Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


For July 4th, a (set of) thought(s)

posted by Scot McKnight
Tomorrow is a day of worship, so I’m posting this today…

I’m scanning the blogs that are interlinked about the incongruity of followers of Jesus celebrating July 4th, and especially doing so in a church, on a Sunday. I’m seeing a clear trend: it’s wrong, they say, to celebrate America’s independence in a church context. But there’s so little reflection on the dirty reality of what it means to fight for justice in this world. There’s such a distancing of God from the fight for justice, and such a separation of church from justice yearning.

Well, here’s my set of thoughts:
1. The most critical of celebrating July 4th on Sunday are progressive evangelicals and liberals.
2. The defining characteristic of progressive evangelicals and liberals is justice.
3. Celebrating freedom and release from oppression and reveling in the achievement of peace and justice are God-directed in the Bible.
I think the critics are missing a great opportunity.
So, let’s turn the day into a universal celebration of justice. Let’s not hear about muskets and the British Crown and Boston; let’s hear about the importance of peace and justice and that God wants us to live justly.
4. Americans at the time of the War of Independence were fighting for justice, and thought winning was a win for freedom and justice. We can debate this, but very few battles for justice don’t have two sides. Just tell any formerly colonized country they can’t give praise to God (on a Sunday!) for their hard-fought independence and liberty.
5. Those of us who are committed to justice and to fighting against injustice want to direct our prayers toward God for victory and for peace, and to give God praise when the peace is achieved.
6. I don’t want churches to honor America, and I don’t want churches to give glory to war or to warriors, and I don’t want the flag to gain any semblance of iconic or liturgic value. I want to give glory to God, the God who brings justice, and who gathers us justice-shaped and peace-shaped people of God’s together to celebrate and to worship.
As for me and my house, though I’m opposed to war for Jesus’ followers, we want to celebrate justice and we want to honor those who take up the causes of justice in this world, and we want to give thanks to God in the midst of this awful mess of how to achieve justice in this world for the justices that are gained and for the injustices that are undone.
Frankly, I can’t think of a better place to celebrate with thanksgiving before God for freedom and justice than in a church, in a place that focuses our attention on God, and in a place where a cross puts before us the price to be paid for those who want that final and full justice.


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Chris Smith

posted July 3, 2010 at 11:37 am


“So, let’s turn the day into a universal celebration of justice. Let’s not hear about muskets and the British Crown and Boston; let’s hear about the importance of peace and justice and that God wants us to live justly.”
Absolutely… That’s why I (and others) choose to celebrate July 4th as INTER-dependence Day…
Here is a piece that I helped write last year, and which was republished on the SOJO blog with an intro by Shane Claiborne:
http://erb.kingdomnow.org/july-4-celebrating-interdependence-day-vol-2-25/
Chris Smith



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Jason

posted July 3, 2010 at 11:38 am


Scot-
Thanks for another thought provoking post!
While I don’t see myself as a “progressive evangelical” or “liberal”, I definitely agree with the thoughts and concerns of those you have referenced in this piece. I believe the focus needs to stay on God, His Kingdom, and our Savior in our worship gatherings and not on flag and country. Your thoughts above provide a balanced, thoughtful approach to the subject.
I love your idea about turning our 4th of July worship gatherings into a celebration of justice. I especially appreciated point #6. That would avoid the idolatry and nation worship that so often accompanies this time of year.
My biggest problem with church 4th of July celebrations is the arrogance. Referenced abound to the “greatest nation in the world” and the “Christian” founding of our country. I believe we should be grateful, not proud, to be Americans.



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The Charismanglican

posted July 3, 2010 at 11:39 am


Yes…but…
That word ‘freedom’ needs to be severely qualified.



