As I ponder the state of America and the condition of the world, I’ve found comfort in a handful of words spoken 2,000 years ago by a non-Christian. His name was Gamaliel, a leading Jewish rabbi in New Testament days. He witnessed the ministry of Jesus and was aware of reports of our Lord’s resurrection. Gamaliel watched as thousands of people began turning to Jesus. He was in the Ruling Council when Jewish leaders asked their iconic question about the 12 disciples in Acts 4:16: “What are we going to do with these men?” (NIV).
That’s still the question, isn’t it?
What in the world can the world do with these Christians? The critics simply don’t know what to do with us! To paraphrase famed preacher Vance Havner’s words in a sermon I heard him preach years ago: They can’t take away our wealth, because it’s stored up in Heaven. They can’t take away our freedom, because we’re free in Christ. They can’t take away our happiness, because our joy is within us. They can’t defeat us, because we’re more than conquerors. They can’t silence us, because the Word of God cannot be chained. They can’t kill us, because we have eternal life.
What can you do with people like that?
Gamaliel answered the question, saying, “I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39, NIV).
Gamaliel was right! The work of Jesus Christ in this world is unstoppable. It’s not of human origin. It doesn’t depend on elections or economies. It’s a work from God, started by Christ Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And the church has been more involved in American life than we realize.
In my book “100 Bible Verses That Made America,” I pointed out that the United States came into existence between two great revivals—the First and Second Great Awakenings. Here’s what happened. One of the earliest British efforts to colonize the continent occurred at Jamestown and was primarily secular. The Jamestown settlers wanted land, furs, gold and glory. The first slaves entered America at Jamestown in 1619.
But the very next year, 1620, the first Christian refugees arrived from England aboard the Mayflower, opening the floodgates to the Puritan Migration from 1620-1640, when tens of thousands of Christians fled persecution in England. These Puritans despised slavery, and they established a firm foundation for religious and political freedom on American shores.
A hundred years passed, and just when Puritanism and Christianity in America were waning, a remarkable revival erupted. Perhaps you know names like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. This awakening spread through all 13 colonies and united the country in a quest for religious freedom. This set the stage for the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. The United States owes its birth to the spiritual movement known as the First Great Awakening.
America’s Founding Fathers, even the non-Christians, knew their Bible and had a deep reverence for its principles of morality and freedom. John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
In June 1783, after the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington wrote to the governors of the new 13 states, and he included his prayer for the nation—one you’ll probably not find in modern history books:
“I now make it my earnest prayer that God … would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific [peaceful] temper of mind which were characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion [Jesus Christ], and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.”
You’d think the entire country would have adopted Washington’s prayer, but a strange thing happened. As people built the new nation, expanded westward, grew economically and wrangled politically, the light of Christianity dimmed. French rationalism seized the colleges, which became hotbeds of atheism. Church attendance plunged. John Marshall, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, feared the church had declined too far to be saved.
That’s when the Lord sent another great revival—the Second Great Awakening. It began in the early 1800s on college campuses in the East and at Kentucky Camp Meetings in the West. Thousands came to Christ in a massive revival that birthed the modern missions movement, launched the spread of Sunday schools, filled America’s pulpits with Biblical expositors and sent hundreds of itinerant evangelists into the untamed frontiers.
Just think of it! The United States of America came into existence between two of the greatest revivals ever recorded. We have a God who still sends seasons of refreshing on His church around the world. This is no time to be discouraged. I’ve seldom felt more braced for the future. The lights come on at twilight, and even a small candle can pierce the gloom of dusk. The work of Jesus Christ is unstoppable. As His people, we should be unconquerable. In dark times, the church should arise.
How? Let me suggest six ways.
First, we can better face the future if we know the past. My perspective on America changed as I researched the role of the Bible in U.S. history. Revisionist secularists want to erase the Christian history of America, but they don’t have an eraser big enough. Even with its sinful episodes and moments of tremendous failure, America is a miracle on whom God’s grace has been shed. When I see how God has been our help in ages past, I realize He can be our hope for years to come.
Second, we can better change the world if we share the Gospel. Our problems are not primarily political, economic, educational, racial or cultural. They are spiritual. Jesus said all our evils come out of the human heart (Matthew 15:19). Only He can change the heart, and only by the power of His blood. During the past year, I’ve begun sharing the Gospel with people who call my phone wanting to sell me something. I’ve given small New Testaments to my Uber drivers. I’ve included Scriptures in cards I send. I’ve devoted my social media pages to advancing the message of Jesus. America and the world are systemically sinful, and the only answer is the cross of Jesus.
Third, we can better expand our influence if we support our church. The local church is the only institution Jesus established when leaving this planet. Around the world, local churches are reeling from COVID shutdowns. I’m sure you’ll agree something is wrong when strip clubs and casinos can open but churches are shuttered. God uses many means to work in our world, but His primary instrument is a dedicated, Biblical local church—and your church needs you!
Fourth, we can better penetrate our community if we channel Jesus’ love. In studying the Book of Acts, I’m amazed how graciously the Christians approached their culture. Even when the apostles took uncompromising stands, they sought to be as loving, cordial and well-mannered as possible. They sought to meet the needs of those they wanted to reach. As a result, “the people esteemed them highly” (Acts 5:13). We can’t share a loving message with a hateful attitude. We need to be winsome as we seek to win some.
Fifth, we can better lead if we speak truth to culture. As I look back over 40 years of pastoral ministry and think about what I’d do differently, several things come to mind. I’d be more vocal about moral issues facing our society, even if they occasionally had political implications. No, we don’t want to politicize our pulpits or churches. But some issues—the sanctity of life and of marriage and of sexuality, for example—are issues on which the Bible speaks loudly and clearly. The world needs to hear God’s wisdom on these issues.
Finally, we can better experience revival if we repent and pray for it. When Dwight Eisenhower was running for president, he asked Billy Graham for a verse of Scripture. Mr. Graham suggested 2 Chronicles 7:14, and that was the verse on which the general laid his hand as he took the oath of office. It’s still the verse we need in our world: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Our Lord is coming again soon—maybe in this new year. No president can stop Him. No election can hinder Him. No army can deter Him. No empire can delay Him. And no one can extinguish His work. It’s unstoppable because He is unassailable. So let’s have faith in Jesus and take His undaunted, unadulterated Gospel to an old world and to a new generation. ©2020 Robert J. Morgan
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version. The Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version.
Robert J. Morgan is the teaching pastor of The Donelson Fellowship, in Nashville, Tennessee, and the author of more than 35 books.
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