Living into the life of Jesus

We're doing something new this year: we are moving through the liturgical calendar as a church. Well… the truth is that it isn’t “new.” In fact we’ve been practicing part of the calendar already through the years with Advent, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and a few others. But for us as a church, these were independent holidays and seasons; we selected bits and pieces that seemed important, but we didn’t see how they fit together as a whole for our formation as a people — the the church. This year, we’re hoping to bring more of this historical practice of the church into view and discover how it can shape and form us.

What is the liturgical calendar?

"What is the liturgical calendar?" you ask? The liturgical calendar is gift from the church to the church, inviting all her members to participate in living out the story of Jesus Christ.

The purpose of the calendar is not to impose rote practices upon us, but to help us remember the story and life of Jesus in all of our living. Just as we may say a worship sanctuary is holy and thus are called to “take off our sandals on holy ground,” when we practice the liturgical calendar together, we recognize that time itself belongs to the LORD — it is holy — and we remind ourselves to take the our spiritual sandals off our feet for we are bathed in the presence of God in time.

Approaching Lent and Easter

We are nearing the beginning of Lent (it starts on Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019), one of the great seasons in the liturgical calendar. Historically it is a season of penance where we remember the Temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13), who gave up all worldly desires to obey the will of God — an obedience that led to the cross. We move together into the practices of prayer, fasting, and giving as a way to lead our hearts to the cross and prepare for Easter.

All too often we only think about “giving something up” for Lent (we’ll get to that below), yet we are also called to engage more deeply in prayer, and open our hands and our hearts in generosity to our neighbors. During this season, pray with one another, consider practices that can shape our hearts to sacrificial love for our neighbors. Share with one another in your community groups how God is speaking to you and calling you to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Some notes about fasting...

First thing: as with any practical discipline of faith, there is the danger of thinking that we accrue favor with God through our obedience. We are not more or less loved based on our obedience or severity of our fast, but we are seen through the person of Jesus Christ who imputes to us his righteousness.

Fasting should never lead us to think more or less of ourselves or of one another, but always point us to see more and more of our savior, Jesus Christ. 

Don't know what to fast?

  1. Give up something that will affect your day to day and by its absence remind you to remember Christ's presence with you and move you to pray and love your neighbors.
  2. Don't give up something you shouldn't be doing anyway. (e.g. "I'm gonna give up stealing from my boss"... you shouldn't be doing that anyway!)
  3. Some, instead of giving up something, take in a new practice or disciple. e.g. Setting aside every afternoon to volunteer at a community organization. Some have discovered, through such a taking on a new way to live into their faith that continues after the Lenten season.
  4. If you still have no idea, ask your friends; they can often see us better than we can see ourselves and may be able to vocalize what we may fear to fast for Lent.
  5. Some common suggestions: alcohol, sugar, red meat, bubble tea, social media, video games, tv shows, etc.

All in all this is a time to move into the basic movement of Christian life: to deny ourselves, turn to Jesus, and follow him.

In our community groups, we will be practicing a fast together and then breaking that fast together on Easter Sunday. It will be a way for us to move together as a church and point one another towards Christ during this season and prepare our hearts to remember Christ at the cross and resurrection.

The Discipleship Path

Am I supposed to be growing in my faith?
What does it look like to grow?
How do I know if this is what the Christian life is supposed to be, or if I'm just following the "christian trend" of my times?

Scripture makes it clear that the gospel is not something we receive at a singular point in time. Rather, it’s a lifestyle of repentance and faith, a life of following Jesus, a life of growing in grace.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities and continue to grow in them, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever lacks these traits is nearsighted to the point of blindness, having forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
2 Peter 1:5-9

Therefore, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:6-7

Vision + Mature Christians = Kingdom Transformation. If you've been here during our vision casting series last year, or even just have read through our Vision and Values page on our website, you should have some level of imagining what kind of church we want to be. However, we need to ask, “if that’s the kind of church we want to be, then, what kind of people do we want to become?" In other words, we’ve covered a lot about what King’s Cross Church as an organization is committed to and expects from our members. But in turn, how ought you expect to be shaped and formed into a mature Christian? How would we describe the way Jesus calls us to live, deeper into people saturated with God's love and wisdom evident and pouring out, through their lives?

The image above is what we call our Discipleship Path. It consists of 8 areas that encompass what it means for us to submit the whole of our lives to King Jesus.

Some Key Observations:

  • This is really big. This not a yearly "theme," nor is this a "season" of where we want to focus. Rather, this is the core of the Christian life, simplified, but ever-unfolding. It's this fuzzy phrase we use, "following Jesus," brought into focus for us to gather around and agree and pursue together--this life that Christ calls us to grow deeper in... and by His grace, it will more or less encompass how we want to mature throughout our lives.
  • These are areas we want to grow. They’re not a checklist to Christian maturity. Rather, a template for a lifestyle we want to go deeper in. (Think of a work out regime)
  • The Holy Spirit may have us grow more in one area over another, in a certain period of our lives. It’s different for everyone.
  • There’s no “correct” order. They are part of an organic whole.
  • This is contextualized to mature Christians doing kingdom work particularly in the NYC/Queens context.

