Can I Get a Witness? (sharing your faith)


Here are some thoughts on the idea of evangelism.


When I saw the title/theme for this piece, I heard in my mind Bonnie Raitt singing “Can I get a witness?” Marvin Gaye first recorded it with a Gospel harmony in 1963.

This song is not a traditional Gospel song nor would it be sung in a church setting, but it does echo the call of many pastors to bring forth those who can speak to the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

A witness is one who can describe what occurred at some place or at some point in time. Eyewitness testimonies are not always accurate. The Old Testament required two or more witnesses to give testimony.

There are those today who say that Christianity is false or based on a myth.

Our duty is not to make people believe in Christ but to show how His presence in our lives has changed our lives and saved us from a life that ends in slavery to sin and death. People want proof. In the days following Easter and the Resurrection, Thomas refused to believe others unless he could touch Jesus and feel the wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet. And when he saw, he believed.

Jesus said that there would be countless others in the future who would believe because of what others would do and not because they could see the resurrected Jesus as Thomas did.

When we accept Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit changes our lives, it is what we do that shows others around us that the change has taken place. Each generation receives the power of the Holy Spirit from the previous generation and passes it onto the next (think of the song, “Pass It On”).

You cannot command others to believe; rather you must show them through the deeds and actions of believers. It isn’t enough to say that we are Christians; it is what do in the name of Christ that will convince them. What makes us seek the Lord and accept Him as our personal Savior?

And when Jesus told Thomas that others would come to believe because of the actions of others, we understand that Jesus was speaking of what we should do today and tomorrow.

My journey with Christ began when I was a freshman in high school. On Saturday mornings, two friends and I met with our pastor for Bible study to prepare for confirmation. In addition to Saturday mornings we also had to serve as acolytes on Sunday mornings.

But the journey did not end after that year of study and service. First, ten individuals, who had watched us for that year, decided there must be something to what we were doing and they began the process of study and service. I do not know what happened to my two friends or the ten that followed us. All a witness for Christ can really ever do is show the way; each person who follows has to make their choices.

After some twenty years I came to realize that my life really had changed and that I needed to be doing things that showed the change in my life. This changed the direction of my life.

And so I now pass onto you what I hear, not just as a song on the radio or a call from the pulpit, but the words of Christ to be a witness, to show by not only by my words but by deeds and service, to the next generation, to invite them to accept Christ as their Savior.

So Jesus today asks, “Can I get a witness?”

Facing The Future


Here are some thoughts on the idea of facing the future.


Over the years I have gathered a set of quotes and sayings from various sources – the first that I wrote down came from the Talmud:

“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.”

This has always meant to me that there will be a moment in our life where we must make a decision that will determine the direction that we will take.

Think of the twelve disciples, along with their friends and families, in those first few hours after Jesus was crucified and buried in the tomb. How did they deal with His death and burial?

Clearly, they were afraid because they didn’t know what might happen to any of them. After three years of following Jesus, could they return home and start their old lives over again? (Remember that in the first days following Easter, Peter along with Andrew, James, and John went back to fishing.) Could they continue doing what they had been doing without Jesus there to lead and guide them? There must have been so much uncertainty about what the future would hold and how they would face it.

We want and we demand a certain degree of certainty in our lives. We do not like it when that certainty disappears; so much so that we are quite willing to believe or accept the guidance of anyone if it will provide the certainty that we need. This is the essence of human nature.

In the good times, we think that it is what we do that makes thing good and we don’t know how to deal with things when they aren’t so good.

For the disciples and the other followers, those first few hours after the crucifixion and burial must have been agonizing. Even after the Resurrection eased some of the pain and doubt in their lives, all of Jesus’ talk about leaving and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come probably only heightened that uncertainty if not confused them.

But Jesus was not leaving them unprepared; He was preparing them for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit came on that first Pentecost, it opened their minds and completed the teachings that Jesus had provided during those three years of His Galilean ministry.

