By / May 22

On Monday, Americans will observe Memorial Day, a federal holiday for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces.

Here are five facts you should know about this day of remembrance:

1. Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military both in wartime or peacetime.

2. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. Three years after the Civil War, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30 since it was believed flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

3. Until after World War I, Decoration Day was a holiday reserved for the remembrance of the Civil War dead. After the Great War the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

4. Here are the number of veteran deaths from 1941-2020:

World War II (1941-1946)
Battle Deaths: 291,557
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 113,842

Korean War (1950-1953)
Battle Deaths: 33,739
Other Deaths (In Theater): 2,835

Vietnam War (1964-1975)
Battle Deaths: 47,434
Other Deaths (In Theater): 10,786

Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990- 1991)
Battle Deaths: 148
Other Deaths (In Theater): 235

Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
Hostile Deaths: 3,481
Non-Hostile Deaths: 937

Operation Freedom's Sentinel (Afghanistan)
Hostile Deaths: 64
Non-Hostile Deaths: 26

Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq)
Hostile Deaths: 3,481
Non-Hostile Deaths: 930

Operation New Dawn (Iraq insurgency)
Hostile Deaths: 38
Non-Hostile Deaths: 35

Operation Inherent Resolve (against ISIS)
Hostile Deaths: 21
Non-Hostile Deaths: 74

(Note: Battle deaths means the death occurred in or near the “theater” of battle while “non-theater” means the deaths occurred outside the combat zone.)

5. In 2000, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance Act” which designates 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day each year as the National Moment of Remembrance, in “honor of the men and women of the United States who died in the pursuit of freedom and peace.” Public Law 106-579 encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at that time for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.

By / Feb 18

What is courage? Courage is defined as “strength of mind to carry on in spite of danger or difficulty.” This Presidents Day, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on the courage shown by many of our nation’s past presidents. In his book, Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989, Michael Beschloss tackles this topic and is able to highlight many of the key figures and moments in our nation’s history.

Flawed & courageous leaders

While reading about the leaders Beschloss highlights, I expected to see bold men who led with character and faith as their guide. What I found instead was a collection of flawed leaders who, when faced with unwinnable situations, rose to the occasion, took significant personal risks, and pursued the path that they believed was best for the nation.

Unfortunately, I found myself discouraged as Beschloss showed us, again and again, the many ways that these celebrated leaders fell short in their personal lives. How, as a believer, are we supposed to celebrate the decisions these men made, courageous or not? In Romans 3:23 we read that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We see throughout Scripture that the heroes of our faith were greatly flawed and that the Lord chose to use them in incredible ways (David’s adultery, Peter’s denial, Noah’s drunkenness, Samson’s pride).

This truth could be, and often is, used to justify sin in our leaders. However, this is a dangerous misinterpretation of Scripture. We must recognize that our elected officials are fallible so that we do not put them on a pedestal that leads us to justifying their sins. The answer is not to ignore the sins, but instead to recognize that goodness of God in using us, and our leaders, in spite of our sins. We are able, as a result, to reflect on the leaders that Beschloss highlights and celebrate the ways that they were courageous.

In his book, Beschloss examines many of the nation’s  presidents in times of crisis. Each responded to their crisis in the way they considered most appropriate for the country. This collection of stories highlights the importance of the American presidency and the courage it takes to lead well. On this Presidents Day, I can not help but focus on his telling of the stories of Presidents Washington and Lincoln. These two leaders led our country through trials that are unimaginable to many of us today, and did so in a way that has shaped the lens of how we view presidential leadership and courage.

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, & hard decisions

The early presidents faced challenges that were bigger than themselves. It is no easy task to take a group of revolutionaries and turn them in to a nation of citizens. To make matters worse, the British were not following through with the treaties that had ended the Revolutionary

War. As the first president, George Washington led this fledgling nation as it faced its first major test as an independent nation. With the British attacking American ships in the Atlantic, President Washington had to choose between another war with the world power or seeking peace. Knowing that the young nation was ill-suited for another war, he pursued a policy of peace with Great Britain that would be wildly unpopular across the country. Though his treaty ultimately gained popularity, the president risked much by moving forward with such a contentious plan.

Though the hero of the Revolutionary War, Washington’s reputation as an American statesman was risked by his decision. Washington could have easily returned to Mount Vernon to avoid the public fallout of his decision. However, Washington stood by his decision courageously and weathered the storm of public outrage.

The risk to his reputation paled in comparison to the risk to the nation. The greatest danger was not the threat of external force but internal division and strife. There was strong opposition to his plan inside the country, and many wondered if this new form of government was strong enough to hold together. The United States needed a bold and courageous leader to lead her through this season, and Washington was up to the task. Hi leadership during this time placed the immature nation in the best position for survival, and later success.  

Though Washington helped prepare the country at its founding, Lincoln was forced to lead when it was broken. It is no understatement to call the Civil War the greatest challenge that the United States has faced in her history. As the war raged on, the president had many choices to make that would determine the future of our nation. As Beschloss highlights, the president faced many moments where it was reasonable to think that stopping the war for the sake of peace would be the best option. A compromise to end the war would have, by necessity, involved a provision protecting slavery. Lincoln had to choose between a compromise to avert war or a war to end a moral evil.

For President Lincoln, the soul of the nation was worth the sacrifice. He believed, correctly, that the stain of slavery had been on our nation for far too long and that peace without abolition was no real peace at all. On New Year’s Day 1863, through the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln freed slaves in all states. This showing of courage proved that, though it wouldn’t be the easiest path, he would do what it would take to build a Union better than the one before the war. Politically, the president faced countless challenges throughout his presidency, but, following Washington’s lead, Lincoln showed over and over again that he would put the nation and her people before himself.

Men like Presidents Washington and Lincoln have inspired us over the generations to expect exceptional leadership and courage from our leaders. This Presidents Day, I am able to look back through history and be grateful that we have had leaders, though flawed in many ways, that stood up for the good of our country even when the personal risk was great. Each of them could have easily given up when faced with challenges, but they chose to make the courageous decisions that allowed America to grow and thrive over the course of history. I am thankful for the many ways the Lord has blessed our country, and I am praying for our president and for the presidents who will come. Will you join me?

