IN THE BEGINNING

Jn.1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

I remember dealing with Christian culture shock when I first became a Christian. This new Christian community that I was suddenly thrust into spoke a whole different language than what I was accustomed to. I remember dealing with things like “the Lord spoke to me” or “the Lord spoke to my heart”. I wasn’t sure how to even take these statements, did God Himself say something out loud or was I missing something? After a while I figured out that most of this “speaking” was from impressions people had when reading the written word of God. Another phrase people used was “I feel a check in my spirit”. I really had no idea what that meant and I’m not sure I have that figured out yet. Could that mean simply “I don’t agree with what you are saying?” Another phrase was one that comes from today’s scripture verse. Jesus is actually called the Word of God. No one ever seems to explain what that means, maybe because no one has even taken the time to try to work out what it does mean. If Jesus is the word, whose word is He? The only possible answer is the Father because the Father, like Jesus and the Holy Spirit, are the only eternal beings that exist. If Jesus is the word He has always been the word. What exactly is a word? It is a vocal expression of an idea. If that is true, then Jesus must be the Father’s vocal expression of Himself. Jesus is the Father’s word. Here is how Martin Luther describes this.

“God, too, in his majesty and nature is pregnant with a Word or a conversation in which he engages with himself in his divine essence and which reflects the thoughts of his heart. This is as complete and perfect as God himself. No one but God alone sees, hears or comprehends this conversation. It is an invisible and incomprehensible conversation. His Word existed before all angels and all creatures existed, for subsequently he brought all creatures into being by means of this Word and conversation. God is so absorbed in this Word, thought or conversation that he pays no attention to anything else.”

In the beginning was the Word, the Father’s expression of Himself. John goes on in this chapter to take it one step farther. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Wow!! This is the greatest of all mysteries, the unveiling of God in the person of the Son.

SCRIPTURE AND THE BEAUTY OF GOD

Job 23:12 – I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.

Once you see it your world profoundly changes. You may even find yourself wondering why you never saw it before, it is as clear as the nose on your face. What am I talking about? I am referring to the unmatchable beauty found in God’s word. When you read it, it is reading you. In this book you actually touch the face of God. You see His power, His wisdom, His boundless love, and His incredible creativity. No book can compare, this book alone is supernatural. By His word He created the universe, by His word, He heals the sick, by His word He sends demons on the run, and by His word He saves us to the uttermost. Here Is Dane Ortlund describing the beauty of God’s word in the ministry of Jonathan Edwards.

“Scripture is God’s tool of human beautification. It is that through which God comforts and changes us. It is therefore the treasure of the Christian life….. Jonathan Edwards was the best kind of prosperity preacher. He believed vast riches were at believers’ fingertips—not in what was in their bank accounts but in what was on their shelves: the Holy Bible. Ponder the power of a typically Edwardsian illustration:

“If there were a great treasure of gold and pearls hid in the earth but should accidentally be found, and should be opened among us with such circumstances that all might have as much as they could gather of it; would not every one think it worth his while to make a business of gathering it while it should last? But that treasure of divine knowledge, which is contained in the Scriptures, and is provided for everyone to gather to himself as much of it as he can, is a far more rich treasure than any one of gold and pearls.”

It is the word of God that transforms us from day to day. In His word we find forgiveness from our sins and transformation into a different kind of person. He finds us in our ugliness, He cleanses us, and makes us brand new. Paul said we become God’s work of art. The word is the tool in the hand of the Master Artist. We have become a masterpiece of His word.

MEETING HIM IN THE PAGES

Ps.34:8 – Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Far too often the Bible is read and even studied for the wrong reasons. One of the common mistakes is using the Bible as a sort of “roadmap for life”. Of course we can find direction for our life in the Bible but that is not the point. The Bible is God’s word and is a revelation of God. Think of it like this, Jesus said “if you have seen Me you have seen the Father”. Jesus became a man so we can see the glory of God. Jesus is also the Word of God. When we search the scriptures we are touching God Himself. This is one of the ways we “taste and see”. We read the scripture and hear His voice. The point of reading scripture is not to find a way to live, it is to meet with the Lord. Here is Dane Ortlund describing Jonathan Edwards approach to God’s word.

