A Message for America

A Message for America - Independence Day 2016 - title

Every Fourth of July, as we celebrate our Independence Day, we sing songs that celebrate the blessings of God upon America.

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

God Bless America

God bless America, land that I love, Stand beside her and guide her

Through the night with a light from above.

From the mountains, to the prairies,

To the oceans white with foam,

God bless America, My home sweet home.

Star Spangled Banner

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Even though I am an American, and can be biased, I believe it is safe to say that no nation in history has been blessed by God in the unique way that the United States of America has been.  This does not mean that we are God’s chosen nation (that title belongs only to the nation of Israel), nor that we are superior or of greater value than anyone else, but we have undoubtedly been one of God’s blessed nations.

God has blessed the USA, and has brought us through tragedy, conflict, war, and countless other challenges. But we make a serious mistake if we presume that God’s blessings on America will always be there, that He will bless us no matter what.  Nor can we go to the other extreme and begin to preach doom and gloom on America because we have drifted so incredibly far from God and the Bible.

I want to share with you a message that was first delivered to the nation of Israel, but that was also directed at any and all nations, including the USA. It is A Message for America.  It reminds us that the future of our nation, the future of God’s blessings, rests at the heart of our country.  And the key to turning our heart back to God is not found in politicians, lawmakers, and courtrooms.  It is found in the local church.  It is found in the Gospel (Jeremiah 18:1-10).

I love it when God uses object lessons to get His point across.  In these verses we find that God sent the prophet Jeremiah on a field trip.  He sent him down to the potter’s house, to watch this craftsman do his work (vs 1-2).  When Jeremiah got down there, he began watching the potter mold and shape a vessel out of clay.  At one point, the potter saw something he didn’t like in that vessel, so he lumped it together and started over.  Here was the key: the potter did whatever he wanted to do with the clay (vs 3-4).  That is when God began to make his point (vs 5-6). 

The LORD stated emphatically that He is the Potter, and the nation of Israel is the clay, and the LORD has every right to do as He pleases with this nation.  The clay has no rights to demand, or explanations to demand.

Romans 9:20–21 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

The LORD then makes a couple of statements that we, as Americans, but more importantly, as Christians, need to take to heart:

 

No matter how blessed a nation has been, it can forfeit God’s blessings (vs 9-10).

God says that even if a nation is on a positive trajectory, even if it has a positive track record, and is experiencing the blessings of God, it cannot presume or assume that those blessings will always be there no matter what.  God is not under any obligation to bless them, especially when they begin making choices against Him.  That is exactly what had happened to the nation of Israel.  King David had been graciously given amazing promises by God, promises of an eternal kingdom, and those blessings were experienced for generations.  But even Solomon, the wisest and most blessed man in human history, began to make choices and to walk a path that was contrary to the Word and will of God, and it was his son who would experience a civil war and the dividing of the nation.

There are those who presume that God is somehow on the hook to bless us, simply because we wave the “Red, White, and Blue,” or we travel with an American passport.  It is undeniable that God has blessed us indescribably as a nation, but we are foolish to presume or assume that those blessings will continue just because we are Americans, regardless of the paths that we choose.

As a church, we must also be careful not to presume that God’s blessings will always be upon us, no matter what we choose, how we walk or behave.  God has blessed Vandalia Baptist Temple in unbelievable ways over the past 60 years, but just because God has blessed, and is currently blessing, we can make choices that forfeit the blessings of God.  We can lose focus on what truly matters to God, and why we exist as a church, and God is not on the hook to continue blessing.  In fact, when we begin to focus more on ourselves, on our preferences, on our comforts, on our traditions, on “holding the fort,” and not on doing whatever it takes to reach our community, to make and multiply disciples, to plant multiplying churches, God can pull His hand of blessing back at any time.

The same is true of your life individually.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you have walked with God, pleased God, and served God in the past, and God has blessed you and your family for it, that God is somehow on the hook to continue to bless you for the rest of your life, regardless of the choices you are making today.  God does not owe you and me anything!  He is the Potter, we are nothing but clay.  When your life, heart, and attitude no longer are pleasing to God, you too can forfeit God’s blessings.  It is true of our nation, of our church, of our families, and of our own heart.  But the opposite is true as well:

 

No matter how evil a nation has been, it can obtain God’s blessings (vs 7-8).

