Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Beauty of Witness

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

                        Acts 1.8

Keep the Fire Burning

It’s been a tough, funky week. I pulled my back out and have stumbled around in a fog of limited function and muscle relaxers. Ordinary tasks like brushing my teeth and typing have become Olympic events, while challenges I work hard to conceal—lousy time perception, for example—have become looming hurdles. I’ve frustrated a lot of people, myself more than anyone, which has strapped me with mounting concern friends and colleagues may think I’m indifferent about letting them down. This has added emotional anguish to my physical discomfort. But, on the upside, it also reminded me we’re at our most human when we’re at our worst. It’s a scary place to be, too, because that’s when we feel most impotent and incapable. The mundane turns monumental; the incidental seems insurmountable. 

After 33 years in mortal flesh, Jesus is about to leave the world fully acquainted with how readily human frailty spawns resignation to defeat. As He charges His followers to carry on His work, He’s keenly aware they won’t succeed without divine help. A couple setbacks and they’ll quit, presuming they’re not cut out for the job. If their fervor wanes, His message will fade, His mission will fail, and He’ll reside only in the annals of historical prophets, rather than live in the hearts of humanity. Thus, Jesus spends His last few visible minutes with the disciples reinforcing their need for the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit will give you power to be my witnesses,” He promises, shoring their confidence they can keep the fire burning.

Living Proof

We are living proof that Jesus lives. We testify to His sacrifice and resurrection in how our lives bear out His purpose—reconciliation with God and one another through faith. In Romans 5.1 we hear, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” By disavowing compulsions to please ourselves and turning our hearts toward pleasing our Maker, we evidence renewed peace with Him. We fulfill Christ’s law to love God entirely—with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. In the same way, our determination to love our neighbors as ourselves manifests the living Christ. In Ephesians 2.4-7, Paul teaches: “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when were dead in transgressions… in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace.” Not only are we crucified with Christ, as Paul says in Galatians 2.20, we’re resurrected with Him. And we validate His existence, “showing the incomparable riches of his grace,” by loving others as He loves us—unconditionally and sacrificially. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus says in John 13.35.

Witnessing Christ’s life and love is a daunting responsibility that asks more than we can accomplish on our own. Thus, the Holy Spirit strengthens and inspires us to overcome our weaknesses and fears. That’s Its main objective and, as we’ve hopefully seen in the past week’s posts, It’s fully equipped to provide what we lack to present the living, loving Savior to the world. The Spirit empowers us, activates our faith, generates our joy, seals our inheritance by adoption, secures our access to God, and teaches us what to say. We’re given the Spirit as a single, comprehensive resource we can draw from to make Christ visible to those around us. Our love attests to His love. Our forgiveness exemplifies His grace. Our tolerance reflects His acceptance. And our faith ratifies His truth. Since the Spirit makes this (and much more) possible, the beauty of witness rests in obedience, not ability.

Bullhorns and Doorbells

If today finds you in New York City’s Times Square or on Chicago’s State Street or strolling down Market in San Francisco, I guarantee you’ll meet someone in hand-painted “repent-or-else” sandwich boards, clutching a bullhorn. If you’re at home, two strangers may very well ring your doorbell, hoping for a few minutes with you to share their beliefs. If you ask these earnest, well-intentioned people what they’re doing, I also guarantee the answer will be “I’m witnessing.” And they’re not wrong. They’re following a precedent Peter and the apostles inaugurated immediately after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nearly every chapter in The Acts of the Apostles finds an Early Church leader publicly preaching the Gospel or entering homes to speak about Jesus. But there’s more to witnessing Christ’s life and love than bullhorns and doorbells.

“After the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be my witnesses,” Jesus tells us. Our witness surpasses talking and doing. It’s being, which means it’s continuous and unintentional. How well we reflect Christ is measured in passing more often and effectively than any focused gesture or effort. Indeed, we say more about Jesus when we’re not talking about Him than when we do. This is why He instructs us in Matthew 5.16: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We’re “on” 24/7. People watch us closely to see if our lives square with our witness. Trying to sustain Christ’s reflection without the Holy Spirit’s assistance is folly. It ends in our witness being perceived as a ruse. Long before Jesus tells us the Spirit will empower our witness, God speaks in Ezekiel 36.27: “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” The Spirit in us makes sure what comes from us proves that Jesus lives and loves.

There’s more to witnessing than bullhorns and doorbells. We’re “on” 24/7.

(Tomorrow: Together in One Place)


Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Okay Tim, I am struck by major confusion after reading this and then reading the sign the man carries in the photograph you posted.

We all make mistakes. So how can anyone go to hell, if God forgives you?

Soft love,

Tim said...

T, that's my point. A lot of people hit the streets, thinking their public testimony (right or wrong) is their witness, when it's not. This guy isn't witnessing, he's making a spectacle of himself. And who is he is when's he's not stumping is clear by the judgment that's on his boards.

The apostles also preached on street corners, as I mention above, but their message was one of grace and forgiveness--exactly what you mention. (So see, you're not as confused as you think!)

Much love,

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

What about the ten commanments. What if they are broken? I mean one says, "Thou shalt not kill." But many have, are they forgiven or because it was a commandment they broke, they go to hell? I left my husband and fell in love before the divorce was final, I had a child, I refused to marry the man as he decide my face should become his punching bag, do I now go to hell because I broke a commandment?

Soft love,

Tim said...

T, Jesus died as the consummate and final sacrifice for ALL sin. Sins contrary to the Ten Commandments are no more or less than any other attitude or behavior that harms others or us.

When His opponents came to Jesus and asked Him to prioritize the commandments (all 200+ of them) in order of most importance, He quoted two: "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength," and "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the other commandments, He said, rest on these two. If we honor God and love one another as ourselves (i.e., unconditionally and forgivingly), we honor all the commandments. If we fail, however, our error will fall into one or the other category.

In terms of our sins, however, we're told this more as an FYI than anything, because the focus of Jesus's life and ministry IS forgiveness. He alone judges because He alone knows. So, for example, you chose not to marry your child's father out of self-respect and concern for your safety (and your baby's). He knows this and forgives your sin. Even though you became involved with him before your divorce was final, He knows all the circumstances involved in it. He forgives you.

The Bible says in Hebrews, "If we sin we have an Advocate with the Father," meaning Jesus, Who it later says "was tempted in every way like us." His experience as one of us ensures His empathy and understanding. And His sacrifice as God's Only Son guarantees our redemption from sin.

True Christians know they're forgiven and follow Jesus's example by forgiving others. They love. They don't fear Hell, because Hell has no relevance to anyone who's been forgiven. Worrying about Hell generates fear. And, as 1 John tells us adamantly, "There is no fear in love because fear has to do with punishment. But perfect love drives out all fear."

You have no reason to fear--or even think about--Hell, dearest T. You have every reason to accept God's forgiveness and, in turn, begin the work of forgiving others (including the cruel man you so wisely left behind).

Hope this helps for now. Let's get in touch soon and we can discuss this in greater depth off-line, as I sense this troubles you deeply and, as your brother in Christ, it troubles me to know you're wrestling with this.

Much, much soft love,