Today is July 4th. This is an interesting day because of course it’s Sunday, but also a national holiday. For our friends all around the world, it is just another day on the calendar, for us it is a day to celebrate the birth of our nation. Now there’s discrepancy as to if it was signed on the 4th or a different day, like the 2nd – this is when the continental congress approved of the Declaration. Regardless of the day we celebrate, this holiday has become a big deal. When you think about celebrating the 4th of July…other than coming to worship on Sunday…
What do you think about? For you, what really “makes” the celebration of Independence day?
Fireworks, Cookouts, parades, community events?
No matter how you celebrate, the idea is that we are taking this day to celebrate…but what are we celebrating? Maybe you’re just looking forward to being off work or getting paid extra for the same amount of work! Maybe this weekend is all about camping and nature for you. As we are grateful for the ability to enjoy those things, it came with a price. That price was sealed with the sending of a formal letter to King George III telling him that the colonies were no longer under British reign. They were united and each colonial area was its own independent state.
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A Shift in Dependence
In the pursuit of independence, the newly formed United States of America, would actually find that their dependency was shifted. Where they used to depend on Great Britain and their soldiers to keep the peace, dole out justice, protect colonists from hostile forces, and British ships to bring trade supplies… they shifted to be more dependent on God and their fellow American. These are the two topics we will look at today. Dependence on God and dependence on our fellow person.
The expression used to be, (perhaps still is in the United Kingdom) “For King and Country!” It’s a promise of allegiance and a statement of who they trust. As those powers grew to be less trusted, the colonists realigned themselves back toward God and forward toward each other. No need or want for a monarchy in these United States. Faith in God was at the forefront of the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—
“Endowed by their Creator” it says. Creator God. If we are given rights by God and he is dependable, we should want to get to know a bit more about Him, right? In order to trust him, let’s see what others who’ve walked with him have to say about God’s faithfulness.
2 Tim 2:11-13, Paul quotes a saying…whether he was authoring it for the first time or it was some sort of early church creed…he passes it along to his mentee….Timothy. He encourages Timothy in the faith, even while Timothy is having to deal with false teachers and other distractions from the mission of Christ. Paul shares these words to keep Timothy “on target.”
“11 Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.”2 Tim 2:11-13 NIV
God’s faithfulness endures forever. It doesn’t depend on you, how good you can be, or how much you can “do for him.” Faithfulness is in his nature. You know, like how some people are predisposed to be easy-going, nothing much stresses them out. Or how some people are just happy and pleasant? God is faithful because it’s natural.
It is interesting how Paul differentiates between “Disowning” and “being faithful.” Disowning is met with disowning. “Depart from me I never knew you,” echos again and again from Matthew 7:23. But that does not impact the nature of God. 2 Tim 2:13,
“if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
Disowning is a matter of a rejected relationship. God responds in kind to the rejection of relationship with those he “never knew.” However God’s nature to be faithful or Trustworth is so ingrained into who he is…he cannot “Disown himself.” It would be like the Holy Spirit saying to God the Father, “I’m not so sure about this Jesus guy…you sure he’s gonna go through with the whole Crucifiction thing?” This, as a trinitarian Christian is a silly scenario of course. God can’t disown himself… wouldn’t distrust or be found to be untrustworthy by himself.
Oh the things that come into my mind as I read scripture and I get to share with you. Back to God’s relationship with man, another support for the faithfulness of God comes from 1 Corinthians 10:31b.
“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,”(1 Cor 10:13b NIV)
This shows God’s steadfastness in establishing a person and knowing them well enough to know what they can handle, what they can resist. I love this verse, but I’m always distracted by what it says about me and what I can do rather than what God does and who he is.
When I am faced with temptation, I look to this verse and I focus on “this temptation before me…I can get over it, get pass it. I don’t have to give into it.” But today, with fresh eyes, I see it is only because of the faithfulness of God that I can ever trust this statement to be true. I not only have examples from scripture but also my own history and personal life that I can draw on.
The authors of the Declaration of Independence laid out their charges and cause for this declaration, their repeated attempts to get the King to acknowledge and protect their rights. After all of that is laid bare, they begin concluding the document with this statement:
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;”
The Supreme Judge of the World. Not the President, not culture, not the congress, and certainly not any king. They looked to God himself to be faithful, to see if their actions were righteous or not. If the intentions they had in dissolving ties with Great Britain were right and justified. If they succeeded to form this Union of states, it would be further evidence of God’s faithfulness in the midst of their plans for freedom.
