On the 4th of July, I trekked down to Lake Mission Viejo to watch an awesome fireworks display. I got there about an hour and a half prior to the start, which gave me a chunk of time to relax, people watch and read the good book I brought along. As the 9PM start time approached, the crowd’s excitement grew palpable.
My patriotism swelled sitting underneath the fireworks, full of pride for America and content to enjoy this mid-summer night. But, I also felt something else; a sadness I’ve never experienced. For Midwesterners like me, we wait for all year long for nights like this night. We eagerly set aside mittens, boots and heavy coats for flips-flops, shorts and t-shirts to soak up every bit of summer. Normally during the Independence Day fireworks, I’m both thankful to be sitting under the stars without feeling like the Michelin man, but maybe a bit gloomy since it won’t be far too long before we’ll again be freezing in the cold.
But this year, my sadness was solely for America, for the country of my birth – a country I love deeply. I fear for her future. Politics aside, my grief was for her citizens. More so than any other time in history, our citizens don’t worship a transcendent God. What started out as a Christian country has become a country that worships technology over community; chasing wealth instead deep fellowship; being politically correct over spreading the love of God. Matthew 22: 37 – 38 says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Answer honestly, when was the last time you felt your neighbor’s love?
Yet, God does not want a moment of obedience to this command. He wants us to live as citizens in this land, guarding every step we make to make sure we love with His love, graciously and undeservingly poured down on us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Obedience is remembering and choosing God in everything we do, choosing to walk in His steps and following the path He has set for us. And we do this out of love, not fear. Not because people are watching and keeping score. We love because we want to please God, that is our true motivator.
And even though America prides itself on being a Christian nation, we cannot be Christians in name only. For it is impossible to come to Christ and continue to respond to the world in the same way. Our behavior will change along with our perspective, our standards, our motives – everything. Loving in this way sounds like an impossible and overwhelming command. It is – outside the power of God.
So instead of engrossing ourselves in our instant messages, instead of feeling comfortable with our standard of living, instead of relying so heavily on ourselves, our hearts must cry out like the Psalmist: “Teach me your ways, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11)
When we love our neighbor as ourselves, our world changes. Our reliance is centered on God, who will guide our steps. God has already been where He wants us to go. All we have to do is discipline our steps, making sure ours match His.