God and Country (10/30/16)

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Historically the United States of America has been a country which based its actions and vision for the future on the teachings found in the Bible. While trade was a major reason for the first settlements in the New World, religious freedom was even more important to most of those who made the dangerous journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Many came to America with the view that European settlers were like the Israelites going into the Promised Land. However, they had a problem. Other people were already living here. In order for them to claim their God-given property, they viewed the Native Americans to be like the Philistines which needed to be driven out. This interpretation of Scripture allowed them to massacre the Indians with a clear conscience.

The view that God was giving them and their descendants this country was handed down from generation to generation. Two centuries later in the 1840s, the term Manifest Destiny became popular. According to history.com, “Manifest Destiny is a term for the attitude prevalent during the 19th century period of American expansion that the United States not only could, but was destined to, stretch from coast to coast. …. It expressed the belief that it was Anglo-Saxon Americans’ providential mission to expand their civilization and institutions across the breadth of North America…It was …. ‘our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.’ …. By the end of the century, expansionists were employing quasi-Darwinist reasoning to argue that because its ‘Anglo-Saxon heritage’ made America supremely fit, it had become the nation’s ‘manifest destiny’ to extend its influence beyond its continental boundaries into the Pacific and Caribbean basins.”

America’s desire to “Go west” and expand the nation was based on the belief that Providence, or God Himself, was calling the nation to do this. Unfortunately, this expansion and the blessings it brought was only for Anglo-Saxons, or white people. This meant it needed to happen at the expense of everyone else. Unfortunately, this attitude is still shared by a lot of people. But we’ll discuss this another time.

As we can see, there has always been a nationalistic union between God and country in the minds of many Americans. If the nation does something, it must be God’s will. If the nation sends its troops into battle, it must be God’s will so its unpatriotic to question or protest wars. And now, since the United States of America appears to be in a moral, spiritual and economic decline, the end times must be near. This view of God and country is dangerous based on what the Bible actually says.

A few days before Jesus was executed, he caused a scene in the temple in Jerusalem. He overturned the tables of the money changers and stopped people from carrying merchandise through the temple courts. This led the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders to challenge him by asking, “Who gave you authority to do this” (Mark 11:28)? Jesus responded by telling them the parable about the tenants who abused the representatives of the man who planted a vineyard. They even killed his son. The religious leaders knew Jesus told the parable about them so they looked for a way to have him arrested.

Mark 12:13-17 tells us that13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.”

The religious leaders, Pharisees and Herodians weren’t interested in discussing nationalism and faith. They were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could use to arrest him. Nevertheless, in his response to them, Jesus shared an important principle that’s very relevant for us today. We aren’t supposed to view our country, or any country, as being equal with God or that God automatically supports everything we do. Jesus teaches there is a separation between church and state.

When I say this, I’m not talking about the popular understanding of separation of church and state that wants to kick Jesus out of public institutions. I’m talking about it in the sense that in the lives of Christians, we understand there is a difference between God and country and then we act accordingly.

We pay taxes so the government can provide social services and defend our nation. We also get the privilege of voting for our leaders. We don’t worship the government or our leaders. We worship God and live our lives according to his principles. If there is a discrepancy between what our nation says is legal and the Bible, we follow the Bible.

It’s critical that we keep this in mind as we finish up this election season. Our country is divided ideologically. This is reflected in the candidates that are running to be President of the United States of America. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is creating a lot of tension, even in the church.

So, what should followers of Jesus do during this election? Here are a few principles we need to apply:

Please love our country but our love for Jesus must be greater than our love for the United States. Philippians 3:20 tells us, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We will spend eternity in heaven – not in the Clinton or Trump Presidential Library.

Pray for our leaders. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 says “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

For those of you who don’t like Donald Trump – do you pray for him? For those of you who don’t like the Obamas and the Clintons – do you pray for them? God expects us to. It’s amazing how praying for others softens our hearts towards them and makes them more human to us.

Don’t base your vote on party lines or family history. Vote according to Godly convictions and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 3:5-6 says toTrust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. What does the Bible say about the issues facing our nation and which candidates seem most willing to live by those principles?

Obviously, no candidate is perfect. Like us, they are sinners and flawed human beings. I realize that after reading the Bible and praying for direction, some will feel led to vote for Hillary Clinton, some will feel led to vote for Donald Trump, some to vote for a third-party candidate and others will fell led to not even vote for President. That’s OK because our vote is based on what we believe God wants us to do rather than on what we want to do.

Remember that Jesus isn’t returning on Air Force One. Our president was never supposed to be our Savior. We worship the one who sits on the throne in heaven. We don’t worship whoever sits in the Oval Office. The problem is that far too many Christians are more concerned with politics than they are with following Jesus.

The most important point for us to remember is that as followers of Jesus we do not fear. The sun will come up on November 9th. Life will continue no matter who wins the election. Jesus will still be leading us. 1 John 4:16b-18 says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Since the love of Jesus is in us and gives us salvation, we don’t have to fear the future, whatever it may bring. Perhaps the United States is destined to continue being a superpower and do great things around the world because God is blessing us. Or perhaps our best days are behind us because our nation is slowly turning from God.

Perhaps our candidate will win the election. Or perhaps not. No matter what happens, always put Jesus first and live for him.