The Lesson of the Declaration

witnessOne day shortly after the event of The Lesson of the Shattering, I was in my kitchen, busily working on routine household chores. In the midst of the mundane, God (by the inner voice of the Holy Spirit) clearly spoke the extraordinary to me, saying, “I have made you a witness.” Surprised and perplexed, I stopped what I was doing and questioned, “A witness?” The declaration, differing from my self-image, left me pondering.

While I, like others, wear many different labels in fulfilling various roles in family and community, the role of witness is not one in which I have ever readily pictured myself. In actuality, though, we all witness countless events every day, often without giving any of them a second thought. But being deemed “a witness,” specifically one in the Body of Christ, was and is quite different. The declaration brought the matter to the forefront of my thinking, right where God wanted it to be.

I remember a day when a Christian friend, referring to the gifts that have been placed within the Church (See 1 Corinthians 12:28), asked me what I believed my spiritual gift to be (not to suggest that God limits us to only one). With little thought, I quickly responded, “Teacher.”

Teaching had been my career prior to retiring, and, more recently, I had been given opportunities to lead small group Bible studies. Therefore, I was fairly comfortable wearing a teacher label. Yet, not having had any “formal training” regarding the Bible, I had remained apprehensive about leading Bible studies, especially during the first couple of years of doing so.

Then I heard a well-known Bible teacher say that she is not the least bit capable of teaching the Bible, but only of sharing whatever Truth has been shared with her. “Now sharing,” I thought, “is something that I can do.” So, in my mind, I became a “Sharer” of the Truth.

But since the completion of my first book, I have found myself also being referred to from time to time as a writer or an author, which causes me to squirm a bit. I am aware (as only I can be) that my only typed words worth reading are the ones that come, one way or another, from God. My writing experience is more of a very personal “listening and recording session” with God than anything else. So, in addition to having labeled myself a “Sharer” of God’s Word, I have also labeled myself a “Recorder.”

But as I stood that day in my kitchen, God’s words sparked a new train of thought (as revelation does), further expanding my understanding of my relationship with God. After contemplating the concept of “witnessing,” I came to conclude (with admitted relief) that being made a witness is a pretty straightforward and seemingly cushy assignment, dependent upon where and to whom one is witnessing.

Witnessing requires no special training or talent, only presence, observation and reporting. A witness is one who “just happens” to be at the right place, at the right time, as an event unfolds. Then, having recorded the experience through his or her senses, a witness retells the event to make the event known to others. “This,” I again thought, “I can do.”

Not until the writing of this lesson did the realization dawn on me (via the Holy Spirit pointing it out) that witnessing is exactly what I have been doing for quite some time, both recording and sharing the Truth. I had already become (been made by the grace of God) a witness, as God had said.

Witnessing is not a “gift,” per se, as we tend to think of “special gifting” for specific individuals. Rather, it is an outcome of our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Jesus stated flatly to His disciples, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8b). Witnessing was not then, nor is it today, optional. God makes all of His disciples witnesses of the Truth through their confessions (testimonies) of faith in Jesus. Each time that we “speak our testimony” in one format or another, the testimony is refreshed, carrying with it the power of Truth that continually transforms the world.

God’s declaration to me began with four important words:  “I have made you.” The words declare the totality of our creation by God, not only with respect to our existence, but also with respect to the shaping of our lives. Isaiah and Paul both proclaimed this truth, saying respectively, “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8) “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21)

God does indeed have the right to make of us whatever He chooses, using our lives for His glory. But to His greater glory, God gives us free reign over our decision making, including our witnessing. So, after molding our bodies from clay and breathing His life into us (See Genesis 2:7), He has freed us to choose to glorify either Him or ourselves by whom we choose to credit in life. In living out our personal testimonies, we are continually confronted by the Truth of God, giving us ongoing opportunities to expand our testimonies through our experiences with Him. In the process, we are made more thorough witnesses by our acquisition of greater Truth.

Saul (Paul) of Tarsus was a man dedicated in intention to the glory of God. But, having grown to wear the label of “a Jew’s Jew” (See Philippians 3), he was bound by rules and regulations that led him into self-righteous living, which included condemning those who followed Jesus. Attempting to live by the letter of the law, Saul defended with zeal the God of whom He had been instructed. He inflicted his judgment on others (See Acts 9:2), truly believing that he was living “right,” when he was far from it.