By / Dec 21

I’ll never forget one of the hardest Christmases I’ve had. Though I love all the elements of the season—the colors, the lights, the decorations, the smells, the treats, and the celebration of Christ’s birth—it wasn’t “the most wonderful time of the year.” And the reality is that the holidays are terribly hard for many people. It’s this truth that makes Matt Chandler’s latest book, An Even Better Christmas, a helpful addition to the scores of Christian resources already out there.

“Something better”

Chandler gets to this reality and to a hopeful alternative in his first chapter. He writes, “See, I love Christmas—but it’s not because I’ve been kidded by the commercials that at Christmas everything might be perfect. I love Christmas because it’s the start of the story that means one day . . . everything will really be perfect” (emphasis mine).  

He uses this brief book to show readers “how the first Christmas can meet you where you are and provide you with hope where you are.” And he does this in a way that addresses long-time Christians, but more explicitly, those who have less practice with Christianity. In four short chapters, he “leads [readers] through some things that the Christmas story tells us are true about God . . .” in a way that would whet the appetite of the skeptic, the apathetic, the confused, and the faithful.

“God gets involved”

Instead of starting the Christmas story at the stable, Chandler goes back to 1400 B.C. and the captivity of the Israelites. He recounts a time “when the world was clearly in a mess, and when God’s people were truly struggling.” He points out that they must have felt “abandoned” and that God’s promises were “make-believe.” This is powerful because it’s where many of us find ourselves at Christmas, and in all of life.

Yet, the amazing truth, as Chandler points out from Exodus 1:24, is that God hears our groaning. Just as he heard the Israelites and sent Moses to deliver them, he hears those of us who cry out to him in our suffering and pain. Chandler is careful to write to people who are frustrated—who have been crying out to what seems like no answer. His honesty and testimony is what makes this book a perfect gift for those who are strong-arming the Lord in their circumstances. The truth is, God does hear, and he does intervene, and the proof of that was found swaddled in clothes and lying in a manger over 2,000 years ago.

“God brings joy”

This little baby, as Chandler points out, shows that God came and intervenes for the “excluded” and the “outsiders.” The prime example of this is that one of the first birth announcements went to shepherds—mangy, filthy, and unliked. These were the most unlikely people for the God of the universe to come to. So, the message of Christmas in this fascinating fact isn’t that we have to be good for God to come to us and intervene in our lives. Chandler writes, “The message of Christmas is this: ‘God knows you, he knows you need help, he knows you’ve wandered away, and he’s come to you anyway.’”

He points out that when he intervenes in our lives, though, we are exposed for who we are because we come face-to-face with his glory. So, how can the news the angels brought to the shepherds be that “of great joy” (Luke 2:10)? It can be good, joyous news because of the cross. Jesus came to expose our sin and then to cover it, to save us from it. “If you accept Jesus’ offer of rescue and forgiveness,” Chandler explains, “you need no longer fear being exposed by God when one day you stand before his glory. Instead, you can know ‘great joy,’ because you are exposed but you’re also forgiven.”

“God is worth it”

Christmas also tells us, Chandler writes, “that Jesus is worth it.” Just like the “wise men” who pursued the Son of God, we’re to pay attention to this Christmas message and do whatever it takes to move from knowing “about” God to actually knowing him. Chandler essentially asks us in this chaper to evaluate if we are more like those wise men, or if we’re kin to the religious leaders, of whom Jesus said, “you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40). Chandler’s approach to this chapter contains a challenge regardless of where the reader might find himself. If you don’t believe the Bible’s claims, will you at least take them seriously and search for yourself? And if you are a Christian, will you be intentional to avoid the complacency that sometimes creeps in over time?  

“The beginning, not the end”

In the final chapter, Chandler briefly shares his story of a brain tumor. It’s powerful because it lends a gravity to things he’s saying and almost shouts to the reader, “Pay attention! I really believe the things I’m saying, and I’ve been tested on them.” As he writes, “Christmas has gotten even better for me, because I’ve appreciated all the more that Christmas is when God got involved, gave me hope, and showed himself worth of my trust.”

I’d encourage you to recommend this short book to anyone, but especially to your friends or family members who are walking through trials, who have embraced the commercialized version of Christianity, or who are hesitant to believe Jesus’ claims. It might just be that these powerful truths communicated in a simple, disarming way will awaken them and give them a true, lasting, great joy that will lead to an even better Christmas—one that goes with them throughout their lives and into eternity.

You can find Matt Chandler’s latest book here.

By / Dec 20

This Christmas season is full of long to-do lists, activities, shopping, spending time with family and friends, and giving gifts. Technology and gadgets are often at the top of wish lists for both the young and old. I grew up surrounded by technology and like to include the latest gizmos at the top of my Christmas list, too.  

As you prepare to shop for technology-related gifts, or if you’ve already finished your shopping list, I encourage you to think about how these gifts might be best used in ways that honor the Lord and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39). So, instead of being a product-by-product list of the hottest gadgets this season, this article is more of a guide for how these technologies can be used with wisdom.

1. Smart home devices

Powered by artificial intelligence and forms of automation, smart home devices are extremely popular as gifts this season. These devices make up the Internet of Things (IoT) and help automate various functions in your home. From Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple Siri to Nest thermostats, August locks, and Abode alarm systems, the IoT is growing each day as our homes become more connected. My family has found these tools extremely beneficial to our daily lives. For example, we have our porch lights and heating monitored and automated to our liking.  

The driving factor behind these tools are various sensors that collect random bits of data from your home and environment to automate tasks. I caution you to read about the types of data they collect and how it’s stored before you turn your home from a “dumb” one to a “smart” one. Even popular smart assistants have an array of microphones always “listening” in order to be ready at your call. And they usually collect your questions and commands in a database in order to learn from them to make your future conversations more pleasant and beneficial. So, before you ask your new assistant to change the temperature, know that you are providing these systems massive amounts of data.

