Every year during the week leading up to the Fourth of July, I like to reflect back on the year and try and assess if we have made any progress from the original ideal our Founders set forth. Someone may be wondering, “What was the ideal that our Founders set forth?” That is a wonderful question that must be answered for us to have any hope of making a correct assessment as to our progress or failure to uphold their lofty ideals.
I hope you will listen closely for the next few minutes as I try and give us some important insights into the history of our nation. In 1620, long before our nation’s first birthday, the battered ship of the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims had at last found a land where they could worship God as they believed they should. The Puritans followed in search of a land where they could reform themselves and live a godly life free from the tyranny of the Church of England. They were seeking to escape the corruption and hypocrisy they saw in their own church-state homeland. Daniel Webster wrote of our forefathers, “Lastly, our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be trusted on any other foundation than religious principle, nor any government be secure which is not supported by moral habits.”
On July 4, 1776, a historic document was signed in the city of Philadelphia by our Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence. This document marked the beginning of our great nation which, under God, was destined for world leadership. We often forget that, in declaring independence from an earthly power, our forefathers made a forthright declaration of dependence upon Almighty God. The closing words of this important document solemnly declare: “With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
In the summer of 1787, representatives met in Philadelphia to write the Constitution of the United States. They worked and worked for several weeks with no progress; then eighty-one year old Benjamin Franklin rose and spoke to a troubled group of men who were about to dismiss. Franklin said, In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a super-intending Providence in our favor…Have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this…I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning. (The Rebirth of America, p.31)
Those who labored tirelessly to build this great nation knew that the success or failure of their efforts would be directly related to their dependence or denial upon Almighty God. More than 200 years later what signposts can we follow to lead us to an accurate assessment of which of these two roads we are following: denial or dependence.
Let me give you a couple of examples that I have found this past week to illustrate how we have left the heart of the Father and the ideals of our forefathers. Last September, Jennifer White’s school principal demanded a list of her club’s members. He insisted that a parent be present at all club meetings. He forced all attendees to submit signed parental permission slips. What subversive action so concerned their principal? What devious schemes were these high school students plotting? Jennifer White and twenty other Cross Fire Bible Club members had been gathering around their school flag pole to pray.
Prayer is as necessary for the Christian “diet” as food is for life. God commands His children to pray without ceasing and seek Him in times of need. So when a teacher in an Illinois public school needed God’s guidance, she paused to pray.
It had been a long and tiring night of parent-teacher conferences. During a break, a teacher named Sandra and six other teachers decided that they needed to lift the rest of the evening up to God in prayer. So they retreated to a quiet upstairs room, away from the meetings, for a time of prayer.
The next morning, Sarah was reprimanded and given a disciplinary letter in her file — because she prayed! And she was told to remove all the religious items from her classroom and never to pray or talk about her religion again. If she didn’t obey, she would be considered insubordinate.
Jo Ann was scheduled to perform home visits with a supervisor from a home health care agency that specializes in AIDS care. Her first visit was to the home of two men in Connecticut. One man was an end-stages AIDS patient. The other was his companion who took care of him. During her visit, Jo Ann asked the men, whom she thought to be a father and son, about the nursing care they were receiving and the services provided by the health care agency. It was during their discussion that she became aware the two men were homosexual partners. As the conversation progressed, both men shared how disappointed they were by the lack of emotional support they received from their friends and relatives. They told her how isolated and alone they felt. The male companion of the AIDS patient told her that he was afraid of being “put on the streets” when his partner died.
Feeling a strong sense of compassion for both of these men, Jo Ann sensed a “leading from the Holy Spirit” to share salvation with the AIDS patient. She inquired about their religious faith and their understanding of salvation. Both men told her they had done many good deeds and that they thought there were guardian angels watching over them.
Jo Ann gently told them her conviction that good deeds were not enough. One of the men told her how difficult his mother’s death was for him, and that he thought God had sent her back to him as a dog to fill the void. Jo Ann shared with them her belief that the person who confesses with his mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes in his heart that God has raised him from the dead will be saved. She also told them that although God created us and loves everyone, he does not condone the homosexual lifestyle the two men were engaged in. Both men thanked Jo Ann for her visit.
At no time did Jo Ann Knight act in an aggressive, harassing, threatening or intimidating manner. She never attempted to impose her personal beliefs on either of the men. Out of compassion, and a desire to show love and encouragement, she simply shared the love of God with them and challenged them to consider God’s plan of salvation.For her compassion, Jo Ann received two weeks suspension without pay from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, “for the good of the service and specifically, for misconduct in your dealings with a homosexual couple during a home visit.” She was told her actions amounted to offensive or abusive conduct toward the public and that she had violated nursing ethics!The department also restricted her job duties after the suspension and barred her from future home visits. All of this because she shared the love of God with a dying man! Apparently, the state of Connecticut believes that sharing God’s love now constitutes abusive conduct toward the public.
