“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”

Topical Scripture: Luke 15

It’s a July Fourth weekend without baseball. The National League was formed in 1876, the American League in 1901. In 1981, the players struck from June 11 until August 10. As best I can tell, that’s the only time in 144 years that the game was not played on Independence Day.

But all is not lost. The players began training camps on Friday with hopes of beginning the season later this month. However, if the games are played, they will be in empty stadiums because of the pandemic.

Enter Chip Messenger, a forty-five-year-old financial planner who is about to become the most popular baseball fan in Southern California. He leases a private condominium in a building in San Diego that looks over the left field of Petco Park, home of the Padres. As a result, he is one of the few people in America who will actually be able to see live Major League Baseball this year in person rather than on television.

His story made the Wall Street Journal last week. As he told the reporter, “I’m sure I’ll make some new friends.”

Even with the pandemic, the recession, and nationwide unrest, I am grateful to be an American. Every time I travel overseas, when I return, I’m so glad to be home. And I pray for my country to be a nation God can bless.

The psalmist declared, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). We are hearing this verse often in these days. I saw it on the sign of First Baptist Church in Mineral Wells while driving Friday, for instance. But what does it mean? And what does it mean for us?

How can we be a nation God can bless? How can you? Where do you most need his blessing, help, and hope? How can you receive them by making God your Lord?

A lost sheep, coin, and son

This summer, we’re in a series called “Hope for Hard Times.” Each week, we’re focusing on a lesser-known parable of Jesus, applying its truth to our lives and challenges.

Today we’ll turn to Luke 15. Here we find perhaps Jesus’ best-known story, the Prodigal Son. I know you know it: a father had two sons. The younger demanded his share of the inheritance now, then spent it in a distant country. Finally, he “came to himself,” as Jesus said (v. 17) and returned home to his Father.

It’s one of my favorite stories. Rembrandt captured it well in a massive painting that hangs in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. I’ve seen it twice and have a print of it in my office in Dallas. It’s a powerful story.

But before Jesus told us about a lost son, he told a story about a lost sheep. The text begins: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (v. 4). Shepherds were social rejects in Jesus’ day. Because they lived in the field, they could not keep the kosher dietary laws. They were known to steal from their employers and to lie. They could not enter the temple or a synagogue or testify in a court of law. It is remarkable that Jesus made one of them the hero of his story.

A flock of one hundred sheep would be an average size. Since shepherds often traveled together, this one could leave the flock in the care of a colleague while he went out to find the one lost sheep. This was dangerous business, however. By himself, he could fall victim to wolves or thieves; he could fall into a crevasse or break a limb and die. Nonetheless, he mounts up his courage and goes out to find the sheep that is lost.

Then, “when he finds it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (v. 5). This was the easiest way to carry a sheep, with its weight on his shoulders and its legs in front of him where he can hold them. We see Bedouin doing this in the Holy Land still today.

Jesus continues: “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost'” (v. 6).

Then Jesus told a second parable: “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? (v. 8). Again Jesus makes an unlikely person his hero, this time a “woman.” In a day when women had no social standing or independent means, for her to have “ten silver coins” was probably her dowry, the money that she would bring into her marriage.

These coins are drachma, each worth a day’s wages. Thus, this is only ten days’ salary, not a significant sum but likely all she has. So she lit a “lamp,” a small, oil lamp, and swept the house to seek “diligently” for it. The rough stone floors of the day had many crevasses between them, so much so that archaeologists often look in such places to find coins they use to date discoveries today.

With this result: “And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost'” (v. 9).

Two ways to use our freedom

So we have a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. What makes the first two stories different from the third?

The shepherd loses a sheep and goes to find it. A woman loses a coin and goes to find it. However, a father loses a son and waits for the son to find himself. If he had done what the shepherd and woman did, going after his son and dragging him home, I have no doubt that his son would have left home for the far country the next day. So, the wise father waited for his son to “come to himself” and choose to come home.

In other words, a sheep and a coin do not have freedom, but a son does.

We are celebrating that freedom this weekend. The British writer G. K. Chesterton was right: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” Ours is simple, a statement that was ratified by the thirteen colonies 244 years ago yesterday: “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.”

In a word, freedom.

However, let’s remember our earlier promise: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” How does this promise relate to the freedom we celebrate today?

First, we are blessed when we use our freedom to make God our “Lord.” Peter taught us: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Paul said it like this: “Having been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18).

In short, God wants us to choose to make him Lord of all of our selves, every day we live. Not just our Sunday subject but our Monday King. Not just our Savior but our Master. King of every dimension of our lives, every day that we live.

