This is Part 5 in a 12 Part series. The premise is this: "Two men in their in their late 20’s walk into a coffee shop around 7:00 a.m. In college they had been good friends, but over the past few years had gotten out of touch. Having lived in the same dormitory for three of their four years at City Christian College, they still had many fond—and a few not-so-fond memories—of their time together in college. Just by accident (or so Michael thought) they had run into each other in a hardware store and had set up a time to talk over breakfast. This is their fifth breakfast together.
If you want to read this series of conversations from the beginning (you don't have to start at the beginning), please see Part 1.
Michael: Who’s idea was it in the first place?
Michael: The idea of pizza and milkshakes?
Jim: Oh, I don’t know. We’ve been eating it on Saturday nights for a few years, anyway.
Michael: Little Melissa really liked it. I wonder if we’ll ever be able to have pizza again without her badgering us to get her a milkshake.
(Jim shrugs his shoulders.)
Michael: What’s our topic today?
Jim: Is there anything in particular on your mind?
Michael: Not really. We’ve already talked about so many issues. I’m starting to think that you’re trying to make a radical out of me.
Jim: What do you mean by that?
Michael: Just hanging around you makes me feel that some time soon I’m going to have to decide whether I’m going to start living like a Christian or not. You regularly throw in comments about total sacrifice and giving all to follow Jesus.
Jim: Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?
Michael: Yes. I can’t deny that Jesus spoke about these subjects regularly with his disciples.
Jim: So, what’s the problem?
Michael: It’s not that easy to teach an old dog new tricks.
Jim: Who’s the old dog?
Michael: Don’t ask that question.
Jim: I don’t usually think of myself as a radical. In fact, God has been teaching me about the subject of balance recently.
Michael: You believe in balance?
Jim: What’s so strange about that?
Michael: I don’t know. It’s just …
Jim: Tell me.
Michael: It’s just … you know.
Jim: No, I don’t know. What is it?
Michael: I’ve always thought I was the one who was balanced—not people like you.
Jim: Is that so?
Michael: Sure. I’m the one who has cruised through his life—never offending anyone.
Jim: Is that what you mean by balance?
Michael: What do you mean by balance?
Jim: Not going outside the bounds of the Bible into extremism. Not a fanatic in the negative sense.
Michael: You’re trying to tell me that you’re not a fanatic?
Jim: Do you think I’m sort of fanatical?
Michael: Well … yes.
Jim: When I think of a fanatic, I think of those desert monks who are so spiritual that all they eat are dirt clods and drink sand. They pray sixteen hours a day, but never see a person for twenty years.
Michael: I would call a person like that a fanatic, too.
Jim: And you think I’m like that?
Michael: No. But you’re not an average citizen, either.
Jim: Good. I wouldn’t want to be.
Michael: Of course, you’re not an extremist in the sense that the monk you spoke of is extreme.
Jim: Then, there are such things as extremes?
Michael: Of course.
Jim: And, therefore, there is such a thing as balance?
Michael: Again…of course.
Jim: Were the major biblical characters balanced?
Michael: If they weren’t, then we need to change our view of what balance does and doesn’t mean.
Jim: That’s for sure. Was John the Baptist balanced? What about Jeremiah?
Michael: They seem pretty radical.
Jim: What about Paul, who threw in the dump everything that he ever counted precious so that he might gain Christ? He tramped across the Roman world taking the gospel to people who kept stoning him, beating him, and throwing him in prison. Or, what about Moses, who led the people of Israel through the wilderness for forty years after they sinned?! Or David, who danced before the Lord?! What about Ezekiel?!
Michael: You don’t have to yell. We are in a restaurant, you know.
Jim: (a little quieter) What does it mean to be a fool for Jesus, anyway?
Michael: (sheepishly) I guess it means to be somewhat of a radical.
Jim: All those who have truly lived for God have been counted extremists. The main issue is this: Who determines what an “extreme” is? Does the world determine it, or does the Bible determine it?
Michael: Obviously—for our purposes—we are interested in the biblical definition.
Jim: FOR OUR PURPOSES?!!
Michael: OK, it’s the glory of God that we’re interested in. Hear that, restaurant? It’s the glory of God! So, how’s the weather today?
Jim: (after a pause) I guess I was getting a little riled up.
Michael: No problem. I always wanted to be a celebrity.
Jim: Sorry. Now, where were we?
Michael: You said that the issue is whether the world determines the look of our lives, or whether the Bible determines it.
