The irony faced by Christians when this country was founded may be the same we face today. We exist as a nation because of the sacrifices of ancestors who endured extreme deprivation. Yet the nation became the strongest and wealthiest in history.
The real irony, however, is that people so weakened by persecution and deprivation had the strength to set out on such a journey.
Almost all of those who crossed the ocean to make their home in the U.S. did so to escape persecution. In spite of that, they weren't running "away" from something as much as running "to" something.
Most were looking for a new country where they could worship in peace. The persecution and deprivation they had endured in the old country made them strong.
One could say that persecution was the catalyst for our freedom. But every citizen didn't flee from tyranny. Many were equally mistreated and remained in England in slavery to those who dictated what a man could believe and how he could worship God. Many died from being tortured.
It was the vision of a new country that offered the opportunity to worship God as they understood Him that caused our ancestors to sell their property and set out across the ocean.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews says that Abraham was old and "as good as dead" before he was given children that eventually numbered "as many as the stars of the sky in multitude-innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore." (Hebrews 11:12)
The legacy of Abraham was his faith that there was a country in his future where he could worship God even though every visible thing around him was dying, even his own body.
The Apostle Paul concludes that Abraham and all who have since shared his faith in a New Country "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." (verses 13-14)
There is that word: Pilgrims! And all pilgrims share the common characteristic of suffering for an unseen country. After all, the word pilgrim means "religious wanderer." They were wanderers because their values were at odds with those of their contemporaries, so they were eventually forced to pack up their belongings and move to a place where they could find sufficient freedom to worship God in peace.
The irony of our day may be that Christianity, which may be at its weakest point since the 1st Century Christians were persecuted by Nero, may yet find strength which has been lacking since almost as long.
The very circumstances that weaken a man actually make him stronger. One of the beautiful contemporary hymns called "Give Thanks" has a line that expresses it so well.
And now let the weak say, "I am strong"...
Let the poor say, "I am rich"
A former president once made an incredibly shallow statement when he said, "Government is the only thing we all belong to." It's hard to fathom such a superficial mentality but Cal Thomas astutely responded, "The government beast is starved when people become independent of it. That self sufficiency requires a transfer of faith in government, to faith in an Authority higher than the state and a Leader more powerful than any president."
This is a time to give thanks for the great men and women who sacrificed to give birth to a nation conceived in freedom. We can share the heart of those pilgrims by looking forward to the same country that Abraham looked to whose builder and maker is God. "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one." (Hebrews 11:16 ESV)
It's an incomprehensible blessing that the Creator of the Universe is glad to be called our God-because we are grateful for the country He has prepared for us.
Until next time, Jim O'Brien