Want What You’ve Got! (stories)

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I spent a recent weekend at a retreat with some of the most amazing women I’ve been blessed to know. Throughout the event, woven into the fabric of our time together, were bursts of laughter, warm and comforting hugs, honest questions, brilliant epiphanies, the sting of tears, and… stories.

Our stories – the re-telling of our trials and triumphs – aren’t always the stories we want to claim. Many of us have experienced things in our lifetime that we still wish hadn’t happened.

But our stories make us who we are today, and who we are today is a work of God! Each challenge we’ve faced and every turn of events we’ve navigated serves to shape and define us. This is what I noticed as I listened to the stories being lifted up by the women around me, and as I saw each of my sisters in her present reality (uniquely gifted, impassioned and equipped to serve) I was struck by how each is the sum of her stories plus the power of her God.

You may not like all of the stories of your life. You might not willingly embrace your past or see yourself as a holy equation in process. You may not Want What You’ve Got – the trauma and issues and drama you’ve been dealt. But your stories are only part of the math, and if you’re breathing, there is more calculation yet to be done.

Today, think back to elementary school and consider yourself a holy story problem! Stop trying to undo what cannot be undone and instead choose to yield to the One who knows how to do the math.

And tell your stories to those of us who need to believe that God is working it all out in the present problems of our lives, because we need you to Want What You’ve Got so that we can, too.

Daily Questions: Think back over your life and remember some of the trials God has seen you through. What difficult or painful situations has God delivered you from? How has He redeemed your stories? How has God used your stories to bring hope, perspective or healing to others? Is there a story from your past or present that God wants you to be telling (and to whom)?

 

What TWO Can DO L4L.19

Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair

Image by bitzcelt via Flickr

The WORD

‘The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.” Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”’ John 8:13-18 (New Living Translation)

This challenge from the Pharisees comes on the heels of Jesus’ failure to pass judgment on the woman caught in adultery (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Seems that these leaders of the faith were more apt to buy into a messiah figure who would wield his weapons of war on the battlefield of works and moral judgment  than one whose failure to condemn the clearly guilty left them feeling uncomfortably unjustified.

‘The Pharisees objected, “All we have is your word on this. We need more than this to go on.” Jesus replied, “You’re right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I’ve come from and where I go next. You don’t know where I’m from or where I’m headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that. But even if I did, my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father. That fulfills the conditions set down in God’s Law: that you can count on the testimony of two witnesses. And that is what you have. You have my word and you have the word of the Father who sent me.”’ (The Message)

As He often did, Jesus demonstrated His knowledge and understanding of Jewish Law by quoting from Deuteronomy (17:6 and 19:15), which had to make the Pharisees more than a little bit hot beneath the collar. In both of these Old Testament verses, the point made is that no man should be found guilty of a crime on the say-so of only one witness; the testimony of two or more is required.

Funny how Jesus managed to turn the Jewish leaders’ demand for proof of Jesus’ claims into His own method of defense. They demanded that Jesus bring a sound witness forward, to prove He was telling the truth. Jesus insinuates that what they’re really trying to do is find Him guilty of a crime, to which He offers the testimony of His Father; the Word of God Himself.

The APP

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where your words and witness fell short of being convincing? I was in this very place years ago, when I found myself working for a leader whose behind-the-scenes manipulation had become a grotesque art form. No matter what this person said or did to exercise control over me or to try to put me in my ‘place’, no one else was ever around when it happened. I was the only one who knew about the fiery darts that routinely pierced my sensitive skin and left me wounded and doubting my abilities, my intentions and my calling.

These circumstances ended up being an eye-opening experience, illustrating the need for the testimony of two; if there had been another witness, I don’t think I would have been the one to leave that workplace. But as it was, it would have been my word against his; not an ideal situation no matter how you frame it.

Jesus’ words acknowledge God’s Law in this confrontation with the Pharisees because Jesus knew that they wouldn’t listen to Him alone. Many times our squabbles in the faith arise from a “he said, she said” exchange, where you tell me what you think and I counter with my own words, to which you add your arguments and consequently pour fuel on my fire…

Jesus didn’t take this approach.

Jesus provided the testimony of two when He chose to let God speak on the subject, by letting God’s Word speak for Himself.

Now, you might argue that Christians do this all the time. Who hasn’t been the victim of scripture quoted for the purpose of proving that someone else is wrong so that I can be right? We can subtly (or blatantly) insert scripture into our conversations in order to throw more weight around than we actually have, and we can do this for our own selfish gain while furthering our own self-serving agendas.