They no longer would be dependent on a king who was an absentee leader at best, malicious tyrant and destroyer at worse. They would rely on their Creator for their rights as human beings. Rely on his faithfulness to judge rightly as Supreme Judge of the world.
My Fellow Americans
“My Fellow Americans” has been an expression often used by presidents to address the nation and wisely used to signify that he is also one of them. The information he will soon disseminate affects him just as much as it does the rest of those who are citizens of the U.S.
When we look back again at The Declaration of Independence, we see a bond of brotherhood still reaching out from the colonists to the general public of Great Britain. They attempted to warn the people that the King and the legislature extended “unwarrantable jurisdiction” over them. They graciously referred to those they were writing as their “British Brethren.”
I imagine this idea of community and care for one another, was spurred on by the lack of it from the British government. And so, for quite some time it seems that helping one another and caring for one another’s needs became part of the American way.
Since I’m not a history buff and since I watch way more TV than I read books…much of what I relate to in the past comes from shows like Little House on the Prairie.
I know it’s set 100 year later in the late 1800’s but this show can help us see the best in our fellow man. The very first episode, Pa has to finish a job of stacking grain or he loses his oxen to the man he was to do the work for. Unfortunately he is injured and unable to go back to work for the man. The man does not give him any slack, and comes for the oxen early. Pa still has until the end of the night to finish the work he promised to do. So with bruised or broken ribs, he walks all the way back into town…his two oldest daughters sneaking around behind him, and begins to painfully stack grain. He gets a little ways, pushing through the pain, but then falls and can’t do anymore. His young daughters pledge to finish the work for him, trying their hardest and working together to lift sacks of grain and stack them. Of course this scene is attracting attention. Nearly every man in the village sees this. They leave their own places of business to help finish the work for Pa and help the girls stack the grain.
This is an amazing example of what it looks like when we depend on others. And when they depend on us. We care for each other’s needs.
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17 ESV)
Certainly the early church was doing right, caring for the needy among them. Acts 4:32:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35 NIV)
Our family has been so blessed since coming here to Viroqua. I honestly am so thankful for the Lord’s blessings for my family, for our church and through those. I hope we are a blessing to you. Whenever there is a need, someone has come to the forefront and met it. God is using others to bless us as a congregation and I hope you are experiencing this personally in your own home.
When Jacki and I lived in Texas, I had a need. It was a simple need but strange one. I was baking something at home and I had run out of eggs. I don’t know why I didn’t just go buy some, but I didn’t. I did the uncomfortable thing and knocked on our next door neighbor’s. I hadn’t talked to them at length before, just courtesy nods and waves when they were mowing their lawn and such. But regardless of our familiarity with one another, they gave me the eggs I needed to make whatever I was making that day.
I grew up in a small town where most people lived their whole lives there. Knocking on your neighbor’s door and asking to borrow baking products wouldn’t have been uncomfortable at all.
But as I grew up, moved around a little, people seemed to know each other less and less. Trust each other less and less. We are extra cautious when someone knocks on our door and they are holding pamphlets they’d like us to read.
Maybe you don’t share my experience, but as we have become more self-reliant… or should I say “Independent” we tend to only concern ourselves with taking care of our needs. We won’t bother someone else and we hope not to be asked.
Knowing you all, I think that last part is not as true across the board. I think if someone needed a couple eggs or a cup of sugar, you or I would help…no problem. But the flipside is we need to be more open to receiving help and asking for help.
When the authors of the Declaration of Independence signed on the dotted line, they were representing the interests of those who sent them there. This is how our government started and how it should work. But if you’ve been around long enough and not lived under a rock, you know that we have had those elected to represent us…follow their own agendas and desires…to the detriment of those who sent them as representation.
So as much as we want to trust in the “good nature” of the founding structure of our country, people of faith in Jesus Christ, Christians must look first to their allegiance to Him and how that colors the way we care for others. Because if we wait around for the government to tell everyone to “Love their neighbor as their self” and live it themselves…we will be waiting a very long time.
