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In God We Trust

Weekly Devotionals

In God We Trust

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:

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.