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Pat

posted July 3, 2010 at 11:45 am


We’re showing this particular video clip tomorrow and I think it perfectly balances God and country and refocuses us proper allegiance.
http://www.worshiphousemedia.com/mini-movies/19169/Allegiance



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Chris Smith

posted July 3, 2010 at 11:54 am


Here at Englewood Christian Church, our gathering is going to be focused tomorrow on “Lamenting the Sins of the Nation.” Specifically, the two sins we will be addressing will be abortion (and all the lusts associated with it) which will connect with more of our more conservative/evangelical people and consumption (and particularly oil consumption which has led to all sorts of tragedies, including most recently the BP Oil Spill) which will be a challenging message for most of us…
Chris



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Kenny Johnson

posted July 3, 2010 at 12:10 pm


I think this is a valid counterpoint to the criticism of celebrating the 4th in church. I tend to be one of those that is critical, but I wrote this to a family member who I was discussing this with:
“I am deeply grateful to live in the U.S. I love that I am free, not persecuted for my faith, materially comfortable, etc. I have less a problem with churches approaching “patriotism” this way — as a thanksgiving to God for the blessing of living in a free and wealthy nation.”
I think appreciation for the blessings you have is right. I think Scot’s point about celebrating justice is spot on.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted July 3, 2010 at 12:21 pm


Thanks, Scot. Great thoughts. I tried to post on this this morning myself. Precarious, as I don’t know if I go a bit overboard in making my point in part in terms of America’s greatness. Maybe that’s over the top from an Anabaptist perspective, though greatness and justice are both relative terms. For people who find no good in nation-states, or the powers, they need to check again Romans 13. Though I need to keep working on Romans 13 myself, I suppose. I have John Howard Yoder’s book, “The Politics of Jesus,” which I want to work through, and have been reading, lately.



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Aaron

posted July 3, 2010 at 1:57 pm


but is it Justifiable for a christian to use Violence to bring about Justice – Like in war



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robert

posted July 3, 2010 at 2:05 pm


I believe that there are definitely blessings to being able to live in a country with the freedoms offered by the United States. But that is here my ptriotism begins and ends. “God and Country” perilously blends then lines between patriotism and Biblical Christianity and ultimately causes God to share the alter with another. This is idolatry.



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Chad Holtz

posted July 3, 2010 at 2:41 pm


Scot,
Good toughts. As one of those “liberals” who is against mixing civic holidays with the worship of God, I agree with you that justice is important and a shared value.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts about how our war for independence from England was a justice issue. For instance, when I hear “justice” I think of things like civil rights or health care, etc. How do you equate those sorts of things with our desire to be independent? I’m recalling John Wesley’s scathing letter to the colonists telling them that going to war for the reasons they were going to war were not in line with Christian practice.
your thoughts?



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Keith J. Foisy

posted July 3, 2010 at 2:55 pm


The difficulty i have is that when you mention things like “the fight for justice and peace” in church on the 4th of July, most people assume that you support the use of violence/war and the way that America’s independence was gained.
So we end up unintentionally or inadvertently supporting military and violent force, as well as saying that “our troops” are serving Jesus’ purposes.
The only way around this is to clearly say that you don’t believe violent means are justified to bring about the desired end. If you say that on 4th of July Sunday you are in for some trouble.
So how do you support peace & justice on such a high military honoring day without seeming to support and praise the necessity of war or warriors?



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Chad Holtz

posted July 3, 2010 at 3:02 pm


Exactly, Keith.
I will probably say something like this: http://chadholtz.net/?p=1351
Just before I invite everyone to the Lord’s Table for Eucharist.
Also, my worship professor here at Duke Divinity has some great thoughts on the matter:
http://faithandleadership.com/blog/06-29-2010/ed-moore-what-do-about-the-4th
The comments are telling.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm


Chad, any standard study of the War of Independence maps “causes” and one of them, at least as perceived as the colonies, was the need for adequate representation in the British govt and the imposition of trade laws and tariffs. I have no desire to enter into that discussion; let it be accepted that the colonies thought their rights were being violated. In their minds, the war was created by injustices.
Keith and others, yes, that’s the whole point of my desire to transform July 4th in the Church to a justice issue and peace through peaceful means. If it becomes a day to celebrate both independence and how we did so — through war — then we defeat the whole point. And if it becomes a day of nationalism we do too.



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Julie Clawson

posted July 3, 2010 at 3:12 pm


So ignoring that the Revolutionary War had very very little to do with justice or has much parallel to stories of other nations throwing off their oppressors…
Why did you completely ignore the main reason most of us are opposed to celebrating a national holiday in church – that we do not want to promote civil religion or the idolatry of worshiping and pledging allegiance to a nation in the place set aside for the worship of God. This isn’t about justice and politics for us, this is about idolatry.



