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Weekly Devotionals

Weekly Devotion: In God We Trust

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Revelation 21:1-4 Then I saw “a new heaven and a
new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed
away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the
Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared
as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s
dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will
be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe
every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or
mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Today is
Memorial Day in the United States and I was reminded of a Sunday service I
attended while visiting home in Virginia a few years ago. Early into service, I
noticed that it wasn’t going to be a normal Sunday. The church decided to
celebrate Memorial Day and make it a focus for the worship.  They played a tribute video for the military
and members from each of the five active branches of the US military were asked
to rise in turn and be recognized to a standing ovation. At first I thought it
was patriotic to recognize the members of the congregation that served in the
military.  Then we sang this:

O
beautiful for spacious skies, 

For amber waves of grain, 
For purple mountain majesties 
Above the fruited plain! 
America! America! 
God shed his grace on thee 
And crown thy good with brotherhood 
From sea to shining sea! 

Yes, we sang
“America the Beautiful,” and not just the one verse that everyone knew but the
entire song, then we sang other national anthems. As the service progressed, I
got the sense that the entire focus of the worship wasn’t God but the United
States. I left the service a bit confused about what just happened.

What
surprised me was that I was in the minority. It seemed like members of the
church loved the special celebration. There’s nothing wrong with patriotism and
I want to honor those who fight for freedoms that many take for granted but I
don’t think it has any place in worship. The church is intended to be a foretaste
of heaven, where all nations will worship one God and one king. We are called
to display our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ, above and beyond any
allegiance to race or nationality. We are also called to evangelize and we
cannot take the gospel to the nations if we bear any other flag than the banner
of Christ. I happened to visit the church with a family member that day who
wasn’t a believer and I had to apologize for taking him there because I know
for a fact that he was offended, saying it resembled a political convention more
than a religious ceremony. It’s simply a bad witness to trumpet one country
when so many other nations are represented in service.

I don’t know the
intentions of the leadership of the church I visited but I have to trust that
they love God and sincerely tried their best. I’m sure Jubilee has offended
visitors as well and no church is perfect. Yet the danger of celebrating our
country during worship is that we lose focus on the priority of our allegiance.
By doing so, we presume that God is always on our side or loves our side more. This
happens not only in race or religion, but also in our personal positions. The
same presumption that is used to justify nationalism can also be used to canonize
ourselves since, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” Once the focus of
worship shifts from God to something else, we slide into idolatry. Like most idols,
pride in our country and its values can be good things. The temptation however is
to invoke the name of God to bolster what we really want for ourselves and our
clan. We do this at a national level, in private life, and sadly also in
church. That’s why it’s so imperative to keep the Sabbath holy, a day to
separate ourselves from all other loyalties and remind each other of the first
commandment.

I love
Revelation 21 as we see the Holy City descend and God dwelling among his
people. The image is not one of a powerful nation state but rather the intimacy
of a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. This bride is his church, you
and me. There will be no death or pain because the old order of political,
economic, and social divisions will pass away and be replaced by a united
family, not by a united state. I pray that we will be a people devoted to one God
above all else.

Blessings,

Alex Lim