“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 NRSV).
People love throwing around words like “missional” and “incarnational,” and readily say “amen” to those who sprinkle their writings and spoken messages with this terminology. It is my opinion that few of us truly appreciate the full import of these words.
It sounds very pretty to talk about carrying out incarnational ministry, being with the people in their struggles, but does that include living among them? If your answer is “of course,” then I suggest you breath deeply, try to be a bit more honest with yourself and read what I have to say.
Imagine moving to a neighborhood where you always feel like you’re being watched. Your apartment is broken into nearly on a weekly basis, and every few months you are mugged. You are there to preach the Gospel. Are you up to it?
Okay, so you move to the neighborhood, but you have a family. The schools are “those kind,” you know, ghetto schools. Your children don’t have any friends you can let them sleep over with because you know their families have serious problems. Every time you let your children invite someone over, even just for an afternoon, something disappears. And then a day or so later your house is burglarized again.
You hear police and ambulance sirens in the street day and night. The neighbors upstairs have a nightly domestic dispute, with all the accompanying banging, screaming and sobbing. The heat only works in half of the apartment in winter, you don’t feel like risking the ill-maintained elevator, and the building rental company doesn’t answer your calls.
Is it bad enough yet?
People tell you they’ve heard threats of rape against your wife. Your ten year old son is beaten up at school. Your car is stolen and only found weeks later after being stripped for parts and burned.
“Oh,” you say, “we’ll go because we know God will protect us.”
Will he? Are you sure?
“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 KJV).
God did not spare His own Son. God did not spare His own Son! Think about that. Why will He deliver you from every harm if that is not His will? What if, in some way you cannot see clearly, it is His will for you to suffer?
“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24 NRSV).
Isn’t “incarnational ministry” all about sharing in the sufferings and difficulties of those you seek to serve? Yes! But who is willing to pay the price? I’m not even certain how I feel about this. I’m writing it because I believe it’s true and the Lord’s will, but I’m not sure how well I can live this message.
Somehow, our attitude must be the same as that of the Hebrew men who refused to worship the king’s idol.
“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18 ESV).
Whether or not God would intervene, they would not betray their God. They were delivered, yes, but many others weren’t.
"Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:36-38 NRSV).
Imagine a baseball field on a moonless, overcast night. Looking around, you can’t tell you’re at a baseball field…you can barely see the hand in front of your face. Suddenly, one of the powerful lights comes on overhead. With only one light pole illuminated, you can see far more than before. The bases are very obvious now, although it remains so dark you can’t distinguish colors except in the immediate vicinity of where the light falls. Then, one by one, the remain lights come on. You find yourself bathed in so much light that it may as well be noon.
That’s how God intends it to work with Christians and His church. Even one light in a dark place is powerful. Those same baseball field lights on a sunny day would be unnoticeable. They are needed in the darkness. In the light of day they are superfluous.
The darker the place a disciple of Christ goes, the bigger difference his or her “light” will make. When God sent His only-begotten Son, it was into darkness.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5 NRSV).
This is a hard word that I am writing, especially for me. I don’t write it because I like it. I’m posting this here out of the solid conviction that it is true. While I don’t think I’m saying that we are obligated to be foolish or place ourselves or our families needlessly in harms way, I do believe we need to be more serious about realizing God’s objectives in the world.
I need to be more serious about realizing God’s objectives in the world.