"Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought." - Abraham Lincoln
What makes America America? Freedom is part of it. When you think of the many around the globe who are persecuted for their faith, who are told where and how to make a living and who speak out about the government at risk of imprisonment or death, we can be truly thankful for the freedoms in America. Yet, as important as freedom is, freedom by itself leads to anarchy. (This has been seen over and over again in the sad collapse of "third world" democracies.) The essential ingredient in the creation of America is not freedom; it is character. What kind of character? The kind that the prophet Micah describes, "And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
Justice is part of the American character. Just last week in California there was a controversy involving a wealthy heiress serving her time in jail. The local sheriff had released her early, there was an outcry, and the judge ordered her back to jail to finish the sentence. A message was sent. There is one system of justice for rich and poor alike. It is a principle as old as the Bible. One of the reasons people want to come to America is that they know we are a just society.
Mercy is part of the American character. Government programs such as Welfare, Food stamps, Peachcare. Remember these words, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America ... with liberty and justice for all." What other nation would wage war with their enemies and provide humanitarian aid to these enemies at the same time?
And in addition to justice and mercy, Americans have historically been humble before God. In May of 1787 delegates from the States assembled in convention at Independence Hall in the State-House at Philadelphia. George Washington, a delegate from Virginia, was chosen to preside over their deliberations as the future government of the States was debated. The debate raged through the summer as delegates were uncompromising and agreement could not be found. Part of the New York delegation left in disgust, and others were preparing to follow. At this crucial moment, when no one there had a hope for finding a solution, 81 year-old Ben Franklin, the elder statesman, got up to speak.
"In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor . . . and have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: 'that God governs in the affairs of man.' And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir in the Sacred writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in the political building no better than the builders of Babel ... I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business."
That speech and the prayer that followed became a turning point. The delegates stayed, worked together, and crafted a new constitution, the oldest still in effect in the world. This is our 231 anniversary of the birthday of America. If we want to make another 231 years, we need to stay true to our roots. America stands for more than freedom, she stands for character - do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.