Testimony

Illustration of Isaiah by John Heseltine. – Slide 9
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Testimony – “a public recounting of a religious conversion or experience.”

I have been blessed to hear the testimonies of Pastors Vince and Larry, and more recently last week from Brother James.

When discussing such testimonies with my students I like to call them “Peter Testimonies.”  How someone had played spiritual hide and seek with God, before being confronted by God’s saving grace. 

You might recall when Peter first encountered Jesus he wanted to flee from Him.  “Go away Lord, I am a sinful man.”  But Peter was called and flourished in the Lord.  That is often the nature of Peter Testimonies and that is what makes them such powerful witnessing tools.

A while back Brother Rich K. gave his testimony and it was of a different type.  It is one of meeting the Lord early in life and growing in Him.   In Rich’s case he grew with intent of being preacher even when still a teenager.

My own experience is very similar.   But mine is a “Paul Testimony.”  One of being in the faith from childhood, but becoming caught up in it for its own sake.

Paul in various places talks about his religious credentials, in Philippians 3, he states that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, (and) of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, . . . . as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”  In Acts 22 states “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city (Jerusalem). I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.”

But Saul needed to find the Lord as much as anyone.  He had persecuted the church.  He was caught up in his own righteousness.

He went from Hebrew of Hebrews, super Pharisee complete with cape and utility belt.

To find his salvation and relationship with God.  It was developmental:

In Acts, “zealous for God”

1 Corinthians 15: 9 least of the apostles

In 1 Timothy 1:15 Chief of all sinners

But as we have said before there are many parts to the body.  And when it comes to testimony, this is clearly true.

Some of these other testimonies types are – “The come in the night” testimonies.  It is like when Nicodemus came by night to seek understanding from Jesus.  He had his encounter in secret, whether from fear or by accident.

Mark 5 presents us with a contrast of styles as well:

21 Jesus went back across to the other side of the lake. There at the lakeside a large crowd gathered around him. 22 Jairus, an official of the local synagogue, arrived, and when he saw Jesus, he threw himself down at his feet 23 and begged him earnestly, “My little daughter is very sick. Please come and place your hands on her, so that she will get well and live!”

24 Then Jesus started off with him. So many people were going along with Jesus that they were crowding him from every side.

25 There was a woman who had suffered terribly from severe bleeding for twelve years, 26 even though she had been treated by many doctors. She had spent all her money, but instead of getting better she got worse all the time. 27 She had heard about Jesus, so she came in the crowd behind him, 28 saying to herself, “If I just touch his clothes, I will get well.”

29 She touched his cloak, and her bleeding stopped at once; and she had the feeling inside herself that she was healed of her trouble. 30 At once Jesus knew that power had gone out of him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 His disciples answered, “You see how the people are crowding you; why do you ask who touched you?”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 The woman realized what had happened to her, so she came, trembling with fear, knelt at his feet, and told him the whole truth. 34 Jesus said to her, “My daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your trouble.”

35 While Jesus was saying this, some messengers came from Jairus’ house and told him, “Your daughter has died. Why bother the Teacher any longer?”

36 Jesus paid no attention to[a] what they said, but told him, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” 37 Then he did not let anyone else go on with him except Peter and James and his brother John. 38 They arrived at Jairus’ house, where Jesus saw the confusion and heard all the loud crying and wailing. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this confusion? Why are you crying? The child is not dead—she is only sleeping!”

40 They started making fun of him, so he put them all out, took the child’s father and mother and his three disciples, and went into the room where the child was lying. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha, koum,” which means, “Little girl, I tell you to get up!”

42 She got up at once and started walking around. (She was twelve years old.) When this happened, they were completely amazed. 43 But Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone, and he said, “Give her something to eat.”

One sought help, but tried it without trying to bring her needs to the attention of anyone but Jesus.   Jairus came humbly but openly to Jesus, and his testimony of though Jesus said to keep it quiet was equally public.

A Phoenician Woman came boldly to Jesus as well.  Though outside the faith, she was willing to make her needs known.

