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Saturday, April 16, 2011

I'm very sorry...

This week, I've been captured by the incarnation.

For those of you who aren't familiar with that word, it speaks of something God did in order to reach and rescue mankind. Incarnation comes from the root word 'carn' where we get words like carnal and carnivore. All these words speak of "flesh" (sorry to insult your intelligence).

With the word carnal, we are talking about something being "fleshly". It speaks of the most egotistic and earthly values of our human nature. It emphasizes the negative side of "satisfying your own selfish impulses".

The word carnivore speaks of "meat eaters". I would classify myself as a carnivore as opposed to a vegetarian. I like to eat the flesh of appropriate animals. This is why I have gout in my right big toe. But that's beside the point.

The word incarnation, however, speaks of something or someone becoming flesh, becoming human. Not fleshly, but fleshy. Meaning becoming Meaty. Spirit becoming body.

John was one of the first to try and put this concept into words when he said: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we beheld his glory." I'm not sure how long you've lingered with to this statement in the past, but it is profound. This idea changed the world. But after loitering in this text for quite some time, I think within this idea is the secret to keep changing the world. Another way of saying it: "I don't think anyone can affect real change without incarnating themselves into the change they want to see."

What I mean is that God didn't do this for us so that we wouldn't have to, he did it to show us how to. It wasn't a "one for all, once for all"-type of deal. It was a demonstration that turned into an invitation to do the same. We were made to personify principles, not to teach them. We are called to embody theology, not to study it. Putting "skin on spirit" is the only way for people to reached and rescued.

But this isn't what is hitting me about this passage.

I feel like I know that an am doing that semi-satisfactorily.

What is gripping me about the Incarnation isn't the "Word becoming Flesh". That is the first 50% of the equation. I try to do that with my kids, my friends, my community and my church. Another way of saying it is "Truth becomes understandable" or "Spiritual becomes practical" or "Words become Actions" or "Ideas become Real" or "God becomes relevant". Jesus did this. He made sense of God to man. He brought the cookies down to the bottom shelf. He put things into "flesh and blood" language that felt raw and gritty and palpable. He not only spoke in a way that made sense, but he lived in a way that made sense so that his words matched his life.

I think I have thought this is the incarnation, making God relevant to mankind. Living out the gospel in fresh and freeing ways in front of humanity giving them a picture of Jesus that strikes an innate universal nerve. But "living out" is only 50% of the incarnation. The other 50% is where the rubber meats the road. "Living in" carries the ball from the 50 yard line to the end-zone for a touchdown. The Word becoming flesh isn't just "Living out with relevance", but "making your dwelling among people"..."living in their world". I can't believe the implications of this tiny little phrase in John chapter 1.

Living out the gospel allows for a safe distance. I put my message together, monologue for 35 minutes and then I go home. I throw some money at something, and then go about my own life. I sing songs, pray prayers, sermonize sermons and then go home. I get in and get out. I'm making an impression, but it's debatable as to whether I'm making an impact.

But this "dwelling among" deal is where I've typically gotten off the train. This is where I lose the ability to control my environment. This is where my own personal space is violated. This is where I'm not making all the decisions and calling the shots about what I "let in and let out".
Just think about the word "dwell" for a second. Do you know very many people that are good "dwellers". Dang, it's hard enough to get someone to dwell with you in a 5 minute conversation without drifting. We aren't dwellers, we are drifters. You here this in conversation when someone gets antsy in a conversation and then says, "I'll let you go." I even had my mom say that to me last year and I was the one calling her! I wanted to say, "Mom, I called you! You can't let me go cause I have nowhere to go! No, I won't go!" We are creatures that have learned to dart and drift so as to not make anyone uncomfortable, namely ourselves. Getting someone to "dwell with" you is a rare thing, getting yourself to "dwell with" someone else rarer still.

But this is just what Jesus did. He "made his dwelling among us". He didn't come, put himself up in a 5 star hotel outside the neighborhood for a "home base", doing ministry in the slums during the day and retreating to his hotel room at night for "central air, running water, and internet access"; he chose to stay in the slums. If he was any kind of Lord, he was a slumLord. He didn't have a place to lay his head, not because he was a martyr trying to make a statement, but because he laid his head on the exact same surface where people happened to be laying their heads around him in moment. He wasn't about to live "apart" from people while preaching a message of being "a part" of people. The incarnation didn't allow for that kind of "personal space".

The incarnation isn't just the "Word becoming Flesh". That's a great start, but that isn't the whole enchilada. The second half of this verse is where our lives get most keenly disturbed and it is this holy disruption that shakes the planet.

People half-expect the church to market its product with the branding and relevance of Apple. It doesn't surprise them that we are making great strides to relate to them and where they are living. But you can't bring truth to 'where they are living' in "words" alone. You have to "become truth and move to where they are really living". Not just go there, but live there. Just like Jesus, you won't be able to just give them bread, but you would have to become the "bread of life" that fed them after the food ran out. That is why Jesus didn't just preach truth, he became it. He didn't just show the way by pointing to where people should go, he went there himself, he was "the Way" embodied.

I realize the we aren't "The Way, The Truth, and The Life" in the divine way Jesus was as God, but I think we sell the gospel short if we don't understand that Jesus BECAME these things and then "dwelt among" people so they could touch, taste and feel it incarnationally.

This is why they "beheld his glory". This wasn't a guy that came from the suburbs and handed out sack lunches to them on Thursday evenings. He would bring bread to them, but he would "be bread among them", "break bread with them". Remember when he said, "Man cannot live on bread alone." Do you supposed he said that knowing that the incarnation is the second half of the equation? You can bring bread, but not without being bread. This is what takes something beyond relevance to presence. If we turn the word into the flesh of relevance without going the distance and dwelling among people with presence, we can't expect the gospel to be life-changing. At best it will be an 8 cylinder engine running on 4. This is unacceptable.

I don't if this hits anyone else, but I've been touched by the incarnation in new and profound ways lately. It's actually messing me up, and not just a little bit.

I want my words to take on human form and live right next to people. I want the data to become drama, the word to get to the world... and I humbly admit my neglect of half of the incarnation. I should know better as a "ambassador" of Jesus, but over the years the incarnation has been doctored and spun so many times that the gospel has lost its teeth. I'm just getting sick of wearing these dang dentures.

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