Posts Tagged ‘witness’

who will goThe scripture designated for this seventh day of Advent is the entire chapter of Isaiah 6. It is not for the faint-hearted. For my purposes, I have selected the most well known:

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”
I said, “I’m here; send me.” [Isaiah 6:8, CEB]

It all sounds so romantic. God calling out to the people and asking for a volunteer. In our minds’ eye, we imagine our hands shooting up in wonderful abandon. “Me, me, send me!” Or not.

I remember the first time I heard a missionary from Africa (I forget which country now, it was so long ago) telling his tales of serving in some remote villages. He told stories of wonder and miracles, even the raising of a dead man. I listened in awe. And then he asked the audience, who would like to return with me? Who will go? Some part of me wanted to go. Nothing was really in my way except for funds. I was single at the time and only just left New York and I was living back in Indianapolis. And yet, I sat and wept. He came to me after the service. We both knew I was to go, but he would not encourage me or discourage me. He simply asked why I cried. And I confessed, I could not face the fear of the unknown and the death of all the rest of my dreams, sketchy though they were. I still mourn that decision in many ways for I know that was a fork in my road.

All of this is not to say that I am sorry for the life I have lived. And I know, as we all know, that there have been many more turning points and many more forks in the path.

But let us not fool ourselves. Sending and going are serious business.

In Isaiah’s case, even moreso, because he knew from the outset that none would hear the words nor believe him. The language, in English, is confusing as it sounds like God is commanding the people not to hear. But that is not quite the sense of the meaning. It’s the outcome that is described: the people will not listen, they will not understand, they will not see the signs. And yet, Isaiah, knowing this from the beginning, went anyway.

For us, success in the things of God is not the outcome but the intent. Our faithfulness is to the mission, not the achievements. Another mystery in a culture of ambition and striving, accumulating the most toys, having the biggest house, or filling our closets with shoes and our garages with cars.

If Jesus had that ethos and taught his disciples differently, who would ever go?

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There’s not much glory in being the sidekick, particularly if the person is true to his/her mission.

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. [John 1:6-10, CEB]

It’s an interesting story, this tale of John the Baptist, who made such a huge splash (pun intended) in Judea, living on the fringe of society, prophesying endlessly, drawing colossal crowds, and calling on the people to ceremonially cleanse themselves in preparation for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He was all fire and determination. But he was also a catalyst.

John did not ride with Jesus and yet he was one of the key disciples. John moved things along. He challenged the norm; he challenged Jesus himself. (See Matthew 14.) John instigated the situation with Herod and knew that condemning a leader’s actions would get him put into jail. He was no fool. But he also knew he had to step away from the limelight in order for Jesus to take the reins of that moment in history.

Up until then, Jesus was doing a lot of teaching along with a few miracles and he built his team of twelve and even sent them out to try their hands at ministry, but he hadn’t really inflamed the leadership. But after John was in prison and eventually beheaded, Jesus began manifesting a series of fantastic unexplainable miracles from feeding thousands of people to walking on water and even transcending our three-dimensional world on Mount Tabor during his “transfiguration.” He stepped up his game.

John was the sidekick who was willing to sacrifice everything for the mission of Jesus. John the Baptist had been in the limelight and turned that light toward his cousin Jesus.

In our modern world, people are not always as willing to step aside or step down for the sake of the friend or partner or colleague.

I complain so often that my young adult children still believe the world revolves them. But perhaps I am no better. Can I learn from John and say, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29b, NIV]

Turn your eyes and look with me this day.

Advent: Day five.

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Despite the fact that “eyewitnesses” usually screw up the details of what they witness, they do get the big picture: they know it was a bank robbery, a car accident, a outpouring of power. And then, too, repetition tends to solidify an account, like one miracle after another.

II Peter 1:15-16
And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Peter was “all in” (the new phrase moving through contemporary churches). While accompanying Jesus he was a doubter, a slacker, and a chameleon even, but once the Christ was revealed fully through his death and resurrection, he got it. It was just at the point when his world fell apart that his world fell together. And there was no turning back. There was only forward and the story, that one story that everyone had to hear.

In the same way that people recount eye-witnessed tragedies over and over again(the falling of the twin towers, the floods, the tsunamis, etc.), so also would transformative experiences be on the tip of the tongue. We remember because we tell the tale. Families reminisce at the dinner table and stories live on, memories are stirred, feelings are reborn. Where there was joy, joy is recreated (and the same for sorrow, but somehow, the sorrow is more tempered by time).

What is my story? Isn’t my writing part of this process? Remembering, reviewing, reliving. Re-re-re… again and again.

Thirty plus years ago, I encountered Peter’s same Christ, and it was real and true and life changing. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Photo by Nic Mifsud

Who do I call on to affirm or witness my declaration of faith? Do I have the confidence to call on God, “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” to corroborate my story each day? And yet, that is the only witness that counts. That’s part of the faith agreement.

I Timothy 6:13-14a
In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command [fight the good fight] . . .

There’s an evangelistic phrase that has been beat to death, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

But of course, the answer depends on the human interpretation of our actions. And really, all those other witnesses could say what they want, there is only witness that counts.

I have been in enough churches or para-church organizations and observed a cloud of well-meaning witnesses crucify me and others for saying the wrong thing, for revealing a disapproved behavior or choice, for reading the wrong books or watching the wrong movies or listening to the wrong music. Once, my husband and I left a church only to discover later that we were discussed as having left the true faith by leaving that group and moving on to a different one. (Anne Jackson speaks eloquently of this in her book and blog, Permission to Speak Freely.)

Have I been guilty of being this kind of witness to others? I’d love to say I haven’t, but I know better.

