Bring back the testimony

…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:16-17)
God’s word encourages us to be willing and able to let people know what we believe and why we believe it. One way to do this is to share how God’s story—the good news of Jesus Christ—intersects with our story. Traditionally this has been called ‘sharing your testimony.’

Testimonies: evidence and honour

Testimony isn’t a word we use very often. We hear it in a courtroom, because it has to do with providing evidence. Sometimes special functions or dinners are held as a testimonial to a person, honouring their life or particular achievements.

A personal Christian testimony will provide evidence of how the gospel has transformed the life of an individual. The transformed person provides evidence that God’s continues to be active in people’s lives today.

When I was growing up, it was very common for Christians to share their testimonies. We would do this at youth group, in church services, or during special evangelistic events. Let me share a few things I’ve picked up along the way.

A testimony to forget

I can still remember giving my first testimony. At the age of 16, at a church camp, I was asked to describe what it was like to be a Christian. It was something I will likely never forget. The fear of speaking in front of others didn’t seem to bother me. It was more the pressure to say something impressive. I hadn’t been a knife-wielding, drug-crazed gang member. Nor had my conversion been any great, emotional, charismatic experience. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God, brought up in a Christian home, what could I say? I remember it well. I lied! That’s right, I made up a story to impress. And it was a great testimony. I know, because people came up and told me afterwards! Have you heard people give testimonies? Have you given one yourself? What was it like?

I made up a testimony to impress. And it was a great testimony. I know, because people came up and told me afterwards!

Why a testimony?

Testimonies are a great way of letting others know that people do change to become Christians. Real people—people who are like them. Because the gospel we preach is rooted in an event of early history, it is helpful for people to hear that God still works powerfully through His Word today. And living evidence for this stands before them.

Where and when to give a testimony?

Almost any situation can be a good time to give your testimony. You don’t need to be invited up front at church to tell someone about what Jesus has done.  This can be done as you talk with your friends, as you travel on a plane, as you chat with other mums in your antenatal class, as you share the good news on your campus, or as you talk with mates after work. If your church or group is planning a public outreach meeting, it may be helpful to arrange for someone to give their testimony. This gives a real-life example of the good news of Jesus at work.

Who should speak?

Remember the purpose of a testimony is to show that the gospel changes real people, people that the listener can relate to. For this reason, there is probably little mileage in having an ex-bikie speak at the Women’s Fellowship dinner. It is usually better to have an ordinary member of the group speak, rather than some high-powered outsider. You want those who accept your invitations to hear about someone just like them. It might even be good to have a couple of people speak to show how God deals differently with each of us.

What should you say?

Firstly, work out clearly why you are saying anything at all. You are speaking because you want to see people come into a relationship with God. And that means they need to hear about Jesus, not all the sordid details of your pre-Christian days. Some testimonies I hear are 95% sin and 5% salvation. And sometimes Jesus doesn’t even get a look in. Standing up and talking about your experience can be a great means of ego-tripping, so it is of first importance that we point people beyond ourselves to Jesus.

Your purpose is not to preach a sermon—it’s not about explaining a Bible passage. It’s about explaining what God has done in your life. So, speak about what Jesus has done, and how he has changed your life. Most people have no trouble speaking about themselves, so you must work out clearly beforehand what you are going to put in and what you will leave out.  We don’t need to hear every little detail, just the important bits: what was going on in your life, how you came to hear and understand about Jesus, how you responded to him, and what difference this has made to your life. A short clear talk will be remembered, but long-winded drivel will only bore people, and leave them wondering about your point.

I remember listening to a student give her testimony one night. It started off great. She quickly moved from her need of forgiveness to the night that she understood that Jesus had died for her. But then she didn’t know how to stop. Another 10 minutes passed before she sat down. Work out beforehand what you should say, how you will start, and how you should finish. You may not know when to stop but everyone else will.

How should you give it?

Not like an expert, but then you don’t want to be sloppy either. Think about meetings you’ve been to where everything seems laid back and relaxed. My guess is that they were very well prepared. It is a great idea to practise your testimony with a friend. They will be able to tell you how it sounds, whether there is jargon to chop out, if it is too long and so on. Clarity, sincerity and honesty are called for in a testimony. Not slickness! Give it without notes. If you think you need notes, then you’re probably saying too much, or perhaps you are speaking about things that haven’t really made a big impact on your life.