2. Virtual reality headsets

Some of the hottest gadgets this year are virtual reality headsets, and for good reason. They are extremely immersive and offer users an array of virtual tools including 360-degree movies and games, virtual worlds, and news. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg bought the upstart and popular VR headset manufacturer Oculus just a few years back and proclaimed their goal to see one billion people in VR. To understand more about virtual reality and how to use it wisely, you can read my previous article here.

Many VR headsets and devices have one glaring issue, though—a number of them do not have any sort of parental controls that allow parents to monitor screen time, inappropriate content, or what is downloaded to the device. A quick search online will reveal thousands of parents that were shocked to find their teenagers engrossed in pornography using their VR headsets. Parents should know how this technology functions before handing them to their kids on Christmas morning. I think the wisest thing to do is to make these kind of tools a family gift so that their immersive nature will not lead to isolation.

3. Gaming systems

For as long as they have been around, gaming systems have topped the holiday gift charts. They are a ton of fun. While some systems like the Sony Playstation are starting to include VR experiences, most systems are still being used on computer and TV screens, and are gaining popularity on tablet devices and mobile phones. I encourage parents to keep two things in mind as they plan to purchase these systems for their families.

First, know what games your family is playing. You’ll probably want to play alongside them to know what they are being exposed to. Many games might leave you uncomfortable at the level of violence and bloodshed, but you will also get a glimpse into what stories your children are being told about the world and about themselves. This is an opportunity for you to learn alongside your kids and make memories together.  

Second, beware of peer-to-peer live audio gaming. I had a parent tell me about how his family decided to ban all two-way communication on their consoles because of the language, bullying, and even sexual exploitation that can occur through these open audio channels. So, before you set your child up with a new gaming system, evaluate how these games are influencing their young minds.

4. Tablets, phones, and computers

There are nearly 2.5 billion smartphones in use worldwide, and that number will continue to grow this holiday season. The impact of these devices is just starting to be seen. For an in-depth look at the effects of screens, especially on children, make sure to check out Jean Twenge’s book iGen, where she explores some of the positive and negative effects these devices are having on the generation that has never known a day without them. My colleague Julie Masson has thought about how to protect your kids online using these devices. Her advice about what apps to avoid and how to monitor what your children see online is invaluable.  

This holiday season, I encourage you to be mindful about the time that your family spends on these devices. It is easy to be physically in the room with others but not be present. Many of these tools, including all Apple iOS devices, now have a screen time feature where you can see how long you spend on them, where you spend it, and what you are seeing. When this feature first debuted with a recent update, I was shocked and convicted at the amount of time I spent looking at my phone each day and the little I had to show for all of that time.  

We should be aware of the stronghold these devices can have over our lives, but we shouldn’t forget to enjoy these good gifts that God has given us. They allow us to have more information available at our fingertips than the entire world had available just a few decades prior.

As you give gifts and open your own this Christmas, commit to memory the simple commands that God has given us to navigate this life: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These words can help guide us as we seek to love God and our neighbors through the ways that we engage with the tech gifts under the tree. These gadgets are indeed tools that we can use in ways that honor God, but only if we are intentional to use them with wisdom.

By / Dec 19

"I got to see him while he was in jail, but I never saw him once when he went to prison," Josh Rakestraw remembers of his father, David.

Shackled by addiction, David knew his life was out of control. He just couldn't put the bottle down, and it encouraged his volatile temper. One day someone "laid a hand" on his children's mother and David retaliated. He went to prison for aggravated assault and spent three years behind bars at three different facilities.

While David was away, Josh and Samatha's mom was caught in her own battle with addiction. She and the children moved from one Missouri shelter to the next. They lost all contact with David.

Three years is a long time in the life of a child, and for Samatha, it was just easier to let her father slip from her memory. He probably forgot about me anyway, she often thought.

Mending the broken

Being separated from his children crushed David. Guilt and regret pierced him to his core. Finally, he cracked open a Bible and let the words wash over him. "I turned to the Lord to seek his comfort," David explains. "That was a blessing, because the Lord sat me down for three years, and I didn't have any distractions but to read the Word of God."

His new journey began with that Bible and Saturday night church services. David was soon attending Prison Fellowship® classes, Bible studies, and Celebrate Recovery behind bars. Each day, he drew closer to his Maker and took steps toward healing and sobriety.

And each day he thought of Josh and Samatha. "I kept a journal for three years," says David. "I wrote down how much I loved [my kids] and how much the Lord loved them." David doubted that his son and daughter would ever read those words—let alone believe them. He wished he could do more, but he without an address, he had no way of contacting them. Even if he could, he was still behind bars.

Angel Tree® was his last hope. He prayed it wasn't too late.

Not forgotten

Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship, provides a pathway to reconciliation between prisoners and their families. Often this starts with a simple gift delivery to prisoners' children at Christmas on behalf of their incarcerated parent.

Even though David didn't know where his children were living when he signed them up, Angel Tree found them. Friendly volunteers from a local church provided wrapped gifts and the gospel message to two bewildered Rakestraw children. The wrapping paper flew, revealing a puzzle, game, teddy bear, and toy dump truck, all from the last person they expected.

I have a dad? Samatha thought. I thought he forgot about me.

The greatest gift was realizing their dad still loved them and thought about them. Angel Tree helped fill the void Josh and Samatha had felt without their dad.

A family of faith

Time passed. In prison, David was growing stronger in his faith, and his kids were starting a faith journey of their own. The summer after their Angel Tree Christmas, Josh and Samatha were invited to a week of Angel Tree Camping® on a scholarship. Camp awakened a hunger for Christ in both children. Before the week was over, they had committed their lives to Jesus.

"Angel Tree taught me about Christ!" Samatha says. "He is my Savior and he died on the cross for me! He changed my life for the better."

Now in their teens, Josh and Samatha live with David in Bethany, Missouri. They attend church together and enjoy being a family again. Ask about their favorite memory since David was released, and they'll tell you: Before a tearful crowd of worshipers at their church, all three were baptized.

