And this is our Testimony/ Part 2
TESTIFYING TO WHOM OR WHAT?
Looking over the majority of today's churches or religious organizations what do we find? Do we find a likeminded group of family members all testifying to the grace of God in their lives? Do we witness a simple people daily laying down their lives one for another, or is our testimony altogether different than those 1st century disciples?
I suggest to you that out testimony today, instead of centering upon the person of Jesus Christ, is almost always centered upon either us as individuals or us as it relates to our particular isolated fellowship of people. Earlier we discussed how often we find individual Christians pusuing what they plan to do for God, and that through starting churches, so-called "Christian businesses that include professional music groups." The testimony of these people almost exclusively relates to "what they are doing and plan to do for God." As such, their testimony is limited to what they alone experience and learn from God. Sadly, this falls far too short of the testimony Jesus Himself is after.
For others, they also have an individual testimony although their testimony is framed within a local expression of believers in a particular locale. Although these vary widely in nature, scope and mission, these fellowships aim to work together as a whole to fulfill "their" particular calling locally and at times around the globe. Noble as this might seem, they also limit the expression of Jesus to "what they as a local fellowship would do for Him." Little if ever are other believers in their locale ever even considered as being part of "themselves." They to, just like the entities above think that "their own testimony of what they are doing" becomes the testimony of Jesus to others. Is that really true or is that the exact opposite of what God is after?
JESUS' TESTIMOY BECOMES OUR TESTIMONY
Remember earlier when we discussed how Jesus was testifying about Himself proving that He was indeed the Messiah? There were several things that were witnesses to this fact, John the Baptist, Jesus' own works, His Father and even the Scriptures themselves testified to who He was. Add to this the water, blood and Spirit and who could refute all this evidence?
Just as Jesus came to testify of Himself unto this world, so must we echo that very same testimony each day of our lives. That testimony, although inclusive of what the Spirit may accomplish through us, is predominately a testimony of who Jesus Christ was, is and will become and a vibrant living out of His life among us. The primary question we must ask ourselves is this; "What is the testimony of Jesus and how might we express that as His people?
We have previously noted that many people think they can do whatever they desire as it relates to their testimony for Jesus and this is true. They start churches, they create "Christian" entities and make "Christian professionals out of themselves. They take their secular talents as musicians, artists, majicians, pyschologists and comedians and "christainize" their use "for God." Rarely will they even consider whether such practices are even allowed or sanctioned by God Himself. For the most part, if other "christians" have done it before than it must be an acceptable practice right? Hardly.
A TESTIMONY FOR OR FROM GOD
Yes, there is a difference.
Throughout the Scriptures we find God using very specific means to carry out very specific tasks. He has not left man alone to carry out whatever he purposes in his own heart, and in fact condemns such actions.
"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf" [2 Corinthians 5:14, 15]
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it" [Luke 9:23, 24]
"He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal" [John 12:25]
"…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" [Philippians 2:13]
The testimony God is looking for is a testimony not merely about Him, but one from Him.
This testimony, as the verses above make more than evident, has NOTHING to do with individuality of any kind. It has nothing to do with your individual talent, your individual spiritual gifts or your individual desires, plans or good intentions. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT YOU ARE PLANNING TO DO FOR GOD. It has only to do with what He is planning to do with you! As a Christian, you have absolutely no right whatsoever unto yourself. You have been bought and paid for with a price.
Renouncing yourself, you have no right to do as you please. Instead of attempting to express what you believe to be your individual talents, gifts, etc through your own pursuits, you must only discover one thing. Paul the apostle put it like this, "Lord, what would you have me to do?" What is the opposite of an individual attempting to express Christ however they desire?
A CORPORATE EXPRESSION OF HIMSELF
"As You sent Me (as a testimony) into the world, I also have sent them (as a testimony) into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe (their testimony) in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me" [John 17:18-21]
Please read the verses above carefully. Notice that as always, it is what Jesus did that gives us the ability to carry out His intentions for our lives. He has sent, He has sanctified in the truth, He has united in order that the world may believe. Do you get that? The three things herein are imperative if the world's people are to believe upon Jesus- if they are to believe our testimony of Jesus. Let's look at them one at a time.
Most Christians are aware of their responsibility to share or testify about Jesus Christ before men. In most cases that testimony is little more than a gospel presentation to those we believe are still in their sins. Although it is certainly obedient to preach the gospel to people in need, might we not also consider what we are steering them toward with our gospel presentation?