Second, we are blessed when we serve our Lord by serving others: “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:13–14).

When we love and serve God and love and serve others, we make God our Lord. This does not earn his blessing—it positions us to experience it. The more our lives are submitted to Jesus in service to others, the more he can bless us, empower us, and use us. And our nation with us.

How to be blessed

So, name a part of your life where you need the blessing of God. Your need may be medical, financial, relational, or emotional. It may have to do with your past, present, and future. Name it and submit it to God.

Now make him Lord of your life, King of every dimension of your being. And find a way to serve someone in need. These uses of your freedom will not earn your Father’s favor, but they will position you to experience his best.

Don’t wait to be blessed—find a way to be a blessing. Don’t wait for God to serve you—find a way to serve someone else. And in blessing and serving them, you will be blessed and served. As you work, God works. As you give, God gives. As you love, you experience God’s love.

Imagine a nation of people who made God their Lord by serving him and each other. Imagine a nation where Jesus was King of every dimension of our lives and we loved our neighbor as ourselves. What difference would that make with the crime, immorality, and injustice of our day? With the bitterness and rancor of our culture?

Now let’s choose to be the change we wish to see. Let’s choose to be a people God can bless, then pray to live in a nation God can bless. This is the greatest gift we can give our country on her birthday. And the greatest gift we can give ourselves.

Conclusion

It’s up to us. A spiritual awakening must start with God’s people: “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).

I still remember a story our youth minister told us when I was in high school: an elderly man was famous in his village for his wisdom. Whatever their questions or challenges, he had a word for them. So a group of teenagers decided to test the old man. They caught a bird in a trap. Then they went to the old man’s small house, one of them held the bird in his hands behind his back.

They knocked at his door. When the elderly man opened it, the teenager with the bird behind his back said, “Old man, I have a bird in my hands. Is it alive or dead?” If the man said it was dead, the boy would release it. If he said it was alive, the boy would crush it to death. Either way, the wise man would be wrong.

The man looked at each of the boys in their eyes. Then he turned to the boy with the bird in his hands and said, “Young man, it is as you will.”

Will our nation be “blessed”? It is as you will.


Blessed is the Nation Whose God is the Lord

Topical Scripture: Psalm 33:12

Welcome to the Fourth of July weekend. Last year, over the holiday weekend, Americans spent $6.9 billion on food. We consumed 150 million hot dogs—that’s enough hot dogs to stretch from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. We also ate 700 million pounds of chicken.

In addition, we spent $825 million on fireworks, and we imported $5.4 million of American flags, most of them from China.

As we celebrate the 242nd birthday of this nation we love, I’ve been thinking about a single verse in Scripture. God’s word states: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

The word “blessed” means “to be envied, to be so blessed that others want what you have been given.” “The Lord” is Yahweh, the personal name of God himself. We all have some god, something that is our highest priority, something in which we trust above all else. When a nation puts God first, trusts first in the Lord, surrenders to him as King and Lord, that nation is blessed so that it is the envy of others.

This weekend we will sing and hear “God Bless America,” not just at baseball games but at parades, concerts, and across the land. Can God bless America? I’d like us to remember four stories, then see how they impact our story today.

Four crises

Scene one: The children of Israel are on their exodus from Egypt to their Promised Land when they find themselves against the Red Sea. The Egyptian army—the largest and most powerful the world has ever seen—is marching up behind them. The sea is before them. If they go forward, they will drown. If they turn and fight, they will be slaughtered. If they surrender, they will be enslaved again. What should they do?

Scene two: The children of Israel are standing on the edge of the flooded Jordan River. It is fifteen feet deep and as much as a hundred feet across. If they go forward, they will drown. If they retreat, they will return to the wilderness and face enemies on every side. If they stay where they are, they will use up the meager resources available to them and they will starve to death. What should they do?

Scene three: David has been anointed by the prophet Samuel as Israel’s next king. Now he finds himself facing the giant warrior Goliath. The most specific description of anyone in the Bible is devoted to this man, highlighting the crisis David faces. 1 Samuel 17 says he is “six cubits and a span” in height (v. 4), over nine feet tall. Such height is not impossible even today, as proven by a man named Robert Pershing Wadlow. He stood eight feet eleven inches tall at the time of his death on July 15, 1940 at the age of twenty-two.

Goliath’s armor weighs 125 pounds. His spear’s point weighs over thirty pounds. He marches against the shepherd boy with his shield bearer before him to give added protection. If David runs into battle, he will be killed. If he runs away, he will lose face and never be king. What should he do?

