Category: Incarnation (page 1 of 8)

Body of Christ: Last Part

I love words. I’m in the business of words. I love to write and I love to speak. I believe words are so very important. I think the world of words. But Jesus was not crucified because of his words. His words are not what changed the lives of broken people, his words are not what united fractured groups, his words are not what turned the world upside down. It was his presence. It was the physical things he did in the body. It was the healing and feeding, the forgiving and praying, the eating and sharing — that’s what got him killed. That’s what altered the course of history forever: his flesh-and-blood presence in the world.

Not words. Words are never enough. That’s why the Word became flesh and lived among us. Words are not enough. So Jesus came here and got dirty with us. He has a body, you know.

The things we say in the safety of our sanctuaries aren’t going to change the world. Abstract truth doesn’t stir anybody’s heart. Theological concepts don’t compel faith or love, even when they’re true. But when that truth becomes embodied, when it’s up close and personal, flesh-and-blood truth, cup of cold water truth, that’s when truth gets interesting. That’s when we know for sure the Kingdom of God is near.

In Luke 3, huge crowds of people are coming to be baptized in the Jordan River to prepare the way for the Lord, so all can see God’s salvation. And the folks being baptized ask John: What shall we do?

John answers: If you have two coats, give one of them to somebody who doesn’t have a coat. If you’ve got food, give it to somebody who doesn’t have any.

Tax collectors are coming to be baptized. What shall we do? John says: Stop stealing from people, stop taking advantage of the weak, treat everybody equally.

Some soldiers are being baptized. What should we do? John answers: Stop using force and threat to get your way, stop accusing people and lying about people.

People are being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, they’re going into the water for a salvation relationship with God, and the instructions they’re given are not about saying the right words or believing the right things or thinking the right way. The instructions are about doing. The expectation is for real, physical, tangible, concrete, flesh-and-blood actions toward the poor and oppressed; how we act toward the outcast and marginalized, the exploited and weak. Not the words we say in the comfort and safety of our buildings, but the actions we take out there. The real, physical, flesh-and-blood actions in the interests of others — all others! Bold, courageous, Christ-like actions that go against the grain of the world and will cost us our reputations, our relationships, and our resources.

We boldly turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. We faithfully love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us so people can see Jesus. We don’t just act on behalf of people who live inside the womb and might be harmed; we courageously act on behalf of all people living outside the womb who might be harmed so people can meet Jesus. We forgive those who sin against us, we lay down our rights for the sake of others, we stand firmly with the oppressed so the world will know the Kingdom of God is here!

The broken world is sick and tired of the Church’s words, words, words! This lost and dying world desperately needs the real, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood actions of the Body of Christ, the saving and life-giving presence of our Lord Jesus!

This world will not see Jesus, people will not experience the truth of our Savior, just because we love Jesus or because we admire Jesus or because we believe all the right things about Jesus. The world will see it, they’ll know, when we are the Body of Christ. When we follow him, when we give our lives to him, when we do the things he did in the ways he did them for the sake of all others.

Jesus had a body, you know. And he still does.



Body of Christ: Part Three

Not everybody has a great experience at church. Some people have been hurt by the Church. Some people have been rejected by the Church, God help us. Some people don’t feel supported at church or encouraged, they don’t feel like they’re a part. Instead of meeting Jesus at church, instead of finding his love and forgiveness, his acceptance and fellowship, they encounter cold shoulders and pain. Maybe you’ve experienced loneliness or rejection or other disconnects at church.

To some extent, we’re all to blame for stuff like that. We’re all broken in a million different ways.

There are people who believe in Jesus and love Jesus and want to follow Jesus, but they don’t want any part of Church. They see the Church or they experience Church and there’s no way they can believe such a sorry collection of sinners is related to Jesus.

Jesus prayed that his followers would all be one so the world would believe. To this day, one of the reasons people don’t believe in Jesus is that his Church is so divided, his body is so in conflict with itself.

Church can be boring. It can be irrelevant. Self-righteous. Worldly. I could go on. The Church has many weaknesses. But the Bible says, right now, we see things through a dark glass, we only see a poor reflection of things as in a cracked mirror. The Bible says we hope for what we don’t see yet. And, you know, the Church, for all its brokenness and failures, can look pretty good when it’s dressed up for worship on Sunday or serving food to the homeless on Thursday.

The first disciples of Jesus are sometimes portrayed in Scripture as blithering idiots. The first Church is painted as somewhat of a mess. That’s not only because they were sometimes blithering idiots and a mess, but also to remind us blithering idiots and faithless sinners that the Church in any age is never completely exactly the way Christ intends his Church to be. We always fall short.

But despite all that, despite all the problems in the Church, based on the words of Jesus in the Bible as well as our own experiences for more than two thousand years, the poor old Church knows, for better or worse, this is the form by which the risen Christ has chosen to be present in the world. We are the Body of Christ.

