try to fly.

I think my soul is a tame old duck,
Dabbling around in barnyard muck,
Fat and lazy with useless wings.
But sometimes when the North wind sings
And the wild ones hurdle overhead,
It remembers something lost and dead,
And cocks a wary, bewildered eye,
And makes a feeble attempt to fly.

It’s fairly content with the state it’s in,
But it isn’t the duck it might have been.

I don’t want to be a tame duck. You don’t, either. You want your life to have purpose and passion, a reason for being which transcends the hum-drum routine, the workaday world. You want to believe that your life counts for something bigger than yourself, that you are more than a dot on the screen of the universe.

How do we escape the barnyard?

Choose to have a life purpose

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” our Teacher says.

Greek scholar Fritz Rienecker defines “heart” as “the center of the inner life of the person where all the spiritual forces and functions have their origin.” “Pure” here means to have integrity, to be consistent, to be of one mind.

So to be “pure in heart” is to have a single purpose to your life. Kierkegaard was right: “purity of heart is to will one thing.” To choose to have a single life purpose.

Not everyone believes you can. Many think that life has no real purpose or meaning.

Philosopher Martin Heidegger says you’re an actor on a stage with no script, director, audience, past or future. Courage is to face life as it is.

French philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre titled his most famous play, No Exit, and his autobiography, Nausea. In Existentialism and Human Emotions, he ended the chapter titled “The Hole” with these words: “Man is a useless passion” (p. 107).

“Postmodernism” says there’s no absolute truth, which is itself an absolute truth claim. It claims life has no real purpose, just what you make of it. Life is chaotic, random dots produced by the coincidence of evolution and the chance occurrences of life.

Why not share this chaotic world view? Why seek to be “pure of heart,” to have a single purpose?

One answer is practical: greatness is only possible through commitment to a single purpose. Winston Churchill in June of 1941: “I have but one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby.” Brilliant scholar and author William Barclay: “A man will never become outstandingly good at anything unless that thing is his ruling passion. There must be something of which he can say, ‘For me to live is this.'”

A second answer is logical: if the universe were chaotic, without purpose or meaning, you and I would never be able to know it or say it. Think with me for a moment. If reality were truly chaotic, there would be nothing we could “know.” Red today would be green tomorrow. Stand before a Jackson Pollock painting, splotches on the canvas, and tell me what it “means.” Or before a Mark Rothco, a canvas painted all a single solid color. Again, no meaning. Both artists committed suicide, by the way.

If the world were chaos like their paintings, there could be no objective truth, not even the objective statement that there is no objective truth. And we couldn’t speak of truth, for language could have no common meaning between us.

A third answer is biblical. Jesus made this statement about human experience: “No man can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

James added this command: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). To purify our heart, we must not be “double-minded.” We must have a single life purpose.

A fourth answer is spiritual: we must be “pure in heart” to see God. Jesus’ beatitude makes this fact clear. Let’s explore here for a moment. We cannot see God with our physical eyes: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). But we can “see” God spiritually. Hebrews 11:27 says of Moses, “he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” Exodus 33:11 states, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”

We can know God this intimately. But only if we are pure in heart. Hebrews 12:14 warns us, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” But Jesus promises: if we are “pure in heart,” we will.

Political campaign contributors will pay $10,000 and more for a table at a dinner, hoping just to meet the president or their candidate. Imagine knowing intimately the God who created the universe. You can. But you must be pure in heart. You must choose a single life purpose.

Choose the right life purpose

So how do we become “pure in heart.” Assuming that these practical, logical, biblical, and spiritual arguments are compelling, what do you do next? What single life purpose will lead us to “see God”?

We’re not the first to ask Jesus. Remember the lawyer’s trick question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). Which of our 613 commandments will you neglect, so we can convict you of breaking the law?

And remember his answer, summarizing all the law and the prophets, all the word and will of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself” (vv. 37, 39).

The two are one, Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s request for the greatest single commandment in God’s word. They are two wings of the same spiritual airplane, both essential for the soul that flies into the presence of God. Examine them for a moment.

Love the Lord “with all your heart,” by walking in the will of God. Remember that your heart is the center of your life, the origin of your will and actions. The Bible instructs us, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Flee evil, pursue righteousness. Walk in the will of God and you’ll be “pure in heart.”

Love the Lord “with all your soul,” by practicing the worship of God. With your spiritual life, your daily worship: “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). To “fear” God is to reverence him, to honor him, to worship him. The “undivided heart” is the pure heart. Love God with your daily worship, as you commune with him, walk with him, praise him. And you’ll be “pure in heart.”