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Christine

posted July 3, 2010 at 3:17 pm


Scot, perhaps I’m going in a direction which isn’t in alignment with your post. Nevertheless, the question that occurred to me as I read your words was this, “Isn’t there a place for a just war?” Would you have advocated that we sit on the sidelines in WWII, for example, because of violence? Yes, there were things that weren’t right with that war, but to fight against the Nazis, for example, seems right and good and takes an active stand FOR justice.
Apologies if I”m going off-topic. FWIW, I’ve always hated the rah-rah evangelical celebrating of country and faith that occurred in some churches I attended on the Sundays surrounding the 4th.



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Chad Holtz

posted July 3, 2010 at 3:39 pm


Scot,
I have no doubt the colonists thought they were being unjustly treated. Humans have a great capacity for sanctioning just about anything under the guise of “justice.”
You said of them: “at least as perceived as the colonies, was the need for adequate representation in the British govt and the imposition of trade laws and tariffs.”
Sure. But this should not prompt us today, looking back, to characterize their actions as “justice” even if they thought they were pursuing it. I hardly think that going to war because you are inadequately represented in Parliament or because your taxes are high (no where near as high as ours are today) is justified from a Christian standpoint (of course, I don’t think any war is justified from a Christian POV).
If Cuba waged war on us because of our embargo upon them would you applaud their move towards establishing “justice” or would you call them rebels and insurgents?



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Jeff Doles

posted July 3, 2010 at 3:43 pm


I don’t think concern for justice is any more of a defining characteristic for progressive evangelicals and liberals than it is for non-progressive evangelicals and other non-liberals. I find that evangelicals and fundamentalists care about justice just as much. But I do see a difference between the two groups when it comes to the ever-malleable term, “social justice,” which more often then not, turns out to be advocacy for a socialist political agenda. And I don’t think the socialist political agenda is something that we can necessarily equate with God’s concern for justice and the poor. Parading political agendas under the guise of Biblical values is no more attractive on the Left than it is on the Right.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 3, 2010 at 3:45 pm


Chad, we agree. I’m a pacifist. And I’d like July 4th on Sunday to be a celebration of the fight for justice and against injustice.
Julie, I included your concern (at least in intent) in #6.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 3, 2010 at 4:14 pm


I just got another note from a friend, and I want to make this clear: I was building on the critique of idolatry in joining State and Church in worship, of the idolatry of connecting nationalism to worship. I should have emphasized that a bit more, but my concern is this: for those of us who believe justice and gospel are intimately connected, the connection of July 4 to Sunday is an opportunity to seize instead of simply being a connection to bemoan.



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Kurt Willems

posted July 3, 2010 at 4:37 pm


Scot… I think that I agree with you in so far that you are calling us to love justice. In so far that the past and present of America has accomplished this, I am grateful. However, to blindly embrace the holiday (not you, but a majority of evangelicals) as a basically ‘godly’ affair is what many of us are reacting against. Thanks for bringing some balance to the conversation. I hope that I did so on my post on the Fourth and Christianity. I stated (inspite of my critique) that:
?…I have a great deal of respect for those who are Christians and who ?support? military and our troops. Those who serve our country (although I may disagree with it from my standpoint theologically) deserve respect for their sacrifices and I am glad to have some friends who have served or are serving in the armed forces…Let me add that I love fireworks, BBQ?s, and any good excuse to hang out with friends. I do not think that by simply attending a July 4th gathering that you are sinning. In fact, I often make the trek to the beach to watch the fireworks over the Pacific? while not choosing to actually ?celebrate? the holiday. I also love that I have had the privilege to grow up in this country. So, I am not ?anti-America? by any stretch; I am happy that I live here. What I think is that as Christians we need to recalculate our past and allow the Gospel to be critical of certain things we now celebrate.? (see: http://groansfromwithin.com/2010/06/29/unpopular-annual-post-why-christianity-and-the-4th-are-incompatible-or-why-this-is-not-a-day-to-celebrate-or-why-my-friends-wont-like-me-for-the-next-week-or-so/ )
I also wrote an “abridged” version for Sojourners, but unfortunately most of the above had to be edited out because of word count constraints. That is found here: http://blog.sojo.net/2010/07/02/why-christianity-and-july-4th-are-incompatible/
Thanks for bringing added wisdom to this and every conversation regarding faith and culture!



