Published July 1, 2004
It was a Saturday evening in September of 1983 in Jackson, Miss. The sun was casting long shadows over War Memorial Stadium and a gentle breeze, a refreshing zephyr, provided the ideal climate for an autumn clash on the gridiron.
The two combatants, the U.S. Naval Academy and Mississippi State University, had completed their pre-game rituals on the beautifully manicured turf and the maroon and white MSU band was poised to play the national anthem.
To the expected pageantry of a college football game was the added excitement of having one of our nation’s service academies represented on the field. American flags were given to every ticket holder as a favor and an air of patriotism swept across the 60,000 spectators.
Over the public address system the announcer informed the amassed throng that four TA-4J Skyhawk Navy jet fighter planes were about to leave the Naval air station in Meridian and would be flying over the stadium in eight minutes. The Mississippi State marching band moved in perfect cadence and formed with precision the three letters: U-S-A. The drum major lifted his baton and the band played the National Anthem.
I was positioned on about the 30-yard line near the top of the stadium. With my right hand over my heart I was looking at the band and singing The Star Spangled Banner and at the same time glancing at the eastern sky to see if I could see the Navy jets approaching the stadium.
I didn’t see them until they suddenly appeared in a flash of glory and thundered over the crowd. They seemed to be almost at eye level as they zoomed past right as we got to the “bombs bursting in air” part of the song. I got goose bumps and teary eyed in that dramatic and exciting moment.
I must confess to you that I am a red- blooded, flag-waving, patriotic American. I have never gotten over the fact that by God’s grace I was born in America and have lived all my life in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I cherish our freedoms and live in profound gratitude for those who have fought to preserve our lives and liberty.
As we approach our Independence Day 2004 I share the sentiments of the English novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott, who said, “Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, 'This is my own, my native land!’”
We have a rich and wonderful heritage. One of the first official acts of America’s first Congress, the 1774 Provincial Congress, was to open in prayer. Most students of our nation’s heritage, particularly those unmoved by the revisionist historians, contend that the aforementioned prayer meeting was not some shallow “to-whom-it-may-concern” prayer. In fact, some writings indicate that it might have lasted several hours.
The nation was birthed in prayer, nurtured by devotees of the cross and kept in the traces by those who refused to let America wander too far from God.
In 1798 President John Adams said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Patrick Henry, great patriot and one of the founding fathers of our country, declared, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
John Jay, the very first Supreme Court justice, said, “Americans should select and prefer Christians as their rulers.”
We must not forget the rock from whence we were hewn. Upon coming to America in 1831 the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville said, “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
The best way for all of us to celebrate the birthday of our great nation is to remember our heritage, repent of our sins and return to the faith of our founding fathers. Only then can we legitimately sing with expectant faith, “God Bless America.”
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