The Word is a Person!

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

John 1:4 (MSG)

What separates Christianity from all the major religions of the world? John tells us in His simple and profound little Gospel. If you’ve never read it, it’s an ideal place to start exploring the Bible. From the very first verses, John distinguishes Christianity from other world religions, setting it apart as personal and dynamic! In verse one he says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John is laying it out simply and directly: If you are wondering who Jesus is, look no further. John uses the term, “the Word” as a clear reference to Jesus Christ. Jesus was with God the Father at the creation of the world, and he is God Himself! In other words, the Word is a person! Jesus is the Word. The message – the gospel – is the person of Jesus. For all the words and sermons and Bible studies we absorb, for all the theology we argue, for all the Christian books we read, it’s actually pretty simple. The gospel message is not about millions of words and sermons and books. The message is about one life. One person. The life and person of Jesus Christ! He is the Word, the Living Word! Let that settle in for a minute. It will radically change the way you read the Bible. No longer will you read it just to know the Bible better. You’ll read it to know Jesus Christ better. We study the Scriptures not to increase our biblical knowledge but to grow closer to Christ. I love the way the Message puts John 1:4. Imagine it as you read John’s description of the Word. He says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Wow, that’s personal! It’s what separates our faith from any other belief in the world. Christianity isn’t about religion, creeds, or words printed in a holy book. Christianity is Christ, the living Word who still speaks! Open your Bible to meet Jesus. He’s in every book of the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is our hope, the gospel thread that runs throughout every page. Let Him move into your neighborhood!

God’s Faith Building Process: Part 4

“God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.” Genesis 45:7 (NLT)

The Be the Message faith-building challenge involves a process that will grow our faith deeper and break through the barriers that block God’s blessing in our lives. God’s faith-building process will take you to new heights in knowing God and serving Him. Joseph’s life offers a model for how God shapes our immature faith into a faith that changes destinies in four stages:

  1. The Faith-Forming Stage
  2. The Character-Building Stage
  3. The Selfless-Surrender Stage
  4. The Faith-Fulfillment Stage

In the final stage, we see God accomplishing the purpose for which he created Joseph. What began as a dream in the heart of a teenager finds fulfillment later in his life in a way he would have never imagined. Even when Joseph had been forgotten and his dream had died, God was very much alive and resurrected that dream in His time and His own way. But God was more concerned with what the dream would make Joseph rather than where the dream would take him. God is more concerned with our character than our comfort, and His goal is to shape us into the image of His Son. Very often, I’m asked the question, “How do you know when a dream is from God? How do you know it’s not just your own selfish ambition?” That’s a great question, and it’s wise to ask this before stepping out in faith or sharing your dream, believing it is from God. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to determine whether a dream is from God or just my own idea. Here’s two ways to recognize if a dream is God given:

  • First, a God-given dream will serve others.

At first, Joseph’s dream appeared to be self-serving. In the beginning, he was inflated with his own ego, supported by the favoritism of his father and the idea of his brothers bowing down to him! In his immature faith, he misinterpreted the dream. God’s purpose was not for others to serve Joseph; His purpose was for him to serve others. God’s will for Joseph was to save a nation from destruction and, ultimately, continue a race that would lead to the Savior Himself! This was his destiny! It took the first three stages of God’s faith building process to develop Joseph’s faith to the measure of understanding and maturity that he reached when he said to his brothers, “God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.” (Genesis 45:7 NLT) In the original language, the emphasis is given to the amazing or extraordinary way in which God would do it. Joseph discovered that the dream wasn’t about others serving him but how God would use him in an extraordinary way to serve others! What a faith journey! Think about your own faith journey for a moment. You are exactly where you are right now because God is working to shape your character to match the destiny He has for you. He is maturing and growing your faith so that you are better equipped to serve others. And He will do it in extraordinary ways you could never imagine!

  • Second, a God-given dream will benefit the body of Christ.

I love this passage from the Message in Ephesians 1:22, 23. It says, “The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which He speaks and acts, by which He fills everything with His presence.” The church is God’s plan for the world. The church isn’t about preaching sermons as much as it is about being the message to a lost and dying world that would rather see a sermon than hear one. God is saying that the church should be at the center, not the world. The world is peripheral to the church! Is that true in your life? How important is the church to you? Will the dream you have benefit the body of Christ? Will it enable Christ to clothe Himself with your humanity so that, through your voice, He speaks and with your body, He acts? What’s the motivation of your dream? The Bible says in Galatians 5:6b, “…The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” If love is not the motivation for faith, then that faith is destructive and harmful. It was love that motivated Joseph to believe God, forgive his brothers, and serve them. Love breaks through all the barriers so faith can express itself to fulfill God’s great and grand purpose for your life!

