Summary: (Preached on July 4th): This message focuses on the first church-wide persecution in Acts. Attention is given to the implications the Gospel has for believers as members of both God's kingdom and a country.
* The difficulty in approaching a July 4th message:
- We sometimes "read" America into Scripture when we shouldn't
- Bible doesn't reference America as a country of predict the events of July, 1776
* If we're not careful, we end up using today to exalt a nation instead of Christ
- We do not worship America because we are free; we worship God because he has enabled us to have the freedom we enjoy today
- We do not worship because we are Americans; we worship because we are citizens of God's kingdom
- We tend to equate our status as Americans as having a special standing before God. However, that standing is given to people of any nation and is based on spiritual freedom, not national freedom (see John 8:36).
* Our purpose today: not merely to celebrate national freedom, but to celebrate spiritual freedom
* On a day when we celebrate our independence to be our own nation and to live in a free government by the people and for the people, it's fitting for us to look at Scripture at a time when the first church lost their freedom through persecution.
* Our text is the first time in Acts that the church as a whole has experienced persecution as the church (Peter/John have as individuals, as had Stephen and the apostles)
* The persecuted church teaches us several lessons that we should remember as believers who live in a free land...
1. Nothing can stop God from giving spiritual freedom when his people are faithful.
* The goal of persecution was to stop the Gospel. Just the opposite occurred.
* The only thing that could have prevented the Gospel from expanding the kingdom is apathy.
* For us today, with no persecution in our nation, the sky is the limit. The only thing keeping spiritual freedom from having the opportunity to flourish is our apathy.
2. We're not prepared for persecution until we understand Christianity.
* A possible reaction to persecution is for those who are being persecuted to stop doing whatever they are doing that has earned their persecution.
* Instead of stopping, the church in Acts continued to preach Christ wherever they went.
* Why they did this: they understand Christianity in relational terms; for them, Christianity was not a set of beliefs that could be abandoned when needed, but rather it was an expression of their relationship with Jesus Christ
* The issues our nation faces today are not found in the White House, the Senate, the economy, etc. The great danger facing the nation today is that the church has stopped functioning as the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
3. People will desire to know Christ when they see Christ living in us and working through us.
* The people heard what Phillip had to say, and they saw Christ in him (v. 5-8). The result: many wanted to know this Christ.
* People will respond to the Christ we proclaim when they see him in us and working through us.
* When Christ is embraced, joy occurs (v. 8)
4. We must use our freedom today to pray for those who still face persecution
* As Americans, we do not comprehend the persecution these early Christians faced.
* READ SEVERAL STORIES OF PERSECUTION FROM RECENT WEEKS
* We have both the national and spiritual freedom to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing persecution today.
* These fellow Christians are fellow citizens of our true home...the kingdom of God.