On July 4th, the United States of America will be 244 years old. Over those nearly two and a half centuries, this country has been through quite a lot, yet, in the general lifetime of the other countries like her, she is still fairly young and new to the world’s stage. If one wanted, it would be easy to track her development just like a child through to adolescence.
The United States was conceived from an idea: freedom. The people who would form that idea left the home they had always known and struck out to make a new beginning. When they found themselves on the shores of North America, that beginning was found to be more difficult than they had imagined as they had to live under the tyrannical rule of King George. They found their newfound freedom to be stifled by their lack of representation in the government that ruled them from across the ocean and were beaten down by unfair laws meant to take advantage of them rather than to help or build up. The same longing that brought them to this continent left them dissatisfied with their leadership and gave them a desire to strike out on their own – to overthrow the bonds of the government that ruled over them and seek to be independent, to be free.
When the idea of freedom was to give birth, the United States had quite the difficult delivery. In order to gain their freedom – liberty from the tyrant – there had to be revolution. And revolution would mean war and the battlefield would be their home. Yet they knew that liberty was an ideal worth having, and, since it was worth having, it was worth fighting for – even dying for if it meant that future generations could have what they hoped for. From 1773-1783 (and again in 1812), fighting is just what they did. And, thusly, the United States was born.
America’s journey to adolescence has not been easy, and some may argue that she has not quite grown up yet. Her people have squabbled among themselves for the majority of this country’s lifetime. The Civil War was won, lost, and has wounds that are still not healed. Reconstruction following the war never fully took place, and the scars are evident every day. Yet there is still something special and unique about this country.
The idea of freedom is still attractive. It is still more rare in the world than many would believe. People try time and time again to gain citizenship here. People cram into tight spaces in the holds of ships, they scramble across her borders under the cover of darkness, and they float in from closer countries on ramshackle, homemade rafts – all to have what is promised here through the ideals that are still sought after today. The inscription on the Statue of Liberty says it all:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Thousands and thousands of immigrants have come through that particular harbor at Ellis Island, giving credence to those words and opportunity for a better future in this young nation.
This country has been heralded as a land of opportunity. It has allowed and seen many people realize their dreams and aspirations and given them the freedom to pursue them. In fact, the very pursuit of such aspirations has become known as the American dream.
One cannot help but realize that the freedom, acceptance, and hospitality realized in the American dream comes from the founding fathers who are still towering figures and examples of fulfilled opportunity and pursued destiny. In fact, the founding fathers injected this country with their beliefs and aspirations. Many tout that because of this the United States is a Christian nation. While this has not been the case, the Christian doctrine that many of the founding fathers believed is evident in the aspirations that this country set out to provide for her citizens – again and namely freedom.
This idea of freedom is one of the reasons that I am quite proud to be an American. I could have been born anywhere in the world, yet God allowed me to be born here. For that I am thankful. There is no place I would rather live. And, yet, I have aspirations and hopes for this country as she continues to grow and change. Those aspirations and hopes are based upon the same beliefs and doctrines that those founding fathers imbued into the foundations of our country. So, as Independence Day draws near, I have had two images weighing on my mind that have affected the way I view this country and how I fit in as one of her citizens. The first is a story relayed to me over a decade ago by a missionary to Jordan. The second is a monument.
A Tale of a Patriot Missionary
A Jordanian native heard the gospel preached and gave his life to Jesus Christ. Once he had done this, his entire life changed. He was born again sought to tell others about his new life in Christ. So, he began to share with his neighbors about what had happened in his life. Only 6% of Jordan’s population is Christian, compared to 92% Sunni Muslim[i]. While he was passionate about his message, he was cautious. He was cautious because he remembered what it was like to have not heard the gospel. He was also cautious because the gospel stands at odds with the status quo and encountering Jesus through the gospel changes lives. We will call him Sam for the sake of the story.
One of his neighbors was angry at his message. Rather than lash out right then and there, this neighbor went to the authorities. Rooting out this perceived missionary cell was high on the priorities of the local authorities, but they wanted to proceed carefully. They decided to partner with the neighbor and set up a sting operation. All the neighbor had to do was allow Sam to be caught sharing explicitly Christian doctrine and they would be able to swoop in to arrest him.
When it came time for the sting operation, they met in the neighbor’s garage under the cover of night. The neighbor drew Sam in with a few questions to get the conversation started. Once Sam began to lay out how Jesus saves, the neighbor was overwhelmed by anger. He lost all logic and was so irate that he grabbed a nearby screwdriver and stabbed Sam several times.
The police had to abort the sting and rush in to rescue Sam from the neighbor. Rather than arresting Sam, they had to send for emergency services and arrest the neighbor instead. They could have just counted the entire operation as a loss , but they decided to double down and interrogate Sam themselves. Even though he was wounded, they figured that they could still bait him into incriminating himself with the gospel. Yet, rather than directly asking what they wanted to know, they asked him, “Sam, why do you hate Jordan?”
