Learning to Love Like Jesus

From Godspeed: Making Christ’s Mission Your Own
(Chapter 4)

 

INCARNATION
The Sacred and the Soccer Games

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.
G. K. Chesterton

If Scripture were a mountain range, the incarnation of Christ—His birth, life, work, the cross, and His resurrection—would be the tallest, most glorious peak.

In the supreme revelation of love, God came to humanity. He became like us—taking on flesh and blood. God incarnate. The incarnate Christ felt our infirmities, was tempted in all the ways we are tempted, and yet was found without sin that He might die a substitutionary death on our behalf at Calvary.

To incarnate essentially means to embody. When Christ became flesh, He embodied the very presence, nature, power, character, and glory of God. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,” says John 1. “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus Christ explains the love and the person of God to humanity in the context of history.

As we’ve read in John 20:21, the Father sent the Son, and the Son sends us in the same way.

Being on mission then, we incarnate Christ.

In the previous chapter we looked at what it means for us to be sent into the world: what the church is sent to do … and what the church is not sent to do.

So what does it mean that we are sent in the same way Jesus was sent? How are we to understand this? How are we to live it?

The chapters to come will be our playbook for mission, based on the historical life of Jesus that is revealed to the church through the Gospels. We’ll begin with the bedrock of our calling—the very model of our mission itself—the incarnation of Jesus.

To live at Godspeed is to do mission based on the person and work of Jesus Christ, God become flesh. To live at Godspeed is to practice incarnational Christianity.

COCOON, COMBAT, CONFORM

The church has been commissioned in the world to love the very people God loves. We are the apostolic, sent people of God, sent to be on mission and in motion in our immediate contexts for His glory.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually describe the church. More often than not, our proclivity as Christians is to withdraw from the world, take up arms with the world, or become like the world. In a book called The Culturally Savvy Christian, Dick Staub identified these three tendencies as cocooning, combating and conforming. It’s a great alliteration and a great revelation for the church. Let’s look at all three.

The first errant tendency Christians have is to cocoon. When we discover how harsh and unfriendly the world can be, our immediate response is to retreat among like-minded company. We set up exclusive Christian clubs and enclaves. Meanwhile, when we see how wonderful Jesus is, we want more than anything to be with Him in heaven. Many Christians talk about this longing all the time, and although the desire is good, Jesus prayed specifically against our feelings of escape. “I do not ask You to take them out of the world,” He said to the Father. God’s will until we die is that we would be on mission in the world, among the people of the world for His glory.

We also withdraw and cocoon because the world is tempting. We sense the warfare for our personal holiness and purity, and our reaction is to hunker down. We fail to lay hold of the victory and new nature we’ve been given through Christ Jesus. For many Christians, personal holiness and purity become the primary goal. But they are not the goal—they are a goal. Participating in and enjoying the life of Christ is the primary goal of the Christian life.

The second way Christians err is by combating. We are in a battle this side of heaven, there’s no doubt about it. But in the midst of that battle the church has to realize that people are not the enemy; people are the prize.

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” Paul said, “but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness.”

In UnChristian, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons researched Christianity in America today:

“The primary reason outsiders feel hostile toward Christians, and especially conservative Christians, is not because of any specific theological perspective. What they react negatively to is our “swagger,” how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project. Outsiders say that Christians possess bark—and bite. Christians may not normally operate in attack mode, but it happens frequently enough that others have learned to watch their step around us.”

That is a tragedy. If people are watching their steps around us, how are we ever going to step into their lives?

Too often the church has set itself up in a purely antagonistic stance. “We are known for having an us-versus-them mentality,” wrote Kinnaman and Lyons. “Outsiders believe Christians do not like them because of what they do, how they look, or what they believe. They feel minimized—or worse, demonized—by those who love Jesus.”

We’ve taken the prize, the men and women who need Jesus most, and set them up as our enemies. We’ve let the fight define us instead of love for people.

The final error Christians make in the world is to conform. We become like the unbelieving world, when Jesus called us to be salt and light.

