We Hold These Truths…

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–Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (July 4, 1776)

Full text of the Declaration of Independence

We’re getting ready to celebrate our Independence Day in America.  There will be parades, cookouts, parties, fireworks, and a host of other celebrations.  There will be a lot of flag-waving and patriotic displays.  At some gatherings, there may be readings of our Declaration of Independence.  This document was drafted to outline, not just a list of reasons why they should rebel, but what they hoped to build as a result of their struggle for freedom.

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Over 240 years later, this document, and what it stands for, is still relevant and calls us to a high standard– one our nation has not fully achieved.  In spite of the great strides we have made and the example we have been to the rest of the world, in recent decades, we have left behind many of the very truths we aspired to hold.

First, there is a dangerous belief that “truth” is no longer self-evident, nor is it timeless.  We don’t hold beliefs and truths anymore.  We shift with the tide of public opinion and the shadowy promise of “being on the right side of history”– which just means being on the winning side of the current debate within our lifetime and hopefully into the next set of history books.

Second, we have spent countless hours, shedding blood, sweat, and tears over the phrase “ALL MEN”– struggling to reach the promise of equality for all humankind.  We have fallen short of this vision, and twisted it into a grotesque parody of itself.   Instead of working together in unity and inclusiveness, we have devolved into factions each fighting to be “more equal” than others.  Instead of looking at the equal value and humanity of all our people, we point fingers at all the people who are “less worthy”, “more privileged”, “entitled”, “marginalized”, “intolerant”, “judgmental”, who “need to be silenced”, or “need to be kept in their place”…how can neighbors and fellow citizens be so vicious?  One answer may be found in the very next phrase…

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ARE CREATED equal, and are endowed BY THEIR CREATOR…Usually, this phrase is emphasized in the exact opposite places– the emphasis is on EQUAL and ENDOWED.  We have lost the “truth” of being “UNDER GOD”.  We have lost the truth of being created.  We have lost the truth that our worth, our rights, our values, are not a product of our own opinions and observations.

It is easy to point to others and say, “They are ruining our country– They are not living out these truths.”

The harder lesson is to look at my own assumptions, actions, and beliefs.  Do I TRULY believe that all the people around me– of every creed, gender, race, political party, nationality, educational achievement, or economic level are created equal and endowed BY THEIR CREATOR with value, and inalienable rights?  If, at any point, I make assumptions about the worthiness of “those people”, assuming that God loves me more, or will have more mercy or grace toward me because of who I am or how I behave; because of the color of my skin, or where I live, or who I voted for; because of the things I know or the good deeds I have done–I am part of the problem.  Christians, if we bear the name of Christ who created all mankind, and we hate those whom Christ created, the love of Christ IS NOT in us.

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That doesn’t mean that we ignore sin and compromise our character, and pervert justice in the name of a comfortable facsimile of equality.  But it also means that we must stop whitewashing hatred and injustice in the name of morality.  Morality without love cannot heal our nation.  Nor can rewriting our history.  Nor can declaring our Independence.

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The Declaration of Independence is not a stand-alone document.  It had no authority on its own.  If our founders had lost the Revolutionary War; if they had abandoned their vision of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”; if their descendants had failed to bring a divided nation back into unity; if our parents and grandparents had not struggled and fought to make our nation live up to its principles; and if our generations fail to come together and work toward that same vision– Independence will not be something to celebrate, but something to detest.

While it is called the Declaration of Independence, it is a spirit of dependence– on God, on His truth, and on the goodwill of our fellow Americans, that keeps this document alive and full of promise.

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We need to pray for our nation– and for our own revival– if we are to truly celebrate this Fourth of July.

