Friday, May 23, 2008

Unpacking the Downward Journey

If the Upward Journey charts a course that leads to an ever increasing value of self - more status, increased recognition, wider reputation, and broader positional influence - then the Downward Journey could be described as quite the opposite. This is a journey that represents a subterranean shift in thinking, primarily about yourself and your place in this world. Here are some thoughts from the personal retreat I took to Evergreen, Colorado on the day before I accepted this position with Christian Associates.

The Downward Journey is an internal work with external features. It is lifelong, not seasonal. It stands independent of organizational positions or paychecks.

This journey is about who you are, not what you do.
It's about who you THINK you are, regardless of what you do.
It's about exalting Christ - lifting Him, literally - in your daily course, even as you diminish, so that He may be known. It is the holy finger of John the Baptist pointing at Jesus, and sounds like his statement in John 3:30, "He must become greater. I must become less."

Those on this journey rejoice when God receives credit for the works of God. They also come to expect, even hope, that their role in the works of God remain anonymous, utterly unrecognized or acknowledged by others.

The downward journey commences with a cataclysmic surrender of self - a once-for-all moment of brokenness - and continues not with a debasement of self, but with an ever decreasing consideration for self. ("I don't think better or less of myself, I just think of myself less."

It is a holy deconstruction of self-interest coupled with a simultaneous construction of ideas and behaviors built upon the interests of God.

The downward journey undermines our self sufficiency; replacing it with a keen awareness of self insufficiency - a shift from maturity measured by fierce independence to a wider experience of inter-dependence in the Body of Christ.

Like Isaiah, those on this journey proclaim, "Your Name, and your Renown are the desire of our hearts."

The first time I met the key church plant leaders with Christian Associates, I felt a kindred spirit with those who share this downward trajectory. They live in 25 urban centers across Europe, and they have walked away from the pull of selfish ambition in order to pursue the interests of Christ. Some of these men and women live in what we would consider a state of poverty, but they do so not out of lack of supply. They live wherever necessary to bring the incarnational witness of Christ to the edges of society, where most spiritual movements have started throughout the ages.

Just as Jesus chose to humble himself for our sakes, and he chose the most humble of society to be the carriers of his infectious message, so these folks with Christian Associates impressed me as believers who have sacrificed their self-interests in order to engage in the interests of the Father. Just check out the effect this is having on the surfer community of Portugal! They are part of a larger spiritual movement in the region called the Lisboa Matrix. When I sat in their fellowship this past February, I had the overwhelming sense that this was not the result of an effective church planting model, or a carefully designed church growth strategy. This is a dynamic, organic, vibrant spiritual community pursuing Christ together. I felt drawn to it from the start.

And I quickly recognized that I was walking alongside others who shared this road, downward, so that Christ may be lifted up.

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