Lately, I've been dreaming about Africa. More specifically, Liberia. I keep wondering what it is about the African lands and people that has captured my affections in such a deep relational way. What is it about Liberia and my time in other African nations that transformed my understanding of relationship with God and humanity while shifting my paradigm in regards to the Gospel of love? After many hours of conversing and pondering and listening to Jesus speak... I hear one word repeat...
Incarnation? Why that word? What is that anyway and what does it really mean? Traditionally in Christian doctrine, it's a word often used seasonally to describe when God came to Earth in the flesh and dwelt among us in the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. Or it might be described as the time God entered into our mess through the womb of a virgin, experiencing temptation, and submitting Himself to human death on a cross. I've also heard it spoken as the period when God came and dwelt with us in bodily form- when Christ the baby, the Jewish Messiah, came as fully-God and fully-human and loved and bled and died as a perfect man, sacrificial lamb for sin, and as the untainted exact reflection of His loving Father in Heaven.
In many contexts, incarnation has become synonymous with Emmanuel .. essentially a word and message proclaimed near Christmas meaning "God with us."
Unfortunately, it's often discussed as if it is an event, a one time thing, like the day Christ was born or a short season of time like the holidays or even Christ's 33 years on earth. Basically, if this is true, then the incarnation as an event came to a screeching halt at the cross, and that was the end of the story of God dwelling with man.
I don't necessarily disagree with the doctrinal ideas of incarnation but they had never really resonated with me in any kind of profound way. How else can I say this?
I guess, I've struggled because it's hard to touch or breathe or taste these concepts in real life. I didn't know how to apply or understand them in real time; they sounded like Greek or words on a page.
As I've been reading through the Gospel of John lately with new eyes, I can still see why all of these explanations were acceptable to me before, even though they didn't strike me in the deeper parts of my heart. I believed them because they were fundamental to the faith that I claim. Even though I don't want to be known as the fundamentally idealistic naive girl who believes everything she hears blindly, I still choose to accept certain doctrines (or truths) even though I am aware that I know them dimly.
It's like gravity, chemistry or physics... Try to explain to me how it works and my eyes might cross, but I get the fact that I'm able to stand on the ground and not fly into space because gravity is real, and that's enough for me, at least for now.
I wholeheartedly trust that the God I serve is kind enough to teach me as my heart is ready to receive.
The last few years I have felt Him preparing the soil of my heart to understand the incarnation in a new way; every time He prepares to take me deeper, I get an overwhelming sense that the intellectual understanding I've had of the certain truth (incarnation) is no longer enough.
I need the truth of the season that is ready to grow down deep into my soil to actually move me; move me to know Him and love Him in a deeper and more relational way or... or I feel like I might explode. yeah, I'm sure by now I probably sound coo-coo for cocoa puffs.
Nonetheless, it's like a piece of the incarnation puzzle was missing for me, and I didn't know where to find it, but I knew I had to... it was time.
Recently, I have been stumbling over the Scriptures in many new ways. Particularly, I have found myself grappling with passages being highlighted in a class I'm taking on the book of John (taught by a prof I missed in previous college and am really excited to be taking for free now).
John MacMurray asked us this really good question in class before we read the passage below:
How did/does Jesus save you relationally?
Here, before answering, read this... "this is eternal life that they know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." ~John 17:3
Here, read it again... "THIS is ETERNAL LIFE that they KNOW You...!"
Ok, one more time... "This IS Eternal Life that they KNOW YOU...!"
Sooo... Eternal life is... knowing God, knowing Jesus... in the realest face to face sense.
See, Jesus didn't come only to save our personal private sins, cleanse our minds from unrighteousness, and heal our broken hearts and bodies;
He also came to save and heal us in a relational way.
He came to mend the relationships between God and humanity as well as the relationships we've broken among ourselves. Meaning, He came to remove the veil that keeps us from seeing Him and knowing him in a real and relational way; and He came as the relational Creator (known as the Trinity)- the truest context for all relationship- allowing us to truly know and be known, to heal and be healed, both by Him and by Him through others.
So by now we have established that Eternal life IS knowing God. Notice that it does NOT say, Eternal life IS knowing ABOUT God.
If it did, me and the Pharisees would have experienced a greater depth of relational freedom because we have seen Him at work in other people's lives, read and memorized Scriptural writings, and done our absolute best to follow as many rules as possible to be good and right before God.
But knowing about God, and following rules, and being a good person around Jesus was not the purpose of the incarnation- of Him coming to dwell with mankind- was it?
