This weekend we want to celebrate our nation's independence. We have very much to be grateful for. We pause to say "thank you" for fathers on Father's Day and for mothers on Mother's Day, and it seems appropriate that we take time to reflect upon our country on Independence Day.
If you're trying to decide what movie to rent or go see, your decision will be based on what kind of a mood you are in. If you want to laugh, then you watch a comedy. If you want to cuddle up next to that special someone, then you get a romance … if you're a woman. If you're in the mood for adventure, you get an action movie. But if you want to be in suspense until the very end, then you choose a cliffhanger, because with cliffhangers, you don't know until the last five minutes how everything turns out. And if your home address is in the United States of America, you need to realize that you're a part of a story that's a cliffhanger. The ending of the story is as yet unknown.
Today I have the task of looking at the foundation of our nation. King David writes in Psalm 127:1, "Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain." As it goes for the home, so it goes for the country. Some of you will want to make this a political sermon, and you will listen to it with the bias of your own personal political views. I wish you wouldn't do that. Weigh this message against God's Word, the way that you weigh every message that I preach. This is a message many of us need to hear.
I want to divide our talk into three different seasons in the life of our country. First, let's look at our nation's foundation.
Remember our foundation.
At the beginning America had a solid foundation. It wasn't perfect, but the foundation was rock solid. Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount by emphasizing the importance of foundation, and he equated a solid foundation with being matched up with the Word of God: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock" (Matthew 7:24).
Let's reflect on our nation's foundation and see if it was on the rock. Did our forefathers practice what Christ preached? On May 17, 1776, Congress actually appointed a day of fasting and prayer for the colonies, so that they might by sincere repentance "appease God's righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and his forgiveness."
George Washington added four words to his inauguration ceremony: "So help me, God." The very first thing that Washington did after being inaugurated was to stoop down and kiss his Bible, as an affirmation of the submissive spirit that he had to have toward the rule and authority of the Almighty God.
It was John Adams, the second President of the United States, who said, "Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. For democracy to work, the majority of the people have to be religious and moral at their core, or it falls apart."
However, it wasn't just the people who honored God back then; the institutions did as well. In fact, 106 of the first 108 schools in America were founded on the Christian faith. Did you know that Harvard and Yale began as ministry training schools—schools to train preachers?
On February 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln spoke in Springfield, Illinois, and said, "In regard to this great book,"—and he held up his Bible—"I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated to us through this book. But for it, we would not know right from wrong."
In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt said:
After a week of perplexing problems, it does so rest my soul to come into the house of the Lord and to sing and to mean it, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty." My great joy and great glory in occupying this exalted position as president of the nation is that I am enabled to preach the practical moralities of the Bible to my fellow countrymen and to hold up Christ as the hope and Savior of the world.
I think it's fair to conclude that our country is built on a firm foundation. Our leaders were constantly in the Word of God. They were guided by prayer. If I were to choose one word to try to describe America in those early days, I would choose the word resolve. These forefathers had a resolve about them. They were unapologetic about their faith in the Lord. That is our foundation.
Realize the cracks.
But let's fast-forward to the present. While our foundation was solid, through time cracks began to form, and believe me, some of those crevices are growing larger and larger. We've gone from being a God-fearing people who wanted religious freedom, who knew that God was sovereign and important, to a nation where we can hardly talk about God for fear of offending someone. And in a strange twist, even acknowledgements of our own nation and her symbols are seen as an affront in these multicultural times.
Recently, Glenn Beck shared on his television program about how three years ago the school board at Arlington High School in Massachusetts made the decision that there could be no American flags in classrooms. They also stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance. One of the high school students had a hard time with this, and he engaged in a three-year battle trying to get those things reinstated. Finally, after some time, the principal relented and allowed the flags to come back in the classrooms, and decided that the pledge could be said after school in the lobby area, so as not to offend anyone. When challenged by the students, the principal said, "To be honest, I'm not certain we'll be able to get teachers who will be willing to lead the pledge in their classrooms." So the pledge is relegated to some covert operation after school instead of it being a voluntary opportunity for those who wanted to reflect upon their country.
Recently it came to light that Wilder Publications has begun printing copies of the Constitution and reprints of the Declaration of Independence, which is great. The problem is that they sell the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution together, and they place a warning label on them, reading this:
This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.
