July 4 Message
Happy 4th of July Weekend! 228 years ago, our founders declared independence which then took seven long years to fully gain. This weekend, many of us will celebrate with friends, family, fireworks, and barbecues. I have memories growing up of sparklers and homemade ice cream. I hope this weekend will be a great one for you.
Many Americans will travel this weekend, since the 4th is always the highest travel period of the summer. This year could set new records as around 40 million Americans hit the road. If you are feeling left out, it’s not too late. You could leave after church, and in just ___ hours of driving find yourself somewhere really exciting, like Algona, Iowa—the home of the world’s largest Chee-to. Have you heard about this Chee-to? Here’s a picture of it—it’s the size of a lemon.
There aren’t cheetos that big in Dallas! This is big stuff, and now the biggest tourist attraction in Algona, Iowa. "This giant Chee-to could be a boon to our local economy," said Tom Straub, owner of the bar where the cheeto is on display. "Anything we can do to attract visitors to our town would be good." So, go support a small town and see the Giant cheeto.
But July 4 for our nation is obviously more than trips and fireworks and giant cheetos. July 4 marks a turning point in this continent’s history and was the stake in the ground that eventuated this nation. And since July 4 happens to fall on a Sunday, we are taking this weekend to devote to life as a Christian in America or in any human government. Today we are talking about God and government, and what God asks us to do in relation to government. We have just begun a Daniel series, and from that book alone we get so much information about how we who follow God are to interact with our wider culture—including our government.
God created several institutions: marriage, family, church, and government. We aren’t so much talking about politics today as about government itself. Talking about politics is like talking about money or football teams or any other controversial topic—but this message is not about politics. It is about how we as Christians are to view and relate to government, in our case of course the United States. And if you don’t like America, all you have to do is travel somewhere else for a few months and you’ll probably change your mind. America is a very imperfect place and increasingly a troubled place, but I wouldn’t trade it. And it is where God has placed us. So what does it mean to be Christians in America? How does God want us to view and relate to government? This would have been a very similar question that Daniel would have wrestled with when he got to Babylon? How was he supposed to relate to Babylon. The answers are the same, and from his story and from the New Testament we learn a lot how to do so.
1) Be assured that God establishes human governments
Daniel and the nation of Judah who had been conquered by Babylon would have needed that reassurance. Like I mentioned last week, Jerusalem, God’s city where God’s temple was, fell into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar—and that would have thrown everyone for a loop. How could God’s city and God’s temple be destroyed and defiled? It would have caused quite a crisis. Part of the reason the book of Daniel was written was to reassure God’s people in the Old Testament that God indeed is in control of the affairs of this world.
We see that in the next chapter. Turn with me in your Bibles to Daniel chapter two. We’ll look at this story in much more detail next week, but this week I want us to focus on this dream that the King, Nebuchadnezzar has. He has this dream, and Daniel interprets the meaning for him. Let’s read in 2:31-35. And here’s what that statue may have looked like: Show picture.
Then Daniel interprets the dream, and notice God’s sovereignty throughout these verses: 2:36-45.
The point? For the readers of Daniel, this would have been hugely reassuring—that God is in control of the affairs of men, and he raises up governments and tears them down. And for us, it should even be more reassuring because this was prophetic—written centuries before much of this took place. Here’s how that falls out: Picture.
We don’t have a lot of time to dwell on this, just to say that we can be assured even more so than the readers of Daniel that God is in control, and ultimately he is the one who sets up rulers and governments and who tears them down. Eventually, Jesus himself will come back and rule from this earth with his kingdom—and that will be the first perfect kingdom that ever existed. Until then will be a succession of very imperfect governments, some who honor God and most who do not, but all nevertheless under his ultimate control.
The New Testament amplifies this reality, as in Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (Romans 13:1). You may or may not like the government, but God is the one who established it.
And that should be hugely reassuring to us. We do need to be engaged as good citizens and concerned about the issues of our day. Yet, we also need to realize God’s ultimate sovereignty. As Christians, we have every reason to be optimists, because all that happens does so by God’s will. As Christians, we need to be praying like crazy if we love this nation, because God is ultimately overseeing what happens here.
Sometimes I hear Christians talk about current events full of doom and gloom—like everything is going wrong and the country is fall apart and it is almost like God is in trouble. He’s losing his air and biting his fingernails and obviously losing. That’s just not true. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand the sentiments, and there is truth there. When a nation goes against biblical principles they do so to their own demise, and if you love this country it will be upsetting to see that happen. However, there is this other side to it to—ultimately God is in control and it is his glory that is more important than any other concern. We should therefore be engaged with great confidence and faith.
