Our God is addicted to incarnation. Having created us in his image, He is determined to reveal his image in us, do his works through us, and speak his words through us. He is not exclusively incarnationalist, for He reserves to himself the managing of the galaxies, the seasons, genetic decisions, and the number of hairs on our heads, without our help. But He places a very significant amount of human interaction in human hands, and He seems always eager to increase rather than decrease this mode of operation.

We could title this chapter "God's Vulnerability to Us". Having made the decision to incarnate himself in us, God makes himself vulnerable to our limitations: limitations of temperament, personal history, giftedness, maturity, understanding, and agreeability, for example. My presumption is that He has reconciled himself to this manner of working, and that we should too. We were about half-way through the service when he said it. It was a glorious day. The music was magnificent, I had preached a good sermon, the people were responsive, and the Bishop had just concluded the formal, liturgical parts of my institution as the new rector of St. Jude's. Then, without premeditation, he just said it: "Your new rector is an everyday, garden variety, sort of priest."

I snapped a holocaustic look at him. How dare he call me "everyday, garden variety". Quickly, however, I smiled, swallowing the anger, and hoping that no one noticed the flush on my face. But I was doing a slow burn for the rest of the day, for I couldn't ignore what had been said. However, I was so busy with the business of getting settled into my new position, that I didn't deal with the Bishop's comment for a couple of weeks.

Finally, I got around to it, grousing to the Lord, "Lord, I forgive my Bishop for calling me those things, but I'd be lying to You if I told you I feel forgiving towards him. You know that this forgiveness is solely an act of the will, at this point." I knew that I would eventually feel forgiving, for I have found it to be true that "feelings follow faith". I was congratulating myself for doing the right thing in offering willful, obedient forgiveness when I got another surprise: "But I told him to say that. And I want to show what I can do through everyday, garden variety sorts of people." I didn't know if this was good news or bad news. I just sat there. A maelstrom of conflicting thoughts and feelings swirled through me. "Almighty God thinks I'm nothing special." "Well, you're not!"

"What kinds of things can He do through the likes of me?"
"Nothing special"
"Who says?"
"He says!"

"No He didn't. He said I was unspecial, but He seemed to indicate that what He could do through me wasn't unspecial."

"You are special. That wasn't God at all. The Bishop just doesn't like charismatics." "What kinds of things . .

I didn't know whether to be hurt or happy. I'd like to tell you that I got the thing resolved quickly and effectively. But that's not how it happened. For a couple of years I smarted over the Bishop's comment, virtually forgetting what God had said about it. Every once in a while I would slander the Bishop in some way, which resulted in having to write, asking for his forgiveness.

Meanwhile, I wasn't exactly the very picture of specialness. I was very ordinary and my work was very ordinary. It was as though the Bishop's comment had prophesied or predicted the quality of my pastorate. Lurking in the background was the fear that he was right, and that an ordinary tree could only be expected to produce ordinary fruit. But then the Lord brought to mind the manner in which I had been led to quit smoking, for there was a clue there for my present circumstance. I had started smoking in college and had puffed my way through seminary and several years of ministry. I had tried to quit numerous times. I read several books, proving to myself what I already knew: cigarettes were bad for me. But that didn't motivate me to stay off cigarettes. I had rationed them, scheduled them, and made bets about quitting them. And I had puffed right along. I was nearing despair that I would ever successfully quit smoking.

One day, while I was absent-mindedly thinking about my smoking, there came this thought: "Why don't you die to yourself as a smoker?"

I decided to answer it, unable to keep some sarcasm out of my tone: "That's what I've been trying to do!"

"No, you've been trying to quit smoking," came the reply.

"I thought they were the same," I answered. "How do you die to yourself as a smoker?"
"Accept yourself as a smoker."

