Christmas and the Fourth of July were always the two great holidays of the year: God and country! Each got its due. Christmas was private for family and religion. The Fourth of July was public for town and country.

The Fourth was the day for patriotism, complete with a parade through the center of town, marching bands, high-stepping drum majors, patriotic speeches by the mayor, the police chief, and, maybe, the state representative. (Really important officials like the governor or a congressman or senator never got around to small towns except just before an election.)

But the mayor was a BIG MAN. He reminded us of the history of our great nation, of the freedom and goodness in America, and exhorted us to be loyal, patriotic citizens and good Christians (or Jews). The dividing line between the two was never very clear because the mayor was always a good Methodist or Presbyterian or Lutheran, and, naturally, good Christians make good citizens. The great day climaxed in a phantasmagoric display of fireworks in Brookside Park.

If you were like the editor, you never resented the religious fervor of the patriotism because … well, because good Christians do make good citizens, don’t they?

We had no doubts about that in such less complicated times. America had just “conquered Demon Rum” and “made the world safe for democracy.” Righteousness and freedom! Both were good Christian goals for a nation that trusted in God.

No one then had ever heard of Hitler or gas chambers or World War II, or Hiroshima or Nagasaki or the thirty-eighth parallel or Da Nang. We had heroes aplenty: Eddie Rickenbacker, Lindbergh the lone eagle, Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Red Grange, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, and Jesse Owens. We shared their triumphs and their defeats. Once, the editor even raced against a sprinter who had raced against Jesse, the king, and he wept hot, despairing tears the night of Dempsey’s “long count,” which enabled Gene Tunney to rob the hero of his well-earned victory.

Of course, not all was good. We didn’t eat much meat in our family, but no one starved. The depression hurt: we lost all our savings in the bank. We couldn’t turn in our old Model T for one of those new marvels—a Model A, complete with three speeds forward plus reverse. Only daredevil stunt flyers at the county fair ever rode in an airplane. But the family T at 40 mph (going downhill) already went unchristianly fast. Only one family in the neighborhood owned a radio with a loud speaker, and periodically we all dropped by to listen in awe and wonder. We never dreamed of television. Dust storms turned prairies into a desert. Al Capone ruled Chicago in wicked splendor, and the big, bad cities harbored political corruption unashamed. The divorce rate was zooming and public morality declining.

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But we were all patriotic. America wasn’t perfect, but it was a whole lot better than whatever nation was in second place. And so we agreed with the mayor and cheered him on.

Now, the world is more complicated. Patriotism has become a sign of the naïveté of childhood. Good and evil are intermixed. The world is neither black nor white but grey—dark grey. Of course! We have grown up. And now we see with the 20-20 vision of sophisticated adults.

But the world also has changed, not just physically, and not just with the development of our modern technological society. We live in the wake of powerful disillusionments: “peace” evaporated in a thousand sputtering wars; depression drove the poor to anger and resentment against the structures of society; the Holocaust reduced beings made in the image of God to human insects—vermin to be exterminated; the Bomb wiped out 200,000 innocent men, women, and children; street riots transformed our great cities into concrete jungles; the Vietnam war destroyed our dream of a national destiny; a president resigned and eroded our trust in a righteous government. Honest patriotism is harder to come by on July 4, 1981.

But I am an American and I am patriotic. I am not a blind patriot, for I am an evangelical whose patriotism is formed by the Bible and tempered by biblical realism. When I fly over New York harbor, I scan the horizon for the lady of liberty. Tears roll down my cheeks and a lump rises in my throat. Without apology, I salute the flag, and pledge my allegiance to my country. I identify with Nathan Hale and regret that I have only one life to live for my country. I pay my taxes, vote at (almost) every opportunity, and support the United Way. I want to be a good citizen and a loyal American—for Christ’s sake.

I love America, and I am thankful for this country. Thankful for what? I am thankful that I live in a land:

where pilgrim fathers first set foot on these shores in search of freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience;

where founding fathers believed that human freedom was worth fighting for;

where statesmen first formed a union to preserve those liberties and recognized that all true and legitimate governments are constituted for the welfare of people;

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where citizens valued education and dotted this land with schools from kindergarten to university;

where leaders risked the existence of this Union to extend its liberty to all races;

where courts have gradually implemented these rights to make the law a reality;

where women are not slaves, but are honored and protected as persons to whom all rights as full persons must be granted;

where we are free to worship God as we choose, and our constitution guarantees that no alien religion or irreligion will be forced upon us in public schools;

where one may freely choose his life’s work, and jobs are relatively plentiful and well paid;

where one can be a conscientious objector;

where we imprint “In God We Trust” on our coins, appoint chaplains, and pray for our congressmen (if not in our schools);

where educational opportunities are available to all, and higher education to most;

where we can vote out of office those who stand for what we deem wrong;

where taxes are relatively low and just;

where policemen are generally on my side and who consider it their main duty to protect me.

I am an American and proud of my country. I love my country. But because I love it, I seek to improve it; and to improve it, I must judge it. But to weigh and to judge and to seek to improve are not incompatible with patriotism and love of country. Rather, they are expressions of highest love—informed, intelligent, sacrificial love—biblical love, that is.

And so, as a biblically informed patriot, I love America, I honor and, under God, I serve America. God willing, under appropriate circumstances, I might even dare to die for this country. On this Fourth of July, long past youthful naïveté, I shall stand joyfully as the parade marches by, and tenderly salute the flag as the colors of our noble, but far from faultless, nation once again are unfurled to the breeze.

When the news appears to show that greed has taken over, and every person has his price, it is refreshing to find a noteworthy exception: pro golfer Lee Trevino. When he told New Orleans tournament sponsors he would not participate because of a prior commitment, their reaction was: “I hope what he’s doing is worth more than $163,000”—the first prize and a bonus available only to Trevino had he won. What is worth more than that?

A person’s word, of course. And also the American Heart Association. Trevino kept his word to play in the association’s fund-raising event in Tucson. We commend him for his priorities and hope his good example shows others that there are values more important than making money.

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Thirty years ago there was no gospel music industry as we know it today. Apart from a small handful of musicians—George Beverly Shea, Rudy Atwood, the Haven of Rest and Old-Fashioned Revival Hour quartets, for example—there were few artists whose talents were well-known to evangelicals. Concerts by “name” individuals or groups were unheard of, unless you count Phil Kerr’s innovative Saturday night programs in Pasadena. It took little more than the fingers of one hand to count up the number of Christian record labels.

The enormous explosion in gospel music in the years since is highly evident. Scores of Christian artists are engaged full-time in concert careers, crisscrossing the nation in ministry to hundreds of thousands. Many have been uniquely used of God, their talents and testimony greatly extended through records on dozens of labels, a new one seemingly appearing every week or so. Unfortunately, excesses are also appearing (see p. 16), leading some Christians to perceive little good in this mushrooming industry.

But for 30 years, one company, in the vanguard of this surge of gospel music, has kept a cool head in spite of enormous pressures to compromise. It was in 1950 that a young college student put all his worldly possessions behind the recording of a unique sportscast, “The Game of Life,” where the Bible was the rule book, Jesus Christ was coach, and God was referee. Jarrell McCracken’s efforts ultimately became a recording company bearing the label Word, from the fictional radio station WORD of the sportscast.

Armed in 1951 with little but vision and pluck, McCracken first convinced Frank Boggs to make records for his fledgling concern. Other Christian artists followed, and with the addition of committed, capable Christian musicians to its staff, the little company in Waco, Texas, quickly became known for recordings of quality Christian music.

This year, as Word celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, much of the day’s best gospel music continues to issue from the now multifaceted company—evidenced on some 13 record labels and with tons of paper and ink. Not so well known is Word’s consistently high-quality published music, which has contributed substantially to a continuing upgrading of much evangelical church music.

We salute Word and founder McCracken for their pioneering spirit and a significant, 30-year-long wholesome influence on gospel music. They blazed a trail for others to follow.

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