What comes to mind when I say “testify”?
If you are a fan of cop dramas on TV… that word may transport you into a courtroom and into the shoes of a lawyer that is cross-examining someone’s eye-witness account.
If you are of a business mind, you may think about customer endorsements- testimonials.
Or, if you are operating in the current context of sitting in church… you would be thinking of one of your brothers and sisters in Christ coming forward in their Sunday best and telling you all about what Jesus has done for them lately. Depending on your background and experience you may picture this as a very freeing, charismatic event… or you may be picturing a high-pressure public confession. Christians on the hot-seat, as it were!
Formal times of testifying have kind of become a lost art. People don’t like public speaking… they don’t like being the center of attention… people don’t like talking about what we claim as a “private” relationship between us and God. We have put aside these opportunities to share openly our story.
Last summer I was a chaplain to a bunch of college students who were serving God by building and repairing homes in the Appalachian Mountains. While I was working with my young adults, I had my mind set on renewing the lost art of testifying! I had this conviction to push testimony a bit because I saw that these kids needed to start talking about God, and how God was on the move in their life. They needed practice, and sometimes just permission or a platform to talk.
So, ASP has this old and respected tradition called a “Staff Share”… where these young adults, (my staffers as we called them), would get in front of the high school youth volunteers that were assisting in the building projects and they would tell them about their spiritual journey. Often times they would share stories about over-coming obstacles, developing self-confidence, learning to love themselves, the importance of establishing a relationship with Christ early on in life… topics that would really resonate with the high school students that they led. Most of the time these Staff Shares were pretty friendly to listen to.
But after they gave their Staff Share at the evening worship gathering, and all the volunteers has turned in for the night. I would have an opportunity to sit with them and ask, “Ok, What’s your story? The real story? The unedited version of what you just shared?”
Some were just bursting to talk about their struggles and hurts- the mess that they didn’t want to tell these high school students about…
They wanted to talk about all the weight that they walked around with… they were eager to have someone listen!
But on the other hand… others staffers were far more hesitant.
So, I started encouraging my more hesitant staffers to write an unedited version of their Staff Share. They were welcome to read it to their fellow staffers if that felt right… or they could read it to me, their chaplain… or if they didn’t want to do either, that was ok too… they could keep it close to their heart. Just between them and Christ. And once I proposed that to them, this outlet for talking about God, and not feeling they had to edit themselves or gloss over the hard stuff… I think about 90% ended up sharing their story… the unedited one…
I remember one afternoon, I was riding along with one of my staffers- we were taking a load of old roofing debris to the landfill. This was one of the glamorous things I got to do on a daily basis in ministry. On the way over I asked her, “So, what’s your story?” as I always did. So, she told me about her family, what she was studying in school and she told me about what she wanted her life to look like down the road… but after we had arrived at the dump and were about half way through pushing debris out the back of the truck… she stopped turned to me and said, “You know. This is what I don’t get… how does all this stuff fit together?… All those crappy things that happen while growing up… does God really put the bad stuff in our path to make us stronger?”
I kind of looked at her like really you want to talk about this here? In the back of the truck in the middle of the dump? Its smelly…
But we did… we sat there in the back of the truck for 20 minutes and I heard her testify, rant, ask questions… I heard her story. We talked about God making all things new. About wholeness… And we kept talking all the way back to the volunteer center…
It’s amazing what these young adults had to say, when you just offered them a chance to talk and ask questions.
Now, next time you feel the urge to comment on the poor manners and vanity of this generation, know this: the number of college-aged young adults that are dealing with anxiety issues and clinical depression is astronomical. I had a student that had her best friend committee suicide while in high school, yet every week, she stood up in front of volunteers and she testified about redeeming love. This is what I call strength in Christ. I had 2 young women that had been sexual assaulted just months before beginning their work in Appalachia. Yet… they were still there ministering. Loving others while they worked through what had happened to them. I had young adults that were terrified that they would never have the acceptance of their parents, yet they testified about finding their identity in Christ. One had dropped out of college and couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone because he didn’t want to face the shame of it, yet he still believed that God had a plan. I had another young man that was thinking about entering the priesthood, yet couldn’t get the idea of having a family out of his mind. They were dealing with a lot of weighty things. They were asking big, heavy questions… and in the midst of that they were testifying to a God that was bigger than any of their questions.