I was impressed a couple of months ago when I spent a couple of days in Washington, D.C. Senator Brownback addressed this group I was with, who is a Christian and a senator—and yes, I guess that’s possible. And there are of course Christian senators and congressmen and women in both parties. What I was most impressed with was his tone. He has convictions that he stands for, but he was very balanced. It wasn’t the end of the world if his views weren’t the ones voted for—he was doing his job and God wasn’t going to be in trouble if things didn’t go his way.
Whatever issues you are concerned about or whatever politics you hold, it should be reassuring to know that ultimately God really is in control. That shouldn’t make us passive, but it should be reassuring. I think Christians have every reason to be the most optimistic people in the world.
2) Serve as a good ambassador to this world
Remember those old songs that said things like, “This aint my home, I’m just passin through.” They are right. This is not our home. The Bible is very clear that our primary citizenship is in heaven, and our primary loyalty the kingdom of God. We represent Jesus here on this planet.
2 Corinthians 5:20 says that we are Christ’s ambassadors to this planet. We have a job much bigger than just being an ordinary citizen. We are resident aliens, here to represent Christ and serve his mission. In the Old Testament, we see Daniel doing a wonderful job of that in Babylon—which we will see in the weeks ahead. But for today turn with me to 1 Peter 2:9-12, which is talking about us as Christians and together as a church in this world in which we live: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but how you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they may accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
You and I have to remember that heaven is our home and it is God that we represent. And as the world around us gets darker, it gives even more opportunity for us to be light. But it means that we must live differently in order to make a difference. As we’ve said over the last few weeks, Jesus calls us to be people of irresistible influence—as we just read—to live such lives that “they may see your good deeds and glorify God.”
How do you think we are doing as Christians in culture? I read a survey not too long ago of Americans who are non-churched, how they viewed different groups of people in our culture—including Christians. Here it is:
Evangelicals are people who believe that relationship with God comes through Christ alone, which is us. We didn’t really come out so well. We are worse off than lesbians, lawyers, republicans, democrats, real estate agents, really all the categories. It almost makes me thankful for prostitutes, because at least we came out better than them. I’m glad too that ministers fair better, and the category born again Christian didn’t come off too terribly bad. But this does show me that we could be doing better, and the good news I think that is going to happen. As conservative churches realize their mission once again and begin to engage their communities with the love of Christ—which I see happening all over the country—that’s going to make a huge difference. For a variety of reasons, conservative Christians over the last decades dropped social involvement and compassion but now that is changing. At Fellowship, as we build bridges of compassion, we want to be people of irresistible influence—causing people to praise God because we are here.
3) Be good citizens
You might think since we are really citizens of heaven, that we don’t have to worry so much about being good citizens here—but the opposite is true. Let’s look at 1 Peter 2 once again, at the next verse, 2:13: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right…show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”
What does it mean to be good citizens? Let’s break that out a little bit:
a) Submit to our leaders with respect
Multiple places in the New Testament, such as the verse we just read, we are told to submit to our governmental leaders and to honor them. That’s not a suggestion. It’s a command. The key phrase in 1 Peter 2 is "for the Lord's sake." If you miss that, you miss the most important thing. There is a kind of allegiance to human institutions that is not for the Lord's sake, and that is not what Peter is interested in. It may resemble Christian submission on the outside, but it is radically different.
Christians do not submit to human institutions simply because they feel like it, or because they have compliant personalities or because the institutions have coercive powers. We do not look first at ourselves to see what we feel like doing, nor do we look first at the institution (like government) to see if it there are consequences for not submitting. We look first to God. We submit for his sake.
That would have been tough for Daniel in Babylon, because the government was so ungodly. It would have been tough in the New Testament era, under leaders like Nero who was insane and horrific. Yet, Christians are to be known as people who respect and honor government leaders.
And submission and respect is just not easy. We are naturally people who like to do our own thing and who really don’t like authority—unless we are the ones in authority. It’s like the hotel in Florida with balconies over the ocean. One of the managers got concerned that someone might try to fish from the balconies and injure people below, so they put these signs on all the sliding glass doors that said, “No fishing from the balcony.” Guess what happened? All these people started fishing from the balcony. They hadn’t though of it before. The hotel took the signs away, and the problem stopped. We are rebles by nature. Adam and Eve started us off that way, as they ate the forbidden fruit and it has been our nature every since.
God calls us to humble ourselves first before God, and in so doing any institution or individual like a boss for example that God tells us to. But that’s not natural.
In New Zealand, they have a name for what we naturally do with leaders. They call it the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Picture a bunch of poppies in a field, and then one that grows bigger than the others—it’s fun to run over and knock it down. So, in that culture even more than in ours is a tendency to knock down anyone who sticks their head up out of the crowd, who steps into leadership.