When we look at each other, we’re reminded that Jesus was never very picky about the people he hung out with. But the Body of Christ is where heaven and earth come together. Every time the Church gathers for worship or for a potluck or Bible study, every time the Church gets together to paint a house or build a school, we do all of that under the promise of our Lord that if just two or three show up in his name, he’ll be there.

Jesus had a body, you know. And he still does.




Body of Christ: Part Two

It’s not just a metaphor. It’s very real. As the Body of Christ, the Church is the physical, tangible, concrete, flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus in this world. Paul says, “I’ve been crucified with Christ and I no longer live; Christ lives in me!” Jesus Christ lives with and in and through his Church. Jesus and the Church are the same. You can’t have Jesus without his body. You can’t know Jesus without recognizing his body. You can’t be in relationship with Jesus and have nothing to do with his body.

That’s the way Jesus sees it. That’s how he talks about it. That’s how he’s always viewed it. Jesus is the Church; the Church is Jesus.

Saul’s on the road to Damascus when Jesus appears and blinds him with his light. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul’s thinking, “I’m not persecuting you. I’m beating up these lousy Christians who are blaspheming Scripture.” No, in the eyes of Jesus, you mess with the Church, you’re messing with Jesus himself.

It was always this way.

“He who listens to you, listens to me.” (Luke 10:16)
“He who rejects you, rejects me.” (Luke 10:16)
“He who receives you, receives me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Jesus authorizes the Church as his body on earth to do all the things he did.

“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near!'” (Luke 10:9)

On that last night he tells his gathered followers, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12)

And we do, right? We heal the sick and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom. And we turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Why? Jesus says so you can be like me. So you can become sons and daughters of your Father in heaven. So you can reveal me.

When we forgive the ones who sin against us, people see Jesus. When we’d rather be wronged than to fight for our rights, people see Jesus. When we sacrifice and serve, when we consider the needs of others more important than our own, people will meet the Lord Jesus in us.

And the world will treat us just like it treated Jesus. Paul says he carries in his own body the death of Jesus so the life of Jesus may be revealed, so that Jesus’ life may be revealed in our (plural) mortal body (singular).

So, as the Body of Christ, we always side with the oppressed, never the oppressors. We always stand with the minorities, we always take care of the refugees, we always look out for the weak. We never discriminate, never judge, and never use force. We always give, always forgive, and always show love.

Jesus is the Church and the Church is Jesus. We must do the things Jesus did in the ways Jesus did them. If anybody’s going to meet Jesus in this world, they’re going to meet him through the Church, the Body of Christ.



Body of Christ: First Part

In the beginning, in the dark and the chaos, God spoke powerful words and created the heavens and the earth. From the top of a smoking and shaking mountain in the desert, God spoke powerful words and raised up a holy nation. Through his mighty prophets in Israel and Judah, our God spoke powerful words of forgiveness and mercy, commitment and comfort, truth and grace. But God’s words were not enough. Words are never enough. So God’s Word became flesh. God’s Word became a body.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

The holy Son of God has a body. We know Jesus has a body — a real, physical body. Jesus ate and drank, he wept and slept, walked and talked, worked and played. He bled real blood. He suffered excruciating pain. And he died an agonizing death. He was dead. His body was killed.

And when God’s Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the grave, he raised him to life in a resurrection body — a real, physical body. Our risen Lord in his real, resurrection body was recognized by everyone who knew him. He ate and drank with his followers whether he was invited to or not. He walked and talked with them, taught them, and argued with them. It was Jesus’ real, physical, flesh-and-blood, resurrection body that proved he was really risen. It was remarkable.

Now, here’s something even more remarkable: our ascended Lord who is reigning right now and forever at the right hand of the Father in heaven continues to have a body here on this earth. Jesus still insists on being flesh-and-blood present in this world. He keeps showing up as a recognizable personality. But now he in an even stranger bodily form than his resurrected post-Easter body.

It’s the Church. It’s us. We are the Body of Christ.

Through us, together, by his Church, our Lord Jesus wraps his real, tangible, physical, concrete, flesh-and-blood presence around the whole world. Today the Body of Christ lives and breathes and moves and acts in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, even to the panhandle of Texas! That’s us. The Church.

And some well-meaning people say Jesus never intended to establish the Church. They say Jesus was a holy man, they even say he was the Son of God and the Savior of the World. But he never wanted to start a church. Baloney! That was the plan all along, from the very beginning of the story of Jesus. Jesus started the Church when he called together that first group, that body of twelve disciples. The Jesus movement was always a corporate, social movement; it was never just a collection of religious individuals. The Church was always meant to be the Body of Jesus.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” ~1 Corinthians 12:12

The Bible is not saying that the Church has lots of different members and we’re all supposed to work together. It says Christ has different parts of his body and we’re it! We are his body, not because we all agree with each other about everything, not even because we all like one another. We are his body because we have one Lord and that one Lord is totally committed to always being physically present and flesh-and-blood active in his world.

