Appreciating Religious Freedom

Happy Birthday, USA!  On this day of July 4th, we celebrate our nation’s freedom by firing up the grill, getting together with family or friends or just relaxing, and perhaps enjoying fireworks.  Hopefully we pause and say a silent thanks to the brave men and women who have fought for our freedom.  If you’re like me, I enjoy it because it’s a day off work.  While I do feel patriotic and thank God that I live in this country, I haven’t thought about Independence Day as a special day to spend time with God, to exercise religious freedom.  Until now.

What is the essence of America?  Finding and maintaining that perfect, delicate balance between freedom “to” and freedom “from.”  ~Marilyn vos Savant, in Parade

It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you.  ~Author unknown, sometimes attributed to M. Grundler

79.5% of our population call themselves Christians.  Freedom in the US enables those in this percentile to practice our faith in God.  We can usually pray aloud, even in a public place.  Multiple versions of the Bible are available in local stores or online, and a household may have several versions of the Bible.  We have plenty of churches in which to worship.  Sharing Christ does not lead to imprisonment and/or death.

A powerful service at church recently reminds me how precious our freedom really is.  It challenged us to embrace Jesus’ plan for us to live for him.

As part of the message, we watched a video clip of Dr. Wess Stafford, CEO of Compassion International, talking about an experience he had in Ethiopia.  I could not find the video online.  I did find that a leader from the The Avenue Church Delray had attended a leadership conference at which the video had possibly been taken.  It is summarized on their website.  I copied and modified slightly,below (*).

Dr. Stafford knew a pastor there who would not keep quiet about the relationship we are able to have with Christ.  Christians in Ethiopia are subject to extreme persecution.  *The church had had to move underground because of persecution from the government that outlawed the very existence of that church.   Several followers of Jesus in Ethiopia that would meet in the dead of night recited passages they had memorized because it was illegal to own a copy of the Scriptures.  

 This pastor friend of Dr. Stafford was arrested and beaten several times. He continued sharing the Gospel message.  Finally, the communist government tried to publicly execute him by wrapping wires around him and electrocuting him.  After two attempts at execution, the government released him. 

After his release, Dr. Stafford was there to greet this Ethiopian pastor. Dr. Stafford told this amazing Christian that we in the states were with him and would be praying for the church in Ethiopia.  And this is how the pastor responded…”and we pray for you too.”  Dr. Stafford was taken back by the comment and asked what exactly the pastor and his church would be praying for when it came to the church in the US.  The pastor then told him…

“I have heard it was true in the US that people can go a whole day, even a week, without praying.  I have heard it was true in the US that people have multiple copies of the Bible and do not even read it regularly.   I have heard it was true in the US that there are several churches on several corners, but people on a nice day will have a “picnic” instead of gathering for worship.”

The Ethiopians cannot get through one day without prayer, the pastor had said.  The Bible is a precious, uncommon treasure to be hidden from persecutors.  They thirst for it.  Gathering in fellowship is so important and powerful it is a true effort potentially worth the sacrifice of one’s life.  The message he conveyed is that the Ethiopian Christians are rich, rich in their suffering, rich in their need for God.  Many in the USA are poor because they have too much, they’re too busy, and they don’t realize their need for God.

Here’s a challenge.  Let’s celebrate our independence, our freedom, every day.  Pretend that we don’t have freedom, that we don’t have religious freedom, that we must fight for it.

Make every day be one of prayer and getting to know God better through His Word.  Create 15-30 minutes of prayer and Bible time each day.  On most weekends  include worship and fellowship at a healthy, well-balanced church.  Christians, today, on our nation’s birthday, is a great day to begin celebrating daily our freedom of faith.

1 Timothy 6:6-8 (NLT)

6 Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

Galatians 5:13 (NLT)

13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

 

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