Salt is only useful when it’s salty, and light is only meaningful when it’s in contrast to the darkness. Jesus was distinct, and His people should be distinct as well. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

While humanity was hostile to Jesus, He went to them. He then sent you and me into the world and asked the Father to protect us from the evil one. When we withdraw from humanity, treat people as the enemy, or conform to the world, we dishonor the teachings of Christ.

DUAL NATURE

Today Christians in America are known as antihomosexual, judgmental and hypocritical.

That should hit us like a ton of bricks.

Not a single attribute of Christ—loving, compassionate, generous, kind, merciful, humble, caring, or self-sacrificial—makes the list.

The world thinks we’re antihomosexual because we’re combative. We fought some of the wrong battles on the wrong fronts for the wrong reasons. They think we’re judgmental because we cocoon away from them in our little Christian enclaves. They think we’re hypocritical because they watch us eventually conform to culture and end up looking like everyone else.

The incarnation of Christ, Jesus in the flesh, must shape the way we live in the world. The reason we’re not to cocoon away from people is because Christ came to people. The reason we’re not to combat people is because Christ labored to reconcile people, to God and to one another. The reason we’re not to conform to this world is because Christ was otherworldly in His character and holiness.

The incarnation of Christ is the model for mission, the example for the Christian living at Godspeed. When Christ took on humanity, He was fully man and yet fully God. “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells” Colossians 2:9 says, and yet He took on flesh and blood (Heb. 2:14).

Jesus had a dual nature.

Patterned after Jesus, the church also has a dual nature. In John 17, Jesus said we are not of the world because we’ve been born again as new creations. Then a few verses later, He sent us into the world as members of humanity. Dual nature.

Peter called the church a royal priesthood that offers up spiritual sacrifices (worship) and a holy nation that proclaims the excellencies of God (witness). This is what John Stott labeled the double identity of the church, or incarnational Christianity.

Incarnational Christianity means that we’re called out of the world in worship to God while being sent into the world as witnesses of God. The church is a worshipping and witnessing community, and Christians are worshipping and witnessing people.

LAME BOAT

Jesus was totally committed to humanity without ever ceasing to be holy, which Stott called “total identification without any loss of identity.” This concept is important for those of us who are more committed to humanity than we are to holiness.

Think about boats.

I grew up boating off the coast of Santa Barbara and around the Channel Islands and have spent hundreds of hours fishing and surfing from boats. A boat in the water is so much better than a boat in the front yard, in the driveway, or even on the dock.

Here’s when a boat is really lame.

A boat is really lame when water gets inside of it. It’s the absolute worst. When the boat fills up with water, it becomes useless to the point that it would have been better to leave the boat in the front yard.

My dad and I used to fish for mako sharks from our boat. Mako sharks are crazy and once on deck they can easily thrash either your body or the boat itself. One time I suggested to my dad that we bring along a shotgun, so we could shoot the shark before we pulled it on board and avoid the thrashing that would result. My dad took one look at me, and I instantly knew what he was thinking … in the heat of the battle with a mako shark there would be as much chance of us blowing a hole in the boat as there would be of blowing a hole in the shark.

Cooler heads prevailed, and we left the gun at home. The thought of the boat filling up with shark-infested water twenty miles out to sea was not a pleasant one.

If you’ve ever boated, you already know the simple logic of this: you want your boat in the water, but you don’t want water in the boat. The same is true for Christians: God wants them in the world, but He doesn’t want the world in them.

Maybe this is you right now. Perhaps you’re far more committed to humanity than you are to holiness.

Or maybe you err in the opposite way: you’re far more committed to holiness than you are to humanity. Perhaps you’re a boat that’s forgotten why it’s a boat.

You’re not of the world; you’re out of this world, so much so that you’re not in the world at all anymore. You’re too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good for mission, because you’ve made personal holiness and purity your gods. Some people in the New Testament did this. They were called Pharisees.

Whether we’re overly committed to holiness or overly committed to humanity, going too far in either direction is an error because our commitment is to Christ. Jesus, our model, struck the perfect balance. He totally committed His life to humanity without ever ceasing to be holy. He spent time with the broken, the addicted, and the deceitful. He didn’t cocoon but stepped into their world, without ever conforming to it.

