I’m a cynical person by nature. Whenever I hear someone say, “Happy Independence Day,” I think to myself, “Yeah, unless you happen to be a Christian baker.”
This isn’t healthy and it’s not consistent with the Bible’s command for believers to be thankful for God’s blessings.
America has a lot of problems. Typically that phrase is followed by something like, “But we’re still the greatest country on the planet.” I don’t know enough about global politics to know if that’s true. But I do know that, for whatever reason, God has blessed us.
Several months ago I started a garden. I do this every year but this time things were different. Travel kept me away from it during the most important time. Just when most of my vegetables and fruits were ready to be picked, I was on the road. I wasn’t around to keep bugs off and keep plants watered. When I got back home and walked out back to take a look, I was nervous. Would all of my work be dried up by the hot Georgia sun?
I picked zucchini and squash that looked like they belonged in the state fair. I have more cucumbers than I know what to do with. And the tomatoes are just getting started. As I was carrying all of this food inside, a thought occurred to me. I have more food spread out on my kitchen counter than some people could find in the entire village in which they live. That has nothing to do with my superior farming abilities. I was out of town, remember? I’m blessed to live in a land where half a year’s worth of food can pop up out of my backyard. A lot of people in our world don’t know that blessing.
I’ve spent several days this summer at the beach. Some of those days were spent teaching teenagers from my church about holiness and some of those days were spent snorkeling with my own kids. None of those days were spent with a man from ISIS holding a sword to my Jesus-following neck. That is a blessing from God that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ do not know.
Our forefathers were brilliant. Sure, they all weren’t the orthodox Christ followers that some would have us to believe. Even still, they knew what they were doing. The documents they wrote, signed and fought for are still having a positive impact on us today. A few weeks ago I spoke to a law enforcement official who told me about refusing requests for search warrants if there wasn’t enough evidence. That’s a benefit that we enjoy that can be traced back directly to flawed but brilliant men like Jefferson, Franklin and Henry. And it’s a blessing that people in Libya do not enjoy.
Yes, our country has it’s problems. Corruption is king. Chaos seems to rule the streets. Evil is condoned by those who are supposed to be society’s moral gatekeepers. Babies are murdered. Races can’t get along. Injustices are ignored.
And still, God blesses us in many ways.
I grew up in a spiritual climate where it was implied that America was God’s chosen nation 2.0 and the Republican party had taken the place of apostles. God Bless the U.S.A. was sung in church every Independence Day weekend. I even heard a pastor say that Independence Day was a more important holiday than Christmas and Easter. A lot of people said Amen to that.
As a result, many in my generation who grew up in similar environments have shunned anything close to gratitude for the country that we live in. Now it’s implied that cheering for the United States to beat Ghana in soccer at the Olympics is the new paganism.
There is a proper balance between the America worship of my childhood and the cynicism of today. It’s called gratitude. Gratitude is thankful for the gift, all the while remembering that it gives us just a glimpse inside the heart of the Giver. Gratitude is a very important ingredient in worship. We must be careful not to worship our country or our vision of how it used to be or should be. But we must also remember that proper Biblical worship is impossible when gratitude is replaced by cynicism.
I hope that you grill out today. I hope you eat watermelons, light firecrackers and do something else American like eat chicken wings in the Wal-Mart parking lot or help your brother work on his Camaro. Whatever you do, do it with a grateful heart. Sure, America is far from perfect. And sure, it could all fall apart tomorrow. But, if you’re like me, God has given you several decades of free speech, freedom of religion, fertile soil, white sandy beaches and the smell of barbecue chicken on the grill.
So while you’re sitting around the table with friends and family talking about how corrupt the political system is and how things just aren’t how they used to be, don’t forget to give thanks to God that things are far, far better than we all deserve them to be.
You could ruin your Independence Day long before Obama or Hillary or Donald or ISIS ever could. All you have to do is allow cynicism to take the place of thankfulness.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17 (ESV)