|JANUARY 2009||ARTICLE SERIES||
LIVING ON GOD'S DESIGN - SERIES 9
“Ye are My witnesses.” To this statement from the Book of Isaiah, the commentary adds, “If you are My witnesses then I am God. If you are not My witnesses then I am as it were not God.” In the Torah scroll, the last word of shma is written large, and the last letter of the last word is written large. Together they spell eyd or witness, as though to remind us that the Jew’s goal is to be witness to this reality.
Jesus’ last statement before he ascended into heaven were “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you : and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” A Sunday School teacher named Ezra Kimball witnessed to a nineteen year old shoe clerk named Dwight L. Moody. Moody fired Frederick B. Meyer’s spirit. F. B. Meyer challenged Wilbur Chapman. Wilbur Chapman took Billy Sunday as Assistant. Sunday led more than a million people to the Savior. Billy Sunday preached in Charlotte, N.C. and a revival broke out. A prayer group was formed. As a result of their prayers, Mordecai Ham came to Charlotte and preached and resulted in a great revival. One night in 1934 two young men attended the services and were saved: Grady Wilson and Billy Graham. Graham has preached to more people than any person in history. Knowing the power of the 26 letter alphabet, Benjamin Franklin once remarked: “Give me twenty-six lead soldiers and I will conquer the world.”
In Genesis 31 we read how Laban and Jacob gathered a big heap of stones as a ‘witness’ to their agreement. In this sense the word means to give visible evidence of an invisible experience. Through these ideas we see that a witness is someone who by explanation and demonstration gives audible and visible evidence of what he has seen and heard without being deterred by the consequences of his action. A Christian witness is someone who, in a variety of ways communicates the truth as it is to be found in Christ. I am reminded of the famous statement of Jean Guitton: “I am in favor of the witness to truth and of the witness to fact.” We should talk about Jesus anywhere, without getting obnoxious. The Lord is gracious to us, but whenever Christians act boldly, but not foolishly or obnoxiously, and people see the adventure of Christianity, they tend to look into it.
Who is a witness? A witness is one who says I know this is true. In a court of law one cannot give in evidence a carried story; it must be his own personal experience. As someone remarked, Christ does not need a lawyer (advocate), he needs a witness. The real witness is not the witness of words but deeds. The great example of David Livingstone comes to mind. In Greek the word for witness and the word for martyr is the same (martus). A witness had to be ready to become a martyr. To be a witness means to be loyal no matter what the cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer outlines in his Cost of Discipleship what it entails. In the days of early church to be a witness was almost a guarantee you would become a martyr. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, bore witness even while he was dying.
Leviticus 5:1 says: “And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.” It is in the same spirit that Paul confessed that there is compulsion laid on him to preach. Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, who for many years was Pastor of the historic City Temple of London, told a story that may remind us of how far short we fall from the declarations of Paul (Acts 27:23) and Mary (Lk 1:38). It seems that two men were partners in business and saw each other almost everyday. On Sundays they rode the commuter train out into the country. There they parted company. One went to the golf course, the other to a church. This went on for twenty years. One day the golfer said to his friend, “You are a hypocrite!” Then he continued: “If your belief is valid, then I am in great danger. But never once, in all these years, have you said a word to try to win me away from something trivial to something you claim is the most important thing in the world.”
The Prologue to the Gospel of John proclaims Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the Word who was with God in the beginning and became flesh and dwelt among us, full of God’s grace and truth. John the Baptist as portrayed by the Fourth Gospel is a paradigm of sorts- as Augustine long ago suggested – for all subsequent witnesses, beginning with the beloved disciple who, we are told at the end of the Gospel, is ‘bearing witness to these things’, whose ‘testimony is true’ (21:24) The Baptist seeks no disciples of his own. Those attracted to him, those who want to ascribe to him messianic power and status, he points away from himself to the one who is the grace and truth of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is difficult for most of us to say with him ‘He, Jesus, must increase, but I must decrease’. The disciples of John the Baptist “fell victim to the danger that besets every witness of the light.” We must be aware of this great danger. As Luther said, “The world suffers from the affliction of being full of masters and know-alls, of sages and lights, who seek their own way to heaven and want to be lights of the world and teach and lead us how to come to God; John is warning us against such. Wherever we have this confusion, the witness, instead of remaining a witness, begins to pose as the Revealer, points to himself instead of to Christ, and makes God’s case his own…As commonly happens, the disciples of the witness, out of pure gratitude and enthusiasm, do him the wrong of putting him in a place where he does not belong.”
