The Power of Testimony
Greetings Narrow Gate,
Well, as a country, our new year did not get of to a good start. What happened this last week was a debacle. I'm not going to blame anyone in particular. Because we all are to blame. If you don't understand this, you are more to blame than you realize. You are in denial. No matter which side of the aisle you are on. As a pastor and a US citizen I am deeply concerned about what I am seeing. One hobby of mine is military history. As a military historian, I am deeply concerned. Just google post WW I Germany and Italy, circa 1928-1939. The riots in the streets were all too similar to what we see in the US today. China and Russia are licking their chops. They don't really care who wins, because all they want for us is chaos. After the digital "Night of the Long Knives", where half the country was eliminated from twitter, Facebook and Google, this can only get worse. Why? Because free speech is a steam valve for expression. If you limit a people's free speech, that tension has to go somewhere, especially for a free people used to free speech. As a pastor, I can't fix this. As a citizen I can't fix this. As a society, I don't know if we can fix this.
But I do know someone who can. His name is Jesus. He came to earth as a baby. It's his birth we are celebrating at Christmas. God loves us and Jesus is his proof. He came to die for our sins so that we may be forgiven and have eternal life in heaven. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor, to care for our neighbor, and to serve our neighbor. As a pastor, I will talk about Jesus. I will not play the blame game. Because we are all at fault. We all need forgiveness.
To aid in turning around our lousy beginning to a positive beginning of the new year I would like us to take a look at various testimonies from the disciples of Jesus. After suffering through a rather odd year, and a bad beginning to 2021, let's begin 2021 with some inspiration. So for January, I plan to reference testimonies from Paul, Peter, John, Mark and other disciples, sprinkle in a few prophets, and add a pinch of David.
To the contemporary believers of Christ, the word testimony is a word that conjures up mixed emotions. We stiffen up, freeze up, become tongue tied, and for many of us, we stop paying attention, we just tune out. This is exactly why I feel led to focus on some very earnest and heartfelt testimonies from the Bible. This will help to take pressure off of us as we listen to biblical testimonies. Because pressure is exactly what we are responding to. We feel pressure to give appropriate testimonies.
In fact, we feel we must give the PERFECT testimony. This is wrong. We need to be able to give OUR testimony. This is what I want us to understand most from this study. Our testimonies need to be real. Realizing that we don't have to be perfect takes the pressure off of us. This then loosens us up, helping us to be the real us, warts and all. We may not agree on politics, but can we agree on this after this week: We are definitely not perfect people. Therefore, a perfect testimony is not what we need.
Because there is nothing worse than a forced or made up testimony. These fall apart quickly, hurting all involved, and hurting most of all the kingdom of God. Something that needs to be said that is often not said: If you do not believe in Jesus yet, do not try to testify about Jesus. Sometimes seekers get excited and carried away, maybe even encouraged by an excited church leader. First, give your heart to Jesus, then testify as the Holy Spirit leads you.
It's important for all of us to remember that none of us are perfect. This is especially difficult for some of us. I try to use humor in my testimony. Half of my life was spent as a sinner. Half of my life as a Christian was spent running from God. Only in the last 8 years of ministry have I been focused on doing as God's Spirit leads me. I am soon to be 63 years old. My life has been far from perfect as a Christian. I was further from perfect as a sinner.
This is my point. None of us are perfect, so trying to give a testimony of the perfect Christian life, or perfect salvation experience, or perfect whatever, always rings hollow, just because we are not perfect. What inquiring minds want to know is this: How was it for you? How did you get saved? How did you manage to suffer like that and survive with sanity? These are the very real types of testimonies that people really do want to hear.
Each of us should be able to share the mix of events in our lives leading up to our salvation. That's really what our testimony is. How did God work in our lives in a way that eventually led us to repentance. Sometimes our testimony is to encourage others in persevering through trials and sufferings that we have survived. How did God get you through that suffering?
Always understand that our testimony is not just what we say. It's how we live. People are watching you. Your life is an example. Now that's scary, no matter how perfect you think you are. That's why I use humor, I'm so imperfect I need to use humor. Not necessarily for the listener of my testimony, but for me. Relaxing me and keeping it real.
I want to begin with Paul today. Mainly because he comes with a lot of baggage, like I did. He persecuted Christians, hunting them down, jailing some, some even dying as a result of his efforts. When Stephen was stoned by the Sanhedrin in chapter 7 of the book of Acts, Acts 8:1 tells us,
"Saul (Paul) was there, giving approval to his death."
Then Saul had this amazing conversion experience, while heading to Damascus in search of Christians. Acts 9:3-6,
"As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you, Lord?' Saul asked. 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 'Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'" Saul was now blind!
Ananias, in verse 17-18, lays hands on Paul. This is a necessary part of Paul's conversion.
"Placing hands on Saul, he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again." Paul was now a part of the body of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is the key to so much of our Christian life, and also critical to our testimony. For Saul to testify as Paul in his later years, he must have the Holy Spirit. For any of us to testify about God we must have his Holy Spirit. To have God's Spirit, we must give our heart to Jesus. In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul teaches us this about the Spirit of God.
"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory."
In biblical times the mark of a seal denoted ownership. The Holy Spirit is our seal of God's ownership for all believers. Our proof of purchase receipt. Proving that Jesus did indeed die for us, and so purchased by his blood. Do not ever forget this. This is the essential commonly shared portion of all testimonies. We are all covered by Jesus' blood and have access to God's Spirit.
Paul realizes the importance of God's Spirit for our formation as new believers. Paul continues in Ephesians 1:17-21,
"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of Wisdom (the Holy Spirit) and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come."
The importance of Paul's testimonies are that he is helping us to understand the inner workings of the Trinity and our relationship to them. Do you notice what Paul is equating the power of the Holy Spirit with? If you do not have an immediate answer, read the previous passage again. It should jump out at you.
Paul is saying that the power of the Holy Spirit is the very same power of God that raised Christ from the dead. Holy Spirit power is God's power which is also resurrection power. This is the same power that powers our testimonies.
Now I sense some of you are freezing up again. With this Holy Spirit power comes responsibility. You may be fearful of this. I understand, because I ran from my call for 16 years. So I really do understand. With the Holy Spirit's power there is responsibility. If you don't embrace the Spirit, if you avoid the nudging of the Spirit, avoiding a relationship with the Holy Spirit, eventually the Spirit will leave you alone.
Do not do this. Take it from a man who ran away. Instead, always move toward the Spirit of God. There is nothing there that you can't handle, nothing there for you to fear. The closer you are with the Holy Spirit the better off you are. In fact, there are great blessings available to those who answer the call of God's Spirit. All that is required is an obedient heart. The Holy Spirit will supply all the rest.
So quit with the standard excuses. Yield to God's Spirit. Do not be afraid to testify. Do not be afraid to access God's Holy Spirit power.
I would like us to finish today in prayer. Let's pray from a psalm. Have you ever prayed a psalm? Join me will you please? After the week we've just had, this is a prayer to return to the Lord. He should be our source. This prayer is from Psalm 25:4-10,
"Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant." Amen
Realize please that the inspiration that we receive from Paul and David we can also receive from each other. If the words of those long dead can inspire us, how much more can the words of those who are living and stand before us. Word up, Narrow Gate.
Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.
and Harmony UMC