On Memorial Day we remember those who have given their lives for this heritage of freedom we have here in the United States. Although our freedoms — such as the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the ability to prosper in life through hard work and risk-taking, the right to have our religion protected from government abuses and control — are being undermined and reduced almost daily, our country is still the best place in the world to live, in my opinion.
I don’t like to preach sermons tailored to the world’s holidays. However, on Memorial Day weekend each year, I do like to bring a message, as God allows, to remind people of the spiritual heritage that has been purchased for us. I’m talking about the people who have given their lives in the name of God and free worship long before The United States was even a nation.
I’m talking about people like Lady Anne Askew who was tortured so cruelly by the Romanists in 1545 and 1546 in England that she had to be carried to the stake on which she was burned, unable to walk. Her crime? She refused to go to mass. She said, “I had rather to read five lines in the Bible, than to hear five masses in the temple.” Her body chained to the stake because she could no longer hold it erect, and the wood piled about her ready to be ignited, she was offered a full pardon if only she would recant. She replied that she “came not thither to deny her Lord and Master” and at that was burned alive.
We know so little of persecution for God’s sake. It’s happening throughout all the world around us, yet we live here in our abundance and freedom barely concerned that our brothers and sisters are enduring the same trials as our ancestors, all for the sake of their faith in God.
I read in a magazine article that a leader in a house-church in China said, “We are such young Christians. We look up to the U.S. for living examples of how to lead Christian lives.”
How disappointed our Chinese brothers and sisters must be! The typical American Christian — and I’m speaking of those who do faithfully attend church — has much to learn from our Chinese brethren.
We are so accustomed to religious freedom that, to us, persecution is being told that we can’t pray before a football game, or that we can’t wear our “John 3:16″ shirt to work. In China, standing for Christ can mean losing your job, being arrested and/or beaten by the police, having your home taken away, being sent to a “Re-education” camp (1-5 years hard labor), or being imprisoned and tortured for years. We have so much to learn from our brethren in China and elsewhere in the world, where commitment to the Lord means more than just embarassment or inconvenience.
Our freedom to worship has been purchased with a price, and if we lose sight of that price and those who paid it, we will lose not only our freedom but also the special insight and awareness that comes from living a sacrificial life conscious of the true cost of our commitment to Christ. So few of us have had to pay that cost ourselves, because other people have paid it for us.
People like the nine-year-old son of John Fetty in 1558 London. While Fetty was imprisoned by the Romanists for being a “heretic”, his son went to the bishop’s house to ask if he could see his father. When a priest told him that his father was a heretic, young Fetty replied, “My father is no heretic; but you are an heretic.” At those words, the priest grabbed the child and amongst the priests in the bishop’s house they stripped the boy and abused him, whipping the child mercilessly with a scourge until his whole body was covered in blood. The bishop, concerned that the abuse of the boy might cause some negative publicity, decided to release the father and send him home carrying the bloodied body of his child. The young Fetty boy died of his wounds fourteen days later.
People like the group of Christians meeting in a farmer’s field in Islington, England, for prayer and Bible study because they did not feel it was right to go to mass. They were apprehended during one of their meetings and put in chains. Henry Pond, Ronald Eastland, Robert Southam, Matthew Ricarby, John Floyd, John Holiday, Roger Holland, and more than a dozen others were burned at the stake for daring to seek God outside of the Romanist organization.
People Like William Tyndale, who was kidnapped from his home-in-exile in Holland and brought back to England, where he was burned at the stake by the Romanists. His crime? Translating the Bible into English so that all his countrymen could read it for themselves.
Yet, in all of our freedom and abundance, we are embarassed to carry our Bible into a public place or pray before a meal at a restaurant. Have we so soon forgotten the price what was paid so that we could carry our Bible publicly? So that we could pray in public places without fear of arrest or attack? So that we could worship God on Sunday with the church and in the manner of our choice?
My family can rarely go out to eat, but when we do we always pause first and pray aloud, thanking God for the meal and asking His blessing upon it. A couple years ago, a waitress approached us and said, “It’s so good to see you do that — I never see people do it anymore.” I was grateful that she said something to us, but when I thought more about it, her words seemed very sad. With over 85% of the people in the United States claiming to be “Christian”, wouldn’t you expect about 85% of the people eating in restaurants to pause and thank God for their meal before they eat? Do Christians no longer believe that it is important to thank God for a meal and ask His blessing upon it, or are we too embarassed to be seen praying in public?
Christian, if you won’t pray in a restaurant then don’t get all stirred up when some official says we can’t pray before a sporting event — you’ve already chosen your side. If you are too embarassed to carry your Bible in a public place, then don’t get upset when they tell our kids they can’t bring their Bibles to school — you’ve already cast your vote to marginalize Jesus in our culture.
How little we understand the cost of the freedom we enjoy. How little we speak and teach of the price that was paid so that we can freely worship God and have a Bible in our own language.
When we hear or read of accounts of Christians in far corners of the world being persecuted for the Name of Christ, we should not respond “oh, those poor people,” but instead understand “but for the Grace of God, there go I.” Yes, we should have pity, but we should have more respect for them than pity.
We have the freedoms we enjoy today because somebody else paid the price for us.
We could look at example-upon-example of how that price was paid for us, but let’s go right to the question:
What are we doing with the freedom that has been purchased for us at the cost of blood and fire?
In India, groups of Christians go out on the streets handing out tracts and witnessing. They are often beat up by the moslems and hindus, sometimes daily, but you simply can’t stop them from going out again and again.
In the USA, you have to plead and beg for people to go out on the streets handing out tracts and witnessing, and in most cases, you simply can’t get them to go.
Why is it so much easier for an Indian Christian to go out into the streets facing beatings and death than it is for an American to go out in the face of only embarassment?
The churches are growing in India and China, despite the persecution and lack of resources there. Yet in the USA, in the midst of our freedom and abundance, churches are shrinking and closing. Christians are multiplying in remote parts of Africa and South America where churches are advancing, but here in the U.S. churches are retreating. How can it be that people living in such poverty and destitution, under the threat of beatings and death for simply living as a Christian, are advancing the cause of Christ at an unimaginable rate, while Christians in our country, with such comparative riches, opportunity, and immense freedoms are achieving so little?
On Memorial Day, we will remember the soldiers who gave their lives for the heritage of freedom we enjoy in America today. Let’s not forget to remember also those who have given their lives to purchase the spiritual heritage we enjoy today.
If we forget the price that was paid, and we treat it lightly, then it may be that we will one day lose it in our complacency, requiring our children to pay again that high cost of religious freedom.