Modern day "Christianity" has placed "church" in the center of all. Seeing that Jesus never did this nor even spoke of such a thing, would it be considered wise to have a gospel campaign or outreach in the "name" of a or "our" particualr "ministry" or "church." Have we been sent to testify of Jesus Christ in our own name or affiliation? Would that not constitute a divided affection?
Contrary to belief, Paul the apostle was not a church planter. No where do the Scriptures speak thus. Paul had a heart for people, he wanted to see both the Jews and Gentiles come to know Jesus personally even as he had. He had both a responsibility and stewardship entrusted to him and he desired to be found faithful in it. As he was sent by God, individuals were converted and the totality of those converted individuals became a local ekklesia in a local geographical area. Paul's obedience ended in the fulfillment of what God Himself desired- a local ekklesia in a local geographical area.
SET APART IN TRUTH
Before any of us were called by God, we were separated from Him, hostile before Him and devoid of the truth. No good was found in us and we were totally incapable of being useful to God. Until He intervened in our lives, we were helpless and without hope.
Praise God, that although completely unworthy, God has altered the above state and set out for us a new course in and through His grace. We have been set apart "in truth." This setting apart is for the purpose of carrying out what God desires for us, initiallly in learning of the truth and also passing along that truth to others. It is the truth that freed us from the consequences of our sin, the power of sin daily and unites us one to another both spiritually and practically. Our obedience will end in the fulfillment of what God Himself desires- that His truth be manifested among us as a body of believers.
Believe it or not, every believer is perfectly united in Jesus Christ resurrected at this very moment. Sadly, instead of reckoning that so, we continue to construct barriers that further divide what God has united. It is our failure to believe in what God has done on behalf of His Ekklesia that inhibits our usefulness and testimony of Him in this world. Our obedience will end in the fulfillment of what God desires- the practical unity of all born again believers.
A TESTIMONY OF JESUS
Many years back I was regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous in Grand Rapids, Mi. I was born again prior to this time and spent the majority of my time in AA ministering to others. At that time it was my primary means of outreach of those in need of Christ.
My roomate and I would often pray for others in AA and would often invite needy people to come and stay at our apartment. You might have called it a Christian flop house if their is such a thing. We served these people, lived Isaiah 58 before them and often led others to Christ. It was a time we called "Greenfield" after the name of the complex where we lived.
On one particular evening we were fellowshipping in one of the alano clubs back rooms after a meeting. A man we will call Bob came in (he was one of these biker type guys) and was looking for me. Initially this didn't sit too well as I had no idea who he was. Someone in the club lobby mentioned to him that a guy named Mike F. often allowed people a place to crash when they needed that. He came into the room and mentioned that there was a guy named Steve who was in the lobby who had no place to spend the night. He asked on behalf of this kid (who turned out to be eighteen) if I would help him out. I told him to send Steve in and we would discuss it.
Moments later here comes Steve with that look of humiliation I've known many times when I've been in some desperate situations. He didn't have to ask as I spoke before he did. Of course my answer was yes. One problem though Steve, and here it is. I told him that a group of us were going to a friend's house to pray for a while. After that we were going to my place to pray some more. I told him he had a choice, he could either wait at the club and I would pick him up afterwards or he could come along. I believe God used his fear of possibly being left there to persuade him to tag along.
Off to sister Amy's place. I believe Steve sat in a chair and the rest of us, about five or so chose the floor. We took turns praying in a roundtable fashion like we always did. For about forty five minutes or so we prayed for each other, people in AA and for Steve. Time to move on.
Fifteen minutes later we were at the apartment summoning the Master again as we often did on a daily basis. I don't know how long this went on but it seemed no one was interested in stopping for some time. At one point we were all praying at once and rejoicing in the Spirit. All of a sudden, i sensed that I was to stop praying immediately. Not only, but everyone in that room stopped praying at that same moment. It was as if no one dared say another word as God was about to act.
The next sound we all heard was Steve openly confessing his sins and asking Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior over his life. For crying out loud, this kid was on his knees praying to God! His prayer must have lasted a full two minutes or so and I tell you I don't know who was rejoicing more the angels in heaven or us. Talk about being taken by suprise! I don't remember if we prayed anymore after the fact. There was likely some praise to God for what He had done in this kid. As wonderful as that was the real shock was yet to come.
