More Incarnational Implications: ‘Dignifying of the Ordinary’

incarnational-implication

Listening to Dan Baumann teach in Herrnhut last week, one thing in particular stuck out to me. It was Dan’s comment that
“What we most need is a fresh revelation of the humanity of Jesus”. [Tweet that].

Now the humanity of Jesus is actually a subject that I have spent some considerable time meditating on–and I devoted an entire extended session to the topic when I was teaching the DTS about JESUS. I’d drawn out three implications of Jesus’ humanity: first, that Jesus understands the frustrations of human limits; second, that he models how to live well as a human being–by the spiritual disciplines; third, that he demonstrates that a limited human being can–through the anointing of the Holy Spirit–do the supernatural works of God.

But Dan made me realise that I have missed something vital! And that thing is what I am now calling ‘the Dignifying of the Ordinary’.

In writing that it strikes me that such a title sounds somewhat pretentious–and Dan would probably have a much more down-to-earth phrase. Maybe ‘Keeping it real’? But my ‘ordinary’ is more defined by Cambridge than by California (in spite of my two months there aged eight), and so we’ll stick with ‘the Dignifying of the Ordinary’. Which, come to think of it, reminds me of another of Dan’s catch-phrases: “Watch out! It’s just another ordinary day!” [Tweet that.]

Anyway, the point is this: that the incredible reality of the incarnation — the very Son of God taking on human flesh permanently — means that all the unavoidably ordinary bits of human life take on an overwhelming significance, simply because Jesus experienced them too. And so they are places where we can–and will!– meet with God! And so they are at the very least dignified, and in fact it might not be too much to also say (at least over the course of time, and into eschatological eternity) sanctified, glorified, and hallowed.

So let’s try and unpack that with regards to a few ordinary activities:

#1 Eating
“Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it…”

The quote is from Luke’s account of the Last Supper, an event so encrusted with religious traditions and ecclesiastical interpretations that we are forevermore in danger of missing the point that it is one of the most ordinary human activities that there is–eating. I am a huge believer in the importance of eating together–Jesus put such emphasis on eating with people that he was called a glutton and drunkard. And Tim Chester points out the missional opportunity provided by our meals: what if we tried as much as possible to eat every meal together with someone who is not yet a Christian?

#2 Sleeping
“Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.”

It’s difficult to do very much when you are asleep! And it is easy to think that we can only commune with God when we are awake. In his book, The Day Is Yours, Ian Stackhouse observes that though we spend a good deal of our time asleep… there has hardly been any reflection within the Christian community on its theology. But the Psalmist says that God gives sleep to those he loves! Not just rest, refreshment, and restored strength for the new day, but sleep itself. One could mention ‘dreams and visions of the night’ — sleep is a time when we can continue to hear God’s voice. And I’m sure there are other things one could draw from the fact that Jesus slept.

#3 Learning & Growing
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

This is one of the important ones, because it so directly turns upside-down all of our unhelpful notions of what ‘perfection’ means. If we could just grasp something of the significance that Jesus — very God in real humanity — was morally flawless and unchangeably divine, and yet still needed to learn and to grow! If we could grasp this, then it would shatter all of our stultifying perfectionistic hang-ups, widening our hearts to better understand the generous grace of God, and releasing us to run fearlessly in the paths that God has set before us, free from fear of failure and frustration. God’s power is made perfect in the midst of our weakness.

#4 Celebrating
“The kingdom of heaven is like… a feast

From the opening moment of Jesus’ ministry, when he miraculously produced an extra one hundred and fifty gallons of the finest wine, to his final resurrection appearance, when he had a surprise barbecue breakfast of fried fish awaiting his disciples, Jesus demonstrated a zeal not just for celebrating, but for celebrating in style. What are the occasions in my life that I currently pay little heed to, which I need to truly celebrate? Not just for the opportunity that celebrations present to gather together the neighbours and have a party, but because joyous celebration is the only appropriate response of gratitude to the outrageous and undeserved goodness of God.

What other ordinary activities does the incarnation of Jesus give added significance to?

Report: A Week @YWAM Herrnhut

We had a great time last year taking our DTS to Norway for the School of the Circuit Rider, and so this year were again trying to work out a similarly awesome opportunity to leave British shore for a first foray into the nations! So when at the YWAM Western European DTS Staff Gathering (hosted by the King’s Lodge in August) I connected with Ian Gosnell, leader of YWAM Herrnhut’s Revive DTS, and he mentioned to me that they were having Dan Baumann to come speak and we would be welcome to bring our team– needless to say, I seized the opportunity with joy!

ywamherrnhut

The Journey
Herrnhut is not a straightforward place to get to, particularly when you’re trying to do it as cheaply as possible. Travelling from Cambridge to almost anywhere in Europe is usually fairly simple, as budget flights go to most major European cities from London’s Stansted Airport, which is just a short train journey from Cambridge. But although getting to Berlin was quite easy, we then had to get the bus from Berlin to Dresden, and the train to Löbau, before finally being picked up by someone from YWAM Herrnhut who could take us the remaining distance to the ‘Water Castle’ which is now the YWAM Herrnhut training base. And since the buses from Berlin to Dresden don’t run through the night, and our flight arrived at Berlin Schonefeld Airport late in the evening, we had to spend the whole night in the airport trying to get whatever sleep we could. (Or, if you’re me, using the opportunity to at last write up some blog posts — about this, this, and that — and a prayer letter.)

