By Bob Terry
Editor, The Alabama Baptist
It is not called a “National Day” but that is what July 4th is for those of us living in the United States of America. It is a day when citizens everywhere celebrate our nation, our freedoms, our ability to worship God according to the dictates of our hearts.
July 4th is a national holiday and Americans will celebrate with picnics and fireworks. There will be parades, concerts and a variety of other events all designed to acknowledge the rights, privileges and responsibilities of every citizen blessed to live in this “land of the free.”
Social commentators are likely to wax eloquently about the many components that make America great.
Some will point to the nation’s economic leadership. One study valued the U.S. economy at $19.42 trillion annually, making it the largest economy in the world. The United States accounts for 25 percent of the global gross domestic product, the study said.
China, the second largest economy, was rated at $11.8 trillion.
Most indicators point to a strong economy this July 4th. Nationally, unemployment has steadily fallen from 9.9 percent in 2009 to 3.9 percent at the end of April. Alabama unemployment has fallen from 11 percent in 2009 to 3.5 percent at the end of April.
Still, some people ask when salaries for average workers will rise and wonder about the dwindling number of good jobs — jobs that offer a livable wage along with basic benefits. Stakeholders in a business should be considered along with stockholders, some contend.
This July 4th there will likely be conversation about the nation’s military with President Trump promoting a parade displaying the nation’s military might. It has been decades since missiles and tanks paraded through Washington, D.C., in a July 4th parade to demonstrate America’s military firepower but that does not mean it will not happen again.
Military units are expected to march in towns and cities across America as they regularly do on this holiday. But the parades are not to celebrate them. The military is celebrated for helping protect what the Fourth of July is all about — the nation’s bedrock commitment to individual freedom.
Patriotic Americans are grateful for the military and strongly support the military, but what we honor on the Fourth of July is freedom — God-given freedom for all.
Unlike in many countries, America’s “National Day” will not focus on government officials. Not on the president or Congress. Not on governors or mayors. Focus for America is on the individual citizen. It is his day and her day. It is a time for every citizen to celebrate the gifts of freedom and opportunity available in the United States.
Government officials are certainly important. We pray for them regularly just as God’s Word teaches (1 Tim. 2:1–2). These servants need our prayers. President Abraham Lincoln observed, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
John Adams, the nation’s second president, stated, “Because power corrupts, society demands for moral authority and character to increase as the importance of the position increases.”
In America and in Alabama we have witnessed firsthand the corruptive nature of political power. We know our elected officials need the fortifying power that can come through the prayers of God’s people.
Economic power, military strength, courageous leaders — these are important, but they are not what God looks for in a great nation.
In 1 Samuel 16:7, the Lord said to the Prophet Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord look on the heart.”
When the Lord looks at the heart of America, what does He want to see?
Part of the answer is provided in the Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy. He writes in 1 Timothy 6:11: “But you, man of God, flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”
Paul’s instructions to Timothy are consistent with the teaching of Micah 6:8 where the prophet said, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
Many scholars consider this verse to be an accurate summary of the Old Testament teachings about righteousness.
Both biblical references relate to one’s relationship with others, with one’s self and with God.
How can what is inside the heart of an individual show what is inside the heart of America? Because what constitutes the character of a nation is the character of the many individuals who make up that nation.
If the majority of individuals tolerate hate, stimulate violence, pursue selfish ends and make life important only when it agrees with their own views, then that will be the character of the nation. History will show the nation as inhumane to all who did not choose its side.
But if a people can show righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness in their daily lives, then history will show a “nation whose God is the Lord.”
While there are many “outward” things about America to celebrate this July 4th, let us not forget that God looks at the heart of our nation, the hearts of our people. May God see a people who do justice, who love mercy, who walk humbly before Him.
May God see a people whose God is the Lord.