Sharing Your Testimony: An Introduction

13 Mar

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?

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Apologizing with Style: Defining Your Meaning

6 Mar

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.

Apologizing with Style: When Things Get Awkward

27 Feb

Over the last few weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time examining the rules which govern informal religious dialogue.  We’ve taken a look at the importance of keeping a conversation on task in “An Introduction to the Rules of Debate” and considered a few “Duh Rules” that can be useful in keeping a debate on friendly terms.  This week, we’re going to conclude our list with a brief discussion of the rules which govern those “awkward” situations that will inevitably occur if you ever try to share the Gospel with… well, just about anyone.  Don’t panic – if the conversation is on-task and friendly, these situations aren’t nearly as fear inducing as they might be otherwise!

Rule 5 – If You Don’t Know, Just Admit It

Next to Rule 1, this might be the most important.  There are a lot of people with legitimate questions about Christianity.  While we’d all like to be “Super Christian” and have the answers to every objection a skeptic can pose… we don’t.  When someone fields a question that you can’t answer, the best thing you can do is to admit it.  Then, volunteer to find an answer.  When someone is legitimately interested in your faith, they’ll be willing to let you check your sources and give them a response.

On the flip side, if you ask a question and the person you’re debating doesn’t immediately have an answer, be gracious enough to let them do some research as well.  When you are respectful of others, the chances are, they will be respectful of you.

It’s also important to maintain a level of understanding for doctrines which simply can’t be defended in a “logical” fashion.  The “trinity” is a fine example.  Go ahead.  Ask me how there can only be one God, but three distinct persons!  The truth is, I simply don’t know. At the risk of sounding trite, “The Bible says it, so I believe it.”  Interestingly enough, more than a few of my friends have been willing to accept this as a legitimate reply, if only because most recognized that there were many similar cases in their own religions.  I didn’t make a point of pushing them around for embracing something they weren’t capable of explaining and they returned the favor.  Being honest about my own ignorance ended up furthering the relationship more than faking my way through an answer ever would have!

Rule 6 – Don’t Be Afraid to Admit When You Are Wrong

On the same note, never be afraid to admit that you were wrong!  It can be easy to misunderstand the beliefs and teachings of other faiths.  Since you’re not a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or an “Enter religious preference here”, it’s not shameful to lack a complete understanding of someone else’s beliefs.  If you make a statement and find yourself getting corrected, take it in stride and thank your friend for caring enough to correct you.

By the same token, God did not call us to be Bible experts either.  At some point or another, someone is going to point out that your knowledge of your “sacred book” is deficient.  Your ability to both admit that you were wrong and to alter your views to match the Bible’s teachings can go a long way towards adding legitimacy to the dialogue.  Through this, people see that the point of the debate really is the discovery of truth, not your proving yourself right and them wrong!  Try to be consistent in what you present.  Check your facts and double check them.  But don’t panic if you’re wrong, because God can use that too!

Rule 7 – Just Present the Truth

Last, but not least, it’s important to recognize that sometimes we lose a debate.  Keep in mind that the only job God has given us is to present the truth as clearly as we are able.  Sure, sometimes we say something really stupid (or even just plain ignorant), but God knows our hearts and He will make sure that what He wants to accomplish gets accomplished.

And yes, sometimes we think of the things that we should have said long after the discussion is over.  While you may use those ideas in future discussions, you needn’t kick yourself for not using them in the last one.  If God had needed you to say that, you’d have thought of it at the time.

So there you have it, seven rules to help you keep your religious dialogues on track, friendly, and honest.  Follow them and, even when you “lose”, you’ll wind up a winner.

One final word: once you’ve found the high ground, hold it.  Others may not treat you with courtesy or respect and they may even be downright rude, but that’s no excuse for you to return “in kind”.  We are ambassadors for Christ and we represent Him in all situations, even the unpleasant ones!

Apologizing with Style: The “Duh” Rules

20 Feb

Last week, in “An Introduction to the Rules of Debate”, we discussed the importance of keeping a religious discussion focused and “on task”.  This week, we’re going to look at a few more rules that will help us keep that discussion friendly.  I call these rules the “Duh” rules because most of us would like others to treat us with the same courtesy they outline… but we sometimes struggle to return the favor.  As you read through the list, take a moment to ask yourself which of the rules you follow and where you could do with some improvement.

