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This week Pam and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. On November 29, 1980 we recited our vows before her father in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Bamberg, South Carolina where he served as pastor and began the journey together as husband and wife. It was Thanksgiving break at the seminary where we were both students and we had only three days before semester exams, but being young and in love we didn’t want to wait until the following summer to be together. I wouldn’t recommend that, by the way.

 

But somehow things worked out. The wedding was awesome. Pam was beautiful and gloriously happy. Friends and family came from all over to be with us. When we returned to school we even passed our exams. Eighteen months later we graduated and moved to our first church.

 

Pastors’ marriages are the same as everyone else’s with one notable exception. Our home life and church life are so intermingled that it’s often hard to tell one from the other. What that means on one level is that our family rhythms are usually determined by church services and events. On a deeper level it means that our congregations are well aware how the principles we encourage them to live by in their marriages are being worked out within our own, for better and for worse. The interplay between those two dynamics can sometimes make you feel like you’re living in a fishbowl.

 

Pam and I knew the risks when we moved to a rural congregation near Aiken, SC. I served as pastor while Pam worked as a chaplain at a nearby hospital in Augusta. And like all newlyweds we soon ran head on into challenges. I threw myself into my ministry, determined to become a successful minister. Pam worked hard in learning the difficult job of ministering to people in extreme situations. We didn’t have much money so paying the bills from week to week brought stress. Before long Pam was pregnant with our first child.

 

Looking back on those early years, I realize how poorly I responded to the pressures of marriage, children, finances and a beginning career. Like many young husbands I minister to now, I felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come with that season of life. In fact, the peculiar stresses Christian husbands face in the early years of marriage is one of the main themes I talk about with young couples when they seek counsel. No one is exempt from them, not even pastors.

 

We grew through those early years and in 1985 moved to our second church in Charleston, SC. The next seven years turned out to be the most blessed and the most difficult of our marriage—maybe that’s how it always works. When husbands and wives live by faith, the challenges you thought at the time would overwhelm you turn out later to have been the source of your greatest growth.

 

We had our second child there, and our two children have turned out to be our greatest blessing. But between the two births we had several miscarriages. Like many other couples who have been through that experience, we still wonder about those children. What would they have looked like? Were they boys or girls? Will we meet them again one day in heaven?

 

Hurricane Hugo swept through Charleston in 1989 and devastated the community and our church. A year or so later our congregation went through such a traumatic conflict that I didn’t know if I’d be able to continue in ministry. At the same time, there were amazing evidences of God’s hand at work with people coming to faith in Jesus in the middle of the turmoil and friendships being forged that last even until today. Sometimes for all couples—pastors and lay people, mature and immature people alike—you weather the storms and just hang on as best you can, believing that God blesses those who persevere.

 

In 1993, our second decade of marriage, we moved again. This is the way pastoral ministry operates—you get accustomed to one place and invest in the people there then the Lord steps in and gives you another assignment. We went to eastern North Carolina and settled in for what would turned out to be an extraordinary fourteen years of marriage and ministry. Our children grew up in the church there and will tell you today that it was a golden time for them.

 

It was for Pam and me, too. Our congregation was filled with people with children the same age as ours, and we were fortunate that all our kids grew up together in the same neighborhoods, schools and church. That’s a luxury in today’s lifestyle of frequent relocations, and it gave that group of children a sense of stability and security that in large measure determined their later success. It’s no accident that many of them went on to do great things.

 

Our marriage was transformed in those years. The combination of working side by side in helping our children negotiate their childhoods and teen-age years then go on to college, enjoying the people in our church, and loving our community moved our marriage into a new season of grace.

 

It’s fascinating to me, though, when I meet people now who lived for a time in that community. They will often say how much they disliked the place. More than one has told me that the city was the armpit of the country. Their complaints have to do with how little there is to do there or how much it’s devoted to the military or how parochial the people are or even how ugly it is. For us it was none of those things; instead, our experience was rich and full of love.

 

Couples must understand that every place you live, every challenge you face and every season of life you go through will be good or bad, blessed or cursed, productive or destructive, according to your choice. You make it what it is.

