While driving around town this afternoon, I found myself behind a large pick up truck – not so unusual since I live in Pick Up Town, USA. This pick up, however, had a homemade flag pole welded to its tailgate and hanging upon the flag pole, as you would expect, was a huge flag. The flag bore the Christian fish symbol which was filled in with a Stars and Stripes pattern. It was printed upon a white background and around the edges in bold capital letters were the words “Proud American Christian.”
As I sat behind this pick up watching the flag blowing in the wind, I thought how fortunate it is that we have the freedom to express our religious beliefs in this country without fear of fatal repercussions. I also wondered how many of us truly would be that brave if we lived in a country where merely identifying yourself as a Christian could eventually lead to your death. I don’t think I have that kind of bravery, in fact, I’ve always suspected I’m a bit of coward. Unfortunately, my suspicions were confirmed after hearing the ministry experiences of a pastor who recently visited our church.
This pastor is planting and growing churches in his home country – a very dangerous place, especially if you are a Christian. He and his family, friends, and fellow pastors must tread very lightly as they navigate the strict religious laws of the land. These are not just polite, unwritten laws borne out of political correctness; these laws are actively enforced by the government. Sharing their Christian faith in any way other than as minimally permitted by law means death. Yet, with their faith in God, they continue their work, hoping to plant and grow as many churches as possible while working under a genuine sense of urgency because, as the pastor stated, “time is running out.” Translation – he and his fellow pastors are on the radar. Yet they continue to serve, living in homes most of us would refuse to live in and living under the constant knowledge that their days are numbered. I cannot imagine.
I left the pastor’s talk feeling quite embarrassed and ashamed. I felt embarrassed for complaining about truly insignificant things rather than being grateful for what I have. I felt ashamed because this man continues to serve God knowing that it will likely lead to his death while I, on the other hand, have often remained silent when faced with an opportunity to share or defend my faith. I remained silent despite living in a country where I am free to worship and free to speak about God, Jesus, and Christianity without the fear of being tortured or executed. Shame on me for being such a coward. Shame on me for sitting on the fence when I’ve had opportunities to take a stand.
Why do I stay silent? Because of fear. Is it the kind of fear this man faces every day? Not by a long shot. It is the very silly, petty fear of offending others. I don’t want to be a part of the watered-down, “everyone is going to heaven as long as they’re a good person” set because I know that is not a biblical truth. I want to be honest about where I stand on issues; however, over the past several years, Christians have been vilified through political correctness and liberalism gone amok and, if we’re honest, our own over-zealous preaching. Even the term Christian has seemingly become synonymous with bigoted, war-mongering, homophobe. I don’t want to be labeled like that, who does? So, I quietly keep my beliefs and opinions to myself – best not to get involved or hurt someone’s feelings. I know what I believe, let’s just leave it at that, right? Well, no, that’s not right. I believe that qualifies as hiding your light under a bushel and, just like Peter did those three times, denying that you know Christ at all.
As I mentioned, this fear of offending or being labeled with any of the above listed monikers is, in my mind, partially a result of the increasingly popular and powerful liberal sentiment in this country. The liberal watchdogs are usually the first to cry “intolerance!” if they catch a mere whiff of any conservative dialogue, Christian or otherwise. I have heard condescending and hostile comments from liberals who preach their tolerance manifesto just as over-zealously as some Christians preach the gospel yet this tolerance seems to apply only to those individuals who think as they do.
I understand the need for some sort of balance when sharing our beliefs, opinions, and faith. It should be done with grace and respect, firmly, yet without judgement or shaming. This is true for everyone. I certainly don’t want to be that abrasive person who ends up turning someone off of Christianity because I was careless with my words. I’ve been on the other end of that conversation. I know how it feels to be preached at about the error of my ways. I know how it feels to be accosted with that favorite question of evangelical Christians, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?” I also remember thinking in response to that question, “Really? That’s how you’re going to open up this conversation?”
As I consider the unproductive
squabbles dialogues coming from both camps, my thoughts once again return to this pastor. He is an example of how we as Christians should be ministering (Oh no, CHURCHY TERM! Well, that happens when you’re talking about Christianity.). He is not hostile, although he often interacts with members of a typically hostile religion. He cares about all people in a real and eternal sense. He is passionate about his ministry even under the constant threat of death. He lives what he preaches. Perhaps if we adopted some of these traits, people would be more inclined to listen when we speak of Jesus and the salvation only He can offer rather than turning away because they’ve already been “burned” by the fire and brimstone.
I’m thankful I had the opportunity to hear this gentleman’s testimony. Once again it showed me that I have a lot of work to do. I need to stop being a cowardly Christian. I am also challenging myself to begin living as the Christian I want to be because actions truly do speak louder than words. And, though I may not have a pick up truck equipped with a flagpole, I hope I can eventually let my own flag of Christianity billow proudly and unashamedly in the wind.