The “Radical” We Avoid

In the Sermon on the Mount, there are a couple of places (at least) where we find great hesitation, at least for us as readers.

Matt. 5:17-20, where Jesus tells his hearers their righteousness needs to surpass that of the Pharisees. Then, Matt. 5:48 where the demand is “to be perfect.”

This is the call we just cannot get around. This is the conversation we really try to avoid. We look for the “good enough.” When we do that, we become like the Pharisees.

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.

The Bland Gospel

For some reason there needs to be an attack “radical” Christianity. We want to be radically normal. God bless us all.

Whether we are headed to the most unreached people group of the world, or out the door to coach our kids’ baseball team, I think I really want to ask, “How do we see JESUS?”
Mark Labberton’s piece in Christianity Today calls us to consider the power of Christ and his message.

Why does the gospel look to so many like a bowl of lima beans?

For those who find the grace and truth of Jesus Christ convincing and compelling, such a question may seem absurd, if not blasphemous. But compared to the spiciness of the cultural concoctions that swirl around us in our globalized world, Jesus can seem like bland fare. Many have the impression that the gospel is small, smooth, and tasteless. They have a culturally conditioned disdain for any homogeneous answer to a heterogeneous world. And they have seen too little evidence to the contrary.

How could it be, some believers might balk, that “the hope of the world,” the One given “the name above every name,” could ever seem bland? Well, because often the church is bland. Pale. Gullible. Pasty. Just there. The fruit of this vine appears to be lima beans. If bland is the flavor of the church, then it is presumed to be the flavor of the One the church calls Lord.

 

 
Somehow, we don’t want to seem to take the claims of Christ too seriously.

 

I don’t want to excuse myself. I don’t want to over-stress myself, either. If I haven’t won thousands to Christ by the end of my life, have I failed?
My goal is to be consumed by the beauty of Christ and show his beauty to those around me. Jesus is not bland. While I may LOOK bland, my passion for Christ must be much more. That is what I want people to see, whether it’s a lost tribe in North Africa or my neighbor across the street.