Jack Graham - The First Freedom
One of the most important issues of our day is that of religious liberty; freedom of religion. And you need to know that freedom of religion, the freedom to practice our faith, to live our faith. The reason I'm calling it "The first Freedom" is not because of the Bill of Rights. It is the first amendment, because in the heart of creation of man, God gave us freedom. And it is the first freedom. When God created Adam and Eve, He breathed into them the breath of life, and they were given the opportunity to worship God, to walk with Him, and also to choose, the freedom to choose to obey or disobey God. So the first freedom is the freedom that God gives. Freedom is a gift from God. It is not a gift from government; but freedom is a gift from God.
Now, of course, religious freedom is the first freedom listed in the U.S, United States Bill of Rights. It is a foundational truth in our faith; it is a foundational truth in our nation, the United States. The explorers, the Pilgrims, the colonists who all came to this nation centuries ago, came in great part in search of the freedom to worship God and to practice their faith, their religion. And it is, therefore, the first freedom in the Bill of Rights, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". So, there you have it! First freedom spiritually; it's the first freedom politically in our nation.
So, what does the Bible say about this? In 1 Peter chapter 2, it speaks of this great freedom. Verse 16: "Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil", liberty is not license to do anything you want, "not as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood (which speaks of the church). Fear God. Honor the emperor". That's God's Word. Live as free men and women and honor the people around you. Here's the sermon in a sentence: Where Jesus reigns, freedom rules. The Scripture says where the Spirit of the Lord is, where God is, there is liberty. So under God, because of God, by God's decree, we are designed to live as free men and women. Everyone created by God is given the opportunity to choose Him or not to choose Him.
God says, Deuteronomy 30:19, "I set before you life and death; therefore, choose life". It was Joshua who stood in front of the children of Israel and said, Joshua 24:15, "Choose you this day who you will serve... As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord". Elijah stood before the people of Israel and said, "Choose today", he said, "Why are you halting or limping between two opinions? Make up your mind! If Baal is god, serve Baal; if God is God, serve the one true God". This is freedom; this is choice! So, the founders and the framers of our nation's documents and our Constitution and country itself, people like Washington and Adams and Jefferson, those are the first three presidents, they all believed in freedom of religion.
Now not all of these would be called, all of these men and founders and framers would be called Bible-believing Christians. Many of them were. In fact, many of the signers, most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence history tells us were committed Christians. But Jefferson would be an example of one who would not be quote a Bible-believing Christian. Yet Jefferson and all these men, Washington, Adams, Monroe, all of them, they believed in religious freedom. It's the first freedom; it's the core of all the other freedoms, the freedom that we have to worship provides an opportunity for us to experience every other freedom in life. And freedom of religion includes freedom from religion.
In our country, in our nation no one is commanded to believe or not to believe. This is not the propriety of the state. The government does not control the church. We do believe, properly understood, in the separation of church and state. Now the separation of church and state does not mean the separation of God and government as we're going to see in just a moment. But we do not believe in a state church. The church of America is not the Baptist church, it's not the Catholic church, it's not the Episcopalian church, it's not any church! We don't have a state church. We have a free church in a free state. But we do know that the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is essential to the spiritual well-being and the spiritual condition of our communities and of our families and of our faith.
We're grateful for our governor at the start of the pandemic, who declared by law that the churches, churches like ours are essential and therefore, we were not required to close down. We chose to shutdown the services, to go online for a while as most churches did, but in due time we would come back as we have, and we are gathering again, we are growing again, and we're grateful. But we're an essential. So much hurt and pain and struggle. You're reading the statistics, aren't you, of the alcohol abuse and the family breakdowns, of the anxiety, the depression, the pain, the struggle that people are facing in our country right now and around the world? People are dying without Christ. People are dying with diseases of all kinds. So, people need Jesus and, yes, they need the Church because the Church is the Jesus-movement of every generation.
The Bible commands us to gather God's people in Hebrews 10:25: Do not abandon the church. "Don't forsake the assembling of yourselves", "neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching". The "as you see the Day approaching" references the coming of Christ. And in these Last Days, I believe these final days in history. Did you see, did you hear just this morning that they're asking questions of Putin and Russia, about whether he and China, the governments of Russia and China and the armies of government of Russia and China would join together as a force in the world? That's apocalyptic in nature. Read the book of Revelation.
So, I do believe we are living in urgent times and in these Last Days, so all the more when you're in a crisis, when you're in trouble, you need the church then more than ever! We had a gentleman here in the first service, his wife just passed away, sweet, sweet family in our church. And this just happened a day or two ago, and yet this man found himself on the second row of the church. He said, "I just needed to be with my church family. I needed my church". When you are hurting, when you are broken, when you're struggling, any time in your life, when you're on top of the world, you need to be with God's people. That's why I'm saying that everyone who may still be online, now's the time, if you are physically able to get yourself to church, no excuses, no excuses. Don't be lazy. Don't just sit at home when you know you can be here.
