July 4. Independence Day. Freedom. Happy Birthday America!

Fireworks. Suntan lotion. Picnics. Family togetherness. Cookouts. Fun.

Confusing court rulings. Moral decay and unabashed decadence. Rising rejection and scandalization of biblical faith in the media and press. Greater intervention and eavesdropping on our private lives by the government which has increasingly shown it cannot be trusted to tell the truth or play fair with our private information and their political clout.

Among all the ambiguity and ambivalence, which is it?

How are we supposed to feel on a day like today?

What version of America are we supposed to love as followers of Jesus?

I'm not sure what July 4, 2013 means to you, but for me, it means the following.

First, I am thankful for being born where I was born and given the blessing of growing up knowing English and having all the advantages of being a citizen of the United States of America. I am deeply grateful for all who sacrificed to give us the freedoms we hold dear and often take for granted. I honor the families who have paid "the ultimate sacrifice." I honor those who carry in their minds and bodies the awful reminders of the cost of these freedoms. I came of age when a lot of young men and a few young women came home in boxes and I have a number of friends who deal with the ongoing problems associated with Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. For the prosperity, advantages, and blessings I enjoy today, I thank those who have sacrificed greatly. I commit to use these advantages of my earthly citizenship and my religious freedoms to grow the Kingdom of God and share God's blessings with others who do not have them.

Second, I recognize that any form of government or system of humankind is flawed and subject to manipulation, coercion, and outright evil. Revelation, the last book of our Bible, reminds us that any system — religious, familial, or political — that is governed by flawed human beings can and ultimately will be corrupted. Until the promised great re-creation, our universe will continue to groan, longing for its liberation when we are fully adopted into God's promised Kingdom, the new heavens and new earth that will bless us with perfection, untainted by the Fall, and filled with the glory of God's presence.

Let's work together for this new day of grace, in our time, in our world!
Third, for our world to find peace, the peoples of our world must know Jesus and be conformed to his character and compassion. Jesus' last words — Jesus' commission to share his story, his way of life in God's Kingdom family, and his baptism with the world — are my marching orders. To this task and privilege I pledge my heart, soul, mind, and strength to honor God and love my neighbor into God's Kingdom. I long to see the day when the things that divide us — race, ethnicity, language, nationality, culture — are not used as barriers or separators, but are celebrated as God's variegated and creative grace that is caught up in the Father's dream to bring all people together in Christ.

Fourth, I pledge my allegiance to the only Kingdom that cannot be shaken and on which I take my stand as life's only solid ground: the Kingdom of God. I commit to be more than a good citizen, I pledge to be salt and light no matter what the political climate may be or what freedoms I may have been given or have had limited. I will honor those to whom honor is due. Most of all, I pledge to honor Jesus as Lord above all other leaders, rulers, or governments.

Today, I celebrate with family. Today, I give thanks for sacrifice. Today, I enjoy the freedoms that are mine by grace. Today, I pledge myself again to the work of our world's only hope, the reign of Jesus in the hearts of men and women who have seen God's love in Jesus' sacrifice and have given themselves to seeing his will being lived out on earth just as it is in heaven.

To a people proud of their city and nationality and pride at being a recognized Roman colony, Paul said it well two thousand years ago:

Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21 NLT).

Until the dawning of this new day, I pledge to be God's person in my time, in my country, in my family, for God's glory and for the world's opportunity to know Jesus as Lord.

Care to join me? Let's work together for this new day of grace, in our time, in our world, to celebrate God's gift of freedom intended for all in Jesus Christ.