Top That Testimony

By Taber Andrew Bain (Flickr: "Jesus Saves" in Neon) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Taber Andrew Bain (Flickr: “Jesus Saves” in Neon) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was in the One True Church, it was very important that we all had a testimony.  Once a year, we would set a tent up in the middle of a park to preach the gospel to ourselves.  We actually intended to preach the gospel to the community but few actually came as it was a long walk from the Thrifty drug store across the street and traversing a long stretch of grass to a tent surrounded by greeters in coats and ties was a bit off-putting.

Nevertheless, we had a good time because we got to hear the gospel, see our friends play gospel music or do a gospel mime, and hear the personal testimony from friends at our church.

Testimonies certainly are not limited to the One True Church or tent meetings.  Many Christians put emphasis on testimony for the simple reason that, quite frankly, we believe that Jesus changes lives for the good.  Having listened to many testimonies in my day, it seems pretty evident that He does.

In my earlier days, I had testimony envy.  I didn’t think my story was very dramatic.  In eighth grade, I didn’t have a lot of self-awareness of the extent of my sin (that came later).   My brother called me into the room to share a gospel-in-four-easy-steps tract and I was committed without any angst or reservation.  Perhaps the testimony of God’s working lay in the fact that I was so prepared and ready and that God kept me interested through so many years of ups and downs, triumphs, and discouragements.

But back in the One True Church, a bunch of guys were hanging out and the conversation turned to who might have the best testimony.  Could anyone tell of laying in the gutter in a drunken stupor drowning in filth whereupon a cockroach crept by tugging along a gospel tract?  Could anyone say they were on the edge of a precipice ready to jump when he felt the arms of an angel pulling him back to safety?  Was any like  Paul intent on destroying the church until he was knocked to the ground by a great blaze of light?

The winner in this conversation ended up going to a young man who worked in a convalescent hospital.  When working in the kitchen, he slipped and fell into the trash chute that led to the trash grinder at the bottom.  He caught himself on the side of the chute and would inch himself to the top but just as he would reach his arm out of the opening to grab hold of something solid, he would accidentally cycle on the grinder that would suck him further down into the chute.   Somewhere in the struggle, he received Christ.

“Dear Jesus. (puff, puff)  I admit (puff, puff) that I am a sinner.”

Click!  Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

(Moments of climbing later)

“And I believe (puff, puff)   that you died (puff, puff)  for my sins.”

Click!  Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

(Moments climbing later)

“Please (puff, puff)   come into my  . . . ”

Click!  Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

 

Testimonies are a good thing in the Christian tradition because it is insightful on how a life can be brought from despair to joy.  However, a changed life is not unique to Christianity.  Testimonies abound from people whose lives were change by yoga, twelve step groups, or multi-level marketed vitamins and oils.

What makes Christianity unique is not simply that it changes lives but that it proclaims to the world an announcement that is so transcendent and so up-ending to the political and religious constructs of men and women that to call it revolutionary would be the ultimate in understatement.

The announcement in short hand is:  Jesus is Lord.  A longer version is that Jesus, an actual historical human who made footprints in the sand roughly two thousand years ago is in fact the singular monotheistic God who created all that exists and claims precedent and authority over every other political, spiritual, or religious system of thought.  “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” said Jesus which means, “The ultimate kingdom has the values and goals that I, the king, says it does and you need to be prepared to conform your values and goals to it.”

Heavy stuff.  Quite the announcement.  One that would be indeed treasonous if not preposterous unless He was indeed God incarnate in the flesh.

Reading the Bible from this vantage point will deliver us from seeing the Scriptures as a self-help book that helps us live more enjoyable lives.  Rather, it proclaims a transcendent declaration of God’s plan for the ages – from creation by Christ to consummation in Christ and the various historical stages in between – and His rightful expectation of and vision for the very creation He made.

Does Jesus go about doing good changing lives?  Of course.  But even if our lives don’t change as we hope, even if we are struck with horrific injustices from which we are not delivered,  and even if we are forced to faced our own mortality, the weighty announcement that Jesus is Lord is our hope that all will come to a glorious end.


To comment, scroll down to “Leave a Reply”.  To subscribe, go to the upper right hand corner of post to “Subscribe to My Writings”.

When The Sun Comes Over the Hill

Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When Jacob braced himself for the presumed final showdown with his angry brother Esau, he rose up to institute his strategy (Genesis 32:22) because that is what Jacob does.

His life was characterized as a man who remained in control.  He kept others off balance, a bent of his personality that focused on getting what he wanted.

At birth, he came forth clutching his older twin’s heal and was thus named Jacob or “one who snatches by the heal”.   He became the person who trips others up, who gets others off balance, the one whose words appear perfectly sound but somehow fuel a self-serving interest.

He tricked his older brother Esau out of his birthright and inheritance.  He stole the patriarchal blessing meant for the older twin.  He managed the work-for-wives and work-for-cattle program with his uncle Laban to always come out ahead.  Now it seems he had manipulated himself into a corner.  Esau was charging towards him and that could only mean bad news.  Even here he employed a strategy to cut his losses.

“Do not fear, thou worm Jacob!”  (Isaiah 41:14).  For God must have seen in Jacob a heart that wanted the things that God valued.  To Jacob, His calling mattered.  God’s inheritance mattered.  His sacrifices to God mattered.  God’s blessings mattered.  God Himself mattered.

Jacob was left alone on the mountain to face himself and think.  At this point, a man appeared out of nowhere (Genesis does this) to wrestle with him – perhaps an angel  some say or perhaps a preincarnate appearance of Christ others say.

The match was a lesson in prevailing but not in a way we might think.  Jacob didn’t overthrow his opponent.  Rather this mysterious man deadened Jacob’s thigh (the strongest muscle in the body symbolizing the best of our strength) so all Jacob could do was cling and hold on.  All night, where God went, Jacob went, clinging in utter dependence.

The picture isn’t suggesting that strategy, taking action, and working towards our goals are bad or that we should resign ourselves to a life of passivity.  But what it does suggest is that the best of our strength is not the means to prevail before God.  Rather, it is in our dependence,  our trust, our clinging to God in need, and our leaning upon Him.   We pray not because we are overcomers to stir up the flesh to action.  We pray because we are the helpless widow who would be lost if God didn’t intervene on our behalf.  (Luke 18:3).

Jacob didn’t walk away perfect.  Later in life, he was prone to self-pity – another form of manipulation.  Nevertheless, he was different.  In this realization of weakness, limitation and true humility, his name was changed from Jacob, the heel-snatcher and manipulator, to  Israel, the one who prevails with God.

The story began with Jacob rising up the hill to accomplish his plan.  Now, as Jacob limped down the hill, interrupted, stripped of his control, and leaning on his staff, it was the sun that rose upon him.  (Genesis 32:31)  The sun had finally come over the hill.


To comment, scroll down to “Leave a Reply”.  To subscribe, go to the upper right hand corner of post to “Subscribe to My Writings”.