Pastor Andy Stanley describes how Christian beliefs were woven in to the founding of America, from the Declaration of Independence to the national conscience of the country as a whole. (Part 1 of 2)
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Andy Stanley: If our right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is tied to Creator God and we remove Creator God from the dialogue and the conversation, then what is the basis in the future for your pursuit and your freedom to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
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John Fuller: A good question from our featured speaker today on Focus on the Family. That's Pastor Andy Stanley, and we'll have the answer plus much more. Thanks for joining us. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we're celebrating Independence Day today and tomorrow by featuring an amazing message from Pastor Andy Stanley, who has a unique perspective on the founding of this country and what those principles mean to us today. I've never quite heard it explained this way, and I just really wanted to share it with the listeners.
John: Yeah, Andy has "done his homework", so to speak. And I think you'll be impressed by the results. Hear now Andy Stanley speaking to his congregation at North Point Community Church, on today's Focus on the Family.
Andy: I’m sure if you’re uh, you’re like me, you’ve had a few conversations with the television screen lately or with your favorite talk show host or maybe somebody at work watches the network you don’t like and it just drive you crazy and it just assures you of how right you are and how wrong they are.
And um, there are people you just turn off immediately and there are people you just can’t get enough of. And even if you are short on information, you are not short on opinion. And even if you don’t have all the facts, you do have all the answers.
And if the people in Washington would just give you an hour of their undivided attention, you know, boy, would things be different. And it’s so frustrating for all of us, because the debate, you know, is - is Republican and you know, Democrat and it’s progressive and you know, conservative and liberal and it’s big business and small business and too much taxes and not enough taxes and - and who’s rich and who’s not rich.
And the debate, you know, is multifaceted. But I think there’s another debate goin’ on behind the scenes that um, we need to talk about. And the reason I think we should talk about it is every once in a while in the life of a nation, and certainly the United States, the issue becomes an issue that intersects with the Scriptures. And when a political or a public um, or social issue intersects with the Scriptures, then people who do what I do need to say somethin’.
Now at the end of today’s message, I’m gonna tell you what that debate is, but getting there, I need to set it up. And I want to talk specifically about what’s at the heart of that issue and that is our national conscience, our national conscience, something you never ever hear discussed.
Now everybody knows what a conscience is. You have a conscience. I have a conscience, that our conscience is that thing inside of us that informs our “ought” and our “ought-nots,” right? There are some things you just know you ought not do. How do you know? You’re not sure. Maybe your mama told you, but she didn’t tell you everything you ought not do. You just know you ought not do some things.
There are some things you oughta do. And you’re not sure where you learned to “oughta do ‘em,” but you just know you oughta do ‘em and you think other people oughta do ‘em and you can’t understand why everybody does “ought” and “ought not” the way you do. And that’s your conscience and we all have a conscience.
One thing about a conscience is it’s like a still small voice. In fact, as Christians, we believe that God speaks through our conscience, that God, you know, kinda elbows us in the ribs and goes, “Hm, hm, hm, hm.” And there’s a sense of foreboding and there's a sense of warning and there’s a sense of, are you getting’ too close to that? And that’s our conscience. It’s a little voice and you can ignore it. In fact, I won’t ask you to raise your hands. We’ve all ignored our conscience at some point.
And when you ignore your conscience long enough, it gets quieter and quieter and you can actually do to a conscience what a guitar player does to the ends of their fingers. You can wear calluses on your conscience to where after a while, you just don’t feel things anymore. In fact, some of you, your story about coming back to faith was, you became so calloused that you didn’t even feel the pain and the consequence of sin anymore until God did something in your heart and you realized, boy, my conscience was so calloused, because I ignored it and ignore it and ignored it to where after a while, I didn’t even feel the pain anymore. Well, that’s the nature of a conscience.
Now, what we don’t think about is this: every individual has a conscience, but there is such thing as a collective conscience. You have a collective conscience in your family, in your business or your organization. There’s a collective conscience. You call it a corporate culture. In your corporate culture, there are just things you do and things you don’t do. And you don’t think of it as conscience, but it’s sort of the culture; it’s the group expectation.
