The Role of Witnesses: What Have We Seen?

We haven’t seen what the apostles saw, but we have seen other things. We’ve seen God change our lives for the better, give us hope, bring us peace, transform our relationships, free us from addictions, replace unforgiveness with love, anger with goodwill, save our marriages and much more. We have seen for ourselves that serving the Lord Jesus is the best thing we’ve ever done.

Trusting Jesus (and not just believing things about him) and living for Jesus (so that our life choices are centered around him) will change us and impact those around us. We willsee things we haven’t seen before, our confidence will grow, and our hope deepen. That doesn’t mean life will get easier. It didn’t get easier for those first gospelers—it got harder … and better. Jesus promised trouble and joy – and his people get both.

Before Karen and I started dating, we each had dedicated ourselves to the Lord Jesus. When we got married, our plan was to go abroad and work among the poorest of the poor, sharing the good news of Jesus in word and, especially, deed (since neither of us had any public speaking skills).

We applied to our denomination for licensing and began the process of becoming overseas workers. That included fulfilling a two-year term of service in our own country. I was given the job of pastoring a church that was on the brink of closing. I didn’t want to be a pastor, had no idea how to be a pastor, and was afraid to speak in front of people. But Karen and I were trusting King Jesus, to whom we were committed.

Three months after my pastoral duties began, the biggest giver in the church died. It was her money that kept the bills paid – including my salary. Then began an odyssey of trust in God and learning what he is like. Within a year-and-a-half, we had used up all our personal savings. Not long after that our first child was born and we had no insurance and no money. We had to apply for Hill-Burton Act funds to help with the hospital bills.

Things got harder as time went on. One winter, the suede leather coat my dad had given me was at the dry cleaner and I had no money to redeem it. Because the garage door was always coming off its track, I got a big glob of grease on my other winter coat, so it was at the dry cleaners too. The bill for both coats was just short of $50, which we didn’t have. So we prayed.

It was January, Sunday was coming, and I needed a coat. Right after praying for the money with our young son Joel, I went down to the mailbox, hoping that God would supply as he had at other times, through the post.

But there were no checks in the mail. There may have been some bills, I don’t remember. However, when I went outside a few hours later, I found an envelope stuck in the door with a $50 bill in it.

During those years, people we didn’t know and had never met stopped, got out of their cars, and gave us money, saying that God told them to do it. Not once, but multiple times – and never the same people.

When our car was giving me fits, I prayed what in spiritual formation circles is called whining prayer: GOD, I NEED A NEW CAR! And that evening we were given a new car. Well, it wasn’t new, but it was new to us and that is what I meant when I prayed.

I was invited to speak at a prayer retreat 40 miles away. The night before I left, I was up, pacing the floor, and questioning whether I should continue as the pastor of this church. We had no money, no groceries, and two kids to feed. I was having a crisis of faith. I was a dad who couldn’t take care of his family. But that night God helped me and I renewed my commitment to him. I told him he was still my portion and my very great reward and that I would trust him.

At the retreat, a woman I didn’t know asked if she could speak with me. She handed me a check, already filled out, and said, “God wants me to give this to you.” When I got home that night, I learned that people from church had dropped off groceries, which was the first time I remember that happening.

Those in-the-moment-of-need provisions became a common occurrence and, the thing is, we never told anyone (except God) of our need, not even our parents – especially our parents. We have seen how God acts in this world for the people of Jesus.

But money is just a little thing (as Jesus himself pointed out), a first-year introductory course. More important is what God is doing in our lives and our family. He has been changing us, even while – even by – allowing us a small part in what he is doing to change the world. Karen and I are satisfied. We are satisfied with life. We are satisfied with God. And with the things we are not satisfied – usually ourselves – we trust God to keep working until he is satisfied!

The first disciples told people what they had seen and, because they had experienced these things for themselves, their words had power. When we can tell people what we have seen for ourselves; when we can tell them about the Lord we have experienced and about whom we are excited, our words will also have power.

That is God’s plan. He is ready to show himself to us as real, as Lord. The Jesus who died for our sins, was buried, raised, and seen, can be experienced in our own lives. But it is not the religionists who experience him. It is the revolutionaries. It is not the spiritual dabblers. It is the committed. It is not those who play at religion but those who trust the God they’ve found – the God who’s found them – in Jesus.

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