Sam’s response is why this story has been on my mind this week. Rather than defend himself or try to come up with an excuse to get out from under the authorities, he simply responded: “Why do I hate Jordan? Everything I do is because I love Jordan. I want my people to experience what I have.”
This makes me think of my own relationship to this country. I can spout out plenty of history on the United States – good and bad. I can cite various quotes from the founding fathers to civil rights advocates that show how there is hope for the United States. I am passionate about any number of political issues that I genuinely believe to be important for the trajectory of this country. Yet I lack the patriotism – the ardent love of one’s country – that Sam had. Sam, like our founding fathers, was willing to impact his country with his beliefs. Because Sam loved Jordan, he tried to introduce as many Jordanians as he could to Jesus through the gospel. He did this because he knew that their encountering Jesus would be vastly more effective than any political rhetoric or argument.
A Picture of a Roadside Monument
If I had not been thinking about Sam’s story, I likely would not have given much thought to the second image that has been weighing on my mind. My family and I recently went on a trip that took us east across highway 82. It had been quite some time since I had been through there, and I had not realized that a cross had been built outside of Eupora, MS. As we drove past, I happened to notice it – likely because of the recent construction of a cross in my home town. It took me several days to finally be able to articulate what popped into my heart and mind when I saw that monument. When it finally began to come together in my mind, I contacted a friend of mine, Jenni Kilburn-Oswalt, who is the talented photographer who provided us with the picture here to help make my point.
What finally and profoundly struck me was how much bigger the cross is than the flag. Now, I realize that this is not necessarily a conscious effort of symbolism. But the idea that struck me here is the view of one’s country that must be had to see change take place. It is the same view that Sam had of his own country. His love of his country was such that led him to believe that the only good and lasting change that could take place would be for people to come to know Christ. Rather than try to be a political change agent, Sam introduced people to Christ. His view of the cross was simply bigger.
While he loved his country, he was unable to continue with the same old status quo. You see, the moment that one comes to faith in Christ, he or she ends up with dual citizenship between heaven and their native country. Paul explains it better in Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” That heavenly citizenship affects our earthly citizenship.
As stated earlier, I have much love and respect for my earthly country. I also understand the issues that this country faces. But I am one man, and I do not have a platform that would allow for national change. Were I to have such a platform, I lack the appropriate capabilities to affect the changes needed. But I can do what Sam did: I can share Christ where I am planted. And this is what I know I should be doing because I love my country. Christ, through the preaching of His gospel, is the only means that will affect change.
The image of the cross and the flag stirred this up in me. If I get sidetracked by pursuing many earthly solutions that are outside my control, I will accomplish little to nothing. I am not saying that one person cannot affect change. I am saying that I realize how this one person is intended to do so. My voice will be much more valuable to the United States if it is spent sharing Christ and proclaiming His Kingdom. My role as one of God’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) will further his kingdom more than trying to form my country into the way that I feel it should look, act, and progress. In doing so, my view of Jesus has to be bigger than my view of the government and this country.
Trust, Freedom, and Wrapping This Up
There is hope for the United States. For all of the ills that have befallen her, much change and progress has been made and, Lord willing, more will continue. The founding fathers were not the only movers and shakers in our history. In fact, the 244 years of America have seen people rise up time and time again to show that there is something to these ideals of liberty and freedom. Yet we live in a time period where people believe that typing into a box on social media and sharing the latest fear-inducing meme, video, or article will wake America up and affect change. We see people on both sides of the partisan aisle cry out that their guy (or gal) is the hope for America and that the other guy (or gal) is the emissary of destruction. I think we can look to Psalm 20:7 for guidance here:
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”
To paraphrase: some trust in elephants and some in donkeys, but we trust in Jesus.
Thankfully, we have freedom here. We have freedom to disagree. We have freedom to group up. We have freedom to voice our opinions. And we have freedom to worship whichever god we choose. It is in this freedom where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Are we going to trust in God and be his ambassador, or are we going to trust in the government? Are we going to hold on to a heritage of the United States of yesteryear, or are we going to show patriotism like Sam and share the gospel with our neighbors because we love them and our country?
Think back to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. As powerful an image as it is, it is just a plaque on a statue. Jesus had a call that is similar and vastly more effective. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
One can come to America and, maybe, find all that the inscription promises. But if one comes to faith in Christ, one finds Life. And what is liberty and freedom without life? So, we need to be about pointing to Christ and watching him change lives. It’s time to be his ambassadors in this land that we love.
Ultimately, time will tell. But, if you will indulge me, I have a suggestion on how to proceed from here. Whatever concerns you have about this country, take it to God in prayer. Whatever aspects of this country that you believe are great, praise the Lord for them. But if you claim to love this country and love Christ, the greatest and most affective actions that can be taken will be to invest the gospel into your neighborhood, community, town, county, state, and country.