“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?.”
In Africa at night campers in the bush build huge bonfires to scare the wild animals away. But as the night wears on and the fire burns lower and lower, the wild animals lose their fear and creep closer and closer until their glowing eyes encircle the campsite. And unless someone gets up and again builds up the fire the camp could be overrun by wild beasts.
It is the same with our nation. Our forefathers stoked the fires of freedom in this great land. And the light from their fire has given us the justice, the laws, the education, the tax structure, the freedom of speech, worship, and travel that we have so long enjoyed. In short, the comforts we have now were made at their expense.
But that’s just it. We’ve gotten too comfortable by the waning fire of freedom. If 200 years ago Patrick Henry was saying, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Today the average citizen is saying, “Give me!”
Goethe, the German poet-philosopher observed, “A nation can endure most anything except a prolonged period of prosperity.” Indeed! Comfort visits a guest, lingers to become a host, and stays to enslave. And so it has become in these United States. We’ve made ourselves comfortable by the fire of freedom, slumbered deeply, only now to awaken and find the fire burning low, and the glowing eyes of the restless beasts of tyranny circling our camp. And unless there is a quick awaking and we get busy rebuilding the fire, there is a real danger we shall be overrun with savage man-eaters like despotism, impossible government deficits, graft, sexual perversion of every variety, brutal crime, the occult, and anarchy.
President Calvin Coolidge said, “The meaning of America is not to be found in a life without toil. Freedom is not only bought with a great price; it is maintained by unremitting effort.” And that is what I want us to look at today– that unremitting effort required to maintain the fire of freedom in this great land of ours.
With this in mind, let us turn to the Scriptures and begin to study our duties to the nation as Christian citizens. Let us see how we can help rebuild the fire of freedom in our land.
The first duty of any Christian for his country is prayer. This, indeed, should come as no surprise to any of us. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way!”
Dick Halverson, the former chaplain of the United States senate wrote of our prayer ministry for our country. He said, “Intercession is the truly universal work for the Christian. No place is closed to intercessory prayer… no continent, no nation, no organization, no city, no office. There is no power on earth that can keep intercession out! You may be anyplace you wish praying for anyone you wish anytime you wish. You may be in the oval office of the White House as you pray for the president… even in the family rooms. You may be in congress. . . in the governor’s office… even in the Kremlin! Iron curtain, bamboo curtain, neither can shut you out when you pray… . What incredible opportunity intercession affords the one who takes prayer seriously!”
I hasten to point out Abraham’s example of intercession for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18). Then there is Moses’ prayers of intercession for the fledgling nation of Israel (Exodus 32). And in the New Testament the apostle Paul encouraged Christians to “pray for the emperor” even though that emperor was a mad tyrant like Nero (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
We need to pray daily that God will allow us to live as His salt and light in society, that we can introduce others to Christ as their Savior. We must pray day by day asking God to change the hearts of wicked rulers and their staff workers, and if they will not be changed, pray for their removal from office. Then we must pray that godly people will be elected to all levels of public office and serve with contagious wisdom, justice, and love.
Dear people, we’ve got to start talking to God about our nation! We’ve got to realize that Christians are crucial to the future of America. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God promises, “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 forgive their sins and heal their land.”
Prayer, that’s the first duty of a Christian citizen to the nation. Now, a second: Register to vote.
In the Bible, Jesus told the parable of a householder who went on a long journey and put his property in the charge of his servants (Mk. 13:33-36). And if you live in the United States at least part of what God has put you in charge of is the political household of democracy. And you cannot legally discharge your duties unless you take time to register to vote. To register is to stand up and be counted. To register is to say, “Here I am!” I’ll do my part. You can count on me!” To register is to take seriously the stewardship God has given you for the nation. The opening words of our nations’ birth certificate, the Constitution, say this, “We the people… . “Who is the government of this land? “We the people… .” Who is responsible to God for seeing that our government is run justly? “We the people… .” Who are the servants God has put in charge? “We the people!”
The first time I ever registered to vote I had to stand in line while the clerk, a peppery woman in her sixties who’d run the office for many years, and who obviously took deep pride in her work, questioned each person in detail. The man in front of me, a tall fortyish-looking gentleman, answered each of her questions in a strong voice, until she asked, “How long have you been a resident here?” “Eighteen years,” he answered in a low voice. She continued, “And have you ever registered before?” To which he meekly replied, “No.” With that the woman sat bolt upright and shot him a stern look and asked, “And have you been convicted of any other crimes?”
