“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
“Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16)
We’ve spent five weeks peeling back the layers of the emotional part of our lives, looking at all the things that pour into our lives and shape us. As God offers to enter into our story and make things new, the ongoing life of discipleship calls us to embrace our emotions while embracing Christ. We want our heart to reflect God’s heart; we want to feel and think about the world the way God does. We want to enter the world around us in a way that imitates and honors the way Christ entered the world. So let’s talk about incarnation.
Incarnation requires us to put ourselves into someone else’s world; to give skin to the presence of God in a way that carries on the legacy of Christ’s perfect embodiment. We won’t do it perfectly; we can’t do it without the Holy Spirit empowering us. But it’s our calling. It’s a gift – and a tremendous responsibility. So how do we do this?
God didn't wait for us to come to Him. He came to us. You have to go!! We often think of ‘going’ in a cross-cultural context. When we go to Haiti or Costa Rica, we eat the food, learn the language, buy the clothes, celebrate customs and traditions, live in that community in that context. We are there to enter into their world; we don’t force them to be like us or cater to us. We show people we care by engaging in their world as much as we can without compromise.
This happens in cross-cultural settings, but it happens in our homes, our church, our community as well. It’s a universal principle. You want to talk to little kids effectively? Kneel when you speak. You want to show your spouse you care? Plan a date he or she wants. You want to connect with your kids? Play music they like too while you are driving. You have to enter their world.
One of the best ways to enter someone else's world and get to know them is to listen to them – their story, hopes, dreams, fears, opinions. Listening is a way of saying, “It’s not all about me. I want to know about you. I want to see who you are. You matter.” This does not always come easily. Pay attention to your conversations this next week. How often do you ask questions? Are you content to walk away from a conversation without ever talking about you? Did you do your best to enter in to their world? Were you there to know or be known?
Don’t misunderstand: talking about yourself - being known - is obviously not always wrong. Someone might want to enter into your world; maybe you need to establish common ground (“Oh, really? Me too!”) Also, this principle does not require that you have the same kinds of conversations with everybody - we talked several weeks ago about keeping healthy boundaries/limits in your life.
But do you speak when you should be listening? If so, do the hard work of self-awareness. Why do we often speak when we should listen? We listen to understand and appreciate the image of God in other people. God loves them. They have worth, dignity, value simply as people. In listening, we honor by seeking to know and understand.
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” – David Augsburger
Once we have listened, there are several ways to begin a conversation that continues the spirit in which it was begun.
Reflect: “I think I hear you saying…” This is a call to accuracy and clarity. It stops us from assuming, from reading between the lines, from filtering what someone ways so we hear what we wanted to hear. We can hear even the hardest things without getting upset if your first goal is to reflect: “I think I hear you saying that…”
Validate: ‘I can understand why you feel that way...” This is not the same as approval. It’s simply an acknowledgment that their response makes sense in that circumstance/time/place. “Considering your experiences, that makes sense."
Explore: “Tell me more. Help me to understand.” This is the opportunity to ask follow-up questions.
Engage: “May I offer my perspective/some things for you to consider?” The step must be done with wisdom, or we can become pushy or defensive. But we are people of truth, and at some point truth must be spoken boldly, but with gentleness and grace.
If we have listened fully and responded carefully, we have probably built a relationship. We are getting to know about each other, but knowing about is not quite the same as knowing. Now we enter into their world by connecting experientially, not just conversationally. Is hiking meaningful to your friends? Go hiking with them if you can. Do your friends like country music? Buy them Carrie Underwood CD’s for their birthday. Don’t buy them like your blues, classical or symphonic metal. Do they like Sci-fi? You might want to watch Ender’s Game with them instead of documentaries on fast food diets.
To most effectively represent God and connect God and His word with our neighbor, friend, co-worker, child, or spouse, we need to genuinely connect with their world.
Jesus and the apostles approached people and situations very differently. They matched their mission to the moment. Neither Jesus nor the apostles fully engaged with every opportunity. The moment did not always match their mission – and their mission flows from all the things that have formed them, all the ways God equipped them, all the God-given boundaries of ability, preparation and opportunity. How do we do match our mission to the moment?
With God’s help, we understand ourselves. An honest look inside shows us that we are more broken than we feared, but God is more powerful than we imagined. As we understand brokenness and then grace, we know who we are and it illuminates the goodness of God. Grace, compassion, and truth flow from us as we desire for others to see Christ as we have seen him.
In addition, we more clearly see who we are in the sense that we have been formed into a particular kind of person. We have strengths, gifts, life experiences, personalities, godly priorities…. God is working all those things together for us to use for His purpose.
This helps to clarify our mission... We won’t engage in every possible opportunity; we can’t. We can accept that our preparation and calling is not boundless – and that’s okay. All relationships are built in a context of experiences and people. If we have taken the time to know the person, the place, the background, the culture, then as Christ moves us and the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, we can most effectively match messages to moments.
This helps us more fully model the incarnational love of Christ to our family, our church, our city. Because we know who we are without and with Christ, welisten, understand and show love with empathy and patience. Because Christ entered our world, we enter into the world of others to represent Christ with vulnerability and confidence so the glory of His redemption is clear.
**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, Break the Power of the Past, Live in Brokenness, The Gift Of Limits, Embrace Grief and Loss) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are his insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.