Independence Day 2011

Today is Independence Day.  I wonder what runs through the minds of typical Americans.  Do we ponder anything deeper than a vacation day and fireworks celebrations?  One of the teachers in our children’s Sunday School department asked some of the kids yesterday, “Why do we celebrate Independence Day?”  Only one of the little boys answered correctly.  Is this a commentary on the lack of education in our public schools, or does it signal a larger problem regarding our country’s disinterest in history?

I am certain of one thing: few Americans recognize something that our ancestors believed with firm conviction – God’s powerful hand in the winning of our independence from England.  Few Americans are aware of the Founding Fathers’ deep faith in God and of their belief that democracy would survive only so long as we remained thankful to and mindful of the Lord.  Of the fifty six signers of the Declaration of Independence, twenty four of them (nearly half) were seminary trained ministers.

The incomparable General Washington, the greatest man on the planet but humble before his God.

Our earliest presidents acknowledged God’s providential assistance in winning our independence.  George Washington, while still fighting the Revolutionary War, said,

“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”

John Adams, one of our most influential Founding Fathers as well as our second president, paused long enough on July 3rd, 1776 to pen a letter to his beloved wife, Abigail.  He and his fellow Founders had worked long and hard to craft the document they titled, The Declaration of Independence.  Make no mistake; each of the fifty six men knew that signing their name to the document was in all likelihood like signing their own death warrant.  Signing signaled treason against the king of England.  Should these men be caught, or should the war turn in England’s favor, these men would be hung as traitors to England.

Adams, knowing the dangers, was in fact flush with excitement over what this Declaration could mean for America.  I invite you to feel his passion and enthusiasm as you read the following excerpt from his letter to his wife.

John Adams, son of a deacon who hoped young John would become a minister...God had other plans!

“The fourth day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.”

Amen!  I believe President Adams wonderfully captured the spirit that should still race through our great country, from “sea to shining sea.”  He highlighted the extreme need to demonstrate “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”  He encouraged fanfare and exuberant demonstrations of remembrance.  Rudyard Kipling later picked up on this need to never forget the sacrificial deeds of those who earned our freedom: “All we have of freedom, all we use or know – This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.”

Five decades following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, our second and fourth presidents, were still alive, each elderly but devoted friends to one another.  Each passed into eternity on the same day, July 4th, 1826, fifty years to the day that each signed the Declaration.  Our young country cried tears of sadness and yet bowed in worship to the God who gives and takes life.  You could search far and wide throughout America following that sad day and be hard pressed to find one citizen who denied God’s hand in these two presidents’ lives and deaths.

Thomas Jefferson, who hosted weekly worship in the Congress each Sunday, using the military band for music!

I don’t know what this 235th celebration of Independence Day means to you, but I believe it is incumbent upon us all to pause, remembering our Founding Fathers, their faith, and their God.  Benjamin Franklin said it well over two centuries ago.

The setting was the Constitutional Congress in Philadelphia, ten years after having won independence.  The Founders were meeting once again, this time to agree upon the Constitution that governs our nation to this day.  With tempers flaring and debates raging, our fledgling nation poised on the verge of collapse.  Franklin, the oldest delegate present, stood up and said:

“Have we forgotten our powerful Friend?  Or do we imagine we no longer need [His] assistance?…The longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

Franklin concluded, quoting the Bible, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”

Happy Independence Day!