Patrick Henry

“Give me liberty or give me death!” The rallying cry for the American Revolution came from Patrick Henry.  This patriot, a founder of our country, was a Christian.  Together with many of his contemporaries, he believed that virtue flowing from belief in God was vital for the success of our new country.  Let me share some of his story that give his words and thoughts some texture.

In 1763, he was a young attorney. His father was a judge and his uncle an Anglican priest.  The government-sponsored church clerics sued the taxpayers for insufficient payments.  Defending the taxpayers, Henry first flashed his renowned oratory skills with this:  “Such is the avarice, such the insatiate thirst for gold of these ecclesiastical harpies, that they would snatch the last hoe cake from the widow and the orphan.”  I wonder what the reverend uncle thought about that broadside.  We know what judge dad thought: he ruled against his son.

In another case Henry defended John Weatherford, a Baptist who had been imprisoned for preaching without a license, and paid the preacher’s fine. His popular defense of the common folk propelled him into politics.

While serving in the colonial Virginia legislature and in the continental congress, Henry spoke against the tyrannies of King George III. He was among the first to call for independence, once with a prescient warning.  “Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us.  Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation.”

In his final years, Henry voiced his fears that the French Revolution would tear down “the great pillars of all government and of social life” which he listed as “virtue, morality, and religion.” He had become more vocal as a Christian statesman, and was disturbed that some considered him a Deist, which he said was “another name for vice and depravity.”

On his deathbed in 1799, he appealed once again to his friend and physician, Dr. George Cabell. “I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die.”  He told the doctor his religion had never failed him, prayed for his family, country, and his soul, and then passed into eternity.

In his will, Henry wrote, “This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.”  In death as in life, Patrick Henry understood liberty, giving final testament to Scripture, It was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1).


A pattern occurs to me as I read certain news stories of late. These are events from different places and circumstances, but they affirm the same Biblical truth.

Dr. Everett Piper is president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.  A chapel service message from 1 Cor. 13 included an effective challenge to love others, which offended one student.  Piper’s response in an open letter was atypical for a university president in 2016.  “The primary objective of the church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.  We don’t issue ‘trigger warnings’ before altar calls.  This is not a day care.  This is a university.”

In the province of Zhejiang, China, 2000 bright-red crosses are no longer on church steeples after the government conducted a two-year purge of the Christian symbol. Christians have been resilient, especially in Wenzhou, where more than ten percent of the residents are believers.  The destruction has not stopped the churches from gathering, and many restored their crosses to a visible place other than the rooftop.  Observers point out that there are now more Christians in China than members of the communist party, and this latest intimidation probably reflects fear of the growth of the church.

The Santa Monica Observer ran a story about a seven-year-old boy who “threatened” his school. Each day his mom, Christina Zavala, included in his lunch box a Bible verse and a note.  During lunch break he read it to his friends when they asked.  Soon they asked if Zavala would send them a note too, and she did.  When a child told a teacher his note was “the most beautiful story,” the school dispatched a sheriff deputy to the home to demand this activity stop because “someone might be offended.”

The message of the cross offends people. The Bible calls the cross an offense to those who think God’s favor must be earned (Gal. 5:11).  For the gospel to be effective it must offend the pride that doesn’t need a Savior.  It says that you are a Sinner and apart from the love, grace, and sacrifice of Jesus, you have missed your ultimate calling to know God as he has revealed Himself.

The message may be offensive, but the messenger shouldn’t be. Charles Spurgeon said, “Do not let us make any extra offense of the Cross by our own ill humor, but let us show our love to the Cross by loving and trying to bless those who have been offended with it.”

Karl Barth once advised young theologians “to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” A good place to start is, The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).  Take heart, Christian, and embrace the power.

Thanks Dad!

For what does your father deserve your gratitude? Maybe the stories of two fathers whose lives and times are told in the Bible will seed your thinking on the question.

Noah was a man who walked with God. He was righteous and blameless.  God chose him to save the human race by building an ark to float out the great flood.  His three sons were part of the great endeavor of building the ark.  With their wives, they entered the ark and witnessed God closing the door behind them.  It was Noah’s obedience that protected his family from the flood.  After the flood, the sons tried to protect the father from an embarrassing incident, which you can read for yourself. (Gen. 6-9)

This father believed and lived in a way that was contrary to the culture around him. He was willing to obey God even when it seemed counter-intuitive.  He spent time with his sons, and modeled a life of hard work and determination.  He wasn’t perfect, but he held the respect of his sons.  They had much to be thankful for in their father: his courage, character, and faith.

The Apostle Paul claimed Onesimus as his son. During one of Paul’s inconvenient stays at government accommodations, he came to know this young runaway.  Paul, writing to Philemon to take him back, called him “my very heart.”  It was a sacrifice to send him back since he had helped Paul during his imprisonment.  He offered to pay any damages his adopted son had caused.

This father figure was transparent about his love for his son in the Lord. He emphasized what the young man had done right, though he had done a great wrong.  He offered to help his son make restitution and learn from his mistakes.  Onesimus had reason to be thankful for a mentor who loved and encouraged him. (Phil. 1:10-20)

I hope you can be grateful for you father or father figure. It is a courageous man who takes up the challenge of providing for, and mentoring a son or daughter.  If you still have the opportunity, consider offering him more than just a Happy Father’s Day! wish, and tell him some specific reasons you are thankful.  That should make his day happy without you having to wish for it.  And if he’s gone, remember him with gratitude.

Not God’s Type

Dr. Holly Ordway was a young English professor. She wasn’t just a secular-minded young professional, but an antagonistic atheist.  Not exactly in the demographic of likely candidates for conversion to Christianity.  But it happened.

She wrote about it in her book Not God’s Type in 2008.  In 2014, she decided to re-write it. The reason is captured in the sub-title change from “a rational academic finds a radical faith” to “an atheist academic lays down her arms.”  The first implied that her conversion was mostly her doing; the second, her surrender to God’s work in her mind and heart.

She was raised in a family that was culturally but not actually Christian. She thought of Christianity as a historical curiosity, and preferred a rationalism that trusts science to explain everything.  Christians were self-deluded as they tried to follow their morality as a set of rules and pious slogans.  She “didn’t know that the church offered a relationship with a living Person who would…transform you into a new person.”

Dr. Ordway’s rational mind began to challenge her atheistic faith when she realized, “I could not explain why I had this moral sense, and my efforts fell short of my ideals.” Seeking answers, she turned to writings by C.S. Lewis and found his explanation of the moral argument for God compelling.  She also read works by William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and N.T. Wright.  She concluded that the Resurrection of Christ is historical and believable, and has personal implications.

In the re-write of her book, she added the other components of her life that led to faith: imagination and literature. She said, “My atheist view of the world could not explain why I was moved by beauty and cared about truth.”  As a student of literature, she names Lewis and Tolkien as favorite authors.  She found that the moving poems of Hopkins, Herbert, and Donne could not be separated from their Christianity.  From them she caught “a vision of the world that was richly meaningful and beautiful, and that also made sense of the joy and sorrow that I could experience.”

It was her fencing coach that helped seal the deal. He did not fit her stereotype of Christians as pushy and thoughtless, and offered respectful dialogue.  We believers could use some coaching ourselves, to live in a way that surprises our friends into asking questions; to have respectful and informed conversations about the realities of Jesus our Savior.

None of us are really God’s type. But as Brennan Manning observed, “Tragedy is that our attention centers on what people are not, rather than on what they are and who they might become.”  The humbling and rational message of Christianity is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim. 1:15).