Interviewing

An alternative to the monologue testimony is the interview. Tom asks Jane a series of questions designed to show how Jesus has changed Jane’s life. The aim of the interview remains the same as the testimony. But this way gives Jane the advantage of not having to remember the format of the testimony. And people like to hear conversations and dialogue. Tom is able to control what is being said and the length of the interview. This is a great help to people who are unsure about public speaking. If Jane says something that’s unclear, or full of jargon, Tom is able to ask another question to clarify it. Again, preparation is important. Both people should meet beforehand to go over the questions and responses. Then you both know what is going to happen.

John Chapman developed a pattern of questions thatyou may find helpful:

  • Did you grow up in a Christian home?
  • What makes you say that?
  • How did you come to understand that Jesus died for you?
  • What did you do to respond to this?
  • What is the hardest part of the Christian life for you?
  • What is the best part of the Christian life for you?

Finally

Remember, it is Jesus you are promoting, not yourself. So pray that what you say might lead others to Jesus. That’s what you really want to happen, isn’t it?

P.S. 

There are a number of ways to improve your ability to testify to Jesus.  Here are some further tips:

  • Pray for opportunities to share Christ with others.
  • Practice talking with others about Jesus.
  • Know a gospel outline clearly.
  • Read Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice.
  • Listen to some evangelistic talks on line.
  • Practice talking with others about Jesus.
  • Pray for more opportunities to share Christ with others.

Edited version of article Remember Testimonies that first appeared on The Gospel Coalition Australia site.

Do you know what love is?

loveTrue love doesn’t start with us—it starts with God. God doesn’t love us because we’re loveable, or deserving, or especially worthwhile. He loves us because he is love. He loves us despite who we are and what we’re like. He loves us at great personal cost. God’s love is passionate—it shows itself in the passion of the Christ, on Good Friday, with Jesus taking the punishment of death in my place.

We won’t always feel loved by God. Sometimes our circumstances will cause us to doubt or question the love of God.

  • It’s hard to believe that God loves us when we are experiencing pain and loss.
  • We are tempted to believe that if God really loved us then things would always go well for us.
  • It’s impossible to feel the touch of God’s love when he seems so far away and disinterested.
  • It feels silly to speak of God being loving when there is so much tragedy and suffering in the world.
  • Saying ‘God loves me’ sounds so empty and powerless.
  • Who am I to say whether God loves me or not?

It’s all too easy to judge God based on our experiences. And it’s all too dangerous! God doesn’t have to meet my expectations, as though I know more about love than him. I have no right to stipulate the criteria for assessing whether or not God is loving.

External circumstances can always be understood from different perspectives. If it rains heavily then one person will thank God for saving his crops, while another blames God for ruining her holiday. Does this mean that God is loving to one and not to the other?

Don’t be tossed around by your heart, or your head, or the things that happen around you. There is clear, objective, defining, unchanging, historical, and eternal evidence for the love of God.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Know that evidence and keep returning to it. Rely on God’s own word of truth when it comes to assessing his love. Remember…

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
(1 John 4:9-10)

Do you know what it is to be loved by God? Have you experienced the love of God? I’m not asking whether you’ve had goosebumps or a mystical encounter. I’m asking have you put your trust in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, for the forgiveness of your sin against God? Have you received a divine pardon? Then you know what love is!

If you’d like to know more about the love of God, then please ask me, and I will be only too happy to share what I know.

Do you need an echocardiogram?

echoThis morning I had an echocardiogram. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I until this morning. It’s basically an ultrasound of the heart. This is one of a number of health checks I’ve had in recent months. Since it’s six years since I was diagnosed with cancer, and two years since I’ve had chemo, and since we’re planning on moving cities, we thought it wise to book in for a major service or two. So far, I’ve had the cameras in both ends and seen some of the damage chemo has left behind. I’ve managed to take on another ‘C’ disease—well developed coeliac. So we’ve had a pantry purge and I’ve started to become one of those difficult people who is always asking what’s in the food I’ve been given. I’ve had lung function tests and discovered that despite the beating my lungs have taken I’m sitting on the low end of average for a bloke my age. My bone density has been checked and I’m osteopaenic. Don’t know that word either? Well, it’s much better than osteoporosis and osteopathetic. I’ve even spoken to my first specialist, a lung physician, who was willing to explore another ‘C’ word—cure. I liked the sound of that one, but we can’t ever know for sure.

