I grew up in a very patriotic household. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II. One of my grandfathers in particular got teary-eyed whenever he talked about this country and the blessings God had bestowed on it. I attended a Christian elementary and middle school where the pledge was recited everyday, patriotic programs were a part of the yearly schedule, and patriotic songs were taught alongside Christian songs. In my house, the Fourth of July carried the same weight as Christmas. My view of America and God was like peanut butter and jelly–you could have one without the other, but why? It’s unnatural.
As I got older I developed an interest in foreign missions. My desire to see people come to Christ was genuine, and clearly my country didn’t need me in this capacity. So at 17 I applied to a missions organization geared for teens and was on my way to a summer in the French Alps with kids I’d never met. The first two weeks were spent at Boot Camp in Merritt Island, Florida with hundreds of teams headed to places all over the world. The time was spent bonding as a group and learning skills to take to the field. Since my team was a work team much of our days were spent learning the art of steel tying and cement pouring. For two and a half months I traded colorful flats (I had them in every color!) for steel-toed work boots, daily showers for a weekly dip in an ice-cold stream and hot rollers for a rubber band.
Every morning all of the teams met under a big tent, hundreds of us in the sweltering heat wearing long pants and work boots. On one particular morning we were treated to some special guests. Lining the stage in their native garb were people from Africa, Asia and Central America. They were introduced as missionaries to America. To say I was stunned is an understatement. I’d never heard of such a thing, and quite frankly, I was annoyed and aghast. The audacity of these people to think the greatest country in the world was in need of missionaries was almost more than I could take. After all, we were the ones that produced the missionary greats like Ida Scudder and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. I walked out of the meeting that morning in a daze, but it changed my life.
Before you dismiss me as an arrogant American, hear me out. America is an amazing country. We were founded by men and women who were tired of being told who to worship and how to worship. Our laws were constructed by men who, if they didn’t have a personal relationship with God, they at least acknowledged Him to a degree, understanding that adhering to moral principles could only serve to help us.
Yes, God has used this country in ways that can only be attributed to Him. Because of people like Billy Graham countless souls the world over have come to Christ. Americans have started churches, adopted orphans, aided in the rebuilding of lives after enduring the brutality of human trafficking, set up refugee camps, donated millions of dollars to causes around the globe. Clearly, we have been an instrument in the Master’s hands.
But over time we’ve become fat and lazy; fat in our pocketbooks and lazy in our faith. As Christians we’ve played church on Sunday, and lived out the rest of the week like pure heathens to the point that America has now been declared “no longer a Christian nation” by the powers that be. I want to blame the politicians, the laws, our churches, but as I look back on my own life I can see so clearly the role I’ve played in ushering in our current state of affairs. I’ve pinned my hopes on money and possessions, buying into the idea that the more of this stuff I have, the happier, the more respected, the more satisfied and fulfilled I’ll be.
So what now? What kind of world will my kids and grandkids grow up in? What can I do? I’m only one person. For me, I came to the realization that the kind of change that our country, indeed our world needs, would only come about after change and revival happens on a personal level. I realize I can’t change the laws or the prejudices of other people. I can’t make people believe in God. I can’t wish anything into existence, but what I can do is start with me. I can clean up my own life, get rid of the distractions that blind me to God’s real call on my life, and then hopefully it will filter into the lives of my kids and into their small sphere of influence. If we all sought personal revival, I believe the generations to come would be the the strongest Christ-followers this country has ever seen.
Oh yeah. America needs missionaries alright. They’re sitting in our church pews, men and women who at some point gave their lives to Christ but lost their passion. It’s not that they don’t believe, but they got busy and distracted. Things that should have caused the hairs on their necks to stand to attention got by with barely a whisper. I know because I’ve spent most of my adult life as one of these pew warmers. But it doesn’t take a politician to turn things around. We don’t need new laws to force people to make right decisions. What we need is for those of us who claim to love Jesus, to pray that our eyes would be opened to our own sin, our own contribution to the society that we are living in and repent and ask God to make our lives count where we are. For me, I knew until I got my spending under control and massacred my materialism, I was useless to God. What about you?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23,24 NIV).