Love the Lord “with all your mind,” by knowing the word of God. Know and obey his revealed truth: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth . . . love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Know and obey the truth of God’s word and you’ll be “pure in heart.”

And love your neighbor as yourself: “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart” (1 Timothy 1:5).

Share God’s love by living your faith. As Francis of Assisi suggests, preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words. Share God’s love by caring for hurting souls. Show them God’s love in yours. Share God’s love by explaining your faith. Share with them God’s salvation and urge them to experience his grace.

And you’ll be “pure in heart.”

Conclusion

When a crash closed a road leading to the Denver International Airport, Google Maps offered drivers a quick way out of the traffic jam. However, the route it suggested took them down a dirt road that rain had turned into a muddy mess.

Some vehicles couldn’t drive through the mud and became stuck. About a hundred others became trapped behind them. They were sincere in trusting the app, but they were sincerely wrong.

Today’s beatitude offers us the only path to a life God can bless. So, choose to have a single life purpose, for practical, logical, biblical and spiritual reasons. Choose Jesus’ purpose: love the Lord your God with your heart through his worship, with your soul through his will, with your mind through his word. Love others as yourself. And you will be “pure in heart.” And you will see God.

Your soul can be a tame duck. Or it can be a wild eagle.

The choice is yours.


The Key to True Courage

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:10

The world celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the lunar landing yesterday. What most people didn’t understand at the time was that Apollo 11 was far more dangerous than we knew.

As Eagle neared its landing site on the moon, Neil Armstrong realized that the onboard computer would land the module in a boulder-strewn area, so he took control of the vehicle. He found a clear patch of ground and maneuvered the spacecraft towards it. However, as he approached the area, he saw that it had a crater in it.

Armstrong found another patch of level ground. By this time, Eagle had only ninety seconds of propellant remaining. Lunar dust kicked up by the module’s engine impaired his ability to determine the spacecraft’s motion, so he navigated by large rocks jutting out of the dust cloud.

Finally, on July 20, 1969, at 3:17 p.m. EST, Eagle landed on the moon.

The narrowly-averted landing crisis was not the only challenge Apollo 11 faced. Mission Control in Houston repeatedly lost radio communication with Eagle on its approach to the moon. An intermittent alarm code nearly caused the landing to be aborted.

After Eagle landed, a plug of ice blocked a fuel line, leading flight controllers to consider aborting the moon walk (heat from the module’s engine then melted the ice). As Armstrong descended from Eagle to the moon’s surface, his spacesuit broke an arming switch which he repaired with a ballpoint pen.

If Armstrong or Aldrin had fallen during their moon walk, a tear in their spacesuit would have caused the suit to deflate instantly. The astronaut would then die, on television, in front of the world.

Astronaut Michael Collins, who stayed in the command module while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, privately estimated the trio’s chance of surviving the mission to be fifty-fifty.

But as Flight Director Gene Kranz said later, “What America will dare, America will do.”

A call to courage

Our text today is the eighth beatitude: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). In other words, it takes courage to change the world for Christ.

Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, according to a recent report. While 30 percent of the world’s population identifies as Christian, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination around the world are directed at Christians. One scholar estimates that 90 percent of all people killed on the basis of their religious beliefs are Christians.

According to Jesus, we should not be surprised when we face opposition for our faith. Those who hate our Father will hate his children.

This is just as true in America as it is anywhere else in the world. When atheist Sam Harris claims that “science must destroy religion,” he speaks for many who claim that religion is not just irrelevant but dangerous.

How should we respond when we are attacked for our faith? How can God redeem such attacks by using them to help us change the culture today?

Expect persecution

Jesus’ beatitude can be literally translated, “Blessed are the ones who have been and now are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” He knew his followers would suffer for their commitment to him. And they did.

Before he was crucified upside down, the apostle Peter wrote: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12–13).

Jesus warned his disciples, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:23).

Persecution has remained a fact accompanying the Christian faith across all the centuries from their day to ours.

Seventy million believers have been murdered across Christian history for no reason except that they would not renounce their faith in Jesus. More believers were martyred in the twentieth century than the previous nineteen combined.

Six centuries ago, Thomas a Kempis observed, “The devil sleepeth not, neither is the flesh as yet dead, therefore cease not to prepare thyself for the battle, for on thy right hand and on thy left are enemies who never rest.” He is still right.

Choose to be courageous

So, here’s the relevant question today: why be courageous for Christ? Why do what we know the culture will oppose, whether it’s telling skeptics that we love our Lord or standing for biblical truth in a post-Christian culture?

First, suffering believers experience great joy.