Prayer and Politics

At the risk of alienating several family members and friends, I feel I need to make the following statement:  The United States of America is not, has never been, and will never be a “Christian Nation.”  I am not saying this in disparagement of my homeland– I’m not suggesting it is an irreligious nation.  But I think the term “Christian Nation” gets used presumptiously to suggest that America is uniquely righteous, or immune from criticism or judgment.  America is not a theocracy, and it is not a bastion of Christian virtue.  We are a nation “under God”, but not a nation that recognizes God as its supreme ruler.  Our government, while based on principles handed down through centuries of Judeo-Christian practice, is built around documents written by and for the people of this nation, independent of their adherence to that practice or to those doctrines.  1st Amendment and Religion

Our government does not sponsor Christian churches, nor does it require its citizens to belong to a particular religion or religious group in order to enjoy its rights, freedoms, and protections.  We do not have federal laws that punish those who believe other tenets or practice other faiths that do not fall under the Judeo-Christian umbrella.  Our courts may limit the practice of religion (including Christianity) when it conflicts with a “compelling”  governmental interest, such as public safety.  And our citizens who are practicing Christians are not united in how they apply Christianity to politics, and vice-versa.  Our members of Congress are not elected based on their adherence to a religious practice, and our leaders are not required to be clergy (the very thought is pretty laughable to most of us in today’s political climate!).  America is designed to be a nation that practices one of the most basic tenets of the Bible–that humans have the gift of Free Will, and the right to use it.

Having said all that, I also want to be clear that the Judeo-Christian tradition has played and (for now) continues to play an enormous role in our laws, societal construct, and civilization.  I’m not here to ignore that or dismiss it as unimportant.  My goal is to point out that prayer and politics should not be conflated or equated–prayer is not and never has been the equal of political thought or action–prayer is always superior!

As Christians, not only in America, but anywhere in the world, we are called upon to live worthy of Christ and his Gospel.  That doesn’t mean burying our heads in the sand or staying silent in the face of evil and injustice– we should be engaged in our communities, and in our civic responsibilities.  But it also doesn’t mean that we protest, promote, plot, and proceed politically in our own power or wisdom.  We are commanded to pray for those in leadership and authority– those we voted for and those we didn’t!  We are commanded to submit to those same authority figures, to show them honor and respect, even if we are opposed to their policies and seeking to reverse those policies.  We are commanded to live (as much as it depends on us) in peace with our neighbors, to love our enemies, and bless those who curse us.   Our patriotism and our political expression must be in line with, and submit to, our commitment to follow Christ.  To show contempt or hatred for our nation and its leaders is to show contempt for the God who is sovereign over them.  But that same God will not excuse us for turning a blind eye to sin and corruption, or worse yet, covering it up or calling it righteousness.  Our prayers, both personal and political, need to be based in truth and love.

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Even as we live in tumultuous times, we are commanded to pray.  In relation to our nation and our society, I think there are at least four important things to keep in mind:

  • Our real citizenship is in Heaven.  Praying for our nation, its leaders, its laws, etc., is in line with Scripture; worshiping our nation, its leaders, its laws, etc., is idolatry.
  • Our neighbors, our nation, our world– they won’t change because we enact a new law, win an election, change the economy, or wipe out war.  People, nations, and societies will change because they have had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and they have been transformed by his Grace.  Are they seeing HIM in our actions, our Facebook and Twitter feeds, our interactions on the street; are they hearing HIM in our conversations; are they overwhelmed by HIS grace when they meet us?  Pray that God will help us be faithful in the small things.  Our actions speak louder than our words– and that includes the words of our prayers!
  • God’s ways are not our ways–we need to be careful that we are not praying for (and demanding, and offering on our part) a quick compromise, a superficial spirituality, and a cheap grace that substitutes for a deep and lasting revival.  Don’t ask God to “fix” the world and then wonder why he sends the repairman to your door, or recruits you to scrub toilets!
  • We are in a battle, but it is not with people and it is not going to be won by playing politics–we must learn to identify the real enemy, so we can put on the correct armor and reach for the right weapons.  Our shield is not the flag– it is Faith.  Our sword is not a clever argument– it is the simple truth of the Gospel.  Victory has already been declared.  Remember to rejoice when we pray for our nation and our world– the Lamb has Overcome!

Prayer connects us to the power of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, whose banner over us is Love.

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