David and his kids have just one wish left—that the children's mother will join them as a follower of Christ. She was recently sent to prison because of a drug conviction and was released to a halfway house. "I think the Lord has a hold of her too," David shares.

Samatha is believing the promise of Acts 16:31, where Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household." She has childlike faith that God can deliver on that promise. She believes it’s only a matter of time. Even in the waiting, she is thankful that God has mended her family and restored hope where it was lost.

"[Angel Tree] is an awesome program," says David. "It does change lives. Not just for the moment, but it changed my life and the rest of my kids' lives."

This article originally appeared here.

By / Dec 5

It’s the most wonderful time of year, but these next few weeks can also be difficult for many. There are families who, for the first time, will be gathering around a table grieving the loss of a family member. There are single and widowed adults who are navigating what it’s like to show up to holiday gatherings alone. For some couples, it’s another holiday season that’s gone by without seeing those longed-for lines on a pregnancy test or receiving an adoption placement. And for many, they might not be in seasons of suffering, but discontentment has made its way into their lives despite the many blessings God has provided.

Whichever boat you’re in, choosing contentment during the holiday season can prove to be arduous. But for the believer, it is something that we are called to fight for even amongst the most trying circumstances.

Paul says this from his jail cell in Philippians 4:10-13, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

And 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

These verses aren’t meant to shame you, believer. Rather, they’re here to encourage you that, in Christ Jesus, contentment is possible regardless of your current struggles. Here are three practical steps to help you choose contentment this holiday season:

1. Get off social media

In a world of instant connection and readily available images of picture-perfect family gatherings, holiday parties, and even well-polished Christian content, consider limiting your social media use this holiday season. If you find your heart leaning toward envy, comparison, or self-doubt whenever you get online, it is a great sign that it’s time to take a break. Research has shown that excessive social media use is connected to increased anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even narcissism. Why not remove this proven fomo-inducing tool this season?

If you use social media for news, reading, or connecting with friends, consider taking a brief sabbatical from online forms. Choose, instead, to set aside these weeks for reading books, writing or calling friends and family, or visiting with people in person. Consider supporting your local newspaper. Although it might be hard at first, if you stick with it, you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy the much-needed break.   

2. Surround yourself with Christian community

The holiday season can be an isolating time, and it’s tempting to avoid all the hustle. But if you find yourself discontent with your circumstances, press into Christian community. Find trustworthy people within your local church who you can be vulnerable and spend quality time with. Feel free to say no to events and holiday parties that evoke a spirit of jealousy or comparison, but seek out and say yes to community events that help fix your eyes on that baby in a manger. Intentionally choose community that encourages contentment in all things while celebrating the Messiah who came to change the world, right every wrong, and offer us our greatest gift.

3. It’s better to give than receive

It’s no secret that the holidays have become over-commercialized by our culture. Ashamedly, I’ve spent more time this year developing my Christmas list and thinking about holiday events, rather than focusing on meeting the needs or wants of others. To combat my own heart from longing for the things of this world, I’ve been praying about and looking for ways to quietly bless others this holiday season. If your heart naturally longs to receive, spend some time thinking about ways you can share the love of Christ through generously giving. There is no better medicine for a self-centered heart than the practice of thinking about and serving others.

4. Keep a gratitude list

A few years ago a friend gifted me with Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. At first, I balked at the idea of keeping a gratitude list; it seemed a bit old fashioned and forgive me, but slightly corny. Yet per the usual, Ann Voskamp was right. Contentment is the fruit of a grateful heart. I started keeping a list, and it was as if my eyes had been opened to a reality that existed but I’d been previously ignoring. The more I started looking for God’s hand, I noticed his goodness everywhere. Ann wisely states in her book, “A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ” (p. 184). If you are having a difficult time finding things to be grateful for, start taking notice of the ways God is already providing. I assure you that as you start recognizing his love for you, love and contentment will spill out into other areas of your life.

The world tells us we need bigger, better, flashier. It tells us that we are not enough and that we never have enough, but the good news of Jesus gives us the privilege of being a contented people in a discontent world. Christ calls us to contentment in seasons of plenty and seasons of lack. But when our hearts start to long for the things of this world, may Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace, and Mighty God fix our eyes on what truly matters.

Merry Christmas and may contentment in Christ abound in your heart this holiday season!

By / Nov 30

For believers, grief is that undeniable part of the universal human experience, regularly reminding us that one day we’ll cross over to a place where there will be no more tears and no more pain. But for the time in between, it can take a huge emotional toll on us. This is especially true during the first year after a loss—the first birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. November and December can be especially cruel and unforgiving months, with their emphasis on joy and family togetherness.

Losses come in two primary categories: anticipated and unexpected. I encountered grief just this morning when I learned of the unexpected death of a friend and colleague. The news hit like a punch to the gut. Tears flowed freely as I struggled to process the reality of the loss, and as I was reminded of my own mortality. Each of us has an appointment with death, for which we must be prepared. However, it’s others’ appointments with death that leave us feeling our way around and striving to navigate life in the absence of someone we love.

As grief is concerned, losses that are anticipated are really no less burdensome than losses that are sudden and shocking. You might find yourself walking through the stages of grief, as described by Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. If you or someone you know is preparing to go through that first holiday season after a tough loss, here are some good things to keep in mind:

1. Grief doesn’t take a break for the holidays.

In a culture that likes to compartmentalize, the emotions associated with loss simply refuse to get in line. They impact every aspect of life. Grief responses can be unpredictable, surprising us with unwanted appearances at inopportune times. It can be helpful to set aside focused times expressly for the purpose of being attentive to these emotions.

2. The dichotomy is disconcerting.

The glamour and glitz of Christmas decorations can stand in stark contrast to the sense of emptiness that often accompanies grief. In fact, the grieving person may find it almost impossible to go through the motions of the holidays. It’s important to allow grace to scale back expectations without feeling guilty.

3. Family traditions can take a real hit.

The pressure to keep traditions is something many people experience, especially if the one responsible for them has died. It’s okay to make changes or to enlist the help of other family members. The hole in the family provides the opportunity to talk about fond memories in a way that is healthy and therapeutic. Some families find it beneficial to begin a new tradition of some sort following a loss.