“Edwards distinguishes between two different kinds of knowledge of Scripture. One “remains only in the head,” while the other “rests not entirely in the head or in the speculative ideas of things; but the heart is concerned in it.” Consequently, Edwards suggests, this latter kind of knowledge “may not only be called seeing, but feeling or tasting.” The crucial question is not whether we can explain what is in the Bible, but whether we can enjoy it. Like a chef who has mastered an elaborate recipe yet does not enjoy eating it, Christians can master what is in the Bible yet not taste the succulence of it. This is not to say we should shun knowing what is in the Bible. We must know the recipe if we are to enjoy the dish. “Such is the nature of man, that nothing can come at the heart but through the door of the understanding.” But the dish is not made to be dissected and scrutinized. It is made to be eaten. In short, God must give us eyes to see the beauty of God that is before us in Scripture.”

Touching the Bible is touching the beauty of God. In it we see His kindness, His nearness, His power, and His wisdom. Most of all we see His love for us. Reading the scripture becomes personal when the Lord actually meets us in the pages

BEAUTY OF PREACHING

1 Thes.2:13 – And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

One of the scary things about social media is what I call “Facebook Preachers”. Apparently, given the opportunity, many view social media as an opportunity to “preach” their own personal beliefs. The one thing overlooked is that there is such a thing as God’s calling into ministry. When someone who has God’s calling to preach begins to proclaim God’s word, it actually is the word of God. Man’s opinion confuses people, God’s word in His mouthpiece is another thing altogether. That is one of the reasons it is important to attend a local church, the preaching of the word of God by one of the Lord’s called ministers is irreplaceable in our lives. Here is Dane Ortlund in his book on beauty in the ministry of Jonathan Edwards describing the preaching of God’s word.

“The preaching of the Word of God is the word of God. Such a claim makes us nervous…..But understood rightly—namely, that when the Bible is responsibly preached, it is God speaking—Edwards would agree with the sentiment. “That word that is preached is the word of God,” preached Edwards in the summer of 1741. “And when it is preached according to his institution, you ought to look upon it as the sounding of the trump of God to give men warning and to call them to himself.”

Edwards believed that when he stood up to preach, he was himself the voice of God to his people. Receiving the words of a preacher, whether of Jonathan Edwards or the unknown but faithful preacher down the road from your own house today, a congregation receives the words of God. Rejecting the preacher’s words is to reject God’s words and thus God himself. The preached word is “the voice of the great God.”

God’s written word is amazing. His willingness to use imperfect, frail vessels to proclaim His word is shocking. The Lord used a minister by the name of Dick Mills to teach me the power of the spoken word when I was still in Bible College. Brother Mills loved the written word and literally soaked himself in scripture. When he began to preach or teach God’s word became a fine instrument in his mouth. If you are a minister, preach His word. If you are a Christian, get under anointed ministers. It will be a great treasure in your life.

GOD’S ARMY

Rev. 19:13,14 – He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.

I often remember those early days after my conversion. My wife, Parris, and I went to California and joined a ministry called God’s Army. That’s exactly what is was for me. I often called it God’s boot camp because that is exactly what I needed in those days. I clearly remember the day when I met the director, Robert Forester. He is a gentle giant of a man who we all fondly called “Big Bob”. I first met Big Bob when he knocked on the door of the camper Parris and I were living in. He introduced himself and asked if I had a job yet. I said no and he quickly replied, “If you get a haircut you might get a job”. Actually that was a huge moment in my life. We all know hair means nothing but it meant something to me. It represented my image and the rebellious life I had been living. Thankfully I recognized the authority of Christ in Big Bob and Parris cut my hair that afternoon. I had joined God’s Army. In today’s verse we see this glorious army of God returning with our leader, the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is Tim Lahaye’s description of this scene.

