This is a week when we as a nation bask in the beauty and the wonder of our independence. We celebrate with picnics and parties, with fireworks and parades, with concerts and colors, and with patriotic displays on our lawns, on our homes, our clothes, and yes, even on our bodies.
We commemorate the FACT of our independence, but we also remember the COST of our independence. It is a wonderful time of celebration.
I love this holiday! The other night, we walked down to the city park with our grandchildren and had a wonderful evening watching the fireworks display. And this is also the one time of the year when I can unabashedly wear my “flag shirt”.
It is getting a little old and starting to look a little tired, but I love to wear it on this holiday to demonstrate my patriotic spirit. I am proud of my country, and I am excited to be an American.
But, you know, there is a strong tendency in this country to equate patriotism with spirituality. While it is true that God has “shed His grace on” us, and we should always be praying “God bless America”, the tendency many people have is to think and say that because we are Americans, God should bless us, and anyone who is not an American has somehow missed out on the blessing of God.
In the Bible, the prophet Jonah had that problem. God had called Jonah to do what, to Jonah, was the most deplorable task on earth.
He had called him to go and preach the gospel in, of all places, Nineveh.
Now my friends, in that day, that was akin to asking an avid Buckeye fan to move to Ann Arbor and proclaim the gospel there! (God did that with a good friend of mine!)
Jonah rejected the call of God to go to Nineveh and took off in the opposite direction. He did not want to see the people of Nineveh come to faith because they were the enemies of Israel, and therefore they were his enemies. The idea that God could save them, or might even WANT to save them was something Jonah just could not handle!
I mean, after all, they were his enemies. They were the enemies of his country!
Jonah forgot that the Gospel, the grace of God, is not a national Gospel. It is an international Gospel! Jonah was VERY patriotic, and even though he was a prophet, a man of God whom God had spoken through before, he confused his patriotism with spirituality.
The Gospel is not a patriotic Gospel. It is spiritual!
In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3)
If I understand this verse correctly, every individual who has trusted in Christ (alone) is a member of the heavenly family and can rightfully count all Christ’s riches as his own. Those blessings are not just for the patriotic.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not just for red, white, and blue flag-waving Americans.
As well, this is not something we will fully realize in this world, but one day, in heaven, we will be overwhelmed because of all the divine riches that are OURS!
And the reality of the situation for most Christians is that we really do not know just how rich we are! We live like paupers when in fact the riches of heaven are ours – just because of our relationship with Christ!
I once read an interesting story about an American tourist in Paris who purchased an inexpensive amber necklace in a trinket shop. While clearing customs in New York, he had to pay quite a high duty on the item.
This aroused his curiosity, so he had it appraised, hoping to sell it for whatever he could get. After looking at the object under a powerful magnifying glass, the jeweler said, “I’ll give you $25,000 for it.” Greatly surprised, the man decided to have his newly discovered treasure examined by another expert.
When he did, he was offered $10,000 more for it.
“What do you see that’s so valuable about this old necklace?” asked the astonished man. “Look through this glass,” replied the jeweler. There before his eyes was an inscription that read, “From Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine.” The necklace was extremely valuable because its identification with this famous man.
And so it is, that we who know Christ and are identified by faith with Him are also incredibly rich, having been blessed “in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
Now one of the dangers of such a blessing is that we often mistake physical blessing for spiritual ones. WE confuse patriotism with spirituality. We tend to believe that just because we live in the United States of America, we have a lock on heaven.
We also think that we ought to own the biggest boats and the best cars and the biggest mansions in town. But these blessings are indeed spiritual – some to be enjoyed now (such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control), and many more to be enjoyed later, when we are “with Christ” in heaven.
Don’t misunderstand me: It is great to be patriotic and I am oh, so proud to be an American. But whether here and now, or there and then, the calling to each of us is the same: Each of us who knows Christ should “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1) Each of us should live like the royalty we are, having been blessed with every spiritual blessing “in the heavenly realms…in Christ!”
Because of our identification with Christ, and not because of our patriotic fervor, those blessings indeed are OURS, not just HIS!
Have a great Independence Day, and God bless…
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Hillsboro Times-Gazette and the Wilmington News Journal. He is also the former Pastor of Faith Community Church in Hillsboro and Port William UMC.