4. Favorite things can be a real trigger for a heightened grief response.

In addition to the empty place at the dinner table, there are many aspects of the holiday season for which we have unconscious attachments. It’s normal for grief to be exacerbated by holiday songs, smells, and ornaments.

5. Everything takes more effort and energy.

People are largely unprepared for the toll grief takes on their energy level. Even months after a loss, the holiday season can cause great expenditures of energy, both physically and emotionally. It’s wise to consider this fact when planning the holiday calendar. This is the season of the year when we all do well to pace ourselves in order to keep the stress level as manageable as possible.

6. The holiday season falls at a particularly bad time of year.

Combined with the long, dark nights and cold, dreary weather, a grieving soul can slip into a real depression. With an eye toward caring for yourself, it’s important to eat right and exercise—yes, even during the holidays—and get adequate rest.

7. Keep connected to safe and supportive people.

During the holidays, it can be easy to withdraw from relationships, especially when those people seem preoccupied with their own Christmas parties and activities. Those who are grieving need someone to lean on, which may be a good friend, a pastor, or a counselor. This will help grief recovery continue to advance when it would not be uncommon to get stuck.

Believe it or not, it is possible to experience joy during the holiday season, even as one who grieves.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about grief during the holidays is that the best gift you can give yourself is room to breathe. You might consider participating in a special worship service designed specifically for those who are grieving. Many funeral homes and some churches offer such opportunities during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Believe it or not, it is possible to experience joy during the holiday season, even as one who grieves. Sure, it won’t feel the same as it used to. But things will get better. It helps to remember that the same God who gave us the greatest gift as a baby later grieved the death of his Son. You can be sure that he understands what you’re thinking and feeling, and he cares for you.

Editor's note: Thanks to the generosity of our cooperating churches and supporters like you, the ERLC is able to be courageous in the public square. Help us multiply our efforts by making a tax-deductible end-of-year gift to the ERLC today.

By / Jul 3

Independence Day is here. What are some reflections you have about the founding of our nation? Do you have a favorite tradition?

Brent Leatherwood: So I’ll own it and state, unequivocally, I’m an absolute sap for this holiday. When I worked in the political world, my favorite press release to create each year was the Independence Day message. Most communications staffers just yawn at it. Not me. Few things get my rhetorical juices flowing like a little “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” on in the background.

But my appreciation for July 4th does have some layers to it. It feels like one of the few remaining occasions where Americans put aside their differences, albeit briefly, to just be with one another. It’s a celebration that harkens back to our communitarian roots and provides a present reminder that, even after 241 years, we still haven’t achieved the lofty heights of human flourishing set forth in our founding documents.

Steven Harris: To be honest, when I think about the nation’s founding, my immediate thoughts orient around the themes of divine providence and hypocrisy. Perhaps odd, but such reflections are generated by the history, this current cultural moment, and my own academic interests. I am particularly reminded of how hypocrisy manifested itself as 18th century colonists engaged in what was, ironically, a fight for the liberty to enslave.

At the same time, I have very vivid memories of my family’s annual trip from Chicago to Alabama, and the stop at a 60,000-square-foot fireworks warehouse in Missouri fittingly called Boomland. Our 4th of July trip “down South” was a familial and communal gathering—a time to reflect on the blessings and the burdens of being black Americans.

Joseph Williams: As a former U.S. history and civics teacher, and now a constitutional attorney, it never surprises anyone how much I love Independence Day. I like what Brent says about it still being one of the only days where we put aside our differences and unite in our common interests. It marks childhood awe—sparklers, fireworks, community picnics, and baseball. When I think of the 4th of July, I think about how we’re free to celebrate as a community and nation because of those who have sacrificed so much for us for centuries. The Founders risked their life and liberty. Americans in the 19th century shed so much blood to make those ideals a reality. Americans in the 20th century fought foreign tyrants and domestic discrimination so that those words written in 1776 would reach to every person in our own country and spread around the world.

It reminds me of an essay I wrote last year for this holiday. I’ve reflected on these two paragraphs often:

The Founders united together to fight to the death for the right to disagree with one another about the most important parts of life. They debated viciously over the enslavement of millions of fellow human beings made in God’s image, arguing over the nature of God, heaven, hell, and human nature in the process. They debated the structure of government, what individual rights should be protected, how much power should be given to each level of government. Virtually every aspect of government and American life was up for debate.

Yet, they did not declare independence and fight for freedom because they agreed on everything. They risked their lives and fought, because they didn’t.

How can Christians approach July 4th in a way that appropriately marks the occasion but doesn’t cross the line into idolizing our country?

BL: As Christ followers, we should have the healthiest level of discernment about where this line is, and yet that is often not the case. Far too many church leaders are willing to mix theology and patriotism in order to further partisan political objectives. These instances confuse Christians about what they should be prioritizing as they worship (Ex. 20:3) and undermine our faith’s witness to the watching world.

Instead, we should be grateful that we are citizens of this nation and appreciative that the democratic ideals of America stand in marked contrast to the vast majority of other societies in human history. That is a powerful notion worthy of celebration in a civil context. At the same time, we have to realize we live in a Genesis 3 world that is fallen—and that reality reaches directly from the garden of Eden, to July 4, 1776, to today’s America. Keeping that truth in mind helps to strike the right balance between our current status and our eternal citizenship.

SH: I think it is important to remember that the temptation for American Christians to idolize the country is nothing new. In fact, it can be argued that the seeds of what would eventually be referred to as “american exceptionalism” were sown in Puritan New England, and began germinating in ways useful for the nation-building cause during the Revolutionary Period. Add to that fundamental democratic ideals reflective of biblical principles, and what results is a recipe for 1) viewing the country in a national Christian light and 2) viewing a certain kind of patriotism as a requisite for legitimate professions of faith.