Philip and Eunuch gives us the story of a seeker.  This African man had gone to Jerusalem to seek knowledge, and seemingly left still wanting.  But God sent Philip to meet on the road, and God’s will was made clear to him.

There are loads of models but in each, the needs and personality of the individual gave them a story to tell.

What is your story, where were you found, where will you be found?

What tale do you have to tell?


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Testimony

Girl, Bedroom, Female, Fashion, Style, Model, Woman
Pixabay

It may be a gripping tale – fantastique

How you played with God spiritual hide and seek

How in your weakness you found the way

But it doesn’t have to be that way

For some their faith is inbred

Dedicated to the Lord from

When water first touched your head

We all have a path to none it’s the same

Some involved blessing

And some involved pain

The one thing that is uniquely true

It that God loves you – just for you


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This will be the theme on which I will speak this weekend

It’s Simple

Loudspeaker, Man, Boy, Holding, Speaking
Pixabay

________

Acts 17: 16 and following reads,

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

Recently, Brother Larry spoke on the topic of:  “It’s in your testimony.”  I am going to build on that and note that – “It’s simple,” because our testimonies don’t have to be anything complicated.

There are many ways of making a simple testimony.  For example, I set out on in August to write 15 Bible Poems.  One of these is offered here as a sample:

In desperation –

In greatest need-

Begging for mercy –

For help – she did plead

Rebuffed for her efforts

She did not relent –

With just crumbs from the table

She would be content

Such faith she did show

As one from outside

Jesus’ used her example

To show His mercy’s cast wide

Just crumbs from the table

Is all it does take

For us also today

A life change to make

 

In Mark 7:24-30, we find the story of the Syrophoenician Woman (cited above in the poem). Hers was a testimony of faith. It didn’t require elaborate words, or a vast understanding of scripture.  This woman was an outsider but an outsider with faith!

Such simple faith aids us.  Even without deep theological training, the plain sense of scripture can make sense – then you can find the heart of the Gospel.  It doesn’t require Greek and Hebrew.

I am a theologian. I teach and write about the nature of faith and of God. But I cannot teach faithfulness. I cannot put you in a relationship with God. That is the limitation of my ministry.  

That is why we have a body of believers!

Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us:

“And he gave to some to be, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

Did you notice that the passage said to some – not all are apostles, or prophets, pastors, and such like?   Some are mothers and fathers, carers, greeters, singers, dancer, and helpers.

Your witness – your testimony – your ministry is the talent the Lord has given to you.  And none – none – Not pastors, or worship leaders, or theologians is any more important than yours.

One powerful witness – remember this about witness – is Dorcas or Tabitha in Acts 9: 36 – 39

“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.  Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.”

Your profession of the gospel – your testimony is how you live your life of faith. What’s called the great commission “Go into to all the world and make disciples,” can be read to mean – not to be a purposeful missionary, but “As you go.”

Your – our – actions speak to those we encounter.  It is by our actions as well as by our words that we are ambassadors for Christ.  As Brother Larry put it, “It’s in your testimony.”

 

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A Faith To Live And Die For

Stoning of Steven – Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

A few weeks ago I spoke on the topic of faith.  In that message I noted the centrality of faith in the Christian life.  The Apostle Paule wrote,

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:13).”  Faith can be defined as a belief in which one has total confidence.  But scripture calls us to an even higher level of expectation.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).”

I have on several occasions had students who remarked that the Hebrews passage is “stupid.”  I usually respond with asking why they see it that way.  I usually receive a reply along the lines that, “if you haven’t seen it yourself, how do you know that it wasn’t just made up?”

To this I reply, “No one knowingly dies for a lie.”

Jesus said,  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).”   He stated that He was the path to salvation.  He also knew that that path would require Him to die as a sacrifice.

