I was sitting in my office scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feed and all of the public conversations about Duck Dynasty. It was all so upsetting. I was getting caught up in the frenzy as I started to think about how I would add more words to the pile.
When all of a sudden, the Apostle Paul was sitting in the chair across the room from me! When I saw him, I was frightened. I didn't see anyone enter my room.
We had a conversation I had to share with you.
Collin: How did you get here? Who are you anyway?
Paul: Some people call me Saul. Some people call me Paul. But you should have seen the look on your face when you turned around and saw me. I don't know who was more scared...me on the road to Damascus or you just a minute ago. Ha!
What are you doing?
C: Oh, just scrolling through my Facebook feed. Can you believe what all of these people are saying?
P: Excuse me...your what?
C: My Facebook feed. You don't know what a...oh that's right. You lived before the internet was around.
P: What's the internet?
C: Never mind. The last 48 hours there's been a lot of talk about Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty, A&E, and homosexuality.
P: Duck Dynasty?
C: Wow. How do I explain?
Phil Robertson and his family have a show on TV...TV is a screen we have in our living rooms...our living rooms are rooms in our houses. I can't possibly describe all of this to you Paul. Just go with me.
Anyway...Phil has a show on TV called Duck Dynasty. And through the show, the Robertson family has received quite a following. Like a bigger following than Jesus had when he was on the earth. Jesus had his thousands and Duck Dynasty has its millions. And Phil was recently interviewed by a popular magazine and he said some things that created a huge media storm. People are going nuts.
Some people are upset about some things he said about homosexuality. Others are upset about some things he said about race.
But others are coming to Phil's defense. They believe Phil was just stating his beliefs, just quoting the Bible. They're upset that Christians in America are now treated differently than other groups when they make public statements about their beliefs. They feel persecuted and like America is losing ground as a Christian nation.
It's a mess! And with every word, the tension grows and the sides become more entrenched.
P: I see...haha! You learn to appreciate seeing after spending three days unable to see.
P: Haven't you ever read Acts 9? You're a preacher, aren't you?
C: Oh, right. Funny.
P: I'm just messing with you, Collin. Calm down!
Some things have changed over the past 2,000 years. So, let me ask a few questions. Are you good with that?
C: Sure, fire away!
P: Did you say there are Christians who feel like America is losing ground as a Christian nation? What is a Christian nation?
C: Hmm, how do I explain this? You know how Rome was an empire, right?
P: Yes, that empire killed me, so I do know about what an empire is.
C: Well, today we have nations or countries rather than empires. And there are Christians who feel like America, the country we live, started as a Christian nation.
P: Huh! Imagine that? You mean the leaders of the country didn't try to kill Christians? That would have helped to prolong my life and the lives of the other disciples. Christian nation? That's such a strange thought.
And did you say Christians are feeling persecuted? How so?
C: Well, we have this thing in America called the Freedom of Speech. It's the First Amendment the United States made to the Constitution. And a lot of Christians are upset and feel like Phil Robertson's rights were infringed upon. Christians feel persecuted in America.
P: So, Phil Robertson was killed?
P: He was put in prison? That happened to me a few times.
P: Then what's this business about persecution?
C: He was put on indefinite leave from his TV show.
P: Hmmm....How much does this guy and his family get paid for his TV show?
C: $200,000 an episode in addition to the merchandise and duck calls they sell.
P: What's a duck call?
C: Paul, some things about 21st century life you just won't be able to understand.
P: So, let me get this straight. A guy shares his Christian beliefs and people get upset about it?
P: But the guy doesn't get killed? He doesn't get put in prison? He just gets to continue selling these duck calls from his home in this place called America?
P: You Americans, don't seem to understand what persecution is. I didn't lose my job for preaching what I believed. Five different times I received 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. And eventually I was killed by the Roman Empire. I never whined to Herod or Caesar once about any of it.
And why? Because I knew preaching the gospel would bring that kind of response.
I haven't read exactly what Phil Robertson wrote, so I'm not ready to tell you if I agree with him or not, but I can tell you I'm not ready to defend Christians who use the persecution card in defense of a millionaire who gets to live his life without threat of beatings or death.
THAT'S NOT PERSECUTION!!!
Have you read the stories about what's going on with Christians in places like China? That's persecution. Their churches are being burned to the ground. Their church services are held in secret. They are being killed for their faith.
And guess what...Christianity is growing in China and the global South. Over the years, it seems that there might be a connection between persecution and kingdom growth.