So... Where can I get started? 

Well, here's the thing: if you've been an active member of King's Cross Church--you hopefully have been growing in some of these ways already. We want to make following Jesus explicit, tangible and attainable for everyone of our church members. However, as we grow as a church, we want to use this as a lense for both us and you to see where we need to create spaces to develope, grow, and catalyze these areas of obedience and submission to the Lord. Meaning, it will unfold organically, but intentionally, as we have been growing. Again, we don't want to "program" christian growth--but we do need to be cognizant and intentional and clear about where we want to mature.

This will take place through are a mixture of mediums we want you to grow through in these areas. E.g. Community Group, sermons, classes, serving with our partners, etc. 

However, here are some ways you can begin considering how to grow more intentionally:

  • Take a moment to look at the individual areas and consider which ones you feel you've grown in the past year in. Consider, are there areas where you may have never even considered a possibility for growth?
  • Save the date for our Congregational Retreat this year: June 14-16th, where our theme will be kicking this off together as we explore our theme: Deeper, Together 
  • Take a glance over the brief explanations of each of these explanations for aspect of depth, and begin to pray that God would grant King's Cross a hunger to grow.

A Brief Explanation of the 8 Aspects of Christian Depth

  • Witness 
    • Public faith and evangelism. Growing in a missional life that compellingly displays life with Christ and shares the gospel story with unbelievers.
  • Faith & Work
    • A transformed way we work and see work. A life marked by a deep valuing of how our work plays out in God’s purposes and redemptive plans in the world.
  • Relationships 
    • A transformed view and application of how we are to engage in friendship, family, marriage, and sex. A life that is able to joyfully and wisely know how to pursue the other’s good.
  • Money
    • Understanding and wisely stewarding the role and purpose of money, wealth, finances and power.
  • Spiritual Disciplines (Prayer & Scripture)
    • Cultivating a life in prayer and in the Scriptures so as to be competent in renewing the inward-self in fellowship with God.
  • Worship 
    • Growing in delight of fellowship with God and with one another; a deeper understanding and enjoyment of the means of grace and participation in the gathering of God’s people to (Sunday) worship.
  • Mercy & Justice
    • A deepened heart of compassion and wisdom in how to pursue right relationships with others in the context of a broken world, lives and systems.
  • Church Life
    • Growing in a servant-like heart through engaging in and building up others lives in ministry and service.

For Him,

Love in the city

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. A day when every street corner sells roses, when ads for 1-800-FLOWERS show up everywhere, when many scramble to craft a perfect date night, and when many stay at home trying not to care. It's very difficult to not be affected by all the public displays of love... not just during this season, but every day as we seek to live out our faith in the city.

One of the areas of growth that our elders laid out for us at our first congregational meeting is to grow in understanding and practice of love, relationships, sex, and marriage. How are followers of Jesus set apart by these categories in a city like New York? The question lies not only in (1) how we are called to live, but more importantly (2) how we respond to one another with grace.

We know that Christians set themselves apart in the early church. One of the earliest written descriptions of Christian community portrays life in contrast to what was typical in Roman society: "They have a common table, but not a common bed" (The Epistle to Diognetes, c. AD 130). We also know that the early church treated women differently than Roman society and engaged in different practices that protected them from dangerous marriages and family support (Rodney Stark, Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief). It's clear that the church took seriously the call to be holy as God is holy in their relationships and sexuality. Seeking to live according to God's word brought them many freedoms and joys and that should be an encouragement to us to live out our faith in these areas. However, but freedom and joy doesn't seem to be the sentiment in many of our church communities.

My guess is that many of us have had our fair share of less-than-helpful interactions with the church on the subject of love, relationships, and sex. Church community can place so much pressure on someone in a dating relationship it can suffocate the life out of a new relationship. Sometimes it feels like the church indirectly teaches that we are not complete until we are married, or have a child, or at the very least it seems like everything is moving in that direction; where does it leave those of us who are single?

Unfortunately, these sentiments often go unaddressed and lead to feelings of inadequacy and shame... and ultimately to hiding. The church becomes an unsafe place to talk about such things. And the few times we do mention it, we find ourselves needing to insert a joke, perhaps to make light of an uncomfortable subject. Very few of us can claim to have perfect records when it comes to love and relationships, yet somehow it seems like we can't show up at church with anything less. But by hiding from one another we've also separated ourselves from one of the gifts God has given us in this area: the community of believers

Within our church body there are members who have made mistakes, but also found grace. We have those who hid for fear of exposure, but unexpectedly found love. We also have people that are "in process" or feel trapped and alone, but are unsure of who is "safe" to talk to. If we as a church community are to grow, we need one another and the Holy Spirit to speak through us. We need to teach one another how to share the grace that we have received from the LORD in all of life. Only in a community that is saturated by the gospel of grace and seeks to restore instead of condemn can bring transformation into our lives to be more like Jesus. Only in such a community will singleness be a gift and marriage a worthwhile work of sanctification.