Back to the echocardiogram. They were checking the health of my heart. Occasional atrial fibrillation or arrhythmia. I’ve had it a few times over the years and I’ve usually been able to explain it away. But then the heart is one organ to take seriously. It was behaving itself today, but there was something a little remarkable. The echo showed that my heart has become somewhat hardened. The muscle has thickened. Probable causes are high blood pressure and insufficient exercise. Yes, I know what to do. More exercise, get the heart working a bit more. And slow down, relax, rest, recreate, de-stress. In other words, I mustn’t harden my heart any more than it is.

As I walked away from the cardiologist this morning, I remembered having heard something like this before:

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:

‘Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.’

Hebrews 3:12-15 NIV

I need to pay attention to my heart. This muscle is indispensable to my continued welfare and existence. I can’t do without it.

But, more importantly, I must also pay attention to my spiritual ‘heart’—the centre of my being, my values, my conscience, my choices, my priorities. God is calling me to listen to his voice. Not some mystical connection found in solitary introspection, but his message of good news focusing on Jesus. The good news is that Jesus is the only one to live for, the one who deserves everything, including my complete allegiance. He has given his life for me, to rescue me from the futility and judgment that comes from living for myself.

When God reminds me of this fact, I mustn’t harden my heart against him. When my will aches for independence, when I simply want to do my own thing, when I’m tempted to despair, when I’m feeling that God is remote or irrelevant, then I mustn’t harden my heart. When the world around me is shouting that there is no God, and when consumerism keeps luring me to live myself, then I must listen to the true word of God. The voice that reminds me that my heart will never be satisfied until it finds its rest in God.

And I urge you too to listen to God. Take a look at your spiritual echocardiogram, get your spiritual heart checked, while you still can. Good heart health is smart and spiritual heart health matters even more.

Heaven, how I got here

heavenI miss Chappo! Yesterday I saw someone reading one of his books and I felt a pang of grief. He was so good to talk with, to chat to about real stuff. He’d always keep pointing me to Jesus. He loved Jesus and wanted nothing more than for others to love him too. Chappo might not be here—that’s because he is now with the risen Jesus—but I still have his books. My favourite is A Fresh Start. It’s clear, fun, engaging, serious, Biblical, and helpful, all rolled into one. It’s a great explanation of what a Christian is and how you can become one.

It got me thinking that we could do with some more books like A Fresh Start. It’s a while since I’ve read a simple and engaging book that explains the significance of Jesus and calls people to respond.

Last night, Good Friday, I sat down with my Kindle and thumbed through the books that I’d bought cheaply, but hadn’t got around to reading. Colin S. Smith’s book, Heaven, how I got here caught my eye. I decided to take a look, hoping it wasn’t another of those ‘heaven tourism’ books. My Kindle told me that it would take about an hour to complete. Just what I needed before I went to bed.

Heaven, how I got here tells the story of the thief on the cross from the thief’s perspective. Of course, we only have a brief glimpse of this man in the Scriptures and only a few of his words are recorded, so there is much that has to be ‘imagined’ in this account. However, I would describe Smith’s narrative as a ‘Biblically informed imagination’. The author draws all his important insights from the Scriptures themselves. Profoundly important theological insights are ascribed to the dying thief as he reflects on the significance of the innocent Jesus, dying at his side.

Why has he be condemned if he is innocent? How can God allow him to hang on the cross if he is the promised Christ? Smith highlights one reality that I’d only ever glossed over—that Jesus died before this man. He watched as Jesus died. He had time (albeit agonisingly brief) to reflect on what Jesus had said and done. The thief heard the taunts and attacks thrown at Jesus. He saw close up the injustice and horror. He witnessed the devastating words of Jesus, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” and his final cry “It is finished.” He experienced the total darkness in the middle of the day, the shudder of the earthquake, and the acclamation of the centurion, “Surely this man was the son of God.”

This book is tonic to those for whom the cross has become mundane. It brings us in, close and personal. We can almost hear and touch and see and smell the events as they unfold. But the real strength of this book lies not in reminding us of the horrors of crucifixion. It lies in the awesome significance of what Jesus achieved, not only for the thief, but for you and for me. Heaven, how I got here is good news to all who think they have no hope of forgiveness and a challenge to any who think that it’s what they do that will get them there.

Why Christians believe Jesus is God

From time to time I get asked why Christians believe that the man of history, Jesus Christ, is believed to be divine. It’s one thing to believe that he is special and that he’s left his mark on history, but it’s another thing altogether to believe that Jesus is God. Sometimes people support there critiques by claiming that Jesus never said he was God, or that the Bible doesn’t actually describe Jesus as God. While it is true that you won’t a quotation of Jesus saying “I am God” in the Bible, this is not to say that Jesus and the Bible writers deny this. In fact, there is significant evidence to support the claim that Jesus is divine.

jesusasgodIf you are interested in considering the Bible’s claims on this matter, the following list of references is a helpful start. They’ve been adapted from the book by Murray Harris called Jesus as God.

