John: All right, as you look forward to the Fourth of July this week, a question for you. Just what does this holiday mean to you? Is it a trip to the beach or a backyard barbecue? I mean, really, what is the Fourth about? Is it about the historical significance of our independence? This is "Focus on the Family" with our president, Jim Daly and I invite you to join us for a fascinating look at the Christian roots of this country. And Jim, you may not realize it, but the Fourth is always special in our family because it's my wife's birthday.
Jim: It's your wife's birthday?
John: On the Fourth.
Jim: So, you never forget it.
John: We never forget.
Jim: Never once.
John: We always have watermelon. We often go campin'.
Jim: You are blessed--
John: --a cake, candles.
Jim: --to have that.
John: It's easy to remember, too.
Jim: God must have known your memory, so He--
Jim: --could remind you with that big date, but--
John: Could be.
Jim: --you know, John, thinking of that, have you ever told your kids that the Fourth of July is the country's birthday?
John: Well, we have said it's not just Mom's birthday. The fireworks--
John: --are for something else, yeah.
Jim: We do that with our two young boys. And you know, in a birthday celebration, we're rejoicing over the birth of a person that we love, right--
Jim: --like Dena, your wife on that day? And as we anticipate the Fourth of July, Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church is gonna help us rejoice over the birth of America--our country and hopefully, a country that was all love. And he has a lot to say, John about the birth of our nation, the founding of our nation and where this nation has gone adrift. And we've just pulled this out. We believe it is packed with great information.
John: Well, Tommy Nelson, of course, has been a wonderful guest on this program. Any time we have him here, he connects with our listeners. And he's talked about a wide range of topics, from the Song of Solomon to his own battle with depression. I'm looking forward to what he has to share with us today.
I should note, Tommy is the senior pastor of Denton Bible Church, as you noted, Jim. And here he is now, speaking to his congregation on today's edition of "Focus on the Family."
Tommy: I’d like to do something this morning that I don’t normally do. I’d like to share with you about America, just the idea of America, that the fact is, is that you and I are in a very strange and a very unique country. And I don’t say that simply out of a sense of pride, as saying that you’re a unique country, but out of a very logical response to our beginnings.
Normally when you mention a country, you think of a distinctive type person. When you say “Africa,” you think usually of a person, “China,” a person, “Japan,” a person, “Germany,” a person. When you say “America,” you really can’t do that.
We have spoken of for years that we’re a nation of immigrants. Unless you’re an American Indian and you met the boat when we came, then we are all transplants. And we have African-Americans and Mexican-Americans and Chinese-Americans and Scottish and Irish and Swiss, but we all came.
And what America is, it’s not a people and it’s not just a locale. America was an idea. It was a dream. And it is … and I thought long and hard as to whether I would say this and I’ll say it. I think that America was the greatest idea that has ever been concocted. Let me explain that.
From the late 1500s through the 1600s, countries determined their religions, except in the case of England. England went back and forth. They were Anglican; then they were Protestant, then Catholic and it caused a great deal of strife among English reformers—those who had the idea of the sovereignty of God and salvation, the authority of His Word and many of them wanted a Protestant government.
And some English reformers stayed there. We all know this story. It’s precious to us. They stayed there and sought to purify the system from within and they were called “Puritans.” And others left and we know who they were. We call them the “Pilgrims” and they boarded a boat and they came over here.
And they came for a freedom from the hindrances of government and the establishment of the ancient medieval idea of Augustine—of the City of God—to have not a church-state separation, but a state that was the church and to have a Christian country. That was their idea. They wanted a theocratos, the rule of Jesus Christ through the state and it was noble.
By the late 1600s, to make a long story short, it had failed and the reason it failed—I’m not being facetious right here—they had teenagers, okay. (Laughter) And the faith of the parents didn’t show up in the teenagers. I know you’re amazed that, that could happen (Laughter), but it can.
And by the late 1600s, there was what was called the Salem Witch Trials, the mania of ’92 and the Puritan dream became socially discredited and the Puritan ideal faded.
But they did leave us with something. They left us with a Christian biblical perspective of God as outside of government, to whom government is subservient, of God in a biblical sense, not just a G-O-D idea, but the God of the Jew—the infinite personal God, Who has made Himself known and redeemed man through Jesus Christ.