Jesus called us to a life together. That because of the resurrection, we can have the faith to live into the words scripture even in our brokenness: "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16).

Our panel discussion this coming Sunday is merely an invitation to grow with us. To cast light on subjects of conversation that have been hidden in the shadows. To reconnect on topics that have alienated us from one another, and to seek the Gospel to be active even in this part of life. 

If you haven't considered joining us for this first step, we invite you! Our aim is not to lay out every bit of dating or marriage advice nor give definite instructions for singleness. We only want to start the conversation and to practice that there is a wealth of wisdom and experiences of brokenness and grace from within our community. Our panel is not one of "experts" but of sinners who have received grace. Come, listen and share life with us. We also have a form where you can submit questions so our humble panel to consider. It is our hope that we can learn to be a church that is open to the work of the Spirit in our midst and that we would be able to witness growth, maturity, and grace in abundance. 

Learning to trust the guiding Spirit of God

One of the areas of maturity that we seek to foster in every member of King’s Cross Church is a humble yet growing confidence in coming to scripture as the rule of faith and life for every believer.

While we profess belief in the authority of the scripture for Christian living, the Word of God is often neglected in our lives. We hear sermon after sermon. We may even get commentary and insights from books, articles, and podcasts. But what of the Living Word itself? The Living Word desires to breathe life into our weary souls yet we, whether intentionally or not, have kept running away. We live at the pace of our world while the Spirit is inviting us to keep pace with him —  to walk in-step with the Spirit who lives and dwells with us.

In the coming months our Community Group Ministry will return to hearing from scripture directly. We will wrestle with the text as we are called to enter a world that is bigger than our own. We will ask questions of the text as the texts asks questions of us and our lives. We will grow together, learning how to read and how to listen to the voice of God alive in the scriptures.

I understand that there may be lots of fear and anxiety when we come to scripture.

What if we interpret it wrong?

What if I get stuck?

What if our group is unable to "get anything" from it?

If we're not used to doing this together, it will be hard. We will endure awkward silences. We will linger on questions that seem to have no answer. Yet if fear of such circumstances keeps us from engaging altogther, we will have lost out on a means by which we can grow in maturity. We will rob ourselves of an avenue where the grace of God can clearly be seen in our midst.

No one who has seriously studied and meditated on the scriptures comes out feeling like he has "mastered" God or his word. None of us. Not our pastors. Our elders. Our CG leaders. No one. At the same time we are called as his disciples to grow and learn. Studying scripture is an exercise that will humble us and bring us to worship.

In our community groups, we're hoping to practice and adapt a method of study called the "inductive method." It is a method utilized by many ministry organizations around the world but perhaps best championed by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This method is better detailed elsewhere but I'll just mention here that it involves three major phases:

  1. Observation
    In this initial phase we make observations of the text asking the 5 W's and an H: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? We look for repeated words and phrases, pay attention to seemingly awkwardly clauses, notice comparisons and contrasts. We're just interested in observations during this phase. Try to curb that desire to rush through with interpretation. We save that for the next phase.
  2. Interpretation
    After we have all shared our observations, we can start to make connections and ask questions of the text. We may not get answers to every one of our questions but here we foster a curiosity and openness to scripture with expectation that God is acting in our midst. Here we seek to understand what the text means in context and we learn from one another as the Spirit speaks to us through us.
  3. Application
    And lastly, we move to see how this text challenges our living. After all our questioning seeking to understand the meaning of the text, it would be foolish of us to ignore the call that scripture has on us. We practice knowing that this is not mere external knowledge to be gained, but a living word that wants to live in us and live through us. 

If you're new to this method, it may seem that this process seems very open-ended. It is. But we don't read in a vacuum. We are growing as part of the living body of the church where God's Spirit dwells and is at work in us, guiding us, teaching us.

If you're a member of our church, I implore you to have grace on your leaders who are growing in this method with you. We need encouragement as we are also learning to trust the Spirit at work in our midst. We sometimes hold ourselves to impossible standards; guide us back to the grace offered in Jesus. It is my hope that as we intentionally move into this new season as a church, we will cultivate a love for God through studying his word. I hope that we will learn the rhythms of his heart and learn to trust the guidance of his Spirit in our midst. Our God desires to reveal himself to his people. Let us seek him with all of who we are.

I leave you with this meditation from the English preacher Charles Spurgeon who opened one of his great sermons with this encouragement to the church:

The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, "Behold I am wise." But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass's colt; and with the solemn exclamation, "I am but of yesterday, and know nothing." No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God.
Charles Spurgeon