 

In 2008 our youngest child went off to college and Pam and I entered into yet another season and moved to the church we now serve, a great congregation in a suburban area of the capitol of South Carolina. In these last few years empty nest has been quickly followed by our children’s marriages. Before we could turn around, grand-children started arriving. Then our aging parents required more care. The pace of change has accelerated faster than we could ever have imagined.

 

Yet nothing has changed. In fact, there’s a sense that we’ve come around to where we began, only better. Our marriage today is deep and true and I love her more than I did at the beginning—and I loved her then so much that at times I couldn’t breathe. Marriage works that way, I think, when it’s lived in the shadow of the cross. You grow and change, die and are reborn a thousand times but each time you move closer to Jesus and to one another. Yes, pastors and our marriages maybe go through that journey with a different nuance than lay people because of the peculiar visibility of our marriages, but it’s the same journey for all of us.

 

Poet T.S. Eliot’s celebrated ending from “The Four Quartets” captures the experience I’m trying to describe. He was a Christian and understood better than most how faith leads us through every season of life, especially in our marriages:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Why We Love Thanksgiving

November 24, 2016
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Other than Easter, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Not for the food—although I love it more than I want to admit. The smell of roast turkey sets my mouth watering. Sweet potato soufflé–especially the kind with crumbled pecans and brown sugar on top–drives me to prayer. Fresh cranberry relish is an addiction. And I can’t get enough of the special gravy filled with turkey innards that my mother-in-law makes just for me.

But lots of holidays are known for their food—whether Christmas cookies or corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day or hot dogs on the Fourth of July. Thanksgiving cuisine isn’t what sets the day apart.

Neither is Thanksgiving special because of the vacation most get from work. A two day break that amounts to a four day weekend is a welcome break, especially for families with kids in school. Other holidays, though, offer the same sort of relief.

Thanksgiving’s special place is due to the way it accomplishes something that few people would have thought possible.

First, the day has preserved its religious meaning. No one who sits around a loaded table with family and friends can miss the point that there’s a higher truth at work in the world than we usually acknowledge. The soul’s desire to give thanks rises to the surface in the face of love and plenty and we find ourselves lifted—if only for a few hours—from the grubbiness and meanness that so much of modern life consists of.  On Thanksgiving even an atheist believes in something beyond himself.

The second value Thanksgiving has managed to preserve is its essential purity. It’s an invitation to humility and gratitude in a culture that knows little of either. Everyone who sits down for Thanksgiving dinner today connects with the thankfulness of the Pilgrims as they celebrated their first harvest; the call of President George Washington for divine help as he took office; the desperation of President Abraham Lincoln’s appeal for national unity during the Civil War; and President Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation of the day as a federal holiday during the dark days of the Great Depression. It’s a distinctively American occasion that reminds us of the best our nation has to offer.

Tucked between the neo-pagan silliness of Halloween and the feeding frenzy of the Christmas shopping season, Thanksgiving stands as a witness to faith, family and abundance. That’s why we love it.

This year as I celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ll keep a few things in mind. Maybe these will help you celebrate the day, too:

  • Eating a great meal around the table with your family and friends on your best china is one of life’s real pleasures. No rush. No urgency to get finished so you can hurry off to your next commitment. Just unhurried time with people you love. That’s a blessing all by itself.
  • Our extended families—sadly, most of us only get together with them on rare occasions—have a much larger impact on us than we realize. The multi-generational relationships many of us will enjoy today have made us who we are. It’s worth the effort to get with them as often as we can. The people we see around the table this year may not be with us next year.
  • Faith is most clearly seen in families. When our faith only consists of what we do in church on Sunday mornings, it’s not genuine. Real faith reveals itself at times like Thanksgiving, when gratitude, love and God show up in equal measure. When Pam and I gather with her extended family later today, there will be four generations present, all tracking back to a few people over a hundred years ago who took God at His Word and determined to live by faith. The Thanksgiving celebration bears testimony to the authenticity of their faith–as it does for so many other families.

This is an edited version of a previous blog

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Tuesday’s election loomed like a dark cloud on the horizon for many Christians. Hilary Clinton was so clearly aligned with the liberal agenda of restricting religious liberty, expanding abortion rights, supporting the transsexual movement and in general using the power of the state to overturn America’s Christian history that her election seemed to guarantee a bleak future for the evangelical church.