To be sure, as American Christians we ought to recognize God’s sovereign determination of our present dwelling, and be thankful for the kinds of aspirational ideals that have undergirded our democratic experiment. At the same time, we ought to seek to faithfully be salt and light in a land that prides itself on being free, while at the same time profoundly fallen. I’ve found historian John Wilsey’s work, American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea, immensely helpful in thinking about this topic.

As Christians, we know that Jesus is in the business of redeeming all of creation, making all things new, and using us to do that.

JW: May we never forget to keep our lives properly ordered. I love how Dr. Moore puts it, “We are Americans best if we aren’t Americans first.” But that is also compatible with realizing that God providentially placed all of us here in America at this time for a reason. This is our mission field. This is the place where we are called to labor and love our neighbors. That means fighting for the dignity of the downtrodden and seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. If we love our fellow Americans because God does, and how God does, that’s faithfulness, not idolatry.

In our current cultural moment, we’re reassessing various points throughout American history, and the Revolutionary period is no exception. Has that review caused you to lessen your own enthusiasm for America? How do you think through the problematic—and in some cases explicitly wrong—aspects of our founding?

BL: Perhaps this is a bit counterintuitive, but this moment has given me a greater appreciation for America. First of all, as a student of history, I love the fact more Americans are opening up books, reading through primary sources, and examining our history. It’s never a bad thing to understand where we’ve come from because that informs decisions we make about our future.

Building upon that, it helps one understand that, in a lot of respects, this democratic experiment we’ve embarked upon has had many instances where it likely could’ve ended but didn’t. What if Washington had not crossed the Delaware, or the Axis powers had conquered in World War II, or the Civil Rights Act had failed? Those are captivating moments where our finest American ideals were advanced and prevailed. Our history shows we have a charge to keep this American project moving forward and improving it as we do so. Lastly, I would say this is overdue. We need to understand the wrongs of our past, how those instances reverberate today, and what can be done to create guardrails that ensure we never fall back into those failures.

SH: I think it’s important to explicitly acknowledge that, in many ways, the cause of the reassessment and review that we’re witnessing is really a growing willingness on behalf of some to take seriously the historical perspectives of others. I’m reminded of the 1988 prizewinning work of historian Eric Foner on the Reconstruction period, wherein he argues for the centrality of the black experience in rightly understanding the post-Civil War years. Well, it turns out that historian W.E.B. Du Bois was the forerunner of that approach, having produced a work on the topic over a half a century prior (Foner acknowledges this in his own work). I mention that brief example to simply point out that what many evangelicals might be discovering as new perspectives on history might not be all that new.

I often refer to differences of historical consciousness (how individuals understand and make sense of the past) based off of different social imaginaries (ways people imagine their social existence and make sense of the world). That is to say, people view history differently, oftentimes based on their place in the world. The fact that more people are realizing this reality is a good thing.

With regard to how I personally reckon with this country’s faults, I’m brought back to the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and am left with a view of history that magnifies the grace, mercy, wisdom, and goodness of God not merely despite the failures of men, but in light of them. As Christians seeking to interpret the past, I do not think our task is to make excuses for sin nor spin false narratives. I think we’re called to reflect honestly on the past, and demonstrate what lives of repentance and faith ought to produce in the present.

JW: It’s dangerous, unfair, and unhelpful to think of our forefathers of the Revolutionary era as cardboard caricatures. They were as impassioned as they were imperfect, just like all of us today. Throughout various stages of our nation’s history, they’ve been both glorified as gods and condemned as monsters. Neither of these simplistic perspectives are helpful. As Christians, we should understand this fundamental truth better than anyone else.

As Americans, we must read the Declaration of Independence and Frederick Douglass’ reflection on the meaning of the Fourth of July for slaves. We have to reckon with every aspect of our past. As President Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Freedom isn’t guaranteed. It wasn’t in 1776, 1865, the 1960s, 2001, or today. We continue to face choices every day about what kind of country we’ll be. May we seek to protect life, liberty, and justice for all.

Are you hopeful that our nation can overcome the original stain of slavery and racism that marked its beginning? Why?

BL: I am. Steven wisely pointed out that in order to do so, we have to reckon with our problematic and hypocritical roots. Granted, as a white commentator here, my analysis is informed by that perspective, but I do believe we can. My sense is, America, throughout her history, has been largely aspirational. At the same time, when shown to be wrong, our nation strives to address those injustices, however inadequately. Our story holds that freedom is the essential ingredient for human flourishing. We’re now grappling with the fact that at the dawn of our nation, this basic element was tragically denied to far too many people. Even with the downfall of slavery, the thread of unequal access rooted in racism has persisted in much of what we’ve built. But I believe Americans have the capacity to prevail over the wrongs of the past.

SH: Last time I checked, pessimism isn’t a Christian virtue—so that’s not an option, though I often find myself fighting against it with regard to this topic. I say that because I think we’ve underestimated the severity of the stain while at the same time overestimating our country’s (and the church’s ) progress with the same. To be sure, there have been great strides made on this front. We can all acknowledge that, in very significant ways, things have changed. And yet, the notion that “things are not as bad as they were” has never served as a truly satisfying sentiment—nor should we take it to be. The institution of slavery has been referred to as the original birth defect of the country. This then suggests that, as Brent referenced, there is a sense in which the very foundations of what has been established and propagated have been affected (I think, too, of the history of indigenous peoples). In light of the fact that we cannot simply undo what has happened, I do think the word “overcome” is appropriate. Christians can and must work redemptively and reparatively in our churches and in our communities.

It starts, however, with an acknowledgment of the history and it’s ongoing residues in the present. It is impossible to correctly treat a misdiagnosed illness. One of the most telling lines in the Frederick Douglass speech that Joseph previously mentioned concerns the question of national memory. Douglass asserted that, “. . . as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor.” I actually think the tendency is not merely an American problem but a human problem. Douglass, however, was thinking particularly of the unwillingness of white Americans to reckon honestly with the reality of chattel slavery, and what it said about the true status of the young nation. There is a significant difference between wanting to look like we’ve overcome and actually overcoming. My hope and prayer is that we continue to press toward the latter.

