Pigeons have been carrying messages of peace and hope since the day the dove brought the olive leaf back to Noah. In ancient European history, they were seen as saviors during a siege. Not only could they carry messages outside the wall, but because the birds rapidly reproduce, humans could eat squab (half-grown pigeons) in order to survive the siege.
During the world wars, the United States Army had a very large carrier pigeon program. This military secret as to how they trained pigeons to “home” (fly back and forth between two sites) still exists. Pigeons braved enemy fire, and several continued on after being hit by bullets while carrying their message—sometimes saving the day. G.I. Joe was a pigeon that saved over one thousand men when he carried a message through enemy fire—even after the loss of one eye.
Although since World War II communication technology has advanced beyond the use of birds, people still use pigeons as messengers. But rather than carrying a message, they have become the message. The pure white dove version is used today at weddings to symbolize peace. They are also set free at funerals as a sign of hope. Disneyland has a flock of white birds that they release every day in their ceremonies.
A changing world
We live in a changing world, and while our message as Christians remains the same, our means of carrying it needs to change. According to the apostle Paul, we always were intended to be a message rather than have a message. He writes, “Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it” (2 Cor. 3:2, 3, The Message). This “publication” comes about as we live our daily lives—living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We live in a world that values authenticity. When people see that the lives of Christians are different from what we are preaching, it turns them off to the gospel and brings reproach upon the name of Christ. On the other hand, because the world values genuineness or being real, they are ready to hear about anything that makes a difference in life and can be seen as authentic. Some strive to give a politically correct message, but with our society shifting away from political correctness toward honesty and truth, it’s time that we, like the pigeon, went from carrying the message to being the message.
Carrying a message means the message that you bear may not be your own. You could be carrying it for some sort of remuneration while not necessarily believing or adhering to it. Carriers of a message might not even know the message. Being a message, on the other hand, means that people get the message by your life, by the sum of your words and actions, by who you are and what your values mean. Being a message involves your total character and how you connect with the people whom you are trying to reach.
With connection vital to being a message, you can sometimes carry a message without being personally involved or caring about those you are giving a message to—in order to be a message, you have to come close to those with whom you have contact. Jesus understood what it meant to be a message. We are told that, “Jesus did this very work. He came close to those whom he desired to benefit.”1 If you want to be of assistance to another, you have to connect with that person. A preacher aloof from the people often fails to benefit them, but Jesus cared about the hearts of those He sought to help.
Being in action
As a hospital chaplain intern, I am learning what it means to be a message. Before I began my internship I asked myself, “What will I say to the family of someone who has died?” As I entered room after room, each with distinct yet different needs, I began to realize that what to say is not so vital as what to be. And the only way to be the message is to be in constant prayer, asking Jesus how He desires the person to be benefited. Many times I felt impressed to just sit with a person and not say anything at all, merely listening to them.
Once, when I entered a room right after a death, I wasn’t searching for words; rather, I was seeking how to reach over and touch hearts. I simply listened to their story. I didn’t need to say much; I needed, instead, to be the human message of love and validation that their pained souls yearned for. After about twenty minutes, the widow mentioned that they were members of a particular denomination. My job requires that, if they are churchgoers, I ask if they want me to call their minister. She turned and said, “We just want to be here with you.”
I don’t think it was so much about being with me as it was that the message had come through. We are all called to be this message. “Christ is sitting for His portrait in every disciple. . . . In every one Christ’s long-suffering love, His holiness, meekness, mercy, and truth, are to be manifested to the world.”2
Truth is more than a set of doctrines or a dogma. It is, first and foremost, a Divine Person, Jesus Christ. When we are the message, others can see “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27, NIV). Have you internalized this truth to where it’s not just a part of you but actually who you are? If you have, your message will touch lives in our high-tech age just as the dove can still reach a world that has turned to email.
1 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers (Washington, DC: Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 1948), 337.
2 ———, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press® Publishing Association, 1940), 827.