The Radically Normal Christian:
Part I: Stoic or Indulgent?
September 11, 2011
Scripture reading: Leviticus 23:39-43
Should we be weird?
Q Should Christians be weird like John the Baptist or Ezekiel?
Q Should we aspire to living simply? Is it more spiritual to have less?
Q If we were really spiritual, would we sell all of our possessions and give them to the poor?
Q Is it okay for Christians to be ambitious, to aggressively pursue being the top of their field and to be proud of that, or would it be better to be a pastor or missionary?
Q Can a Christian put a “Coexist” bumper sticker on their car? Does being a Christian mean believing that all other religions are nonsense?
Q Is it okay to watch R rated movies and listen to Lady Gaga, or is that less than holy than G rated movies and Chris Tomlin?
Q Would you still be able to laugh and drink at party if Jesus was with you?
These are the sort of questions we will be asking (and hopefully answering) in our new series “The Radically Normal Christian” (RNX).
· This will be a thinking sermon, very philosophical – to change how we act we have to change how we think.
I also won’t be quoting many individual Scriptures, because we are getting the 10,000 ft. view. The rest of the sermons will be much more specific.
Stoic vs. Indulgent
Speaking very broadly, most Christians can be divided into one of two groups: Indulgent Christians and Stoic Christians.
On one hand, there are the Stoic Christian. These believe that devotion and maturity is marked by ever increasing pursuit of God and ever decreasing interest in earthly interests.
· Stoic Christians would never say that earthly pleasures are wrong, but they are seen as temporary and weak.
David Platt echoes a Stoic thought:
“You and I have an average of about seventy or eighty years on this earth. During these years we are bombarded with the temporary. Make money. Get stuff. Be comfortable. Live well. Have fun. In the middle of it all, we get blinded to the eternal. But it’s there.
You and I stand on the porch of eternity. Both of us will soon stand before God to give an account for our stewardship of the time, the resources, the gifts, and ultimately the gospel he has entrusted to us.
When that day comes, we are convinced we will not wish we had given more of ourselves to living the American Dream. We will not wish we had made more money, acquired more stuff, lived more comfortably, taken more vacations, watched more television, pursued greater retirement, or been more successful in the eyes of this world.
Instead we will wish we had given more of ourselves to living for the day when every nation, tribe, people, and language will bow around the throne and sing the praises of the Savior who delights in radical obedience and the God who deserves eternal worship.”
That sounds really convincing, and depressing. I bet he would answer all of those opening questions with the “right but boring” answers.
Q How do you argue against that?
You can’t. Well, actually you can, but it takes a far broader understanding of Scripture than most of us have.
Rather than arguing, most Christians just ignore it and live however they want. These are the Indulgent Christians. They love God, obey him (to an extent), but are not willing to sacrifice their earthly joys for a life of radical obedience to Christ.
There are far more Indulgent Christians than Stoic Christians, but Stoic Christians are well respected by the Indulgent Christians (though not the other way around).
· It is as if Indulgent Christians look at the Stoic and say, “That is what I should be like, but I can’t measure up.”
The Stoic Christians also write many of the popular “Christian Living” books; there are loads of books preaching a life of discipline, giving things up for God, and focusing solely on him, such as “Crazy Love” and most of John Piper’s stuff.
· I can’t say that I have ever read a Christian book encouraging us to stop seeking God and enjoy the things of this life.
The thing is, neither Stoic nor Indulgent Christianity is Biblical. Sure, you can support either of these (especially the second one) from some Scriptures, but not from the entire Bible.
· Hospitality example
What makes you happy?
Now let’s bring this back to being “radically normal.”
Q Do you see the connection between Stoic/Indulgent Christians and being Radically Normal?
Indulgent Christians look very normal to the rest of the world, while Stoic Christians look very radical.
· Think about Stoic Christians you know, didn’t they seem weird?
· And the Indulgent Christians, didn’t they seem normal?
As we go through this series, you will see that in almost every case, being radically normal comes down to how you pursue happiness. Think about that for a moment:
· Think about the difference between the Stoic and Indulgent Christians.
I’ve told the story of hanging around a street preacher, because I thought he was a good Christian. I was afraid if I was going to be a good Christian, it meant I had to be weird like he was.
And what I remember best was that I felt like I couldn’t have any fun around him.
· Think about those opening questions.
As many of you have heard me say, growing up in the church, many of us had an impression that if we were really spiritual, we’d be happy celebrating Christmas reading the Nativity story in an undecorated room – no tree, gifts, or special dinner.
· This is unmitigated nonsense, driven by an appalling ignorance of the normal, godly life promoted in the Old Testament.
The way Christians approach happiness is what can make us the strangest. If you don’t believe me, read through a Christian joke book. You would be hard pressed to find a larger collection of unfunny jokes. I get more laughs from “Laffy Taffies.”
· On the other hand, I have been introducing a whole new generation to “Blazing Saddles” at Starbucks.
Q But isn’t that movie inappropriate?