In the middle of all of it… they were shouting God’s name from Mountaintops.
Sharing your story. Telling others about how God is on the move in your life.
This is so important.
Our Scripture reading today, is from the Book of John, and it describes John the Baptist as the first to testify in the name of Christ. Lets read what John has to say.
Read John 1: 29-42
This is John’s testimony! As soon as he sees Jesus walking towards him he calls out for all to hear- his disciples, the townsfolk… anyone that would listen, he said: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John went right to the point, didn’t he?
When I was reading about this passage this week, I learned something really cool about who John understood Jesus to be. I learned that when John says that Jesus takes away the sins of the world. In the Greek, John is actually saying he “lifts up” the sins of the world. This word that John uses does not mean that he ‘takes them’- the sins… but that he’ lifts them’, carries them, and takes them up. There is an understanding in this word that John uses that the sins of the world are not simply wiped away or taken away… but that they have to be held and carried away. This same verb, is used in the passage that talks about picking up your cross. There is weight to it. And someone has to bear that weight. That is the kind of Messiah that John is talking about… one who is willing to bear the weight.
Richard Swanson, he is a professor at Augustana College, suggests that this lifting of the sins is important because then they are visible. Lifted so that we can see them. He asked us to call to mind the story in the Book of Numbers when the Israelites became impatient with Moses… and in response the Lord sent poisonous snakes into their camp that night… it was not a pretty picture. In response, the Lord told Moses to take one of the snakes and put it on a pole and to set that pole up in the middle of camp. That way anyone who was bitten (which seemed to be about everyone) they could look upon it and be healed.
Now in this story we are tempted to read it in a way that suggests God wanted the Israelites to be punished… that God wanted them to be poisoned and killed off for their impatience with Moses and their talking back to him… but that was not it. And it wasn’t even because God wanted them to have to work for their healing… The whole point of this was… to make the sinful look up. They had to, physically, look up at the snake on the pole to be healed… they had to raise their eyes to heaven to find healing.
So, when John the Baptists testifies about a Messiah that takes away the sins of the world. He is really talking about a Messiah that picks up our sins, raises them, which requires us to look up in order to receive the healing of God. It is a call to re-orient. To set ourselves right again. To look up towards heaven. John is telling us about the Son of God that is so committed to us that He is willing to take the burden from you.
The merciful Son of God. Who he calls the Lamb of God. That is his testimony.
A lot of times the beauty, significance, the whole encompassing truth of the Gospel, gets lost in translation. Or lost in our ever evolving languages. What are beautiful words already, are even more profound and glorious than we could have imagined.
A little farther along in our passage it says, “And John testified.”
Now, this is an eye-witness account, he says: ‘I saw the Spirit descending from the Heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He, on who you see the Spirit descent and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
If you can recall last weeks message, we talked about the baptism of Christ. John is recounting that scene for you. The significance of what happened in the murky waters of the Jordan River confirmed that this was indeed the Son of God… and it moved him so much that it compelled him to talk about it.
And that does this lead to… this impassioned testimony of John?
It leads to this, these words: “Come and See”
John’s followers that were around him, upon seeing Christ and hearing John’s testimonial, followed after him!
They followed Him to the point where Jesus had to turn around and say, “What do you want?” “What is it?” “Why are you following me?”
Jesus ends up saying to them after they chat… “Come and see.”
And they follow behind this man who they call teacher and they stay with him the rest of the day.
And whatever it is that they witnessed in that day spent shadowing Christ… it was enough that it got them to start testifying as well!
Andrew one of the men following after Christ, went home at the end of the day and says to his brother “I have found the Messiah!” Andrew testifies and takes his brother to see Jesus.
You see what happened here?
Jesus walks by, and John sings his praises, he shout the Good News of Christ from the rooftops.
Which leads to two men from John’s crowd to follow Christ and then they start shouting the Good News of Christ from the rooftops,
They invite their family members, who become the disciples who, of course shouted the Good News from the rooftops..
And so on and so forth. A chain reaction. More and more people are invited into the fold.
