Friday, February 1, 2013

The Real Radical

Over at the "The Blazing Center," Stephen Altrogge has a post entitled "Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Risk, He Wants Your Life." He says a number of things that I've been mulling over for a couple of years. I have seen what he talks about illustrated over and over again.

In all our evangelical emphasis in doing great things for God, being bold, taking risks, etc., I think, we have more often appealed to an idol of youth: the glamour of adrenaline filled risk taking. Admittedly I am more of a cautious introvert so my thoughts might be skewed the other way. But the emphasis on doing "big" things for God can play into idols that the heart has to be big.

Obviously if God calls you to be a missionary, to go overseas, to do something that is beyond your comfort zone, you should do it. But how many young people get fired up to do "the big" but haven't first had a life habit of faithfulness in the little things? It seems to me, Jesus tells us to be faithful in little before we are faithful in much.

Let me illustrate with a story. When I was a young man in youth group, I knew of some individuals who would go on "missions trips" through these high adventure programs that involved boot camp like training followed by a work trip to some exotic place with a real need. I cannot judge these individuals hearts, but by their own admission they did it at least in part to "get away for the summer." It seems the lure of excitement was primary and secondary was "oh I get to serve God too." I, on the other hand, spent a number of summers working as a camp counselor at your average run-of-the-mill Bible camp. I loved this ministry. On occasion at college mission rallies and other venues people in my situation, were subtle berated or looked down upon because we we're being bold with our summers by going overseas or taking risks for God. What was our fear? Why wouldn't we take a bold step of face for God? Didn't we love the lost? Apparently we weren't radical or adventurous enough. It was always "you need to get out of your comfort zone" by implication if you didn't not you weren't really following God.

With this, there comes into our Christianity this sort of two tier structure of average Christians verses those who "really sacrifice." It happens all the time. The missionary who gives it all up to go overseas--they are bold. But the quiet wife who sacrifices day in and day out to stay with her drunkard husband and slowly sees God's grace change him... well she wasn't bold for God. The person who takes the wild crazy adventure: they are really living for God. But the quiet Sunday School teacher who shows quiet love and long term patience with that group of rowdy boys... well that's good for them but they aren't taking any bold risks.

On and on it goes. We rank things not by how people are being faithful to God's calling and being obedient but rather by 21st century appeals to adventures. Yes, God calls people to those type of things too--and if it's God's call, good, go for it. But let's not let the world's rating system of risk, glamour and adrenaline junky become the measure of what a "radically submissive Christian" must look like.

As a pastor, I have counseled people who want to run away do something bold for God. But when you talk to them, you find out they really just want to retreat and run from the battle God has called them to fight. The bold thing is a glamorous escape, the mundane fight is boring and hard, with little notoriety. God often calls us to fight our Christian life in the trenches, and their is nothing glamorous about the trenches. The gritty work of discipline and sanctification God produces in us is the fruit of real sweat, tears and anguish. It is never sexy just messy and painful. The "glamorous, bold and risky" has a sort of Hollywood movie star appeal. 

In Mark 8:35, Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” To be a Christian, we must lose our life for the sake of Jesus. We must be willing to give up everything for the sake of Jesus. This at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus gets all of my life. Jesus gets all of me. Whatever he says goes. I am no longer my own. That’s crazy, radical, risky talk.  
What does this look like practically? What does it look like to be radical for Jesus every single day? Well, it actually looks pretty ordinary. At least in the world’s eyes. Being radical for Jesus means fighting against our sin aggressively, and being willing to do whatever it takes to cut sin out of our lives (Matt. 5:29). It means blessing those who hate you, and giving your possessions to your enemies (Matt. 5:39). It means being poor in spirit, meek, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt. 5:2-11). 
The Bible’s description of the radical Christian life is not particularly sexy or glamorous. Being radical for Jesus means being subject to the authorities (Rom. 13:1). It means being patient in tribulation, constant in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, and showing hospitality (Rom. 12:12-13). These aren’t particularly exciting things, but I think we need to realize that these are radical! The world does not operate this way. Those who don’t know God curse in the midst of tribulation, never pray, indulge their sins, curse their enemies, and despise righteousness. If we seek to obey the Bible, we will be radical. If we seek to follow Jesus, that will inevitably lead to crazy love.
Sometimes "losing our life" means sticking in the hard unglamourous fight for years, without any renown or recognition. The spouse who stays with their difficult partner. The sick person who endures a long illness with not much to show for it. The older woman who can barely get out of the house but becomes a private prayer warrior and makes it to church. The young person who takes an afternoon to visit the elderly and shovel their snow. The father who works two jobs to put food on the table and still sacrifices sleep and "me time" to play with his kids and make their sporting events because he knows God's high calling upon fathers. These are all "unglamorous" and by most standards hardly get points for being radical--but doing them may involve you putting down your selfishness. The latter should be the aim.

Especially for my generation and younger, seeking the glamorous, the exotic, the adventurous, or the radical may [although not always] be more of a way for some to feed their selfishness rather than actually deny yourself and put self to death. Do we ask the probing heart questions to root this out? Or are we more captivated by the intoxication of 'doing big things for God.'  

My advice would be worry about being faithful and obedient. If that is your goal, you will find plenty of places in your daily life where you have to be bold or do radical things that are not set by the world's standards of bold and radical (true forgiveness is radical by the world's standards). Out of that, if God calls you on a "wild adventure" in the traditional sense of that phrase then you have been faithful where you are and follow the open door.

One final thought: watch out for pride and the lust for celebrity. Sometimes these things are the very reason the bold and glamorous appeal to us, we just cover it with the excuse "think of what I could do for God." Do you want to follow God because you love Him and you are just honored to serve him, even if all you ever do is clean up puke in a rescue shelter, or do you want to follow God because you know "I can do really big things for Him, he could really use me in a mighty way."

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