The Word takes on flesh again!

Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” John 20:21 (NIV) 

In his book Radical, David Platt wrote: “If we were left to ourselves with the task of taking the Gospel to the world, we would immediately begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes. We would organize conventions, develop programs, and create foundations…. But Jesus is so different from us. With the task of taking the Gospel to the world, He wandered through the streets and byways…. All He wanted was a few men who would think as He did, love as He did, teach as He did, and serve as He did. All He needed was to revolutionize the hearts of a few, and they would impact the world.” Just as the Word, Jesus, became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood to be the message, so the Word takes on flesh again, clothing Himself with your humanity and mine! His strategy is no different today than it was then. The great thing is that you don’t have to wonder where you should start being the message. The answer is simple: start right where you are. The people you interact with everyday are who God has chosen you to be the message to. Think of who they are. Consider loving them to be your personal assignment. Being the Gospel always requires us to step out of our world and into someone else’s. Jesus Christ, God Himself, left His perfect home in Heaven and entered our messy world. Being the message requires us to leave our comfort zone and step into someone else’s hardship and mess. I love the story of the grandfather who was about to lift his little grandson out of the playpen when his daughter, the child’s mother, stopped him and said, “Dad, your grandson is in time out and can’t leave the playpen right now!” The loving grandfather was in a quandary. Should he overrule his own daughter and teach his grandson to rebel against his mother’s authority, or should he reject the cry of his grandson to pick him up and deliver him from time-out prison? The grandfather thought for a bit, and he looked at his daughter and his grandson lovingly. Then, he did the only thing you can do in a situation like that. He climbed into the playpen with his grandson! He entered the mess of this child’s restrictions and sat in time-out with him! To be the message, we have to enter the mess of people’s lives, showing them that there is a God who loves them and can forgive them!

The Word in You!

Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in My Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:19-20 (NIV)

John began his gospel telling us that Jesus is the Word that became flesh and lived among us. Then, he takes it even further. He says the Word, Jesus, would live in us! Consider the impact of this statement in John 14:20 when Jesus says, “I am in you.” Since Jesus is the Word, His very life is the Gospel. Now, by the Holy Spirit He comes to reside in those who follow Him. By virtue of His presence in us, we can be the message! If Christ is in you, you are the Gospel. The New Testament talks a lot about this. Here are just a few passages among many others:

  • The mystery has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:26-27 (NIV)
  • “And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Romans 8:11 (NIV)
  • And, in Him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” Ephesians 2:22 (NIV)
  • I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

Notice that, in all these references, the Apostle Paul didn’t say, “Christ and you.” He said, “Christ in you.” John would later write in 1 John 2:14, “I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” The phrase that jumps out is “… the word of God lives in you.” So, if Jesus is the Word, and the Word is the Gospel, and the Word lives in you, then you are the Gospel! That’s why Paul told the Christ followers in Corinth, “You are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV) You are the message! You are the hands and feet of Christ in the world today to communicate the gospel through your life message! How is that possible? Remember, it’s not Christ and you. It’s Christ in you that enables you and me to be the message!

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!