The Fourth of July is a very special day. It is the birthday of our nation and the time when we celebrate our freedom. It may be my favorite holiday of all. This is partly true because it comes during the summer which is becoming more and more, the older I get, my favorite time of the year.

While the Fourth has always had meaning, it seems to have become more important after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. After the terrorists attacks, you seem to hear the phrase “God bless America” much more than you did before. Each time I hear or see those words I ask myself what do they mean? Especially, what do I mean when I say them?

Sometimes we forget that the Fourth is not a religious holiday. I am afraid that we often worship our nation almost as much, or more than, we worship God. Now please do not get me wrong. I love the U.S.A. as much as anyone. My heart beats faster when I see the flag or hear the national anthem; but we cannot allow anything, even our nation, to be the thing we put above our worship of God. We need to hear again the words of Jesus regarding how we treat civil leadership of any nation: “Render to Caesar the things that are Ceasar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” [Mark 12:17 K.J.V.] This teaches that God must be the ultimate thing in our lives above all else, even our love of country.

Furthermore, we need to remember that God is God of all nations and God loves all the world’s people. Now God does not approve of the evil some people do and terrorism done in the name of religion must break God’s heart. However, when I hear “God Bless America” I cannot help but think of the words of Lloyd Stone’s hymn entitled “This Is My Song.” Let me share those words with you now:

‘This is my song, O God, of all the nations, a song of peace for land afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is, here is my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine: but other hearts in other lands are beating, with hope and dreams as true and high as mine. My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine. But other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.’

Now please do not get me wrong. It is not wrong to love your country and to pray for God to bless the U.S.A. as long as we do not mean by blessing our country that God would harm some other country. Maybe one of the hardest teachings Jesus gave us is to love our enemies. If we are to love our country as we should, we have to love God more.

So I hope this Independence Day you celebrated your freedom and enjoyed this great nation of ours, only keeping God first in your heart.