Teaching ReCap: 3 Critical Questions on Cross-Shaped Living

Last Sunday, Daniel and I paused our movement through the book of Philippians in order to interact with 3 critical questions that have emerged for us:

  1. What does Cross-Shaped living / Kingdom Citizenship really look like for us?
  2. Why are we convinced it's a better way to live?
  3. How do we live this life in a healthy and sustainable way?

We each interacted with the questions in the form of personal stories, but here are some of the main teaching points that emerged:

What's it look like?

  • As an academic, a theologian, and a New Testament Professor, following Jesus for Daniel often takes the form of writing and teaching.  Numerous times has Daniel felt compelled to offer content that will, no doubt, push existing paradigms beyond their current limits and invite his readers & students to spend their lives of the flourishing of others.
  • As an experimentalist, activist, envelop-pushing, rip-tide surfing pastor, following Jesus for me often involves entering the voids and, while there, waging peace.  The voids tend to be places where more is broken then whole, where injustice is rampant, and where the Story of Jesus is neither being lived nor narrated.  When I invite other people with me and when I talk about my experience of following Jesus within other communities, existing paradigms are pushed beyond their current limits and those who are with me and/or listening begin to spend their lives on the flourishing of others in creative, costly ways.
  • Our shared learning: Jesus has wired us differently to follow Him differently.  This is a liberating, beautiful, strategic reality.  Rather than having to follow Jesus like someone else follows Jesus, we simply need to learn to tune our ears to the voice of the Father and live, empowered by His Spirit, what we hear Him say.

Why are we convinced that the Way of the Cross is a better way to live?

  • Because spending our lives on the flourishing of others turns out to be the most full, complete, whole way to be human.
  • Because the joy found in contributing to the flourishing of others far outweighs the upwardly mobile journey of our careers.
  • Because God raised Jesus from the dead.  That means that the story doesn't end with a life ends in resurrection.  God is continuing to fix a broken world and He invites us to join Him in the adventure.  If that's so, then intimacy with God is found not only as we sit in silence, but also as we walk the Way of the Cross with Him.

How do we live the Way of the Cross in a healthy, sustainable way?

First, it's important to point out a couple of key ideas around Jesus & sustainable pace.

  1. Jesus compels us beyond comfort, but never calls us to an unhealthy pace.  Bottom line: following Jesus, while the best possible way of life, is often uncomfortable because God is committed to our becoming more like Jesus.  In order to do that, He needs to till out of us the parts of us that don't look like Jesus.  This is uncomfortable.  What's more, crosses aren't comfortable.  When we spend our lives on the flourishing of others, it's often both exhilarating and uncomfortable (perhaps this is the fullness Jesus refers to in John 10:10?).  In our experience, following Jesus becomes unhealthy when we make it about "me" rather than "Him" and "others."
  2. "Discomfort" and "fatigue" are NOT synonyms of "unhealthy."  So often, it seems, we've come to understand an experience of discomfort (or inconvenience) as unhealthy. Is this a first-world problem?  In response, we set up "boundaries" to prevent us from feeling uncomfortable (or inconvenienced).  The same could be said about how we interact with anything that causes us fatigue.  Bottom line: As mentioned in #1, following Jesus is neither comfortable nor easy: we're going to be uncomfortable and we're going to feel fatigue...but we'll also experience a deeper sense of identity, purpose, and community than when we sit behind boundaries that might be unnecessary. (Disclaimer: boundaries are good and necessary, but are intended to keep us healthy rather than to separate us from the formational experiences that will likely cause discomfort and fatigue.)

Now for a couple of practices that help us stay healthy:

  • Rooted. It's in the daily practices of submitting to the King that we recognize (1) that Jesus is the Savior and that we're not and (2) that we are Beloved by God.  It's also in the daily experience of being Rooted in Christ that our lives are focused: we get clearer on the good and better than can be released so that can tend to what is best. (Ideas: Utilize a resource like Common Prayer for your daily readings and work in a prayer walk around your neighborhood or a wilderness wander in the open spaces once a week.)
  • Woven. It's impossible (unhealthy) to follow Jesus alone.  It's an incredible experience (healthy) to follow Jesus in a community of mutual interdependence.  Why? Because in community with others we (1) bear one another's burdens; (2) share in each other's joy; (3) discern what's best; (4) gain perspective; (5) evaluate pace; and (6) encourage rest.  (Idea: Ask Jesus this question: "Who am I supposed to be following You with?"  He'll likely answer that question with a couple of people.  When He does, ask those people to join you in the adventure of following Jesus. Use these two questions to seed our experience and conversation: (1) What is Jesus saying to me? (2) What am I going to do about it?)

