4th of July

Happy 4th of July Citizens of Heaven!

Happy 4th of July Citizens of Heaven!

About five years ago I became a U.S. citizen. I will give you five seconds to look at the picture. Go ahead. I will sing the jeopardy song on my end. Good friends from church came out to support me, I was wearing a stunning red tie, and smiling like a kid in a soccer store. It was an amazing day! As I enter this 4th of July, I find myself thankful, honored, blessed and all those kinds of feelings used to describe the story of a bare-footed little kid who grew up around slums in Northeastern Brazil and now is a father of five living in this great land of the free and home of the brave.

O, say, on this day can you see the millions of happy grills preparing one of America’s greatest inventions: hot dogs. But beyond all the fireworks, parades, and the good and healthy national festivities, we also remember that in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation.

Sovereignty is good. It is right. And I believe there was much wisdom in that threefold pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness. By and large, this country provides the best and most excellent environment for the pursuit of this trinity of virtues. It is also true that we have not followed those principles too well in this nation. We have despised life by disposing of unborn infants, we have forgotten that God set us free from ourselves and the tyranny of sin, and instead of using our liberties to worship the Three-and-One Creator, we have used our liberties to chase after speechless idols. Washington has become a place of secret handshakes, unwarranted transactions, political elitism, sophist rhetoric, and cowardice. We have traded happiness and found contentment in a pot of stew. We gave up the perilous fight to amuse ourselves to death.

On a day like this one, it is important to give thanks for this nation, but keeping things in right perspective is even more critical. We are first and foremost heavenly citizens planted in this bright stars country to proclaim allegiance to one true King. The intrinsic value of this nation does not grant life, liberty, and happiness; it is the inherent perfection of a heavenly country that urges us to such pursuits. And we should pray as visibly as the bombs bursting in the air that this nation would join that divine proclamation. After all, we are Americans. We are not pessimists. We know that even in the darkest moment of this country’s history, God is still on the throne, and He does not hit the pause button to the advances of his kingdom.

Happy 4th of July! Be good citizens of this nation. With every juicy bite of watermelon, with every patriotic song, with every red, white and blue decoration, give thanks to God. But don’t forget your first love. Don’t forget to sing psalms so loudly that the enemies will think there is an army of giants coming at them, to speak the truth so firmly that Washington will be unable to shut her ears. Love so convincingly that godly marriages would be honored. Obey the Lord your God, petition his mercy that God would spare us in doing evil and bless us in doing good. And may good triumph over evil in this land.

Where is the celebration?

Note: This was written in 2007. Minor revisions were made. I still agree with myself after almost a decade. While shocking it remains true.

Unlike many, many churches this Sunday, our congregation did not celebrate 4th of July. There are at least two obvious reasons for this decision:

a) The 4th of July is not a universal ecclesiastical practice.

b) Jesus is Lord of the world.

In the last five years, I have pursued the study of American history, which has led me to the conclusion that there is something unique about the American Constitution, about its founding, and about its early practices in the colonies. The very fact that there is a dispute about the godly heritage of American history proves that some series of incidents occurred in order to provide such disputations. If the evidence was insignificant I seriously doubt the debate would even take place. Nevertheless, in whatever camp one falls, it is incumbent to realize that Sabbath worship is not the place for exalting the glories of a nation, its godly heritage, or its “victories” in foreign lands.

There is a fundamental displacement of ecclesiastic priorities when a congregation replaces the adoration of the Holy Trinity for the adoration of the “holy” state. Laurence Vance is correct when he summarizes the nature of these patriotic services:

Unfortunately, what this means in many cases is state worship instead of God worship. Songs will be sung in praise of the state instead of in praise to God. The flag will be saluted instead of the Bible being exalted.

This observation illustrates well my two points mentioned above. The first one is that the “4th of July patriotic service” is not a universal service; it does not involve the holy and apostolic church. In fact, it diminishes the glory of the church catholic by exalting the glory of the church in America. This is not the nature of Biblical history, which sees the church as a universal manifestation of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus.