When we are under stress, we tend to forget that Christ is standing right next to us, as He has always done from the day we opened our minds, our hearts, and our soul to Him. In that moment that we accept Christ, the Holy Spirit empowers us, just as it did those gathered in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost. The presence of the Holy Spirit does not give us the answers to the questions but it does give us the ability to think the problem through and arrive at the decision that we must make.

The presence of the Holy Spirit provides the comfort that removes the stress and calms our fears so that we can think through the problem.

So it is that while some may face the future with uncertainty and fear, we can face the future knowing that the uncertainty and fear are gone and our decisions can be made clearly and correctly, done with assurance and not uncertainty, empowered by the Holy Spirit through Christ.

Leading The Way


Here are some thoughts on finding the way.


And Thomas said to Jesus, “but we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14: 5 – 6) We often feel that we don’t know where we are gong and all the signs either point us in a thousand different directions or more confusion.

Marilyn Ferguson wrote in the Aquarian Conspiracy, “We find our individual freedom by choosing not a destination but a direction.” In Alice in Wonderland, Alice was told that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” (a paraphrase of the dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland)

The first thing that you have to do when you think that your life is headed in the wrong direction or you aren’t even sure where you are going, is to stop for a moment or two and look around at where you are.

We want our freedom, the freedom to choose where and in which direction to go. Society, vis-a-vis our friends, family, etc., tells us to follow the crowd. And sometimes, because we are confused or uncertain, it is quite easy to follow the crowd and let others make the choices for us.

Remember what Jesus told the Pharisees, “seek the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 32) The Pharisees saw themselves as free and totally missed the point because they were tied to a rigorous adherence to the law. Your thoughts are not your own when you must adhere to society’s exact rules.

There are some rules that you must absolutely obey but you have to understand why and not just obey them automatically. When society dictates that you must do something, you have to ask why.

Jesus offers you a chance to break free from a structure that enslaves us and makes it easy for others to tell you what to do. He gives you the ability to choose for yourself instead of just following the crowd.

Making your own decisions is tough. When Thomas asked Jesus, in a cry of anguish or exasperation, where they were headed, he was echoing the thoughts that all the disciples probably had.

Today’s society wants us to make decisions for today and just today; tomorrow will take care of itself. Decisions we make with and about Jesus as to what we are going to do with our lives are decisions about tomorrow and the future.

So we sit by ourselves, looking at where we are today and wondering or even perhaps hoping that tomorrow will be better, or perhaps, we hear Jesus calling us, as He did the disciples, to follow Him.

In His call, we will see a path, perhaps several paths. We ask what would you have me do, Lord? What would you like to do? What skills do you have? How can you use those skills to help people? What must I do today, what must I begin today so that I can continue tomorrow?

We all reach this point at some time in our lives. Some have turned away, feeling the choices and the decisions are too great a burden. But in seeking Christ, our hearts and minds are open to endless possibilities, possibilities that will take us into the future.

There is a traditional hymn that tells us to turn our eyes to Jesus. And when we do so, we find the strength and comfort we need so we know where are going and how we will get there.

Hope


Here are some thoughts on the idea of hope.


The release of the new Star Wars movie reminded me of something I first thought about when the original trilogy was produced. At the end of the second movie in the trilogy, Obi-Wan says to Yoda that Luke Skywalker is the last hope of the Jedi. But Yoda says, “No, there is another one.” And the viewers are left wondering who that might be.

For me, that exchange is strangely reminiscent of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. He was on the run for his life because he had challenged Queen Jezebel and showed the people of Israel the futility of believing in her god, Baal. Elijah ended up in the wilderness, alone and scared, convinced that he was the only one left in Israel who believed in God and that he would die for that belief and his actions.

But, in a series of visions, God shows Ezekiel that things are not as bleak as he (Ezekiel) imagines and that there are others who believe as he does.

It is quite easy at times to think that there is no hope, that all is lost and nothing you can do means anything. I think this was the situation when Jesus began His ministry.

We know that John the Baptist sent some of his followers to Jesus to find out if He, Jesus, was the Messiah or if they should look for someone else, another one, if you will. The Baptist is about to die and there is very little hope in the country. The idea that God cared for His people was being challenged by a legalistic and unbending religious establishment and tempered by the presence of a political dictatorship. It is quite easy to see that there was no hope in the land.