This is not what Jesus did, nor is it what He is teaching us to do. Instead, He was aligning Himself with the powerful witness of One whose Word could validate Jesus’ own words and actions.

Jesus chose the testimony of two – He and His Father’s Word – so that He might be successful in the mission He was on.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 speaks about our very real need for the testimony of two:  

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Quite literally, Jesus knew what two could do, and He chose to stand unified with the Father when confronted by those who would attack Him with their words, with their anger, and finally with their weapon of death on a cross.

You and I could choose today to walk the narrow road alone, but why would we when we know what two can do?

Two can help one another succeed.

Two can pick each other up when they fall.

Two can huddle together for warmth in this cold world.

Two can stand back-to-back and conquer any enemy that comes their way.

Jesus knew what two can do, and He chose to stand back-to-back with His Father, conquering death and sin so that you and I might be brought into unbroken fellowship with the powerful witness of One whose Word can validate our own words and actions.

You know that Christ comes with His Father’s testimony. Align yourself with Christ!

You know that there are people in your life who are witnesses of God’s work in you. Align yourself with them!

Where two or more are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, THERE HE IS among you!

It’s time to be Literal 4 Lent, my friend.

It’s time to see just what two can do!

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

 

Swearing In (a PINK Tuesday post)

Have you ever noticed that most churches look an awful lot like a courtroom?

You’ve got the “judge’s seat” in the middle, where the altar & the cross are (because God tells us that HE IS JUDGE and will return again to judge the living and the dead). We’ve even got a “witness stand,” complete with microphone, so that the testimony can be heard by the gallery – the onlookers (the audience).

When I think about what happens inside this room – this courtroom – I have to ask the burning question…

WHERE ARE THE WITNESSES?

During a church service, we might answer that the Pastor is a witness – after all, we must value what he or she has to say because we pin a microphone on them, right?! And the readers who come forward to share the Text, they are witnesses, too. We might say that our Sunday School teachers are witnesses as well, and our nursery staff, too, because their testimony reaches into young lives as they faithfully serve in these ministries.

In church it seems that the witnesses who use this “witness stand” are the few who have been trained to do this, and yet Jesus told His disciples (who were unschooled, untrained men) “YOU are my witnesses!”

He didn’t say:

“You are the gallery. All of the action will take place up here, with a few carefully screened, carefully selected and properly indoctrinated witnesses – but that’s THEIR JOB. You just sit there and LISTEN. Don’t distract the witnesses. Take it all in. Talk about it over lunch if you like. What you DO with what they SAY is… your concern. You’re the GALLERY after all.”

No, Jesus said to His followers in Acts 1:8 that:

“YOU will be my witnesses WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES.”

Thomas hadn’t been there to see Jesus OR to receive the spirit-breath that Jesus offered to the disciples in the upper room that night. He hadn’t been an eyewitness on the scene and he doubted – just as those same believing disciples had doubted when the women ran in on Easter morning, saying that Christ’s body was gone and that He was no longer dead.

Peter and the other disciples, later in the book of Acts, insist that:

“We are witnesses to these things (about Christ), AND SO IS the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

These disciples were first-hand witnesses of the resurrected Jesus, and ultimately, so was Thomas. But Jesus says we’re blessed when, even though we haven’t seen Him with our own eyes, we still believe!

We give Thomas a bad rap because his testimony wasn’t full of faith at a time when his HEART wasn’t full of the SPIRIT OF GOD – is that FAIR? Not only had the disciples in the room that night SEEN JESUS with their own eyes, but they had also RECEIVED the SPIRIT of God through Jesus! Did those disciples really believe because of what they had seen with their EYES, or was it because Jesus offered them a glimpse of the Spirit’s own testimony when He breathed Spirit-life into them? Thomas came to believe by SIGHT, but Jesus says we are blessed when we believe by the SPIRIT of God, living inside of us.

I John chapter 5 says “it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit IS the truth.” “God’s testimony is greater than man’s.” This same text says that “anyone who believes has THIS TESTIMONY in his HEART.”

This is what Jesus means when He says in Acts 1: “When the Holy Spirit comes in power, YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES!”

So, whether we believe by SIGHT or by SPIRIT, whether by first hand knowledge of Christ resurrected or by the Holy Spirit’s first hand knowledge of Christ resurrected (which becomes YOURS when that Spirit takes up residence in YOU), WE ARE HIS WITNESSES, and our testimony is needed!