There is never a shortage of doom-and-gloom prophets.  Of course, many people thought that that was what Jeremiah was in his day!  But the truth is, God is always a God of grace, and God is always willing to receive those who turn to Him, no matter how far they have strayed.  That was the situation in Israel.  God’s people had turned their back on God for generations, and were now experiencing the heavy hand of God’s judgment.  But God’s message was clear: any nation, even if it is on the path to destruction, even if it appears that all hope is lost, can once again obtain God’s blessings.  It was true of Israel.  It was true of Ninevah in Jonah’s day.  It is also true of America.

Yes, our nation has not just drifted away from God, it seems that we are on a sprint to run as far away from His Word, His values, and His principles as we possibly can.  We are calling right wrong, and wrong right; we are calling good evil, and evil good. 

Isaiah 5:20  Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

We are not just defying God’s Word, but we are celebrating it, and encouraging others who are doing so.  Christians get slaughtered around the country or around the world, and virtually nothing is said from our nation’s capital, but homosexuals are allowed to be recognized as “husband and wife,” and our White House gets decorated with the colors of the rainbow.  God-fearing Christians are called bigots, and Christian-hating liberals are called open-minded and tolerant.  Everything seems backwards, or upside down!  It’s like we are Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Cheshire Cat: “I’m not crazy. My reality is just different than yours.”

Sounds like America, doesn’t it?

That is why some Christians have virtually written America off when it comes to God’s blessings.  We are headed for condemnation and there’s no turning back.  Even extremist groups are pointing to every act of violence, every murder, every act of terrorism as the final judgment of God upon America.

But remember what God says here in Jeremiah.  Even if God has already set in motion a plan to pluck up, pull down, and destroy a nation, He is still willing to reverse course, hold back the judgment and extend grace, mercy, and blessings.  There is still hope!

That can also be said of a church.  Just like the churches in Revelation, even when a church has lost its first love for God and for lost souls, even when a church is experiencing tribulation and hardship, even when a church has compromised doctrinally, even when a church has not confronted sin in its midst, even when a church is dying and on its last legs, even when a church is spiritually lukewarm, there is still hope!  There is still a God-given opportunity to experience God’s blessings again, to experience revival, renewal, and rebirth.

Friend, the same is even true in your life.  I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, “I’m just too far gone.  I’ve done way too much.  You just don’t know or understand my past.  God would never accept me.  God would never forgive me.  God doesn’t want me.  I might as well just do whatever I want, because there’s no hope for me anyway.”  Friend, that may be how you honestly feel, but that doesn’t make it true.

The Bible says that even “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).  The Apostle Paul was the chief of sinners, a die-hard enemy of Jesus and enemy of Christians, and yet he experienced the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.  Even the thief on the Cross had his sins forgiven moments before he died, and personally met Jesus in paradise that very afternoon!  If you are alive, now matter how sinful you may be, Jesus stands ready to receive you, forgive you, and make you new, if you come to Him on His terms.

 

God’s blessings upon any nation are tied to its repentance.

What is it that makes such a difference in these nations?  What is it that turns a nation’s destruction and condemnation into blessing and restoration?  What is the key?  The turnaround happens when that nation “turns from their evil” (vs 8a), when they have a change of heart, a spiritual change of direction.

The Bible calls that “repentance.”  It involves a 180* turn, from following sin to following God, from choosing our way to choosing God’s way.  And when God sees that in the heart of a nation, He turns a curse into a blessing, condemnation into salvation.  It happened in Israel, it happened in Nineveh, and it has even been true in the United States.

Throughout our nation’s history, there have been key, pivotal moments that turned the tide, that changed everything, that brought the blessings of God upon our nation again and again.  Forty years before the Declaration of Independence, local churches, influenced by the powerful preaching of evangelists like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, were spreading the Gospel in towns and cities across the colonies and the frontier lands, from Philadelphia, to New York, to the southern cities.  Thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children were repenting of their sin, and turning to Jesus Christ for salvation, in a revival wave known as the Great Awakening.  These individuals understood the grace of God, the freedom found in the Gospel and in Jesus Christ, and the need for humility and brokenness before God.  It was that generation out of whom our Founding Fathers would emerge, leaving the imprint of Jehovah God in our founding documents, on our currency, and on our buildings and monuments.

