God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above.
I was at a church service on 4th of July weekend a number of years ago, where we sang this, along with a handful of other patriotic hymns, such as America the Beautiful and Battle Hymn of the Republic. About halfway through the set of songs, I looked around the room and was surprised to see a number of people with their hands in the air.
I’m from a charismatic background, so it’s not strange or surprising to me to see people lifting their hands as they sing a worship song. But we weren’t singing worship songs. At least not to Jesus.
Are these people even listening to what they’re singing? I wondered. Are we so accustomed to raising our hands simply because a song is slow and moving, that we’ll do it no matter what the song is about? Or are they intentionally raising their hands to this land, this nation, this government that was formed by human hands?
Neither answer makes me feel any better. In fact, both are terrifying. Whether we are worshiping America on accident or on purpose, it’s still idolatry.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love this county. I will help my kids play with sparklers in the driveway today, and then go see a fireworks display later tonight. I will have my hand right next to my beating heart if they pledge allegiance to our flag, or if they sing the national anthem. I will probably cry if they play “God Bless America.”
I count myself blessed to have been born under the stars and stripes, a nation affluent enough that we never went hungry, even when we were poor, and progressive enough that I received a free education even though I am woman. It’s not because of anything good that I did that I was born an American. I am so very, very blessed. And I love this nation that I call my “home” for now.
But I love my Jesus more.
If America falls apart tomorrow, I won’t lose my identity, because I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
If God calls my family to leave America to proclaim the gospel in a foreign land, we’ll be okay, because we are already strangers and aliens in this world (1 Peter 2:11).
And if I begin losing the civil liberties that are currently afforded me as an American, it doesn’t matter, because I am free in a way that has nothing to do with the Bill of Rights (2 Corinthians 3:17).
If in the days to come, the government begins to take away from me my free speech, my right to peaceably assemble, my right to bear arms, my protection against unlawful search and seizure, even my right to vote, it’s not going to shake the core of who I am. Jesus promised us that in this world we would face trouble, and that if we choose to follow him, people will hate us in the same way that they hated him (John 15:18).
For today, my right to worship whatever God I choose is protected under our government. But if that went away tomorrow, if the government decided that my proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord was grounds for my detainment, torture, or even execution, it wouldn’t ultimately be the end of me, because I have already died with Christ and have secured eternal life through his resurrection (Colossians 3:3).
I will celebrate America today. I’ll read my kids the Declaration of Independence and teach them about the America our forefathers envisioned.
But freedom? I will celebrate that every day. Because my freedom doesn’t come from the White House. It comes from Calvary.