According to Jesus, those who suffer for their faith will be “blessed”—the word refers to joy transcending our circumstances. Jesus told risk-taking Christians to “rejoice.” There is joy in facing persecution for Jesus.

He also told us to “be glad,” words which translate a Greek term which means to leap much with irrepressible joy.

He was right. There is great joy in suffering for Christ. The apostles felt it: “When [the authorities] had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:40–41).

Early martyrs felt it. There is an ancient tradition which states that Nero would walk at night on the Coliseum floor, examining the bodies of slain Christians left there. And wherever a body had a face, the face was smiling.

Justin, one of the earliest martyrs, wrote to his accusers: “You can kill us, but you cannot hurt us.”

Second, suffering believers receive great reward.

Paul was sure of it: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18). Martyr Jim Elliott wrote in his journal: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Revelation promises those who suffer for Christ: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16–17).

Third, suffering believers join a great fraternity.

“In the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The book of Hebrews described those who suffered for serving the one true God:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:35–38).

Every disciple but John was martyred, and John was exiled and imprisoned. Seventy million Christians have died since for following Jesus. When we suffer for Christ, we join a great fraternity in the faith.

Last, suffering believers inherit a great kingdom.

“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The first beatitude made this promise; the last repeats it. When we suffer for Christ, we prove that he is our king. And then we join him in his kingdom.

2 Timothy 2:12 promises: “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” Revelation 20 describes those who stood faithful to Christ in the face of extreme persecution: “They came to life and reigned with Christ” (v. 4).

We will suffer for a short while and then reign with Jesus in his kingdom forever.

Conclusion

Sadhu Sundar Singh was one of India’s most famous Christians. He lived from 1889 to 1929, enduring extreme persecution for his courageous faith.

His own family tried to poison him when he became a Christian. He was stoned and arrested numerous times, roped to a tree as bait for wild animals, and sewn into a wet animal skin and left to be crushed to death as it shrank in the hot sun. He disappeared while on a missionary journey. Indian Christians consider him their Francis of Assisi.

Here’s the statement by Sandu Sundar Singh which drew me to him: “From my many years’ experience I can unhesitatingly say that the cross bears those who bear the cross.”

Will you bear yours?


The Key to True Peace

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:9

A friend sent me these first-grade proverbs. The teacher gave the kids the first half of the sentence, and they supplied the rest:

  • “Don’t bite the hand that . . . looks dirty.”
  • “If you lie down with dogs, you’ll . . . stink in the morning.”
  • “A penny saved is . . . not much.”
  • “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and . . . you have to blow your nose.”
  • “Better to be safe than . . . punch a fifth grader.”

Even first-graders know that peace is valuable. And they’re right. It has been estimated that in the last 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, constituting 8 percent of recorded history.

Clearly, our world needs peace. Between the floods on the Gulf Coast, rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, and challenges with Iran’s nuclear programs, it seems that turmoil makes the news every.

Where do you need more peace in your life? With whom are you at odds today? Where do you need a relationship to be healed? Where do you need peace?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” Jesus promises. The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom”: peace with God, self and others. Today we’ll learn from God’s word where we find such peace for ourselves, and then how we can give it to the person with whom we need it most.

Make peace with God

Where can you find peace for your own heart, soul, and mind?

The Bible says, “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29:11).

Jesus promised us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Later he said, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Peace is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). It is the result of the Spirit’s work, not human ability.

Clearly, we cannot create peace ourselves. We can only receive it from God. How? Here are some answers from God’s word.

First, if you want peace, accept the love of God.

Actress Sophia Loren told USA Today, “I should go to heaven; otherwise it’s not nice. I haven’t done anything wrong. My conscience is very clean. My soul is as white as those orchids over there, and I should go straight, straight to heaven.”

Listen, by contrast, to the word of God.

The prophet said of Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

Paul added, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

When we accept Jesus’ forgiving love by faith, we receive God’s peace: “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1).

We cannot be at peace with a perfect God and live in his perfect heaven, unless we are made perfect ourselves. This is why Jesus died on the cross: to pay the penalty for our sins, to purchase our forgiveness. We can only be at peace with God by accepting his love, by making Jesus our Savior and Lord.

If you’re trying to be good enough for God—religious enough, moral enough, successful or significant enough—know that you’re not succeeding. Imagine what it would take for a human being to impress the God of the universe. But we can accept the atoning love of Jesus and be made right with God. This is the first step to true peace.

Next, if you want peace, obey the word of God.

Musician Paul Simon once told an interviewer, “The only thing that God requires from us is to enjoy life—and love. It doesn’t matter if you accomplish anything. You don’t have to do anything but appreciate that you’re alive. And love, that’s the whole point.”

Note the contrast between his statement and God’s word.