JW: One of the greatest writings in American history is Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. I think it’s worth remembering how he begins the concluding part of his letter:

We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson scratched across the pages of history the majestic word of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. For more than two centuries our foreparents labored here without wages; they made cotton king; and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of brutal injustice and shameful humiliation—and yet out of a bottomless vitality our people continue to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

At the beginning of that paragraph, he begins by saying he hopes that the Christian church as a whole will meet the challenge of that decisive hour. My hope and prayer is that the church today and the church into the future will be more united in making our Founders’ words more of a reality each generation.

In many ways, politics is inherently a reactionary field, and many are critical of the current state of American politics. Russell Moore often states that politics flows downstream from culture. So looking at this issue through that framing, is the present political world just reflecting a troubled culture?

BL: Years of working with candidates has taught me that is certainly true. Office-seekers and office-holders reflect the communities and constituencies they represent. Sometimes, there are benefits to that. But when a culture is unhealthy, it often produces candidates who are problematic. So how do we help that? It begins with the perspective I touched upon before. I think many of us are tying our hopes to politics in a really unhealthy way. When we find our identity in any human process or structure, it will inevitably lead to disappointment. This is true of politics.

But don’t hear me say we shouldn’t be engaged in the political arena. In fact, I’d advocate for the exact opposite. The public square needs more people of good conscience participating in it. As Christians, we need to go forth and inform, advocate, and participate in civic society. John Piper often talks about the “important role we play in this equation is to help elect (leaders) who do what God intended them to do.” I’d affirm that. But, to maintain a healthy perspective, we must always keep in mind our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

SH: There is a lot that has contributed to the sociopolitical crises of our current moment—too much to try and unpack. I think it is safe to say that the political postures we see inside the proverbial Beltway are, in many ways, reflective of the attitudes and dispositions of the broader culture. While politics plays an important role in society, we must remember that there are many things that politics will consistently prove impotent to accomplish. When one assesses the status of the discourse in the public square, it becomes painfully obvious that politics as a main identity doesn’t work. The professed Christian should best understand this limitation.

JW: As a candidate for public office this year, I obviously believe Christians engaging in politics and policy is vitally important. And as I’ve knocked on thousands of doors, I’ve been encouraged by my neighbors. When you talk to people face to face, their perspectives are more complex and nuanced. They love their neighbors, and they love our nation. They often talk to me about their best friends who live right next door who have very different political viewpoints. But they still love one another. These friendships and interactions encourage me. We just need to get off of Twitter and turn off cable news long enough to realize that’s what the majority of our country is like.

Why should civility be an important aim for Christians interested in furthering the democratic principles of our founding?

BL: I cringe every time I read an article or view a social media post where someone says civility isn’t compatible with action on a given issue. I wholeheartedly reject the formulation that says civility is tantamount to acquiescence. Hardly. What that seems to reveal instead is a rejection of the democratic tradition of public persuasion and civil discourse.

I would argue that the health of our democratic republic is intrinsically tied to our ability to present our cases to our fellow Americans and debate policies in good faith. As Wake Forest University ethics professor John E. Senior notes, to engage in public dialogue with others is to “acknowledge the inherent dignity of the other as a person who bears the image of God.” That basic truth and the implicit respect it shows our fellow citizens should undergird our actions every time we participate in the public square.   

SH: There was an article published a few days ago suggesting that the notion of civility had become a buzzword and, therefore, lost all meaning. I do fear that what has emerged from recent discussions is a very flat understanding of what it means to engage in civil exchange in the public square. After all, in his methodology of nonviolent protest, MLK was often charged with being uncivil. With that being said, I think Christians ought to be mindful of the biblical prescriptions concerning the bridling of the tongue (James. 1:26), prohibition against corrupting talk (Eph. 4:29), the call for gracious speech (Col. 4:6), etc. Moreover, Christians would do well to attend to the love ethic that is called upon by the Great Commandment. We need to always be cognizant of the image-bearers behind ideas, and seek to not merely win points but people.

With that being said, I do want to caution the reader against concluding someone uncivil for passionate protest or critique. As James Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” This, too, I would argue, is a part of the democratic tradition.

JW: What makes America so special compared to nearly every other civilization in human history is how our fundamental freedoms push us to defend, sometimes to the death, the rights of our fellow Americans who we fundamentally disagree with. That’s special because it allows us to debate very important things in a free marketplace of ideas where we can persuade others and be persuadable. It requires a humility that can only come from realizing how fallen and sinful we are.

How can Christians, either from a lay perspective or from a church leadership platform, help improve the current environment we’re in?

BL: I would submit it boils down to three pathways. First, let’s be grateful for the time and nation God has placed us in (Acts 17:26), and be informed about all that is taking place around us, but realize our country is part of a broken creation. Second, we can participate in the political space and should do so with the aim of doing good so as to provide a preview of the coming Kingdom. And lastly, in all the ways that we engage, we should realize we’re operating alongside fellow image-bearers. So let’s celebrate our nation’s birth but realize the true freedom we enjoy comes from our relationship with Christ.

SH: I think that one of the best things Christians can work on is something that has already been stated: the untethering of one’s Christian identity from a particular political ideology. I’m not saying that Christians ought cease working their political thoughts through a biblical grid, nor am I arguing against the holding of political preferences or participation in political parties. However, Christians on both sides of the political spectrum must disabuse themselves of the fictive notion that any political platform perfectly maps onto the Christian ethical calling. Church leaders can either be especially helpful or harmful here as the binding of consciences ought only take place concerning those things of biblical warrant. That is to say, while we may have good debates and arguments about what the Scriptures require of us with regard to any given issue (and some are certainly clearer than others), we must yet guard against distorting the gospel of grace and dissolving into a legalism that serves nothing and ultimately saves no one.

JW: Politics creates policy, and policy affects people. If we love our neighbors who have inherent dignity, then we have to care about politics and policy. As Christians, we know that Jesus is in the business of redeeming all of creation, making all things new, and using us to do that. This includes redeeming our toxic political environment in which far too many people are demonizing others, focused on sowing discord in order to divide us against one another. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus never promised us that being peacemakers or being insulted or hungering and thirsting for righteousness would be easy. But that’s what we’re called to do. May the Lord be gracious to give us his power continuously so that we can participate with him in making all things new.