You have that in your family, as well. In fact, the best way to know about the family conscience is if your family goes to visit another family. And you go to visit another family and you listen to how that family operates. And if you’ve ever had the situation to where you went to visit a family where they weren’t as polite as possibly your family and they used words your family didn’t use. And they talked about things your family didn’t talk about. And your kids or maybe you’ve grown up, you can remember this. Everybody in your family’s kinda lookin’ at each other like, “Whoa! Whoa! Oh! I never heard a man adult say, you know, whoa!"
And then you get in the car and there’s sort of this silence like, “Ooh, they - they do their family different than our family.” And you didn’t even realize you had like a collective conscience till you got bumped up against, you know, somebody who was different. I actually recently was in the reverse of that, which is a little bit embarrassing.
A few months ago, a family came to see us. And um, we’d never been together as families and it occurred to me about 20 minutes into our dinner conversation that we were a little looser with our kids and the way they um, entertained themselves and movie selections and music selections. And this family was far more conservative. I could see the kids kinda lookin’ at mom and dad like, “Whoa! And he’s the pastor. What’s up with that?” you know?
And then later in the evening, um, one of my sons invited one of their sons, “Hey, you want to go up to my room?” And I could see the kid lookin’ at his dad like, “Am I even allowed to go up there? Who knows what they have up there?” you know. And - and I guarantee you, they got in their car to go home and said, “We really need to pray for the Stanley’s. Things are loose, you know."
But what happened? Well, in our family, there’s just an “ought” and “ought not.” And I’ve never written the rules down. You’ve never, you know, but it’s just a collective conscience.
Now, you never think about your individual conscience or your group conscience until you are exposed to something different, because a conscience is an operating system. It’s things we just take for granted. Well, people just oughta. And people just oughta not. And doesn’t everybody know? And can’t everybody understand? It’s such a way of life for us. We’re often very unaware of our individual or national conscience.
Here’s some other examples. The anti-slavery movement in England and the United States was fueled by conscience. There were laws that allowed and enforced the way that slavery was handled in England and the United States. And you study the history of the abolition movement and eventually, it was the conscience of England and the conscience of the United States, that people finally realized, okay, we have ignored our common sense long enough. This is just wrong to treat another human being and it was really a war and an issue of conscience that finally turned things over a long time ago.
Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights leaders, you know, black and white appealed to the American conscience. This just ought not be. There’s no real way to excuse this. It was a war of conscience and - and the Civil Rights leaders spoke directly to the issue of our national conscience.
And consequently, and this is important, laws and regulations were changed because of conscience. Some other examples: uh, we, it’s against the law here for adult men to marry 11-year-old girls. And we’re like, “Well, does that even have to be a law? Isn’t that like, don’t run with scissors in your mouth? Do we have to write that down?”
I mean, isn’t that just obvious that men don’t marry 11-year-old girls? Well, it’s obvious to us because that’s part of our national conscience. It’s not that obvious to every other culture in the world, but we don’t think about those things. You know it’s really a conscience issue.
And as a nation becomes more comfortable with things or less comfortable with things, you know, politicians basically follow. We give ‘em a lot of credit and we give ‘em a lot of grief, but basically, they find and follow and champion trends in the public sector: child labor laws, conscience issues. Somewhere we decided, you know, kids shouldn’t be forced to work. Kids shouldn’t work in certain environments. Says who? Well, I don’t know says who; they just shouldn’t. We just - it’s just - and when you go to other countries and you see human rights abuses in other countries, we call those human rights abuses. The people of those countries just call it, “that’s just what we do.” That’s just what we do here. Well, that’s wrong. Well, that’s you Americans sayin’ it’s wrong. Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong?
Well, we have a national collective conscience. There are things that just don’t feel right to us and don’t feel wrong to us as Americans, different than other cultures. It’s changed through the years and through the generations. But what originally informed our national conscience?
And the answer to that question is a sense of personal and corporate accountability to God, Creator. That’s what shaped our national conscience and I’ll show you this in just a minute. That our national conscience was originally shaped and informed by a general - not everybody a Christian, not everybody takin’ the Bible seriously. Not arguing with that. But a general sense that there is a God Who is Creator and somehow, we personally and we nationally are accountable to and should be grateful to this God. That is how our national conscience was originally informed.
I want to give you a couple examples. Now I know this is a bit uncomfortable. And I’m not arguing that the Founding Fathers were all Christians. I’m not arguing that all the Founding Fathers saw the world the same way in terms of theology. I’m not arguing that they all took the Bible seriously.