Scene four: It is July 4, 1776. Congress has officially adopted a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. The colonial population is outnumbered three to one by England. Their army never numbered more than 17,000 men, compared with nearly 50,000 battle-hardened British troops. The American navy consists of eight frigates; the British have the greatest naval force the world had ever seen. In other words, the British are the world’s greatest superpower and the Americans seemingly have no chance.

Four responses

What did Moses and the Israelites do at the Red Sea?

Here’s the biblical text:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses (Exodus 14:21–31).

What did the Israelites do at the flooded Jordan River?

As soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan (Joshua 3:15–17).

What did David do when facing Goliath?

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled (1 Samuel 17:45–51).

What did the Americans do when facing the world’s greatest superpower in 1776?

Earlier that year, the Second Continental Congress proclaimed March 16 a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer. This was the purpose of the day: “That we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness.”

This faith commitment stood on the foundation of others.

When Christopher Columbus set foot on land in the New World, these were his first words: “Blessed be the light of day, and the Holy Cross we say; and the Lord of Verity, and the Holy Trinity.”

The first set of written laws for the New World was the Mayflower Compact, ratified in 1620. Some have called it “the first American Constitution.” John Quincy Adams called it the foundation of the U.S. Constitution. It states that the pilgrims undertook their voyage “for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith.” According to William Bradford, their governor, when they came ashore “they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean.”

Next came the “Fundamental Orders” of 1639, the first written Constitution in the New World. Its preamble states the colonists’ purpose: “To maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess.”

Now, as our first Commander in Chief sought to lead his army to victory over the mighty British forces, this is what he told his troops:

“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own. . . . The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. . . . Let us therefore rely on the goodness of the cause and aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions.”

Conclusion

Our four stories illustrate our text: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Let’s be clear: The Lord does not love America more than he loves other peoples. His grace is for us all: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God will bless any nation whose people make him their Lord. In fact, he seeks to offer such blessing today: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 33:18).

But it is also a fact that the first Americans positioned their nation to be blessed. They stepped into covenant relationship with the Lord of the universe. They sought his favor with their faith and their lives. Our first Commander-in-Chief and president did the same.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Can God bless America today? More personally, can he bless you? What challenges are you facing on this Fourth of July weekend? What decisions do you need to make? What problems do you need to resolve? As you stand before your Red Sea, your Jordan River, your Goliath, your superpower, will you trust in him or in yourself?

The American Automobile Association predicts that a record 46.7 million Americans will travel over the holiday weekend. That’s the highest number since AAA started tracking Fourth of July travel eighteen years ago.

Many of them will spend time at a lake or on the beach. There are many to choose from.

There are 307 million lakes in the world. And that doesn’t include the 1,450,000,000,000,000,000 tons of water in the world’s oceans. And that’s just on this tiny planet, one of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in our universe.

And God made all of that. Now, what’s your problem?


How to Face the Future

Topical Scripture: Psalm 22

I recently came across a list of ninety-eight of our most common phobias. I didn’t know about “ephebiphobia,” a “fear of teenagers” (though I understand it, having raised two of them). I’m glad not to have “glossophobia,” a “fear of speaking in public,” or “gynophobia,” a “fear of women.”

It turns out, experts have ranked the top ten phobias of all time. Our number one fear is arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. This despite the fact that only four people each year die from spider bites in the US. (By contrast, six people die each year from their pajamas catching fire.)

What about the future is worrying you today? What problem, decision, or challenge are you facing?

You’re right to be concerned. No financial professional can guarantee that their advice will keep you from losing your savings. No physician can be sure their medical practice will preserve your health. No one can guarantee that you will have even another day beyond today.

So, if you’re looking for faith to face the future, there’s only one source you should trust.

How David predicted Jesus’ death

As you know, Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). His words are a direct quotation from the first verse of our text.

Since books (papyrus scrolls) were rare and very expensive, the culture of his day was oral, meaning that people were able to remember and recite large quantities of literature from memory. When Jesus called out this verse, those at the cross would remember the rest of the psalm, just as if I were to quote in a sermon, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” the congregation could finish the lyric, “that saved a wretch like me.”

As we will see, Psalm 22 is a remarkable foreshadowing of Jesus’ crucifixion, with stunning detail and descriptions rendered a thousand years before Calvary. I believe that Jesus caused the crowd to call this psalm to mind so they would be able to see the degree to which his death fulfilled biblical prophecy.

Here are some of the scenes they would have seen as they remembered David’s prediction from a thousand years earlier.