What does it mean to be a witness for Jesus today? In a courtroom, what the witness says out loud is considered “testimony”. Churchianity often simplifies this to mean the telling of your conversion story (your before & after Christ story) or the telling of the Gospel message – both which are sometimes call witnessing. But just as in a courtroom, it’s really more three-dimensional than that.

There are DIFFERENT KINDS of WITNESSES

Witnesses of FACT / LAY Witnesses

These are people who have first-hand knowledge of what has happened, and not just first-hand knowledge, but knowledge gained through the senses. These people have SEEN, HEARD, SMELLED or TOUCHED the situation (think Thomas, with his fingers touching the holes from the nails on Jesus’ body). This is the most common type of witness – someone who watched certain events happen and now re-tells the story for the benefit of others. As in law lingo, the word lay is used to indicate those who aren’t “trained” or “schooled”. The disciples were lay witnesses – unlike those in the next category.

Expert Witnesses

An Expert Witness is a specialist – someone who is educated in a certain area and testifies with respect to this area only. An expert’s experience and training positions him or her to be able to explain what has happened in light of their special knowledge, but it also prepares them to share details of what has happened ELSEWHERE in similar situations. This person can tell us what SHOULD have happened, what COULD have happened and what MAY HAPPEN in the future, in regard to their area of expertise.

In court, expert witnesses are paid for their testimony and it is commonly understood that using the right or wrong expert is often the difference between winning or losing a case. In church world, our “experts” are often the paid people, aren’t they? Those who are schooled in theology or apologetics; those who have words to explain things that some of us lay witnesses have SENSED or EXPERIENCED but often struggle to put into words.

Character Witnesses

Character witnesses are those who know the victim or know the defendant or other people involved in the case. These people usually were not present when the action took place, but they know the personality and character of those involved and can often paint a faithful picture of who a person is for others.

The need is GREAT in our world today for people who can paint a faithful picture of the character and personality of Jesus. These are the ones whose lives mirror the image of God and whose words and actions reflect the life of the Spirit that is housed inside of them. When we allow God to develop the fruit of His Spirit in our lives, we are walking, talking character witnesses of the resurrected Christ! There is nothing we can do to make this happen other than to be OPEN to the creative work of God in our lives.

Now, providing that you are a credible witness – competent to give evidence and worthy of belief – your statement as a witness can:

  • Make up for gaps in evidence
  • Add credibility to the story being re-told
  • Refute evidence of the opposing party
  • Support factual conclusions
  • Explain complex factual issues.

Be warned… being a witness is sometimes dangerous.

There are people (and powers) out there who do not want your testimony to be heard. It may be just what is needed to put them behind bars (why do you think it’s necessary to have witness protection programs?)!

In its original context, the word MARTYR meant witness. The process of bearing witness wasn’t intended to lead to death, although ancient writers like Josephus say that witnesses were routinely tortured in order to insure the disclosure of truth. During the early Christian centuries, though, the meaning of martyr was extended to include believers who were called to witness for their faith and consequently endured suffering and even death.

God doesn’t promise safety, but HIS Witness Protection Program isn’t something that is done TO YOU but done IN YOU – by placing His Spirit / His Counsel / your “Lawyer” inside of you, where no one can touch, harm or destroy His connection and support.

Ultimately, Jesus’ role was as a witness, too – a witness to the plan of a loving Father who sought to rescue and draw His children close to His heart, placing them under His protection by His ridiculously liberal Grace. With Jesus as our role model, we are in good company when we suffer for our testimony in the courtroom of the world.

Our testimony is needed in order for the whole picture to be seen clearly by the jury and the gallery of the world outside our church walls.

All of the details must be laid out for the case to be made, and every day you bear witness in the case of What’s Acceptable to the World v. Truth.

Whether you believe by SIGHT (like Thomas did) or by the Spirit of God whose testimony LIVES within the faithful, “YOU are my witnesses!” Jesus says! And not only inside our church sanctuaries, but OUT THERE! To the ends of the earth!

It is time for our stories to be told SO THAT others may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing they too may have life in His Name.

It’s time to make it official. It’s time for the Swearing In of the Witnesses.

(Let me switch roles to clerk/baliff.)

“Will all witnesses who are to give testimony in these proceedings please stand?

Place your left hand on your Bible and raise your right hand, signifying your willingness to complete the oath.

You and each of you do swear by Almighty God, the searcher of all hearts, that the evidence you are about to give this world shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, without omission, so help you God.”

So help you the faithful witness of Jesus Christ.

So help you the powerful Holy Spirit of the God Who lives inside of YOU.

Cameroon volunteers swearing in, 2006