“The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean”. The armies of heaven consist of the angelic hosts, the Old Testament saints, the Church, and the Tribulation saints. The most significant truth, however, is the garb of this army. They are “dressed in fine linen, white and clean.” Military men are issued fatigue uniforms for battle dress, not only for camouflage but also because war is so dirty that light-colored clothes would be severely soiled. Here, however, the Commander-in-Chief of the heavenly forces clothes His army in white, a practice unheard of in the history of warfare. The reason should not be overlooked by the reader: No member of the armies of Christ that come with Him in His Glorious Appearing will do battle. Not one of us will lift a finger, for the battle will be consummated by the spoken word of our Lord.”

Do you have your army clothes on? You know, that white and clean linen. You put it on by believing in Christ. When you surrender to him, you too will be ready for the army of the Lord.

HIS WORD IN YOU

Jn. 15:7 – If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Oneness, that is what our hearts are crying out for and that is what Jesus is describing through this powerful illustration of the Vine and the branches. He is the vine we are the branches. We are connected to Him, the life that He experiences He shares with us. His life is flowing in us and through us. In this verse the Lord describes the practical way we can flow with Him and allow this experience to deepen in us. Jesus is the Word of God, as we abide in His word we begin to experience the beauty of our union with Him. His word is in us, His word birthed us, His word enlivens us, His word is the very life of God in our souls. This is the source of our power in our prayers, Christ Himself is breathing His prayers in us by His Spirit and His word. Abide in His word and you will abide in Christ and His life. Here is how Andrew Murray describes this verse.

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you–This He gives as the equivalent of the other expression: “I in you. If my words abide in you”–that is, not only in meditation, in memory, in love, in faith–all these words enter into your will, your being, and constitute your life–if they transform your character into their own likeness, and you become and are what they speak and mean–ask what ye will; it shall be done unto you. Your words to God in prayer will be the fruit of Christ and His words living in you….If ye abide. Yes, Lord, the power to pray and the power to prevail must depend on this abiding in Thee. As Thou art the Vine, Thou art the divine Intercessor, who breathest Thy spirit in us. Oh, for grace to abide simply and wholly in Thee, and ask great things.”

So Jesus is taking us beyond memorization and mental acceptance, He is teaching us to take the word of God into the depths of our heart. Love His word, embrace His word, delight in His word, and your prayers become intertwined with His prayers. This is the place where we begin to bare fruit. The result; God is glorified and we are filled with joy.

FORTY YEARS

Jn.4:35 – Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.

God’s word is more powerful than any of us can realize. After all, everything that is was created by the power of God’s Word. God’s word has power for salvation and healing as well as creation. The Word of God is also prophetic. It declares and forms our future. This verse in John has been instrumental to the founding and shaping of Victory Fellowship. It has been involved in everything from those early evangelism teams to Feed the Multitudes. It has continued shaping our course with life groups, Beyond the Grave, Feed the City, and Mary’s Song. This prophetic word has been the heart beat of our community, challenging and empowering us to reach our city with the good news of the gospel.

Something that stands out to me in this passage is the eternal presence of ‘I am’ in this verse. Jesus said not to put the harvest off to four months in the future. He would also say don’t get caught up in the ‘glory days’ of the past. What would He say? Look again, the fields are white right now for harvest. After forty years He is still calling us back to the fields, the harvest is ready.

Just as He did with His first disciples so many years ago, He said ‘launch out into the deep and let your nets down for a catch’. He is still calling new ‘fishers of men’. The funny thing about the Lord is this, He loves to call the least likely to effect our world. Who knows? Maybe He is calling you to launch your boat out into the deep.

I see this forty year anniversary of Victory Fellowship as a transition. One awesome season has come to an end. The effect of our church over the last forty years is impossible to gauge; thankfully only One is able to judge it and we will leave that in His hands. Leaving behind one season inevitably leads to the entering of another season. What will this next era of our church look like? Who will rise to the day to lead the charge? The Lord will suddenly raise up new voices and new talents to meet the challenge of this generation. I don’t want to linger too long thinking about the glory days gone by, “I am” is moving amongst us and I want to be included in the new voices that usher in His kingdom.

THE SHEPHERD KING

Jn.1:10 NLT – He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.