Divine functions performed by Jesus

In relation to the universe

  • Creator (John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2)
  • Sustainer (1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:3)
  • Author of life (John 1:4; Acts 3:15)
  • Ruler (Matt 28:18; Rom 14:9; Rev 1:5)

In relation to human beings

  • Healing the sick (Mark 1:32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38)
  • Teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31)
  • Forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col 3:13)
  • Granting salvation (Acts 4:12; Rom 10:12-14)
  • Dispensing the Spirit (Matt 3:11; Acts 2:17, 33)
  • Raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40)
  • Exercising judgment (Matt 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor 4:4-5)

Divine status claimed by or accorded to Jesus

In relation to his Father

  • Having divine attributes (John 1:4; 10:30; 21:17; Eph 4:10; Col 1:19; 2:9)
  • Eternally existent (John 1:1; 8:58; 12:41; 17:5; 1 Cor 10:4; Phil 2:6; Heb 11:26; 13:8; Jude 5)
  • Equal in dignity (Matt 28:19; John 5:23; 2 Cor 13:14; Rev 22:13; cf. 21:6)
  • Perfect revealer (John 1:9, 14; 6:32; 14:6; Rev 3:7, 14)
  • Joint possessor of the kingdom (Eph 5:5; Rev 11:15), churches (Rom 16:16), Spirit (Rom 8:9; Phil 1:19), temple (Rev 21:22) divine name (Matt 28:19; cf. Rev 14:1), and throne (Rev 22:1, 3)

In relation to human beings

  • Recipient of praise (Matt 21:15-16; Eph 5:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev 5:8-14)
  • Recipient of prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17, 21; 22:16, 19; 1 Cor 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor 12:8)
  • Object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom 10:8-13)
  • Object of worship (Matt 14:33; 28:9, 17; John 5:23; 20:28; Phil 2:10-11; Heb 1:6; Rev 5:8-12)
  • Joint source of blessing (1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; 1 Thess 3:11; 2 Thes 2:16)
  • Object of doxologies (2 Tim 4:18; 2 Pet 3:18; Rev 1:5-6; 5:13)

Old Testament passages referring to Yahweh applied to Jesus

  • Character of Yahweh (Exod 3:14 and Isa 43:11 alluded to in John 8:58; Ps 102:27-28 quoted in Heb 1:11-12; Isa 44:6 alluded to in Rev 1:17)
  • Holiness of Yahweh (Isa 8:12-13 [cf. 29:23] quoted in 1 Pet 3:14-15)
  • Descriptions of Yahweh (Ezek 43:2 and Dan 10:5-6 alluded to in Rev 1:13-16)
  • Worship of Yahweh (Isa 45:23 alluded to in Phil 2:10-11; Deut 32:43 and Ps 97:7 quoted in Heb 1:6)
  • Work of Yahweh in creation (Ps 102:25 quoted in Heb 1:10)
  • Salvation of Yahweh (Joel 2:32 quoted in Rom 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21; Isa 40:3 quoted in Matt 3:3)
  •  Trustworthiness of Yahweh (Isa 28:16 quoted in Rom 9:33; 10:11; 1 Pet 2:6)
  • Judgment of Yahweh (Isa 6:10 alluded to in John 12:41; Isa 8:14 quoted in Rom 9:33 and I Pet 2:8)
  • Triumph of Yahweh (Ps 68:18 quoted in Eph 4:8)

Divine titles claimed by or applied to Jesus

  • Son of Man (Matt 16:28; 24:30; Mark 8:38; 14:62-64; Acts 7:56)
  • Son of God (Matt 11:27; Mark 15:39; John 1:18; Rom 1:4; Gal 4:4; Heb 1:2)
  • Messiah (Matt 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 20:31)
  • Lord (Mark 12:35-37; John 20:28; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 8:5-6; 12:3; 16:22; Phil 2:11; 1 Pet 2:3; 3:15)
  • Alpha and Omega (Rev 22:13; cf. 1:8; 21:6, of the Lord God)
  • God (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom 9:5; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:1)

Worth reading

NIV_blueWe’re not all natural readers, but my experience is that reading brings great reward. I struggle to read the great novels or works of fiction. But I’m a fan of sports biographies, and works on leadership, people, organisations, and new ways of thinking and doing. But hands down the most instructive, life-changing, and liberating book I’ve ever read—and continue to read is the Bible.

