The Price of Religious Freedom

The American Church is sick. If you have grown up in it, or have never gone on missions trips to third world countries, you may not realize it. But the moment reality hits us of what some of our brothers and sisters risk every time they gather for church—though they can’t call it that—in a neighbor’s home, we realize how comfortable we have become. Whenever the devastation and absolute poverty confronts us, whether from pictures from Haiti, stories from Guatemala, or skeletal children singing praises from Sudan, we see their absolute joy and hope in the Lord. And we realize that by comparison, we are empty. These precious people are putting their lives in danger to hear more of the Gospel. Or they have nothing of consequence – considering themselves blessed if there is any sort of roof over their head—and yet their smiles are radiant. Their eyes sparkle with the truth of Jesus Christ. They, who seemingly have nothing, have found everythingThey, who risk any status or comfort that the world offers, have found the one worth losing it all, even their lives.light shining

Nik Ripken, an impassioned author (his book The Insanity of God messed me up forever) and missionary, shared with me the thoughts of many of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Asia. They see the “golden” life we live here—free to speak, free to worship, free to praise, free to lift up His name in any way we choose—and they wonder why God doesn’t love them as much as He loves us here in America. I felt a visceral jab in my chest. They don’t understand. What they are seeing here is a mirage. They are the blessed church of Smyrna referred to in the book of Revelation. As times in America have grown increasingly filled with tension, dispute and battle lines over doctrinal and theological stances, it seems like we are church of Thyatira—a church that is shaped by the culture, instead of the shaper of the culture.

We care more about our own comfort than we do about peoples’ souls.

We care more about our SUVs than we do about making Jesus known.

We speak up about politics, about abortion, about same sex marriage – all the time taking sides and forgetting that is LOVE that is supposed to frame everything that we say, everything that we do.

Or, we say nothing.

We watch both sides fueling the fires and don’t speak. We forget that love has words. Love has a voice.

We are either thoughtless and brazen, turning people away with our closed-mindedness, or we are meek and timid, so afraid to offend anyone that we impact no one.

We have let the culture of or our nation silence us, rather than being the influencers it desperately needs. In a season where tolerance is the mandate, none can be found for people who follow God’s teachings. We have allowed our God to be maligned by zealots and bigots like a well-known church in Kansas. We have allowed people who probably don’t even know the real Jesus inform an entire generation about Him. When will we speak up and set the record straight?

My God is in the business of saving lives, not condemning them. He is depicted as an angry judge, handing out death sentences with a sinister smile. The truth is that God is a loving father with tears in His eyes, begging for His children to hear His voice as He calls to them in the midst of crisis and confusion. He is the peace that we seek, and the rest we desperately need.

Several years ago I watched a video of Penn Jillette, or the famed Penn and Teller duo.  He recalled an encounter with a Christian man who shared the Gospel with him. The man knew Penn was an atheist, but felt compelled to share his faith in Jesus Christ anyway.

Penn was so impacted by this man, and realized something that all Christ followers need to learn. If we say we truly believe that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven, then if we are truly loving our neighbors, and then we would be telling everyone. When we pass up the opportunity to share the message of hope and truth, it is more than just a missed opportunity. It is an act of hate.

We are to be led by the Spirit. We need to invite Him into the busyness of our agenda, and quiet our minds and hearts to hear Him. I need to be listening and acting on the urge to comfort the cashier at the Kroger near my house. I need to be brave and remember that being a fool for my Savior is nothing like the lashes He took for my sins

We can’t miss the opportunity of the freedoms that we have. Maybe the very reason we have these freedoms, through granted by a rapidly changing government, is to not just speak the good news, not just preach to all who have hears, but cry out in desperation for the lost.

We need to repent for our country, and the way we have turned away from the Lord.

We need to stop being afraid to speak the truth.

The American church should not be the Country Club it is today. Jesus came for all people. All races, all income brackets, all lifestyles. He came and he died for us all.  It’s time to change the perception of who Jesus is. It’s time for us to tell the truth. We have to take advantage of the freedoms we have and strive to make Him known throughout the world! Go big – use social media! Go small – start with one person at a time. But tell your story. Let your words be life, and light, and always love.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve seen that Penn video you mentioned. It was remarkable. Humbling. Beautiful. If only we’d be known for our love and not the things we are against. Let’s be against injustice. Against pain. Against loneliness. Against sickness. We’ve got to keep perspective…without love we’re just a clanging cymbal.

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