Rule 2 – Don’t Present Arguments You Wouldn’t Accept, Yourself

While this may seem obvious, often, in the heat of discussion, it simply isn’t.  That’s why I’m taking a moment to state it here.  Before making an argument against someone’s beliefs, make sure that if the same argument were reversed, you’d be willing to accept it as valid.

A perfect example of such a weak argument is the frequent appeal to the lack of archeological evidence for the “Book of Mormon”.*  While, initially, the argument may seem solid, a closer investigation proves otherwise.  For years, there was no archeological evidence for the Hittite civilization mentioned in the Old Testament.  Then, in 1906, Hugo Winckler of the German Orient Society uncovered over 10,000 clay tablets confirming their existence.

Now, I’m not saying that anyone will ever find evidence to support Joseph Smith’s teachings, but what I am saying is that this is a dead-end argument that’s likely to end in a shouting match and not a discussion about Christ.  The same goes for arguments based upon emotion.  It just feels/doesn’t feel right is subjective, not objective and leads to the idea that truth is based upon my feelings, not God’s Word.  Sure, emotion comes into it, but this doesn’t form a solid basis for arguments about eternity.  The basic rule of thumb is, “If you wouldn’t accept a similar argument against Christianity, then don’t use it against other religions.”

Rule 3 – Don’t Debate Someone Who Just Wants to Fight

This can be a really difficult rule to observe both because it requires the ability to control one’s own emotions while discerning the motives of another equally erratic human being.  The truth of the matter is that some people ask us questions about our faith, not because they’re interested, but because they want a fight.  Most of these discussions are worthless and only end in frustration and ought, in general, to be avoided.

You can usually tell if someone is merely trying to pick a fight by the way they react to the answers you’re giving.  For example, if they interrupt you mid-sentence or shoot off another six dozen questions before the last word is out of your mouth, they probably care more about demonstrating their own superiority than they do about the truth.  They’re out to show you how wrong you are and, believe it or not, they will win, if only because their voice is the loudest.

While we shouldn’t turn down an opportunity to share Christ, we need to take our cue from Jesus.  When He entered a town, He’d present the Gospel.  He’d dine with those who were interested, but when someone clearly didn’t care, He moved on.  His energies were better devoted to sharing than to arguing.  If you find yourself in this situation, pray for the person and then head on down the road.  Don’t waste your time on worthless debate.

Rule 4 – Don’t Be Someone Who Just Wants To Fight

We all like to be right, but when it comes to evangelism we need to keep our eyes on the goal.  Remember, this is about Jesus and the gift He offers us, not about proving our superiority!

If you ask a question, listen to the answer… the full answer.  Respect for a person and their beliefs, even if they differ from our own, is essential to forming the type of relationship that may eventually lead to a commitment to Christ.  Jesus often disagreed with the people He met, but He never cut them off, made fun of their beliefs, or sought to make them feel stupid.  He heard them out and so should you.

Romans 12:14,16-18 reminds us, “…bless and do not curse… do not be haughty in mind… Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few rules regarding “awkward” situations, but for now, take the time to share a few of your own experiences with the “Duh” rules in the comment box below!

*This type of argument can be used effectively, but in order to do so, you’ll need the opportunity to build a case just like a lawyer does in court, presenting it as part of a “preponderance” of evidence.  Finding someone’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime isn’t enough to convict them of murder, but add in the threatening message on the answering machine and the victim’s blood all over the defendant’s laundry and you have a case.  The same applies to arguing against a given religious view.

Apologizing with Style: An Introduction to the Rules of Debate

13 Feb

Perhaps one of the most important things that I ever learned from my mother was how to have an honest, open, friendly debate.  For years, I watched as she welcomed those of other faiths into our home and engaged them in dialogue, presenting her faith (often while enquiring about theirs) with a gentleness and finesse which left everyone feeling at ease.  Everything I know about apologetics and the rules of debate began with her.

Before I start sharing what she taught me, however, we need to take a moment for some etymology.  (“Etymology” is the study of word origins and should not be confused with “entomology” which is the study of all things creepy crawly.)  Our English word “apology” comes from the Greek “apologia” and no, it doesn’t mean saying you’re sorry.  Instead, to the Greek mind, an apology was a “defense for” something whether it be one’s actions, philosophy, cooking style, or faith.  The best orators, those who held the attention of the masses in the public square were excellent “apologists”, reasoning for their own point of view in such a manner as to convince others to embrace it as well.  It should come as no surprise then that “evangelism” and “apologetics” go hand in hand, helping us to present the Christian faith in a reasonable and ordered fashion for the purpose of bringing others “into the fold”.