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Kurt Willems

posted July 3, 2010 at 4:39 pm


Scot and Chad,
Also… (my first comment is awaiting moderation because I added a couple links i suppose), I echo Chad’s concerns.



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Chad Holtz

posted July 3, 2010 at 5:04 pm


I appreciate the critique of idolatry – in whatever form it comes.
I guess I just never considered equating what happens this weekend with “Justice,” or implying that what we did in the Revolutionary War was a battle for “justice.” I’m leary of naming a war over high taxes an act of “justice” in the same way I would call defending the rights of widows and orphans acts of “justice.”
We are the richest nation on earth. I think when a billion people who live on less than a dollar a day hear us talking about the 4th of July being about “justice’ they might beg to differ. American Christians don’t need any more reason to get ticked off over their ever increasing property taxes for their yacht, or reason to call those concerns a fight for “justice.”
just my 2 cents.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 3, 2010 at 5:04 pm


Kurt, thanks.
I confess that I more and more look at these issues from the angle of pastors with whom I am in routine contact. As a result, I tend to be a little more pragmatic. So, let me ask this:
What do you think should happen on a day like tomorrow, in an actual service?



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John K

posted July 3, 2010 at 9:36 pm


I have the privilege to teach a junior high SS class in an independent fundamental Baptist church. In doing some research I came across the above link and was encouraged to dicover that the word God, or a reference to God are mentioned in almost all state constitutions.



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Jen McDonald

posted July 3, 2010 at 10:30 pm


I agree with this perspective of taking advantage of the themes of justice and freedom. Tomorrow’s service will follow the lectionary text from last week on freedom in Christ. Our songs will follow this theme, pointing to Jesus as the bringer of this freedom, ending at the Table of justice, peace, and freedom. Can’t wait to proclaim these truths tomorrow with God’s family!



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cas

posted July 3, 2010 at 11:20 pm


I appreciate your thoughts here Scot, and it strikes me as ironic that those who might argue for contextualizing the gospel would want to ignore the cultural context in which worship will occur tomorrow. My church is located across the street from a riverfront where thousands gathered today for fireworks, which means parishioners will be welcomed by a hot mess tomorrow.
Overlooking the pew where I generally sit is a stained glass window commemorating the life of a 22 yr. old parishioner who died in a war early in the last century. Its presence comforts me, for it reminds me that parents have been burying children who died unjustly for time immemorial. I wonder what such critics would have to say about the inclusion of a memorial to a warrior right in the architecture of the building. My husband was offended by the inclusion of a stained glass window honoring astronaut John Glenn at liberal Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. What would they say about that?
As for me, I’ll be worshiping at the one true 4th of July altar, and that is the barbeque. I’m working.



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Kurt Willems

posted July 4, 2010 at 2:48 am


Scot,
To answer your question: What do you think should happen on a day like tomorrow, in an actual service?
I happen to serve in a local church as one of its pastors. I am in a church that is contemporary, evangelical/anabaptist. The interesting dynamic at work is that most of our staff is concerned about letting the flag and the cross get too close together; but our church is made up of mostly conservative (politically) evangelicals that barely even know that demonationally we are Mennonite. We have chosen to handle the tension of the 4th by meeting people where they are at so to speak. In other words, tomorrow’s worship folder will have a ‘happy fourth of july’ statement inside. We will open the service with thanking God for the freedom we have to worship him and will acknowledge the day. Then, our theme of the morning is going to be the real freedom that we have because of Jesus. We will not sing patriotic songs or have any flag salutes. We will not show any militaristic videos. We will probably not even mention the 4th again for the rest of the service. For us, this is the path our leadership has chosen to navigate between a conservative patriotic congregation and an increasingly ‘anabaptist’ pastoral staff (not all staff hold this perspective… well, at least not yet :-) ). For me personally, this is a bit too much interaction with the holiday, but for the sake of unity, I feel it is the right way of proceeding tomorrow.