To make matters even more interesting, every single time some official needed to check the non-European visas, there was great confusion about Taryn’s status. Now, on the VFS website for Germany visa applications it states simply that you don’t need a visa if you are a partner (married or civil partnership) or child of an EU/EEA/EFTA national, if you hold a British “Residence Card of a Family Member of an EEA National” or a “Permanent Residence Card” – and only if you are travelling together with the EU/EEA/EFTA national. And so we had concluded, ‘married to EU national–tick!’, ‘Permanent Residence Card–tick!’, ‘travelling together–tick!’ — and assumed there should be no problem. The first official to check our documentation was persuaded, although it did take her fifteen minutes of behind-the-scene consultation. The second official, checking our documents before we boarded the place to Berlin, was not persuaded at all–but eventually his superior told him to let us through, and we were given a gruff non-apology and allowed to board the plane.

Now, it might be that this second official was actually right, for when we arrived in Berlin and tried to go through immigration, again we were met with confusion. ‘It doesn’t say Married on your Residence Card!’ — ‘No, but we could only get it because we are married! and the spouse visa which it replaced is still in Taryn’s passport with both our names on it’. We were told to follow a stern-looking black-shirted official down an empty corridor, and taken into a little upstairs office. We were the object of impenetrable glances, and some debate. (Though whenever the official would catch Isaac’s eyes, his sternness would melt, and he’d give Isaac a little wave!) Eventually they concluded that if they gave us a free one-day Schengen visa, to cover the moment of Taryn’s entry into Germany, then it wouldn’t be a problem once she was actually in Germany. ‘But,’ and finally they found a copy of someone else’s British ‘Residence Card of a Family Member of an EEA National’, ‘next time you should have one of these’. It had taken an hour after everyone else had gone through immigration–but praise God that we were all let into Germany!

YWAM Herrnhut’s Castle
Anyway, at long last we arrived at YWAM Herrnhut’s ‘Castle’ — which you can see in my photo above. The ‘Castle’ might not have battlements, but it is surrounded by a twelve-foot ditch which was once a moat, and can house more than a hundred people. We were treated to the full story of how YWAM came to own the place from Toni Bragg, one of the original pioneers of YWAM Herrnhut, and now the Western European DTS Coordinator.

It’s an amazing story which started with just a few of them responding to God’s call to start a YWAM training location in the same place where Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians had maintained a one-hundred-year prayer vigil. They prayed and sought God for a permanent location–but the first place that seemed suitable was also being considered by a Charismatic group wanting to use it for a House of Prayer. So the little group of YWAMers gave that group their blessing (that place is now Jesus Haus, and there is a great relationship between them and YWAM Herrnhut) and continued seeking the Lord for a different place.

Their attention was drawn to the ‘Wasserschloss’ (‘Water-castle’) in Ruppersdorf, an enormous manor house that was being used by the Red Cross as a children’s home. The YWAMers approached them to ask if it was for sale; they were told ‘No’–YWAM could rent the place, but the Red Cross wanted to continue to own it. Again the YWAMers prayed, and this time the picture God gave them was the simple image of someone going into a shop and buying some milk. They received this in faith–God was going to make it possible for them to buy the building, and buy it outright! They went back to the directors of the Castle to tell them they weren’t interested in renting, they felt God had told them to buy the property. They were told its value was 2.1 million euros, but they could make an offer and it would be considered. The YWAMers went away and prayed again, and felt they should offer 230 thousand euros (less than an eighth of the suggested value!) Miraculously, this offer was accepted!–but even after having negotiated such a bargain, they still needed to raise 230,000 euros! The story continues with them praying, and pursuing various strategies to try and raise the money, none of which seemed to be working. Someone had offered an interest-free loan of the necessary amount, but going back to the word about buying ‘the milk’ outright, they felt that this wasn’t God’s plan, and so refused. Finally, less than a week before the deadline, a businessman gave about 200 thousand euros to them outright as a gift, and they were able to purchase the property! And the miracle stories continue, because then the place needed some renovation, as well as beds and mattresses for the DTS which was about to begin…

Dan Baumann–just another ordinary guy
I’d heard Dan Baumann speak in Harpenden, while we were staffing the September ’12 DTS there (this was Bethany‘s DTS), and so knew that it would be great for our Cambridge Revival & Reformation DTS to get to here his teaching.

