For the past several years Winebrenner Seminary has been offering classes with inmates at Marion Correctional Institution. The first cohort has completed the program and graduated from Winebrenner with a pastoral training certificate. Five of the candidates requested credentials to continue their ministry. Dr. Earl Mills and members of the Pastoral Life Commission of the Great Lakes Region of the Churches of God, General Conference, interviewed those candidates and found that they not only successfully completed their academic studies, but also participate in significant, authentic, life-changing gospel ministry. These five independently lead and teach multiple small groups and Bible studies as well as mentor and shape the lives of numerous inmates.
What struck me as I listened to their stories was the word incarnation, derived from the Latin root caro (flesh): “made flesh,” referring to God becoming flesh and dwelling among humankind (Jn 1:14). The Message paraphrases the verse, The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. In its most general sense incarnation refers to dwelling among or taking up residence among others, not as visitor but resident. God became flesh and moved in with us.
These five inmates may not have chosen to be in prison. But now that Jesus has seized their lives, they are doing all that they can where they are to help others experience new life in Christ.
Several years ago I was part of a collection of weekend ministry teams that spent two days in prison, sharing the Gospel. In retrospect, I imagine that my prison visits shaped my life far more than my witness shaped any inmate. In fact, the inmates remarked this past weekend that when outsiders visit to share the Gospel, inmates will ask trusted peers whether the message is real. Incarnation: entering a world, pitching a tent, staying a while, building trust, pointing to new life.
I spoke with someone recently who referenced her key three: three significant organizations where she invests time, leadership and financial support. She is committed to those three in a way that is not diluted by scattered focus. She enters the world of these organizations and is all-in for the long haul.
My recent experience in prison, coupled with the season of Advent, challenges me to meditate again on incarnation: God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. And I rejoice that Jesus chose willingly to enter our world to deliver us from the sin and brokenness in which we live.
But the Gospel also invites us to ask where and how we practice incarnation: where we are willing to invest deeply both time and treasure in those few but important arenas that will make a difference in the name of Jesus for those who may not yet know him.
In this Christmas season, reflect again on your use of time and treasure so that you may serve in the Kingdom with an all-in, incarnate spirit.
– Dr.Bill Reist, President, Foundation of the Great Lakes Conference
– Image by Rod Long, accessed via Adobe Spark