What would the Body of Christ be like if Christians were as extreme as Islamic Jihadists are? In fact ask yourself what the world, and not just the Church, would be like today if Christians were that extreme.
When we think of Islamic extremists the picture we see is that of a crazed and violent person reeking havoc upon infidels and the thought of Christian extremists brings to mind those among us who say they are Christians, yet they blow up abortion clinics or murder in the name of Jesus. Those actions go against everything that Jesus taught and we must ask if they are truly in Christ. A person who has devoted himself or herself to imitating Jesus to the most extreme measure possible will never fit that image.
The extremism that I’m speaking of is the extremism that Jesus spoke of when He said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21) In Luke chapter 19, we read that Zacchaeus the Tax Collector climbed a tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Eventually Zacchaeus met Jesus and he responded with the type of extremism that Jesus spoke about and expects from us. Zacchaeus not only repented, he also gave half of everything he owned to the poor and to those people he cheated out of money, Zacchaeus gave four times the amount he had taken from them back to them.”
Jesus was describing extremism when he told His disciples, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:12-13)
Early Church tradition is full of stories about men and women who stood firm to the end. Most Christ followers have heard how all of the Apostles, except John, were murdered for spreading the story of Jesus Christ. History books are replete with stories of Christians, who would not renounce their faith in Christ, being thrown to the lions by the Romans. Even today Christians are being killed and persecuted, in every sense of the word, in China, India and parts of the Islamic world. Fervency and devotion of that kind is what spread Christianity to every corner of the known world. It is that kind of passion and commitment that drives the Muslim extremist and is why Islam will rule Europe in just a few short years.
But, I do not want to address the apathy and unbelief that allows a pagan religion to take over a continent. I want to ask, “How do those Christian extremists of old compare to the American Christian of today?” In the seeker friendly, feel good church of today many American Christians are misled to believe that Jesus is only about grace and that His grace requires no sacrifice or change on our part. Many define their religion by the big sins that they avoid committing, going to church and throwing a little something into the offering plate.
I have to be honest, it’s easy for me to sit in a warm comfortable house and write about being an extreme Christian, but I find that must ask myself, “if Jesus asked me to sell everything I owned and give the money away to the poor as He did the rich young man in Matthew 19, could I?” Instead, I might begin to count off the reasons why I am free from sacrificing half or all that I own. I might tell myself that I rule my possessions and they do not rule me. After all it is “the love of money” and not money itself that “is a root of all kinds of evil.” You see I too have been conditioned to believe that God wants me to have a big nice house, lots of stuff and the best of everything. I have earned my time off and vacations are God’s blessing to me. My collection of material goodies is essential to God’s Kingdom, the money I may spend on a 50 inch TV is not needed by the poor and the hungry and I gave my ten percent (and a little more!) already. Besides that, those homeless guys and the welfare mothers all deserve to be where they are anyway. What does it matter to the Kingdom if the unused space in my house is greater than the size of homes in poor nations or that my car has better housing than many people do? The fatherless, the widows and the lonely elderly will never see God’s glory if I live in a smaller house in a poorer part of town. (And what would others think of me if I did.)
Many of us won’t even give God our time much less half of what we own. We feel that if we make it to church on Sunday we are doing well, if we make it on Sunday night also then we are doing extremely well. How many of us would give up our recreation time and devote that time to serving God? How many would pull their kids from all sports (or other activities) and devote their kids to serving the Lord? Not many of us would do these things, even though that is completely in line with what Jesus asks of us.
Those of us who have gone into debt to buy our stuff are indeed ruled by our possessions and we are slaves to the lenders. We couldn’t give half away if we wanted to, because we do not really own it. Even worse, we believe that the work we must do to service the debts we have acquired has earned us the right to not serve God on our time off. That time and money is reserved for R and R (relaxation and recreation). For generations we have convinced ourselves that competitive sports, secular movies, secular reading, secular music and most any other secular extracurricular activity are of extreme value and that somehow they advance the Kingdom of God. As if any activity that makes us feel good or arouses emotion is of God. In short the Kingdom is all about us.
It’s time we ask ourselves what eternal value those things have, not only to us but to everyone. Where does all this self-indulgence and striving for more and better stuff fit into Jesus telling us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Sadly, we are so conditioned by our society’s materialism we now believe that the pursuit of more stuff is God’s will. We need to think in terms of how our allegiance to the NFL, our child’s soccer league, our house or our own entertainment fits into the Gospel picture. We need to re-evaluate our relationship with Jesus to see what it is based on. Do we bring up our kids for the sole purpose of what will bring the most glory and be most pleasing to He who we call Lord, or do we teach them to put themselves first and give Jesus what is left? The real question becomes, “What is it that we truly desire?”
I believe that there is one thing that Americans covet more than anything else, and that it is that “one thing” that drives us to accumulate more stuff and causes us to neglect those things that Jesus told us to hold dear, “image” is everything isn”t it. What Americans spend on make-up, hair dye, the latest fashion and keeping up with the Jones, annually, could possibly feed most of Africa’s hungry. It has been estimated that America spends more on landscaping and lawn care than it does on foreign aid. How much more could we give if we had not addicted our children to designer that and brand name this? Oh God, please forgive us and create new hearts in us!
If we could somehow convince ourselves and the mainstream American Christian that they are not divinely entitled to large homes, extreme (by third world standards) comforts, three cars, season tickets and a vacation home, then the churches of America could have an incredible impact on the world. Yes, I know we do have an impact on the world, but not anything close to the impact that Jesus expects or the impact that those book of Acts Christ lovers had.
Extremism starts with you and I. American Christians must divest themselves of their comforts, large homes, expensive cars, video games and the wide screen TV’s. God’s Kingdom is not advanced by any of these things. Wake up sleepy Christian. We have been lulled into believing lies excusing self-indulgence by advertisers, prosperity preachers and Satan himself. American culture drives us more than the Gospel of Christ Jesus does. We must wake up from our worldly slumber and be about Kingdom business. Jesus does not want us to conform to this culture or live our lives by its standards; He wants us to create a Kingdom culture here on earth. Many of us know what needs to be done, and we want to do it, but we just do not want be seen as fanatics by our friends and families. Jesus expects us to be fanatics though, so stop living for rewards that are not eternal or in Heaven. Jesus wants us to love and give so fanatically that even other Christians think we are too extreme.
Be relevant, be extreme.