Let me warn you of some shocking news you are about to hear: my college freshman small group didn’t know about the little orange book Radical until last week, and they go to church at Brook Hills!
September will be two years since David was our senior pastor. As a church, we’re at a point where folks who are new may or may not be familiar with David Platt, Radical, or Secret Church. While it surprised me that my small group girls had no frame of reference for Radical or the Radical Experiment (they had vaguely heard of David), it was a good reminder that I don’t need to talk, act, or teach like everyone here - even at Brook Hills - knows what I’m talking about when I mention such things.
I moved to Birmingham in August 2008 and started attending Brook Hills my first Sunday in town. In September 2008, David began preaching the Radical sermon series, which was followed by an equally convicting (to me, at least) sermon series on James in 2009, and this led to the Radical Experiment year of 2010, in which all Brook Hillians were challenged to make the following 5 commitments for that year:
- Pray for the entire world
- Read through the entire Bible
- Sacrifice our money for a specific (gospel-centered) purpose
- Commit to a multiplying community
- Spend our time in another cultural context
- 98% of the time, spreading the gospel throughout Birmingham
- At least 2% of our time (about 1 week out of the year), spreading the gospel beyond Birmingham
Let me tell you, I drank the Radical Kool-Aid.
The truth I was hearing preached each Sunday wrecked my life in a beautiful way. The gospel confronted my materialism, challenged me to make disciples, and would not let me get comfortable. I could no longer just coast in my faith.
But I cannot make assumptions that fellow Christ-followers - even those at Brook Hills - have this same knowledge and experience.
Fast forward to last week. What prompted the Radical discussion in small group, might you ask? The discipline of simplicity.
As we discussed what the Bible says about wealth, possessions, consumerism, luxury, and how we should live, I could see in their faces the same reactions I first had back in 2008 - the discomfort of recognizing my own sinfulness, the sorrow of conviction, the questions of how I would live in light of such truths and where I would even start, and a desire to yield to God while, at the same time, being slightly scared of what He might ask of me. As David states in Radical: “The gospel reveals eternal realities about God that we would sometimes rather not face…We are afraid that if we stop and really look at God in his Word, we might discover that he evokes greater awe and demands greater worship than we are ready to give him.”
In our small group discussion on simplicity, we looked at 3 specific Bible passages: Mark 10:35-52 (James & John’s request vs. blind Bartimaus’ request), Mark 10:17-31 (the rich young ruler), and Luke 16:19-31 (the parable of the rich man and Lazarus).
Are you more like James and John or blind Bartimaus?
In Mark 10, James and John (2 of Jesus’ disciples) make an audacious request of Jesus: “‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory’” (v. 37). I know Jesus wasn’t surprised at their request (since He’s not surprised by anything), but I think I would have stared at them incredulously with wide eyes and my mouth gaping open, shocked speechless.
A few verses later, Jesus gets another request - this one from a blind beggar whom the crowd tries to shush when he calls out to Jesus for help. His request? “‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight’” (v. 51).
Contrast these two questions - Jesus’ followers asking for positions of power while the beggar asks for a basic need. While we can and should come to God with any and all of our petitions, are we as American Christians more likely to come to Him for more blessings while we are unruffled by the suffering of the poor? Do we act more like Jesus’ entourage who were trying to ignore, dismiss, or quiet Bartimaus? Unfortunatley, I identify with James and John - being so consumed with my own well being and wants that I so easily forget the needs of others - both here in Birmingham and around the world. And truth be told, sometimes I want to forget. Because to remember makes me feel guilty. Guilty for buying that cute top when I already have a closet full of clothes. Guilty for throwing out uneaten food from my fridge. Guilty because I continue to want more, even though I already have so much.
Is materialism your blind spot?
In Mark 10:17-31, a young rich guy has a conversation with Jesus about how to inherit eternal life, and the man claimed to fully keep the Law’s commands. In response, Jesus - knowing the man’s heart - told him, “‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’” (v. 21). But the man was “disheartened”, so “he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (v. 22).
I know that I have a problem with materialism if I am unwilling to lay down what I have in order to follow Jesus. If my stuff (or my desire for stuff) comes before obeying God, then I have a worship problem. The rich young ruler was unwilling to change his lifestyle, and Jesus pointed out to him what truly held his affections. What do you desire most, love most, or fear most? The answer(s) to that question indicates what you worship. Is it God?
Are you making earth your heaven?
Luke 16:19 describes a rich man who was “‘clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day’” (v. 19). Yet, a poor man named Lazarus sat right outside the rich man’s gate, covered in sores and hoping for scraps from the rich man’s extravagant table. Both men died, and the rich man went to hell while Lazarus went to heaven. Their eternal destination was NOT based on being rich or poor, but the rich man’s wealth prevented him from seeing his soul’s true need as well as the basic human needs of others. As a result, he made earth his heaven and hell his eternal home.
Are you like the rich man of Luke 16? Do you indulge yourself here on earth while neglecting the poor? Do you continue to do the things of Christianity (going to church or small group, reading your Bible, etc.) while the poor sit at your gate? Who are the poor you know personally? What are their needs? What are the needs of the poor around the world? How can you be used by God to address the urgent physical and spiritual needs of others?
What is your motivation?
In reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan, Martin Luther King, Jr., once commented:
“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was:
‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’
But the good Samaritan reversed the question:
‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
And this is the problem, isn’t it? You and I are so consumed with ourselves. This is why you and I both need the gospel. I need for my sin to highlighted, so I can turn to God for forgiveness. I need God to change my heart, to help me to care about the poor and the lost. To help me to care about more than just myself. And I need for Him to work in me so my obedience is motivated by His grace and mercy in my life instead of my guilt or sense of duty.
Sitting under such gospel-centered teaching these past eight years at Brook Hills has shaped me in ways that I cannot fully describe to you, and our small group’s discussion on the spiritual discipline of simplicity reminded me of how much I still battle materialism in my own heart and how much I still need to grow. I continue to repent, to identify what I can share or sacrifice for others, to consider how I can minimize luxuries instead of live for them, and to ask God to make my love for Him stronger than my love for the things of this world.
In this, I hope I never stop drinking the Radical Kool-Aid.
- Radical sermon series by David Platt, Fall 2008
- Faith Works sermon series by David Platt, Fall 2009
- Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt
- “The Danger of Worldly Desires” sermon by David Platt, Fall 2012
- Secret Church from April 2010 on The Gospel, Possessions, and Prosperity
- “Learning Contentment” sermon by Beau Hughes, The Village Church (November 13, 2011)
- “Contentment” podcast by Ben Stuart, Breakaway Ministries (November 30, 2011)