God’s Faith Building Process: Part 3

The chief cupbearer however did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”

Genesis 40:23 (NIV)

Have you ever been forgotten? Maybe you feel that way now. In Psalms 142:4 (NLT), the Psalmist expressed how painful it can feel when you’re overlooked and forgotten. I look for someone to come and help me, but no one gives me a passing thought! No one will help me; no one cares a bit what happens to me.” Joseph must have felt that way. Abandoned by his brothers, sold as a slave, falsely imprisoned for two years and, now, forgotten by the last gleam of hope he had for any possible release. He had helped the cupbearer. He interpreted his dream, and he told the cupbearer what God was saying to him. Joseph’s only request was that he would remember him when he was released and reinstated as the King’s cupbearer. Maybe, just maybe, that information would cause the King to release Joseph or reopen his case! But, as is so often the case, the greatest services in life are followed by forgetfulness! The cupbearer forgot Joseph! Those are three of the saddest verses in the Bible – “… he forgot him.” What about Joseph’s dream now? The cupbearer may have forgotten Joseph, but God had not forgotten him. God knew right where Joseph was. He was developing Joseph’s faith through stages I call God’s faith-building process. The first stage was the faith-forming stage. The second was the character-building stage. Stage three of God’s faith-building process is:

  • The Selfless Surrender Stage 

When you’ve been forgotten and your dream has died, you have two choices. You can grow bitter, or you can surrender it all to God and choose to forgive. Surrender the dream to God. The truth is that only He can resurrect it. You may have been forgotten by others and your situation may be humanly impossible, but God specializes in impossible situations! He will never forget you! He has inscribed you on the palms of His hands! I like the way the Living Bible paraphrases Isaiah 49:16. It says, See, I have tattooed your name upon my palm….” God has a tat on the palms of His hands with your name on it! He will never forget you! If we give our brokenness and hurt to God, He can bring good out of it! God can take your pain and propel you to your destiny if you’ll give it to Him. Dead end is always the stage before deliverance! That’s what Joseph encountered. While in the pit of that prison cell, he surrendered his life, his dreams, and his future to God, despite feeling forgotten and abandoned! He didn’t deny the pain. He was honest and transparent with God about how he felt. Look at what he says later to his brothers in Genesis 50:20. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph didn’t whitewash the wrong done to him, shrug his shoulders, and suggest it didn’t hurt or that it was no big deal. He said, “I know you intended to harm me and you did, but God took all the pain and the hurt it caused me when I gave it all to him and surrendered my life totally to Him and look at what He’s done! God used all of it for His intention to save many lives!” Wow! What a God! He is at work in the shadows when we can’t see anything! If you’re there today, surrender it all to God. Like Joseph at the selfless surrender stage, you are on the threshold of a miracle! God will take your mess and turn it into your life message! Be the message!

God’s Faith Building Process: Part 2

Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.” Psalm 105:19 (NLT)

If you want to move your faith beyond words to a life of action, Joseph is a great mentor! The book of Genesis records more pages on His life than that of any other Old Testament characters. From Genesis chapter 37 to chapter 50, you will read about Joseph. As you do, you will discover an amazing faith-building process that God uses to transform Joseph’s immature faith to a mature faith that changed destinies!

The First Stage was the The Faith Forming Stage. In this stage, God gave Joseph a dream of something big and grand that He wanted to do through him. However, in his youthful immaturity, Joseph misinterpreted the dream which led to the second stage in God’s faith-building process:

  • The Character Building Stage. 

Joseph missed what all of us often miss when God gives us a dream. God is more concerned about who the dream makes you rather than where the dream takes you. We get an insight from the Psalmist about this stage in Psalm 105:19. It says, “Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.” How does God test our character? This is a stage you can’t skip over if God is ever to fulfill His purpose in your life. There’s nothing quite as pathetic as one whose character doesn’t match the great and grand assignment God has for him. This stage will take the most time. God used two common means to shape Joseph’s character for his assignment. You’ll probably recognize them right away in your own life.

