Thoughts in a Day: Some Reflections

It has been a full day (though many feel that way). It has also been a good day. I was just reflecting on some of the happenings of the day and the goodness of God through it all.

  • A video chat with a friend not seen nearly often enough who is ministering elsewhere in the world and just needing some encouragement, an ear to hear, and prayers shared.
  • Sitting with my daughter Abbi (who skipped a class at the high school) in chapel to hear a missionary testifying about their calling to share Jesus. And knowing that she is stirred (as I am) to share Jesus to the ends of the earth.
  • Running into a man who recognized me as the mission leader that brought a team of Americans to work in another country where he was an intern placed in my team. He shared the way that was a decisive time for him and how he has given the rest of his life to serving full-time in missions.
  • Intending to go to coffee only to discover a student waiting patiently for me at my office to discuss a Scripture that they are wrestling with and finding themselves overcome by this Word as we read, meditate, discuss, consider, and reflect on the text before us to hear what the Spirit is saying.
  • Making a new friend who also loves Muslim peoples and invited me to do some writing with him for others on this topic.
  • Interviewing a couple of ministerial students as they share their callings and journey toward vocational ministry where our Biblical and Theological Studies faculty speak prophetically over them and offer heart-felt prayers for them.
  • Discussing the traumas of specific people in a class on Jeremiah where words seemed to fail as we felt some manner of the weight of judgment, sorrows, and pain and the manner in which the LORD takes these up into himself in suffering alongside us and for us.
  • Participating in a faculty in-service meeting led by a great missionary leader who shared his own testimony of God’s calling for him to “stay” as a mobilizer of others and hearing my own journey in those words (even as we are both committed to “going”).
  • Hearing a student who was so moved by a sermon last year in chapel that they have been on a quest to become a voice for the voiceless and thus led a couple of hours of spirited discussion among faculty, staff, students and community members regarding our responsibilities to be just and live justly reflecting Jesus in all spheres of life.

I find my heart full and my thoughts tracing through this day. I’m grateful. And God is good.

What Is Your Story?

My StoryI don’t know about your church, but in mine we typically have an open testimony time (hey, we are Pentecostal after all). We like to tell our stories and that sure works well (sometimes not so much) in a post-modern personal narrative obsessed culture.
What I’m thinking of, though, is your story of first knowingly encountering Christ. Do you recall what he has done in your life? Do you remember a moment (or perhaps a longer time period) of the dawning of your need for him? It is a powerful reminder to think on your own story of encountering the resurrected Jesus in the power of his Spirit. We need to remind ourselves as those tasked with leading the church of this (ongoing) story and remind ourselves of where we’ve been led personally and congregationally. We need to allow our churches to share and relive their own stories, even as they continue to encounter Jesus in new ways in their lives. To re-awaken that first transformative love for Christ and his work in the world is to re-awaken ourselves to sharing the good news of Jesus with others.
I was reminded of my own story the other day (which I won’t share here and now) as I was listening to another pastor share his own story of being set free from a life of selfishness, drugs, and sex (his own words). A life being destroyed by sin. And then he shared his wife’s story of coming to faith as a six year old raised in a Christian home. The thing is: both stories are radically invigorating to hear and he admitted as much. After all, what isn’t amazing about the dead being raised to life? Neither story is about simple reform of sinners. Both are about those once dead in their sins who are now raised to new life in Christ. That is the amazing wonder of a regenerating encounter with the Lord and Giver of Life.
So my question is: Do you allow for folks in your church community to share their stories of encounter with the Lord and his redemptive work? When was the last time you shared yours?
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Edited from an original post by me at bluechippastor.org from March 6, 2013.

Testimony as Embedded Proclamation

testimonyHere is a bit from one of my graduate students (used by Matt Payne with permission) on engaging postmodernism as a Pentecostal church and preacher. How does one engage those who, at best, question the notion of the meta-narrative? How does one do so while pointing to the story of God’s redemption in Christ and testified to by the Spirit? Through testimony.