It is the height of political correctness to say, "They really didn't know what they were talking about back then, so take it with a grain of salt." But the warning label seems to be offending more people than the documents themselves.
Our Constitution is under attack from all sides. Even though the Constitution grants us freedom of speech and freedom of religion, last month in Dearborn, Michigan, four Christians were arrested at the Arab Festival, which was open to the public. Two of the Christians were formerly Muslim, but the four were arrested for making copies of the Gospel of John available there in both English and Arabic. These people weren't even inside the festival area, but they were arrested for causing a stir. You can watch it for yourself on YouTube. Put in the key words "Acts 17 Apologetics" or "Dearborn Police," and you will be amazed. How can the rules change in a public setting for what is constitutionally acceptable? I wonder what the patriots of the Revolutionary War would say about that. After all, one of the reasons they broke away from England and started America is so that people could have freedom to practice their religion without the fear of being arrested.
Just this week, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5 to 4 vote that campus organizations of a religious nature don't have to have officers who believe in the tenants of the organization. If you're confused, think of it like this: You can have a pro-life group at a college that now cannot deny membership to someone who is pro-choice, and that person can actually hold an office in that organization. The converse is true as well. So a Christian could actually be the president of an atheist club. It seems ridiculous to dilute the specific common thread of why you have a campus organization, but don't be fooled. It's just one step in the process. It's just one more peg to fall.
Three weeks ago in the Cape Cod area, the school board unanimously passed a policy for elementary students—I want to make certain you heard that—for elementary students to be able to distribute free condoms at school. It even requires that school officials keep it confidential so parents will never know if their child has requested them. Unbelievable! The school superintendent says, "Well, the intent is to protect kids." The school board committee chairman says, "We know that sexual experimentation is not limited to an age, so how does one put an age on it?" As I read that article, for some reason I couldn't help but think of Jesus Christ's words in Matthew 18:6: "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." The president of the Massachusetts Family Institute blasted the policy as an absolute push to promote sexual promiscuity. He said, "This is the theatre of the absurd to hand condoms to first-graders. It is a gross violation of parents' rights."
When does common sense and logic kick in as to what is wisest for a ten-year-old or a six-year-old? If it's happening in Massachusetts, where will it happen next? You might think of these stories as isolated events, but they are happening with more and more frequency. This is a different world. We're becoming a different nation.
What's happened to our country? What toll is this going to take on our families? The change has been slow, so it's easy to sink into a false sense of security, while all around us our moral standards, our American values, our Biblical principles, and common sense are quickly fading. How bad is this crisis going to get?
When did the cracks really start to show in the foundation of our nation? Was there some seismic activity that is responsible for shaking up the morals and values of our culture? Some people would point to a moment in 1962 as the tipping point, when the Supreme Court ruled that voluntary prayer at the start of each school day was unconstitutional because it amounted to state sponsorship of prayer. What was so offensive? Can I read for you the prayer that was typically said? This is from New York, one of the more liberal states, and this is what students would recite to start the school day in 1961: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee and we beg Thy blessing over us, our parents, our teachers, and our nation." That was it. That simple prayer came under fire and went to the Supreme Court for that landmark decision.
For those of us in here who are under the age of fifty, it's very difficult to imagine actually having daily prayer in the public schools. And honestly, from my perspective it seems out of place, because we were never exposed to that in a public school. I'll admit that that decision in 1962 doesn't seem all that monumental to me, but American historian and committed Christian David Barton has done extensive research on what happened before and after 1962, and let me tell you, the statistics are startling in category after category. If I were to show you a graph in just the areas of premarital sex, violent crimes, sexually transmitted diseases, and teen suicides, you would be stunned. In each category, for the ten to fifteen years prior to 1962, numbers were flat or slightly increasing if it was a year in which the population increased. But then in 1963 we start to see dramatic exponential growth in every one of those areas. The only area that went down after 1963 was SAT scores.
So how do you explain all these statistics? Coincidence? Or maybe, just maybe, there really is power in prayer. Ronald Reagan said, "If we forget that we are a nation under God, then we are a nation gone under." And now looking back, what that 1962 decision became was a significant turning point in our history. It somehow communicated that we were turning away from our foundation as a nation.
