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.

Where He Leads I'll Follow

The Winding Path - Leiden, Zuid Holland
The Winding Path – Leiden, Zuid Holland

I never cease being surprised by the many places the Lord will take those who follow his calling. One could never conceive what such a journey might look like. Following Jesus is an adventure.
As a newborn I was prayed over in the Block Memorial Chapel of Trinity Bible Institute (now College and Graduate School). I had been born just a few blocks away in the old hospital in Ellendale, North Dakota. A visiting evangelist prayed blessings over me that someday I might preach Jesus to many around the world.
As a sixteen year old, I heard the voice of Jesus calling me in a church service in Omaha, Nebraska, to give my life for the ministry of sharing Jesus among Muslims. I intended to go straight upon graduation to some far off land and figure things out en-route. Instead, I heard the words of a district youth leader in the Assemblies of God of Nebraska (who went on to serve in missions full-time) addressing the need to commit to training because the cost of serving Jesus demanded that I demonstrate faithfulness to study and be discipled  into the man of God I was called to be. So I enrolled at Trinity Bible College for their Missions Major.
After Trinity I pastored several churches in rural North Dakota and Minnesota over the course of 14 years. This was the result of hearing the call of the Lord to preach followed immediately by an unquenchable passion to do just that. I had not intended to be a preacher (or a pastor).  But Jesus had other plans.
I found myself preaching for youth conferences, family and youth camps, special services, and missions conventions around the region. And I could not help but preach Jesus wherever I found an open invitation. It has led to ministry among German Lutherans and Mennonites, Swedish Baptists, Norwegian and Romanian Pentecostals, and African diaspora on three different continents. I have preached under trees, in soup kitchens, on streets, in stone churches, and private homes. I have witnessed Jesus healing and setting free. I have shared Jesus among the poor of central Mexico and on the streets of El Salvador. I have fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited the sick. I have joined the chorus of saints gathered from across Europe and Africa worshiping Jesus in northern Italy.
I now write as one who has been training workers for the Lord of the Harvest for 4 years in two colleges, one graduate school and one seminary (between two countries). I write this as one about to preach on “prayer and action” for a series of meetings in an African church in western North Dakota. Who could have imagined such a thing?
I write this as one who sees the great harvest before me. I am moved to weeping. I am compelled to preach. I am enjoined to prayer. I hear Jesus calling…where it takes me before he comes again, I don’t know.
But I will follow! And I gaze longingly into the future before me!

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.