"That's stupid! I'd never quit if I did that. What's your plan 'B'?"
But, of course, silence was the reply. Well, I'd tried everything else, so I might as well try this. So the next morning I hid myself back in our bathroom, looked into the mirror and said, "Flynn, you smoker, I accept you." I almost felt like spitting in disgust, but I kept it up, "I accept that you're addicted, controlled by cigarettes. I accept that you burn holes in your clothing. I accept that you're damaging your body by their use. I accept that your mouth is 140o after you smoke and that your night vision is cut by 40%. I accept that you spend significant money on cigarettes that could be spent elsewhere. I accept that you can't do anything very long unless you have a cigarette."

That night, I repeated and elaborated upon the statements of acceptance I made to myself. And I set my will to follow this to some conclusion. This brought me face to face with myself each morning and night, spending several minutes stating aloud that I accepted myself.

On about the fourth day, I realized that I really had to mean what I was saying. That is, acceptance meant that I would no longer withhold commendation or affection from myself because I smoked. It meant that I would have to cease berating myself because of the smoking. It meant that I had to ACCEPT myself in spite of the fact that I smoked. Slowly I began to realize what it was going to mean to die to oneself as a smoker. Paul said, "I die daily." I could begin to see a daily death awaiting me as I foresaw continued smoking for which I would refuse to condemn or reject or censure myself.

All the while, something in me was complaining, "this is all wrong! This is not the way to deal with something negative." And I more than half believed it. But I was committed to doing this acceptance thing through to a conclusion of some kind, so I continued.

A couple of days into the second week I heard a commercial on the radio for a nearby smoking clinic. I decided to check it out.

"How much does your program cost?" I asked the director. "$163," he answered.

"If I'm going to shell out that kind of money, I need some evidence that it might work. What's your approach?" He told me that people stop smoking the same way they start: by changing their self-image.

"You had to overcome terrific distaste for cigarettes in order to become habituated," he said. "What got you over that distaste was what cigarettes were going to do for your image of yourself. They would make you more urbane, tough, sophisticated, "with it", collected, or whatever. We help you construct a new self-image that includes being all the things you want to be while excluding cigarettes."

I didn't join their program, but I followed their advice. So, in addition to making the acceptance statements to myself morning and night, I sat down and imagined myself in all the situations in which I normally smoked. I saw myself as relaxed, comfortable, and engaging, but I saw myself not smoking. I did that for the second week. Then a remarkable thing occurred: at the end of that week, I felt as though I were actually going to quit.

One of the books I had read had suggested this formula for the night before you quit smoking: chain-smoke as many as you can, plus one. In my case, it was eleven. After gagging half-way through the twelfth, I snuffed it out and emptied the ashtray. The feeling in my mouth carried me through the first few days of nicotine withdrawal. My career with smoking was over.

The above is a dangerous concept. It is wide open to abuse by misguided or undisciplined or unrepentant people. I have included it because I am persuaded that it is of God. Most useful things are abusable. But I wish to clarify the parameters for the use of this concept, for it is severely limited in its usability. (Draw a circle around "Core Self" and a wider circle around "Peripheral Self" which encloses Core Self.)


PERIPHERAL SELF

CORE SELF


This drawing is scandalously simple. It ignores all manner of proven ways to conceive of the dynamics of human personality. But I think it correctly indicates a real phenomenon. If something unwelcome is found in the peripheral self, it can be dealt with by repentance, study, discipline, and prayer. "O God, I'm sorry. I've seen that this is wrong. I'm going to make every effort to triumph over this. Please help me." This approach will work for a great number of problems for relatively healthy people.

If, however, you've done and re-done repentance, study, discipline, and prayer, and there is still no good result, one option to consider is to die to the thing by accepting yourself with it. My experience of myself is that matters of the core self do not respond to the methods by which I deal with peripheral matters. If I ask, "O God, take away my sin," He is liable to do it. But if I ask, "O God, take away my self," He won't. For whatever reasons, my smoking was part of my core self.

This cannot be seen as a gimmick by which to get free of the thing. You have to mean it when you tell yourself that you're accepting yourself with it. It really is a dying to yourself. Several of the things I've dealt with this way have been eliminated from my behavior, but some of the things I've accepted are still very much with me.