The place for celebration and feasting on the benefits of our history is noble and should take place in its proper time and context. We should eat, drink and be merry and keep living. We should be grateful to a nation that has provided us freedoms to oppose its principles and leaders at certain times. However, the celebration of the Lord’s Day looks to something far greater than the Constitution or George Washington. The Lord’s Day is reserved for the liturgy of the church, the proclamation of the counsel of God, and a consummative ritual called the Eucharist, where the people feast on Christ, not on hot dogs and burgers. Keeping this distinction clear will aid the church in proclaiming what the world truly needs to hear.

The only events that are clear from Scriptures and the holy church are those that have been confirmed and applied in time and history and that are grounded in the sacred testimony of Scriptures.1 Hence, the point is that any celebration not rooted in the history of the Church or the Bible is not worthy to be brought to the pulpit or the table of the Sabbath feast.

The Christian, who believes the Lord’s Day ought to be an exposition of the glories of country rather than the glories of Christ, robs himself of true joy. The Bible exalts the Sabbath worship to a heavenly throne, where the angels adore and cry Holy, Holy, Holy. Every Sunday, the church triumphant lauds the eternal city on earth, the city of God and His Christ. No earthly celebration should match or replace the wonder of this heavenly feast.

The second point is rather clear as well: The Lordship of Christ extends to the entire world. Affirming thus does not exclude America, but it serves to show that Christ’s reign is universal. His intention is to bring the world under His dominion and not simply one country. This pervasive idea may be due to the overly localized ecclesiology. Denominations that boast in their independent status as opposed to the inter-connectedness of the church usually fail to see this point. These churches act like the prodigal son who believes if he maintains a level of independence with his father’s funds, then he can make it. At least the prodigal son, in the end, realizes that his funds are limited, his accountability is limited, and his individuality can only go so far. It is this thinking that has kept the church from celebrating the kingdom of God.

American churches need to realize that boasting in anyone, but Christ is foolish indeed. It is the Christian message we raise as our banner; it is the Christian Christ we raise as the God and any other challenge to this model is deemed to failure.

Footnotes

  1. Examples would be Resurrection Sunday, Advent, etc. [ back]
Citizenship and Marriage

Citizenship and Marriage

What does it mean as a Christian to be a citizen of a nation? We can’t separate our Christian faith from our earthly citizenship. We can plant our “God bless America” bumper stickers, we can call out the evils of liberal policies, and we can support politicians that speak our political and ethical language. There is good in all these things.

But don’t forget that God defines faithfulness sometimes in a different way than we would. In this country we speak bravely about the loss of ethics in marriage, but then we spit upon God’s marriage with his Bride, the Church. If you want to support marriage, there is no better way than to begin praising the marriage of Christ to the Church. Begin by loving her above your earthly loyalties (Gal. 6:16).

Worship is an appropriate way to begin stepping back from the mess we have witnessed in this past week. Yes, God is in control, but his control is connected with his loyalty to his bride. He will not leave her nor forsake her and you do so only at your own peril.

Do you wish to be a good citizen of this nation? Begin by loving the new nation of priests called the Church (I Peter 2:9). The more faithful you are to her calling and guidance the more faithful you are to this nation God has planted you. What this nation needs is not some nebulous return for prayer in school; this nation needs an old fashioned return to biblical authority. We may be independent in terms of not submitting to the rule of another nation, but as Christians we should be profoundly dependent on God and his Bride. New days are ahead, yes; hopefully days where God’s people will re-engage in love for the Church and ask God to undo the darkness of this land and fill it with his glory.