Mocked by the people

“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'” (Psalm 22:7–8). In Matthew 27 we read of Jesus’ crucifixion: “The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now'” (vv. 41–43).

None of the religious leaders would have intentionally fulfilled Scripture in this way, making David’s prediction even more remarkable.

The manner of his crucifixion

David continued: “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). He could not have been speaking of crucifixion, since this gruesome form of execution was first employed by the Persians five centuries after he wrote this psalm. He probably described “dogs” who attacked his hands and feet with their teeth or spears. But his picture describes Jesus’ crucifixion perfectly.

The next verse: “I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me” (v. 17).

Since Roman crucifixion typically led to asphyxiation as the body’s weight crushed down on the lungs, the victim would use his arms to pull up his body. However, nails driven through the wrists (the more typical form of crucifixion) severed the nerves, making such relief impossible.

The victim would then use his legs to support his body. When the soldiers were ready for the victims to die, they would break their legs with a heavy mallet called the “crucifragium.”

This is the practice behind John’s record:

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs (John 19:31–33).

His clothes divided by soldiers

In another detail that was fulfilled at Calvary, David wrote, “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). The soldiers fulfilled this declaration at the cross: “When they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots” (Matthew 27:35). Again, the soldiers would never have intentionally fulfilled David’s prediction, making it even more astounding.

Nor could Jesus have arranged for these fulfillments. He could not have persuaded the religious authorities to mock him or the Romans to leave his bones intact or divide his garments while he was on the cross. These actions clearly demonstrate the prophetic nature of his death and the fact that God knew a thousand years before Calvary how his Son would die for us.

It is no surprise that David would end his remarkable psalm this way: “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (vv. 30–31).

David was more right than he could know. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11). And the God who is sovereign over the future will be sovereign forever.

Divine sovereignty and human freedom

As we have seen, Psalm 22 precisely predicted and pictured Jesus’ death a thousand years later. It foresaw crucifixion, a manner of execution that had not even been invented. It foresaw actions that Jesus’ enemies would never have taken to fulfill its predictions, behavior he could never have arranged beforehand.

If the Lord knew such details a thousand years ahead of time, can we trust that he knows our future as well? Consider these statements from God himself:

  • “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
  • “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10).

You may be wondering: If God knows the future, do I have freedom to choose? Am I a robot subjected to his sovereignty with no free will of my own?

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that he chooses it. He is not bound by time. “Tomorrow” is as real to him as “today” is to us. The fact that he can see something does not mean that he always chooses it.

You can watch people acting around you today, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their behavior. You can watch people sit down in a restaurant, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their seats.

God sees tomorrow as we see today. That doesn’t mean that he always chooses all that happens. For instance, he is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But clearly, not all “reach repentance” (cf. Revelation 20:15).

God’s will is best for our future

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that we have no freedom. But it does mean that God’s will is the best path to our ultimate destination. He knows where he is leading us and uses every day to prepare us for his purpose. His Spirit is something like a GPS system that leads you turn by turn in ways you may not understand at the time. But it is taking you the best way to your destination. You may not understand his leadership at the time, but you can trust that it is always for your best.

That’s why Scripture encourages us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

God’s will is best for our present

And his omniscience means that his will for the future is best for the present as well. Every step we take toward our ultimate destination is the best step for us today.

Remember the Macedonian vision by which God called Paul westward to Philippi. The apostle had no idea he was bringing the gospel to what we call the “Western world.” He didn’t know that he was evangelizing what we know as “Europe.” He didn’t even know that the church he would start at Philippi would become his favorite congregation and the recipient of the timeless letter we know as the Book of Philippians.

He just knew that God was calling him. Every step he took was the best step for that day and the best step for eternity.

In the same way, God will lead us through Scripture, reason, circumstances, other people, and our own intuition. He will lead if we will follow. In fact, he wants us to know his will even more than we do. If we’re not sure what he wants us to do, we may simply ask him. If we don’t receive an answer, it’s because we’re not willing to obey what we hear.

When I was a youth minister in my first church, one of my jobs was changing the church sign beside the road. I have no idea why this was my responsibility, but it was. The pastor would come up with a short, pithy statement I was to put up in six-inch letters.

I’ll always remember this one: “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved.”

Conclusion

What about tomorrow worries you today? What decision, challenge, or opportunity do you need help in facing? The God who knew every detail of his Son’s death a thousand years before it happens loves you so much that he sent that Son to die for you. Jesus would do it all over again, just for you.

Henry Blackaby: “If you know that God loves you, you should never question a directive from him.”

Do you know that God loves you?


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?