An Independence Day Prayer

By Matt Sapp

As we pause to celebrate our country this week, I am grateful for the unique promise of liberty granted to Americans and for those who have dedicated their lives to upholding it over the centuries.

But I’m also struck this year by the work required of each generation to nurture and protect the Christian values and common bonds that give meaning to our freedom. One of the ways we do that is through the language that we use.

The way we talk about and to one another can either strengthen our common bonds or fray them, and I’m worried that the tenor of our national discourse is too often doing the latter right now as political differences and partisanship bury the fruits of the spirit under a mountain of divisive rhetoric.

So I want to suggest a prayer that asks Christians to lead the way in bringing Christian values—things like love, gentleness and self-control—back into our public discourse as we celebrate 242 years of liberty.

I hope you’ll join me in this prayer:

AS A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

God of our common faith and ruler of the nations,

As we pause for the Fourth of July, we are grateful for our country, for the place you’ve given us in it, and for your presence among us. We pray that you would guide us as Christians to seek the best interests of our nation with the benefit of your blessing—and to engage our work as citizens in a way that acknowledges that you are God and Father of us all.

As Christians in America, we pray hopefully for a future of peace and shared prosperity consistent with the dawning reality of your kingdom here on earth.

As Christians in America, we pray collectively that we would use our words in ways that promote your values, and we repent of the words that we have used in error.

As Christians in America, we pray that you will guide us to act collectively in ways that inspire unity as we make intentional efforts to heal the divisions among us.

As Christians in America, we pray that you will use us to take the lead in building good will and common purpose among Americans of all political stripes; among rich and poor, male and female, young and old, rural and urban, immigrants and native-born; and among people of every race and from every nation.

All of this can be summed up very simply: God, Bless America, and use the shared efforts of Christians to do it.

AS INDIVIDUAL FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST

God who reigns in me,

As a dutiful citizen of my country and a faithful disciple in your kingdom, I pray that you will lead me to be generous and forgiving as you are generous and forgiving—especially toward those with whom I disagree.

As a dutiful citizen and faithful disciple, I pray each day that my words and actions will serve to calm rather than inflame the fears of those around me.

As a dutiful citizen and faithful disciple, I pray that you will help me to be the kind of person who inspires the best in others rather than someone who seeks to exploit the worst in them.

As a dutiful citizen and faithful disciple, I pray that you will bless me with the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it; with the humility to admit wrongs and the dignity to seek forgiveness; and with compassion for those who struggle and a genuine concern for the least among us.

All of this can be summed up very simply: God, Bless America, and use me as your instrument to do it,

AMEN.

As we pause to honor our country next week, I’m praying that God’s love would be reflected in the way that Christians engage their work as citizens—and that Christians would take the lead in welcoming charity back into our common discourse.

God is alive and present in our world and in our nation, and we have the privilege of nurturing and protecting the values that God has entrusted to our care for this generation.

With humble gratitude for the blessings of liberty and the means through which to preserve it, we remember that the future ultimately isn’t ours to fight over. The future, like the present, belongs to God. And it’s already been decided.

Happy Fourth of July.

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This Memorial Day, commit to waging peace

I was delighted when my parents told me that they had finally joined a Mennonite church in Pennsylvania.  I was glad, but one thing was on my mind: I wondered how my dad managed to join a church known for its pacifism.

“Seriously, Dad,” I said, “Your answer for every conflict in the world is, ‘Nuke ’em.’  How did they let you in at that church?”

Dad's answer to many a conflict...

Although there are times when I think my father is a rare breed among men, I do realize that his worldview is representative of so many Christians in our nation.  He, like so many others, has always been one to reconcile his faith with America’s gung-ho foreign policy.

My question to Dad, however, was about the deeper issue related to Jesus, who not only practiced nonviolence wherever he went, but urged his disciples to be peacemakers in a conflict-ridden world.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, “For they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

There was a time when I thought that warfare was the most effective means in combating evil in the world.  After all, I did grow up with my father, and we talked politics ever since my childhood.  But the more I got into God’s Word, however, the more I see that violence and war do not get us any closer to realizing God’s redemptive intentions for all creation.

This October will mark an entire decade in which America was at war with terrorists in Afghanistan.  Osama Bin Laden is dead, but politicians are still finding every reason to occupy a nation that has yet to become self-sufficient.  One more year of fighting, and Afghanistan will rival the Vietnam War in length and cost.

The impetus of Jesus’ peacemaking agenda is that violence only begets violence.  Forgiveness and diplomacy are not only effective measures for building networks for reconciliation, they are also means of breaking the cycles of violence in our midst.

Kim Phuc, caught on camera as a young girl in South Vietnam running from Nepalm bombing, will speak on forgiveness at this year's Baptist Peace Fellowship's conference

Just consider the possible implications of Bin Laden’s death: Yes, we rid the world of an evil mastermind, but there will be others who will take his place.  Our nation, like any other, is called to defend itself with military might, but I pray that the days of unilateral, preventative war are over.

