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Hugh Halter: The Power of Incarnational Ministry

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I popped open the glove box and opened two singles of Jameson, then offered one to Joe, my new Northern Irish friend just a few minutes before I was to perform his wedding ceremony.

He looked at me, puzzled. “Wait a minute. You’re a pastor.”

Joe, when he was five, witnessed the brutal murder of his father by a man he later saw standing across the isle during Catholic Mass, holding a hymnal, bowing in prayer and taking communion. That day, he decided he didn’t believe in God.

Joe is now 42 years of age. An atheist. A really benevolent one, who travels the globe making documentaries to expose homelessness, hunger and horrific exploitation of people.

In Christianity we have a lot of “doctrines.” Doctrine of justification, doctrine of election, end times doctrines, all of which angle Christians toward arrogance, judgementalism, and quite frankly, a really poor posture with those outside our ranks. There exists however, a doctrine that should be at the center of both the theology and practice of every Christian and that could change everything. The doctrine of the Incarnation. Incarnation means to “take on flesh” and based on John 1:14, teaches that Jesus entered humanity, in full form in order to help people see the true glory of God.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus knew that, like Joe, people were disoriented and that the spiritual vertigo was caused mostly by religion, religious systems, religious practices and religious people. And so he jumped in and walked among people tearing down, destroying, challenging and rejecting any religious speed bumps that got in people’s way of seeing the real God.

He became the true “iconoclast” or image-breaker and lived a life of pure SACRILEGE. What does sacrilege mean? It simply means to challenge or expose the false understandings of what is truly holy or sacred. Said another way: It’s the intentional way of ripping religion from pure faith.

He was Sacriligious with people who knew the most Scripture exposing their empty rhetoric and biblical idoloatry. “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”

He was sacrilegious with the Sabbath and Holy Days and instead of focusing on temple or synagogue services he simply went out and helped people. Jesus was a man of the people because he would rather bring healing to the sick than go to church on Sunday.

He was sacrilegious with sinners and walked as the most ‘inclusive’ god man they had ever known. As he ate with sinners, they called him their “friend.” The Christian doctrine of the atonement teaches that we all sin and that our sins are so offensive to God that he had to place all of our sins on Christ’s shoulders and die our death. So why wouldn’t he have hated and separated himself from us, judging us, belittling humanity?

Simply this: He knew that condemning people didn’t actually help them so instead he jumped in and saved us. This should be a clarion call to every Christian that we should be the least judgemental people walking the streets. That is…if we want to be like Jesus.

Back to Joe

Joe and I sat in my jeep just outside the gate of the Christian wedding premises because alchohol was not allowed during the wedding proceedings or celebration afterward. As Joe unscrewed the cap on his Jameson, he asked a more specific question: “How is it that you would be okay sharing a nip of whiskey with me?”

“Joe, I follow God in the way of Jesus and since he made 500 gallons of wine for an already sloshed neighborhood of Jewish folk, just to honor the wedding party, I don’t think he minds if I have a few chugs with you,” I said. He smiled and then shared an Irish blessing with me and I prayed a blessing over him.

It was a good moment, a God moment, and I felt that maybe Joe might see Jesus apart from all the disorienting religious junk he had hung his atheism on.

As a pastor, I have a dream that someday, the collective vertigo of religion will fade so we can all see the glory of God.

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