I am deeply concerned about our country. We have diluted what it means to be a Christian. We have become soft. We have compromised. We have made it too easy to be a Christian in name only. So while we think of the word resolve to summarize our early forefathers in our nation, I would choose the word relativism to describe our culture for these past fifty years. It's a sliding scale. What's right for you may not necessarily be right for me. Any belief system is fine just as long as you are sincere. The majority of our forefathers believed in absolute truth, but that's not as "in vogue" in this updated America. Jesus Christ said in John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Maybe that's why they had a hard time with the Gospel of John being passed out in Dearborn, Michigan. Because if that statement is true—and I believe that it is—then it has eternal implications for every tribe and every nation.
Restore our nation.
Let's restore our nation. You may be thinking, "Why did we spend so much time on the history and the foundation of our country? We live in the 21st century now." Well, I'll tell you why. You can't restore something if you don't know how it was built. And at the heart of the building of America—of this nation—was God's Word, prayer, and holiness.
So how do we restore our nation to that level of moral fiber and character? Well, we need godly people to run for office. We need Christians to register to vote. Then when the election rolls around, we need Christians who will actually go to the polls and exercise their right to vote. But it goes further than that. Christians must look at those issues where the Bible speaks and allow God's Word to guide their choices.
If we don't restore our nation, the momentum of our freefall will be insurmountable. We need those people of honorable character who believe in Judeo-Christian values to be elected into government. Once elected, we need them to stay true to those values and virtues, to always remember why they chose to be a public servant.
Those would be my first thoughts for restoring a nation, but can I tell you something? Those are not God's first thoughts. In fact, the list that he gives us is quite different than what I just shared with you. The things I shared with you are good things, but God himself shared this list for the nation of Israel when they saw some cracks in their foundation and desired restoration. God's list is much better. The Lord says, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).
We have become so conditioned to point fingers and levy the blame: "It's Congress's fault! It's the Senate's fault!" We blame the Republicans. We blame the Democrats. We blame President Obama. We blame George Bush for the condition of the country when he handed it over to President Obama. But God takes the focus off of the individual and he places the spotlight on the masses, on us, and he says, "If my people, those who follow me, who bear my name …." That's us. So instead of blaming politicians or criticizing the media, take a look at your own family. Take a look at your own life. If the family is the foundation of a nation, then we had better pour spiritual principles into them. We had better be heeding God's advice on this massive restoration project that we have before us.
Second Chronicles says we must humble ourselves. That means to empty ourselves of pride and selfish ambition. It's not about you; it's about him. You don't vote your pocketbook; you vote your principles. And as individuals and families, we are told to pray, to have a conversation with God, to share our hearts with him. The God of the universe wants to talk to us. Praise him for who he is and what he's able to do. The Bible tells us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 that we are commanded to pray for our leaders—for our government leaders—our communities, and for our country. We pray and we seek God's face. We draw close to him without apathy. We turn from our wicked ways. At the heart of the word repentance is the idea of turning. We turn to God's direction and say "no" to our carnal cravings, our materialistic desires, and our fleshly lusts. If we do those things individually, and if we do them collectively as a nation, the God of the universe promises to forgive our sin. He promises to heal our land.
For our first two centuries of existence, our strength as a nation was our morals, not our manpower. It was our convictions, not our connections. It was our faith, not our finances. It mirrored what King David said in Psalm 20:7: "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." Our hope is in God! We look to him for direction and guidance.
As families and as a nation, our politics can help us, but they're not the answer. Our government can help us, but government is not the answer. It is not realistic to think that spiritual revival is going to start at the White House; it's got to start in our homes. We've got to stand for biblical truth. Don't worry about Washington D.C. until you have taken a look at your own heart.
The erosion, if it continues, will lead to more and more compromise, and if we're not careful, distinctiveness and reverence will give way to permissiveness and tolerance, and that which was reprehensible fifty years ago will become acceptable.
Isaiah 56:10 says, "Israel's watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep." What does that verse mean? Who are Israel's watchmen who are blind? They are the spiritual leaders of the country. And what does this mean that these dogs are mute, that they don't bark? Well, these leaders are supposed to be watchdogs, and when there is an intruder, their job is to bark. Isaiah is saying, "You better speak up before it's too late."
I'm sorry if this topic offends you, but as the leader of this flock, I've got to try to do my part to stem the tide of moral relativism, of casual Christianity, of ethical decline. What is the purpose of the church if we do not look different from the rest of the world? You see, I don't want your membership in the body of Christ to just be another club that you place on your resume. I have a responsibility to challenge you to a life of prayer, to a life of holiness, and when I see Satan sifting our membership and sifting our marriages, something wells up inside of me and causes me to say, "Not on my watch!"