Well. Having been reminded of all that, I turned my attention to being an "everyday, garden variety sort of priest". In fairly short order, I accepted it as the truth. Then a surprise came. Having embraced ordinariness, it ceased to be an issue. My ordinariness did not go away, it just ceased to be important. What did increase in importance was the Lord's statement, "I want to show what I can do through everyday, garden variety sorts of people." It was at that point that the Lord led us to discover, field-test, incorporate and export a theology and practice of ministry we had encountered from John Wimber.

In very short order, we were seeing the Lord do things through us we hadn't seen before. There are healings--physical, emotional, relational. There is an authority in teaching that quickly wins us favor in the hearts of our hearers when we go on the road. There are astonishing sessions of Divine visitation both at home and on the road.

What is vulnerability to self? First, it is the acceptance of God's plan to reveal himself through people. We must give up anti-incarnational concepts. It is anti-incarnational to believe that God would never deign to utilize the likes of you. Conversely it is anti-incarnational to believe that He has appointed us to run things on our own and has gone to shoot pool in the back alleys of Andromeda.

Second, we must embrace incarnation in all its specificity. This involves an enormous catalogue of types of people including worldviews, personal histories, temperaments, natural abilities, spiritual giftedness, genders, educational levels, and relational styles.

Third, we must carry incarnational specificity to the particulars of who and what and how each of us is. One of the slogans of my life came to me through Clinical Pastoral Education where I heard, "we accept others in direct proportion to how much we accept ourselves." The flip side of that is, "we reject others in direct proportion to how much we reject ourselves."

Notice who you get angry at. Nine times out of ten you get angry at someone who touches off something in you that you haven't yet dealt with. Some years ago, the back of my mind was telling me that I was drinking too much wine, but I ignored it. So the Lord sent two persons into my office who had trouble with alcohol. The first one I didn't help at all. He smelled of a three-day binge. Oh, I said all the right things, but beneath the level of my words was flowing another dynamic--anger--and he picked up on it, going away unhelped because he was unaccepted.

The second man had conquered alcohol seven years before, but had a current difficulty he needed counsel on. I found myself angry at him, then suddenly realized that I feared him because he had faced and dealt with something I hadn't even had the courage to look at. I asked him if he minded coming back a week later. He agreed. By the time he got into his car I was on my knees asking, "Lord, am I an alcoholic?" It turns out that I wasn't an alcoholic in the sense of being allergic to alcohol, but I was in the sense of consuming too much of the stuff. Once the problem was handled in me, I could relate acceptingly and helpfully with him and other alcoholics.

It also helps to notice who gets angry at you. Just asking that question can change your entire attitude towards a hostile person. Once you realize there's something about you that threatens them, you can abandon defensiveness, get filled with compassion, and seek ways to relieve them of their self-rejection.

Fourth, you can make conscious efforts to see yourself through God's eyes. Sometimes God gives you an unsolicited look at yourself. Once in a quiet time the Lord showed me a picture of myself standing in the middle of a sixteen-foot square room. The only other thing in the room besides me was a single layer of gauze which swept over me and went to the edges of the walls.

"Lord, that gauze is useless. It's so diaphanous that I can see right through it. I can clearly see that it's me under it. So what good is it?"

"The gauze is Jesus," was the response.

Then I realized the Lord was saying He could see nothing of me except through Jesus. When He looks at me, He sees Jesus first, and He sees me in Jesus. Nothing about me is visible to God without the covering of Jesus. It is a mindset He keeps. He has "made us accepted in the Beloved," (Ephesians 1.6, KJV). Is Jesus acceptable? Then so am I.

Sometimes we have to take definite steps to appropriate this acceptance. I decided to meditate on Ephesians 1.6, but was stalled at first because it is a concept instead of an event. The five steps of meditation work best for me if I can put myself into an event.

"Help me, Lord," I prayed. Then it occurred to me to put myself in the Father's shoes on the day of the Ascension in order to see how He regarded Jesus, in whom I have been made accepted. It felt presumptuous to be sitting on the throne of glory, but I put that aside for the sake of the experiment. I encourage you to experience this as I did, so I'll frame it in the present tense.

