Antony Bradley, in a recent World Mag article, makes a relevant point. I don’t know if I agree with all of Bradley’s conclusions surrounding David Platt’s “Radical”, but I love this verse he expounds on:
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, (1 Thess 4:10-11)
Other than the pet sins of lust and laziness, this is what I’ve struggled with more and more through out my adult years: Living an ordinary life. In our culture, there is a consistent torrential message of “living dreams”, “being awesome” and “setting the world on fire.” The general message is the people who do something extra ordinary (as culture dictates) in their life are the only ones not wasting their vapor. And, meanwhile, everyone else is regulated to spectators of this greatness.
At nineteen I had delusions of “conference headlining”, “bestselling books”, and “mission trip leading” grandeur. Now at twenty-nine I just want to see my famiy protected and provided for and my two boys fall in love with Jesus,,. and maybe at night catch a “Frasier” re-run with my wife. I’m woefully aware of how un extraordinary that sounds.
The church has adopted this same fervor with varying results. When I first became a Christian the common catchphrase was being “sold out.” Being sold out was usually directly correlated to how many people you witnessed to or invited to church. I’d be at visitation on Monday night, youth group on Wednesday night, and worship service twice on every Sunday. I was found at every lock in, mission trip, and ancillary bible study on the bulletin.
I was on point.
The tides have shifted slightly since then, but our fascination with extra biblical catchwords hasn’t. Now the focus is less directly church related and more about being “missional” or “radical.” Church folk, to express with greater accuracy the life of Christ in Scripture, are now beckoned out of the church walls to: adopt a third world child, start an inner city ministry, or go live amongst the tribal guerillas of the Congo.
There is definitely something to be said of souls committed to local church bodies and international missions. But these catchwords can muddle our spiritual vision and make us tragically far-sighted.
I can attempt with grand boldness to save the world and yet lose my family. This can easily happen if I’m so enamored with the extraordinary call of reaching the lost out there that I neglect the extraordinary call of sacrificial love for my wife and little fallen boys in my home. The ordinary faithful life needs to be lived by the Christian, even the Christian called to the “comfortable” suburbs: Doing quality work at whatever job, paying the bills, protecting family dinner time, replacing light bulbs, sowing gospel seeds into one church.
Paul says strive to live “quietly”, while working and minding our own business. So much of missional/radical Christianity tells us to make the biggest counter cultural splash we can muster with our message and medium and life. But what of the small town boy who gets married at 19, has three kids by 25, and works as a car mechanic until his last days on earth? What of quiet faithfulness to a small family, a small church, and a small community for 50 years?
What if he likes Sarah Palin and spends his whole life voting Republican?
Can our modern artsy narcissistic hipster sensibilities handle all this?
Missional Christianity will probably only celebrate the life of that mechanic if he writes a book on missional life, starts a conference with missional headliners, adopts 15 Chinese children, or dies in an Indian leper colony.
Cause I mean, his family is kinda boring but social justice is the new Nintendo, right?
But the meaning of extraordinary should get turned on its head. It’s more extraordinary to be faithful to one wife until death than write a New York Times bestselling book on marriage. It’s more extraordinary to pour your love and leadership into your two children than lead a mega conference on parenting. Sometimes, it takes more spiritual backbone to share Christ to your nameless suburban neighbor across the street than confront a demon possessed Shaman in an African jungle.
So here’s where we are at: In the tenuous position between two ditches, balancing the commands of Christ the best we can. To not be overcome by the toxic materialistic fragrance of the American Dream on one side. And to not be discouraged by the heavy legalistic demands of radical/missional/sold out Christianity on the other.
To live faithfully in the ordinary
is the new extraordinary.
Where grace is the center and that is the only thing that will keep us from falling. Whether it happens to be in small towns, inner cities, suburbs, or third world ghettos.