I am arguing that there was this sense of personal and national accountability to God that has in a huge way, shaped and informed our national understanding of "ought" and "ought not". This is something you memorized in school. Second sentence from the Declaration of Independence. Now listen to this again through the grid of what we’ve just said:
“We (that’s all those smart guys) hold these truths to be self-evident (that means we can’t have a debate). We hold these truths to be self-evident, that (here’s the self-evident truth to them), that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and that among these - in other words, here’s some of these rights that are (this is important) that are an overflow of the assumption that everyone’s created and you know, has value in God’s eyes; here’s three of those rights: life (you have the right to life), liberty (you have the right to freedom) and the pursuit of happiness.
Now this is huge. Here’s how they viewed the world. “We’re gonna start a nation. In fact, we ought to break off from England.” Now why do you guys think you ought to break off from England? Well, we ought to do so because of the way that God has designed mankind and we’re not able to act in a way that reflects the way God made us and so, therefore we ought to start a war and start a nation.
Now obviously, that’s not the only reason behind the Revolutionary War. But the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence invokes the Creator and invokes the presence of God as a basis for an "ought to". This is what we ought to do, based on how God made all men.
Now of course, the hypocrisy of the American Revolution was slavery. But very soon after this terminology was leveraged in the Abolition Movement and said, “Wait a minute; wait a minute.” If God created everybody equal, He created the black man and the black woman just as equal and we’re not treatin’ ‘em as equal. And we have an issue. There’s duplicity in our system. And this was hugely leveraged throughout the Civil War and eventually um, you know, slavery was done away with in England and here and we’ve moved on from there.
Then this incredible speech that we again, we’ve all memorized or memorized parts of it in school: the Gettysburg Address. Listen to what Abraham Lincoln says: “That," beginning in mid-sentence, “that we here highly resolve that these dead (the battlefield dead) shall not have died in vain, that this nation (and here it is) under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
"Under God." Abraham Lincoln viewed our nation as a nation under the authority and accountable to God. And somehow, he’s not afraid to leverage that imagery and leverage that you know, worldview, as he talks about political issues, that we are a nation under God. We don’t get it right every time. We’re havin’ a Civil War because we don’t get it right, but nobody’s arguing that at the end of the day, we are accountable to God for our decisions.
And then in the 1950s, that little phrase “Under God” was lifted out and placed in what? The Pledge of Allegiance, right. Now we’re one nation and it got inserted in the ‘50s, “Under God.” So, whenever you say the Pledge of Allegiance or your children say the Pledge of Allegiance, um, you’re declaring that we view God as the One Who oversees this nation.
Now do we all agree about God? Nope. Do we all agree about everything about God? Nope. Do we all believe the same thing about the Bible? Nope. It’s much broader than that. But there's the acknowledgment that there is gratitude to and accountability to God.
And then in 1956, our country got a brand new motto. In 1956, literally the 84th Congress declared that we would have a brand-new motto. And President Eisenhower signed it in to law on July the 30th, 1956. The President made it a law. And our brand-new motto is, “In God We Trust.”
That is our motto. I’ve been askin’ people for almost a month, “Do you know what the national motto is?” And everybody I’ve asked except for one person says, “Um...” No one has said, “In God we tru...” Only one person said, “In God we trust.” Everybody else it was, “Um - I thin - uh - uh - 'it takes one to know one?' No, uh..."
Okay now, now let me ask you this. What if tomorrow morning, every principal of every public elementary school, middle school, high school, tomorrow morning got on the PA system and said, “Kids, as you start your day, just wanted to remind you, we trust God. Kids, today, don’t forget: trust God.” Whoo! Oh, my goodness. You would’ve thought, I mean, I’m tellin’ you what.
Now that would be so offensive. There would be lawsuits everywhere. I mean, people would be pullin’ their kids out of school. We’ve established a religion. And we say, “Wait a minute. It’s the national motto!"
“I don’t care if it’s the national motto or not, you’re tryin’ to impose religion.”
"Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa. An act - I’m just quoting the Congress and look, it’s on your coin."
