Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Advent Meditation for Wednesday, Dec. 5
Witness has come to mean evangelism. It is not evangelism. Evangelism has become a bad word in the church vocabulary. It conjures up images of people on porches, knocking on doors, and trying to convince resistant people top hear and heed a presentation of the Gospel. That may be a very small part of what witness may entail but it is much more. In fact, when Scripture does speak of doing the work of the evangelist, is speaks to the Pastors who preach the good news and not to folks in the pew who may think their job is to convert the masses.
Evangelism means sharing your faith. Witness means showing forth WHO you are. Let me say that again. Evangelism means sharing your faith. Witness means showing WHO you are.
There is a great difference between the two. Evangelism focuses on what you believe. Witness focuses on WHO you are as a child of God by baptism and faith. Christians are not people who adopt a certain philosophy or even who agree upon a certain set of values. Christians are those whom God has called, gathered, sanctified, set apart, and sent forth to BE His children, now in time and forever in eternity.
To be blunt. I am not sure that Jesus needs more people knocking on doors or handing out tracts or arguing with the unchurched about where they will end up in eternity. But what the Lord clearly has said is important and essential are a people who show forth who they are by their words and their works.
You may or may not be an evangelist. That is a choice you make. You make no such choice about witness. You are all witnesses. It does not matter whether you want to be or you don't, whether you are faithful or not, or what you witness or what you do not. You are already witnesses. That is what God has called you and set you apart to be and it is what the world thinks you are.
You witness by the words you deliberately choose and the words that come tumbling out of your mouth before the filter of your conscience kicks in. You witness by the actions you take deliberately because of what you believe and you witness by your actions that are more sinful instinct than choice. You are and cannot escape being God's witnesses – unless of course, you renounce the faith and walk away from Christ. Even then, that is a witness... of sorts.
The world may not need more evangelists but Jesus insists that witnesses are needed, even essential to the Lord and His Kingdom. The world may be impressed by evangelists but the people follow those whose witness is clear and distinct.
The biggest reason people do not join the church or leave the church – the people IN the church. We might think that the people who drop out or never walk through the door are disappointed that Christians are also sinners. There may be a smidgeon of truth to this but the larger reason why the churched are blamed for not coming or for dropping out are not the bad things that Christians do but the disconnect between words and deeds. Those outside the Church are not stupid. They know their own weakness. They know better than to expect Christians to be perfect. But they do expect them to be different.
Witness is about who you are. Witness is not about technique. It is not about program. It is not about a script. It is about acknowledging in your daily life who you are because of Christ, because of your baptism into Christ and the faith that the Spirit has given you. Witness is not about how good you are but about WHO you are.
Witness is worship. What do we say every Sunday? As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you show forth the Lord's death until He comes. Worship is its own witness. Just as worship is witness, not worshiping is its own witness. On any given Sunday, two thirds of those who claim to be Christian make a choice to stay at home. That is their witness to those inside the Church and to the world waiting to know Jesus. This statistic is not theoretical. It is personal. It happens right HERE!
Witness is prayer. Praying on behalf of the lost, the erring, and the burned out. When we either fail to pray or pray only for ourselves, that is its own witness. The generous prayers of Christians who place the needs of others ahead of themselves are prayers of witness. The narrow focus that places ourselves and our needs first is itself a witness against the wideness of God's mercy and the concern of the Father for His whole creation. How many of us think of prayers for those not yet of the Kingdom as witness? How many of us think to pray for them at all?
Witness is not what you do or who you are when people are watching; what you do or who you are when NO ONE is watching you. We are accustomed to acting one way when the spotlight is upon us and another when no one is looking. That is the basic difference between public and private. We have come to think of most of our lives as private. What we do behind closed doors or in our own homes is nobody's business but our own. That itself mitigates against witness. Christians have no private lives. Our lives are public by nature. God sees and knows all things – not just the things we want Him to see. Our lives are public before the Lord. But they are also public before the world. We are lights set high so the whole world can see. What good is light that remains hidden? Jesus is not compelling us to be more public. Jesus is challenging us to see that all our lives are public, that nothing is private or hidden.
