If you haven’t yet read the story of Nigel and Trish and their five children who moved into Hillbrow in South Africa to do life, then you are one of the few. That story has been blowing up on my blog with over 2000 views [that's 'blowing up' on my blog] and 350 Facebook shares.
People are resonating with the story. There is something about it that just reaches out and grabs you [and i imagine makes a lot of people uneasy or nervous in a kind of wait-a-minute-do-i-need-to-now-go-do-that kind of way].
I want to suggest that it is the idea of incarnation.
One dictionary definition i looked up for incarnation described it as ‘the action of incarnating’ which was not so helpful. Another said it was ‘the bodily manifestation of a spiritual being’ which at least starts to give us something to work with.
It has been given as a description of what Jesus did which is well described in Philippians 2:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Basically, God, in the form and person of Jesus, came close.
After years of sending messengers is the form of leaders and angels and prophets, God took a step further and came to deliver the message and demonstrate the way to live Himself. He came and lived it amongst us. And forever took away our ability to say, ‘God doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know what I’m going through.’ Well yes He does, because He was here. He gets it.
It’s about not so much looking to your interests as to the interests of others [which Jesus strongly called us to in His 'Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me' speech of Luke 9.23]
Now as followers of Jesus we have the Holy Spirit living in us and so everywhere we go there should theoretically be ‘the bodily manifestation of a spiritual being’ – but the question that needs to be asked on that is how often do we end up looking like us and how often do we end up looking like Jesus?
Here is another story i read about a South African family who look to be at least trying to ‘get’ this to some extent. Although their experiment definitely led to mixed responses from those around them:
‘Some condemned it as a “stupid experiment” and exploitative, calling for them to be “burned in their shack” by locals. Others applauded their courage in bridging South Africa’s massive wealth divide.’
And the same kind of story resonates in this American family, the Albrechts, who have lived in the UK since 1992 and have taken in around 250 homeless people over the last 7 years.
I would say that is one of the strongest lessons we have learnt or observed from our time over here. That moving in to the area ad building relationships with the people around you is one of the most effective ways to really get the chance to share your message [because the loudest sharing of it comes from the day to day of how they see you live life]
It is what resonated with me in my favourite book of all time, ‘No Compromise: The Keith Green story’ where Keith and his wife started taking people into their home within a few months of being married and they ended up on a farm with a community of many people [a lot of whom started out from a place of being down and out]. It wasn’t comfortable or cool or hipster or anything like that. It just felt like the word of God and so they did it.
i love how the word ‘nation’ is present in the word ‘incarnation‘ as well as the word ‘in’
do i think everyone is called to move into a poor, broken-down neighborhood to help bridge the gap between rich and poor and incarnationally make a difference around them? absolutely not. but i do think a lot more people are called to than are presently doing it. i also know that it would be a lot easier if people did it in greater numbers – so groups of friends moving into the same neighborhood [and i would thoroughly encourage the need for some form of relationship to be present before just deciding to move into a rough neighborhood]
i also think this is powerfully linked to the concept of stability – committing to an area, a community, a workplace for a considerable length of time.
maybe the question each of us should be asking is, ‘Why should i not go?’ and then, if there is an answer, stay where you are. there are a growing number of us who believe that poverty will end when the rich meet and get to know the poor. when they move in as neighbors and become some measure of friends.
are you being called? and what scares you about this most? [because i imagine this scares some of you a lot]
in Jesus, the Word became flesh
for most of us the challenge is seeing our flesh become Word…