 

That’s at first, I think, why so many evangelicals supported Donald Trump, a man whose track record under normal circumstances would have kept him at arm’s length from most church-going people. Hilary was perceived as the enemy of conservative Christians and all we believe in. Trump was the only one who could defeat her.

 

But through the course of the campaign something odd happened. Trump, despite revelations of behavior that would have disqualified anyone else from the office of President, was embraced by the majority of evangelicals not as just the anti-Hilary but as something more. He came to embody the hope of a Christian resurgence, and the obvious attraction his message had for many working class Americans who had been left behind by today’s global economy also resonated with many Christians who had the same sense of cultural displacement as our nation moved in more secular directions.

 

This has been a regular feature of the complex relationship between the church and state in American history. In our own lifetime we’ve seen how Jerry Falwell built a similar kind of relationship between the Moral Majority and President Ronald Reagan. Later, James Dobson was influential in the political climate surrounding the presidency of the second George Bush. Evangelicals in particular seem to have an attraction for conservative political leaders who promise to bring us into the circles of power.

 

Most of us didn’t really think Trump could win. Almost every pre-election poll showed Hilary ahead and the conventional wisdom was that Trump’s obvious flaws would do him in. His evangelical support would amount to little more than an interesting footnote to a foreordained conclusion.

 

But then he won. And according to exit polls it could well have been evangelical support that led him to victory. An astonishing 80% of the evangelical vote went to Trump, the highest level of support for a presidential candidate since 2004. Those votes proved significant in the battleground states of North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. In a stunning turnaround evangelicals found themselves returned to the circles of political power.

 

Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, TX, one of Trump’s earliest and most passionate supporters as well as a personal friend and advisor tweeted a picture Wednesday morning that captured the mood:

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The American evangelical church is now married to Trump—our overall support for him was instrumental in getting him elected and we expect him to support our beliefs, practices and agenda in ways Hilary never would. In return, he’ll expect evangelical support for his administration across the board. It’s as if the days of the Moral Majority have returned and our Christian voice will once more be influential in government policy.

 

We don’t want to go there.

 

Whenever church and state get too closely intertwined, it’s the church that suffers, and this moment in history—as hopeful as it is for evangelicals—carries within it the grave temptation of thinking that political power is the same as spiritual authority. Our focus must always be on the Kingdom and its gospel.

 

So what does all that mean for us today? I believe that American evangelicals, in light of Trump’s election and the promise it offers for a season of relative freedom to exercise our religion, need to keep several key steps in mind in order not to repeat the mistakes of past evangelical generations:

 

  • Don’t seek a place at the table. Don’t run after high office by scheming to get one or more of “our” people placed in President Trump’s cabinet or elsewhere, as though the new president should have an evangelical whisperer in his ear to counter balance the voices of other, less spiritual advisors. Neither the nation nor the church needs a Secretary of Christian Sensitivities. Putting biblical faith at the same level as the other influence peddlers reduces it to just one of many competing special interest groups and undermines the unique message of Jesus.

 

  • Don’t play the political game. Don’t get involved in the kind of horse-trading that inevitably accompanies the political process. If the new administration, for instance, offers to restrict partial birth abortion in return for evangelical support of its policy goal of overhauling the tax code, we should clearly and unequivocally turn that deal down. Not because we don’t agree or disagree with reforming the tax code but because biblical truth isn’t a chip on a poker table.

 

  • Keep a healthy distance from political power. According to the Bible the church owes secular rulers only two things: honor them and pray for them. We forget that at our peril. The closer we draw to the centers of government the more apt we are to confuse political power for spiritual power and compromise the distinctiveness of the gospel. I’m not saying evangelicals should withdraw from political life—godly men and women should feel free to seek political office and use it as a platform for sharing their faith as well as speaking for biblical values. Our nation is blessed by tens of thousands of faithful believers doing just that. But the church as a whole can’t expect the government to accomplish what the Lord told his church to do. We’re most effective for the Kingdom when we’re most skeptical of the government.

 

  • Keep the main thing the main thing. If politics could have saved the country we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in today. The considerable promise a Trump administration holds for evangelical churches isn’t based on more power to enforce a religious agenda but more freedom to proclaim the gospel. That’s the main thing.