But as long as American Christians try to fight a culture war about rights, Christianity will continue to decline.
Did you Christians forget who you were following? You're called to follow Jesus who gave up his rights rather than holding onto them (Phil. 2:5-11). But it sounds like what it means to be a Christian for some of you in America is to demand that your rights be upheld. That's the opposite of the gospel!
It doesn't sound like the problem is America and the secular media. It sounds like the problem lies with a bunch of weak Christians who misunderstand what the goal of the kingdom is all about.
C: Wow! Paul you seem worked up about this.
P: Haven't you read Galatians? I once told the Judaizers in Galatia that I wish that when they had circumcised themselves they would have kept on cutting (Galatians 5:12)!
C: That was an interesting image to select. Quite vivid!
I think you're right to push back on American "persecution." There's no way we could compete with your resume of persecution. But...how would you have us live and challenge a culture that chooses to live in such opposition to the morals of the Bible?
P: You preachers should read the Bible more often. Haven't you read what I wrote in my letter to the Corinthians?
Just pick up one of the 12 Bibles with your named engraved on them on your shelf and read it to me. I think the guy who ended up putting those annoying numbers in the middle of my perfectly good letter would tell you that you could find it in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.
C: It says,
"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you."
P: Do you see a word in there about challenging or condemning outsiders? No!
Why do you expect people who haven't chosen to become followers of Jesus to act like Jesus?
Wait! Hopefully you aren't passing laws to force non-Christians to act like Jesus? You don't do that in that Christian America, do you?
P: None of you would make it in the Roman Empire in the 1st century!
There's no need to judge people by the standards of Jesus who haven't chosen to follow Jesus. You're called to love them and establish relationships with them. And if they are compelled to follow Jesus, then as insiders we hold each other accountable to those standards.
C: It's right there in black and white.
P: One more thing. If you've got time with all of your sermon writing and stuff.
C: Sure, go ahead.
P: I'm still trying to wrap my head around this Christian nation thing. The disciples in heaven will want to know every detail about that.
The Roman Empire enlarged its territory through warfare. Most empires come into existence that way. If America is a Christian nation, surely the original inhabitants didn't kill people like Rome did to acquire land, did they? Otherwise, how could you call it a Christian nation?
C: Are you sure you want to know the answer?
C: We took the land from the original inhabitants. We drove them off of their land and killed many of them in the process.
P: How in the world would Christians be able to defend that with the Bible?
C: We used Scripture to defend it all. The settlers likened themselves to the new Israel leaving Egypt and wiping out the Canaanites on their way to the Promised Land. Preachers actually defended it with Scripture.
P: That's a terrible way to read the Exodus story.
C: Yeah, and speaking of poor readings of Scripture, you'll never believe what we did to your letters. Preachers defended enslaving people because of what you wrote in several places. America has had a terrible history of slavery and racism.
P: You're kidding me! You're telling me this Christian nation killed indians and oppressed and enslaved people because of the color of their skin?
C: I wish I was kidding. Not exactly Christian of us, was it?
P: Your preachers could sure use some help in biblical interpretation!
Speaking of, do you want in any help interpreting your passage for Sunday?
C: Sure, I'm preaching from Hebrews.
P: I'm not touching that sermon. Even I don't know who wrote that book!
C: Well, thanks for your time.
And like that, he was gone.
Conversations like that give you perspective.
Perhaps you've heard of first-world problems. A first-world problem is a frustration or complaint that is only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries.
-I took such a long shower this morning that the hot water ran out.
-Since that last iOS update, my iPhone is running much slower.
Some people will never experience first-world problems. They'll never have a chance to.
In the same way, American Christians have first-world Christian problems. A first-world Christian problem is a frustration or complaint only experienced by privileged Christians in countries who uphold the freedom of religion.
I'm guessing there are many third-world Christians who would love to have their greatest worry be preaching their beliefs at the risk of their jobs rather than their lives.
All it would take is a week-long trip to a country that has outlawed Christianity to change what we write on our tweets and Facebook updates.
We need stronger Christians.
Not stronger Christians who are ready at the firing of a millionaire celebrity Christian to take up arms in a culture war.
We need stronger Christians who stop living as victims.
We need stronger Christians who refuse to settle for loving the sinner and hating the sin. But who choose to love the sinner and hate and confess our own sin.
We need stronger Christians who in the words of my new friend Paul:
"...have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross."