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?


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?