Heavenly Fellowship and the Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness

This is a great day for these United States. It is a time of joy and celebration. And we hope to bathe ourselves with one of America’s greatest inventions: hot dogs. But beyond all the fireworks, parades, and the good and healthy national festivities, we will also remember that in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. Sovereignty is good. It is right. And I believe there was much wisdom in that threefold pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness. Undoubtedly we have not followed those principles too well in this nation. We have despised life by disposing of unborn infants, we have forgotten that God has set us free from ourselves and from the tyranny of sin, and we have also forsaken the liberty given to any nation whose God is the Lord. Therefore, we receive the just punishment we deserve, and that means the majority of our politicians and their policies. Washington has become a place of secret handshakes, unwarranted transactions, political elitism, sophist rhetoric, and cowardice. And finally, the happiness that we should certainly pursue is largely devoid of any form of Trinitarian rationale. Happiness–which is the pursuit of righteousness– without Nature’s God is temporary and unsatisfying.

We are first and foremost heavenly citizens. Our fellowship is heavenly. Our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness are not granted by this nation, but by a heavenly nation that this country has largely ignored. But this should not be the case. We are not pessimists. We know that even in the darkest moment of this country’s history, God is still on the throne, and He did not hit the pause button on his kingdom advance.

People of God, be good citizens of this nation. Sing Psalms so loudly that the enemies will think there is an army of giants coming at them. Speak truth so firmly that Washington will be unable to shut her ears. Stand strong that nothing will deter you from marching on. Love so convincingly that godly marriage would be honored. Obey the Lord your God, petition his mercy that God would spare us as He did Nineveh.

True patriotism rejoices when our country does right, and weeps when she chases after false gods.

Let us come together this coming Lord’s Day through the holy act of worship, and purify the Bride of Christ with confession and rejoicing, for in this manner this nation will find life, liberty, and true happiness.

4th of July Prayer

I waited patiently for the Lord;

he inclined to me and heard my cry.

Our Gracious, Merciful and Glorious God: Father, Son and Spirit: The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness of it. All Glory belongs to You in heaven and on earth. We praise you for your wondrous deeds and for the salvation You have granted unto us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We delight in the goodness of Your provision. You give water to the thirsty and food to the hungry, and even prepare a table for us in the presence of our enemies. We express our absolute dependence on your good gifts. Apart from You we would be lost and purposeless beings, but with You there is fullness of joy. Your Kingdom, O Lord, is an everlasting kingdom. It is a kingdom of glory and victory. May we have faith to see Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

God of Creation, we delight in this period of history. We celebrate the good gifts that You have given unto this nation. May we acknowledge your mercies to these United States. We thank you for the beginning of this nation, its Christian legacy that has long been forgotten in our day. Yet, we praise you for preserving our liberties to adore you Father, Son and Spirit. And we pray that you would bring liberty to other nations around the world. May we remember that we are not at liberty to forsake Your word, but we are liberty to live by Your Word.

O Lord, despite the atrocities committed by this nation, in particular towards the unborn, we pray that You would heal this land and forgive us our sins. Cleanse and crush the gods of our imagination. Forgive us for our empty rhetoric. Forgive us for equating love for God for love of a party. Forgive us for equating this country’s agenda with the kingdom’s agenda. Lord, we know that we are far from pursuing the kingdom’s agenda in this nation.

Yet, we pray that you restore this land. Turn President Obama’s heart unto You for you tell us that You can turn the hearts of rulers.

Rule in the hearts of our leaders. May they rest in You even when it is not popular or convenient. May they lose their jobs for Your sake if necessary, so You may be exalted above their careers and reputation.

Take us from a nation of idolaters to a nation of worshipers.

Do not forsake us, O Lord, but be with us. Though we have a glorious past, we do not want to look to the past, but we want to look to the future. We cannot re-live the past, but we can seek your guidance for the future.

We ask that Your justice would prevail. Do not forsake us, O Lord, for we Your people cry for the manifestation of Your Mighty Hand in our midst. Restore us that we may be saved, and unite us ever more to the King of the world, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray in this manner:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,

The power, and the glory,

For ever and ever.

Amen.