There's something about being here. You can't experience what we just experienced in this room sitting on your couch at home. If you need, if you're sick, stay home. But get to church. The separation of church and state which does not appear in our official documents, but that phrase appeared in a line given by Thomas Jefferson, written in a letter, the separation of church and state means no respecting of a certain religion. Keep the church separate; keep the state separate from the church. I told you in the message last time that God has established three institutions for culture and community and society: And that is first and foremost, the home and family, marriage; secondly would be government, and God established the government in as we saw in Romans chapter 13, that all governing authorities come from God and established by God. And then the church. And each of these, though dependent upon one another in society, family, church and government, they are separate of one another.
Now to say separation of church and state does not mean we should not be influencing as salt and light our culture. In a decaying and darkening world, we need to be salt and we need to be light. And we need to be engaged and involved in the political process as well as the spiritual proclamation of the Gospel. But because we care about issues and we care about communities and we care about families. Can you imagine God establishing government, as He has. Again, Romans 13. God established government and then telling Christians to stay out of it! Telling Christians just to hunker down in your churches? No! Our witness of the Gospel includes our prophetic role in the culture. Religious freedom includes conscious objection.
If you are objecting to something that defiles or defies your conscience. Like Danial in the Old Testament. He was commanded to eat of the king's delicacies; it defied his conscious or defiled his conscious. Typically, his life. It was the Mosaic Law; he couldn't do it; he refused to do it, but he did it respectfully. He worked out a deal, if you will. He was a man of excellent spirit and everything worked out great. But later on, his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, when they were commanded to bow before the image of the king Nebuchadnezzar, the great idol, and on threat of death penalty in the fiery furnace, those three young Hebrews said, "We don't even have to discuss this. We may burn but we will not bow before your idol, O king".
We believe that every free-born American has the right to openly witness of their faith in Christ. We're grateful in America you can still pretty much do that. I was in China several years ago and in China there's state appointed churches and state licensed churches and as long as you stay in your church and preach to your own people, and don't disturb the peace which is a big issue in China, don't disturb the peace, then you can stay in your church and do what you want to do. But you can't witness; you can't pass out a Bible. That's different in America. That's a freedom that we have in America, isn't it? And we're grateful for that ability but we must continue to fight the good fight or those freedoms will be taken away, they will be taken away unless we are willing to stand for religious freedom.
Pray boldly, pray publicly. We all know of coaches and high school principals and others who are commanded and demanded by their school system not to pray for their students, or to pray openly. There's a coach down south who was fired by his school district because he dared to pray on the field alone after a ball game. He felt compelled every week to get on his knees win or lose after a ballgame. Godly man, ex-military, wonderful coach. He just simply bowed and prayed silently, not even publicly! And he was dismissed and fired because he refused to bow down to a school system that denied him his religious freedom. I could go on and on. Right here at Prestonwood Church there was a school district. We hosted their graduation for a number of years. And one particular year they came in and said to us, we still want to have our graduation there... Now remember, these people are our guests, "We still want to have our graduation there, but according to our school board and what we are thinking, we need to cover all the religious symbols in your building before our graduation".
Cover up the cross, cover up the stain glass windows, every symbol of our faith, cover it up. That didn't go well with me. So, of course we didn't cover it up when they had the graduation and they and we have chosen not, they won't be back, because you're welcome here, you're always welcome here, but don't come in with the idea that you can restrict our faith in our own building. My goodness. Well, don't be surprised in these days if we get more and more of this. More and more. In Acts chapter 5, Peter and John were brought before the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, and they were told never to speak in the name of Jesus again under threat of punishment; even death. Peter and John said, Acts chapter 5, "We don't even have to discuss it. We're not even going to have a church meeting to decide what to do. We must obey God and not man. We cannot help but speak what we have seen and what we have heard"!
Peter had denied the Lord at the cross and he was determined he would never do it again. Now filled with the Holy Spirit, courageously, boldly he said, "No matter what, we are going to stand for Jesus and our faith". And that same compelling command was ours as well. In Acts chapter 1:8, Jesus said, Be My witnesses. "After the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will be My witnesses to the ends of the earth". There is no choice but to obey God ever! Ever! And when you are ordered to be silent, you have no choice but to speak and to share your faith. As Christians we are respectful of the law. We want to be good citizens, but we must obey God and not man.
The fact that some people don't want God in government is for the same reason they don't want God in their lives. They don't want God interfering. But if our nation forgets God, we will soon be a nation like any other nation that forgets God, forgotten. The Bible says, Psalm 33:12, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord". The Bible says Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people". So that's something of what religious freedom is. How should we practice this religious freedom? Number one, pray for our nation and our nation's leaders. Pray. It has been my privilege to pray for presidents past and present. And this comes right out of the Bible, our need to pray. I can tell you also I have prayed for every president since I've been an adult. Not just this one. I haven't had the privilege of praying personally with all of them, but I've prayed. I prayed for President Obama before President Trump. We should pray for all leaders.