Frank Rotolo was the chorus director at Highland High School in the Alberquerque, New Mexico, public school system where his responsibilities included planning the annual Christmas concert. This year, his program included 21 songs, of which 11 had religious content and 10 were secular. On the day before the concert, in a meeting with the High School Principal, Mr. Rotolo was told that his choir program was “insensitive” to other religions represented in the school. She wanted every song with a religious message removed, so that the program would now contain only 10 songs- none of which had religious content. She informed him of a 1995 school board policy requiring religious neutrality in the classroom. It is important to remember that the program had in previous years been called “A Christmas Concert” and contained numerous carols. Apparently, according to the principal’s interpretation of the school board policy, religious neutrality now meant censoring all religious content from the choral program.As a result of the meeting with his principal, Mr. Rotolo changed the name of the concert from “A Christmas Concert” to “A Winter Concert.” Instead of removing all songs with religious content, however, he removed three of the eleven songs including, “O Holy Night,” “Hush, Hear the Angels Sing” and “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Mr. Rotolo and the students performed the concert on Tuesday, December 16, 1997. Following the concert, on Friday, December 19, Mr. Rotolo was notified that he was suspended indefinitely and was told to turn in his keys to the school, which he did.
These are not positive signs of life, but they are the signs of the death of the ideals that have brought us this far as a country. Some in our society today believe that America has gone too far, that there is no hope for us, that God’s judgment is at hand. I have to confess to you that I don’t do so well with such abstract things as national policy and generic prescriptions. God has placed a burning desire in my heart for the one, for you and your opportunity to see things turned around this very morning. I don’t know about the future of America, but I know that your future and my future can change this very morning. God spoke to the people in Isaiah’s day and said, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” (Isa 44:22 NIV)
There are people speaking on television every day, articles being written in the newspaper every morning, and talk show hosts speaking every night about what is wrong with America. They have their points that illustrate our problems, but such overwhelming problems are hard for my small mind to grasp. They spend most of their time talking about the national decline, but they offer little assistance for the everyday man or woman who whose life has spun out of control and are unable to find any meaning or reason to live.
Do we as a nation have problems? You bet we do. I’ve shared some of those problems with you just a few minutes ago. My troubles arise when I listen to the gurus and then read the Word of God. In God’s Word we can read of Israel’s problems, but God always focuses on the hearts of individuals. It is not the 250 million people that are America’s problem, it is the heart of the one lost soul is walking in darkness and unable to find their way to the abundant life that Jesus spoke about.
You see, according to God’s economy, the reason we have a wayward America is because we have wayward men and women, boys and girls. When you’ve got a messed up man and you put him in a family – then you’ve got a messed up family. When you’ve got a messed up man, who begins a messed up family, and they move into a neighborhood -then you’ve got a messed up neighborhood. When you’ve got a messed up a man, who gets married and creates a messed up family that moves into a messed up neighborhood and they join a church – then you’ve got a messed up church. When you’ve got a messed up man, that creates a messed up family, that lives in a messed up neighborhood, and joins a messed up church, that is in a city – then you’ve got a messed up city. When you’ve got a messed up man, who is in a messed up family, that lives in a messed up neighborhood, that attends a messed up church, that is in a messed up city, that is in a state – then you’ve got a messed up state. When you’ve got a messed up man, who is in a messed up family with a messed up wife, messed up children, and a messed up dog, that live in a messed up neighborhood, attend a messed up church, that is in a messed up city, that rests in a messed up state, that is part of a nation – then you’ve got a messed up nation. Our problem today on this the 4th of July is not our messed up nation! I will assure you that the greatest minds of our time can never and will never fix the insurmountable problems that we hear chronicled before us every night on the news. The greatest minds can’t fix us, but I can tell you today that our greatest, most pressing problems, can fixed in a day if each of us messed up men, women, boys, and girls will bend our knee before the King of glory and offer Him our messed up lives.
Jesus is the Master of taking messed up lives and recreating them in to a masterpiece for His glory. God says, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” (Isa 44:22 NIV) If you find your life has gotten out of control and that you can’t seem to find meaning or purpose in life no matter how hard you search, then I want to invite you on this Independence Day to declare your dependence on the Risen Savior – the Master of the messes of life. Won’t you invite Him in.