We should ask why are Christians reluctant to witness? It may be because of lack of training, fear of failure, lack of proper challenge or even lack of commitment. Love of the Lord and for the Lord is the key to effective witness. Some of the questions that arise are who is expected to tell others about Christ’s redeeming work? Why should a Christian tell others about Jesus Christ? What can a Christian say to others about Jesus? How should the witness be presented? We often like to witness to nice people. We are so busy trying to save our testimony that we never give it. We don’t understand as witnesses we are supposed to infiltrate the world. That is what God has called us to be: Fifth columnists, saboteurs. The late Tom Skinner, one of my friends, once made this statement. “It is the function of a prophet to sit at the king’s gate…There are no prophets in the country standing up and saying to our leaders, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ John the Baptist has now become ‘chaplain’ in Herod’s palace instead of ‘prophet’”
“We know also that few things are more powerful than the printed page. In the fifteenth century, Richard Gibbs wrote a tract titled ‘The Bruised Reed’ which led to the conversion of Richard Baxter one of England’s greatest preachers). Baxter wrote more than 100 books. One of them, The Call to the Uncommitted , led tens of thousands to Christ, including Philip Dodridge. Dodridge was called to preach and one of his books, The Rise and Progress of Religion led William Wilberforce to Christ. Wilberforce probably did more to abolish slavery from the British Colonies than any man in England’s history. His book A Practical View of Christianity led Leigh Richmond to Jesus. Richmond’s booklet The Dairyman’s Daughter brought thousands to Jesus.
In some churches they have testimony time during the service. At some point in the service, people are invited to share spontaneously what God had done in their lives in the last week or so. No one had to prepare for this in advance. There were no notes or 3-pont outlines. The Spirit was supposed to direct. In fact, the Spirit was ultimately the story teller. They would tell stories of suffering relieved, needs met, comfort offered, direction provided, and failures forgiven. Through their testimonies they make themselves vulnerable before God and each other.
The God of nature is the God of history (Adonai Elohenyu). Because it is a powerful claim we start to explore its consequences. First, the idea leads to the possibility of creating history. If it is possible to remake the world in accord with a notion of the good, then the central human story is about how we are doing in any historical period in relation to what we could and should be doing. The second is an incredible optimism about the world: ultimately, good will triumph even though evil may triumph in the short run, sometimes masquerading as progress. Thirdly, it claims that God is the Force that not only creates but also assists us in transforming the world is that we are all required to engage in the struggle to change the status quo. The fourth consequence is that the physical world is so infused with the Spirit of God that it participates in the rebellion against oppression. Implied in these is an insistence on the fundamental interdependence of all human beings and an account of the fundamental unity of all being.
Why do we have top witness? 1 John 1:1-5 provides the rationale and basis of our witnessing. Paul says ‘compulsion is laid on me’ Christ insisted that we should witness. Acts 1:8 Christ Himself did a lot of it. God ordained that we should be witnesses. 2 Cor 5:18,19. The world needs us to be witnesses. As Apostle James says “Let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall have a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
What is expected of us as witnesses? We will need to get some specific concerns. The Holy Spirit motivates you. He helps you to see as God sees and eventually love as He loves. But you can stop Him from doing this work in you. You can ‘grieve’ Him and ‘quench’ the Spirit. We may lack concern for the people. Find out if any selfish motivations are controlling your actions so that the Holy Spirit is not allowed in our lives. Make a list of all the hang-ups you have about witnessing. You will need to make some contacts. The basic requirements for building up a long-time contact with people when you wish to lead to Christ are: (a) Make sure you exercise great care in living consistently and attractively before them. (b) Get involved in his interests, get your shoulder under his burdens and be genuinely glad in his successes. (c) You have to dare attempts to get involved in him. (d) Develop every conceivable approach to Christian outreach. (e) Last but not least, pray consistently for that person.
“Often we are preoccupied with the question ‘How can we be witnesses in the name of Jesus? What are we supposed to say or do to make people accept the love that God offers them?’ These questions are expressions more of our fear than of our love. Jesus shows us the way of being witnesses. He was so full of God’s love, so connected with God’s will, so burning with zeal for God’s kingdom, that he couldn’t do other than witness. Wherever he went and whomever he met, a power went out from him that healed everyone who touched him. If we want to be witnesses like Jesus, our only concern should be to be as alive with the love of God as Jesus.” (Henry J. M. Nouwen Bread for the Journey, 1997.)
The Lord will be in our witnessing. Make conversation. Of course, you have to learn how to participate in ordinary conversations. Will need to learn how to start conversations about spiritual issues. Must get skill in having a discussion without alienating the other. Prayerfully attempt to answer the questions the other may have. Be upon the ways great witnesses have attempted to share the joy of knowing and proclaiming Christ. In all our thinking, we must make God’s love for men in Jesus Christ our starting ground. When Paul said ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:39), he was not talking about our ;love toward God. He was not saying that we should love him in life or death. He was saying rather, that God’s love for us was something which no circumstance of life could stop or alter. One cannot command the love of the Savior except by loving. We talk too much about ourselves. We must learn to talk about Christ. And as Philip Maurry used to say, ‘to talk about Him alone’.