But we - come on, this isn’t the new part. This isn’t new information. Nobody’s gonna write this down like, “I hadn’t even noticed.” We - come on, we have drifted so, so, so far away from God Talk politically and God Talk in our nation, that now it’s strange. And the further we distance ourself from mention of God publicly, nationally, politically, the further away we get from being able to express gratitude to God. And the further away we get from our national sense of accountability to God.
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Andy: And the further away we get from those things - and here’s the challenge: something else must take God’s place.
So, the debate is this: the two groups that people need to start lining up behind - because they are anyway - is "The Grateful" and "The Accountable" versus "The Ungrateful" and "The Unaccountable". It’s The Grateful and The Accountable that say, you know, “I know it’s odd and I know it sounds funny, but I still give God credit for all the great things that have happened to me in my life and the great things in this nation."
And the group that says, “No; I’m not grateful to God. I’m not sure who I’m grateful to. I guess I’m grateful to myself. And honestly, as bad as it sounds, I’m not accountable to God.” You see, one of the things that baffles many of us average citizens is, politicians who in their private lives can have things going on that are so shameful. And you wonder to yourself, “How can they carry this on in their private life and still have the audacity to ask me to let them lead me forward in my nation and in my country and in my family? How can they do that?”
It’s very simple. Because in their heart of hearts, they don’t feel accountable to God. You take God out of the accountability system and you end up with no accountability. You know how you know that? You look at your life. Look at your life when you felt no accountability to God.
The issue is really, are we gonna be a nation of gratitude to God and accountability to God or are we gonna be a nation where we don’t express gratitude, because it’s not politically correct and we’re not accountable to anyone other than ourselves? Is it gonna be “In God we trust?” Or is it gonna be, “In we... we trust?” That is the more fundamental debate.
Here’s the question we’ve gotta answer: if our right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is tied to Creator God and we remove Creator God from the dialogue and the conversation, then what is the basis in the future for your freedom to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
If the basis of that pursuit is removed from the conversation and removed from the political dialogue, what is the new basis? What’s the new protection for that? What gives us that right? And I’m tellin’ ya, until we come up with a national answer to that question, we have no business moving God out of the conversation, because we don’t know where that will go.
But we have a clue where that goes, because there are other nations with other histories that never allowed God into the conversation to begin with. And you know what went with God? Do you know what exited when God exited? The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What happens if we remove the thing then the person that we - was originally appealed to, what happens to our pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? You’ve gotta replace it with something.
My question is this: what is that gonna be? And until we have a good answer to that, isn’t it a bit dangerous to dismiss God and hope that somehow, somehow God will be replaced with something that’s equally as compelling, equally as protective of what our nation began to protect?
The reason that we have slowly and continued to move God out of the national conversation is because we’re so affluent. That’s the reason. Affluence and humility do not work together very well. You know this because some of the most arrogant people you know are also very wealthy.
But Jesus said and the book of Proverbs says that affluence and humility are not friends. There’s a conflict. So, consequently, in any nation, not just ours, what’s true of a nation is also true of individuals. And what’s true of individuals is true of nations, that the more stuff you have, the less dependent on God you become. In fact, there are one of my things that I pray constantly, it’s from the book of Proverbs, says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’”
And we’re a nation that increasingly publicly, politically, nationally is saying, “Who is the Lord?” And it’s not because we’re so smart. It’s because we’ve become so affluent. The truth is: the reason God has been moved out of the spotlight in our nation is because we’ve been so blessed by the very God that we have moved out of the spotlight in our national conversation.
But in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 8 - I’m gonna kinda skip through this, but we’re gonna begin with verse 6. So, here’s Moses talkin’ to the nation. He says, “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to Him and revering Him.” This is huge. Moses says there’s two things you gotta remember. There’s Law and there’s the Awe of God. There’s Law and there’s this sense of, “God, we’re accountable to You.”
Read the writings of the Founders of this nation and that’s what you find. That we will be a nation - not with a king - we will be a nation of Law, but we will be a nation that lives in Awe of the Creator, Who stands behind our law.
Skip down to verse 10: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.” He says, now when you get in there, don’t forget to be grateful. Now why in the world would he have to remind these people to be grateful once they received the blessings of God? Because it’s human nature to forget to be grateful. It’s human nature to think, “Look what I have done.”
