Dear Friends in Christ,
At one time it was one of the most, if not the most powerful, productive, and proficient empires the world had ever seen or known. It lasted just over 500 years. It encompassed an incredible 2.2 million square miles. Because of its many conquests, its population swelled from a mere 4 million people to 65 million at its zenith. It was known as the Roman Empire. But in the year 476 AD it fell. So what happened? What led to the monumental collapse of this once magnificent and far-reaching empire? Well, according to Edward Gibbon, author of the book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the following 5 factors led to its demise:
- The rapid increase of divorce and the undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis of human society.
- Higher and higher taxes and the spending of public monies for free bread and circuses for the populace, i.e., the creation of a welfare state.
- The mad craze for pleasure with sports becoming more exciting every year and more brutal.
- The building of gigantic armaments when the real enemy was within, the decadence and immorality of the people.
- The decay of religion – faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life and becoming impotent to warn and guide the people.
Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds like the track we’ve been on in America for the past 5 or 6 decades. And if that doesn’t make you think a little bit about the direction our nation is heading right now and the future that lies before us, consider this interesting tidbit of information I came across while working on my sermon for today:
The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence:
From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to selfishness;
From selfishness to complacency;
From complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence;
From dependence back to bondage.
One of my favorite quotes that is definitely worth repeating as we mark the 244th birthday of our nation this weekend, comes from a French writer by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville, who, after visiting America in 1831 left with this impression:
“I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Now please don’t misunderstand me here. I still believe with all of my heart that America is by far the greatest nation to live on the face of the earth; I still believe it offers far more opportunities and freedoms than any other country; I still believe it is a land that was singled out and uniquely blessed by God in so many ways, but I also believe, as I’m sure many of you do, that in far too many ways we have ceased to be good and because of that we now run the risk of ceasing to be great. And one reason for that is because we have drifted far from our spiritual moorings, far from the foundations that this nation was once built upon. So what are we to do? Or to borrow the words of our text: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
Well, this morning I’m going to offer 3 suggestions to you based upon the theme “Remember!” First of all, we need to remember where we came from. Our forefathers who settled this land were really not at all unlike God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel. Recall how they had been oppressed and enslaved for more than 400 years in the land of Egypt before God sent them a deliverer in the person of Moses. In a very similar way, those who founded our nation had lived under great oppression in their homelands before coming to America, especially when it came to their religious lives. They were forced to worship a certain way and belong to a certain church and support that church with their taxes, whether they liked it or not. And so primarily out of a desire to be free of all that tyranny, they left behind all that was familiar to them and set out on a long and dangerous journey that would take them to the shores of America.
But there’s also a big difference between our ancestors and the Israelites. When God told his chosen people about what would be waiting for them in the Promised Land, he described it as “a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.” In other words, everything would be set in place for them once they conquered the nations inhabiting that land. But when our ancestors arrived on the shores of this country, they found not a land flowing with milk and honey, but a harsh and brutal land that was unsettled, uncultivated, and uninviting.
There have been times when Marilyn and I have gotten a small feel for what that must have been like when we we’ve vacationed in the Smokey Mountains and visited an area called Cade’s Cove. It’s basically a large flat area nestled in between the mountains – beautiful beyond description. And as we hiked the 11-mile loop road that skirts the perimeter of this cove, we found that this area had once been settled and inhabited back in the early 1800’s. In fact, there are still a few homes, churches, and cemeteries remaining, though no longer in use. But as we took it all in, I couldn’t help but wonder to myself how difficult it must have been to build those log homes, to dig those many graves, to cultivate that rocky soil – all without the aid of today’s modern machines and conveniences. Indeed, may we never take for granted where we’ve come from and all that it took to get us here!
Then secondly, we need to remember what we’ve always stood for as a nation and the principles that this great country was founded upon. Admittedly, it’s not easy to do that in this day and age where so many attempts are being made to remove God from every vestige of public life. But those who are doing so cannot ignore the plain simple facts that are literally etched in stone on many of the buildings found in our nation’s capital. In fact, let me take you on a quick tour of Washington, D.C. so you can see what I’m talking about. We’ll start with the tallest building in our capital, the Washington Monument. Did you know that engraved on its aluminum capstone you will find the Latin words Laus Deo which means “Praise be to God.” Inside the monument are tribute blocks carved with biblical phrases and references like “Holiness to the Lord” and “Search the Scriptures.” In the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress are statues and quotes representing different fields of knowledge. There you will find Moses and the Apostle Paul representing the field of religion, with this inscription from Micah 6:8: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” On the outside pediment of the building where the Supreme Court meets you will find a marble relief of Moses holding two tablets containing the 10 Commandments. Engraved on the oak doors at the entrance to the Court Chamber and above the heads of the justices are the Roman numerals I through X, again representing those same holy laws that God inscribed with his own finger at Mt. Sinai. In the Rotunda of the Capitol Building you will find 8 large paintings depicting different aspects of our Christian heritage including The Baptism of Pocahontas and The Departure of the Pilgrims from Holland which depicts the Pilgrims observing a day of prayer and fasting. Our national motto, “In God We Trust,” is inscribed in letters of gold behind the speaker’s platform in the chamber where the House of Representatives meets. In the State Dining Room of the White House there is a marble fireplace which contains an inscription from the first president to inhabit the White House, John Adams. That inscription reads: “I pray Heaven to Bestow the Best of Blessings on THIS HOUSE and on All that shall hereafter Inhabit it. May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under this Roof.”
As if all that isn’t enough to remind us of the original intentions of our founding fathers, please listen as I share with you words that came from their own lips. In his 1st official act as the 1st President of the U.S., George Washington did something that would be unthinkable in today’s politically correct culture. He prayed in public! In his inaugural address he asked for God’s blessing upon our country and its government. And then he told those who were in attendance:
“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
Put simply, the father of our nation was saying that without the providential care and the guiding hand of Almighty God, this new experiment in freedom called the United States would have never been possible. That’s what you call giving credit where credit is due!
Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the U.S. once said: “The Bible is the rock upon which our republic rests.”
And how about this quote that comes from the very first chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, who once stated: “It is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for our rulers.”
I imagine he’d feel pretty out of place on today’s Supreme Court, don’t you think? A comment like that could very well get him barred from the highest court of our land.
And that takes us to the last point that I want to make today. To preserve and improve our freedom as Americans we also need to remember with gratitude in our hearts the many and varied sacrifices that have been made on our behalf. From the Pilgrims who ventured to our shores in search of religious freedom, more than half of whom died their first winter here, to those who risked their lives and fortunes when they crafted and signed the Declaration of Independence, to those who fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, WW I and WW II, Korea and Vietnam, and most recently Iraq and Afghanistan, our soil and the soil of the world has been saturated and stained with the blood of so many brave and valiant people whose sacrifices have provided us with the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. May we never forget that, my friends. May we never take those sacrifices for granted. But there’s one more thing that we need to remember. And it is this. As great a blessing as it is to be an American, may we never forget that it’s an even greater blessing and privilege to be a Christian. For through Jesus Christ we have a freedom that far excels and far exceeds freedom of speech or freedom of the press. We have freedom from sin, freedom from death, and freedom from hell and its eternal punishment. Were it not for our great Emancipator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, this life, as bad as it often times gets, would be as good as it would ever get. So even though our nation is far from perfect, may we hold ever so tightly and ever so tenaciously to this precious and priceless Savior who was and is perfect in every way and who has secured for all who believe and trust in him a perfect life beyond this one where all trials and troubles, all sorrow and suffering, all heartache and hurt will cease forever. Amen.