HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA

Today we will celebrate America’s 243rd birthday.  The 4th of July is ordinarily a fun day, a day of gladness with grand fireworks displays, picnics in the park, parades, and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Independence Day ought also to be a day of thanksgiving—a day of looking back, of taking stock, remembering how we got here—how a handful of colonists became a great nation—the “Land of the free and the home of the brave”

For me, and I believe for many others, this year’s celebration will be mixed with a sense of sadness at the climate in which our beloved nation now finds itself.  Instead of “Yankee Doodle” I catch myself singing “God Bless America, land that I love.  From the mountains to the prairies, to the ocean white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.”

“God Bless America” was written by Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant, while serving in the U.S. Army during WW I.  However, it was only at the rise of Adolph Hitler, in 1938, that the song was made public. It was actually a form of prayer for God’s blessing and peace for our nation.  The song tapped into the national psyche offering a kind of collective prayer for the fear over threatening war.

“God Bless America” has had a long shelf life.  It was even hailed as the new national anthem, and used, through many decades, for a wide range of purposes from presidential campaigns to sporting events. Following 9/11, the song took on a new life once again signaling renewed patriotism, but I don’t know if it was ever really—sincerely sung as a prayer.

I know, of course, that this is the season for “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and Let Freedom Ring,” but for some reason, my heart is crying out, “God Bless America,” and I have been thinking about just how much God has blessed this beloved land of ours.  As turmoil and strife swirl around us today, we need to retrace the road of blessing that has brought us thus far, for God has clearly blessed America during the past two-plus centuries.

First, I think of the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower who arrived at Plymouth Rock on November 9, 1620.  Roughly half of these were Pilgrims or “Separatists” and the others were servants and crewmen. More than half of those aboard died before spring arrived.

While some would deny the truth of their purpose, this handful of people separated themselves from the church of England, escaping persecution and imprisonment, wanting to practice their religion as they chose and establish a new church  in a new world.

Perhaps for the sake of these committed Pilgrims, God chose to pour out His blessing on their descendants and their new country.  These Pilgrims became the “stepping stones” in the formation of what has arguably become the greatest nation on earth.  

When I think of the “handful” of colonists who stood against “King George III and the whole British Empire, I am convinced that we were blessed by God.  Not that God was against the British, but that He enabled our countrymen to battle through to victory to form a nation free from tyranny—a nation “Under God!”

We are further blessed, because our forefathers came together through much turmoil, injustice and hardship using the wisdom of the Bible, history and other cultures along with their own experiences, and fashioned the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  These God fearing men, whether professed Christians or not, accepted the truthfulness of the Bible and the authority of God embracing the basic freedom of religion and a Christian outlook on life, morality and government. Some would rewrite history in order to change these facts, but they cannot change the truth.

Today, we live in a beautiful, bountiful land able to support a large population—a country that retains incredible freedoms.  We are the envy of the world. Why do you think so many want to come here?

We are free to worship as we choose never fearing death or imprisonment because of our faith.  We are free to speak our minds, to elect our leaders, to pursue our own dreams.

  Who, in his right mind, could deny God’s blessing on this nation?

I fear, however, that we have abused our freedoms taking them as license to behave in any way we choose regardless of the hurt to others producing a generation that thumbs its nose at God.

Now we live in a divided nation having denied the blessings of God.  From morning until evening we abuse, belittle and accuse our fellow Americans.  The acquisition of power seems to be the desired goal. Never mind how it is attained.

I tremble at the thought of asking God’s blessing on this country, why would He bless us, and yet I do, because I am reminded that there is still a lot of light and salt in our world.  There is still a multitude of people who love God and are ready to stand up for what is right. “Give us another chance, Lord,” I cry.  “Please heal the division in our land, and turn us back to you.”

When I read 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land,” I am encouraged believing that God can still intervene.

“God Bless America” is at its heart a prayer for the well-being of our country, especially in these politically and racially charged times.  So, let us “humble ourselves” and “turn from our wicked ways,” and with longing hearts, sing again this prayer believing God for better days and many more “Happy Birthdays” for the “Land that we love.”  

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

     

 

LAND THAT I LOVE

 

In 1938, beloved composer, Irving Berlin, wanted to write a “peace song“-an anthem that would inspire his fellow Americans to live in harmony.  This Russian-born Jew, who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1893, had already lived through one world war and knew another one was coming.

After several attempts, he decided to revamp a song he had written in 1918 but never published.  Thus was born “God Bless America.”

The song appealed to the national psyche offering a kind of collective prayer for the unease over an impending war.

In 1940, both the Republican and Democratic parties adopted the song as their own.  Critics said, “Why should God bless America and no other country, and what about separation of church and state?  Some even questioned why a Russian Jew should speak for America.

Thinking about Independence Day, America‘s birthday, I have been singing this heart-stopping song.  “God Bless America land that I love.”  I realize that it is an incredibly personal song.  I love this land-not “we,” not ‘someone else.”  I love this land!

Upon reflection, I cannot help but remember when I left these shores to become a resident in another country.

On August 25, 1975, I boarded a plan in Phoenix, Arizona and headed east-final destination, Brussels, Belgium.

I had been to Europe as a tourist, but now I would become a long-term resident in a country where I had never been.   At the same time, I was happy and sad-excited and fearful.  I was headed away from everything I had ever known to a place where I knew nothing-not even the language.

If someone had asked me at that moment whether or not I loved America, my reply would have been an emphatic, “YES!”  I am a patriot.  I am a flag waver, but until I lived on foreign soil, I had no idea how much I appreciated the land of my birth.

One-thousand-year-old Brussels is a beautiful city green and luscious surrounded by verdant forests and dotted with ponds, but it wasn’t home.

I learned quickly that as a foreigner I must register with the police and report to them yearly.  I could not change residence and move across town without notifying the authorities.  I must, at all times, carry an official identity card proving who I am.  I must have a government issued residence visa in order to stay in the country.

Now, the USA must have similar regulations, to one degree or another, for foreign residence, but I had never experienced such things, and in some ways, it seemed an affront to my integrity.  The freedom I had always enjoyed was now limited.

The language barrier was especially difficult.  It was amazing to hear a two-year-old spouting fluent French when I could scarcely say “Bon Jour and Au Revoir.”

When homesickness threatened to overwhelm, I drove past the American Embassy just to see “Old Glory” hoisted high waving at the world.  How could a piece of fabric, no matter how large, bring such pride and comfort to my heart?

In the language school, I was surrounded by students from many parts of the world.  Most of them would have given the shirt off their back to get to America.

Many of my Bible College students longed to come to the country I had left behind.  What a revelation it was to meet people who would willingly give up citizenship in their homeland in order to become an American citizen.  I could never do that!

Berlin’s song says, “God…stand beside her and guide her through the night with a light from above…”

My heart is heavy today.  “…From the mountains to the prairies, to the ocean white with foam…” the darkness of night has settled on our beloved land.  Because of sinful pride and selfishness, violence and unreasonable hatred permeate the very atmosphere.

On September 11, 2001, our American Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol building and sang, “God Bless America.”  It was a thrilling moment.  They were one that day, but the unity didn’t really last.

It is time again to pray, “God Bless America.”  That is our only hope.

In II Chronicles 7:14, God spoke to King Solomon saying, “If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

The apostle Paul admonishes us, in Romans 13  “…be a responsible citizen…respect your leaders…love other people as well as you do yourself.”

God gives us the formula.  We must humble ourselves, seek Him in prayer, abandon our sins and He will heal our land.

GOD BLESS AMERICA – AGAIN!

 

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!