And the biblical idea of man as having “mannishness,” the glory of God in man as distinct from nature and having what they would call “rights” that were taken from nature’s God, of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness that were germane to every man in the image of God.
What they came up with was and it wasn’t just a Constitution, it was a Constitution that reflected Sinai. I don’t know if you’ve thought about it, but that’s the brilliance of the American concept. We were governed by a Constitution, as Israel was governed by a Decalogue. And it was a government that reflected the biblical idea of the fallenness of man. We had a saying that came out of that time. Have you ever heard it? Absolute power does what? Corrupts absolutely. We would not give absolute power to humans, because they were fallen.
And so, we had a government that was legislative, judicial and executive that checked … and checking the others. We would elect officials, based upon what we perceived right in them and that unholy men could not get in and if they did badly, we could depose them in four years and we could put others in their place. That is why I think that it is a right statement that America was a unique country. It wasn’t just a locale and it’s not just a racial people; it was an idea that sprang out of the Protestant Reformation concerning God and man and how he should live and be governed.
A country that had problems and our problems did not come from the inherent flaws of our system, our problems came because of a national lack of courage to live out our Constitution. The idea of racism and the Jim Crow laws were unconstitutional. They existed, not because of our belief system, but because of our lack of national courage to get rid of ‘em. The way[s] that traditionally women were treated were not right. In other words, our problems were that we just weren’t American enough.
We are the one country that has had great problems with immigration. Everybody wanted to come to America and we would greet them in the harbor with a “lady of light,” bestowed upon us as a present by France—a country that attempted fraternity and brotherhood and liberty. That lady of light and glory that awaits you in the harbor, you know what is written on her? How many of you know the words on the Statue of Liberty? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
I’ve always been amazed that the woman who wrote that was named Emma Lazarus, whose name comes from the Hebrew derivation of the name Eliezer, that means “God is my help.” And that's why the fellow in our New Testament that knew the grace of God as no other, was the man that had been dead for four days, named Lazarus. And so, here this woman, whose name is the very idea of life from the dead, greets the masses [that] come to us.
John: Some amazing thoughts from Pastor Tommy Nelson on today's "Focus on the Family" and we have a special Independence Day themed program for you today. Get the full presentation on CD or the download at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . Let's go ahead now with more from Pastor Tommy Nelson on today's "Focus on the Family."
End of Program Note
Tommy: We’re a country whose chief export and commodity has been freedom. You can be and aspire and dream hypothetically for anything that you would like to be. You want to be a Senator? You want to be a … anything. Maybe you can make it and maybe you won’t, but our system will give you a shot, anything you want to be.
We were a country that because of the freedoms that we granted to Christianity, allowed it to proliferate. And the greatest number of literature, Bibles, seminaries, churches, missionaries in the history of man have come out of this country.
Our country from the outset had a biblical framework of nature. And our view of nature is, that man was to subdue nature. He was to harness it and he was to gain dominion. And that gave rise to steady, because we saw it coming as from the very creativity of God, that there were logical answers to physics and chemistry. There was trigonometry. There was geometry that we could gain, because it came from a Mind, that minds could discover it.
So science and then the subduing of nature, technology, the learning of it. Education became proliferated through our culture and we became a technologically advanced people.
Our view of evil, our view was that bad is bad, because God is good and He doesn’t like that and that’s why it’s bad. (Laughter) We had the idea that we were to subdue it and that Christianity was to be light and salt.
And so, the idea of prison reform, the idea of medicine, technology, health, hygiene. Now those are things that are deep within us. And those are things that came out of the womb of the Reformation and we became the most advanced, educated, healthy, technologically advanced people by the late 1800s that had ever, ever lived. And it all came as endemic and instinctive to the Judeo-Christian roots.
So, when I say that America is not merely a people or a locale, I mean that. That’s not a romantic concept. I say that historically. America was an idea, a great idea of the reformers.