Survivor: Fellowship Edition
Survival in the early days of this country was more than a bit challenging. Just settling in the wrong location could get you killed by those who already inhabited it.
People would band together as they crossed the country in wagons, multiple families and individuals looking for a better life and more opportunities out west. In their wagon train, they would establish their own laws and punishments in order to keep the peace and keep the group alive on the long journey ahead.
As we previously just looked at the early church in Acts, Ecclesiastes also has some words of wisdom for us, concerning being dependent on others and the power of Fellowship.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV (Click to Read)
This passage highlights the wisdom of fellowship. Not even from a spiritual sense, but rather a rational argument.
In verse 9. we learn that the two get a “Good return on their labor” Working together on a single task helps work go faster, safer, and more entertaining (chatting can be a good motivator – boost to morale.)
This was a commercial catchphrase for a product known as Life Alert…way back in the day…it’s old technology. But it is still serious business! If you fall and no one comes to help you up, and you can’t get yourself up, you might just die.
In verse 11, it talks about two staying warm together survival. Sharing body heat is the best way to stay alive in the elements. A single person without a sleeping bag, out in nature, is going to get a little cold all by himself or herself.
Verse 12: Taking on a single person in a fight is not too hard. Don’t engage in a fight you can’t win. But if that person has another with them, your chance of winning a fight against them is cut in half. Then what if there are three of them? The Three Musketeers! They always had each others’ backs.
The idea here is of course, more support, more dependency on others – mutual dependency – and it’s mutually beneficial.
People get work done, don’t fall down and stay down, they stay warm together and can fend off foes together. The same can’t be said for a single individual. So those are rational arguments. Similarly, they can be applied to the spiritual life of people. Getting through life can’t just be “Jesus and me.” We need to be dependent on other people and they need to be dependent on us.
If we backed up to verse 7-8 we will see Solomon seems to be a bit of a fatalist
7Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:
8There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
So Solomon’s view was very glass half empty. But it highlights the sad nature of someone who has no one to depend on and no one to depend on him.
Allegiance = Dependence
Earlier in the service, I had us read the pledges to the American and Christian flags, as well as the bible. It’s not a common practice in churches, except on special Sundays such as this. Let’s stop and think about the words we are saying when we make these pledges.
I pledge Allegiance. I will be “Loyal” to this flag and what it represents. Loyal to this book and what it is. To the Republic, to the Savior.
For the Christian who is also a citizen of the United States, there is no conflict of interest between these pledges. The American flag pledge understands and vocalizes that the Nation is united, under God. Also to declare it’s inability to be divided is very important. It signifies our part in keeping unity in the United states.
Pledges of allegiance are interesting because they are only valid when they are willfully pledged. Just reading it and not meaning it does nothing. It is when we pledge, mean our pledge and show proof of our faithfulness of words that the pledge is more than just words. It’s a commitment. In the Pledge to the Bible, “I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path, I will hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.” These are statements of action.
We depend on God. We depend on others. And then we are depended upon to make these pledges a reality. To live them out. To represent faithfulness to the next generation. The Faithful nature of God, reflected in us. One Nation, Indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
Recognize the Faithfulness of God. If you have a hard time thinking of an example of how God has been faithful to your country, your family or to you personally, perhaps you need to take some time and think more deeply on this topic. Pray that God would show you an example of his faithfulness. Track your request and answer to prayer in a journal or some type.
Recognize your need for others. Hermits can be a good thing. Especially as pet crabs for young children. But personally and spiritually they are isolated from all the benefits of fellowship. If you can at least acknowledge one person and situation where you are dependent on them and it’s a good thing…then you are stepping in the right direction.
Recognize you are needed. Community is a give and take. Just as we need others, they need us. Think you are worthless? Well you are sorely mistaken. You are needed. There is no one else in the whole of history who can impact and support and care for others quite like you do. Serve in a local ministry or non-profit. Get to know your neighbors enough that they come to you for advice as well as to borrow a few eggs for baking. And let us not forget, as Christians God has given us the gift of prayer. We can pray for and with others, helping them get closer to God when they think He is so far away.
Recognize where your allegiances lie. Are you being pulled in a direction contrary to the pledges we’ve talked about and recited today? Consider if you are in full agreement with these statements and pray about what to do if you are not. God is faithful to guide you along the path you are to take.