The purpose of a watchdog is to sound the alarm. If you're in a building that catches on fire, the most loving thing you can do is to scream, to get people's attention, to warn them of the potential danger if they don't do something. And through this message I think what I'm really trying to say is, "I smell smoke." We can't just sit back and treat this season of decay as "business as usual." This is a pivotal time in our country, and I feel like we've got one chance. As Christians we have got to set the example.
I heard Franklin Graham speak a few months ago, and he was talking about a text from Mark 1, an obscure text. I'm going to try to paraphrase just a few of the things that he said. Verse 40 says, "A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean.'" The King James Version says he didn't beg. It says he fell on his knees and worshiped Christ, saying "If you are willing, you can make me whole." So this leper worships right there on his knees before Jesus Christ. Why would he worship Jesus? Evidently, he realized who Christ was—that he was deity, God in the flesh.
In that setting Jesus Christ does two things for this man. First, he reaches out and touches the leper. In that society if a leper had to come out of the leper colony for some reason, they had to shout at the top of their lungs, "Unclean! Unclean!" Some of them wore bells around their necks so that people would hear them coming. If you heard a bell ringing and you were with your family, you'd walk on the other side of the street, because leprosy was so contagious. So lepers were not touched for years. If they came in public and they didn't shout out, "Unclean!" people in the crowd would take rocks and throw them at the diseased person. They would drive the lepers away. Yet Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, reaches out and touches a leper. When was the last time this man had been touched?
But Jesus doesn't stop there. The second thing he does is he heals the man. He makes him well. His leprosy is instantaneously gone. Do you see what's happening here? The man says, "If you are willing, Lord …." He doesn't say, "If you can …." What the leper received that day was a touch from the Lord Jesus Christ. I am here to tell you that what America needs today is a touch from the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to be a nation that asks for that touch, which worships Christ, falling on our knees and acknowledging him, living by his standards. If the word to describe the past is resolve, and if the word for this present season is relativism, then in order for us to restore our nation, we must repent. We must repent.
Can I tell you what has happened in recent decades? There has been another bailout—not from the government. This bailout has come from the body of believers as Christians have caved in. If America could somehow speak, what self-indicting words would she say to all of us? I think she would say, "In our fear of offending newcomers to our country, we have downplayed the sacrifices of those who serve and have served in our country and who protected our freedom of worship. In our attempt to be inclusive, we have stopped saying that Jesus is the only way to heaven. In our desire to fulfill our lusts, we've fractured our families. In our efforts to cover our mistakes, we have allowed 51 million abortions to take place. In our quest for more and more possessions, we've racked up huge debts which rob us of our joy. In our attempt to be tolerant, we have discounted the sanctity of marriage. In our search for the fountain of youth, we have stopped listening to the wisdom of the elderly. In our desire for wealth, we have communicated, 'In gold we trust.' In our efforts for political correctness, we have neutered the power of our Christian witness. In our desire to fit in, we have forsaken our first love."
But if you listen closely, it's not too late. You can still hear the faint heartbeat of a country who desperately desires a bypass procedure that can radically jumpstart within us a faith of our fathers; which leads us to a Cross; which starts a spiritual revival where Christians have Bibles opened on their laps rather than as decoration on their coffee tables; where a handshake is just as binding as a legal contract; where husbands and wives actually mean it when they say, "'til death do us part;" where Christians are more prone to fall on their knees than to puff out their chests; where there are Bible-believing churches against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. So listen to your country. She desires a restoration that can only come through the power of God, but it begins with prayer, with humility, and with repentance. Without those three, God does not promise to heal our land.
So how is this cliffhanger going to end? Will we return to our roots as a nation, or will we continue our descent on this slippery slope? Well, that's up to us. We will write the ending of this cliffhanger through the lives that we choose to live.
I want to close this sermon a little differently. I'm going to pray for us and I'm going to pray for our nation. Abraham Lincoln offered this prayer back in 1863 at a pivotal point in our nation's history, and I'm going to read for you the exact prayer that he prayed. I'm going to ask you to kneel with me as we pray.
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown; but we have forgotten you, O God.
We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us.
It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
And, Lord, here today in 2010 may we do the same? May we say it and may we mean it? In the powerful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Dave Stone is the former Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky,