A number of people equate greatness with size. Not so. Greatness is never a matter of size.

Take those huge reptiles which once dominated Earth, the dinosaurs. They were simply enormous. But with the exception of the movies, they have all become extinct. In spite of their size and seeming strength they are gone. Simply put, they could not adapt themselves to a changing world.

Think of how many great empires have come and gone in spite of their largeness. Focus on the history of Assyria, Babylonia, the kingdom of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, Nazi Germany, the Communist empire and others.

So God entrusted vast lands not only to the biblical character Abram’s responsibility, but to all Americans as well. I repeat, greatness is not a matter of size.

Now, if greatness is not a matter of size, of what does greatness consist? To be more specific, what are the characteristics of a nation’s greatness? That is the subject for this article.

The initial characteristic of a nation’s greatness is its sense of spiritual destiny. Immediately after God spoke to Abram (Genesis 13:14-18) about his land, Abram built an altar to God.

The reason the Bible is in a class apart from other ancient history is because through all its human record there is the overtone of divine reality. The Hebrews believed that they were God’s people and that God had a purpose and destiny for them.

And I’ve read some of this same kind of thinking in the early history of our own country. While I am not saying that these early Americans were the only ones who felt that way, I am saying that numbers of these early Americans did feel that way.

A single illustration will suffice. Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence was a brilliant young physician named Benjamin Rush. When Rush was elected to the First Continental Congress, his close friend Benjamin Franklin told him, “We need you. We have a great task before us, assigned to us by Providence.”

Historically, American citizens have recognized a group of absolute values that have served as the moral and social foundation of our culture. As this nation developed, we accepted this range of biblical concepts as the boundaries of our thoughts, words and deeds. Even if we didn’t perfectly keep them, we knew that they were the accepted boundaries of propriety.

A nation simply cannot remain great if it loses its sense of spiritual destiny.

The next characteristic of a nation’s greatness is in its unity in diversity.

My minister friend the late Jim Moore described what happened in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday night, June 22, 1994. 0n that night the Houston Rockets basketball team defeated the New York Knicks in the seventh and final game of the NBA championship. What a night it was for the Houston Rockets and their fans. What a night it was for the city of Houston and the state of Texas. And what a night for Jim on being there.

But Jim said as thrilling as that was, he saw something else that night that thrilled him even more. Namely, the way that event brought people together, connected people, bonded people, united people. The walls that so often divided people came down that night and we became one. Class didn’t matter. Color didn’t matter. Cultural background didn’t matter. The Houston Rockets fans were united. We became one.

Jim Moore said he found himself thinking, “Why can’t it be like this all the time?”

When you stop and think about it, that’s what America at its best is all about. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Diversity? Absolutely. It is something to be celebrated. We affirm diversity. However, someway or somehow there must be a unifying purpose among Americans if our country is to be at its best. And whenever that happens we may be sure God is happy for that is the way He intended it to be.

The third characteristic of a nation’s greatness is the quality of its heroes and heroines. Here, I’m talking about the characteristics of the people we exalt, honor and revere. What kind of people are they?

A few years back there was an editorial written in one of our nation’s major newspapers. It was entitled, “America has a glut of celebrities and a dearth of heroes.” The gist of that editorial was that it is time we rediscover the true heroes and heroines — that person with uncompromising integrity who humbly cares for others.

In the Old Testament, the great heroes and heroines are not chiefly military conquerors or the politicians or the sports heroes or the performers or even the sex symbols. The great heroes and heroines in the Old Testament are the men and women whose conquests are mainly in the arena of the soul.

Ladies and gentlemen, the real heroes and heroines are the people of character and compassion. Something to remember.

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The Rev. Hal Brady is an ordained United Methodist minister and executive director of Hal Brady Ministries, based in Atlanta. You can watch him preach every week on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters TV channel Thursdays at 8 p.m.

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