"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."- Amendment One of the Constitution of the United States of America
In chapters two and three of Revelation we read about two churches who are experiencing persecution: Smyrna and Philadelphia. Yet they have held fast even in the face of slander and suffering. These two churches remind us to be thankful for our rights to worship and assemble peacefully without threat or interference. And they should also remind us to pray for those around the world who do not enjoy the same freedoms.
In the United States we are getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a day to get together with family and friends for a big meal and a day to rest and count our blessings. It is a national holiday. It's a holiday that we tend to take for granted. We enjoy the day off, the food and time to catch up with family but we tend to neglect counting our blessings. Like the fact that we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for some brave individuals who struck out across the ocean to find a place where they could worship in freedom. Or, the fact that if some Native Americans had not assisted the rag tag band, even more of that original group of settlers would have died!
The early settlers came to this country in order to practice their faith, in freedom without fear of persecution. They had experienced persecution. I remember reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, who had done some research on his family in England. In it, he tells the story of an ancestor who designed a chair that had a Bible attached and hidden on the underside. If the authorities came to search the house, the chair was flipped over and it looked like an ordinary piece of furniture, the Bible safely hidden out of sight. If it was discovered, individuals in the family would go to jail. Any property was forfeit. Anyone who practiced religion not sanctioned by the state was criminal. Could you imagine having to hide your Bible and having to hide your faith? There are people in this world today who do not have to imagine the scenario because they are still living in the face of persecution! If caught, they could go to jail or experience even more horrific consequences.
We are privileged to live in a country where religious freedom is a right, not a special favor granted. We can build our churches and worship where we choose. We can read our Bibles openly and pray in public. We can sing worship songs in the public square. And we have a government and judicial system and a military that defend that right, that freedom. We have much to be thankful for!
So let us remember this week to pray for our elected officials and for those who are serving our country far from home who protect our rights. Let us also remember to pray for those around the world who still face persecution and risk their lives for their faith in Christ. In the midst of all the chaos and crisis that goes on, we sometimes forget how very blessed we are to live where we live and to have the rights and freedoms that we have! We assume that the rest of the world lives in much the same way.
Even in countries that seem to be becoming more democratic and free, they are not as democratic and free as we are here in the United States. Food supplies are controlled. Water supplies are non existent or are perhaps polluted on purpose. Individuals are still persecuted, jailed, even put to death for their beliefs. So as we pray, we must also remember to pray for those individuals who suffer and live in fear. Pray that they do not become discouraged, pray that they can stand firm like the two persecuted churches in Revelation.
Let us remember, this Thanksgiving, our precious freedoms and let us not forget to pray for those who still face persecution.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." Revelation 21:3-4