 

  • Stay humble. God has orchestrated a moment in American history where against all odds a door seems to have opened for a fresh season of ministry. The new administration has promised to reverse the erosion of religious liberty and biblical values that have threatened the evangelical church—and the nation as a whole—through the last few years. Maybe it will. But if we use this moment to write only another chapter of institutionalized religion in America, we’ll miss a golden opportunity. Donald Trump’s election as President gave the evangelical church space to lead America into real spiritual renewal.
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Pam and I went to the beach last week for vacation. For five days we forgot all about our usual responsibilities and instead listened to the roar of the surf, played in the waves and read books under an umbrella. We had a great getaway and I realized—not for the first time—how a week at the beach may be a better investment than a year of therapy.

 

On Wednesday (I think it was Wednesday but at the beach I lose track) something happened that caught me by surprise, not just because it was a new experience but because of the larger meaning it had for me as a pastor.

 

A man showed up carrying a large case; opened it near the water where the wind was strongest; and pulled out a bunch of kites attached to one another in an odd combination of frames, strings and tails.

 

When he got the whole thing assembled I counted twelve kites attached to one another and dyed in a coordinated spectrum. Starting from deep blue the kites were colored in progressively lighter shades of green fading on to yellow. A festive ribbon streamed from each tail. At one end a harness connected the assembly to two guide lines that looked to be made of strong fishing line; they were invisible from a distance but strong enough to secure the kites even in a strong wind. The lines in turn ran to two spools with handles. The man held one in each hand.

 

When it was all put together, the man—I’ll call him the handler—laid the contraption on the sand, backed off about one hundred feet and took the handles in his hands. With a twitch of his wrists he pointed the kites’ noses up just enough to catch the wind coming off the breakers. Before my startled eyes realized what was happening, the kites jumped from the ground like a flock of gulls and soared into the wind. The video I took at the time wouldn’t load on the blog, so here’s a YouTube video of the same kind of 12-stack kites that I’m talking about:

It was one most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed. From my vantage point just a short distance away, I couldn’t see the handler or the lines he held in his hands. All that was visible were the brightly-hued kites dancing in the summer sky.

 

And did they ever dance! They shot straight up; they dropped like a stone; they swirled in lazy curly-ques. The kites would change directions without warning, swooping from right to left to up and down with the streamers marking their course like a wake in the air. I could hear their fabric flapping in syncopation with their movement: softer when higher up then louder as they dived toward the earth. They would fall to within a few feet of the sand and hover motionless for a few moments like a helicopter about to land then rise so quickly it took my breath away.

 

A group of children gathered, laughing and pointing at the sheer joy of it all. They were even more excited when the kites came so near that they were able to reach up and touch the cloth. Then the handler tweaked the line and the kites leaped back into the wind, the streamers lingering just long enough for the kids to feel them slip through their grasp like a dream.

 

There was such joy, such wild imaginative designs in the kites’ flight that I was mesmerized and could have watched it for hours.

 

Then I realized it wasn’t just the kites that caught my attention. There was something more to it. Ok, so I’m a preacher and I tend to see lots of ordinary experiences as examples of ministry. But this was no ordinary experience. In fact, the flight of the kites was for me a startling metaphor for pastoral leadership in modern America, and as I watched the scene unfold I could feel much of the tension and fatigue I had brought with me to the beach drain away. The flight of the kites taught me something crucial about church leadership at the very moment I needed most to know.

 

The three pieces to the experience seemed to me to reflect the three crucial components of pastoral work. First there were the kites dancing in the air. Second was the handler, the one responsible for the kites’ movement. Finally, there was the wind that made the whole scene possible.

 

The kites were the most visible portion of the scene. They were connected together in such a way that even though each was a different color, their individual shades all were coordinated to a single spectrum. There was a purpose to their variations. The harness that bound them together made their flight possible. Without it, they would have floated off in different directions.

 

The parallels with how the Bible describes church were hard to miss. Unity in diversity; connectedness verses individualism. Churches embody those very characteristics, or should.

 

The kites’ handler was harder to pick up. From any distance you had to look hard to find his figure standing on the sand. His presence was more subtle than I would have thought, and the main thing he did was to hold onto the guidelines and direct the kites in whatever direction the wind would allow.

