Topical Religious Liberty Sermon
by Dave Crooker and Maylan Schurch
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the audio for this sermon, including an interview with Dave Crooker, click the white “play” triangle on the line below.)
I think it was right around two weeks ago that I was talking in the foyer with Dave Crooker. He had kept an eye on when religious liberty Sabbath would be – which is today – and the more we talked, the more I realized how interested he was in religious liberty, and how important he believes it is.
So I asked him, “Dave, why don’t I interview you about this topic just before I do the sermon?” Now, Dave tells me he doesn’t like public speaking. He’s had to do a certain amount of it in his work, but it’s not his first love. In fact, he feels the same way about public speaking that I feel about sitting down and picking up a pencil and taking a final exam in professional forestry.
But we both agreed that if we came up with some questions I could ask him, he’d feel fairly comfortable with answering them.
And as we do this for the next few minutes, I think you’ll discover two things. First of all, even though he thinks he isn’t, Dave is a good public speaker – even though he’s not that comfortable with it in a church setting at this point. The second thing I believe we’ll discover is that religious liberty is truly a crucially important topic, one we do need to learn more about, and be prepared to defend.
So Dave, why don’t you come on up and sit in one of these chairs and we’ll get started.
(The audio link above has the interview with Dave Crooker.)
Now, please open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 3.
I believe that one way you can look at religious liberty is from the standpoint of worship. Actually, I believe that it’s all about worship.
In fact, before we get into Genesis 3, let me tell you what I’ve discovered from the Bible.
First of all, God loves me. God wants me to understand that He made me, and that He has gone to incredible amount of trouble to nourish me. The love of God IS greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.
So why is it important for me to understand that God loves me, created me, and nourishes me?
I think that God wants me to know this because He wants to protect me from selfishness. And that’s because selfishness leads to sin. And sin, if you let it go on too long, results in spiritual suicide. Why is that? Because selfishness says, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. I want to be in charge of my life. When I come to the end of my life, I want to be able to say, “I did it my way.”
And that is not a healthy attitude for someone created by God to have. It’s like reaching up and taking yourself off life support.
So what does God do about this? Does He force me to do what He wants? Is He a dictator? Like the leaders of so many countries today, does He suppress dissent, and jail or torture people who have different ideas than His?
Not at all. God created us with the ability to have free choice, and He is supremely vulnerable enough to give us free choice.
Satan does force our hearts. When the apostle Paul was still called Saul, it was the spirit of Satan which goaded him to persecute people who believed in Jesus. But later, when Paul was converted, he went about the cities of what is now Turkey and Greece and even Rome, preaching about Jesus–but he never forced them to accept the Savior. He simply offered what Jesus offered, and left the choice up to his listeners. And he himself suffered persecution from those who were too intolerant to allow religious liberty.
Satan is not mentioned a lot in the Bible, only at certain points. But whenever he shows up, it is glaringly obvious that he is obsessed about worship. He wants people to stop worshiping God and start worshiping him.
We first meet Satan in Genesis 3. He is not called Satan at this point, but that’s him, speaking through the mouth of a snake. Later on, Revelation 12:9 will clarify that the Eden serpent was indeed the devil, also known as Satan.
Anyway, watch how Satan approaches Eve – and slyly starts taking control of her freedom of choice. Satan is no champion of religious liberty. He wants to stamp it out, eradicate it.
Genesis 3:1 – 5 [NKJV]: Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The name “Satan” means “accuser” or “adversary.” And notice how, sure enough, the very first words out of the devil’s mouth are accusatory. “So God is telling you not to eat of any tree of the garden?” He knows that if he can get Eve into conversation with him, he can trick her into thinking his way.
You see, it’s all about worship. The devil wants Eve to doubt God, so that her feelings for God will be tainted with distrust. Satan wants to teach Eve how to approach life with a selfish attitude – what’s in it for me, what’s good for me. He wants us to grow the idea that God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree is not as important as my desire to see what happens if I do.
God had given Eve “religious freedom.” She had full freedom to choose to trust Him, or trust herself. Satan trapped Eve using her natural curiosity, and took away her freedom. And God respected her choice – but he immediately put in a plan to win back her love and the love of her children.
So, what’s the religious liberty lesson here? Don’t let any other “god” try to talk you into ignoring what the God of Heaven is trying to tell you.
Now let’s learn another religious liberty lesson. Turn to Exodus chapter 20. If you memorized your memory verses back in Sabbath school or church school as a kid, you will remember that Exodus 20 is where we find the 10 Commandments. Watch the very interesting thing that happens is God begins speaking these words aloud from the top of Mount Sinai.
Exodus 20:1 – 6: And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before Me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Notice a couple of interesting things here. First of all, these first two commandments are all about worship. Religious liberty is all about worship. God could have started these commandments off with “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, honor the Sabbath, honor your parents,” and so on.
But instead, He devoted two whole commandments, right at the top, to worship. Don’t worship substitute gods, and don’t use any means to try to make God visible to the eye – because the moment you do that, you limit God. If you make a 15 foot high statue of God, the first thing you know, somebody is going to make a 17 foot high statue of some other God. If you carve God’s facial features to look like somebody from your own culture, someone from another culture is going to feel left out.
And notice something else that’s interesting. God says that He is a “jealous God.” Is that a bit intimidating? Well, if you’re married, a bit of jealousy is actually healthy. If your spouse talks fondly of an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, you get jealous.
And while this jealousy might surprise your spouse the first time it happens, it probably makes him or her feel really cared for. And then he or she becomes quite a bit more careful the next time about mentioning that past romance!
Satan is jealous of God, of course, but the devil’s is a totally different kind of jealousy. God’s jealousy says, “I love My beloved, and would be devastated if My beloved were to leave me.”
Satan’s jealousy says, “I hate God, and I’m not willing to allow my wishes to be decided by a human’s free choice. Instead, I will do my best to defame God however I can, and I will hurt the ones He loves so that they will start to hate Him. And then they will become mine.”
So that could be another religious liberty lesson to learn: God loves us deeply but does not force us to love Him back. Satan will do his worst to bend our allegiance away from God and toward ourselves.
But what about those verses that say that God will “visit the iniquity” of sinners to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him? Well, if you read that in the context of the rest of the Bible, you’ll see that this is probably God’s shorthand way of saying that sin has natural consequences.
So what do we do now that we have learned that God is a religious freedom champion? We need to thank Him for being this kind of God. We need to thank him for loving us so much that He offers us religious freedom, and draws us to Him with love.
Another thing we need to do is provide what we can so that religious liberty can be preserved in this country, and spread to other countries. As Dave was telling us, Liberty magazine is sent to judges and lawyers and thought leaders all over this nation, and in the way this nation treats religious people – or non-religious people – is being observed by other countries over the world. Let’s do what we can, and pray when we can, so that people in other lands can continue to point to America and say, “Religious freedom works for them. Why can’t it work for us?”
And how do we refresh our love for our Creator? We turn our thoughts and our prayers again and again toward the God of our fathers, whose Almighty hand leads fourth in beauty all the starry band of shining worlds.
Let’s sing directly to Him this morning our closing song, “God of Our Fathers,” number 645.