That is increasingly true in America. I don’t know why anyone would want to be a governmental leader any more—unless they really felt called by God to do so. You’d have to love torture to get into politics. The minute someone sticks up their head, they get attacked. And it is easy to join in those.
A few years ago, I heard a lot of Christians join in those attacks and sometimes I did to. Bill Clinton was fodder for all kinds of slick willy jokes, but I’m not sure God was laughing. More recently our president has been fodder for Dubya jokes, and I think God likes a good joke as much as anyone—but not one that displays dishonor. Regardless of who gets elected, our job is clear—to show honor and respect and to be known as people who submit to authorities as part of our submission to God.
- Pray for our leaders and for peace
First Timothy 2:1 says, I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority. The assumption is that no king, president, government or other person in political authority is smart enough or strong enough to do all that God wants government to do. They all need divine help. And they may not know their own need for this, so it is our responsibility to pray for them.
Certainly at times in our history and today leaders know the need for prayer. In 1863 for example our country was in the middle of the Civil War, and Senate called on President Abraham Lincoln to set aside a "national day of fasting, humiliation and prayer." The President concurred and designated April 30, 1863. In his presidential proclamation, Lincoln wrote: It is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
In 1863 in the middle of the Civil War the need for prayer was very obvious, but the need is just as significant today. Not only do we need to pray for our leaders, but we need to pray for peace as well. The next phrase in 1 Timothy 2:2 says that we are to pray for leaders so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. And then listen to the context to know the concern: This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. What his primary concern is that the gospel message can be proclaimed without hindrance…that Christians would be free to minister and share Christ with others without persecution—religious freedom. We can easily take that for granted, but we can’t afford to. We need to pray. In fact, we are going to do that right now.
Here’s what we are going to do. We are going to obey Scripture in the moment here, and spend some time in prayer for our country. In a couple of minutes I’m going to ask you to get into groups of six or seven or eight…doesn’t really matter…and then I want two or three of you who feels comfortable praying out loud to do so. If nobody really wants to pray out loud, that’s fine—just pray silently. And here’s what we’ll pray for. If one person would pray for our President. If another would pray for our troups. When you came in you got a sheet of paper with names, and choose some of those and pray for them. Then a third person pray for people in our culture to be able to hear about Jesus freely and for our leaders to protect religious freedom. Go ahead and do that now, and I will break in a few minutes.
We just prayed for our troups, which we need to do and I hope you will take this sheet of paper with you and pray for them through the week. I also want you to know a little of what is going on in our military ministry started by Romey Kilgore and now lots of people are involved. Romey, come on up.
- What are you guys up to?
- Tell me about the neckwrap project?
- How can people be involved?
In addition to submitting and praying, being good citizens also means that we:
Do our Civic Duty
Titus 3 says that as we submit to our leaders, we are to do good in culture—and part of submitting to our leaders is doing what is expected of us as good citizens. Just as Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” talking about paying taxes. In other words, do your part that is expected in society. And some of you have done your civic duty with great sacrifice. Some of you have served in government and on school boards, etc. Others have served in the military and some of you have fought for our country. Some of you have lost loved ones that way. And I’m sure for you it must be incredibly frustrating to see Americans and even American Christians not do the most simple and basic of civic duties. You fought and lost friends and loved ones, and on this side we can’t even vote for example. That’s got to the most basic form of civic involvement that is expected in this country, and as Christians we need to vote.
There is some good news there. Christians are more likely to be registered and more likely to vote than those who don’t know Christ. That’s good. But other voting trends are not so good. For example, in 1996, 19 million evangelical Christians voted in the Presidential election. In 2000, the number of evangelical Christians was the same, but 4 million fewer of them showed up at the polls. Four million sat on the sidelines. That’s not good. I’m not telling you how to vote, nor would I want to. But as Christians we are to do our civic duty, the most basic of which is to vote.
So, we are to be good citizens, in prayer, in respectful submission, and civic duty. And I want to get really practical here, so I’ve asked someone who is sacrificing his life for these kinds of issues to come and share with us. Many of you are aware of Kelly Shackelford of the Liberty Legal Institute, and I want to invite him to the platform.
- Introduce Kelly…what he does and what I appreciate
- 3 Questions
- How can we pray for our leaders?
- What does it mean to be good citizens?
- Tell us what is going on in the realm of religious freedom
So, government is God’s idea and a good one! You and I are ambassadors to this country and citizens too. And that means that we need to be assured that…(recap points)
We live in an unusual country in an unusual time. We have an unusual heritage. We are not God’s country, and God is not an American. Yet we do live in a nation that was at least started with many biblical principles as the foundation and we are still reaping the benefits of that. And any nation should look to God for his guidance and his blessings. So, I want us to end our services by singing a song as a prayer. I’m going to ask Rebekah to come and lead us in a prayer song familiar to all of us, God Bless America.