Here I am, God Almighty, sitting on my throne. This is a great day, for in a few minutes, my Son, who has been separated from me for over thirty years--O, how I have missed his immediate presence--is going to return. At the moment He is finishing His comments to the disciples on the hillside opposite the temple. My Spirit will now lift him into the clouds. Ah, there He is now, at the end of the heavenly Colorado Blvd. which extends straight away from my throne. This is going to be the granddaddy of all parades. The street is banked with high bleachers, filled with saints and angels, to whom I give a nod as Jesus begins the trek down the street towards the throne.

Wild, tumultuous, joyous mountains of praise bombard Jesus as He walks down the boulevard. The saints are shouting, "He is worthy!" and the angels are singing, "Glory to God." While all the host of heaven are worshipping him, I monitor myself for my own reactions to him. I notice two things. First, I notice my opinion of him. It is literally unconditional. He did everything I sent him to do. He lived for me and for others. He was unselfish. He was obedient, even unto death. He never failed in faith or love. Yes, He is altogether worthy of all laud.

The second thing I notice is my feelings for him. Oh, how I love him! Oh, how proud I am of him. It nearly killed me to make him the sacrifice for sin, and how nobly, how obediently, how courageously He bore it. He is my own heart come home. Now He's getting closer. I can hardly wait until He gets here, for I am going to throw my arms around him for a thousand years before I do anything else.

Now Jesus ascends the steps to the dais on which the throne rests. As He reaches the top step, He pauses for a second before covering the remaining few feet to the throne where I am seated. But the viewpoint suddenly shifts. Now, we are in Jesus, approaching the Father on his throne. (I'm trying not to fight this. I'm trying to receive this.) There He waits for me, filled with these wonderful opinions of me and yearning to satisfy his feelings for me. (This isn't right! These things belong to Jesus alone. It's a travesty for me to appropriate them for myself.) I can see the unconditional approval and affection in his eyes. The acclaim of the hosts is ringing in my ears and through my soul. (I don't deserve this!) [As I walk towards the throne, the Father says in my mind, "I know it's you, Mike, but I want you to realize how I see Jesus."] (Alright, Lord, I'll try to receive this.) Just as I reach the foot of the throne, He stands and swoops me up into his chest. Once again I feel him surging through me, as it was before I went to earth. But there is a difference now. The joy is fuller, if that be possible; the fact that I am a body now makes an eternal difference in how I perceive and feel him. O Father, it is done indeed. I am home again. It was all worth it. Thank you for sustaining me, for keeping me, for filling me, for using me, for guiding me, for loving and loving and loving me. . . .

It is the Father's pleasure to ascribe to precisely you the deserved worth of Jesus. Is Jesus worthy? Then so are you. Is Jesus accepted? Then so are you. Is Jesus beautiful? Then so are you. While pondering philosophy once, there came the thought: "If there is a God, what that God said would be the truth." The Scriptures agree with that concept, stating that He cannot lie (Hebrews 6.18). Paul seemed to have a particularly good grasp of this, using the phrase "in Christ" more than eighty times. In him, you are perfect.

The fifth thing we can do to bring vulnerability to self to fruition is to accept God's acceptance of us. This usually starts out as an act of the will. You know, there are two big lies in our society today. The first is, "If it isn't apparent to my logic, it isn't so." The second is, "If I don't feel it, it isn't so." They both appeal to our sense of integrity and honesty. "I'd like to believe", we say, "but I don't understand it, so I can't be sure if it's true;" or, "but I just don't feel it, so it can't be true. I certainly don't want to fake something so important as belief."

Those two lies keep literally millions of Americans out of relationship with God; and they keep those who are in relationship with him from the abundance of the life He promised. Faith is not a matter of intellect. Nor is it a matter of emotion. It is centered in the will, which can operate perfectly satisfactorily whether you understand something or not and whether it feels good to you or doesn't. And what the will does is make decisions.