 

He was a leader in the same way pastors are leaders, or should be. Congregations put pastors into place in order to provide voice and direction for the church as a whole. It’s a vital position and one that all pastors take seriously. At the same time, though, our task by necessity keeps us in the background, just like the kites’ handler. All we really do is hold the lines that keep the congregation in correct alignment and position. In our day of celebrity pastors and secular leadership techniques masquerading as pastoral leadership, the image of a pastor as an anonymous figure standing in the background isn’t something many of want to embrace.

 

But the main thing I learned on the beach wasn’t about the kites or the handler. What I realized with such clarity was the central place of the wind. The wind drove everything. Without it, the kites would never have flown and the handler would have had no reason to be there. Everything I observed on the beach was designed to simply capture the power of the wind blowing in from the sea. The kites had no other purpose than to soar in the wind. The handler had no other task than to put the kites in the correct position to capture the wind’s power.

 

The wind, of course, is the Holy Spirit, who calls the church into existence and anoints pastors to their task. The Holy Spirit allows churches to soar and pastors to function. Apart from the divine wind, neither churches nor pastors can fulfill their purpose.

 

Pastors today struggle with leadership. We’ve become effective in accomplishing our own agenda and promoting our own brand—but the cost has been that our churches have lost the capacity to soar in the wind of the Spirit. What I saw on the beach was a different kind of leadership, one more humble about the role of the pastor and more passionate about the priority of the church. A leadership—most of all—that recognizes the pastor’s main task is to capture the power of the wind.

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Independence Day worship services put faith and patriotism in the same place at the same time for the same purpose, and finding the right balance isn’t as easy as we want to admit.

 

LifeWay Research last week proved the point in the release of a survey it recently completed of one thousand Protestant ministers regarding their attitudes toward July Fourth worship services. Much of the information is about what you’d expect but the more you drill down some surprising details come to light regarding the uneasy connection between patriotic themes and biblical faith in the nation’s evangelical churches.

 

First, almost every church gives at least some attention to the patriotic themes of the day.

 

“Our nation’s birthday weekend celebration impacts almost 9 in 10 church services,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “As people remember veterans, service members and patriotism, it is natural for churches to seek to apply theology to these cultural activities.”

 

Not surprisingly, more conservative denominations give more attention to expressing patriotism as part of worship around Independence Day than other, less conservative groups.

 

Denomination also plays a role in pastors’ views on the importance of patriotic elements in worship services around the July Fourth holiday. Pentecostals (82 percent) are most likely among Protestant pastors to agree on their importance, while Baptists (67 percent) are more likely to agree than Lutherans (51 percent), Methodists (50 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (47 percent).

 

Finally, the survey confirms the general observation that age and region tend to affect the inclusion of patriotic themes in worship on the day.

 

Pastors 65 and older are more likely to say it’s important to incorporate patriotic elements in worship services the week of July Fourth (78 percent) than pastors 18-44 years old (44 percent). Pastors in the West (67 percent) are more likely to hold that view than pastors in the Northeast (55 percent) and Midwest (54 percent).

 

On a personal level as pastor of a local church, I find it a challenge every year to figure out how best to handle July Fourth Sunday. On one side there are compelling reasons for churches to do all they can to worship in an environment that proclaims our American heritage:

 

  • The Christian faith and biblical values had a profound impact on the beginnings of our nation. John Adams, maybe the most devout of all the founding fathers, spoke for most of the rest when he affirmed that “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.” Independence Day worship celebrations serve the vital purpose of keeping the distinctively Christian beginnings of America in public view.

 

  • The free exercise of religion has played a pivotal role in our history. Indeed, there wouldn’t be an America if not for the first settlers’ search for that privilege. The First Amendment enshrines the freedom of religion as the foundation of all other freedoms. Every year on this day pastors should place that principle in front of their people.

 

  • Jesus called us to honor the government even as we worship God. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” he says in Mark 12:17, although there are many times I wish the Lord would have been a little more specific about just how to achieve the balance.

 

  • I’ve always been blessed to serve churches with many active and retired military people, and I know from first-hand experience the authentic faith and personal integrity that motivates the men and women who serve in the nation’s armed forces. Churches should provide on Independence Day each year the opportunity in public worship to recognize them and encourage them as they integrate their faith in God with their service to our nation.

