Several years ago my wife and I made a trip to Chad, Africa with some friends of ours from our time in California. Our friends, Rob and Vicki Anthony, had served as missionaries in Chad for many years before having to return to the States on account of health issues. Soon after we met them, God opened the door for them to return to Africa. In preparation for a move back, they needed to travel to Chad short-term to arrange for housing and do some preparatory logistical work. So at their invitation, Brook and I decided to join them and explore what missionary life was like in a place like Africa.
The Anthony’s are a very fun couple to travel with. We had many hilarious happenings during our long travels to and from Chad. One such humorous memory occurred on our trip back home. We were on an Air France flight from Paris to LA. Right from the beginning, I knew this was going to be a miserably long flight (yeah, yeah, I know it still beats traveling by boat like they used to). We were seated in the very last row of the airplane in the middle section. At my preference, I had taken an aisle seat (easy escape to toilet).
Shortly after takeoff we became aware that they were having power difficulties with about a 15-row section of seats on the airplane, which included our row. So the TV, radio, and lights were in non-working condition. I thought, “I don’t really want to watch a movie in subtitles anyways. I’ll read instead.” But as they started the movie, the announcement came through the PA system asking people in window seats to shut their shades to keep the glare off the television screens. So I had to put my book away since it caused great eye-strain to read in the low light. “Fine, I’ll just sleep.” Not long after trying to doze off, a group of Germans began to congregate at the back of the plane in the aisle next to me. It was immediately obvious that they had put down several beers before they ever boarded the airplane. They were smelly, loud, and smelly. This was in the middle of summer, so sleeveless shirts and sweaty armpits were in order. The deodorant-less, hairy armpits of my German flight-buddies were right next to my head–men and women mind you.
As they continued to drink and laugh, they became less stable on their feet. The lady attempting to stand immediately next to me kept unapologetically falling on me. Finally, she gave up and just sat slouching on my armrest. I kept pushing against her with increasing force, but to no avail. So I sat in 2/3 of my tiny seat leaned over toward my snoozing wife. Now I can’t watch a movie because the TV doesn’t work; I can’t listen to the radio because it doesn’t work (and this was before the days of the ipod); I can’t read because the light is out of order and the window shades are pulled; I can’t sleep because of the stinky drunk people next to me; and I don’t have anyone who is awake and English-speaking to talk to. So I basically just sat there, stared, and moaned about how miserable I was. I know I should have been redeeming the time by praying, singing, meditating on Scripture, or using this minute “trial” as an opportunity to think hard about the REAL sufferings that many Christians are enduring for the gospel’s sake. Instead, I just threw myself a wicked little self-pity party.
Okay–none of that really has to do with the purpose of this article. I only give you this background to show why my “funny” memory is actually funny to me. When you are that tired and everything seems to be going wrong, circumstances that are not normally funny become quite hilarious.
Apparently, there was a Frenchman who could not put the cigarettes away for that length of flight. In spite of the pre-flight announcement that smoking in the lavatories was “strictly forbidden by law,” somebody was doing it anyway. So about halfway across the Atlantic, the following announcement began to be repeated continually in French first, and then “translated” into English: “Please remember that there is to be no smoking in airplane lavatories; Violators will be persecuted.” I told you, it’s really not that funny; just a French flight attendant mistakenly saying “persecuted” instead of “prosecuted.” But it was very funny to me at the time. And whoever was smoking in there apparently wasn’t getting the message, because they kept repeating the message over and over for about an hour. I just had this picture of some guy exiting the tiny toilet in a cloud of smoke and being faced with people hurling anti-smoking insults at him, spitting on him, spilling their little 6 oz drinks on his smoke-saturated shirt, and tossing rock-hard airplane rolls at his head.
The flight attendants knew there was somebody smoking in the lavatory because a smoke alarm had been set off. After walking through the CDG airport, I’m pretty sure just the smell off of any passenger’s clothes might set the alarm off. But smoke alarms work like this I guess: at a certain level of smoke, something triggers the detector mechanism and the alarm sounds. There is an acceptable level of smoke, but when that level is exceeded, the alarm goes off.
The Bible says that “all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). There is an acceptable level of religion in the world. Religious people are tolerated to a certain degree. Humanity can peacefully co-exist with a certain measure of Christianity. They reason, “It is okay for you to go to your church and read your Bible and pray over your food. What’s good for you is just not what’s good for me.” But there is a threshold of tolerance–that accepted level of devotion to Christ. When we cross that accepted level of zeal for Christ and truly lay down our lives in devotion to Him, walk in obedience to His commands, and live with hearts transformed into His likeness, then alarms begin to sound. And for those who trigger the alarms, the Air France translation holds true: “Violators will be persecuted!”
So the question I ask in self-evaluation is this: Does my life emit enough fumes, smoke, and heat to trigger any alarms in the coach cabin of this world? Is my “Christian life” lived at or below or even well under the acceptable level of zeal for the Lord? Am I so engrafted into this world and its ways and its thinking that I am no real threat to the pagan culture? Is my life smelly enough to even be persecutable?
Our church is using Kent Hughes’ book, Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life, for the summer care group study. The author is calling the church to reclaim Her distinctiveness in the world and accept the painful costs of that commitment as well as enjoy the lasting fruit. On the book’s jacket, he writes, “Evangelical Christianity is becoming increasingly worldly. Materialism, hedonism, violence, sexual misconduct, pluralism, and divorce are becoming as common within the church as without. As a result the church is losing its distinct identity as a people set apart to reach the world.” He clearly makes the biblical case that a worldly church cannot impact the world. We must be distinct. That distinction, which is salt to a decaying society and light to a dark world, will also bring with it hostility. The truly and visibly righteous will be persecuted (Matt. 5:10-12).
So again I ask myself, “Am I persecutable?” Do my unsaved friends, neighbors, and family members find total comfort and ease around me? Or is there a right level of animosity, not because of my abrasive personality, but because of the offense of the gospel and its visible display through my good deeds? May we who love Christ live in such a way as to far surpass the accepted level of devotion to Christ that the culture has established! When we do, be sure that “violators will be persecuted.”