We are the mouth and eyes and ears and hands and feet of Jesus. We are his body on earth. And if anybody’s going to meet Jesus in this world, they’re going to meet him through the Church, the Body of Christ.



Amazement at the Gift

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” ~John 1:13

The coming of Jesus is a gift from God. It’s a gracious and loving gift. But it has to be received. You have to say “Yes.”

Romans 8 explains it like this: “If we are God’s children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” Galatians 4 tells us we are no longer slaves — You’re a son! You’re a daughter! God has made you an heir according to the promise. And if you are a co-heir with Christ Jesus, the first born of God, that makes you a first born of God with him.

And that should be astonishing to us.

Me. With all my sins, with all my flaws, with all my issues and problems. Me. God gives this incredible gift to me.

This is the essence of the Good News. This is the heart of Christianity. The amazement at the gift.

If you think Christianity is mainly about going to church and believing all the right things and living your life a certain way — there’s no surprise or wonder in that. Where’s the sheer happiness and incredible joy? If somebody asks, “Are you a Christian?” you’ll  respond, “Of course I am. It’s hard work but, yes, I’m a Christian. Why?”

When we think and talk like that, Christianity is something done by you. So there’s no amazement in being a Christian. But if Christianity is something done FOR you, if it’s a great gift given TO you, then there’s a constant sense of surprise and wonder.

“Are you a Christian?” The answer shouldn’t be, “Of course!” It shouldn’t be so matter-of-fact, so automatic and obvious. It should be, “Yes! Yes, I’m a Christian and it’s unbelievable! It’s a miracle! Me, a Christian! Isn’t that crazy? But, yes, Christ Jesus has given me his righteousness, holiness, and peace! God through Christ has made me his child! I’m his forever! Can you believe it? Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

These next few days are going to be hectic for most of us. There’s a lot to do, a lot to keep track of, there’s a lot going on. If we’re not careful, the significance of the season gets lost. The peace and joy gets crowded out by the chores and noise. And we miss it.

There’s a reason we give and receive gifts at Christmas. There’s a reason that gifts are such a central part of the Christmas experience. May the beauty of those gifts — the wrapping, the ribbons and bows, the colors — remind us that the beautiful salvation we share in Christ Jesus is a gift from God. May the abundance of the Christmas presents point to the forgiveness, the holiness, righteousness, and peace — all the salvation gifts lavished on us through Jesus. And when we’re opening presents in the coming days, may our eyes and our hearts be opened anew to the wonder of God’s matchless love for the world. And for you.



Receiving the Gift

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me —
holy is his name!
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
~Luke 1:46-55

Mary is moved in the deepest parts of her being. Mary’s not saying, “Hey, I think this could add value to my life.” She’s not saying, “This might help me be happy, this might help me reach my goals.” She’s not weighing the pros and cons and figuring out the costs and benefits and then making a decision. She’s all in! She’s totally caught up in the gift! And she’s giving herself to it completely.

She also sounds like she’s amazed that it’s happened to her. She’s thinking about God and all his salvation acts of the past and she’s remembering all of God’s promises down through the ages and now — he’s mindful of me! He’s looking out for me! He knows about me! Almost shock that God is blessing and honoring her. And she accepts it. In humility, this humble state. She identifies with the humble and hungry. And she says, “Yes.”

She told the angel right at the start, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.” She’s not saying, “I understand everything. It’s super clear to me. I don’t have any doubts or any questions. The plan makes perfect sense and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

What she’s saying is, “I will accept this. I will follow this. I’ll pursue it. It doesn’t all make sense to me and I do have some doubts and some questions. But I’m saying ‘yes’ to God. I belong to him and let’s go with it.”

This is a very important thing. Some people won’t accept the great gift of Jesus unless every part of it makes perfect sense. Rationally, emotionally, logically, personally — it’s all got to totally add up before they’ll commit. But sometimes you can only do what Mary does. Just submit, give in. Despite your fears and reservations, even with your questions and doubts, accept the gift. Be humble. Be hungry like she says in her song.

“The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.” ~Galatians 3:22

It’s a gift. It’s the only way the life and light of Jesus can be yours.

Here’s some Breaking News: salvation by works doesn’t work. You might believe you can do enough good deeds or live a good enough life to sneak into a back corner of heaven some day. Or you might straight up reject Christianity altogether and think you’ve got enough on the inside to know how to live the way you should. Either way, you’re going to be dogged by fears and insecurities because you’ll never feel like you’re good enough or that you’ve done enough. Or if you do think you’re good enough, you’ll actually start to think you’re better than other people and you’ll be undone by your pride and your disdain for others. Or you’ll be whiplashed back and forth between the two.


Or you can believe in the truth of the Christmas gift, that you are healed and saved by grace alone through faith alone in the holy Son of God alone.

The coming of Jesus is a gift from God. It’s a gracious and loving gift. But it has to be received. You have to say “Yes.”



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