Apparently it takes less time to read than Game of Thrones and not all that much more than Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. And while these are great stories, the Bible is so much more. If you’ve never really dipped into the Bible, can I recommend you give it a shot. Grab a modern translation—replace the old King James with a New International Version or the Holman Christian Standard Bible—and give it a read. Maybe start in the second part, the New Testament, and discover the extraordinary account of Jesus. It’s a book of life and hope and, contrary to popular opinion, extraordinary relevance and applicability to life now.

If you’d like to read the Bible with someone else, this can make it easier and more fun. Let me know and I will see if I can arrange a reading buddy or even a reading group.

For those of you who have read the Bible—’have’ being the operative word—and want to dip into it again, here are a few suggested approaches to get you restarted.

  1. Read the whole Bible through in one year. A good option is to get a Bible reading plan and follow it. Such plans are available on line or on smart phone Bible apps.
  2. Listen to the Bible on your mp3 player as you travel to and from work, go on holidays, or exercise.
  3. Use some Bible study guide, such as those produced by Matthias Media, which help you through an entire book of the Bible. These provide some commentary and ask questions to assist your understanding and application of the passage.
  4. Get into a routine Monday to Friday that fits with work and other regularities. Don’t worry if the weekend doesn’t fit the routine – do something different on weekends.
  5. If you know another language then, after you have looked at the passage in English, read through it again in the other language. This with help you give more attention to the meaning.
  6. Read with a friend and discuss what you have learned. Or both of you read on your own and then make contact to discuss it together.
  7. Read the Bible out loud to yourself.
  8. Use Search the Scriptures – a three year Bible reading program. You can take this at whatever pace you desire. Maximum benefit is gained if you take the time to write your answers to the questions.
  9. Follow Don Carson’s For the Love of God to read the Bible over one to four years. Excellent commentary by Carson. Available free on the Gospel Coalition website.
  10. Keep a journal of what you have learned and intend to apply from your reading.
  11. Prepare for sermons and Bible studies by reading over the passages beforehand.
  12. Read a passage with a view to giving a very brief talk which explains it, illustrates it and applies it. Then you can talk to me about finding an opportunity to give it!
  13. Try the S.O.A.P. approach. Read or write out the passage of Scripture. Note your observations and questions of the text. Decide how you are going to apply what you’ve learned. Pray that God will give you understanding and enable you to put it into practice.
  14.  ‘Manuscript Discovery’ is a term given to the study of the text of the Bible without chapters, verses, paragraphs or headings included. This means you have to do more work, with the result that you learn more. You can do this yourself simply by printing out the text of the Bible from Bible Gateway and removing all added numbers and headings.
  15. Commit verses to memory.
  16. Type out the entire Bible.
  17. Come up with your own ideas… share them with others

Cancer, death, funerals, hope

IMG_0545I’ve been to two funerals in the past eight days.

The first was a man I met through having cancer myself. We were both diagnosed with lung cancer in our forties. We were both concerned for our wives and children. And we both trusted in Jesus for a hope beyond the grave.

My friend’s funeral was a testimony to his faith in God and his hope in resurrection. While the funeral was distinctively Christian, I got the impression that many present did not share my friend’s convictions. I didn’t really know anyone there, having only briefly met his wife on one occasion, but my heart longed for people to know the truth that gave my friend hope that death was not the victor.

Yesterday I attended a family funeral. Fiona’s uncle had passed away after cancer had overrun his body. He left behind a loving wife and daughter, adoring grandchildren, extended family, and many friends. It was a privilege to share in his farewell. Fiona and I came away wishing that we had known him more closely. We heard tributes to a devoted husband and grandfather, a wonderful educator, a hard working farmer, a wise confidant, and much more. We were reminded that he placed his trust in Jesus until his final breaths and that he was confident of being united Jesus in the life ahead.

Ecclesiastes tells us that…

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.  (7:2)

This is so true. Funerals focus us deeply on what matters really matter. Both these funerals were times of grieving and tears, but they were not without hope—real hope. They were coloured by the confidence that all is not lost, cancer has not won, death is not the end, and there is an awesome future for all who hope in Christ.

I came away from both funerals wanting everyone to take personally the news that each man went to their death with a strong hope beyond cure. This is far more than wishful thinking, more than a positive outlook to lift everyone’s spirits—it’s a confident hope based on the resurrection of Jesus.