Let's look what the Scripture says, let's put it on the screen, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in positions that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way". So there you have it, pray by name for the leaders of our country. All who serve whether it's the mayor or the city council person or schoolboard member. You should be praying for these by name, certainly our president. And we should be praying for our military, those who serve our country in every way. That's what this is all about. The Bible says in Proverbs 21, and verse 1: "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as rivers of water and He turns it however He will".
Every king, every president, every leader, the heart is in the hands of God. Somehow in the providence and the sovereignty of God, when we pray, God responds. I know God knows what He's going to do. Knows exactly what He's going to do. And that's what we are to pray, and we're to pray for our leaders. God presides over every government. I know God is sovereign over the president, God is sovereign over the nation, so God has this. That's gives me great comfort to know that this is in the hands of God. That doesn't mean we should not pray and vote. We shouldn't say, well, God knows what He's going to do; doesn't matter what I do. Yes, we are to pray; yes, we are to vote and participate and be a part, because God has given us the freedom to do it. We're to practice, secondly, citizenship. That includes not only voting, but according to the Bible, sorry about this, paying our taxes. Jesus said, Mark 12:17, "Render unto Caesar, give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's".
Now should we work for a just tax system? Of course. Can we vote for candidates who will lower our tax rate? Yes, of course you can. That's our freedom. But we should happily and gratefully pay our taxes. I remember my pastor years ago. I didn't quite understand it as a boy but Fred Swank, my pastor used to say things like that. He said, "You ought to thank God for the privilege of living in America and paying taxes here. It's the greatest nation on earth. And it's a mighty cheap price to pay for living in the greatest nation on planet earth". Pay your taxes, and do it well. It's a privilege to support America. Thirdly, we ought to practice patriotism. I know this sounds, old-fashion to some today, but I am unapologetically a patriot. I love our country! When the flag is raised, I stand up. When the National Anthem is sung at a ballgame or wherever else.
Church, did you know that by the way the National Anthem is in the Baptist hymnbook? Yeah, it surely is. It's a hymn, a great song, a great song of freedom. But when it is sung, I still put my hand over my heart and still get a tear in my eye and lump in my throat. When I visit Washington D.C. and see all those monuments, the greatness, the grandeur, the glory of this great nation, I stand amazed and reverence those moments. When you think of what God has done, the price that has been paid, the freedom that has been bought! We all should know and appreciate our history. Not some rewrite of history, but the great patriotic American history of our nation; the founders that gave us this freedom. And that's not happening. Many of our students are not hearing the great stories of American patriots and patriotism, and we need to teach. We do at Prestonwood Christian Academy. We need to teach the great lessons of history of our nation!
Now I know you have some globalists today including people in churches who say you can't put America first. Well, of course you can put America first! Now if you're in Germany... we have people in Germany watching right now, you should put Germany first. If you're in Brazil, put Brazil first. But putting your country first doesn't mean you don't love other countries. We as Christians, we love people from every country of the world, but we love America first if we are Americans. Listen, I am a Graham. I have a family, the Graham family. I love my family.
Now I love your family, I do. But I don't love your family as much as I love my family. You have a right to put your family first. In fact, you have a responsibility. The Bible says if any person does not provide for his own family, especially his own house, he's worse than an infidel. So, of course, you put your family first. But you still love other families. And, of course, you put America first if you love America! Though you love people from around the world. Well I love America and there's nothing wrong with the patriotic love of country! Of course, I love Jesus first. Of course, we know that He is above all! Of course, we know to "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness".
Of course, of course, of course. God is above government. God is above all. But that does not diminish our ability and call to freedom, to love our country! Jesus helps me love my country more than I could possibly love it on my own. So practice patriotism and good citizenship. Honor the king. That's what the Scripture says. And then preach to the government. We're not saying America right or wrong. We know there are things that are wrong in America. Many things wrong. We know that we must preach the Word of God, we know that we must tell our leaders when they are wrong, when laws are unjust that we are to say something. There are people who want us just to disappear, hide, stay in our churches and stand down. But if we don't speak, if we're silent it's a sin against God. We're to preach the Gospel, we're to preach the Word of God, we're to preach on the issues of our times.
Now I know that there are some people who don't like it when I speak on issues that they say are quote political issues. I hear that. "Why's the pastor talk about these political things"? We're talking about morals that matter in your life and in our country. Don't talk political. Well, your life and your family is all about politics. It really is. It matters. Morality matters! And sometimes people think it's not worth the effort. We should just go home, go to our churches, shut it down, buy our ascension robes and wait for the Second Coming to happen.
Let me tell you something. The greatest revivals in history have taken place in the darkest of times. We should never give up. We should never stop praying, stop witnessing, stop standing for what is right. We can't quit! God can send revival to me; God can send revival to you. Again, we're not saying our country right or wrong. There are things that need to be changed in our country. There are many things. We need to get right with God! I need to get right with God. You need to get right with God. Our church needs to get right with God. That He would revive our hearts, and revive our homes and our nation. Pray it, sing it, say it! God bless America!