Thankfully, we still live in the shadow of the empty tomb, a reminder that violence does not have the final say. Jesus’ resurrection was the subversive nonviolent resistance that broke the chains of violence forever.

In one of his memoirs, pacifist leader John Drear writes: “The nonviolent Jesus has risen above injustice, poverty, and violence.  He is risen despite war…Christ is risen above the culture of death.  A bold announcement–and we’re called to prove it.

“We prove it with the boldness of our own lives, our faith, our nonviolent resistance to the forces of death.  Which is to say, we must share the peacemaking life of the risen Jesus.”

This Memorial weekend, we invite you to worship at Trinity Baptist Church tomorrow at 10:30 AM.  Ours is a church that celebrates the bravery and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.  Ours is also a church that challenges people to live in obedience to God’s Word, whether they be folks who think like my dad, folks who think like me, and the plenty of folks who find a home somewhere in between.

David Platt’s “Radical” inspires missions, but not so radical

Review of David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2010). 240 pp.

David Platt’s book, “Radical”, is a call to missional engagement that reaches beyond the “American Dream.” In other words, Platt encourages readers to live radically by responding to Jesus’ command to “give all to the poor.” He advocates for missions, evangelism, and Christian engagement (versus apathy) by calling Christians to downsize, travel, and risk economic instability for the sake of sharing the Gospel with others.

Yet, several pressing issues make Platt’s argument flimsy, if not trite. For one, he never includes in his call to missions and individual transformation an assessment of Christian, Western-based socio-economic, political worldviews. He never once admits that the “American Dream” is a distinctly Christian-shaped ideal born out of a rigorous capitalist, Protestant work ethic.

For Jesus, and inevitably for us, politics, religion, and economics are intertwined, not compartmentalized or separate from one another. Each area informs and affects the others, so my question for Platt is, How have Christians been guilty of advocating for the American dream which the author so forcefully vilifies in the first place? How have Christians voted in favor of the so-called American dream at the expense of social justice?

If we can answer those two questions, then we can really call Christians to task on how to live differently (by opposing the so-called American dream) in light of Jesus’ radical Gospel message.

And as Hamlet says, there is the rub. Platt is speaking to a conservative audience, folks who consistently champion a strong individual work ethic.  (You can tell he’s writing to conservatives because he is constantly apologizing and clarifying his beliefs throughout the book, so as to not have any conservative inquisition on his hands.)  It is no secret that this thoroughly American (if not Western) tradition prides itself on prestige and profit, sometimes at the expense of the marginalized and oppressed.  It often ignores systemic, corporate systems that intentionally derail upward mobility for the lowest classes (and, at times, the Middle Class) among us.  (Don’t believe me?  Just read the news coming out of Wisconsin!)

If we were to truly be “radical” in the full biblical sense of the word, we would have to call into question our politics and economic systems, as well as our use of personal resources. But it is precisely these areas that Platt ignores.

Second, Platt uses the Bible to move his argument forward to no avail.  In fact, there is no clear line of argument for how the Bible applies to entire worldviews in addition to personal ethical and social engagement.  Platt’s plot can be described more accurately as circular than linear, meaning he comes back to the same points over and over again, only in different ways.

His use of the Bible, therefore, is flat and generic. He rarely provides context for the verses he quotes, and he fails to inform readers on how his “radical” call matches all that Jesus’ Great Commission has to offer, especially where God’s Kingdom–and the politics therein–is involved.

He assumes that his readers can’t delve into deep theological critical thinking–he writes on a grade-school reading level–but then turns around and assumes that his audience knows the context of all of the Bible verses he conjures. He never really discusses the historical and theological nuances of the Bible, in turn short-changing the very radical call of Christ. If Platt were to go deeper, his “radical” call would have been more radical.  (A quick overview of many reader reviews on Amazon shows a general consensus that Platt didn’t go far enough; and when he does provide theological nuance, by the way, it is decidedly from a neo-Reformed perspective.)

Overall, I appreciate Platt’s book as an entry-level call to missions and evangelism, despite the blatant Reformed theology that pervades his worldview. I am especially grateful that he brings attention to social issues that other pastors and theologians (those who are often called names, like “liberal”) have been trying to bring to the limelight for years.

However, I would think that such a book could have been about half the length since the later chapters merely echo the first two or three chapters.  Furthermore, since I don’t think Platt went far enough in his call to radical discipleship, I recommend reading books by authors like Jim Wallis or Stanley Hauerwas. Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship” or Philip Yancey’s “The Jesus I Never Knew” are even better ways to spend your library time.

For a better read, try N. T. Wright’s After You Believe, which actually tackles the same biblical text and subject as Platt’s book, but pushes the boundaries further by approaching Christian character in an overall journey of faith transcending rule-based ethics.  And Wright’s engagement with the political and ethical ramifications of living into the Kingdom of God is quite compelling, if not captivating.

(Disclaimer: This is not intended to be a scholarly review, only a surface-level critique.  If you have any questions or want me to go deeper on any particular part of the review, I invite you to leave a comment!)