The Psalmist prayed, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165). God said through his prophet, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;” (Isaiah 48:18).

God’s word gives the guideposts we need to live successfully. Herein are the signs which point us to our destination and keep us out of ditches and dead ends. These principles are for our good, and they give us God’s peace.

So, meet God every day in the Scriptures. Measure your every decision by his truth. Obey his word, and you’ll have his peace.

Third, if you want peace, receive the forgiveness of God.

Dwight Moody gave a Bible to a friend, but first wrote these words on its flyleaf: “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

When we obey the word of God, we judge ourselves in its light. We see ourselves as God does. The closer we are to God, the further away we realize we are. Then we seek and receive his forgiveness for our sins, and we have his peace.

God told the prophet, “There is no peace for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22). He added: “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” (Isaiah 57:20). And he warned: “The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.” (Isaiah 59:8).

His word is clear: “Be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). So confess your sins to God if you want to have peace with him. He is waiting to forgive you, cleanse you, and set you free. He loves you that much. But you must ask.

Fourth, if you want peace, trust the will of God.

Advice from the Book of Job: “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you.” (Job 22:21). Paul agreed: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15).

Trust the will of God, and you’ll say with the prophet: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3).

Are you at peace with God this morning? Have you accepted his love? Are you obeying his word? Have you received his forgiveness? Are you trusting his will?

H. G. Wells was right: “If there is no God, nothing matters. If there is a God, nothing else matters.” He promises you his peace and tells you how to receive it. The decision is yours.

Make peace with others

Now, how do we give this peace we receive from God? How do we become “peacemakers” with others? With whom do you most need peace today? Think of that person and take these biblical steps toward the peace you need.

First, initiate pardon.

As we learned from the fifth beatitude, we are to choose not to punish whatever wrong has been done to us. God’s word instructs us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:18-19).

Later the apostle adds, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Initiate pardon. And you will be a peacemaker.

Second, seek reconciliation.

Jesus teaches us, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23–24, emphasis added).

If someone has something against you, whether you believe their anger is justified or not, go to them. Seek reconciliation. And you will be a peacemaker.

Third, choose peace.

Whether the person accepts your pardon or receives your attempts at reconciliation, choose peace. Give them to God and choose his peace.

The Bible says, “God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). It exhorts us: “Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:13). Our Master tells us, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7).

God commands us: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, and that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14–15).

When we have God’s peace in our heart, we can give it to others. And when we give peace to others, we find it in our own heart. As we love God, we love our neighbor. As we love our neighbor, we love God.

And then we “will be called sons of God.” Jesus does not say that we become sons of God—that would be works righteousness. But people will know that we are God’s children as we give his peace to them: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Conclusion

Is your soul at peace with those who matter to you? Would you seek peace with God, and with them? Your life will be forever different if you will.

Consider John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. He rode enough miles on horseback preaching the gospel to circle the globe ten times. He preached more than forty thousand sermons. You can buy more than ninety-five books containing his writings in English. He was clearly one of the greatest Christian leaders in history.

But his story did not begin the way it ended.

As a young man, Wesley went to America as a missionary but was not himself converted. He wrote in his journal, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but oh! who shall convert me?”

Then he encountered Moravian missionaries on board a ship bound for America. He notes in his journal that one day, the group had just begun to sing a psalm of worship when “the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans [Moravians] calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Was you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, No.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.’

“From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbours, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God, and him that feareth him not. At twelve the wind fell. This was the most glorious Day which I have hitherto seen.”

Wesley later testified that the Moravians’ peace contributed directly to his conversion.

Who will see the peace of Christ in you this week?


What Thomas Jefferson Got Wrong: The Best Way to Serve the Nation We Love

Topical Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

Americans celebrated our Independence Day this week by spending more than a billion dollars on fireworks. In addition, more than sixteen thousand fireworks displays were held across the country. Forty-seven million of us traveled at least fifty miles from our home this weekend. July Fourth is one of the biggest days of the year for our nation, and deservedly so.

What a contrast from the way it all began.

My wife, Janet and I toured Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, last year. One day, we made our way to what is called Declaration House. Here we stood behind a plexiglass wall looking into a nondescript room with chairs, a fireplace, and a wooden brown armoire.

Thomas Jefferson stayed at this site for about a hundred days in 1776. It was here that he wrote three drafts of the Virginia Constitution, produced committee reports, authored a position paper, and maintained personal correspondence.

And it was here that he completed the Declaration of Independence.

The house where he stayed for those fateful days was torn down in 1883 but reconstructed by the National Park Service for America’s bicentennial in 1976. As a result, we were looking at a replica of Jefferson’s actual work space. It was deeply moving to stand at the site where a document that changed history was authored.

