The ordinary radical

In the current tension between “radical” (via David Platt, Francis Chan, et al) and the case for the “ordinary” (latest from Michael Horton), there is some sort of balance to strike.

We don’t want complacency in our lives, but we should learn something of the term Paul calls content. 

We don’t want our lives so set on edge we burn the spiritual and mental gears out before we’re 30, but we need to hear the urgency of a world still needing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I think in living ordinary lives, walking intentionally with Jesus, we find extraordinary opportunities. They are not necessarily everyday, but they are wonderful. It was in a very “ordinary” service over 2 years ago the Lord first spoke to me about planting churches and then, a month later, “owning” a country. It was the ordinary daily routine a year ago the Spirit spoke and said, “You’ll be in Africa next year.”

And, in an extraordinary way, it happened.

It’s a both/and world, folks. Not either/or.

We get torn apart by our terminology

Richard Stearns, head of World Vision, wrote a response on a perceived attack on the term “radical Christians.”

This was in response to a Christianity Today piece on the “new radicals.”

Stearns’s response is basic: “Yep, we’re radical, and we’re not radical enough!”

It’s gone back and forth in a way that reminds me of the days when my “tribe” (Pentecostals) were battling the “Name It, Claim It” crowd. Pentecostals believe in healing and pray for healing. But the “faith healers” had taken it to another place and by the time Pentecostals were finished bashing away at the “faith healers” it was almost like we didn’t believe in healing!

It’s starting to sound a bit like that in this argument, and I think it’s a bit silly.

Radicals can be perceived as saying, “If you’re not selling everything you have and going to some unreached part of the world, you’re not serving God!” (And I understand some DO say that, and I find it harmful in that extreme.)

But what comes back in response is, “I have my comfortable life and I WANT this comfortable life, so don’t make me feel guilty for having this comfortable life.” (And that is an extreme, but that’s what it’s beginning to sound like.)

If I want “radical” I turn to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus turns my thinking on its ear and then I’m left to ponder what that means for my life.

We are to be salt and light. If we lose our flavor and our ability to shed light in darkness, we just aren’t Kingdom any more. THAT is radical.

It then boils down to the fight we currently have: “What does that mean?”

Can I have a middle class income (or better) and still live for Jesus?

If I sell all I have and immediately head for the Arab Peninsula to plant a church, am I truly following Jesus?

Those are the kinds of questions that need answering, but if we answer them too quickly, we may find ourselves in trouble. We can quickly dismiss the idea of going somewhere in mission and settle in and think, “This is what God has for me.”

We can obviously pull the trigger too quickly on going overseas to plant a church without realizing the costs, the culture shock, the language barriers, the hardships, etc.

It is in the deliberation we find better answers for each of our lives. This is why the entire Sermon on the Mount is vital. Jesus doesn’t just make a radical statement and leave it. He walks us through how to find the strength of the Kingdom and then hear the voice of the Spirit to act. 

Quite frankly, I have met incredibly solid believers who make great money, live in nice houses, and… wait for it… love Jesus. 

Shocking. I know.

They also look for strategic ways to invest their dollars into mission and ministry. They are incredibly generous people.

Certainly there are those who are comfortable and don’t care to be bothered. But every income bracket has that.

The key is hearing God. 

We can clearly hear God to be in a great career, give our talents in a way that contributes as salt and light in a different way to our culture, and live radically as a follower of Christ. You don’t need to shed nice clothes or start up a funky hair-do to be “radical.”

We can clearly hear God to leave this country and spend the rest of our lives in another place. One of my heroes has given 40 years to the Philippines. He clearly belongs there. When he comes home, he does not begrudge anyone their current situation. He tells the stories of what God is doing in the Philippines, and then gets back there as soon as he can.

My plea here is that we give up the notion of tearing each other apart. We are so good at that in Christianity and somehow I think the Sermon on the Mount points us in a different direction. Namely, we can do better than that. 

Let us hear God. Let us hear God for our situation. And let us be OBEDIENT to God in OUR situation.

There is ALWAYS Something to Attack

Just when I think I find something new to explore, to look at and see if it something that begins to describe what I am sensing in my own spiritual life, along comes an attack on that exact position. Anthony Bradley takes a swing at the terms “missional” and “radical” and calls it the “new legalism.”

Just when I was liking Greg Boyd a few years ago, I began reading things from others about why I should hate Greg Boyd.

Before that it was John Maxwell.

Before that it was Chuck Swindoll.

There is always something to attack.

Bradley’s whole premise seems to be, “Hey! Why can’t we be normal?”

To which I says, “Why NOT?”

First of all, who in the world really knows what MISSIONAL really is? I mean, even missional people can’t define it! They start with, “Well, it’s not…”  Thirty minutes later, I’m asleep and their still getting to what it might be.

But as for Bradley’s definition he says: This term is used to describe a church community where people see themselves as missionaries in local communities.

Wow. How offensive. How undesirable.

Are there cautions? Of course there are cautions. There are always cautions. Greg Boyd, as much as I still like him, is ticking me off by his non-answers more and more. There is always something NOT to like.

By the way, I like John Piper, too. Now, I’m really messed up!

Radical Christianity. Bradley calls this narcissistic. Listening to David Platt, I hear about going to the unreached peoples of the world. Give up some comfortable things and go serve a world that has yet to hear the gospel. I am not a philosophy major, so I may be shooting in the dark on this one, but that just doesn’t sound very narcissistic. But, what do I know? I don’t have a PhD.

To be clear, I DO agree with Bradley on the need for caution. But only on the need for caution. Legalism? Maybe some signs. But I can find those signs anywhere. I think Lutherans are legalistic about calling people Pelagian. 😉

In some missional leaders and “radical” leaders I don’t find people using shame. I find them using challenges. Challenges from the Gospels. That’s just downright offensive, I know. I want to sleep in more myself!

Bradley asks why can’t we just love God and love our neighbors? I completely agree. But with some missional and “radical” writing I find some very helpful ways to put feet on those ideas. Not always, but there are some helps there.

If you are tired and weary, by all means take a break. Rest. Find rest in Christ. Find rest in my church! Don’t feel like you have to go “kill” yourself to please me, some other preacher, or some other church.

But at some point, find a way to love God and love your neighbor. Get beyond yourself again. Find some challenges. They don’t have to be the same challenges of a Shane Claiborne or David Platt. They need to be from the Spirit. But rise to that challenge.

So, I am thankful that Bradley has finally given me a better definition of “missional.” It’s a definition I can really latch on to, whether I wear dreadlocks and live in an urban commune or not!

The Gospel of Wealth

David Brooks is the like the Babe Ruth of columnists for me. Every time I see his column is like seeing Babe Ruth come to bat. You just wait to see him hit it out of the park.

This column on “The Gospel of Wealth” is powerful. I remember reading a short excerpt from David Platt’s book when the publisher was offering it for free. At the time it struck a chord but didn’t impress me because it sounded like so many other things I was reading at the time. Brooks going over this message again is just a solid reminder for me: American belief, American dreams, etc., just aren’t compatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We can’t serve God and mammon.

It doesn’t mean I’m not an American, or ashamed to be an American. It just means my biggest priorities need to be much different. It’s not the next big vehicle or next big house for me. It has to be the cause of Christ.

Brooks ends his column with a warning for Americans as well. We could handle wealth in the past because we worked to be responsible. Those principles eroded and now we’re in this mess. We have to figure out new paradigms as Americans. Good warning.