Become Informed, Inform Others
Passing on from our duty to pray for the nation and register to vote, here is a third duty of any Christian citizen to his nation: Become informed and inform others. In Mark 13:33-36 Jesus told a parable saying, “Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore… .” It’s interesting that in this brief parable Christ uses the word “watch” four times. And in the Greek it literally means “to drive away sleep.” Jesus knew that in a comfortable home it es easy to get lazy, shirk one’s duties, and fall asleep. And it is the same with a nation. “We the people” can get so comfortable that we forget our duties, grow less and less alert, and allow our republic to be broken into by tyranny. So Jesus four times says “WATCH!” Wake up! Be informed! Know what’s going on!
I was talking with a young and wealthy businessman after a softball game this last week. I was challenging him with the claims of Christ and urging him to make a full commitment. We talked of the urgency of the hour, the problems of nuclear proliferation, impossible economic deficits, creeping humanism, moral anarchy, and lagging world evangelization. And finally the man brushed me aside, stuck his ball glove an bat in the trunk of his new sports car, and said, “Stephen, I’ll be honest with you. I can’t see as big as you. In fact, I don’t want to see as big as you. All I see is my job, my wife, my house, a few friends, and my swimming pool. And that’s enough for me without worrying about the world at large.”
That man’s religion can be summed up by the motto, “I’ve got mine. You get yours.” It’s a religion of private peace and affluence, a religion of self-centeredness that cares only for one’s own immediate gratification. And that’s not the faith or lifestyle that made America great!
Have you ever seen a turtle crossing the road? When a car approaches, 5,000 pounds of Detroit steel, the turtle solves his problem by ducking inside his little shell. And a lot of good it does him when he gets run over! Yet that is just what so many citizens of our nation are doing today. Abortion, nuclear proliferation, ecological crisis, national deficits, unfair tax structures, lagging world evangelization, creeping humanistic doctrine in our schools, courts, and churches– why, we can’t see that big. We don’t want to see that big. So we tuck our tails, pull in our heads, and marvel at how safe we are in our little turtle shells of private peace and affluence.
If the United States falls, surely it will be said of us what was said of the Greeks. “Athenians wanted comfort and security more than they wanted liberty, and, in the end, they lost their liberty, comfort and their security.”
God help us. God help us to learn that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. God help us to wake up, to drive away sleep, and to be on watch. To read and listen and think and debate again, to care about what happens to others, to care about what the courts decide, what politicians believe, and what our schools teach. To be informed, to keep others informed, to get involved– this is our third duty as a Christian citizen.
Help Elect Godly People
And now a forth duty: To work for the election of godly people in all levels of office– local, county, state, federal, and international.
Did you know that Proverbs 11:11 says, “The good influence of godly citizens causes a city to prosper…”? Jesus called His followers the salt and light of the world (Mt. 5:13-16). And it is our duty still to be His influences in this world.
1 Timothy 3 and Titus both give strict standards to be required of all elected leaders of the church. And in Exodus 18:16, 21-22 Moses gives strict standards for the political leaders of Israel. There Moses lists six qualifications for a political leader: Godliness, integrity, industriousness, biblical guidance, demonstrated capability, and justice. And this is still what we should look for in our elected leaders today!
But you say, “Stephen! Stephen! Wait just a moment. You’re mixing politics and religion. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 2:4 we are not to get involved in civilian affairs. The gospel is not political!”
Consider: God promised to make Abraham a nation. Moses secured a peoples’ freedom from a harsh, unjust political rule, and led them out to begin a new nation. The Ten Commandments are laws, social laws, on which a nation was founded. The prophets called nations to reform, to “let justice roll down!” Ezra was a Jew in the Persian government who fixed it so Persian tax money was used to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Queen Esther of Old Testament fame laid her life on the line by getting involved in politics. And Christ, our Jesus, told us to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars.”
On the basis of biblical truth, Christians for centuries have been involved in politics. There is Constantine, who is 312 A.D. became the first Christian emperor of Rome and made it legal for Christians to publically worship Christ. There is John Calvin in the 1500’s preaching Christ in Geneva, Switzerland. A lawyer by training, he worked tirelessly to attract textile industry to Switzerland so there would be jobs for the people. Then there are the pilgrim fathers who set sail for America to build colonies in which God ruled, justice prevailed, and every man was free except the Negro. And then it was concerned Christian citizens like Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Newton, William Wilberforce, Lord Shatesbury, Abe Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. who took things a step further and gave freedom to all regardless of color, sex or creed.
All this, and you tell me politics and religion don’t mix? The fact is, God commands them to mix! God says in Psalm 125:3, “For the wicked shall not rule the godly, lest the godly be forced to do wrong.”
Consider how easy Christians can again become political salt and light in America. There are approximately 175,000 voter precincts in the United States. And these precincts are the key to getting elected. Why, a concerned Christian citizen can easily secure a local precinct map covering the district in which his candidate is running for office. That district in which his candidate is running for office. That same Christian leader could enlist five or ten helpers, divide up the streets on the map, and in five hours of work a week for eight weeks visit every home in the area and favorably present their candidate for office. Thus a relatively few Christians, say around one million, could again give new salt and light to our nations political system.
What are your five duties as a Christian citizen to this nation? The first four are: Pray, register, be informed and inform others, and help elect godly leaders. And now the fifth is to vote.
Proverbs 25:19 says that “Putting confidence (or voting for) in an unreliable man is like chewing with a sore tooth, or trying to run on a broken foot.” God wills us to put our trust in men of character. See in Numbers 16 and Exodus 32:25-35 how Israel in the wilderness rallying around Moses as their chosen leader? Then again, after the death of Saul, and later Absalom, the public rallied around David as their king (2 Samuel 1-5 and 2 Samuel 15-19). This is what our vote is. It is our pledge of confidence, our rallying around the candidate we believe God has given to lead us.
Failure to vote is a growing sin here in the United States. In 1980 only 53% of the qualified voters turned out to elect a president. In 1982 less than 40% of the voting age population went to the polls. Now in the recent 2000 primary election locally only 22% bothered to vote.
And the question is, why? Oh, we like to say that our little vote can’t make any difference. But in 1645 one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England. In 1649 one vote caused Charles I of England to be executed. In 1776 one vote gave America the English language instead of German. In 1839 one vote elected Marcus Morton governor of Massachusetts. In 1868 one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment. In 1875 one vote changed France from a monarchy to a republic. In 1876 one vote gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency of the United States. In 1923 one vote gave Adolph Hitler leadership of the Nazi party. In 1941 one vote saved the selective service system just 12 weeks before Pearl Harbor.
Another excuse we give for refusing to vote is that we don’t like any of the candidates. “They don’t grow leaders like they used to,” we complain. Imagine fore a moment you’re an American citizen about to vote in an election in the late 1700’s. Shall you vote for George Washington, a rich Virginia landowner with wooden false teeth, a powdered white wig, who is a politically inexperienced general? Or will your candidate be Thomas Jefferson, a college dropout and political extremist? Shall your vote go to John Adams, a rabble rousing Harvard lawyer? Or what about the young and immature James Madison? Or Ben Franklin, the guy who stands out in the rain flying a kite? Undoubtedly today we expect too little of ourselves and too much from our leaders. And, too, doubtlessly we are expecting things of politicians that only God can provide. And none of this excuses us from the responsibility of voting for the best available candidate. For the truth will always be that bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote!
If you visit famed Winchester Cathedral in England, you’ll be shocked to find the bronze statue of a deep sea diver in the narthex. It’s a tribute to the man, Davey Jones, who singlehandedly saved the building from collapse. You see, Winchester was sinking on its foundations and in peril of caving in. That’s when Davey Jones, a diver, went down in a hole dug at the buildings foundation and shored up the edifice with pilings, stone, and cement. It was ghastly job. The muck and water was pitch black. A small lantern was all he carried as he labored for years below the ground. But his work saved the foundation and saved Winchester Cathedral!
And this brings us to our text for today. “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3).
Watch! Take heed! Chase away sleep! The foundations of freedom creak and groan and sink in the muck of sin. And it is time for Christians to get back to work strengthening the foundations of our land.
I close with “The moral warfare,” a challenge by John Greenleaf Whittier.
“Our fathers to their graves have gone, their strife is past, – their triumph won;
But sterner trials await the race, which rises in their honored place, –
A moral warfare with the crime and folly of an evil time.
“So let it be. In God’s own might we gird us for the coming fight,
And strong in Him whose cause is ours in conflict with unholy powers,
We grasp the weapons He has given, the light, the truth, and love of heaven.”