Well, you’re thinking to yourself, what happened? What happened is, that we forgot the words of our national hymn, “America, the Beautiful,” where we sing, “Confirm thy soul with self-control and thy liberty in law.” Moral creatures cannot have liberty without law or you have anarchy. Intelligent creatures know that you cannot have law without an absolute and that is God. We rid ourselves of God, then we rid ourselves of law and to where law and right and morality became semantically mystic terms with no logical basis and we have imploded.
[Let me] tell you how it happened. The Achilles Heel of atheism was always Creation. Evolution offered a hypothesis that we embraced as a fact and now atheism had credo. It had credibility, so it was thought. And so, “science” removed from us the notion of the necessary existence of the Prime Mover, the Uncaused Cause of God.
You also had the phenomena of philosophy. That ended in nihilism. Nihilism means “nil,” “nothing.” And the conclusions of what began with rationalism by the end of the 1800s was, man was merely a part of nature and as such, his mind was acted upon by natural forces.
Therefore, you could not trust his mind to stand outside of data and come up with an absolute truth, because his mind was merely part of data. Thus, he didn’t even know that he existed. You didn’t know whether they would say in philosophy, that you were there or that you were the daydream in the mind of an iguana. (Laughter)
That was nihilism and it brought such despair; it brought such horror to the thinking man, that out of it came the idea that, “No, we are the animal that can choose; thus, there is no absolute, but I, as a[n] intelligent ape, I can come up with decisions and I exist and thus, “existentialism” came—that I determine truth, subjectively upon what I think I want to do, that I am the master of my fate and that became the pop psychology that runs totally counter purpose to the idea of man in the image of God with reason, standing outside of nature, drawing rational conclusions and moral critiques. It ran counter culture.
Where was the church? Here’s what the church did in the 1900s. We put our finger to the wind. Science fails. Higher criticism fails. Therefore, we’ll change our belief system to fit and we made the golden calf of Christianity. It was a social gospel at best. And Christianity basically became a liberally tainted thing of using Christ, because it simply was a hygienic safe way to live.
The ‘60s hit and in the ‘60s, a generation arose and they saw problems; they just didn’t have solutions. There were seemingly in the ‘50s, rules that had no philosophic, theological base and the ‘60s challenged them. “Why should I do this?” “Why should I not have sex whenever I want it?” And that’s where we had [the situation where] morals can’t stand where you have no theological base and you had the phenomena of that ‘60s revolution, because they lived out what they were taught about philosophy, evolution and the like and the literary dissecting of the Bible. The ‘60s kids lived it out. The problem was, the ‘60s had no form to reform to.
The Renaissance made it in Europe when it broke away from some of the stuff of the Middle Ages, because the Renaissance was followed by the Reformation that picked it up with a theological base and freedom could be met with responsibility and law and truth.
The ‘60s was a “renaissance” with no theological base and into that vacuum we saw immorality; we saw drugs. We saw despair and hypocrisy and [for] the spiritual needs of a generation, we looked to the East. And Eastern mysticism, reincarnation, transcendental meditation, astral projection, became commonplace. We looked to the East.
Were we free? What we ended up with was the despair that came in the ‘70s, the breakdown continually of society, the home, institutions, the church, the home, government, military, police, teachers had no theological and logical base and they broke down. Rebellion became the logical response. Uneducated kids, lack of morality, abortion, venereal disease, divorce; we’ve gotten this reaping of our theological sowing.
Is there a Devil or what? Only a devil could bring that about. Our country got philosophically hijacked in this century. Jeremiah said in his day, “Your sins have withheld good from you” and they have been. Our sins have been the rod for our back--our cities, our violence, our youth, our pregnancy, our divorce and our violence, our corruption, the family, the breakdown.
Well, I know what you’re thinkin’. Boy, thanks, Tom for the encouragement this morning. (Laughter) I’m really blessed. (Laughter)
Is there hope? Some guys say, “No, there is no hope,” that we have gone too far. I know this; if there is hope, I’ll assure you where it’s gonna come from and you don’t have to be this brilliant to figure it out. What we’re going to have to do is, to reform, to have "revivé," to return and once again, sorrow and that is called "repenitent," repentance. It’s going to start in the church. Historically, trust me, this always happens. The times get so bad, that Christians have to resort to God. (Laughter)
Isn’t that brilliant? That’s fact. That’s what precipitates "repenitent" people, when they have to resort to God. We’ve tried our education, our government, our medicine, our technology. Nothing’s worked. And historically, a people, a church has to return to the Gospel. The Gospel in our country is merely the means by which you are successful. There is [sic] lots of pagans that are more successful than Christians in a lot of ideas. The Gospel is not the means to success. It is the means by which sinners are forgiven and declared righteous by a holy God. There’s got to be a return to the Gospel.
