But what does this radical life really look like?
All of Francis Chan’s examples in the end Crazy Love were extreme examples of sacrifice and martyrdom. Not discounting the magnitude of the sacrifice of these people, their sacrifice means nothing compared to the sacrifice of Christ, and, in Modern America, most Christ-followers will not be required take such an extreme stance on the laying down of their life.
Should we feel guilty because of this? Should we despise the wealth our parents worked to acquire? Should we look on with disdain at the prosperous American society without acknowledging that the reason for the prosperity came from our founding fathers attention to many biblical principals that led to the freedom we now have that allows us to grow and change and build to the point that we are the most prosperous nation in the world?
The reason I pose these questions is to wonder aloud if wealth is considered sinful in this new movement.
Okay, maybe it isn’t sinful, but those wealthy people with multiple houses, expensive cars, and Ivy League educations are not quite as Christian as we are.
It sounds a little too close to home. A little too like my early home school days when the girls who wore spaghetti straps to church and bikinis to the beach could still, technically, be saved, but they weren’t quite as on fire for Christ as we were.
I am currently participating in a Bible study about excessive living. It’s been a struggle for me, not because I’ve been living excessively. Truth be told, I make less money currently than I did when I was a teenager. I live on less, buy less, and pretty much live more frugally than I ever have in my entire life. The struggle lies in this hint at a legality that uses scripture to tame behavior.
I live frugally currently because the life that God has called me to requires it. I don’t live frugally because I chose it out of conscience attention to excess in my life.
Let me tell you a personal story about my encounter with excess.
When I was eighteen, I went to Guatemala and lived with a Guatemalan family for two months. I lived in a little concrete room with a wooden framed bed, dresser, and desk. I lived out of one suitcase worth of clothes and bought used books from an English bookstore for my entertainment in the evening.
The family I lived with was particularly wealthy by Guatemalan standards in that they owned a TV. Occasionally I’d go upstairs to watch Spanish soap operas and once in a while they’d have on an American movie with Spanish subtitles. That was glorious.
In two short months I grew accustomed to this simple living. When I came home to the United States, I immediately became discontent with the excessive lives I saw around me. I started compartmentalizing what I considered excessive and what I considered legitimate. For example: hot water was considered a necessary excess. A house over 2,000 square feet was not. My own bedroom was a requirement, but a screened in back porch was over the top.
My mind and my comfort were the tools I used to decide what was excessive and what wasn’t. I designated myself as the judger of the rich and the champion of the poor. I was discontent with the wealthy lifestyle that I was, at that time, called to live.
Maybe it’s a little extreme to say a wealthy lifestyle is a calling. But isn’t it? Like any other way of life, is it an accident that it happens?
Similarly, could poverty also be deemed a calling?
I do not believe when God says that He will be near to the poor and that He will plead the case for the poor that He was declaring the poor to be more holy. I believe He was acknowledging the fact that those without money are typically without a voice. He declared himself the champion of those who cannot speak for themselves and typically uses someone of his choosing to be that visible voice for the world to see. He calls us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
But who gets put in this category?
A few months ago, my sister was at a college conference where she attended a session on human trafficking. She shared with me the magnitude of the numbers still enslaved and how the horror of how humans are being treated was overwhelming. She then posed a rhetorical question: “What can I do? I don’t know how to help them.” To which I responded: “You go to school and get your degree in special education like you were planning. You get a job ministering to special needs kids just like you were intending before you heard about human trafficking. One day, you’ll be able to give money to an organization that helps rescue those being trafficked and maybe you’ll even get to help someone who’s been rescued, but until then, you’re called to minister to special needs kids. You’re ministry to them is not any less of a calling or any less important than those who are called to help rescue people from slavery.”
You see, every ministry thinks their ministry is the most important ministry in the world. Since they are called to that ministry, it is only right that they view it as such. But every ministry can’t be the most important ministry in the world to every person. There are too many needs. There are too many poor. There are too many sick and wounded and scarred and broken. All we can do is what is in front of us. For some of us, that’s waking up in a two-story home with a backyard pool, loving our families, serving our neighbors, and giving to our church. For some of us, that’s selling all our possessions and moving to a third-world country to love starving children.
It’s sad to think that something as beautiful as giving to the poor or serving on the board of a non-profit organization can become a legalistic act to acquire our own holiness. Radical living can be a result of a transformed heart, but it should never be a mode of life to be held up as more holy than another lifestyle that requires less obvious sacrifice.
This isn’t a new story. It’s the same story being told in a different way.