Bearing Witness

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV)

Before Jesus ascended into heaven He told His followers: “You will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) Growing up in the church, I heard a lot about being a “witness” and what being a “witness” means. Along this life journey my understanding of being a witness has evolved greatly.

Looking back, the concept of witnessing taught by my church when I was younger was largely a modified sales strategy. I would learn a standard sales pitch from a workshop or class in church. There were a handful of standard ones that usually involved a series of Bible verses marked in a small Bible or a little booklet you could use as a visual aid when telling people about being a follower of Jesus. I was then encouraged to go out in public, knock on doors, and speak to anyone and everyone in an effort to pitch them on receiving Jesus as Lord.

I’m not knocking the process completely. I admit that learning how to simply explain the message of Jesus was a good thing for me. I knew people who were incredibly successful at engaging complete strangers and pitching them on Jesus. I know many people who became followers of Jesus because some stranger took the time to share the message in this way. I, however, confess to being a complete failure as it relates to “witnessing” by the sales pitch strangers technique, and I carried this sense of failure with me for many years.

As I’ve progressed in my journey I’ve come to understand that being a “witness” carries as many different facets as there are personality types and spiritual gifts. I’m reminded this morning of the description Calvin Miller wrote of a faith healer in his tongue-in-cheek parody epistle, The Philippian Fragment:

Sister Helen opened a great crusade in Philippi on Thursday, and is the sensation of the leper colony. She rarely does anything one could call a miracle. Last week she laid hands on a little crippled boy and was not able to heal him, but she gave him a new pair of crutches and promised to take him for a walk in the park here in Philippi.

Yesterday with my own eyes I saw her pass an amputee selling styluses. She touched his legs and cried, “Grow back! Grow back! . . . In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, grow back!” Well, Clement, I so wanted to see the legs grow back, but they did not. Poor Helen. What’s a faith healer to do with an amputee that refuses to grow legs on command?

She sat down with the little man, crossed her legs on the cold pavement, and began selling styluses herself. Soon she was talking to him, and before very long they were both laughing together. For an hour they laughed together, and by nightfall they were having an uproariously good time. When it was time to go, Helen’s legs were so stiff from disuse, they refused to move. Her legless, stylus-selling friend cried in jest, “Grow strong!. . . Grow strong! . . . Grow strong!”

Helen only smiled and staggered upward on her unsteady legs. She looked down at her lowly friend and said, “I offer you healing, you will see. It is only one world away. Someday . . . ,” she stopped and smiled, “you will enter a new life and you will hear our Savior say to your legless stumps, ‘Grow long! . . . Grow long!‘ Then you will know that glory which Sister Helen only dreamed for you.”

Miller, Calvin. The Philippian Fragment (Kindle Locations 147-159). NOVO Ink. Kindle Edition.

I am to witnessing as Sister Helen is to healing.

I love what Paul said to the believers in Thessalonica in today’s chapter. Paul and his buddy Silas didn’t enter the Greek seaport to be strangers with a sales pitch. They “shared their lives as well.” They built relationship and they worked and lived among the people. They became like family. Paul even uses family as a metaphor for their relationships with the Thessalonians.

I’ve come to understand that “sharing life,” as Paul described it, is the style of “witness” I’m better suited for. Let’s walk together, live together, laugh together, and work together. God is love, so let me try and bear witness of that love in my  imperfect human efforts to love you through laughter and tragedies, harmony and discord, successes and failures, daily tasks and long conversations over dinner.

 

7 thoughts on “Bearing Witness”

  1. Good post. I have always loved the idea that we shared our lives with you. There are many other expressions of this same kind of tenderness throughout the new testament. But It’s a little discouraging, because in a lifetime of going to churches, I have rarely experienced that kind of intimate fellowship at church with other people. It’s especially hard when we say we are God’s family, and brothers and sisters, yet people leave so often without saying goodbye or explaining where they are going or why. To be honest-I’ve actually found more of this life sharing intimacy in my open mic poetry events with people that parts of the church would call “sinners” than I have in the place where it’s supposed to be occurring.

    I know there’s a gazillion factors at play here, one of them being that lone ranger quality of American culture and even my own behavior (never mind-that can’t be it), but the thing is the churches I have been to are missing out on a lot of spiritual familial intimacy that appears to have been commonplace in the early church. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your honest take, John. Wendy and I have had similar experiences in the art and theatre communities. I believe there is a natural intersection with the Creator that often occurs when you engage in the process of creative expression. And, artists plumbing the depths to express themselves are naturally going to be better at intimacy than believers covering their sinful hearts with the veneer of religiosity.

      We need to live closer together. Whenever I hear preachers waxing judgmental on the evils of the internet and social media I think to myself, “yeah, but without the internet I’d never know John, Jonathon, Mike, David, Terry, Phil….” Glad to share the journey with you from afar, my friend.

      1. You too brother. It’s been a blessing to know you even though we have never met in real life.

  2. Great post, Tom. I have an aversion to any form of proselytizing, as you know. But people who build a relationship with me and simply live their lives according to their values carry much more weight with me. The influence of “walking the walk” is much more powerful to me than the rather dubious impact of those who merely “talk the talk.”

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