Talking to Steve after the fact, it turns out he had never been to an organized church. He had no belief in God and no clue who Jesus Christ was at all prior to those prayer meetings. In fact, he had no religious upbringing or training whatsoever. This led to only one possible conclusion. The Holy Spirit specifically led him to listen to our prayers, formulate the gospel in his heart and mind and led him to openly confess Jesus Christ as Lord! Tell me God doesn't act on behalf of those who serve Him.
I share this story for one simple reason. I want you to fully realize Who this God is we serve. He is truly a mighty God. We so often think we are so totally incapable of reaching others, unable to expound the Word accurately or just plain feeble. Congratulations friend, this is exactly the way you should view yourself, not to mention it's the truth. You see, not one of us in that group intended to preach to Steve. We simply wanted him to know we cared and spoke that to him through our prayers to God. A bunch of feeble Christians hoping to get beyond the destruction we brought upon ourselves from alcohol abuse. No, no church with their various evangelism and marketing strategies would have ever given these messed up emotional basket cases a chance and yet our Father did. He did the work as we merely exalted Him and glorified His name. Please remember this.
There's one more point to the story. Ever since I had this experience I never seemed to view my life as a Christian the same anymore, nor God. I realized my Father wanted to act on behalf of those who serve Him. It wasn't just a verse anymore, it rang true often. The time I prayed God would bring a friend I hadn't seen in months to my front door. Dan knocked as I was praying the prayer and I knew it was him. Opening the door his first words were, "I have no idea what I came over here for." I told him, "That's OK Dan, I do." Or the time I prayed we would sing Christmas songs in the middle of summer one night at an evening service. Behold the music minister saying that evening, "We've never done this before but I believe God would have us sing Christmas songs this evening." Or the time I was praying from Washington State for a friend who was struggling in the faith. I prayed he would call me and as I was praying the phone is ringing in my roomates room. Moments later I am talking to my friend in Michigan who is asking me to write an evangelical newsletter to the entire Grand Rapids, Mi area that's he's willing to underwrite! Although I could not honor his request at the time, his suggestion was the very thing that got me thinking about writing a Christian newsletter to the masses. As it turns out, that phone call resulted in the very first piece of the puzzle of what you are now reading upon this site. Call them miracles if you want, I just call it God being faithful to those earnestly desiring to seek Him by faith.
WHERE DO YOU PLACE YOUR TRUST?
Do you notice anything in particular that is absent from the scenarios above. I'm using the word "absent" on purpose. For most men, especially religious men, more is always better right? More exposure, more bright lights and music, more of what the people say they want. And we wonder why no one grows up anymore. Really?
Our habits as Christians are really quite predictable are they not? We say we want to serve God and yet we make decision after decision that prevents God from fulfilling all He desires. The truth is, we'd rather do it all for Him wouldn't we? Isn't that what our actions prove week after week and year after year.
Regardless of what men say and pray, actions speak much louder than words do they not? Think over the last thing you attempted to do for God? How much planning went into that particular idea or program? How many games and gimmicks and free food did you have to use just to get people through the front door? What kind of promises did you make to those outside and what compromises were necessary to supposedly reach people with the truth? Is God going to bless a token prayer attached to your own best efforts? Huh, what, are you kidding? STOP with all this man-made ministry and rubbish!
GOD HONORS WHAT GLORIFIES HIM
The truth be told, it couldn't be more obvious why all of our efforts fail in producing the desired results. Why are Christians failing to mature in the faith? Why are our kids abandoning the truths of God? Why all the divorce, adultery and rampant immorality among those called "saints?" Answer:
"Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep"
[Psalms 127:1, 2]
JESUS IS BUILDING HIS OWN EKKLESIA
Jesus is building His own Ekklesia and He doesn't need your help. He certainly doesn't need your latest idea, methodology, thought, imagination or what you may have dreamed up last night. What He does require though, just like the few faithful who once destroyed the idols that impeded the worship of Jehovah in the past, is a few bold and courageous ones who will tear down the idols mens best intentions have erected over these past centuries. Yes, that includes your best intentions.