Twenty-five years after the Declaration of Independence, a Second Great Awakening began to spread across the northeast and the Midwest, as local churches were impacting their communities and our nation was being changed from the bottom up, from the inside out.  This wave of spiritual repentance ushered in a movement that tackled social reforms, like the dangers of alcohol, the first seeds of the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights.  It wasn’t the result of reforms in Washington.  It was a nation being changed through the influence of the Gospel and local churches carrying out the Great Commission.

During the years before and after the Civil War, there was a Third Great Awakening, and this wave of spiritual repentance across our land led to denominational networks carrying out the work of God, and the growth of missionary work around the country and the world, including through the leadership of pastors like Dwight L. Moody in Chicago.

Then in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, following World War II, America experienced another explosion in evangelism and church planting across our country.  As our country was experiencing a cultural revolution, Gospel-preaching churches were growing by leaps and bounds, Bible colleges were in their hay-day, preachers were going out to plant churches, and missionaries were being sent all over the world, especially by fundamental Baptist churches.  It was during this wave that Vandalia Baptist Temple was planted by a preacher named Herman Bond.

Every wave of spiritual repentance in our country brought the blessings of God over and over.  You see, that is what God is looking for – even today!  The blessings of God upon our nation will not come as the result of the perfect bill or law in Washington.  We cannot hang our hopes and dreams on a politician or political party.  What God is looking for is repentance, in America, in the state of Ohio, in the greater Dayton area, and even at Vandalia Baptist Temple.  And when God sees people repent, and have broken hearts before God (even as Christians and churches), He sends His blessings.

Luke 5:32  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Acts 3:19  Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord

Acts 17:30  And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

Acts 20:21  Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Revelation 2:5  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

But you see, repentance is a response to hearing and understanding the Gospel.  And the spreading of the Gospel lies in the hands of the local church.  It is the local church that is the hope of America and the hope of the world.

That is why the ministry of the local church is so important.  That is why the mission is so urgent.  That is why we are passionately committed to building bridges to every generation, culture, and community with the Gospel.  That is why we are asking you to continually invite your friends, neighbors, and community to come to church and hear the Word of God.  That is why we are asking you to help us go into other communities, as our church is about to do in Old North Dayton, to love and serve people, to shine for Jesus, and one day, maybe even plant a new church there.  That is why we are taking our kids VBS outreach, not just to the walls of our own facilities, but also over to a local apartment complex, and then over to a local city park.  We are going where people are who need to hear and understand the Gospel.  Church, it’s on us!

As Christians in America we have got to stop blaming unbelievers for the condition of our country.  We have got to stop blaming “sinners” for acting like “sinners.”  We have got to stop thinking that if we yell loud enough, or argue strongly enough, or post enough rants on social media, that people who are “dead in their trespasses and their sins” are somehow going to get their act together and begin acting like the salt and light that our world needs.

What our nation needs, in order to restore and preserve God’s amazing blessings, comes back to our very existence as a local church.  It doesn’t matter how blessed we have been in the past, if we aren’t walking in repentance and humility today, we can forfeit God’s blessings.  It doesn’t matter how far we may have drifted from God, individually, as a church, or as a nation, there is still hope to experience the blessings of God.  But it all comes back to that one word: repentance.

If you, as a Christian and church member, are not currently engaged in the cause of the Kingdom, in reaching lost souls with the Gospel, then what God is looking for from you today is genuine, humble brokenness and repentance.  Our community and nation needs a change of heart, and you have the answer.  Nothing in your life is more important than the eternal souls of people – in your family, in your community, in our region, in our country, and around the world.  Maybe God is calling you to get re-engaged in ministry.  Maybe God is calling some of you to be preachers and church planters (around the region, country, or world).  God entrusted the Gospel to the local church, to you and me.

But perhaps you have an even greater need today.  You aren’t experiencing God’s blessing upon your life, because there has never been a point in your life in which you genuinely repented of your sins and turned in faith to follow Jesus.  Maybe you look the part on the outside, but there’s never been a change of heart.  Until that happens, nothing you try and do or change is going to work.  You will still remain broken and lost before God.  What you need is to respond to the Gospel, to God’s invitation, and come to Him for forgiveness of sin and eternal life in Heaven.

God’s message to Israel in Jeremiah’s day, is God’s message to America today.  But more importantly, it is God’s message to you and me.  Will you respond to God’s voice and calling today?

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