When Jesus stood up that day some two thousand years ago in the Nazareth synagogue and proclaimed,

The Lord’s Spirit is on me;

He has ordained me to break the good news to the poor people.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the oppressed,

And sight for the blind,

To help those who have been grievously insulted to find dignity;

To proclaim the Lord’s new ear.”

He was announcing that there was hope, real hope.

And that promise, through Christ is still with us today. It is easy in today’s society to think that hope is lost and that tomorrow will bring more heartbreak and sorrow. It is easy to see in today’s society both a religious and political establishment that mirrors what it must have been like in Ezekiel’s time as well as in Jesus’ time. And it is easy to think that if that is the case, then there is no hope today.

But the story of Ezekiel did not end in the wilderness. God showed Ezekiel that He was still a presence in this world and that there was more for him to do.

And the story did not end when the religious and political establishments crucified Christ on the Cross; in fact, the story may have actually begun at that time. For in Christ’s resurrection, we know that hope exists and that in our belief, we can find hope and we can find the way to continue the story.

Music from the Heart


Here are some thoughts about music and worship.


 

Some of the material comes from earlier pieces I have posted.I have been involved with music since I was in the 7th grade when I began playing in the junior high school band. I played in the band during junior high, high school and for one year in college. After that I began singing in the church choir; something I still do today.

Through all of this, I gained and maintained an appreciation for music. I appreciate the workmanship and beauty of a Bach cantata and Mozart oratorio as much as I appreciate the guitar work of Eric Clapton. And I can hear and feel the power and presence of God in a modern jazz piece as much as I do in a traditional choral piece or organ composition (from “A Rock and Roll Revival”).

When I was growing up, there was a television show called “American Bandstand.” It was a show that introduced teenagers to the new music of their time and gave bands and individual artists of the era their start.

During one segment in the show, two of the teenagers who came to the show would be invited to rate a new record. Typical comments might be that the song had a good beat or that it was easy to dance to. It was an expression as much of how the music felt as it sounded.

The Psalms are the Bible’s songs. They were written as a way to express sorrow and pain and to celebrate the joy and happiness of life. They were the hymns of the early Church.

We sometimes think that church music has to be unique and special but why cannot it be rock and roll? If a song opens our heart and mind to God, what difference does it make what the source might be?

Each one of us can identify songs and hymns, both traditional and not so traditional, that touch our hearts and move our souls, much as the early Psalms did. These are the songs and music from the heart that bring us closer to God.

When I first heard the group Jefferson Airplane sing “Good Shepherd”, I marveled at the words of the song and how they seemed to echo words from the Gospel of John (John 21: 1 – 19). In looking at the history of the piece, I discovered that the rock and roll piece that I heard evolved from a mid-20th century blues-based folk song. And that folk song had evolved from a 19th century Gospel hymn with roots in an early 1800s hymn written by John Adam Grande, a Methodist preacher from Tennessee.

Jorma Kaukonen, the guitarist for Jefferson Airplane, who wrote the modern arrangement said that it was music like this that opened the doorway to the Scriptures for him. As he noted, he found that he loved the Bible without knowing it (see “To Feed The Spirit As Well As The Body”).

My wife, who grew up listening to Elvis Presley, will tell you that it was the Gospel music that he sang that provided her with an understanding of and a deep love for those who suffered. And it was hymns such as “Lift High The Cross” that helped affirm her belief in God and Jesus as her Savior. She will also tell you that another song, recorded by several groups and individuals, “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother” had a profound impact on her and her relationship with others and God.

We find our connection with God in many ways. Some will find it through the spoken word, others through the written word and sometimes if comes from music that speaks to our heart.

Bookworm


Here are some thoughts on the idea of thinking and intellect.


Have you ever wondered how it was that Jesus was able to hold a conversation and engage in a discussion with the scribes and teachers in the Temple when he was twelve (Luke 2: 41 – 52)? Did He just “know all that stuff”? Or was it possible that, before going to Jerusalem that year, He might have been studying with the other children in his neighborhood in Nazareth, learning about God and the relationship between God and His children?