Teaching Recap: Our life AND (or) IN the Way of Jesus?

In last Sunday's teaching we listened to Paul exhort the Philippian Jesus Community (1) to imitate him, (2) to be careful of the "enemies of the Cross," and (3) to live as citizens of heaven. Let's consider what Paul is saying here and allow our lives to be examined with five critical questions. "Imitate me" :: Rather than saying: "do life like me because I've arrived!", Paul offered an invitation to follow Jesus like he followed Jesus.  How did Paul follow Jesus?  He submitted his life, daily, to the authority of King Jesus.  His posture and practice of submission caused the Spirit of Jesus to rise up in him and empowered him to live the Way of the Cross (postured below and prioritizing the flourishing of everyone) in mutually interdependent relationships with others.

"Enemies of the Cross" :: Here, Paul isn't referring generically to the inhabitants of Philippi, but instead, is identifying those who a believed that they could be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus and continue to live an appetite-driven, me-focused existence that places the highest priority on my immediate personal satisfaction at significant cost to others. "Enemies of the Cross" are people who have converted to Jesus but who continue to live their lives submitted to the authority of no one or nothing other than themselves and their own appetites.  These are men and women who choose to the live out the following myth: I can have my life AND the Way of Jesus.  The great surprise is that this myth leads us in the WRONG direction and causes us to become contributors to the very pain, darkness, death, and destruction that God is seeking to eradicate.

What does it look like today to be "Enemies of the Cross"?

  • Consumerism & accumulation in the presence of family members who have little to nothing.
  • Consumerism & accumulation with very little concern for the social impact among the majority world.
  • The highest percentage of our time & money invested in stuff for ourselves rather than in the flourishing of others.
  • Attempting to satisfy an inner restlessness in isolation with the next purchase or the next fix or the next glance or the next drink, thinking “Jesus forgives me, so what difference does it make?”
  • Extending hospitality until our own need for belonging is satisfied and then turning it off.

"Citizens of Heaven" :: N.T. Wright neatly defines heaven's citizens as "people who are steeped in a way of life from another place while living in this one."

What does it look like today to be "Citizens of Heaven"?

At Home

  • Posture yourself below & prioritize flourishing
  • Don’t run from conflict, run to it & seek reconciliation (experience grace, forgiveness, hope)

In Neighborhood / Vocational Space

  • Cultivating belonging through shared tables & front yard presence
  • Pay attention to what’s beautiful & broken (Immerse/Contend)

Within Region / Nation

Among the World

5 Critical Reflection Questions:

  1. How does my stuff (my abundance, accumulation, consumerism) and the percentage of my investment on the temporary impact my understanding of where my home really is?
  2. To what / to whom am I looking to satisfy my restlessness?
  3. What is beautiful & broken in the spaces where I live/work/play?
  4. With whom am I weaving heaven & earth together again?
  5. What needs to shift in my life so that I can receive and then live out of the empowerment of the Spirit?

Teaching Recap: Joy found in "Letting Go"

In the teaching Sunday we revisited Paul’s relentless insistence that joy is found as we live out the Jesus story in community with one another. Joy might be a strange word to us – an overly religious word with too little traction in the real world. Maybe we need to think of it in other terms. Maybe joy is mirrored in the deep-seated satisfaction that we taste when we’ve done something well. Maybe joy’s light shines through those moments of deep connection with a dear friend. Maybe joy makes itself known in the depth of pride we feel when someone close to us succeeds.

I’ve put a lot of “maybes” in that paragraph. I put them there because too closely identifying our joy with any one experience in this world has the power to turn those good things into false hopes. We experience the goodness of a relationship, or of success in our work, and we subtly begin to mold our stories such that their climactic moments become those fleeting moments of attainment.

Paul makes a bold move in Philippians 3. He takes our stories of attainment and ups them one. Not only was he the ultimate success, he was the ultimate success at doing the very things God told Israel, in scripture, that God wanted people to do.

And this great success left him blind to the work of God. It left him blind to the reality of the Jesus story. It left him playing the part of the crucifying Roman, as he persecuted the church, rather than the part of the self-giving Messiah.

The story of the empire has tremendous power to co-opt even the name and stories of God.