I would like to suggest that honest, theologically-sound testimony is essentially embedded proclamation, specifically as it bears witness to the ongoing work of Christ, proclaimed orally, in writing, graphically or otherwise. Furthermore, I would suggest that embedded proclamation constitutes a form of preaching (witness), though itself not found .[1] The activity of Christ, communicated faithfully by the witnessing community, performs the same function that liturgically embedded preaching does: it forms theology by communicating (as witness) what Christ has done and (prophetically) what can be expected of Christ in the future.[2]
To that end, Walter Brueggemann suggests that the essence of prophecy is “a sustained effort to imagine the world as though YHWH were a real character and the defining agent in the life of the world.”[3] Testimony performs the same function, though more concretely and in the past tense, much like Scripture.[4] If God heals someone, or delivers them miraculously from an addiction, it would stand to reason that those actions re-presented as testimony would serve as witness to the ontic reality of God’s presence, nature, mission, and proximity to humanity. Testimony is at once recollection of the deeds of God and prophecy of what He will do in the future, whether that’s healing, deliverance, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc.

It is the very nature of testimony to subtly undermine other counter narratives. It does this by offering another world, as it were, and suggesting the potentiality of others entering that same experience and likewise be transformed.
This is precisely the kind of writing I LOVE to read from my students! I pray our testimonies may do just this!
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[1] Rick Wadholm Jr, “What is Preaching and What Makes it ‘Christian’?” a paper presented to The Socratic Club of Trinity Bible College and Graduate School Thursday, April 23, 2015.
[2] Revelation 19:10.
[3] Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 132.
[4] It could be argued that much of Scripture is in essence a series of testimonies. When considered in this light, it’s significant how much theology we distill not from explicit commands and propositions, but rather through our witness of God’s interaction with Israel and four author’s observations of Jesus’s earthly ministry.

Sneezing as a Testimony

This last Sunday I gave a testimony in church that may seem a little unusual (but hey…that is kind of my M.O.).  I thanked God that I sneezed this last weekend.  Everyone kind of laughed probably thinking (as you do) that thanking God for sneezing is silly.  It’s not…let me tell you.  The reason I give thanks for sneezing is because I haven’t sneezed in over a month.  The end of July I fractured my nose and dislocated my septum (by punching myself in the face…long story and if you really want the details email me and I’ll give them to you).  I then had surgery to fix my nose, which by the way leaves a person in extreme pain…so I can’t recommend anyone getting a nose-job just for vanity, but I must admit my nose looks good now :-). 
Anyways, I was not allowed to sneeze while my nose was healing and I certainly wasn’t going to sneeze before this (not that we usually have any choice about the matter, but you get the gist).  So I hadn’t sneezed in a month and last week I had my final check-up for my nose and got the good report that everything looks good.  Then this weekend while driving home from Minneapolis (went to a Vikings game where they lost it in the last couple minutes) suddenly…I sneezed!  And it didn’t feel hurt.  It was just a little discomforting.  YAY for sneezing. 

Why do I bring this up here?  Because there is even a story in Scripture where a sneeze (7 to be precise) was a testimony to healing.  In 2 Kings 4 there is an account of Elisha who visits a Shunammite woman whom God miraculously gives a son.  Then the son one day suddenly has a pain in his head, is carried to his mother, where he dies in her lap.  The mother sends for Elisha, but Elisha sends his servant Gehazi on ahead with Elisha’s staff to place on the boy and bring about the boys healing.  It doesn’t work.  Elisha arrives and when he does he shuts himself in with the dead boy, prays and even lays himself on top of the child…the child “warms”, but is not brought back.  Then we read the following:

Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes! (2Ki 4:35 NLT — emphasis mine)

The boy is raised to life and this is testified to by his sneezing!  So I’ve discovered that sneezing can indeed be a wonderful testimony.  Again…PRAISE THE LORD FOR SNEEZING!