About fifteen people were recently waving Nazi flags outside Disney World. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office responded that it “deplores hate speech in any form, but people have the First Amendment right to demonstrate.”
According to the USA Today columnist who reported the story, “The US has long debated the extent of the First Amendment. One struggle has been that what some might call ‘free speech’ is actually ‘hate speech.’” He adds: “It’s important to consider how a marginalized person might feel, especially if you are not one yourself.”
Two emotions emerged as I read his article.
The first was a visceral reaction to the rising antisemitism of our day, a tragedy unfolding in Europe and the US that threatens the future of the Jewish people in the Western world. The second was the realization that precisely the same article could have been written about evangelical Christians who oppose LGBTQ ideology.
Now that 71 percent of Americans support gay marriage (up from 27 percent in 1996), biblical sexuality is less accepted and popular than ever before in American history. Those who affirm biblical sexuality are more likely to be accused of homophobic hate speech than ever before.
Members of the US Senate have already compared us to the Ku Klux Klan and slavery advocates. Pride Month advocacy dominated our airwaves and store shelves last month with the message that “love is love” and those who disagree are “hateful” and bigoted.
However, my intention is not to discourage you on this July 4, but to encourage you.
Visiting Carey’s church in Moulton
It was my privilege some years ago to visit Carey Baptist Church in Moulton, England. This is where William Carey served as pastor from 1786 to 1789 and where he cobbled shoes to support himself and his family. He was instrumental in founding the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792 and served as a missionary to India until his death in 1834.
His famous summons to global missions was built on God’s call in Isaiah 54: “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back: lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left” (vv. 2–3). Carey used this text to encourage believers that if they would seek to extend God’s kingdom around the world, he would use and bless their efforts.
And he has: the modern missions movement was galvanized as a result.
William Carey did not let his present circumstances constrain his commitment to God’s global call. He believed that the Lord had a will not only for the places he would serve but also the time he would serve. He committed his life to the conviction that God was calling him now to reach the nations now.
The apostle Paul would have agreed. He was in a Roman prison when he called himself “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Colossians 1:1). His readers were likewise “in Christ at Colossae” (v. 2).
Like them, wherever we are “at,” we are “in” Christ. This is a present-tense fact: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 13–14). We are visiting this fallen planet, but we live in God’s eternal kingdom.
In other words, it is by God’s providence that we are serving him at this moment in history. Not a century ago or a century from now (if the Lord tarries), but now. If our Father could not use us in this moment with all its challenges, we would not be in this moment.
Three vital facts
On this July 4, as our nation celebrates its independence, let’s close with three reminders in the recent news that we can celebrate as we serve Jesus in this time and place.
One: The Bible is still true.
According to John Stonestreet and Kasey Leander, new archaeological evidence is confirming the biblical description of the kingdom of Judah as it existed in King David’s time. Discoveries regarding Hebron, Solomon’s palace and temple, fortifications in Lachish, and the major Philistine city of Gath all correspond to biblical records and narratives.
You and I know that God’s word always accomplishes God’s purposes for it (Isaiah 55:11).
Two: The material is never enough.
Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank fame recently testified, “Money has nothing to do with being happier.” She added, “I’m no happier today than when I was dirt poor” and noted, ironically, “The problem with being rich is you can get richer.” It’s never enough.
You and I are called to meet needs that transcend the moment and the monetary. It is a great privilege to speak eternal truth to eternal souls.
Three: The culture cannot offer what the church can.
New York Times opinion writer Jessica Grose, in concluding a five-part series on the decline of religion in America, reports: “The one aspect of religion in America that I unquestionably see as an overall positive for society is the ready-made supportive community that churchgoers can access.” She offers several examples of religious communities helping hurting people in their communities and of now non-religious people who miss the community they once had.
You and I lead and serve the “body of Christ,” the visible manifestation of Jesus’ continuing ministry in the world (1 Corinthians 12:27). As a result, our work is just as indispensable to societal flourishing as when he began it twenty centuries ago.
“Saints” in “Caesar’s household”
God redeems all he allows, including the challenges we face as Christians in this cultural moment in American history. For example, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22).
How could he know of “saints” in “Caesar’s household”?
Because he was imprisoned by Caesar in Rome.
Without that incarceration, how many souls would not have heard the gospel and come to faith in Christ? Would we have the book of Philippians and Paul’s other prison epistles? We have these immortal books and will meet immortal souls in heaven because of Paul’s temporal imprisonment.
So, let’s choose to be encouraged in our calling.
As our nation celebrates her independence from England, let’s celebrate our independence from sin and offer that same gift to everyone we can.
All of God there is, is in this moment.