For those who needed Him most, Jesus was Immanuel, God in their midst. The dual nature of the church is patterned after the dual nature of Christ. He called us to be simultaneously set apart in behavior and sent out in relationship.

NO STRINGS ATTACHED

Because you and I were sent into the world, it follows logic that our most meaningful and fruitful Christian experiences should take place outside the church building.

Many Christians think being on mission in the world is synonymous with inviting people to a church service. It’s not the same thing.

Think about this for a minute: we all know people who hate church. Why then is our default strategy to invite them to church?

I don’t mean to be overly simplistic, but I think if people liked church, they’d already be at church. We can hope that they’ll like it later on, but until then we need a more practical strategy. When people are sick, they don’t need an invitation to a church service. They need a Christian who is willing to pray for them, care for them, minister to them, step into their brokenness, and meet their physical needs.

To be on mission is to love people in a way that represents Jesus: God-made-flesh going to humanity.

And we are to do this kind of mission with no strings attached.

Jesus didn’t make people go to the synagogue before He fed them, nor after He fed them for that matter. Jesus did mission with no strings attached, but He did it in such a profoundly loving way that His love became inescapable strings to those to whom He ministered.

The prophets Jeremiah and Hosea, along with Paul the apostle, said that God draws us with His love and kindness. These cords that draw humanity to God are the same cords attached to the acts of love we do by His Spirit.

NOT IN CHURCH

As Christians, we invite people to church because we want to introduce them to Jesus. Our underlying assumption here is that Jesus is found at church—that a person will meet Him when they enter the building. We believe Jesus shows up when His body is gathered. This is biblical, but it’s not the whole story.

The church hasn’t cornered the market on Jesus.

Religion, properly defined, is humanity’s efforts to reach and to please God. This is what going to church means for many people.

On the other hand, the incarnation is God’s continuing effort to reach and to save humanity. Incarnational Christianity ought to be alive and at work in our world through the people of God, through the church. We ought to be scattered on mission, not gathered all the time.

When we try to get people to Jesus, instead of bringing Jesus to people, we are approaching our faith fundamentally backward. We’re being more religious than Christian. True Christian mission is bringing Jesus to people wherever people are, outside our church buildings.

Also, it doesn’t take a math professor to realize all those people “out there” won’t fit inside of our church buildings. The Christian concept that we just have to get the world into our buildings is not only incorrect theologically; it doesn’t work practically!

We’re trying to get the community into church when what we need is to get Jesus into the community. When the church does incarnational Christianity instead of religion, mission becomes more practical.

THE SACRED AND THE SOCCER GAMES

From God’s perspective, there’s no divide between the sacred and the secular. The incarnation makes this abundantly clear, because when Jesus was born, the sacred invaded the secular—not to destroy it, but to save it, restore it, and renew it.

John Corrie, in the Dictionary of Mission Theology, said,

“In the Incarnation of the eternal Word all false dualisms between the material and the spiritual, visible and invisible, human and divine, temporal and eternal, this-worldly and other-worldly, finite and infinite, were dissolved in the totally integrated person of Christ.”

Jesus was both fully secular and fully sacred, fully man and fully God. This confronts the unbiblical division we make in our lives when we separate the daily from the divine. We know God cares about the “churchy” stuff, and we think He cares about our problems, but that’s where many Christians leave Jesus’ involvement.

The truth is, God cares as much about our kids’ soccer games as he cares about our churches’ Sunday gatherings. Does He not care when the sparrow falls from its nest? And the sparrow never even went to church!

God cares about the details. Every detail. And if we truly grasp this fact, it will change the way we live. Life becomes more fun. I’ve lived both ways to varying degrees: including Jesus in normal life and excluding Him from it as most Americans do. I can hereby testify that life is just more fun with Jesus involved!

I’ve been trying to lay hold of this concept in my day-to-day life. Recently I went to the park with my dad and two kids, Isaiah and Daisy. We went to the park to fly a little radio-controlled airplane Isaiah got for his birthday. As I sat in the grass watching my family, I let it sink in that God cared as much about that moment as He cares about my moments teaching from the pulpit.

I’ll tell you, it made my time in the park that much more amazing. I found myself deeply enjoying the moment, glorifying Jesus, and praying blessings over my family.