Secondly, there’s got to be a return to the living out of it in true righteousness, that particularly, fathers quit being rogue males. And the males of our country submit themselves as Adam to the One Who made them. Then they know how to respond to creation, to their job and to Eve. And Eve recognizes the sovereignty of God in that husband and there becomes order in the home. And children then become relatively, somewhat, to a degree normal. (Laughter) See? There has to be a return to righteousness, to that seeking which is the will of God.
Thirdly, there has to be a return to the purpose of the church [which] is to herald the knowledge of this—that men and women might be delivered from darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. What’s gonna happen if we don’t? Romans 1, where you have the recognition of God in nature, the rejection of it, reasoning within yourself and the replacement of God by a false system.
And we can, I think, hit a place that our corruptions are so great that we will give up our liberties for government to “parent” us, not to rule us, but to parent us. And when you have flawed people that take that kind of control, you’re going to have at some point, corruption.
And I think it is possible for God, as in the Old Testament, to raise up a “horn” to get our attention. Can that happen? Can that happen, that in a heartbeat, that horror hits a nation? Do you think that we are a breath away from Armageddon?
And if it comes to that spot, I’ll tell you what will happen, that there will be another group of Christians that find so much contradiction in this society and so many hindrances, that another group with their Bibles on another day on another Mayflower will leave. It’s not that they will leave America. It’s America will have left them and they will find another shore, some place and America will live again.
If we drop the ball, somebody on this planet has to be America, because America is bigger than a people or a locale. It is an idea. It is a great, great idea. And when they do, they may have another name. They may have another flag, but I will assure you, if God is the One that is exalted, long will that flag wave over a land of the free and the home of the brave, somewhere, ‘cause that’s what America is.
John: As Tommy Nelson concludes his message at Denton Bible Church there, he's calling us as Christians, as citizens to return to the Bible, to the Gospel, to our families. That is the hope for this country.
Jim: John, it's our only hope, isn't it?
Jim: I mean, when we get right down to it, sending people to Washington, it's important--the right people, but in the end, if our neighbors aren't changed, if hearts aren't changed for the family, for the Lord, more importantly, you know what? It's going to get worse and I think that's Tommy Nelson's point. And the one thing that he said that leaped out at me is, America is an idea.
Jim: And I see that traveling Internationally. I have seen sparks of this idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in different countries. And even the East[ern] Bloc countries, that you know, the Cold War went on for so long, friends of mine that are there now looking at America [are] saying, "What are you doing? It's like you're running toward what we've just come out of."
John: Uh-hm, right.
Jim: And they are aghast that the land of the free is becoming so enslaved to bureaucracy and government control. It's what they came out of and they're shaking their heads.
Jim: I really, really appreciated what Tommy had to share. And you know, John, as we look at the Fourth of July and what it means for this nation, it is about religious freedom. It's about freedom and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One person shared with me that, that pursuit of happiness actually meant the pursuit of virtue.
Jim: You know, John, our country will be better for it if we can do that.
John: Well, I agree with that and in that vein, the last time we aired this program we heard from one listener who said, "We're a nation that needs to remember our heritage and we need to pray." And I trust that you're going to take a moment to do just that during this special weekend.
Well, get a copy of this radio program and share it with your pastor, your friends, your neighbors. You can get the CD or download it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . And while you're there, get our mobile app, as well, so you can listen on your tablet or phone.
Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back on Monday, when we'll once again, help your family thrive.
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Tommy NelsonView Bio
Tommy Nelson is the senior pastor of Denton Bible Church in Denton, TX. He has authored many best-selling books including The Book of Romance, A Life Well Lived and Walking on Water When You Feel Like You're Drowning. Tommy and his wife, Teresa, have been married for more than 40 years. The couple has two adult sons and six grandchildren.