If we look at Jesus’ temptations in the desert, we see in the third test, that Satan gave Him “an out.”  He said if Jesus would worship him, he would give the peoples of the world to Jesus.  Jesus’ death wouldn’t be necessary.  Jesus however refuses the temptation, He was prepared to die to fulfill His mission (something that if He had made it up He would not have done), and He also refused to buy into a huge lie that Satan was worthy of worship.

Remember, you don’t die for a lie!

Peter in Acts 2:22 and following capsulises the Gospel by saying that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried.  But then he adds that Jesus is risen, and that he (Peter) is a witness.  His testimony is firm.  But “what if he made it up?”

In Acts 4 Peter is arrested, and ordered by the authorities (the same that had killed Jesus) to not speak the Gospel again.  His response is to question,  “Who should we obey?”  Should he obey God, and tell the truth, or cave in to the treat of those in power?  His action is one of confident faith.  Something many would not do, especially for a lie.

In Chapter 5, Peter is arrested again and beaten for the message.   Would you be beaten for a lie?  Maybe/maybe not, but Peter holds firm.

In Acts 7 Stephen filled with the Holy Spirit speaks of the same Gospel.  He then to express its fulfillment when he said he could see Jesus at the Father’s side welcoming him, even as he is being stoned to death.  He died, and for the truth.  He not once hesitated in his testimony, even in the faith of death.  You don’t die for a lie!

Chapter 9 shows us Saul, an enemy of the Gospel converted by an encounter with the resurrected Lord.  He surrendered a promising position in the Jewish hierarchy, to speak boldly the experience of his encounter.  Would he give up reputation, and position for a lie?  But that is not all.

2 Corinthians 11: 16f summarises Saul, now known as Paul’s payment for teaching the Gospel:

“Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

To top it all off tradition tells us Paul was beheaded in Rome. Just as James had been beheaded by Herod for the Gospel.  Tradition says Peter crucified upside down, and his brother Andrew sideways, while Bartholomew was skinned alive and Thomas impaled.  The other Apostle James was stoned John boiled in oil but survived.  Each died, or was prepared to die for the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Not one recanted. 

Decide for yourself, does the gospel sound like something Steven, Paul, and the Twelve “made up?”

With that knowledge before you.  In what do you put your faith today?  Is it something worthy to live and die for?

 

Padre

 

Witness*

Image result for peter's crucifixion

Luca Giordano – Crucifixion of St Peter: Wikimedia Commons

Simon Peter stood before the emperor.  He did not avert his gaze, but stood confidently before the most powerful man in Europe and beyond.

“I understand you have been causing unrest throughout my realm,” Caesar stated.  “They tell me that Herod failed to kill you, and that you somehow escaped.  It will not be such a simple matter here.  So tell me what are these exaggerated tales you peddle?”

“Your Majesty,  Jesus Christ – a righteous man – was falsely charged and executed by you Roman’s.  But he has come back to life, and of this I am a witness,” Peter proclaimed.

“Nonsense,” the emperor snapped. “The dead do not return to life.  I charge you to depart, and never speak such fanciful yarns again.”

“Yes Mighty Caesar, but I am constrained to tell the truth that Jesus Christ – a righteous man – was falsely  . . . ,” Peter said boldly.

“Yes, yes.  You have had your say, now no more of it!”

“But Jesus Christ – a righteous man, was falsely charged, and . . . ,” Peter rejoined.

“Do you not understand that I have the power to kill you?” Caesar bellowed.

“Yes, Your Highness, But Jesus Christ – a . . . .”

“Do you not realise that I am going to crucify you?” the emperor warned.

“No, Caesar.  Not that I beg you.  I am not worthy to die in the manner of Jesus.  For he was a righteous man . . . .”

And Peter remained bold in his proclamation.  He even then repeated his testimony, and he in his boldness was spared being executed “in the manner of Jesus.”  Simon Peter, the fisherman from Galilee was crucified upside down.

 

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*based on extra-biblical tradition.

Tuesday Writing Prompt Challenge: Tuesday, August 26, 2019: Crucified

 

 

Testify or Not To Testify?

