We recently celebrated the tremendously important Fourth of July Independence Day holiday. No doubt in Ohio as well as in Florida, the celebrations were joyful though perhaps somewhat reserved, considering the coronavirus issues of the past 18 months or so.
Our tendency at such times as this is to move to one of two extremes. Either we tend to decry the patriotic expressions of our independence and attempt to exalt the Lord, or we exalt the nation and ignore the Lord.
I would suggest that most Fourth of July celebrations tend toward the later extreme rather than the first, even in spite of singing over and over again expressions such as, “God bless America” and “God shed His grace on thee.”
Most of the neighbors with whom I regularly interact want to give God some place in their lives, but all too often that place is relegated to a Sunday morning visit to a church service – it does not matter where. The only requirements are that it is as brief as possible and does not interfere with a golf tee time reservations.
Oh, and did I mention that it doesn’t cost too much?
But does that really “cut the mustard”? Two illustrations will also demonstrate this in a very prominent way:
The baseball game was tied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The batter stepped into the batting box and made the sign of the cross on home plate with his bat. Yogi Berra, Hall-of-Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, was behind the plate. A Catholic as well, Berra wiped off the plate with his glove and said to the pious batter, “Why don’t we let God just watch this game?”
Letting God just watch. Whatever the theology when applied to the outcome of a baseball game, it’s terrible theology when applied to the way we live our lives and carry out the work of the church.
The second illustration is even more pointed:
In the classic western movie “Shenandoah”, Jimmy Stewart stars as Charlie Anderson, a Virginian farmer trying to keep his family out of the Civil War.
With one empty place set for his dead wife and his children gathered around the supper table, Charlie begins a litany they obviously have heard before: “Now your mother wanted all of you raised as good Christians, and I might not be able to do that thorny job as well as she could, but I can do a little something about your manners.”
He gestures that they all should bow their heads and continues: “Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. We wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-boned hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for the food we’re about to eat. Amen.”
Through the course of the movie, we see one tragedy after another strike the Anderson clan: the youngest son is mistaken for a soldier and captured, another son and his wife are murdered by marauders, and a third son is shot by an over-zealous sentry.
When we next see Mr. Anderson at the supper table, there are four more empty places as he begins his ritual prayer. But this time we hear his voice quiver and break as the awful realization comes upon him that he is not in control, that he is not the master of his own destiny.
His voice trails off as he finishes the words, “if we hadn’t done it all ourselves.”
He stops, gets up, and walks away, a proud man, broken and stripped of his pride, knowing that he needs to turn to the Lord, but not yet ready to fall on his knees and ask for God’s help.
Quite frankly, that scenario, filmed in 1965, could well describe the lives and circumstances of many people here in 2021. Does it describe you?
I am reminded of that singular verse, Romans 11:36, which tells us, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
I cannot speak for anyone else, but I can tell you that I do not wish to find myself at the end of this journey called life in the same condition as Charlie Anderson – sick of his past and in desperate need for a fresh start, but too proud to admit it and do anything about it.
The remedy is simple: Turn to Him with open hands and open heart, giving Him everything you are and hope to be.
When you do, then you can lay claim to the promise that, as the old hymn so aptly states, “God will take care of you!”
God bless …
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at email@example.com.