He must have been in YWAM for about thirty years now, but he has a really youthful simplicity and enthusiasm to him. He is also one of the most laid-back people I’ve ever met, which combines in fascinating ways with his energetic excitement. He’ll be calmly recounting the details of one of his personal stories, and as he comes to the bit where God did something unexpected, his upper body will start rocking back and forth with increasing vigour–and then suddenly his eyes will blaze with fiery passion, and his mouth will explode into a delighted grin as he delivers the concluding point of his story:

“God wants to surprise you! He wants to BAM! you with His love!” [Tweet that.]

Dan’s ‘claim to fame’ is that he was imprisoned in Iran, and since the students of YWAM Herrnhut’s Revive DTS had already heard Dan share this story, he gave our team a special session talking about how that came about and what he learnt through it. But when you meet Dan in person, and when you hear his story, you realise that there’s nothing glamourous about him, and certainly not about his experience of being an imprisoned missionary. Yes, there’s the story of how, when he was eventually brought on trial, the Spirit suddenly gave him the words to proclaim that he had come to Iran to share the love of Jesus–and with that he launched into a passionate evangelistic appeal to those in the court-room gathered to accuse him. And there’s the story of him saying to prison guard who beat him each day, ‘Look, if we’re going to see each other every day, then let’s be friends! What’s your name?’ The guard broke down in tears; it turned out his name was Razak; and he wasn’t beaten by him again. And he emphasises the way that the experience taught him about how the goodness of God is present and accessible in every situation. But he does this without shying away from the hard reality of the experience: at times emotionally devastating (Dan almost committed suicide), at times mind-numbingly dull.

Above all, what I love about Dan is his ordinariness. He has been used by God in incredible ways–but in all of his testimonies God gets all the glory. And he manages this quite deliberately, by sharing not just his testimonies of divine success, but of personal failure. And I was struck during this particular week of teaching by the revelation that the incarnation of Jesus makes all the ordinariness of human life sacred.

The Moravian Heritage
The reason I had heard of Herrnhut, before I had even joined YWAM, was because of the hundred-year prayer vigil that took place here. I guess I came across it first in Pete Greig’s book Red Moon Rising. Among those involved in the contemporary prayer movement, it’s an epic and defining moment–but in the wider church Herrnhut and the Moravians are mostly unheard of.

It turns out that even within Germany the place is quite unknown. While we were waiting for Taryn’s immigration situation to be sorted out, one of the officials asked where we were going. ‘Herrnhut’, I told him. ‘Where?’ ‘Herrnhut!’ But he had no idea where that was–apparently he had never heard of Herrnhut.

What this makes all the more astonishing, is that the very first person that Taryn and I met in Germany (a man who struck up conversation with us while we were in the immigration queue), not only knew of Herrnhut but came from a family that was from Herrnhut. His father had been involved with the Herrnhutter BruderGemeine (Fellowship of Brethren), and had been forced to leave Herrnhut because he refused to cooperate with the Nazis. When the Nazis were defeated he had returned, only to find that life under the Soviets was just as difficult for a principled Christian, and so he had moved with his family to Berlin.

Once in Herrnhut it was arranged for our team to be given the tour of the Moravian heritage sites by a member of the local house of prayer. He told us the story of how the Moravian pietists, led by Christian David, first asked the aristocratic believer Count Zinzendorf if they could shelter on his land; then the story of how revival broke out when Zinzendorf challenged the Moravians to sort out their disputes and be reconciled to one another; and the story of how the children came together to pray for this wonderful tangible sense of God’s presence not to be withdrawn, and were praying so loudly that people in the neighbouring village were complaining about the noise. We saw the bell which was tolled whenever someone would leave Herrnhut as a missionary; we saw the graveyard and the simple flat square tombstones which mark the Herrhutters’ graves; we went up the watchtower which overlooks the whole area.

I had not realised before that the prayer watch wasn’t localised in a particular place, but that people would do their hour from home, or even while at work–for example as they were weaving. What this would look like in today’s world, where work is more often brain-work than manual labour? I also hadn’t realised how important handicraft was to the Moravians. Herrnhut was full of the distinctive Moravian stars, and it turns out that the Christingle so beloved by Anglicans was also a Moravian invention!

Coming home
We left YWAM Herrnhut on Saturday afternoon, and had a fairly straightforward car/train/bus journey to Berlin.

In Berlin I was able to taste the glories of the jam doughnuts which are a local speciality — the Ein Berliner made famous (or at least made known to me) by JFK’s speech expressing solidarity with the people of Berlin (which, contra Eddie Izzard, was perhaps not a gaffe). I was also given the chance, in the airport souvenir shop, to purchase a fragment of the Berlin wall. For fifty euros you can have a substantial slab, for five you only get a pathetic little piece.

But these two things made me realise how recently it was that all of East Germany was still behind the Iron Curtain and under Communist Rule. And now look! Where once there was persecution of Christians and intense suspicion of pretty much everybody, now YWAM has there most popular European training base, from whence people are going to share the love of Jesus with some of the most broken people in the neediest places on earth: kids living in the rubbish dumps of Addis Ababa, for one. Praise God for what he is doing!