The manner Jesus is reaching this world for Himself is through His Ekklesia. It is not through "your church," "your ministry" and anything else that is "yours." What is yours reeks of individualism and man-made ministry and must be rejected. Only what originates in God and from God can and is acceptable to Him. God does not allow men to recreate His Ekklesia into churches, non-profit organizations or other groups of believers that obviously are sectarian in nature. Where any group of believers attempts to hijack what only God Himself can build, that "ministry" is out of harmony with God's original intent and purpose through His Ekklesia.
GOD'S REMNANT KNOWN BY THEIR TESTIMONY
In our first study upon this topic, we saw that all individuals have a testimony as to their calling from God unto salvation. This calling was testified unto through baptism, which is an exhibit or picture of what God had done on the inside of us:
"He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" [Titus 3:5-7]
Beyond this initial testimony, is what we termed earlier as 'a testimony of life.' As Christians our lives must be characterized by that which characterized our Lord Jesus Christ, for we are called to become like Him. Now what symbol has been and still is representative of our Lord Jesus Christ? That's correct, the cross (or tree) upon which our Lord was crucified.
Looking over the Scriptures we find many instances where our Lord was found ministering unto others. Sometimes it was providing food, others times He was teaching His disciples or preaching to the unsaved masses about their need for Him. On many other instances He was found comforting the ill, bringing healing to individuals and even raising the dead. Certainly these things characterizes His life as well. But despite all these things, nothing characterized His life so much as the cross- for He did not come to do His own will, but rather the will of His Father. Without that cross daily, neither would He, nor any of us be able to carry out the will of our Father.
OUR TESTIMONY AS INDIVIDUALS / EMBRACING CHRIST'S CROSS
There are two primary reasons that we as individuals must embrace the cross of Jesus Christ.
"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple"
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me"
The cross Jesus said, is a prerequisite of following Him. One can only be a disciple if their old life has been crucified (executed) and Jesus Himself ascended the throne of their hearts. I no longer live (the old me and my old selfish individual pursuits) have died with Christ. The cross of Christ cuts us off from all that we once prized in this life. It places all things at the feet of Jesus (our possessions, money, time, family, occupation- indeed all things. We are no longer our own.
The more our lives reflect this cross-centered living, the more freely the Spirit of God is to work and the more effective our ministry to others. Effective because it is both controlled and directed by Jesus Himself.
Any attempt to return to individuality (man is sovereign) is equivalent to rebellion. When one has been executed are they still alive? Do they still have the right to do as these please?
OUR TESTIMONY CORPORATELY / SHARING CHRIST'S CROSS
The Ekklesia of God is composed of local geographical assemblies wherein each member practices living a crucified life. The reason Paul the apostle could exhort the Corinthians;
"Now I exhort you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment"
is because he knew that not only was this possible, it was the very heart of his Lord that this be so. Today 1 in a thousand believe this is possible and why do the rest disbelieve- because as usual their eyes are upon what they have done and are attempting to do verses God through whom all things are possible. Note the reason for these divisions two verses later;
"Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of_____"
"Has Christ been divided?"
Clearly it was not God but rather men who were dividing Christ's body (being divisive). The division originated in their selfish pursuits and was as a result of what "they had done."
The purpose of this article outside of obviously glorifying God and attempting to share His mind is this: We are all to some degree to blame for our failure in being the body of Christ to this world. John 17 clearly paints a picture of the people of God being perfected in unity and that being the basis of our testimony to others in this world. Where we fail to first embrace Christ's cross as our own, we have no chance of convincing others of their need to do the very same thing. We are never called to find individuals who are willing to copy our version of the truth but to embrace the very heartbeat of the One who sacrificed Himself for the sake of mankind. Jesus now calls you to walk in those very footsteps.
And this my friends is OUR TESTIMONY. Not a testimony of what a man can do, not a testimony of what a man has done or a testimony of anything we or a group of believers could ever have done. Our testimony is so much greater…..for our testimony is HIM- JESUS in our midst. It is Him calling, it is Him moving, Him teaching …..
Jesus is still calling individuals unto Himself. These individuals, although valuable in themselves to Christ must learn a higher calling, a greater purpose. That purpose must exist beyond themselves and in fact exists within what Christ has established as His Ekklesia. This body, which greatly values its individual members cannot function properly when individuals continue to place themselves and any pursuit beyond the edification of the whole. They must die, and that for brothers, that for sisters and yes, for a world in need.
It is only as men and women individually renounce all they have done that they can once again regain an effective influence upon those around them. That cost is great to be sure, a cost a few will take, none will regret.