"Lord, I decide to accept your acceptance of me. I decide to accept myself, because You do. I decide to take myself off probation. I decide to affirm myself in every particular, including my physical appearance and my history and my abilities. I decide that Jesus fully paid off every sin I ever committed or will commit in my entire life, so I don't have to pay them off myself. I decide that you like me and I decide to like myself. I decide that I am perfect in your eyes because Jesus is perfect. I decide that improvement rests on a foundation of acceptance rather than stretches towards a goal of acceptance. I decide that this is all wonderfully, gloriously true." Think how much easier it is for God to get his work done through someone who believes these things. If He's not always battling your self-rejection tooth and nail, He can get on with the positive things He has chosen to accomplish through you. When you get past wringing your hands over what a rotten witness you are, you can relax and let the Lord bump you into those He has appointed you to befriend.

I was teaching this material to a group on one occasion when a woman protested, "I don't want to be somebody in Christ; I want to be somebody by myself." I smiled at her and paused before I answered, waiting for the Lord to give me his viewpoint. What came to mind was a favorite quip: "God doesn't love you because you are lovable but because He's a lover." Expanding on that I said, "If God loved you because you deserved it, his love would be a shaky thing because it would cease the moment you ceased to deserve it. The foundation of your being loved does not reside in you but in him, and He never changes. He loves you because He is a lover. What's more, He insists that his love be a gift. If He loved you because you deserved it, his love would be a payment of some kind and that would commercialize it. Rather, He insists that it be a gift--unearnable and unpay-backable. The only things you can do are receive or reject it. And I acknowledge that it is humbling to receive it."

The lady's problem was pride. What I said in an earlier chapter is worth repeating and expanding on: If you want to "be somebody" on your own, then I haven't much encouragement for you. As Norman Grubb says in one of his books, "The goal in life is not to be somebody but to contain Someone." Isn't that what it means to be an "earthen vessel"? (2 Corinthians 4.7) I have found that the containing and giving forth of Jesus Christ is the most affirming, fulfilling, and satisfying dynamic of my life. Somehow as I try to give him forth, He mobilizes the very best of me in the bargain and takes me along. I think that's an example of gaining one's life by losing it. If I insist on being somebody on my own, I find that I become less, not more. Something in me shrinks as I push myself upon God or the world demanding affirmation. That which shrinks is self. The more I grab for affirmation the more it slips through my fingers. But if I'm willing to accept the status of being valued because of my identification with Jesus Christ and if I seek to display him in my attitudes and actions and if I believe that He knows how to reveal himself through my uniqueness, then I can relax and let blessing come to me of its own rather than forcing it through my door in a chokehold.

I may not be "special" but I am unique. Jesus looks different on me than on you: I "wear" him one way and you wear him another. Thank God! One of any of us is enough. Part of the "unsearchable riches of Christ" is that He can manifest himself through every person on earth and never duplicate his revelation. That's why it's so important that your particular combination of natural and spiritual gifts is made available to the world. Christ can be and do through you in ways He can't be or do through anyone else on earth.

A friend of mine who plays with computer math figured that if each of twenty three spiritual gift was divisible by tenths, the number of combinations would be 25,852,016,738,884,976,640,000 or about 5 trillion times the world's current population. With all those combinations to choose from, isn't it reasonable that God's particular apportionment to you has been well considered?
Would He choose a combination that wasn't needed in your particular environment?

We slander the wisdom of God when we say, "if only ...."
"If only I were blond."
"If only I were brighter."
"If only I had more education."
"If only I was married."
"If only I could teach/lead/preach/heal/sing/cook/speak like Fred/Jane/Bill/Sue/John/Mary Ann/Roger."

If God were interested in cloning, I suppose He would have cloned us. But He's interested in incarnational revelation, and there's vastly too much of him scheduled for revelation to waste opportunities through duplication. One of the most useful tasks that can benefit the kingdom of God is for you to ask--and answer at a length not less than a dozen pages--"Who am I?" The more you know who you are, the clearer will be the vision of what God desires to do through you. He has incarnated himself in you for a purpose. What is it?

If you begin to find out who you are, you will discover that someone else has begun to discover who you are too; that person is your enemy, the devil. He has created an array of dynamics by which to keep you off balance lest you put him off balance. In the next chapter we will look at these in considerable detail.