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Righteousness exalts a nation

I was struck this morning, as I perused the Google news headlines, by the repeated displays of chaos, violence, and tragedy that dominated all the titles: "2 Students Shot at Delaware State"; "Civil Rights Activists Rally for 'Jena Six'"; "Dirty Money: Funding Decision 'o8".

No wonder many people don't like to even hear the news anymore but prefer to entertain, ignore, or otherwise drown out the realities of today's America from their daily consciousness.

While I pray for the families and loved ones of the students who were shot and while I desire to see a God-honoring and mature solution to the tensions brewing in Jena, Louisiana and while I yearn for our political system to rise above the debauchery that has become so prevalent, I am always reminded -- when I see signs of America's slippery slide into deeper and deeper depravity -- of a little verse that I have carried with me for years now, all over the globe and almost every day. It is on one of the intro pages to a small Gideon's New Testament that my father was given in the Army, and that he passed on to me when I was just a pre-teen, and that I still use for memorizing Scripture.

There, on an otherwise blank page, I was intrigued even at an early age to see an image of the American flag and the following assertion from Proverbs 14:34: "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." Not to seem too simplistic, but this verse does give an overarching answer to all the evil we see in our nation, doesn't it? The pursuit of God's ways and laws will cause any nation to prosper and, conversely, the forsaking of these immutable, built-in boundaries for right and wrong will bring any nation down... swiftly.

Now before any of you Christians out there begin wagging your heads and mumbling under your breath about "all the sin in the world today", let me tell you of a lesson that arrested me in the middle of just such a head-wagging, blame-mumbling session a few years ago.

9/11 had just exploded, not only the buildings in New York City, but also the security and confidence of our nation. Everyone, especially the religious and political leaders, was scrambling for answers to this tremendous tragedy. Fingers of blame were pointing in every direction. Christians, atheists, fundamentalists, liberals -- the list of those said to be ultimately "responsible" for the tragedy was almost endless and all-encompassing. But most Christians felt pretty sure it was the abortionists and homosexuals who were to blame, because of the way they had brought down our American society; and I was pretty comfortable agreeing with this assessment.

Then one night I attending a worship service in the Memphis, TN area, where I was living at the time and where Lasserre Bradley, Jr. had been asked to come and preach. His message began with a weighty consciousness of all that was collectively hanging upon our minds and spirits, as he specifically reviewed the events that were so familiar and unsettling and recent to us all. Then, as he recognized the need for answers and solutions as a nation, I settled down into my chair and prepared myself for the inevitable, and in some ways comforting, deluge of name-calling, finger-pointing, and blame-shifting that almost every other Christian leader had indulged in for the past weeks.

But, instead, he chose as his text the story of Jonah; and he asked this question: why did the storm come upon Jonah's ship in the sea? Was it because of the miserable, mongrel pagans that were on board that boat? No, he said, it was because of the disobedient prophet of God who was failing to take the message of God to the pagan city of Nineveh! Suddenly my ears were pricking up and I was scooting toward the edge of my seat, because I could, of course, already see where he was going... and it was awakening in me an unsettling realization of something that I knew already, deep down, to be true.

God is not expecting the righteousness which exalts a nation to suddenly erupt from the unbelieving throngs in this country. Of course not! If it is to come, it will come from a revival of spiritual fervor, of Christ-exalting conviction in the hearts of His people in this nation.

It will come when we quit looking in all the same nooks of entertainment or crannies of comfort that the rest of the world is looking to for satisfaction, purpose, and meaning. It will come when we, who go by the name of Christian, actually begin to look like His disciples by taking up our cross of self-denial and sin-crucifixion and begin to live consecrated lives for the glory of the One we call Savior and Lord. It will come when we begin to share again the cross-centered gospel message, which we have for so long been selfishly and irresponsibly hoarding, with the nations... beginning with our own.

No, my dear Christian friends, it is not to the ungodly that we should look to for the righteousness which will exalt our nation, but to the God-fearing. Revival will not begin at the court house or the Capital, it will begin in our closets and in our churches. May we truly and thoroughly be disgusted by the reproach of sin that hangs so pervasively over our nation, but is evidenced so plainly in our own lives as well. May we begin to exalt Christ's righteousness in our own hearts first, and then before others.

It is this personal righteousness, overflowing into the national conscience, which will exalt our nation once again.