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Monday, June 28, 2010

A Grateful American

I haven’t cheered that loudly while watching a game in a long time, and I don’t even like soccer that much. But, as the United States inched closer and closer to advancement (or disqualification) in the World Cup, I got more and more into it. A loss or a draw would mean going home. A win, would mean advancing to the knock-out round. It was stoppage time (soccer’s version of Overtime), and the score was 0-0. Then Landond Donovan, the face of American soccer, put in the rebound. I jumped out of my chair.

I say all of this to say, I love the fact that I live in America and am an American. Often in my preaching I am critical of the lifestyle of most people in our country. I am equally critical of the philosophy that dominates American Christianity in all its forms. My critique intensifies as I perceive that the values that govern the lives of American Christians are often more American than they are Christian. In every case, with every Criticism, I point to the Bible as my source. That said, I love America and the experience of Christianity I have been afforded living in America.

My 3rd year of seminary, it was a time of serious discernment. I was serving as a church youth pastor and finishing up my studies. There as the possibility that my part time position would become a full time position. Yet, I knew God was calling me away from that church, but where? To what? In 1990, God used my study of the book of Revelation to prep my heart. God used that book to get me ready to receive God’s call. Six years later, during that final full year of seminary study, God used a specific verse from Revelation to narrow my call.

“I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9). That fall, 1996, I saw that verse with new eyes. I really believe the Holy Spirit settled on my heart. I wanted to meet people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. I didn’t care where I was from. My concern was where I was going. Where could I go to meet all those people?

God called me to pastor a little church just outside Washington DC. There, I had some of the most amazing experiences. I met people who had lived in Arlington, VA all their lives. I met people who had come from rural Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Georgia, and Tennessee. Drawn to DC by service in the military or employment with the government, they came and they stayed. I was meeting and walking alongside people from all over the U.S. and from all over the world. China, Sudan, El Salvador, Laos, Bolivia, Albania – I have been privileged to baptize people from all these places, and many more.

Why? Why was I able to live out my calling in Arlington, VA and Washington, DC? It happened because people want to come to America and experience the freedom and opportunity of our great nation. We have numerous immigration problems. There’s no question about that. I have lived up close and personal with some of the complicated issues surrounding immigration. In spite of the issues, immigrants continue to come in search of education, work, freedom, and hope. Churches like the one I served for 9 years in Arlington, and like HillSong Church are here and have opened the doors to the world as the world has flocked to America.

On this Independence Day, July 4, 2010, I want to thank God for America. Thank you God for once again drawing me to your amazing word – Revelation 7:9. It is the picture of the Heaven you have prepared for all who put their trust in Jesus. I can’t wait to see it – one day, in your time. Until then, thank you Lord for making America a place where it is possible to get a glimpse of Heaven. Help our church be a sanctuary, a safe place for people to come when they need a safe spot. Help our church receive, with loving Christian hospitality, people from every language, tribe and nation. For the sake of liberty, it is the American thing to do. For the sake of the Gospel and for loving the world in the name of Jesus, it is the Christian thing to do. AMEN.

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