Witness does not point to you. It always points to Jesus. You are in the way. Witness means getting out of the way. With words and deeds we point to Jesus. With words and deeds we talk about Jesus and frame the Gospel by our practice. Witness does not require nor does it depend upon our lives being holy or righteous or perfect. We witness not to what we have done but who we are as children of God in Christ. He is the focus and the goal. So we can talk about sin because we are forgiven. We can talk about weakness because His strength is made perfect in our weakness. We can talk about failure because Christ is our victory. We can talk about evil because Christ is our righteousness.
Witness is positive. It is not what you are saved from but what you are saved for. Not what will happen to you if you don't but rather what happens to you because you do believe. One of the great challenges to witness is that the world is accustomed to Christians speaking "no" and is surprised by the "yes" we speak in Christ. It is not merely that we deny our fleshly lusts and desires but why we deny them and what accrues to us because we practice self-control. Witness cannot exist with a do as I say and not as I do mentality. Words have meaning because we believe them and endeavor to live them out in our daily lives.
Witness is not committee work. It is the individual response to the grace shown us in Christ. We should not need to have an evangelism committee. If we are all witnesses by God's design and declaration, the Church has as many witnesses as we need. We do not need to recruit or organize or select them. Look in the mirror. What do you see? The witnesses are the people of God. Period.
Witness does not point to faith or explain it. Witness shows trust in what we confess. Faith cannot be explained. If it were merely the lack of a good explanation, the whole world would have been converted long ago. It is were merely the need for convincing arguments, the world have long ago become Christian. No, we do not argue people into the faith nor do we present a convincing series of proofs for Christ. We speak His Word. We live out our lives in the light of that Word. That is enough. If only that is what we will say and do.
Witness does not save anyone. Witness displays Christ. Christ saves any and all who will be saved. You cannot convert anyone. But you can shine with Christ's light wherever you are and He will do what He has promised. We know that we cannot save ourselves, why is it that we think we can save others with what we say or do? I have sat where speakers snap their fingers and remind us the clock is ticking and hell is hot. Guilt and shame over our indifference will not make our witness more effective or powerful. We save no one. But Christ does. As He has saved us, so He has promised to save others.
Witness does not promise more than what Christ has already done but it also never promises less. Christ will not make our lives happier or lead us to business or personal success. Christ will not perfect our flawed marriages or our erring children. Christ will not guarantee lives without disease or pain. Don't promise what Christ has not promised. What Christ has promised is that our sins will be forgiven, in our loneliness He will stand with us, in our weakness He will be strong, His grace is sufficient in our every need, and death cannot steal from us the life that He died and rose to give to us... The truth is life is easier apart from Christ. The only problem with that is that life is a sham without Christ, those outside of Christ are the walking dead with only eternal death before them. Faith is not the easier path but it is the narrow road that leads to heaven and the blessed path where the struggles of sin, life, and death are met in Christ and answered eternally.
Witness is not optional. We all witness. It is just that we often witness what we least expect and never intend. Witness is not a choice but it is about your choices and how they look to the world and to the Lord.
Witness does not so much fear wrong as it does love the right. The mark of Christians is not that they avoid every evil but that the evil that snares them is answered with the forgiveness that sets them free. The world finds it hard to condemn the sinner who struggles and still sins but it laughs and mocks those who fight no battle against evil and sin as if it had no consequence, rendering Christ and His forgiveness cheap and easy.
Witness begins and ends with what God gives you. Witness raises up both the gifts and the means of grace. Witness is you. Child of God by baptism. Trusting in the Word of Christ. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Faithful under duress. Hopeful without seeing progress. Confident even without proof. For, beloved, we are the children of God... that is exactly who we are... and that is all that God calls us to be. Amen.