USA (MNN) – Americans are celebrating independence and freedom on this July 4.
For those living stateside, rather than a commemoration of the Declaration of Independence, the day seems to center on customs of celebration. There’s a distinct look to the holiday: stars and stripes everywhere, parades, fireworks, picnics, a short work week and the kick-off to summer festivities in earnest.
There’s freedom, and then there’s freedom
We thought we’d ask an expatriate Christian working with International Media Ministries in Europe to reflect on the concept of freedom today. Denise Godwin says when you look at liberty in the context of the Bible, this is her first thought: “I keep going back to the verse in Galatians (5:1), ‘It is for freedom (that Christ) has set us free.’ And I’m amazed that these characters that we’ve told their actual historical stories are saying things like, ‘I’m a Christian, and I can’t be called anything else. It doesn’t matter if I’m persecuted.’ That IS freedom.”
She’s quick to point out there is a difference between liberty and freedom. There’s liberty, as an American understands it under the Constitution, there’s freedom, and then there’s spiritual freedom that goes beyond the situation. “My circumstances aren’t as important as the Truth–and God says I’m free. I can face this challenge, even though I don’t like the situation, because Christ is with me, and He is greater than the circumstances and facing. It’s an incredible concept.”
The paradox of persecution
Real persecution narrows focus, refines belief and makes following Christ a very clear choice. Affluence clouds the issues and makes it much harder to hear the voice of Christ amid the distraction of ‘stuff’ or consumerism that plagues our churches.
Godwin points out that the Church’s history reveals people who exemplified spiritual freedom through the paradox of persecution. “We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on these stories that are about conflict and perhaps persecution, and challenges that happened in the first through the fifth centuries in North Africa. But what we’re finding is these stories resonate with things you see in the headlines today–places where there are limited freedoms in religious circumstances.”
Disillusionment under oppressive regimes creates a demand for Truth for others. “People are searching, and they’re online, and they’re looking for answers. We want to be there with stories that bring hope and the gospel to life in their lives. In our personal worlds, we need to know that there is hope, and of course, the ultimate hope is in Christ.”
As she looks at July 4 from a perspective of ministry in the Middle East and Europe, Godwin offers a concluding thought. “Christians are not free all over the world. And so, when they ask us to pray with them, they don’t say ‘Pray that I escape persecution, they say, ‘Pray that I can stay strong.’ So let’s pray with the believers in closed parts of the world, that they can be strong and that Christ will lift them up in the challenges that they’re facing. And let’s pray that we can be bold to share that hope no matter what our own personal circumstances are.”
Headline photo courtesy Lipton Sale/CC/Wikimedia.