Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of God
(Sherri Burgess, Christian women’s speaker and writer, is the wife of popular radio talk show host, Rick Burgess, of the Rick and Bubba Show.)
I was recently asked to speak to a group of baseball moms, and the first thing I thought about was America. I don’t know if baseball is still “American’s pastime,” but it is certainly a part of who we are, a part of our heritage and culture. Americans like baseball and football and lots of other sports that are wholesome and good and fun because that’s who we are, wholesome and good and fun. I’ve been around the world and have seen places where this isn’t the case, where kindness and compassion aren’t the norm. I’ve seen poverty and sickness and injustice like you can’t find here in America. A lot of it has to do with oppressive governments, but most of it lies in the prevailing religion of the land.
I have a book called Jesus in Beijing written by David Aikman, the former Beijing bureau chief forTime magazine. In it, Aikman writes about a study done by a leading research group in China. They wanted to find out what makes America so great. This is what they said, “One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next, we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”
China knows what makes America great. Do we?
William Tyndale was an Englishman who lived from 1494-1536. I share his story here because he was a man of conviction who lived and died for what he believed in. He was a clergyman with a gift for languages who felt called by God to write a translation of the Bible in his native tongue. The problem was that it was illegal to do so at the time. He had to go into hiding to to do the work. He had completed the New Testament and much of the Old when he was caught, strangled to death, and burned at the stake. Two years after his martyrdom in 1536, King Henry XVIII authorized the Great Bible to be read in the newly established Church of England. The Great Bible drew heavily from Tyndale’s work as did the Geneva Bible released in 1557. But the top dog of them all came in 1611 when the King James Bible was printed and released, just 75 years after the death of William Tyndale who had laid the foundation for its publication. Within a decade, in 1620, the pilgrims set sail for America. On board the Mayflower were two Bibles, the Geneva Bible and the King James. Before those pilgrims ever set foot onto Plymouth Rock (and no coincidence that it was a rock either ), they had formed a compact that drew them together as a society that was based on what they had learned and read of God and His law, His standards, and His freedom in those Bibles. That Mayflower Compact set the groundwork for the law and the liberty that would prevail in the yet to come United States of America.
Two things we can glean from this story:
1. Never underestimate the impact that one person can have on a society and on the world at large.
2. America was founded upon the truth of God’s Word, and that, most assuredly, is where it’s goodness comes from.
America has done and still does a lot of good in the world. We provide food for the hungry, shelter for the weary, and send out the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere. We are the peacekeepers of the world keeping evil at bay. I read a book this summer called Unbrokenby Laura Hillebrand about an American POW during WWII who had been captured by the Japanese. We have all heard of the atrocities of the holocaust and what happened in Germany under Nazi leadership, but I had never really studied or read about the horrors that went on in those Japanese war camps. The prisoners of war in Japan were beaten and starved and tortured in ways a normal human being couldn’t fathom. There was a great darkness there. Louis Zamperini had been an Olympic runner. His athleticism was probably one thing that kept him alive. The other thing was the conviction that someone would come for him. Salvation did come. When the American bombers finally flew overhead and tipped their wings at the prisoners, Zamperini knew he would survive the war. He did and lived to tell the story.
America is a force for good in the world. As I’ve said before, a strong America doesn’t just benefit America. A strong America is important for the whole world. Our values, beliefs, and religion are needed everywhere. Salvation came that day for Louis Zamperini in the form of American fighter pilots, but true peace came to his soul through Jesus Christ years later. Believe it or not, it was at a Billy Graham Crusade. Never underestimate the impact one person can make upon a society and upon the world. William Tyndale and Billy Graham certainly prove that point.
A few weeks ago, a friend of ours called Rick to see if he could fill in for him at a church in Russellville, Alabama, for a Wednesday night service. Scott Dawson, an evangelist in the tradition of Billy Graham who speaks at churches and youth events around the country all the time, had double booked himself. His conflict was that he had promised to take his teenaged daughter to a One Direction concert on the same night. Of course Rick understood and gladly accepted the request. He later got a call from the church where he would be speaking that a young man in their community had been involved in an ATV accident and was clinging to life in the ICU. He was a star football player for the local high school team. Rick knew it was no accident that he was the one called there to comfort and encourage that community at such a tragic moment. Rick’s message was basically this: that this is a world where star football players cling to life in the ICU and where beautiful baby boys drown in their own backyards. Bad things happen in this world, but if you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, this is the worst of life you’ll ever know. But if you don’t know Him, this is the best you’re ever going to get.
Many gave their lives to Christ that night including at least one of the football player’s teammates. Tragedy works like wildfire in the Christian church spreading it like nothing else can, mainly for the reason that Rick gave in his speech at the church that night. People want more than this. Tragedy makes us realize that things aren’t right, right now, and it makes us want more. It makes us want what we were created for, God – holy and righteous and good.
Some of the players on the football team asked their coach and team chaplain if they could be baptized on the football field after practice in honor of their friend and teammate and brother. Who could deny a request like that at a time like that? The boys were baptized, but somehow a group from Wisconsin called “Freedom From Religion” got wind of it and began to threaten the school, coach, and chaplain with a legal fight because of it.
It seems the most illogical of complaints to me. First of all, how far away from Russellville, Alabama is Wisconsin? How could they make any claim at all that their freedom was infringed upon? And what freedom can they claim from religion? It is religion itself that is protected as a first amendment right, not the lack thereof. I don’t believe the “Freedom From Religion” group has a leg to stand on, but the point is that they exist at all. Groups like these have never before existed in America, nor should they. No one has the right to be free from religion, not in the way they expect. They expect me to be quiet, to sit still and let them take away my religion, which tells me to bold in proclaiming the truth of the gospel to any and all who will hear, to be a light and a witness to an unbelieving world, to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ Jesus EVERYWHERE. That is my religion, and to prohibit my free exercise thereof is a violation of the constitution upon which this great nation was founded.
“But take heart,” Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” Jesus is greater and more powerful than anything. He conquered the grave. He has the power of resurrection. He holds the keys of death and Hades, and He will triumph over all evil with the breath of His mouth. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and He will reign forevermore. With this kind of power on our side, what are we afraid of?
“No power of Hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand.”
Be bold, brothers. Be of good courage, my sisters. Fear not, for He is with us. We are living in a day when we will have to stand up and fight for what we believe in. We are living in a day when we must be bold. We are living in a day when we must say with the Apostle Paul that “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
If the rest of the world is an indication of the health of the church, then let the persecution come, for a persecuted church is a thriving church. Let it be. What will come will come. I will not fear persecution. What can man do to me?
“What then shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)