Wonderfully so. I will deal with that when we get to entertainment. But the point is that being radically normal is all about what makes you happy.
Aren’t we called to be weird?
A couple of weeks I ago I “advertized” this series and noted that there were several weird people in the Bible, so shouldn’t we be to?
· We look at John the Baptist and others and how strange they were and fear that all Christians are supposed to be that way.
Yes, God called some to extraordinarily strange things, and there may be times when God calls you to do some extraordinary things, but that doesn’t mean that is the standard:
In the front of your telephone book, there are suggestions for how to survive in a major disaster: Turn your gas off, use your hot water tank for clean water, listen to a battery-run radio.
These are great suggestions, in times of emergency. But imagine trying to follow these instructions all the time – hunkering down in your house huddled around an AM radio eating cold canned vegetables, while your neighbors are outside enjoying a BBQ.
Likewise, the Bible is filled with passages telling us how to live a normal, productive life:
· The Torah explains very normal daily life, from burying your poo to crop rotation.
· Proverbs is nothing but how to live a normal, productive, happy life.
But perhaps most telling for me are the “Household Codes” in the NT, passages that say things like “wives respect your husbands, husbands love your wives.”
These passages mirror other ancient, pagan writings, and meant to tell Christian how not to be weird to their Roman neighbors. There are going to be plenty of differences:
· For them, it was belief in one God and in the afterlife.
· For us it is believing Jesus is the only way to God.
There are so many things Christians and non-Christians agree on and in these household codes, Paul wants us to capitalize on these agreements:
· Christians and non-Christians want to have healthy relationships.
· Christians and non-Christians want to provide for their family.
· Christians and non-Christians want to have safe communities and fair governments.
· Christians and non-Christians want to have healthy bodies and live to a ripe old age.
· Christians and non-Christians want to be respected and well-liked
God basically wants us to live at peace with our neighbors as much as possible.
This makes our faith attractive and interesting to non-Christians and glorifies God:
Titus 2:7-10 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. 9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
It is from passages like this that I get the expression “Radically Normal,” on the surface we are normal. By normal I don’t mean just like them in their sinfulness, but just like them in their ideals.
· From the outside we just look like good, normal neighbors and ideal employees.
But scratch below the surface, and you find out that our normalness is driven by a radical devotion to God:
Ephesians 6:5-9 5 ¶ Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. 9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
This is what I mean by Radically Normal: We do many of the same things as non-Christians, but we do it for different reasons and in different ways.
We enjoy possessions and the things of this life, yet they do not posses us.
Food and drink bring real joy, yet we don’t use them to fill a void.
We work our jobs and are ambitious, yet they are not our identity.
Our family and friends are central parts of our life, yet they stand in distant second to our loyalty to God.
If we follow the standard Christian line, we want non-Christians to notice how different we are:
· We don’t swear, don’t get mad, don’t watch bad movies.
Q When was the last time someone noticed how well you do “normal” stuff, driven by a radical devotion to God?
This week at Starbucks, one of the partners (co-workers) was having a rough day, so I talked to her and gave her the chance to share what was going on.
Later, I asked one customer “How are you?” and she responded with “Everyone asks that, but do they really want to know?” and then emptied all of her baggage on me.
· That same partner witnessed it and commented on how much she appreciated that I was willing to listen to people’s problems.
That listening ear was not a weird thing to her, she saw it as a good, normal thing, but done better than she could do it. The radial part she didn’t see was that it was driven by my faith.
When I started at Starbucks, I realized that I was an agent of God there, and that I would have the opportunity to bestow his dignity on everyone who came into the store, from the panhandler to the businesswoman to the gay couple to the pastor to the partner to the lady with no sense of boundaries.
· Every time I put on my green apron, I pray, “To your glory.”
Being radically normal requires finding a balance:
On one side, I want to correct the Christian tendency to undervalue the things of this life and the happiness God planned for us to enjoy here.
On the other side, we need to be reminded that God is the source of joy and any attempt to find complete happiness here will ultimately be unsatisfying.
In this series we’ll discover a middle way, a radically normal way. Of course, middle roads are the ones less traveled.
· I was talking to my Dr. about all this, and we observed how much more popular extremes are.
It is simple to be Stoic, it is easy to be Indulgent, but to be Biblical is complicated, but worth it. We will get there soon enough, but for now, ask yourself:
Q Are you a Stoic or Indulgent Christian?
Think back to the questions I opened with; how you honestly answered those will tell you.
It is my hope to make everyone uncomfortable, myself included, but lead us to a better, more Biblical, and more enjoyable life.
· Determine if you are a Stoic or Indulgent Christian and praying that God prepare you for what you have to learn.
· Vote on RNX topics
Q & A
The most important word is not Radically, nor Normal, but Christian...
This sermon is part of a larger project, a book I am writing, “The Radically Normal Christian: God Shouldn’t Be Your Only Happiness.” I would appreciate any input you have, via my blog www.radicallynormal.com.
· I believe that this is an important message for the American church and I’d love your help.
 David Platt, http://www.radicalthebook.com/movement.html