Then, on the Road to Damascus, Saul became Paul, meeting His God personally. Falling before his Lord, he succumbed to the Truth. (See Acts 9:4) Eternally changed, Paul acquired the gift of first-hand testimony, both of and from His—not another person’s—God. Then, refashioned by God through time spent with the Holy Spirit in God’s Word (See Galatians 1:15-18), Paul became a vessel from which the Truth of God constantly overflowed.

When Ananias, carrying his own testimony, was sent to Paul by God, he told Paul (under God’s direction) of God’s plan for him. ”The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.” (Acts 22:14, 15)

No longer coerced by men’s expectations, Paul went where the Spirit led him, compelled by his personal relationship with God. Allowing his life to be used by the One who had saved him, Paul witnessed to the Truth, as God enabled him. Becoming an instrument of God’s salvation plan, Paul carried the Good News to as many people as time and opportunity permitted him to reach. God made Paul a witness, giving Paul’s life eternal purpose.

Some two thousand years later, God continues revealing Himself to individuals in a multitude of ways, enabling all who receive the Truth to stand up as His witnesses. As God so declared me a witness, He has also so declared each and every disciple of Jesus Christ a witness. There is no difference.

While the manner in which we witness varies, we all witness to something. What we don’t say or do can speak just as loudly about our faith (or lack of it) as what we do say and do. Without the teaching of Jesus—the faithful witness (Revelation 1:5 & 3:14) —and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to direct us (John 16:13), our witness can remain weak (less than God’s design). With little personal knowledge and/or belief of God, our witness can fizzle, instead of sizzle, as God intends.

The Gospel of John (the first book of the Bible to which God directed my God-assigned readings–-see The Life of the Cross) emphasizes the necessity of testimony and its significance to our faith. In chapter one alone, John shares the testimonies of the following witnesses:  God, of John the Baptist; John the Baptist, of the Lamb of God (Jesus); God, of His Son (Jesus); Andrew and another disciple, of Jesus (the Messiah); Jesus, of Peter; Philip, of Jesus; Jesus, of Nathanael; and Nathanael, of Jesus (the Son of God and the King of Israel).

John’s Gospel (a testimony itself) is full of testimonies made of and by Jesus; of and by God the Father; and of and by the Holy Spirit, as well as the testimonies of men. After writing about the crucifixion, John declares, “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” (John 19:35) Then, following his account of the empty tomb and resurrection, John once again returns to the importance of testimony, stressing its purpose. (See John 20:30, 31)

Witnessing spreads Truth, diminishing the lies and deception that imprison us in wrong thinking, keeping us from coming closer to God. In the hearing of testimony, opportunity is granted for repentance—a change of thinking regarding God, ourselves and others. Testimony ignites greater faith, opening doors to new possibility thinking, changing our ways and futures.

Testimony is God’s creation. He provided the first, and He will also give the last, declaring the final Word about Himself in the manifested glory of Jesus Christ, who will be revealed for all to see. Jesus—the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of everything—is the Testimony of God to which we, as disciples of Christ Jesus, testify. When Jesus returns, our witness will no longer be needed, for all will witness the full glory of God for themselves.

Imagine how much we will have to talk about then! Chances are that, if we are not all talking at the same time, unable to get a word in edgewise, it will be due to having been struck speechless. Either way speaks to the importance of witnessing “now.”

If we have been given something to say (and we have been), then we had better say it before our time on the “witness stand” is up. “Now” is our God-given opportunity to speak not our piece, as the world expects, but God’s peace to the world, as God expects.  

And, by the way, that little nudge that we keep feeling to do so is just God’s way of saying, “Speak up, son. The world can’t hear you thinking.”

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Post Script (11/6/2015):  Though I questioned when first writing this piece the use of the word cushy in describing witnessing, knowing full well that witnessing can be uncomfortable at times and even dangerous, the word remained as it had been written.

Then today, in rereading the piece more than two years later, the question regarding the appropriateness of the word’s usage in this writing still confronted me. But for the first time, I was prompted today to look up the word’s meaning.

According to dictionary.comcushy has two meanings. One is what I expected to find: “soft and comfortable; cushiony.” Indeed, this is not always necessarily so about witnessing. Sometimes witnessing requires us to leave our comfort zones in order to be a witness for the well-being of others.

But the word’s other meaning, the one that i had not anticipated, is always true of witnessing. Cushy means “involving little effort for ample reward; easy and profitable.”

Incomparable are the rewards in both this world and the next for simply speaking the grace and truth of God that are freely given to us in Christ Jesus. That is undeniable. Therefore, no question remains. Cushy is and always has been exactly the right word to tie to witnessing. We receive so much for so little…

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“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”  (Ephesians 4:15)

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