“When Thomas Jefferson dined alone”

Thomas Jefferson was one of the most brilliant men America has ever known. I have read four biographies about him and remain deeply impressed with his genius.

When I visited Monticello, the home in Virginia he designed, I was struck by the technological sophistication of his architectural brilliance. Jefferson served our country as the author of our Declaration of Independence and Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom. He was secretary of state under President Washington, vice president under John Adams, and president of the United States. He was also the father of the University of Virginia.

He could speak English, French, Italian, and Latin, and could read Greek and Spanish. John F. Kennedy famously told a dinner gathering of Nobel Prize winners that the event represented “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

However, he also enslaved more than six hundred people over the course of his life. Years after his wife’s death, he fathered at least six children by his slave, Sally Hemings. In fact, as he worked to finish his Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, he was accompanied by his enslaved servant, Bob Hemings.

I believe the contradictions embodied by Thomas Jefferson and reflected in our nation across more than two centuries are rooted in a single word enshrined in his Declaration.

“The pursuit of Happiness”

The most famous sentence in the Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These were truly revolutionary words.

In a time when many nations, including Great Britain, believed that a person’s life, liberty, and happiness were subordinated to the will of the monarch and authority of the state, Jefferson claimed that these were “unalienable Rights.” And he stated that these “truths” were “self-evident,” not derived from the government.

But imagine the difference in our nation if he had chosen “holiness” instead of “happiness.”

“Religion and morality are indispensable supports”

In our third century past the adoption of Jefferson’s declaration, our culture has moved dramatically away from the Judeo-Christian worldview upon which our democracy was founded.

In his Farewell Address (September 19, 1796), President Washington told the nation: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.” John Adams claimed that “the general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”

Even Thomas Jefferson, whose faith commitments have been the subject of much controversy, insisted: “Injustice in government undermines the foundations of a society. A nation, therefore, must take measures to encourage its members along the paths of justice and morality.”

Today, however, “the pursuit of happiness” defines for many the right to “life” and “liberty.”

If we must choose between happiness and life with regard to the unborn, many choose happiness and endorse abortion. If we must choose between happiness and liberty with regard to the conflict between sexual freedom and religious freedom, many choose the first and deny the second.

If we must choose between belief in our Creator and our personal happiness, many choose the latter and deny the former. Banners posted recently in Ft. Worth by an atheist group announced, “IN NO GOD WE TRUST.” Unfortunately, they speak for many today.

“The majority who participate”

I love America and thank God for the privilege of living in my country. When posting our flag outside our Dallas home this week in honor of July 4, I was filled with gratitude for the sacrifices made by so many on behalf of our nation. As I watched the Fourth of July parades and festivities, I joined millions of others in celebrating our country.

However, I also believe that the greatest way I can serve our nation is by helping to meet her greatest need. And I am convinced that America’s greatest need is for a spiritual and moral awakening that would lead us to choose holiness over happiness.

I also know that holiness starts with me. And with you. We can claim today our Father’s promise: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

To “humble ourselves” is to admit how desperately we need God’s power, direction, forgiveness, and blessing in our lives and nation. Psalm 33:12 declares: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.”

To “pray” is to intercede for our nation consistently and passionately.

To “seek my face” is to move from praying for others to praying for ourselves. It is to meet God in worship, prayer, confession, and submission to his Spirit.

To “turn from their wicked ways” is to see ourselves in the light of God’s holiness and respond accordingly. It is to refuse all that displeases and dishonors our Lord.

When we do these things, our Father will “hear from heaven,” guaranteed. He will then “forgive their sin,” separating our sin from us as far as the east is from the west, burying it in the depths of the sea, and remembering it no more. And then, finally, he will “heal their land.” What starts with us will touch out nation.

Conclusion

Thomas Jefferson noted: “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

For the good of our souls and our nation, let’s participate in a true awakening of holiness in America, to the glory of God. This is the greatest and most urgent service we can render this nation we love.

In 1921, a soldier who had died in France during World War I was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. A massive marble tomb was placed on the site of the original grave in 1932. An inscription on the walls of the tomb reads, “Here rest in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

On Memorial Day 1958 two other unknown soldiers, one from World War II and one from the Korean War, were also buried in the tomb. On Memorial Day 1984 a soldier from the Vietnam War was interred, though he was later identified through DNA testing and buried by his family.

The poet W. H. Auden, thinking of these unknown soldiers, asked pointedly, “To save your world, you asked this man to die; Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?” Freedom is never free. It cost more than one million American men and women their lives. It cost Jesus his cross.

What price will you pay?