If you think about what John is saying in today’s verse it is actually something that goes way beyond our ability to understand. How could the creator of all things enter into His own creation? The first few verses of John 1 describes the Word as God, the Word as being the creator of all things, and now the Word enters into the very world He created. John says it like this in vs.14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth”. What this is like is the author of a play entering his own play or a artist entering his own work of art. Creators live outside of their work, especially the One Who created all things. He created time and space and matter and everything else that exists. For Him to become part of His own creation is unthinkable. That is the story of Christmas. Here are some comments by C. S. Lewis about authors and plays.

“When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side.”

What Lewis is describing is actually the second Advent of our Lord. When the Creator enters into this creation again it will be over. The time for decisions and picking sides will be over, that’s what this Christmas season and this world are all about. Have you stopped and acknowledged the coming of our Lord? Has His birth effected you and caused you to see this world from a different perspective. That’s what happened to those shepherds that first Christmas. Two kingdoms collided as the Creator of all things took on a human body. The glory shone, the angels sang, and the shepherds bowed before this Shepherd King.

BEAUTIFUL FEET

Rom.10:14,15 – How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

It had been a long, hot day of pine cone picking in Klamath Falls, Oregon when this scripture took on new meaning for me. Parris and I were part of a team working with Weyerhaeuser to supply funds for our Bible College. I had been working all day and was hot and thirsty. One of our team leaders, Glenn Swarthout, had gone to get water for our team. I can still remember the moment even though it has been well over forty years ago. The mountains were stunning and it was a beautiful late summer day when I heard Glen singing and worshipping in the distance. Isaiah’s version of this promise says it like this, Isa.52:7 – “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Seeing Glenn coming around the bend through the trees was a beautiful sight. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic but we were really thirsty. Nice cold water was the best news I could possibly receive, it was like nourishment for my soul.

Now think about this for a moment, God’s word is compared to water in the scriptures. It cleanses and refreshes us. It is the very source of life. Each one of us, as Christians, are called in some capacity to be carriers of God’s Word. We are carrying this water of life to the people of our world. To those who begin to get it, those whose hearts are opening to the gospel, our arrival is beautiful. We are those carrying the refreshing water of the word to the thirsty in the wilderness of this world.

Each one of us are strategically planted in the world to be carriers of His good news. You aren’t in your family by accident, your neighborhood and your place of employment are really divine assignments filled with His appointments. I am thankful for those who have brought me a refreshing drink over the years, now its my turn to bring His refreshing into the wilderness.

PREACH

Lk. 4:16 -18 – And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,

Today’s passage reminds us why Jesus came to earth as a man; it also reminds us what it means to be one of His followers. This is our first real glimpse into the preaching of Jesus. This is the message He preached in His home town. He was preaching in the synagogue He had attended all of His life. He saw the same people He had known throughout His childhood still sitting in their familiar spots like they had done for all of those years. His message outlined what He would preach and live for the next three years; it also upended the apple cart. He started by saying He was anointed to preach good news to the poor. He came to break the power of poverty from our lives through His death and bring God’s message of provision in His actions and words. He would feed the hungry as well as teach them about the blessing of sewing and reaping. After all it was Jesus that taught us “it is more blessed to give than to receive”.

Secondly He proclaimed release to the captives. Man has been enslaved to sin since our first parents fell. The message of Christ is forgiveness and release from the power of sin. His death is the basis for our freedom from those horrible shackles of sin. We are freed from sin”s bondage by the power of forgiveness.

Next Jesus proclaimed recovery of sight to the blind. Not only did Jesus open sick, blind eyes; He also opens the eyes of our heart. One touch from His hand and we view our world differently. This is part of our ministry, opening the eye of the spiritually blind to the beauty of our Lord.

He also preached healing from oppression. The power of the gospel releases us from the ramifications of our sinful past. No matter how much we messed things up He has provided a way of escape.

Finally, Jesus declared the beginning of the season of God’s favor. The gospel is good news. The season of our bondage is over. We are now entering the season of God’s favor on our lives through the power of the gospel.