Evangelism, Sharing Your Testimony, Technique, Telling Your God Story, What is a Testimony

Sharing Your Testimony: Deeper Dialogues

Over the last two weeks, we’ve examined “What it Really Means” to give a testimony and taken a look at some simple ways to share the truth about God’s place in our lives through the use of “One Liners”.  This week, we’ll be going a bit deeper as we take a look at one of the most prominent New Testament testimonies and discuss how it can serve as a model for telling our own “God Stories”.  But don’t worry, just because this model is lengthier doesn’t mean that our palms should start sweating!

Remember that we defined a “testimony” as “a statement concerning the character of a person or value of a thing”.  Under this new definition, the simple statement “God is Good” (a declaration concerning God’s character) becomes a testimony and suddenly, bearing witness begins to feel so simple that even the most fearful can do it with ease.

More importantly, encompassed within this definition is the realization that you don’t necessarily have to share the entire salvation message in order to give an effective testimony.  (As a matter of fact, in most cases, you probably won’t.) The purpose of a testimony is not to push your faith on anyone, but to provide them with a reason to ask questions about your beliefs.  It might not happen right away, but I can assure you that eventually someone will say to you something along the lines of, “You sure seem to give God a lot of credit.  What do you believe?”

At this point, we can look to the Apostle Paul (who never seems to have been without an opportunity to share his testimony) for some guidance.  In Acts 26:1-19 we read:

“Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead? So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”

This is it. The Sunday night meetinghouse testimony complete with invitation.  It’s the one that makes us quake in our boots and search frantically for the nearest exit.  Yet the Apostle Paul made it clear that giving such a presentation was an honor.  And we should too.

So what can we learn from the Apostle’s message? To begin with, Paul recognized that his audience had a limited attention span, so he kept it brief.  In a mere nine verses, he shared the story of his life before his encounter with Christ and, from a Jewish point of view, it’s clear that he was a pretty decent fellow!  He is straight forward and honest about his actions, but he doesn’t wander off into the gory details. His purpose is to explain that he was opposed to Christ and those who followed Him, not to share a litany of sins.  Likewise, we should limit our own testimonies about life before Christ to the “highlights” (the facts without which our “God Story” wouldn’t make much sense) and cut everything else from the agenda.  Our focus should be on God’s character and His value in our lives, not upon our own foibles and failures.

Secondly, the Apostle is clear in his presentation.  He has chosen his words wisely and presents only the essentials of the Gospel, i.e., those things which must be believed if one is to inherit eternal life.  He doesn’t delve into the nature of the Trinity or discuss the relative merits of predestination or free will.  And neither should we.  These are great topics for theologians and make for some excellent debate among ourselves, but our ability to comprehend them doesn’t have an effect on our eternal destination… so leave them for another time!

Thirdly, notice that Paul concludes by discussing his reaction to these saving truths: he has remained faithful to the call.  While he doesn’t dive into all of the details of his life as a Believer, we know that he has changed: he is no longer the man that he was.  And neither are we.  Christ has changed us and He offers the same change to others.  Now that’s a testimony!

The New Testament, of course, contains many others.  From the lengthy Salvation testimonies of Paul (Acts 9:1-13; 13:15-16, 26-31; 26:1-19) to the shorter declarations of those whom Jesus touched (John 5:10-13; 9:13-15); From apologetically oriented discourses (Acts 17:22-24; Philippians 3:4-10) to simple statements of faith (John 1:35-41; 3:1,2; 4:28,39; Acts 21:18,19), there is no lack of a model for us to build upon.  Read a few examples, then take a shot at writing your own.  If you’re feeling really bold, try sharing it in the comment box below.  There isn’t any word limit, so you can say as much or as little as you like!

Evangelism, Sharing Your Testimony, Technique

Sharing Your Testimony: One Liners

Last week in “Sharing Your Testimony: An Introduction” we examined the ideas encompassed within the word “testimony” and how they affect the way in which we view (and tell) our own “God Stories”.  This week, we’ll be diving in a bit deeper as we look at some Biblical testimonies which don’t quite fit the model that we’re used to seeing and how those testimonies better prepare us to deliver our own!

A testimony consists of what we have witnessed concerning God, His character, and His value in our lives and the Scriptures are filled with such stories.  Startlingly, many of these testimonies aren’t lengthy dialogues or detailed descriptions of life before and after encountering God, but rather, one-line testimonies to His greatness.  One of the earliest such testimony is that of Melchizedek recorded in Genesis 14:20:

“…blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

That’s one powerful line (and only one) describing God’s involvement in the life of Abram.  Melchizedek doesn’t go into a long, drawn out story, but simply states things the way they are: Abram’s enemies have fallen because God delivered them into his hands.  We know to Whom the praise is due – and that’s all we need to know.