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Kurt Willems

posted July 4, 2010 at 2:52 am


Scott… I meant to add that I think the pragmatic concern is one that we truly must consider and that you are right to have it at the front of your mind. To fully rebel against the holiday in most evangelical contexts would lead to divisions. You cant change a culture that you haven’t been guiding in a particular area overnight. To do that would probably be detrimental to the kingdom. Sometimes our ideals have to be balanced by the ultimate ideal of love. That said, I think that churches that have the ability to change the trend tomorrow ought to! Either way, I think you are right to say that pointing people to how we can be part of bringing justice to the world may be a good pragmatic concern to bring to the worship gatherings…



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Scot McKnight

posted July 4, 2010 at 7:58 am


Chad, not that you and I need to carry this on… but in the words of the Decl of Independence:
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.



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AHH

posted July 4, 2010 at 1:02 pm


I find myself wishing I went to the church of Kurt #27/28, who seems to get it right. My wife and I stayed home this morning — looked in advance at the bulletin online and saw that the “worship” music (God Bless America, etc.) would likely set off the old idolatry alarm.
Scot, I believe you attend Willow Creek. What did that influential church do for July 4 services, and how did you think it fell on the appropriateness or idolatry scale?
This morning’s newspaper carried a full-page ad from Hobby Lobby. I have seen their Easter ads (no objection) but had not noticed a July 4 ad before. It used cherry-picked theistic quotes from Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin (none of whom was an orthodox Christian as far as I know) to send a “Christian nation” and “God and country” message. Made me want to puke.
American civil religion, “God and country” as two equally important and intertwined things, is such a pervasive idol that I think any responsible church needs to stand against it at some point in some way. But congregational realities mean that a July 4 service would probably not be a wise time to tear down that particular idol, at least in most churches. For many churches, I’d settle for just abstaining from promoting the idolatry.



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RJS

posted July 4, 2010 at 1:50 pm


Although we are not an anabaptist church or denomination, and our lead pastor is (I think) more Calvinist than anything else, our church took an approach right along the lines outlined by Kurt in #27. Acknowledge the day, but concentrate on the gospel and don’t make a big deal out of it. On the other hand – one of the central songs was “The Solid Rock” – a subtle but meaningful statement. Not being in the inner circle I don’t know if it was intentional or coincidental, but in light of comments here – quite fitting.
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness … On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.



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Peter

posted July 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm


Our friends just left: we did not attend regular services this AM – I could not prepare myself emotionally for the possibilities there and did want to avoid the possibility of offending sisters and brothers when I stood up to leave in the middle of a 4th of July service as has happened in the past. Three families met at my house, long leisurely breakfast, bible reading and discussion, prayer for the sick, etc., worship and return home. >90 degrees here, thankful for my country, my A/C and the day off with time for a nap.
capthcha: “suburbia am”



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Chad Holtz

posted July 4, 2010 at 2:34 pm


Scot,
Thanks for posting that – I had not read that in a long time (I think 7th grade social studies!) :)
I couldn’t help but think while reading that list of all the nations and peoples over the course of our short history who would say the most if not all of that about us.
@Kurt – that’s about the same way we handled it this morning, too.
I read a prayer from our Methodist hymn book which beseeches God to forgive us our national sins and to bring peace and healing to all nations. Nothing else was said about this holiday.
grace and peace



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Naum

posted July 4, 2010 at 7:45 pm


People do not change national attitudes and policies simply because they are told they are wrong. They change because of love for their country. Politicians have never forgotten this fact, and manipulate that love through misinformation and propaganda. Consequently many have come to abhor patriotism altogether. Yet in the deepest sense, we must instill again a love for our nation and its angel. Patriotism in some form or another is indispensable for the survival of any state, and if it is not informed by the divine will and judgment it will become captive to demagogues and jingoists. A chastened patriotism that views the interests of our nation within the context of the well-being of the whole family of nations is required in order to counter the shortsightedness of those who equate love for America with short-term economic gain or being “number one”. We cannot minister to the soul of America unless we love its soul. ~Walter Wink



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Kurt Willems

posted July 5, 2010 at 3:12 am


Grace and peace to you as well Chad!



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STEVE DUNN

posted July 10, 2010 at 1:04 pm


If you are interested, here is my blog entry on your question. http://yourlifematterstogod.blogspot.com/2010/07/independence-day-2010.html



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