 

But there’s another side of the issue that churches would do well to think through as they celebrate the day, and if we’re not careful the religious observation of July Fourth can become something less than biblical worship:

 

  • The American tradition of civil religion is something we all need to be wary of. Civil religion is a version of Christianity used in public functions as a way of providing a religious overlay to government and political functions without actually giving credence to biblical content. For instance, the phrase “In God we trust” on our currency is civil religion. As is the “under God” clause in the Pledge of Allegiance. Many political leaders take their oaths of office on a Bible. I’m not saying civil religion is necessarily a bad thing; indeed, any reminder of God and biblical truth in the public square can be a blessing. I’m simply saying that these kinds of words and phrases when used in government-endorsed functions serve a political purpose not a religious one. The problem is how civil religion can cover the distinctiveness of the Christian gospel with a veneer of political correctness and civic responsibility. If in an Independence Day worship service, for instance, an American flag is more prominently displayed than the cross, that’s a sign that biblical religion has been set aside for the sake of national pride. I see nothing wrong with decorating our churches with a modest amount of patriotic reminders of the day’s significance, but we place our higher allegiance in jeopardy when we don’t pay careful attention to how we use symbols that inform worship. To say that is no disrespect to our nation or our flag; it’s to affirm that Christian worship always affirms the superiority of the cross to all nations.

 

  • Today, persecution against Christians is endorsed by the government in a variety of ways, creating such spiritual dissonance that worship on July Fourth Sunday can send mixed messages. In my church’s Celebration of Freedom service last Sunday, for example, we watched videos of two Christian business owners who took principled stands regarding specific business practices. In both cases state government authorities sued—their legal actions were subsequently upheld through lengthy appeals processes—resulting in the business owners held liable for criminal behavior. This is what persecution looks like in twenty-first century America: Christians determined to live according to their convictions lose their livelihoods because of a political and judicial system that will not tolerate biblical standards. It’s a new kind of challenge when local churches hold a worship service where love of country is integrated with the reality of Christian persecution.

 

  • Patriotic worship services run the risk of becoming de facto political rallies, usually on the conservative side. If Bible-believing people aren’t careful, they may come together for worship to celebrate America’s Independence Day and the service become an opportunity to detail everything that’s wrong with America. It can then easily move into the need to elect the right people to public office who can restore the country to what it used to be. I’m not denying the need for Christians to be politically active and, especially, to support public officials who will defend unborn life and traditional marriage. What I’m passionate about, though, is for our churches to keep our eye on Jesus. Politics won’t save us; only Jesus can do that. Worship services that lose sight of the priority of Jesus for the sake of political expediency will end up with  empty worship on one hand and poor politics on the other. We best serve our nation in the same way we best serve our Lord: by keeping our focus on him.

 

So how does a local church achieve a biblical balance between faith and patriotism, especially for the Independence Day worship service? I can only say how our church went about it last Sunday. We included a variety of patriotic elements but maybe the one that engaged our people the most was the color guard that presented the American flag. The group of four men was from a local veteran’s transitional housing ministry; in other words, they were homeless. Two were in their sixties, two were in their forties; one was African-American and the other three were white. All have had a rough life since their military service. I’ve rarely been as moved as I was when I saw the pride and care they gave to their duty on Sunday morning. They represented the American flag with the highest standards. But they represented something beyond the flag, something having to do with hope, redemption and service beyond their circumstances. Their participation raised the atmosphere in the worship service beyond patriotism–although it certainly included that–to a level closer to what the Bible calls the gospel.

 

We sang some patriotic songs but later went simply and naturally into great biblical worship, with people singing the glories of God and raising their hands in praise and thanksgiving. The sermon focused on how we’re to live as faithful believers at a time in our nation’s history when the truths of God’s Word are no longer honored in public life. We focused on 1 Peter’s encouragement to Christians of all eras as they undergo persecution:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 5:12-13)

 

During the closing song, it was no surprise to me when a young adult came forward and prayed to receive Jesus as his Lord. The reason I wasn’t surprised is that, as important as was the celebration of our national heritage in the service, the gospel had played even a greater role. And I think that’s how it should be.