Burning Bibles in Portland and Two Sentences Every American Needs to Hear

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Activists burned a stack of Bibles in front of the federal courthouse in Portland Friday night. A statue of Jesus was beheaded recently at a Miami church.

A recent faculty survey at Harvard University found that 79.7 percent consider themselves “very liberal” or “liberal”; 18.9 percent say they are “moderate”; only 1.46 percent call themselves “conservative” or “very conservative.” 

Unsurprisingly, 67 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe Christianity’s influence on American life is decreasing. Two-thirds say their beliefs are in conflict with mainstream American culture. 

“We have no enemies, only opponents” 

And yet, this is a time when the evangelical message that we can have a personal relationship with a personal Savior is more urgently needed than ever. 

Tropical Storm Isaias is on track to impact the Carolinas later today, demonstrating our finitude before the power of nature. Dr. Deborah Birx noted yesterday that the coronavirus pandemic is “extraordinarily widespread” in the US. Governmental leaders are meeting today to continue negotiations over a new coronavirus-relief package, but they cannot end the recession without an end to the pandemic that is causing it. 

How can we make God’s offer of redemption in response to our repentance more available and attractive to those who need it? Consider two sentences I believe every American needs to hear. 

Last Thursday, President George W. Bush spoke at the funeral of Rep. John Lewis. In his brief but emotional eulogy for one of our greatest civil rights heroes, the former president made this statement: “John and I had our disagreements, of course. But in the America John Lewis fought for and in the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.” 

When we view those with whom we disagree as our enemies, our sentiment usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we view them as members of the same human family and citizens of the same great nation, we can engage with them in the spirit of “democracy in action.” 

Ronald Reagan used to tell those who served in his administration, “Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents.” 

Consider three biblical principles. 

One: God can use anyone, whether we think so or not 

Joshua 24 records the Lord’s address to his people at the end of Joshua’s life. It begins with God’s reminder that “your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates . . . and they served other gods” (v. 2). And yet, he “took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many” (v. 3). 

You and I might not have chosen a childless idolater to begin a nation, but God did. We might not have believed that a prisoner in Egypt would one day become prime minister, or that a fugitive would lead the Jewish people out of Egyptian slavery, or that a disciple who denied Jesus three times would preach the Pentecost sermon. 

If God could redeem and use an enemy of his people like Saul of Tarsus, what could he do with someone who burns a Bible or beheads a statue of Jesus? Continue to pray for your nation and proclaim God’s word with grace, knowing that it’s always too soon to give up on God. 

Two: All we have is ours by grace 

The Lord concluded his address with this statement: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (v. 13). 

I did not earn the right to be born in America rather than North Korea. I did not earn the right to hear the gospel from Christians who knocked on my door and invited me to ride their bus to church. If you know more about your Lord than those who oppose your faith, you have an obligation to pay forward to them the grace you have received. 

Three: We need the power of God to live as the people of God 

Joshua followed God’s message with his own: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (v. 15). The people promised in response: “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (v. 24). 

However, after Joshua and his generation died, “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Judges 2:11–12). They could not live as the people of God without the power of God. 

Nor can we. 

We cannot ask Americans to do what we are not doing. If we would challenge them to repent of self-reliance and live in dependence on Jesus, we must do the same. If we would call them to biblical morality, we must exhibit biblical morality. 

Otherwise, our words are only words. 

“As for me and my house” 

Joshua modeled the commitment God is calling us to emulate when he told the nation, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). 

I remember vividly my first visit to Janet’s home in Houston after we began dating in college. Her parents displayed Joshua’s declaration on a plaque in their dining room where everyone entering their home could see it. As I soon learned, they lived the truth of these words every day. 

Could you display their plaque in your home today?

The Denison Forum exists to thoughtfully engage the issues of the day from a biblical perspective. Jim Denison speaks and writes on cultural and contemporary issues. He is a trusted author and subject matter expert in areas where faith and current events intersect. The Denison Forum provides leading insight for discerning today’s news differently, empowering believers to navigate current issues and share the timeless truth of God’s word with a changing culture.

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