What We’re Made Of

Christmas 2014: Genesis 2:7, Philippians 2:6-7

I. Physicality.
Watching a toothless child fall asleep still attached to a woman’s naked breast;
His tongue stuck to the bottom of his mouth and perpetual drool wetting his chin;
Their sweat mixing with mine in a hug that sticks us together, and the taste of salt;
Pain in the bathroom and shifting in our seats as we smell the shame of it from here;
Jesus’ stomach growling on the beach, waiting for the fish to roast, breathing in the smoke.
Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground.

II. Spirituality.
Watching a child decide to retreat from the war being mongered on the playground;
His distress as the invisible duel between his conscience and his pride starts to hurt;
A callow heart aching for love in a darkness disrupted only by a flashing cell phone light;
Early morning efforts to conduct the train of thought and launch it off the heavy ground;
Jesus’ joy when he considers God’s humility and its poetry over top our arrogant noise.
And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

III. Humanity.
Watching embodied spirits try not to lose control at each other in an overly silent room;
The competing emotions manifested in the moving muscles and the audible breaths;
A sweaty embrace soaked through with loyalty and the smell of a friendship that understands;
The clenched hands of pain, of desire, of anger or fear, and the commonalities there;
Jesus dying slowly with forgiveness on his tongue and a bad taste in his mouth.
And the man became a living being.

take-home lessons from Honduras (pt. 1): who missionaries are

Abuelita

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14

Jesus the divine Son of God, the logical principle which governs the universe, broke into our dimension, entered a womb, was born, lived, and died as a man. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Incarnation was the longest missionary journey ever undertaken, the most extreme cross-cultural interaction ever experienced. It is the lifestyle model for all missionaries, and all Christians.

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”Charles Spurgeon

For me, I’m “home”–back in the town I grew up in, anyway–after spending 10 months as a missionary in Honduras. God taught me there about missionary life, and about the paradigm for life that the Incarnation creates.

He taught me that this is a missionary’s heart:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… To those under the law I became as one under the law… To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… To the weak I became weak… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

He taught me that missionaries are lots of things, especially foreigners, students, advocates, and prophets.

They are foreigners. Naturally, they do not share all the thought patterns, habits, interests, or customs of their target “people group.” Since they are coming in from the outside, many things do not captivate them in the same way as they do for those from the foreign culture around them. That is what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 9 when he said he was “free from all.” Because Christ’s gospel defined Paul’s fundamental sense of himself, he found himself completely spiritually free from every sub-culture with which he interacted. Jews under the law, pagans outside it, rich and poor, weak and strong–being none of them in any fundamental sense, he could be each of them fully, while maintaining an underlying detachment from all the groups in their particularity. He remembered what Peter called all Christians:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles… 1 Peter 2:11

Missionaries are students, by necessity. They are learners of new languages, cultures, societal systems, lifestyles, mindsets. Good ones never stop trying to understand their people groups better, by studying them. Better understanding, better parroting, makes for better communication, and missionaries know they are communicators of a foreign message–not from another nation but from another Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. Missionaries experience their host culture not as passive consumers but as active students. They analyze everything that comes at them: automatically, because everything is different, but also studiously, so that they can be “all things to all people.”

Missionaries are advocates for the overall well-being of their people group. They resemble Levitical priests, bringing people before God and God before people. Sometimes they defend the well-being of their people group to oppressors or to people in power, and sometimes to the people themselves. They advocate for justice on behalf of their people even when those people do not know what that means, being devoted to a God himself profoundly passionate about justice. They pray like priests, interceding for the people, and they think like prophets, strategizing for the renewal of every aspect of their people’s life.

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

Finally, they are prophets. That is, they are voices of God’s truth–and praise be to God, the truth about God is that he is full of grace. God told Jeremiah the prophet, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,’ for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak… Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:7, 9). God equips missionaries in the same way. They are vehicles of communication for heaven’s proclamations. They are otherworldly message-bearers. Paul said in the New Testament, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). And what is “God’s appeal”? The next verse tells us: “Be reconciled to God!” That is the essential prophetic message missionaries communicate with their lives and voices.

Consider these things. Jesus sends all of us out–to our campuses, workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, and to all the nations and tribes of the world–just as his Father sent him.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” John 20:21

new takes on an old story

The story of how Jesus’ birth happened is of course very old. For many people today, it has entered into the realm of cultural mythology, in the same category as little George Washington fessing up to chopping down the cherry tree and Christopher Columbus setting sail to prove the earth is round. Not strictly true, but a nice story for the kids.

For Christians, if Christmas is not strictly true, we are wasting our time. Jesus’ birth meant the enfleshment of God himself, on earth, before the eyes of very human humans, as a real, crying, needy baby. We call this the Incarnation – perhaps the most mind-boggling event in creation’s history. This is the event Christmas celebrates and commemorates, year after year.

And every year, artistic people in the family of God come up with new ways to celebrate the old story with creativity and originality. I love it. Here are two videos I really like (both made last year) that tell the Christmas story in new and insightful ways:

“A Social Network Christmas.” “This video is an artistic take on how the story of the nativity might have read had a social network existed at the time of Jesus’s birth” (from the website). A poignant reminder of the disgrace Joseph and Mary went through (and Jesus was born into) because of the Lord’s uniquely supernatural conception.

“The Christmas Story,” as told by the children of St. Paul’s church in Auckland, New Zealand. Sort of reminds me of the excellent movie “Where the Wild Things Are.” And the music is so catchy! Not to mention the incredibly adorable children, especially with their New Zealand accents. This one is difficult not to watch repeatedly.

Do you know of any others? Share them!