Come and see! They say.
The power of testimony… has grown the band of people that follow in the footsteps of Christ from one brave man -who liked to eat locust and honey- to 2.2 billion followers of Christ today.
“Come and See” is what Christ said to those who were first curious to who and what he was…
“Come and See” This is the first and only rule to testimony: invitation.
“Come and See.” That is exactly the invitation that we should have ready on the tip of our tongue when we go out in the world.
I’d like to read to you from Psalm 40 …
Read Psalm 40:1-5
“He pulled me up out of the water, set my feet on solid ground and gave me a new song to sing.”
Now that is a great testimonial… Come and see. … (pause)…
There are two really great, really simple things about giving a Testimony:
First is that a testimony grows out of our personal experience. It is our story. John the Baptist gave his testimony of Jesus who he baptized. He saw and experience the skies part and Christ receive the blessing of God. His testimony spoke out of personal experience and his own relationship with Jesus.
I came across a quote this week that I think speak well here, I don’t know who said it… but it is this:
“A server malady has afflicted certain members of our society. Quiet, humble, non-assuming people are suddenly turned overnight into loud, boastful, obnoxious braggarts. These individuals are known as… new grandparents.”
When we have something to say, something that we are excited about, that we want to boast about… we give testimony. In a way that our story points beyond ourselves to a greater truth. It is an invitation. Come and see. Come and look at pictures of my grandkids… come and experience the goodness of my Messiah.
Sometimes when we are asked to talk about God… we don’t quite know what to say… We might think that a script would be helpful so that we don’t screw it up… but that’s the thing… there are no magic words. There is just our story. Our own relationship with Christ. No need for a script.
What has Jesus done for you? Have you known healing… the love of family… the beauty of God’s creation?
Where have you seen God on the move?
That is your testimony. Your own story.
The second thing is that a testimony can be shared right where we are. If you noticed in our story, the first person that Andrew testified to was his brother. He didn’t go door knocking… he just went home. He went and found his brother.
Often the greatest test of our spirituality is in the home. And it is often a trying place to testify. Perhaps because it feels so urgent? Or important?
I spoken with many of you about the fine line of dragging your family to church and not wanting to push them… am I right? But testimony isn’t either of those things. It’s not pulling, or convincing, or bribing, or begging… it is only (and most powerfully) sharing your story. Talking about what God has done for you and then saying Come and See. They might not follow you out the door like Simon Peter did Andrew… but only God and eternity can prove the worth of a testimony. Your story is a gift that is given, given out of love and out of your personal experience with Christ… one that cannot be measured by its immediate response. But our Lord tends to work with and multiply everything that we offer, including our stories… and there is hope and joy in that.
In a world that is noisy… such as ours… we have lost the art of sharing our story. We need practice talking about God. Now, don’t worry I’m not going to pass a sign up sheet and schedule a time for you to come forward and give a formal testimony.
But what I am going to do, is ask you to start thinking about your story.
What has God done for you?
What is your story? The big one. The unedited version. You don’t have to have the answers. You don’t have to smooth it over. All it has to be is honest. And yours. Think about your story. Is there someone that needs to hear it?
What you see in front of you today are called Cardboard Testimonials. I put these together as a sample of some of the testimonies that I heard this summer while working in the mountains. On one side you see a hurt, a bruise, or a weighty sin that someone had to bear. And on the other side you see what Christ has done for them. They are the short version, of what I am sure are very long tales.
“Was made bare by hate” – “Covered in the love of Christ”
“Lost my brother” – “Gained a Heavenly Father”
“Slave to sin” – “Made free in Christ”
“Sought attention to fill the void” – “God fills me up”
“Bully” – “Friend”
“Pulled apart by illness” – “Healed by the Great Physician”
“Crashed and burned” – “Protected by my Savior”
What would the world be like, if we carried our testimony around with us for all the world to see? To know that everywhere you went there were people that had witnessed the power, might, and grace of God? To know that you didn’t have to edit out the messy parts of our story, because everyone has mess in the life? To know that there are people out there that have experience the same brokenness that you have? And that God has healed them and made them whole?
What would you write on your Cardboard Testimonial. What is your story?
Think about that this week. Amen.