Twice defeated presidential candidate, John McCain published a memoir called “Worth Fighting For.” The 2002 book made very clear that Mr. McCain doesn’t like my kind of Christianity. He complains about moralists who interfere in the workings of government. He holds to the idea that as long as someone is a competent legislator it doesn’t matter what they do in their so-called “private life.” Taking that idea to its practical conclusions, I believe you will have legislation that finds its worth in immediate expediency rather than long term morality. The “competent legislators” see their duty defined as whatever will make people get along better. That becomes the highest goal.
I got to thinking about the part that faith, and by that I mean daily relationship with the God of the Bible, plays in our country’s life. An American statesman wrote: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God.” That word “duty” comes up a lot when you look at the American military. Stroll through the grounds of West Point. There’s an honored spot where the motto: Duty, Honor, Country is prominently displayed.
Our current cadre of politicians don’t believe that it’s a national duty to acknowledge God. Some do, but they are a minority. If you’ve been a marine the words “always faithful” have a deep meaning. You understand commitment to duty. One of the ways you evaluate courage is the extent to which a marine puts duty above comfort or even survival. Thank you for your contribution to America’s safety. What if the founders of our republic called you to honor the Lord as your charge? For some marines this would be a life-changing duty.
Having said all this, I must now add that a relationship with God based on obligation alone is tedious. More than that is required. You have to value God with the worth that ongoing experience of His love produces. That’s reflected in the way a bible psalm writer penned his poetry: “The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” Its when you love the moral and social excellence of God and His laws with a devoted heart that you gain a vision of a country where compassion for one another is the common language.
Human love, inspired by God’s love, has sent an army of missionaries all over the globe to counter selfishness with a message of charity. In Africa the missionaries are much maligned because they changed the culture of whole tribes and supplanted a centuries old way of life. Recently I came upon the commentary of atheist Matthew Parris: “I'm convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone won’t do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” Seeing all this Parris says: “It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.”
To write like that you have to have long-term experience of Africa. You need to have seen her brutal, tribal, today-is-all-that-matters, face. Parris concludes his paper with: “ Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies development will make the change. A belief system must first be supplanted. And it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.” Here in America we are allowing the neglect of a founding belief system. Who was that writing about acknowledging God’s providence? Some old, dead, conservative guy called George Washington. If modern America doesn’t do the duty Washington described, let’s at least count on you to do it.
Andrew Paton of Clinton Church of the Nazarene, born in Africa, has pastored in Hunterdon County since 1997. Before that he ministered in Durban and Bedfordview, South Africa and prior to that was an officer in The Salvation Army. He has been in full time Christian leadership since 1975. He and his wife Carol have two married sons and five grandchildren.
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