Sometime ago I read the story of one Roger Arienda of the Philippines. He was a convict. He was an agitator, making fiery speeches urging the overthrow of the government in favor of communism. He was sentenced to prison in 1972 for possession of illegal weapons. When Roger had been in prison three years, he was lonely and bored. One day in the Library he picked up a book to read that had a red cover on. Because of its color he thought it was a communist book. But the red book was a Bible and he read it. The hate, anger, and loneliness in Roger’s heart melted. In fact, his heart felt so different he actually visited the prison doctor to see if anything was wrong. In 1975 he became a Christian. In the next five years in the prison he led more than two thousand people to Christ. In 1980 he became the first man in the Philippines ever to be ordained as a pastor while he was in prison. He helped to establish a Baptist church among those he had won in New Bilibid prison in Manila. Even the deacons, of course, were convicts. On Christmas Day of 1980 he was paroled. The day was Thursday. By Sunday he had led three of his neighbors in Manila to Christ. He started services in his garage talking about Christ’s love to three to five hundred people daily.
I have read the story of a person who had elephantiasis. He got converted and became a radiant Christian and did nothing but tell people of the grace of God, which he had showed in sending His son Jesus Christ to die for them. This man lived in an African village. He walked hut to hut. The next village was 12 miles away. He walked through the jungle. He did not return one day. He finally reached that place. His feet were much swollen, bruised and bleeding. He told the people about Jesus. He went from hut to hut. There was no shelter. So he was going back. Then darkness set in. About midnight the doctor there was awakened by a noise on his front porch. He was bleeding. He took him to the hospital. “How beautiful are the feet of them that bring good tidings, that publish peace.” (Is 52:7 Rom 10:15)
Willard Scott, the NBC weatherman, has this to say about how he got out of alcoholism. Someone who was sitting near him in an airplane took the AA Book: Alcoholics Anonymous from his brief case. He moved the book closer to Willard as he flipped the pages. Willard said: ‘That’s a marvelous book’. The other said ‘This book has saved me’. Willard confessed that lately he has been drinking too much . The man said ‘Take the book’ So Willard took the book home and he put it on his Bar and left it there for may be six months and every night he would come home and have several drinks. One night he drank much more than he normally did and woke up in the middle of the night confused. Finally sense came to him. He picked up the book and started to read it. He stopped drinking. He wrote: “The truth is, what a fantastic thing that was, a brief encounter on an airplane with a man who changed my life. And to this day, that man doesn’t know whether I have stopped drinking or not, or whether or not what he did was something that had a lasting influence on my life.” Every single one of us is a messenger. We are all instruments. Everything we do, everything we say, every move we make says something about us and what we believe and how we feel.
Right living and right speaking is the prescription for true witnessing. To be a witness for God is to be a living sign of God’s presence in the world. When we forgive our neighbors from our hearts, our hearts will speak forgiving words. When we are hopeful and joyful, we will speak hopeful and joyful words. We often give double messages when we are not living what we say.
Henry J.M. Nouwen says it much better than I can say. “Good news becomes bad news when it is announced without peace and joy. Anyone who proclaims the forgiving and healing love of Jesus with a bitter heart is a false witness. Jesus is the Savior of the world. We are not. We are called to witness, always with our living and sometimes with our words, to the great things God has done for us. But this witness must come from a heart that is willing to give without getting anything in return. The more we trust in God’s unconditional love for us, the more able we will be to proclaim the love of Jesus without any inner or outer conditions.” (Bread for the Journey)
Again, “Being living signs of love – Jesus’ whole life was a witness to His Father’s love, and Jesus calls his followers to carry on that witness in His Name. We, as followers of Jesus, are sent into this world to be visible signs of God’s unconditional love. Thus, we are judged not first of all by what we say but by what we live. When people say of us, ‘See how they love one another’, they catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced and are drawn to it as by a magnet. In a world so torn apart by rivals, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds.” (ibid)
Notwithstanding, we must remember our desire to be productive and see with our own eyes what we have made, that is not the way of God’s kingdom. Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results. Jesus Himself died as a failure on a cross. But we know His resurrection proved otherwise. As faithful witnesses of Jesus we have to trust that our lives too will be fruitful even though at the time we cannot see their fruit. The fruit of our lives may be visible only to those who follow us. It is said that David Livingstone, the great missionary, died without seeing the fruit of his work – not a single person got converted during his life time.
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