It is to go left when everyone else is going right. It is to become less when everyone else is striving to become more. It is to challenge the system when the system seems to stand in passive, apathetic opposition to true cross bearing.
Because to follow Christ is to bear a cross.
To not carry a cross is to not follow Jesus. Plain and simple.
And to live in the upside down kingdom is to pick up our cross and die to self in all things.
It is to take the commands of Jesus as commands and not particular callings for certain people. In America, it is to live counter- Western Christianity- culture. It is to deconstruct the infrastructure we’ve built to house our culture so that those kingdom resources, both money and people, can be funneled back into our local neighborhoods where we are commanded by God to seek the welfare of our neighbors.
But this is the rub.
For most of us, our literal neighbors in our literal neighborhoods look and think and school and worship, just like us. For most of us, the neighborhoods we’ve chosen to move into reflect our values and our neighbors are nearly our mirror images because we’ve mistakenly believed that the highest good we can do on earth is create and then maintain a culture of Christianity in every facet of our lives.
And for most of us, because our desire for Christian culture trumps our desire for Christ, we’ve neglected to consider that obedience to Jesus could actually mean selling off our American Dream and moving into the neighborhood in our city that might NEED the Christ in us as much as it NEEDS the kingdom resources we’ve been given to steward.
We’ve laid down our crosses and picked up a culture.
But Jesus isn’t inviting us to create a culture of Christianity.
Jesus is commanding us to pick up our crosses and plant the Gospel in hard places that need Him.
And the hard places that need the Gospel aren’t the places we’re looking to move our families.
They’re the neighborhoods in our cities that our brothers and sisters in Christ will condemn us for living while simultaneously giving themselves an out by claiming that only a few are called to that sort of living. They’re the places that will get us cast out by our church families and get us gazed upon suspiciously by our neighbors.
But if we claim to follow Jesus, then we cannot deny carrying the cross that demands our life.
To follow Jesus is to sell the American Dream to the highest bidder and move into whatever neighborhood has the greatest need.
And it is to commit to laying down whatever hinders our ability to love our neighbors.
It is to commit to taking off our rose colored glasses and seeing the world through the eyes of our new neighbors.
It is to commit to walking away from situations we find comfortable and easy and into situations where we will not know the social codes of conduct and staying there long enough to learn them. And it is to commit to being offended and being overlooked and being denied access by our neighbors AND our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is to commit to learning history, particularly the history of our cities. And it is to commit to learning it from the disadvantaged point of the oppressed because where there is oppression, Jesus is there.
It is to commit to entering into our city’s suffering and owning our part in it. It is to admit our guilt in helping to create, sustain, and perpetuate the systems of injustice that have trapped our neighbors in a cycle they cannot escape. And it is to commit to live on less so our neighbors can simply live.
It is to commit, as my friend Lindsy says, to learning our neighbors’ bad news so that we know how to best share the good news. For our blind neighbors, good news is sight. For the hungry, the good news is food. For the fatherless, the good news is a father. Good news is good news when it speaks right to the spiritual need AND meets the physical need.
It is to commit to standing in the narrow space between two worlds, never quite feeling at home in either.
Because to lay down everything to pick up our cross and follow Jesus into hard places will cost us everything.
And anyone trying to convince us that we can have the American Dream AND Jesus is just plain lying.
Jesus + Everything = Nothing