As some of our more astute readers have noticed, I post new content every two weeks at Cross Shaped Stuff. Lazy, I know, but life is busy. Take this December for example. The Sing Off was crammed into two weeks and you can’t miss that. Plus, it’s the holidays so (in the spirit of cross-shaped husbandship) I’ve watched enough Hallmark movies my man-card will be suspended until June: “Moonlight and Mistletoe,” “Matchmaker Santa,” “Snow Bride,” “A Holiday Engagement,” “Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus.” Yes, these are real movies, but my husband-card is better than my man-card so… All that to say that today is a follow up on a Christmas blog I posted two weeks ago on Jesus’ incarnation.
In as practical terms as possible, incarnation means: I step completely into your mess no matter how messy it is; I offer myself, at the expense of myself; I choose to be fully present in situations I want nothing to do with. All because that’s what love looks like.
God showed love can be no less than personal through Jesus. You can’t love someone from a distance or at arm’s length. You must be close enough to feel their pain before they’re close enough to feel your love. So God did.
And I’m no church historian, but it seems to me that every time a generation of Jesus followers gets this right, the church experiences outrageous success, qualitative and quantitative. Look at the church in Acts. After Jesus left, the early church had only 120 people, but they quickly exploded. And why?
Well if you read Acts, you see why. You see a church that lived open handedly. They chose self-sacrificial love, together, as their defining characteristic. Some attribute their success to the apostles preaching and miracles, which is true, but only in part because they eventually all died. And yet the church in the second and third century continued to explode. So why? I believe because they continued doing the same thing they’d done all along. Incarnate. Show up in places and ways no one else would, and love at the expense of their own well being.
Historians write about some of the plagues that struck the Roman empire during this time period. And as people ran from infected towns, often leaving their families behind to die, Christians did the exact opposite. They gave the gift of Jesus’ presence through a clean cup of water and a warm embrace, occasionally at the expense of their lives, because that’s what the physical presence of Jesus in the world should do.
But while it’s easy for us to remember and admire the early years of our heritage, it’s actually extremely difficult for us to repeat them. And that’s because the Christian church in America has had significant authority in our country for as long as anyone can remember. Let me explain…
Power does funny things to a person. When the church becomes the majority in any nation, something terrible begins to happen. The church beings to speak from a place of authority and power rather than humble loving incarnation. Once upon a time about 2,000 years ago, the church didn’t have millions or billions of people, it had hundreds, thousands. So leveraging authority and power was literally impossible on a global scale. They were the minority. They were the new kids on the block with little credibility, all they had to give was personal love.
But then in the fourth century, the church reached a turning point in which they became the majority. And with that majority came authority. And from that authority evolved a completely different way of relating to the world. The church seemed to lose the one thing most valuable and distinctive about our movement, the mindset of Jesus.
When the church leverages anything other than the mindset of Jesus, it ceases to be the body of Jesus.
Now if you’re like me, you see how the church in America is losing its authority, and the reason why is because that’s primarily what it’s attempting to leverage. What’s so counterintuitive about moral authority is that it isn’t gained or sustained authoritatively. It’s earned.
Self-sacrificial love is what earns you credibility to speak truth authoritatively into the lives of others. And I think that was the original game plan all along. The original game plan was incarnation. Love lends credibility.
I mean let’s just be honest, Jesus could have leveraged his unrivaled power and authority to take the world. He could’ve came with all the power of heaven and God’s angelic armies if he wanted. But he didn’t. Instead, he defined what it means to be God by lovingly humbling himself, and earned the right to be heard by all.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a matter of denying power, it’s a matter of the spirit in which you maintain and leverage it. The integrity and sustainability of your influence is determined by its mode of operation.
Again, once upon a time, a long time ago, before there were billions, before there were church buildings, before there were Bibles, before there was “One nation under God,” there was a baby in a manger and a God on a cross. And then there was a handful of people who acted like they personally knew this God.
I don’t know if I’d call America a “Christian nation,” but there are Christians in this nation. So maybe, just maybe, we could get back to the original game plan and just see what happens?
You know what the difference is between Jesus’ mindset and ours? Jesus, though equal with God, didn’t think of equality with him as something to cling to, but humbled himself and incarnated. But we, on the other hand, though unequal with God, often think of equality with him as something to cling for. We elevate ourselves, everyday, and frantically grasp at any sort of power we can, believing in our hearts that if we can acquire enough power this side of heaven then perhaps we can make ourselves gods this side of heaven. We do this in religion and we do this in life.
Yet the irony of it all is that as Jesus lovingly takes his place at the bottom, God lovingly gives him a seat and a name at the top. Down is up. Humility is glory. Love is the path to victory.
Philippians 2:9-11 – Therefore, [because of his giving self-sacrificing love, v.6-8] God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
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