Now, I will be honest. For a long time, I thought that because Jesus was the Son of God, He already knew the answers. After all, didn’t He tell Mary, his mother, when she and Joseph found Him in the Temple that they should have known that He would have been there doing His Father’s business.

Or was there another reason. Remember that Jesus was twelve when this story takes place and that is the time when we all begin to see ourselves as individuals and begin our own personal rite of passage into the adult world, filled with its responsibilities and obligations, and maturity.

And being twelve, Jesus would have begun what we now call confirmation class. For some, confirmation class is the process of becoming a member of the church of their parents. And all one has to do is memorize a few selected Bible verses and take part in a couple of worship services. But it is really more than that; it is about finding out who we are as individuals and how God is a part of what makes us those individuals.

There are some who disdain the study and work that must take place during confirmation but it is through that study and work that we find the directions for the journey that we are to take, a journey that takes us from the here and now to the far away future. We begin to find doors that were never opened for us now open and paths that we didn’t even know existed. Confirmation is the first step we take in the faith world, and with that step, we begin to accept the responsibilities that are part of being confirmed.

Surely as a child growing up in Nazareth, Jesus looked at the world around Him and wondered why things were the way they were. Even if Jesus did know that He was God’s son, He still must have wondered about the world in which He lived. He surely saw more than just the world and the animals that inhabited the world; he saw the people, his neighbors and friends, struggling to make ends meet and raise families like his (earthly) parents were trying to do. He surely had to have had lots and lots of questions, questions that were perhaps beyond the knowledge of His local teachers.

So when Jesus came to the Temple, He was continuing a journey that began when He began what was His own version of confirmation class. He came to the Temple with many questions and perhaps many answers and an understanding of who He was and what He was to do.

When we began our own confirmation class, we perhaps had no idea where it would lead. But as we proceeded through the class we began to know more about ourselves and what God has called us to do.

Fitting In


Here are some thoughts on the idea of “fitting in”.


When I began working on my doctorate I attended what we would today call a megachurch. It wasn’t a United Methodist Church (UMC) but it did have a singles’ ministry and that is what I needed at that time.

But after awhile, I began to wonder if I had made the right decision. It seemed to me all this megachurch was interested in was being the biggest church in the city and people like me, going to graduate school instead of seeking wealth or upward mobility and wearing second hand suits, were really not welcome.

Eventually, when the church decided to spend a rather large sum of money on its television ministry in order to compete with another megachurch in town. Besides the feeling of really not fitting in, there was something about spending money on a television program when there were, at least to me, more important ways of spending that money in ministry (it must have been the teachings of John Wesley still in me). So I left and went looking for another United Methodist Church.

I found one close to the campus where I was in graduate school and after attending for a couple of weeks, I filled out a visitor’s card indicating that I was interested in joining the church.

A couple of Sundays later, the pastor invited some new members to come forward at the end of the service so that they could officially join the church. I thought that maybe I should have come forward but I was afraid of not fitting in, so I hesitated. After the service, I asked one of the ushers what I should do.

As it happened, this particular usher told me that he had been looking for me! I joined that church the very next week! I was a member of that church for three years. I can honestly say that I cried when I said my good-byes because that church had been a place where I fit in and where I knew the love of Christ. It was a place that invited visitors and outsiders to come and be a part of the community. It was that environment that I kept in my mind when I looked for a new church and what I wanted the churches I was a member to have.

Paul pointed out that each person is unique. Some are teachers, some are preachers, some are healers, and others take on the tasks that need to be done. In Christ’s community, there is a place for everyone.

But even with all of this uniqueness, we are one in Christ. It does not matter whether one is, as Paul pointed out, a Jew or a Gentile, free or slave, rich or poor. In Christ’s community, we are all one.

We live in a world that literally demands conformity and standardization, especially when growing up and often times in our churches. And when you make the decision to follow Christ, that sometimes makes it even harder to fit in.

People want to know Christ as they are, not as others would have them. It is in our uniqueness that we fit in. Time and time again, Jesus took those who didn’t fit in and brought them; are you helping to do that today?