And he says, “God is about to prosper you and your temptation you’ll face” - this is not to individuals, this is to a nation - "the temptation you will face is to lose your humility." And when you lose your humility, you lose your dependence. And that’s what it means to forget the Lord, your God. Things are gonna be so good for you, you may wake up one day and say, “Who is the Lord? Who is the Lord? Do we really need to talk about God?”
When we think we’ve done what we have done purely through the strength of our own hands, we are in that moment, not accountable to anyone. When a nation, when an individual loses any sense of divine accountability, they become more and more and more unjust in their treatment of other people.
Free enterprise, capitalism, the American way of life is awesome until we forget that ultimately we are accountable to God. And then free enterprise and capitalism becomes an excuse for hoarding and injustice. And the problem isn’t the system. The problem is we’re saying in our hearts and as a nation, “Who is the Lord? Who is the Lord?” Injustice becomes part of the culture. And it’s not the system. It’s that we forget the Lord, our God. It all goes together.
He continues, verse 18: “But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” If any nation in this world should understand that, it should be us. Because to think for a minute that it’s simply through the ingen - our ingenuity, when we look at the resources that we control, when we look at the population we control, when we look at the fact that we’re defended by oceans on each side and bad climates to the north and pretty bad climates to the south. I mean, when did we make that decision? What control do we have over any of that? But when we begin to think that it’s our ingenuity and purely our hard work, then we say as a nation, “Who is the Lord?”
Verse 19: “If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods (gods that you create) and worship and bow down to them (that means give your allegiance, your dedication, your affection to someone other than God), I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.”
Look God’s telling, “Look, if you get this wrong, I’ll destroy you,” which you read the history of ancient Israel, that’s exactly what happened.
But listen to verse 20: “Like the other nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.” So you say, “Andy, do you think God destroys nations because they forget Him?” I don’t know. But perhaps the arrogance that comes along with forgetting the Lord, Our God, doesn’t need the overt intentional judgment of God. Perhaps it carries a judgment all its own. Perhaps arrogance has its own price.
Now the sad thing and in some ways, the hopeful thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. That we can factor it - God into our conscience as a nation and even to the laws that we make as a nation. And the reason we know we can is because we’ve done it before.
John: And we're about running out of time for this episode of Focus on the Family, but plan to be with us tomorrow to hear Andy Stanley's conclusion about the founding of our nation and our responsibility to the God who has blessed us.
Jim: John, this is really a brilliant look at the rights and responsibilities that we, as Americans, have. We need to pray for this nation. We need to vote. After all, our military veterans have fought - and some have died - to protect this important American right.
You know, the midterm elections are coming up soon, and they will be here before you know it. And the TV ads will start, unfortunately, even sooner. And I encourage you to really listen to what each candidate is saying about the issues you care about, so that you can be informed as a voter.
And remember this: no matter who our leader are, Focus on the Family is here to guide you and your family, providing a "safe harbor in tumultuous times. Focus is her with time-tested, biblical truth that you can rely on. And we hope that you'll take that truth out into your community. In the past year, John, 1.3 million families said that Focus on the Family inspired them to influence the culture through civic engagement. That's wonderful! We're making an impact.
We're a listener-supported ministry, so I would like to ask you to pray for us and support us financially if you can. And when you make a donation of any amount today, we'd like to send you the DVD of this message from Andy Stanley, called God and Country. It's his complete two-sermon series on this very topic with over an hour of content.
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John: And the easiest way is to call 800-A-FAMILY or to stop by focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And be sure to join us next time when Andy will recount the prayerful attitudes that we as Americans adopted during World War II.
Andy: Even with all the American military might at our disposal, we still need the favor and the blessing of God.
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Andy StanleyView Bio
Andy Stanley is the founder of North Point Ministries and the senior pastor of North Point Community Church, a multi-campus congregation based in Alpharetta, Ga. He is also an author of numerous books including The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating, Ask It, and Deep and Wide. Andy and his wife, Sandra, have three grown children. Learn more about Andy at his website, andystanley.com.
Michael YoussefView Bio
Michael Youssef is the founding pastor of The Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Ga., and the founder and president of Leading the Way, a worldwide media ministry. He is also an author of more than two dozen books. Michael holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Emory University, as well as degrees from Moore Theological College in Australia and Fuller Theological Seminary in California. He and his wife, Elizbeth, have four grown children and five grandchildren. Learn more about Michael by visiting his website: www.MichaelYoussef.com.