In order to make a great defense, however, you’re going need to know the rules of informal debate.  For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at these rules and how they apply in different evangelistic situations.  This week, however, we’re going to present you with just one… and it may be the most important of them all:

Rule 1 – Always Bring it Back to Jesus and the Gospel

The core of Christianity is Christ.  It is Christ Who created and it is Christ Who redeems.  Not surprisingly, this is one doctrine upon which most religions differ.  For this reason, my parents always used to emphasize the importance of keeping our focus on Jesus.  You may wander off into a peripheral issue or take a quick trip down a rabbit trail, but the conversation must always come back to its Core.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree upon mode of baptism or the importance of enforcing laws against theft – according to traditional, Biblical Christianity, those things don’t save you.  You and the Bible can be in perfect agreement upon every issue, but if you don’t stand in the same place regarding what is required to spend eternity in the presence of God, it simply doesn’t matter.  If you want to present your faith clearly, you must present Christ as its center.  Go ahead, answer the questions others have about your faith, but don’t lose sight of what really matters.  If you’re going to be an effective apologist, you’ll need to take your cue from the Apostle Paul, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few more “rules of debate”.  In the meantime, take a moment to share your own experiences with conversations that did (or didn’t) follow “Rule 1” in the comment box below!

 

Boss’ Pet: Avoiding the Tangle

6 Feb

Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored the subject of injustice in the workplace. We’ve talked about what happens when one employee is favored over others. We’ve explored some of the emotional reactions such preference elicits. And we’ve delved into a few of the Scriptural principles that can help a Christian thrive when equity is nowhere to be found.

That said, while most of us don’t like other people being the boss’ pet, most of us do like holding that position, ourselves! A word of caution: while it’s great to have the approval of those in authority, it is far better to live at peace with God and our fellow men.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do our very best with ever assignment. It does, however, suggest that when those efforts lead us into a favored position, we shouldn’t take unfair advantage of the situation. Remember that we are commanded to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)

Some special privileges are earned rewards. Others are a sign of favoritism. The best way to tell the difference is to take note of whether those privileges are being extended to other staff members who have performed to the same level you have. If they aren’t, do the right thing and don’t accept them.

Seeking peace requires discernment – an ability to recognize injustice before it becomes injustice. While that can at times be a challenging task, it’s well worth the effort. As believers, we are called to be peacemakers. The Psalmist commands, “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14) Never let hurt feelings or an inflated ego get in the way of doing what is right!

Whether you’re the least favored employee or the most honored, humility, kindness, and a desire to treat others well will go a long way. Do your best to praise what it good and acknowledge the hard work and positive efforts of others. It’s amazing just how much stress can be relived both in our lives and in the lives of others when we follow Christ and seek peace.

Boss’ Pet: Playing Peacemaker

30 Jan

In Hebrews 12:11-15, the Apostle Paul explains that, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” Again, in Romans 12:17-21 he commands us to, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Jesus, Himself, emphasizes the importance of peace in the Beatitudes saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

The choice before me was clear: I could continue to fruitlessly pursue justice (an act which would only encourage further dissension amongst the staff) or I could accept the injustice for what it was and learn to be the kind of peacemaker Jesus wanted me to be. (I’ll let you guess which of the two was the hardest to do.) I had been given an opportunity to develop my character under adverse circumstances. And in doing so, I also had the opportunity to be a positive influence upon the thoughts and actions of others.

Instead of focusing on the rules our new hire broke or the many ways in which he failed to function as a part of the team, I chose to center my thoughts and words on the opposite. I took the time to point out to the other staff members the ways in which the boss’ pet did act as a team player. I refused to take part in conversations devoted to running him (and the manager who favored him) down. And I went out of my way to encourage the new hire when he did make right choices.

Much to my surprise, the atmosphere at the workplace began to change. While our “Joseph” never did lose his position of importance, taking the time to continually and vocally focus on the positive went a long way towards defusing a tense situation. What had at first struck the staff as a terrible injustice began to appear almost comical. Our mood lightened and our frustration with the favoritism dissipated.

More importantly, by pursuing actions which led to peace rather than trying to hold on to what was “rightfully mine” through an unending quest for justice, I was able to reflect Christ’s love to everyone involved. In the end, that’s what being a Christ Follower is about.

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