It’s one of the reasons that gossip is so dangerous, it’s a type of witnessing, a “passing” of information with little concern for its accuracy. One of the curses of gossip for me is that hearing it or speaking it has given me the illusion of being on the inside of a matter. If I have “news” that no one else has, I am an insider. When I hear such news, I am being included. What a terrible sham.

I cannot go back, I can only go forward. Today is a new day and today, I open the gates of heart and ask that He be my witness this day.

Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?

The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory. [Psalm 24:7-10]

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I used to make the mistake of thinking that networking was about figuring out what someone else could do for me. Now I understand, true networking is about the heart. Networking is just meeting people, listening to people, and caring about people. Jesus was the best “networker” ever!

II Corinthians 12:14a
Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. . . .

In years past, I have participated in a lot of mapped out “evangelism” programs that focused on getting the “client” (poor sap who answered the door in neighborhood canvassing), to YES. It was like a business transaction. It was my job to lay out the situation (sin) and what I had to offer to solve that problem. Accept Jesus and those problems will be covered by the blood and you get an all expenses paid trip to heaven at the end of the whole shebang.

It never occurred to me (back in the day) that “Evangelism Explosion” or the presentation of the “Four Spiritual Laws” or handing out bibles at the mall or tucking tracts into crevices at public places was a long way from relationship.

It takes time to reach the heart. It takes time to earn trust.

People who are in need of help do not require coercion or convincing. This is one reason people, who are poor, hungry, sick, and terrorized, respond easily to the outstretched hand of a loving God.

But our American culture is filled with “stuff.” We have bent ourselves to the lure and trappings of comfort and possessions. We are like two year olds: No! I can do it myself. I don’t need your help. Me. My. Mine. My way. More, more, more.

Who needs God when we have all the stuff? As long as someone thinks it’s about the stuff, he/she will not need to hear me.

I can only speak out of the heart for that is what makes me uniquely “me.” And in that time, I want to know that person. And if, in that exchange of selves, we discover a place of authenticity where I can offer the story of what I have experienced in Christ and how that relationship meets me daily at the point of true need, then that is a glory moment.

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On Easter morning, we need to consider this detail: women played a key role as messengers of truth. In fact, from the visits to Bethany through Jesus’s Paschal journey and on into the days and weeks after the resurrection, women were players: devoted, faithful and strong. They still are.

Romans 16:1-2, 6, 12-13, 15 and more
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church . . . Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus . . . Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. . . . Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. . . . Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman . . . Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

At first blush, Romans 16 appears as boring as Matthew’s genealogy used to be for me. But a closer examination reveals the same mystery: the powerful women! There are lots and lots of women mentioned here and in most cases, they are clearly cherished by Paul.

The genealogy in Matthew 1:1-16 was such a sleeper for me until I experienced an epiphany and saw the reason behind mentioning the women in those verses (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary). They had a message for me: if God could use them, he could use me. And out of that revelation, I created a one-woman show that I toured for several years called Pente.

Now, in this chapter, I see another group of women with very little story to illuminate their place in the timeline, and yet, they are there: Phoebe, Priscilla, another Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’s mother, and countless unnamed ones since households were listed by the head of house alone. But women were there, serving, loving, praying, and working in tandem with their families to illustrate the message of Jesus.

Scholars assume Phoebe actually carried the letter of Paul to the Romans. Was she allowed to read it? Did she travel from church to church (there were many house churches) in that great city? Did she carry additional personal messages from Paul? She was from a coastal city of Corinth, at least 600 miles from Rome. That was no gentle expedition. I’m not saying she was the Pony Express, but it’s amazing for that time period for a woman to travel with this type of a mission.

I know, there are other places where Paul seems to give women the back seat. I struggle with these sections too. But as I study those areas along my New Testament trek, I want to remember this Paul, who sent Phoebe with a critical letter to the gentile believers in Rome.

All of the women to whom Paul is sending greetings are commended for their “work.” I doubt he means “woman’s work” either. He is talking about the same work that all of us are called to do: being a witness in word and action: fulfilling the call of Christ in our lives, equally distributed by grace.

Oh yes, this is a day to remember and celebrate that Jesus’s work on the cross included a great emancipation for women of faith. Amen.

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Acts 12:18
After Herod had a thorough search made for him [Peter] and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

These four guys were the extras. You know, as in one of those huge lavish movies, there are tons of extras. They are nameless and virtually faceless. They have some small task and that is all. They get their one minute of screen time and that’s it.

These four guards are no different. This was their time and in the end, they are memorialized … they are to be remembered that they lost their lives in exchange for Peter’s freedom.

If I allowed free reign to my imagination, I could create entire families and scenarios for these guys. They had lives that were lived outside the prison walls of Herod’s fortress. Perhaps one was older, whose children were grown or another was a new recruit, given a special assignment.

What happened when they discovered Peter was missing? There were two on each side of Peter and two outside the locked cell door. The angel of light came, opened Peter’s shackles, told him to rise and dress and they walked out the door What were the guards doing? Surely they were not asleep. Were they mesmerized? Were they put into an unnatural trance? It was not until morning that the alarm sounded. What were they doing? Did they know sooner? Did they know that there death would come the next day?

I can’t help but consider that these guards, like the guards at Golgotha, may have come to a realization. This was a miracle and it was worked on behalf of a follower of Christ. Perhaps they became believers and died, not as executed guards, but as martyrs. Who knows? Perhaps their testimony at the cross examination to the miracle of Peter’s release was Herod’s last opportunity to accept Christ. Herod did not change.

What role will we play when it is our time? Can we trust God with our last moments… with our lives… with our deaths?

These men had a testimony. And their stories probably flew through Herod’s soldiers and servants. These guards were good, reliable men. And all four were witnesses to a miracle. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, their deaths did make a difference.

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