Thursday, March 18, 2010

Radical obedience in the 21st century Part I

2:56 p.m. Today's project came to me as I read Chapter Two of Ezekiel in the New Living Translation. Verses 1-3 describe Ezekiel's calling from the Lord as an exile with his people the Jews in Babylon. In Chapter One, he had seen the fantastic vision of the cherubic wheels and had fallen on his face on the ground "and I heard someone's voice speaking to me."

"Stand up, son of man," said the voice. "I want to speak with you." The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. "Son of Man," he said, "I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day."

Iain Duguid, the NLT editor of Ezekiel and author of the extensive notes that accompany the verses, wrote concerning verses 2-3, that Ezekiel stood in contrast to both the angelic beings he had seen, and to "a rebellious nation, true descendants of Jacob, whose defining characteristic was striving with God and man. (Gen. 32:28). As a son of Adam, Ezekiel represented a new community of faith, empowered by the Spirit to form a life of radical obedience."

Radical obedience... Ezekiel would be told to illustrate his prophecies with strange actions, such as eating food cooked over dung; lying motionless for 430 days; or not mourning his deceased wife publicly. That's radical obedience, risking it all for the sake of the Word of God. Risking it all--reputation, physical comfort, and safety, "for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus," as the Apostle Paul, himself the victim of whippings, stoning, shipwreck and imprisonment, would later describe his call in Philippians 3:14.
What does radical obedience mean for today's Christian in a contemporary culture? With the heightened hostility to the preaching of the Gospel we now see in this country, where opening the Bible and teaching its truths can be labeled a hate crime, those pastors, evangelists and Bible teachers who expound the scriptures word for word are definitely facing persecution, sooner rather than later. But those of us called to speak, teach and write the "words of this [Christian] life" (Acts 5:20) are not about to back down, or quiet down!
In other words, sharing your faith with an unsaved neighbor could be seen as harassment. Or if you share with a co-worker, you could be accused of creating a "hostile work environment," something taken very seriously these days, because under no circumstances may you make another person feel uncomfortable! But what does the Holy Spirit do to cause a person to see their need to come to Christ, to make a life change of eternal proportions? He convicts the sinner and confronts him or her with their need to repent!
I remember being uncomfortable indeed when presented with the gospel--I was very much a sinner! But that discomfort was rapidly replaced by the most incredible peace when I made my decision for Christ on January 6, 1980, a peace that not only passes understanding (Philippians 4:7 ), but a peace that is with me today.
Incredible as it seems, "radical obedience" today may begin with a very radical act--believing God!
Tomorrow I want to explore what it means to be part of "a new community of faith."

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