Another great example of a one-line testimony (well, actually two) can be found in Job 19:25-26:

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.  Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God.”

Simple, yet effective, we see both a declaration about Job’s God and Job’s confidence in his God.

Or how about this one found in Psalm 84:11?

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield;  The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

These brief testimonies are present frequently throughout the Scripture in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the Judges, David, Solomon, and the writings of the Psalmists, each declaring God’s goodness and mercy in light of His tremendous blessings and, on occasion, even amidst deep sorrow.  They testify to who God is, what He does, and His value in the life of those who serve Him.

Such one-line testimonies are perhaps the easiest to give: they require no preparation and can be delivered in an instant.  More importantly, they give us an inoffensive way to share our faith without tying other people up in a lengthy dialogue – allowing them to enquire about our faith in their own time.

Not sure you could sum up God’s involvement in your own life in a single sentence?  Try answering one of these questions:

What has He done for you today?

What makes your relationship with Him worth the investment?

What about Him brings you comfort, peace, or reassurance?

These questions, of course, are just a starting place and you’ll likely find quite a few others that inspire equally effective one-line testimonies.  Next week, we’ll take a look at the New Testament and some slightly longer models, but in the meantime, why not share a few of your own one-liners in the comment box below?

Evangelism, Sharing Your Testimony, Technique

Sharing Your Testimony: An Introduction

If you’re anything like me, the first image to enter your mind when someone says you ought to give your “testimony”, is standing in front of a large group of people, your palms sweaty and voice trembling as you tell a story that may or may not actually be that interesting.  “Real” testimonies involve dramatic change: “I was once a drug-dealing, womanizing, alcoholic member of the Hell’s Angels.  Then Jesus changed me and I deal in the gospel, love my daughters, don’t drink, and run a mile from motorcyclists.”  My testimony isn’t at all like that, so it surely isn’t something that anyone is going to want to hear!  Right?

Wrong!  One of the wonders of God’s work is that it looks different in each one of us – and for good reason.  You can bet that the person who thinks that they’re living a pretty decent life isn’t going to be as deeply affected by the story of the reformed biker as they will by the testimony of the church kid who discovered that they need Jesus too!  While your “God Story” might not be that dramatic, you can bet that it has a special place in bringing others to Christ.

So what exactly is a testimony?  The word frequently translated as “testimony” in our English Bibles actually comes from the Greek term “marturio” from which we get “martyr”.  Biblically speaking, these weren’t just people who died for Christ.  In fact, once they’d died, in a strict sense, their active “marturio” had ended.  To be a “martyr” was to demonstrate Christ’s activity in their daily lives and not just to demonstrate it, but to speak of it.  It was a distinct, formal confirmation of Christ’s value.  Webster’s Dictionary gives us a very similar picture, defining a testimony as “evidence” or “an oral or written statement made under oath”.  A “testimonial” is “a statement concerning the character of a person or value of a thing”.

When I first read this, I was rather taken aback.  Following that line of thinking, a Christian testimony becomes any evidence concerning the character of Christ or His value in our lives.  A testimony isn’t just a list of bad things that we did in the past and it doesn’t always revolve around the tale of how we met Christ.

This revelation was particularly valuable to me since I was saved at the age of six.  My testimony in the sense of “How I came to Jesus” is really pretty uninteresting.  I heard a sermon, realized that I had broken God’s rules, and that I needed Him to put things right.  End of story.  If you recognize that a testimony is a statement about the character or value of Christ in your life, however, most of us find that our testimony totally rocks.

For example, my testimony now looks a little bit like this:

I was saved on October 31, 1989.  While most people recognize this day as Halloween, a few others know it as “Reformation Day” – the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.  Within a month, two things had become apparent:

The first was that God had gifted me as an evangelist.  I didn’t care how old you were or what your life looked like, you needed to hear about Jesus and I was going to tell you.  (I think this made my parents a little nervous at first.)

The second was that God had gifted me with the written word.  My First Grade teacher gave everyone in my class a single piece of paper and asked us to write a Christmas story.  When we were finished, we could return to the front for another piece of paper and write a second story.  I returned 19 times and, when I’d finished, I hadn’t written 20 Christmas stories, but 1 – the life of Christ from birth to resurrection.  I remember being asked why I hadn’t ended with the Wise Men.  The answer?  The story didn’t end there!  And it hasn’t ended yet!