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Faith is in crisis! Now that I have your attention, it seems that in Western Europe (Britain and France especially) Christian faith is on the decline. Is this an objective statement? According to polls and official censuses the answer may be yes. Fewer people state a belief in God (according to YouGov “33% of British adults do not believe in God or a greater spiritual power of any kind”). The 2011 census had only 59% of the British population as Christian.

Many of my students express an atheistic world view. But do these views, especially those expressed in a public forum, stack up? While outward confidence in God is seen to be a minority view, especially among the young, does this mean it is actually in numerical decline? Is it an issue of being timid in the face of potential ridicule rather than a lack belief or at least hope in God.

Fair enough the scriptures, and the traditions of the champions of the faith, and the martyrs of old would hold such a “silent belief” to be a betrayal.  This is not to justify the timid by the way. I have written several times about the current obsession with worldly fame, and the desire for public acceptance.  In a world of “image,” people shy from anything that might make them “the other.”

I don’t know the answer to my previous questions by the way. Is it a real decline in the number who believe? Is it just a decline in the strength of faith and dedication? Whatever the case there seems to be an imperative for those of faith to make a stand.  If numbers are falling, are we stepping into the breech and actively “recruiting.” Are we making the witness we should? If it is that faith is meek, are we being bold examples?

If it seems that the being “faithless” is normative, are we missing the chance to say, “wait a minute – your faith isn’t alone.” In I Kings, Elijah believed he was alone in his worship of God.  God corrected him!  For those with doubts today, do we leave them with the same feeling? Is our testimony also too quiet, as to make others feel “alone?”

For those with faith, let’s make it bold.  For those with leadership, let us give example! Psalm 89: 1- 2 is a wonderful approach. I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.” Think about it, if we all did, all the time, might the sense of decline be shown to be false.  If we have a voice of testimony, would anyone be able to hide behind the facade of their own silence?

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Testimony

preacher

Testimony (noun):

“a formal written or spoken statement, especially one given in a court of law.”
“evidence or proof of something”
       The term testimony also has a religious connotation. “A public recounting of a religious conversion or experience.”
       It is that context that I have most often come into contact with testimonies.
      Religious testimonies vary greatly, and it is a great evidence that all are called (even if few respond).  I recent times I have been witness to three such public declarations.
       The first by a pastor, who had been involved in gang life, was a drug dealer, and who had faced brutal encounters with law enforcement. He only later through the prayers of those who nevertheless loved him, found Christ.
       The second, a pastor who had felt the call to ministry from his early teens, and spent his life on the path of Christian service.
       The third by a sister, who had a traumatic childhood, and yet found God in her late teens, but who still took years to find true solace in God’s promises.
       What do they have in common? They were personal encounters with God. God finds us where we are. No two of us have the same life experience. Each of us has our own story to tell, our own hurts and hurdles to overcome.
       The apostles Peter and Paul show us this. Peter a rough and ready fisherman.  A man who spoke his mind.  Yet, when he first encountered Jesus, runs from Him.  “Go away Lord, I am a sinful man.”
       Paul, raised at the feet of one of the leading rabbis of Judaism, a man full of commitment to religious tradition, and orthodoxy, still had to have an encounter.  This man, who believed so fervently in his vision of God’s expectations, had to become blind in order to see the truth.
       Our testimonies may seem trivial to us.  We may feel our stories are not important.  We may think others have so much more to share than we do.  But, have you ever considered that others may be in a similar life position to you?
       Most of us are “Joe or Joan Ordinaries,” we are not former drug dealers, alcoholics, or glowing examples of righteousness. We in our day to day struggles have met God in our own way.  Maybe that is what someone in a similar position needs to hear.
       God had bought you with a price. He found you in your journey, and led you onwards. Perhaps today is the day, YOUR story needs to be heard by those who need it.
        Are you a Peter? A Paul? Maybe neither, but you are you – a child of God. Go tell the world about the relationship you have with your Daddy. You might just acquire a few siblings because of the effort.
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