Jim: Sometimes, biblical truths look extreme to us because we’re using the values of the world as our yardstick.
Michael: So you think we should all be fools for Jesus. You think that we all need to make a decision to live radical, cut-loose lives for Jesus. Right?
Michael: I thought you said that the Lord has been teaching you about balance recently.
Jim: I did.
Michael: (slowly and distinctly) I think it might be time for you to tell me what the Lord has been teaching you about balance.
Jim: The first thing I’ve been learning is what we’ve already been talking about. Balance isn’t mediocrity. Some discussions of balance might be compared to trying to balance a bicycle without moving forward. Have you ever tried that?
Jim: Believe me, it’s not easy.
Michael: I believe you.
Jim: It’s only when you move forward that any sort of balance becomes possible. If you’re only inching forward, balance becomes possible, though difficult. The more quickly you move forward, the more balanced you become. The same is true in our Christian lives. Balance does not mean that we try to sit on the bike without moving forward. Rather, we strain forward, forsaking all that is behind us so that we might gain Christ.
Michael: I understand what you’re trying to say.
Jim: At the same time, we also need flexibility when we work with others, including flexibility on ideas.
Michael: I assume you’re not talking about compromise.
Jim: Certainly not. Nevertheless, there are and always will exist different ideas among people who genuinely are Christians. Apart from our core beliefs, we need to find space for those who sincerely hold differences of opinion on many issues.
Michael: Every issue is not of equal significance.
Jim: That’s for sure. But many people don’t seem to be able to distinguish between what is really important and what isn’t.
Michael: That’s why so many churches split over minor doctrinal differences.
Jim: …or the color of the carpet in the main meeting room.
Michael: My limited observation is that one of the marks of a mature Christian is simply the ability to distinguish between what is truly important and what is not as important.
Jim: That’s true. But it certainly doesn’t stop there. Once a person has distinguished between what is important and what is not, he needs to do something with what he believes.
Michael: For example?
Jim: He needs to be flexible if the issue is not all that important. Even though he is willing to state his opinion, he will by-no-means fight to see his idea go through. He will be secure in allowing flexibility on this issue, because he knows it is of minor importance.
Michael: What if the issue is really important?
Jim: First of all, he’d better be certain that the issue is as important as he thinks it is. But, if after seeking God through prayer, searching the Bible, and counseling with others, he is still convinced that the issue is important, then he’ll stand his ground and strive to convince others that he is right. Moses stood his ground when he told Pharaoh to let the people go. Paul never regretted all that he left behind and all that he suffered to follow Christ. In both these cases, their commitment to what was truly important made them appear radical in the eyes of others.
Michael: So, this seems to be what you’re saying: First, make a biblically-informed decision about how important an issue is. Second, stand firm on issues that are important and flex on issues of lesser importance.
Jim: Yes. Some people can’t—or don’t try to—distinguish between what is really important and what isn’t as important. That error leads to myriads of mistakes in practice. Other people are so enamoured by the importance of flexibility in relationships that they are flexible about everything—including issues as important as the deity of Christ and the necessity of repentance. That is clearly misguided. On the opposite extreme, some are dogmatic about everything, hitting heads with everyone on just about every issue. Their inflexible approach works against Christian unity.
Michael: Back to our original question…is balance necessary?
Jim: If by “balance” you mean weighing the importance of an issue and acting accordingly, then balance is very, very important.
Michael: Without it, there is no way to be distinctively Christian, on the one hand, and yet united, on the other.
Jim: That’s right. If, however, someone talks about balance, but is really advocating mediocrity, then I hope that I am a very unbalanced person. If, in using the word “balance,” someone allows the world to determine what is extreme and what is normative, then I hope never to be balanced again. I hope the same for you, too. I don’t want my life to be lukewarm. I’m either going to give it all I’ve got, or I’m not going to give anything at all.
Michael: Then keep going, Jim. You look like you’re doing alright to me.
Jim: That’s up to the Lord to decide.
Michael: Biblical balance can sometimes look pretty radical.
Michael: You know, my life would have been a lot easier if we hadn’t run into each other again.
Jim: Easier, perhaps. But is the easiest path the best path?
Michael: No…and deep down, what I’ve always wanted was to truly please the Lord through my life.
Jim: God will strengthen you to live the way he wants you to live—if you’ll just give him the chance.
Michael: We’ll talk more about it next week.
Jim: Great. I’ll look forward to it.
 Phil 3:7-8.
 1 Cor 4:10.
 Phil 3:12-14.
 Rev 3:15-16.