By / Nov 23

Today, Americans celebrate a national holiday set aside to give thanks for the blessings of the preceding year. But there is more to Thanksgiving than you may realize. Here are five facts you should know about the holiday:

1. The Pilgrims who traveled on the Mayflower and landed on Cape Cod were not the first Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving. The “Feast of the First Thanksgiving” was held near El Paso, Texas in 1598 — twenty-three years before the Pilgrims' festival. And at the Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia, settlers celebrated Thanksgiving on December 4th, 1619 — two years before the Pilgrims' festival. As historian Robert Tracy McKenzie, author of The First Thanksgiving, notes, the early Plymouth settlers celebrated in 1621 could more accurately be called the “First American Protestant Christian Thanksgiving North of Virginia and South of Maine.”

2. The first Thanksgiving at Plymouth was a secular event that was not repeated. (A Calvinist Thanksgiving occurred in 1623 and did not involve sharing food with the Native Americans.) 52 Pilgrims and approximately 50 Native Americans attended that celebration. According to participant Edward Winslow, the feast consisted of corn, barley, fowl (including wild turkeys), and venison.

3. George Washington was the first to issue a presidential Thanksgiving proclamation. On October 3, 1789 in New York City, Washington proclaimed Thursday the 26th of November 1789 a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” The Continental Congress supported similar thanksgiving proclamations through 1784. President Jefferson, however, opposed this type of proclamation, saying, “"I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises…Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. …But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting and prayer.”

4. Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor and the author of the classic nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, is the person most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Prior to 1863, the holiday was largely a celebration held in New England and unknown in the Southern states. Hale proposed that it be a national holiday in 1846 and advocated it for 17 years before convincing Abraham Lincoln to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863.

5. For 75 years after Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, succeeding presidents honored the tradition and annually issued their own Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring the last Thursday in November as the day of Thanksgiving. However, in 1939 the last Thursday of November was going to be November 30. Retailers complained to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that this only left 24 shopping days to Christmas and convinced him to move Thanksgiving up one week earlier. Since it was believed most people do their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving, retailers thought having an extra week of shopping would encourage Americans to spend more.    

By / Jul 3

The better part of my childhood was spent in South Africa in the late 70s and 80s. I'm a fourth generation African. I grew up in a society plagued by economic hardship and notorious for apartheid—institutionalized racial segregation and oppression. I'm an immigrant in the United States, the fourth country in which my father has held citizenship, and my mother's third. When our family of five arrived in America, my sisters and I were middle-schoolers. My parents were unemployed without a job prospect. We had no money. We carried all of our worldly possessions in seven suitcases. But, under the Lord's grace and sovereignty, we were in the United States.

Jeremiah 29:4-7 quickly became a source of encouragement to me as I assimilated into my new country. As Christian Americans, spiritual exiles anticipating our true home in the City of God, its two directives can help us celebrate the Fourth of July holiday.

1. Giving thanks: First, according to verses four through six, we can honor the Lord through gratitude for sovereignly guiding our lives. I give thanks to the Lord that I live in a land of genuine opportunity. Our nation is imperfect, and there are citizens who suffer. This reality must not be minimized. However, we live in the country of the world in which its citizens have the greatest opportunity at a better life. It would be impossible to fully describe the opportunities available in this country, but take for example the fact that an immigrant family like mine can arrive in this country jobless and penniless, and through sheer hard work, build a great life. My parents are proof.

Or consider our nation's very high level of national security—a privilege scores of countries can only dream of. In addition, we have incredibly advanced medical technology available to our citizens. And we get the privilege of participating in selecting our government leaders and get to witness the regular, peaceful exchange of government leadership. If you live in the United States, there are countless reasons we are blessed. Under the sovereignty of God, we get to live out Jeremiah 29:5-6 in our country.  

2. Pursuing well being: Secondly, according to verse seven, we can honor the Lord by "pursuing the well being of the city." In other versions, the use of “welfare” in this verse most definitely only means good things and never bad things. The Lord would never instruct us to do bad things to our city/nation. The welfare promised to today's Christians from the Lord may only come in heaven—it may be our lot in life to endure much suffering between now and then, but the welfare we provide others is only good; never bad—even toward our enemies.

We seek the good of our country by joining the Lord in redeeming our land from the curse of sin. The immediate way I can do this is to intercede for her in prayer before God. Similarly, I want to directly contribute to the building of a healthy, local church in my community, because it is a longterm gospel presence for the area residents. But, there are additional ways to seek the good of our country. We should be good neighbors to those who live around us, responsible residents of our cities, and law abiding citizens. As the Lord grants us opportunity to contribute to government or society, we should seek to sow seeds of godly wisdom and values, for this country will reap what we sow. We must also seek Christ-honoring ways to be part of the solution to suffering in our cities. And we must proclaim the good news that true freedom is found through faith in Christ alone.

You’ll notice in this article I refer to verses four through seven, stopping short of verses 10 and following, the famously misquoted/misapplied verses by Christians today. That’s because verses 11 and following are not a promise to us in this lifetime. However, verses four through seven are absolutely guidance for every believer in every context of the world. In fact, every piece of Jer. 29:4-7 is reaffirmed in 1 Peter where we are taught how to live as spiritual exiles in America or South Africa or wherever it is we live—we are all exiles seeking how to live in our foreign land until we get to go home. So, in whatever land we live as Christians, we: First, trust in the sovereignty of God over our lives and build lives there; and second, seek the welfare of the land as we are given opportunities. This is true if we are slaves or free. Rich or poor.

On this July 4th holiday, would you take a moment to pray for our country and renew your commitment to your local church and to your neighbors? As as we celebrate our nation’s independence, we can honor Christ by reflecting on the abundance of good that is in our nation and remembering that every good and perfect thing comes from above. Then, out of our gratitude to the Lord, we should intentionally seek the good of our nation, that in all things all people might see that Jesus is Lord.