Clearly there isn’t much to tell about my life before Jesus saved me, but there’s certainly plenty of interest that can be communicated about my life after that blessed encounter.  And you can rest assured that your life is the source of a few decent “God Stories” too!  Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the different testimonies presented to us within the pages of Scripture and what those stories have to teach us about how we tell our own.  Meanwhile, why not share your “God Story” (dramatic or otherwise) in the comment box below?

Apologizing with Style, Evangelism, Technique

Apologizing with Style: Defining Your Meaning

Definition of terms, especially in religious dialogue, has become increasingly more important as our society shifts away from the belief that words have absolute meanings.  Not everyone agrees upon the dictionary definitions, so we can’t presume that we are discussing the same topic, even when we are using the same words… especially in a “faith” context.  (It is interesting that this waffling about meanings seems less prominent in discussion about non-philosophical/theological issues – no one ever questions what I mean when I ask them to bring me my “blue” sneakers!)

Because of this, I often begin faith dialogues with a series of questions which will help me better understand the way the other party defines key terms which will be used in our conversation.  Keep in mind that even basic terms like “God” or “religion” may require some definition.  Ask an atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, an Hindu, a Mormon, and a Wiccan to define the term and you will get a wide variety of responses, all of which will differ tremendously from the Biblical Christian definition.  If you are unaware of these differences, you’ll likely end up talking past each other rather than to each other!

Not all of the definitions need to be settled upon up front.  If the conversation seems to hit a sticking point that revolves around a particular word, you can bet that the problem is a difference between your understanding of its meaning and your friend’s.  Stop the dialogue, define the word (in some cases, it may even be worthwhile to write down the definition being used in order to confirm your understanding of your friend’s point of view), then move on with a clear comprehension of what each party means when they say “we are saved by grace” or “God has no son”.

For example, it would be tempting to say that we believe the statement that “we are saved by grace”, but disbelieve the statement that “God has no son”, yet because of differing definitions of the words, this may not always be the case.

When an LDS person says that “we are saved by grace”, they are not generally referring to our “salvation” in the sense of the assurance that we will spend eternity with our Heavenly Father, but rather that all men will be resurrected.  For the LDS, “salvation through grace” falls far short of securing eternal life!

Likewise, if in speaking to a Muslim, you were informed that the New Testament commits blasphemy by declaring that Jesus is the “Son of God” and that “God has no son”, it would be worth the effort to verify exactly how your Muslim friend is defining the word “son”.  You might be surprised to discover that he views the term as biological rather than sociological and objects to the idea that God, who has no body, would obtain one in order to have physical intercourse with a human woman for the purpose of creating offspring.  In this case, we would agree that no, God doesn’t have a son in that sense!  (Please note that not all Muslims define “son” in this fashion – which further emphasizes the need for us to ask about definitions rather than presuming that we already understand!)

It’s also important to take the time to clearly define what you mean when utilizing previously undefined words.  You’ve probably heard that old joke about speaking “Christianese” – that secret language only understood by those long initiated in the Church tradition.  Well, it isn’t a joke.  When you’ve been hanging out around believers for a while, you start to pick up terms like “salvation”, “redemption”, “propitiation”, “justification”, and the like.  To someone who isn’t a part of the Church or who is already familiar with another faith in which these terms are utilized, but with different meanings, our use of these words can be confusing.

You can add a definition into the dialogue with a great deal of ease, simply by expounding upon what you mean by a given word immediately after using it.  For example, “My salvation, the right to spend eternity in the presence of my Heavenly Father, is the result of my faith in Christ’s works, not my own.”  By following this format, you both clarify your meaning to your listener and conveniently avoid that awkward moment in which you must ask, “Do you understand what I mean by that?” – a question sure to shut down any dialogue in which the person with whom you are sharing does not view themselves as an idiot and firmly believes that you have no right to view them that way either!

That said, once I’m certain that I understand where the other party is coming from, I make it a point to use their definitions rather than my own throughout the discussion.  The primary reason for this is that it alleviates any potential that the traditional Biblical concepts which I seek to convey will be misunderstood due to an “error in translation”, but it also lightens the atmosphere by relieving the pressure for the other party to accept or adopt my own definitions before a productive dialogue is possible.  Perhaps even more importantly, by taking the time to enquire about and understand where those of other faiths are coming from, i.e., how they define their terms and how those definitions influence their world view, I convey the message that this dialogue isn’t about winning a debate or being right, but about understanding one another and sharing those things which are so dear to our own hearts that we can’t help wanting to tell others.