And so Paul reminds us to strive within the Jesus story. To strive for lives that flow from the knowledge that we are God’s children, and to bear this family name is to live the story of the cross.

He reminds us to strive within the Jesus story. To strive for lives that flow from the reality of our identity as it is made known in weekly worship by the Spirit whom we share.

He reminds us to strive within the Jesus story. To strive for lives that actively deny the narratives of scarcity that drive us to consume and compete.

Jesus let go of what was his. Paul let go of what was his. And God calls us to do the same. God calls us to let go, in full trust that giving life to the other, rather than hoarding it for myself, is the way to the life that we try to build for ourselves in so many other ways.

Today's Youth Matter (TYM): An Opporutunity to Serve

I've been stunned, recently, at the caliber of the cross-spectrum difference-makers that comprise The Open Door Community.  Literally, there are men and women participating with God in fixing a broken world in unthinkable ways.  Jen and Tucker Farrar (& their 3 boys) are two of the difference-makers that I'm referring to.  They are the Program Directors of a non-profit called Today's Youth Matter (TYM) that offers hope and a future to the Bay Area's most at-risk youth.  It's an incredible organization that is intentionally posturing itself below and prioritizing the flourishing of the marginalized. I'm proud of them & their work and I'm excited that we finally get an opportunity to join them in what they're doing.  In this blog post, Tucker offers us a compelling invitation to practice what we've been learning.  He writes: Does is snow in Philippi?

As we study Philippians we consistently hear compelling invitations to “uncompromisingly contending for oneness” and to "posture ourselves below and prioritize the flourishing of others" in the Way of Jesus. I especially like the way we, in The Open Door Community, pray that God would make our community Cross-Shaped: that we would become a mutually interdependent community that lays our lives down for the flourishing of others…especially the marginalized.

We're discovering that “Walking in the way of Jesus” is action oriented. Let me invite us into action in a unique way.

Today’s Youth Matter (TYM) serves troubled and abused children and teens (ages 8-18) in our own backyard:  cities like Oakland, Richmond, San Jose, Pittsburg, Concord and Antioch.  Through intensive summer camping programs, snow trips, and year round discipleship, TYM staff and volunteers work to replace memories of unthinkable abuse and suffering with God’s redemptive plan for joy, hope and restoration.

Many TYM kids live in outrageously difficult home situations ranging from multiple foster homes, group homes and or previously abusive situations.  Kerry is a 9 year old girl who first came to camp with matted hair, dirty face and a plastic Safeway bag filled with 1 t-shirt and a toothbrush…for 5 days of summer camp! Kerry was referred to TYM through a homeless shelter in Richmond and last summer her life was changed by her experience at TYM camp; three meals day, learning to swim, sleeping in a teepee, camping for the first time ever, and being loved day and night by our staff and volunteers.  Heaven touched down and Kerry’s life was changed.

Through our study of Philippians, we’re discovering that Jesus is forming us into a mutually interdependent community that spends our life on the flourishing of others. There are thousands of kids like Kerry in the Bay Area that need people like you to invest in their lives, even if for only a weekend. Would you consider spending a weekend posturing yourself below and prioritizing the flourishing of kids like her?

Here’s how.

TYM Snow Camps are a follow up program for kids who have attended our summer camp.  We need teams of 3-5 volunteers to help our TYM staff run each of our 4 Snow Camp weekends in the coming months.

Details: The camp goes from 8:30am on Saturday until 2pm on Sunday.  Saturday is an all-day play day in the snow sledding, snowball fighting, snowman building, snow angel making, & hot chocolate drinking. For some, this will be there first every encounter with snow! Saturday night is spent at a church in Auburn where we love kids through dinner, basketball, dodge ball, popcorn, movies, and great conversations. Sunday morning, we breakfast then worship at the church we’re staying at. Each camp consists of approximately 15 kids.

2014 Dates TYM Snow Camp Volunteers Needed
Jan 25-26 Boys Snow Camp 1 (ages 8-12) 3-5
Feb 8-9 Girls Snow Camp 1 (ages 8-12) 3-5
March 1-2 Boys Snow Camp 2 (ages 8-12) 3-5
March 8-9 Girls Snow Camp 2 (ages 8-12) 1-2

Let’s follow in the Way of Jesus together (in the snow & and with kids who need you)!  Simply email me, let me know when you, your family, your friends, and/or your Circle could serve with us.

In His Grip,

Tucker Farrar, TYM Program Director