The first is problems. Problems strip away my pride. When God gives you a dream of something great, it’s easy for pride to settle in – even when the dream is from God. Our own pride and selfishness can get mixed in with God’s dream for us, and this can become a stumbling block that God must deal with before He accomplishes the dream. I think the coat of many colors represented that for Joseph. It created all kinds of problems between Joseph and his brothers. In Genesis 37:19, 23, 24, his brothers said, “‘Here comes that dreamer!’ … So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe – the richly ornamented robe he was wearing – and they took him and threw him into a cistern.” God allowed them to steal his coat – but not his dream! You need to know the difference between the coat and the dream. God prepared Joseph by removing the pride in his life. Once the pride had been erased, Joseph was ready to accomplish God’s great and grand dream!

Another means God used was temptation. God didn’t tempt Joseph, but He allowed the evil one to tempt him. Why? Because temptation strips away everything except my integrity. In Genesis 39:11,12 we’re told, “One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She (Potiphar’s wife) caught him (Joseph) by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” Here’s the second time Joseph loses a coat! But, had he stayed, he would have lost something of far greater value – his integrity! Never trade your integrity for a coat! Satan put a powerful temptation before Joseph. It would have been so easy for Joseph to give in to temptation. He was alone. No one would have known. It would have been consensual. He was a foreigner, estranged from his family who were miles away! How did Joseph maintain his integrity? He ran! He was honest and humble enough to know that, had he stayed, he would have dishonored God and lost his integrity. Nothing is worth losing your integrity! Be humble enough to run when your integrity is at stake! This is the character-building stage. What problems and temptations are you facing? Know that God is using them to develop your faith so that He can fulfill a great and grand purpose in your life! There are still two more stages left.

God’s Faith Building Process: Part 1

Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God ….’” Genesis 45:4-8a (NIV)

Joseph is a great example in the Old Testament of God’s faith building process. This week, let’s reexamine his life and dig deep into the faith-building principles that God used in Joseph’s life to encourage and grow our own faith. You may remember the story of Joseph and his many brothers. He was the youngest son, at the time, and the most beloved of his father, Jacob. Jacob made him that legendary coat of many colors, and he gave it to his favored son, Joseph. You can imagine how that made his brothers feel! To make matters worse, Joseph had a dream that he shared with his brothers that pictured them bowing down to him. In his youthful arrogance, he shared the dream with them without considering how it only added insult to injury. Later, they stole his coat and threw him into a well, leaving him to die. Feeling guilty, one of the brothers suggested that they should lift him out of the well and sell him as a slave. Joseph was sold as a slave and carted off to Egypt. At this point, you may think that would be the end of Joseph and his dream. But this is where the story takes shape as God moves in an impossible situation and begins a faith-building process that will take Joseph from an immature faith to a mature faith that saves two nations and changes destinies!

The First Stage is what I call The Faith Forming Stage. It all started with a dream. God wants to do something great and grand through your life! In Genesis 37:5a the Bible says, “Joseph had a dream ….” It always starts with a dream that God gives you that changes your destiny. But, before you communicate the dream, you need to let God clarify it in your heart. It could be just a selfish dream or ambition – and not God’s dream at all. At this stage, you must pray and seek God’s wisdom on the dream. Share it with spiritual mentors in your life, and get their perspective. But, be careful who you share the dream with and how you share it. In his youthful pride and arrogance, Joseph taunted his brothers with his coat and his dream. They were dream killers! In the faith-forming stage, let God form faith in your heart to clarify the dream. Once He does, step out in faith! God is not asking you to do something great and grand for Him; He just wants you to take a small step of obedience in faith. There’s a common misconception that the men and women in the Bible whom God used in a great way had huge faith, that they were giants of faith. The truth is that they were common, ordinary, imperfect people just like you and me! They simply took little steps of faith, trusting God to do what only God could do. Just as God was forming faith and dreams in Joseph’s life, He will do the same in your life for the dream He gives you. This is the first of three other stages. When Joseph’s brothers stole his coat and sold him as a slave, he didn’t understand it at first, anymore than we do when bad things happen contrary to the dream we have. But God is at work! He is taking us through a faith-building process to accomplish a greater purpose! Don’t give up. He’s not done yet!