So, back to dreaming about Africa. Halfway through my time of living in Liberia, I moved out of the bush and into the city of Monrovia. Years before I even moved to Liberia, I had taken four short 1-5 week trips to Haiti and/or West Africa over a span of ten years. All those years I had read many stories and books, watched dozens of movies and documentaries, and had hundreds of conversations with people who had lived in Africa before. Needless to say, I had deliberately done my research to "know" these people well.
I had also lived with white missionaries in the bush of Liberia for 4 months and interacted with many different Liberians for small amounts of time day to day. Did I know them? Sure, at least in part. Did I think I knew them well? Absolutely. But I was wrong.
December 2010 is when I moved out of the bush and in with 4 Liberian families in the heart of the Capital city. During this season of "with-ness", I slept with the children, we ate together, showered and shopped, traveled and walked together, learned and heard each other, saw the world through one another's lenses, and even embraced and sought to understand each other's struggles as a way of life. Heck, I even tried to die from Malaria ;) Ok, not funny, but true.
In a very true and authentic sense, I knew them. They knew me. We were mutually seen, heard, and known. We believed, trusted, and learned from each other. We lived "with" and "among" and "alongside," and we truly and deeply loved one another. It was different and beautiful. It was transformational. It was... incarnational (if that's even a word).
And the beauty and the life that I experienced in those moments was in knowing deeply and personally, not just knowing about them.
As I grew to know many Liberians personally and intimately, I truly fell in love with them. Here I am still dreaming and speaking about our shared experiences together nearly everyday 3 years later. It was a joy to share life with and to see our reflections in one another; to know each other in the truest sense and to delight in both our similarities and differences, and the same image of God that we equally bear. Our threads intertwined to create a new masterpiece, and it's hung on the wall of my heart!
And now, the way that I view the world and relationships has changed; changed beautifully for the better because of our relationship.
For when you truly and intimately know, love and trust someone, you allow yourselves to be shaped and formed by them out of a complete mutual covenant; you no longer focus on the expectations, the differences and similarities or the balance between the giving or the getting, you simply focus on the person, on the relationship, and it changes everything.
These experiences in daily life of knowing and loving and being transformed through relationship are nothing short of a miracle... they are the evidence of the miracle of the incarnation of Christ and when you experience them, you are experiencing Him, and it is appropriate to praise and thank Him for it in real time.
Yesterday, I was so thankful thinking of these things I started singing at the top of my lungs in my car...
I know love because You came...
I know peace because You came...
I know joy because You came, Oh lord...
I know relationship cuz you came...
Then I remembered this oldie but goodie...
I want to know You,
I want to hear Your voice,
I want to know You more,
I want to touch You,
I want to see Your face,
I want to know You more!
Everything I learned from my Liberian friends about truly knowing and loving each other, I have found that the same process is needed to know, love and trust Jesus. It's not some crazy formula that a set of good-girl rules or a stack of information about God or love will solve.
Knowing about Him will never be enough.
He is LOVE, Beloved! That's His Name.
Knowing about Love will never be enough. We have to be "with" Love. Intimately with Him!
Living among Him, hearing the truth daily over and over, and watching other people truly know Him and get free and healed will simply never be enough for any of us.
I'm honestly and profoundly desperate to know Him for real and that will appear nothing short of crazy to many. It's worth it.
Knowing someone intimately is always hard work. He may be the great and perfect Initiator, but I've also had to respond and believe by receiving His invitation to know Him. And we have to do the same with those we love- we have to initiate and we have to receive.
I've had to search and follow and I've also had to allow myself to be found by Him.
I've had to meet Him in some very dark places where He was waiting, when I was begging Him to meet me somewhere in the light. I've knelt with Him in the garden pleading for my suffering to be removed while placing full trust and acceptance in the Father's Will. I've eaten with Him, cried with Him, climbed to the High Places and laughed and rejoiced with Him. I've spent much time in His Presence and I'm telling you, it's as real as the bench I'm sitting on.
As I have known Him, I have believed Him, and in the truest sense, I have fallen in love with Him.
He does still live among us, my friends. His very Spirit was sent after His death to dwell with us and among us on earth until all is restored on earth as it is in Heaven; and when all is redeemed, we will physically dwell with Him, and finally meet all our deepest longings face to face. For the Promised One that we've always wanted and loved will be clearly seen. We will see Him as He is (and not as we would have Him be), and we'll no longer fight chains that bind and blind us from knowing Him fully.
Until that day, believe and receive with confidence that we have the opportunity to truly get to know Him and relate to Him now- because He came, and because He IS. He is love and He is relationship in His very essence. He will set all things right, make all things new, and He's already started! WE can KNOW how this all ends for sure, and it should compel us today to know and be with Him.
Like all relationships, it begins with a conversation, and something to share in common...
He is ready to meet with us!