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Thursday, July 11, 2013

How Simple Is Radical?

Some of you are aware that for the last several months (or, by now, years), I have become less and less comfortable with the idea that the Christian life should be as comfortable as it is—for me, at least.
I've been abnormally drawn to uses of the word "radical" as well.

Jesus was a radical. Absolutey stark-raving radical. I remember noticing for the first time the outrageousness of a man who would send his friends out in a boat--go on ahead of me--knowing full well that a little while later he was going to blow their minds by coming up alongside them on the sea--ON FOOT!

Same guy, who could and WOULD do something so unexpected, so physically and logically radical, went about his relationships the same way. That's why he got so much negative attention from those rule-makers, who laid on the burdens of social conventions largely for the purpose of keeping themselves well within their own comfort zones. And they called it piety. And he despised that.

So, that's been on my mind lately. At a Truth Project discussion, I got lulled into thinking that all one needs to do to be a Radical Christian is to stand out from the crowd by being willing to do the minimum of right behavior. "These days," there's so much apathy, just doing the smallest expected act of service is seen as radical. For a little while I believed that, and I was comfortable. I promised myself that if I saw an injured person on the sidewalk somewhere, I would be SURE to make use of convenient technology to call for help rather than walk on by. And I called myself a satisfied radical. So set apart from the rest of the world, right? Because most people, “normal people,” wouldn’t even do that much, you know?

But it's been gnawing at me, clawing at me: Sell out! You sold out, didn't you? And I know I did. In my heart of hearts, the sinful one, you know--I want to be "neither hot nor cold." Nice and lukewarm. It's comfy. It seems safe.

But that's not who I'm left to be. Christ came in, and making sure I'm nice and comfy really hasn't been coming through as tops on his priority list. Life has not been comfortable.

So on the afternoon I first wrote this (it has languished, unpublished, for some months, shared only with a few close friends), he used someone he often uses when he wants to clobber me and get me back to the point. I’m asking each of you to read Andree Seu’s blog entry from that day. You can find it here: http://online.worldmag.com/2010/06/29/psalm-408/
She gets the radical nature of Christ’s actions. And she gets that once we’re called, and clothed with Christ and indwelt and neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, there’s something really radical going on.

This picture she gives shakes up social conventions. It steps across gender barriers. It goes way outside of comfort zones. And yet, it is such a simple thing. Her ministry to a stranger is something one needs no training to do. Everyone, regardless of high or low gifts, can love that way. I imagine if I had been there, I would have taken a wide berth. I know I would have prayed, but silently to myself that God would minister. Just not through me. Not directly. Not hands-on, side-by-side. But I want him to. And I’m beginning to see that it’s unlikely he’s going to give me real rest and comfort until I’m willing to let him use me just that radically.

Don’t live life in fear. In love, there is no fear. Perfect, mature love, God-like love, casts out fear.  
Test everything; hold on to what is good. But if we look at an opportunity given by God, and set it up against social conventions that would limit tangibly, radically reaching out, and find no sin in it—what excuse do we have to present before God to justify doing anything else?

I keep coming back in my mind to the parable of the Good Samaritan. All the people who were expected to be the righteous ones, the ones whom we people would look at, passing normally in the street when we had no need, and assume these were the good guys. They were the ones who didn’t stop, didn’t get involved. They kept themselves clean. They kept themselves on task. They could have said, “It’s not my place to help.” And they are the ones condemned.

I can’t get around it, this idea that I don’t get to choose the who I’m supposed to be available to reach out to in brotherly Christian love. Whoever it is that God drops in my path, I’m supposed to help if I can. I at least have to try. I can’t find the “not my place,” “off the hook” catchphrase in the story.

But there’s another side of that. I can’t presume I’m always the strong one, the helper. I have needed lots and lots of help lately. I have been extremely needy. I’m not sure that’s going to let up any time soon either. I have to think of myself as the wounded guy, lying there, helpless, waiting. When he saw that he was about to be touched by a Samaritan, did he sit up and object? “Oh no, not YOU! I’ll just hang around and wait for someone more appropriate, more conventional.”

No, even then, I don’t get to choose. And maybe I’d like to. Or maybe I’d like to choose for someone else. “Look the other way, dearie. Someone else can handle that.” But it’s not for me to say, and anyway, comfy combinations just aren’t how God works most of the time. There’s a reason for that too.

Our God is always active and working, and his mission is one of unity and reconciliation. He reconciles to himself those who are so very not like him. He is holy, sinless, perfect. He doesn’t need anything or anyone else. We are everything but those things. We are common, sinful, broken, and so very needy, incomplete and hopeless without him.

He is also triune. Three in one.  Can’t get that, I admit it. I can know it and not understand it, but it’s important. Unity out of diversity. Three distinct persons in a perfect unity. And that perfectly united triune God makes it his business to bring together with himself those who are not like him. And then he does it here, too. He lets us know him more, and see the fullness of his grace working more, when he brings us together with others who are not like us already.

Christ bridges every gap and division. God sees all believers without partiality, and that unity is something he intends for us to strive toward as well. It’s already real; we just don’t always get it. Not yet. We will, one day. But in Christ, when he is the joining factor and the Holy Spirit is (always) present with us, there is neither Jew nor Greek—the whole world is bridged by this unity. The races we try to define to make categories to put people in, the nations, the languages. In Christ, all are one. There is neither slave nor free—don’t we so often choose to divide by economic status? Oh, this is a hard one. But because Christ is what I (in my plain little ranch house with the “eclectic” furnishings) have in common with the family of my daughter (in their 6,000 square foot, elegant 3-story newly constructed to their own specs villa), then not even granite countertops can separate us! I can enjoy being with them in their home or mine without the pangers of covetousness stealing my contentment or making me wish for a higher social status. (I admit to temptation at times; but if I confess my sin, he is faithful and just to forgive me my sin and purify me of all unrighteousness, and I promise you, I have seen progress in that area!) The Holy Spirit overcomes covetousness? Even in me? I know, it’s hard to imagine, but I’ve seen it. It’s part of my story. He is that real and that powerful. And in Christ, I am one with even the wealthy believers, and they with me. Male and female become brothers and sisters—how radical is that from the world? Every woman knows she is not safe out there. It’s only predator and prey. But in the family of God, we are not only instructed and called to love and relate to one another with all the purity of siblings, but we are empowered to do it, with the purification of the word of God’s mission: unity out of diversity. And the world will know that it is God within us.

Be open to the opportunity to love someone not like yourself. God does. And when he gives the command to love, he gives the ability to do so too. (I think Corrie ten Boom said that first.)

Thanks for reading. These are the contents of my head tonight. Spur me on then, friends, to love and good works. Radically.

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