Who We Are

In the evangelical Christian world, we often treat “witnessing” as something on our to-do list. It’s what we are supposed to do (but very few of us do it…). Never mind that non-Christians aren’t tasks to be checked off but human beings to be loved. That’s an entirely different post. Or maybe it isn’t. We’ll just have to find out together where this thing is going…

It struck me today that this approaching evangelism as a verb might be incomplete, if not totally wrong.

The other day I sat with a woman who expressed frustration with evangelical Christians who have approached her to see if they could witness to her and then immediately moved on when it became clear to them they couldn’t. As an evangelical Christian myself, I more than shared her frustration.

More specifically, I welled up with anger and wanted to take this woman by the hands, look her in the eyes, and say, “I am so sorry people have treated you that way.” I wanted to assure her that Christians who treat witnessing as a task to be completed are not pleasing Jesus nor representing Him accurately.

That’s a pretty strong statement. And I stand by it. Because Jesus never treated people like projects. On the contrary, He treated them with dignity and love and respect and concern.

[The only people He got a little brash with were the self-proclaimed religious big-wigs who were too big for their britches and also completely wrong about who He was and what God wanted from people (ans: hearts that loved Him more than themselves instead of vice versa). In other words, people who needed to be knocked down a few pegs.]

In the first chapter of Acts, the resurrected Jesus spends over FORTY DAYS with His disciples. (Let that sink in…the 11 disciples didn’t all mass hallucinate the exact same thing for nearly 6 weeks, I don’t care how high quality the LSD was back then. I digress.)

[Was that too far? I feel like maybe the drug reference was a little too far…don’t send me emails.]

Throughout the 40+ days, Jesus tells His disciples about the kingdom of God. In verses 6-8 He gives them some final instructions. Verse 8 reads, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Aside from the improper use of a semicolon and/or conjunction, something significant stands out to me in this verse. Jesus says they will be His witnesses.

“Witness” is an identity. It is who they are, not what they do.  

Jesus did not tell them they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them and then they will go witness in Jerusalem, etc. Rather, for better or for worse, those disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses.

When non-believers around them learned the disciples were close, personal friends of that Jesus character who caused a lot of brouhaha and wound up dead and somehow managed to amass a small following, those non-believers would associate everything else the disciples did and said with Jesus.

If the disciples loved well and verbally shared the gospel and teachings of Jesus, they would be positive witnesses of Jesus. Those they encountered would wonder if being a follower of Christ had something to do with the disciples’ abnormally selfless, peaceful, joyful dispositions, especially in the face of terrifying circumstances (to promote Jesus as the Messiah was to literally risk being killed by the Jewish elite).

If the disciples ran for their lives, however, and never spoke of Christ again, they would be negative witnesses of Jesus. People would think, “Jesus must not have been anything special if even His best friends don’t think He is worth talking about or obeying anymore.”

One way or another, those disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses all right.

And, of course, the same is true of us believers today. We are Jesus’ witnesses, whether we know it or not.

If we identify ourselves as Christ followers, every thing we say and do is associated with Him in the eyes of the non-believers around us. 

Now, don’t worry, that does not mean we have to be perfect or we will mar Jesus’ rep so badly no one will ever become a Christian again. We aren’t that powerful, thank goodness.

What it does mean is we need to be more mindful of how we are representing Jesus. Just like the original disciples, Christians today can be positive or negative witnesses of Jesus.

If people know we claim to be Christians but we never talk about Jesus or His working in our lives, and if we prop ourselves up on our achievements, hiding our need for Him, and if we harbor self-righteous pride in our relationships, and if we fail to rely on the power of the Spirit to help us live consistently with scripture (which is the only way we can live consistently with scripture, by the way), those we encounter will be inclined to think there is nothing special or different about “Christians”.

On the other hand, if people know we claim to be Christians and we love well and verbally share the gospel and teachings of Jesus, and if we admit when we screw up and ask for forgiveness from people we hurt, and if we make it plain that we are totally indebted to God’s grace, and if we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us live how scripture tells us to when we know full well we can’t in our own strength, those we encounter might wonder if being a follower of Christ has something to do with our abnormally selfless, peaceful, joyful dispositions, especially in the face of terrifying circumstances (like all the fun things life has to offer–sickness, death, adultery, job loss, broken relationships, etc.).

Witnessing is not something we do; witnesses are what we are. We get to decide what kind of witnesses of Jesus we want to be.

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Control. Sigh.

I’m angry. Fuming. More than mildly annoyed.

The short version of why is we had some work done on our house, and the workers suck. I am sitting here waiting for them to come back FOR THE THIRD TIME to correct work they should have gotten right the first time… simple things, like making sure we can’t see daylight around the new door they installed, and lining up the dead bolt correctly so we can, I don’t know, LOCK THE DOOR. And they are an hour and a half late (so far).

I am telling you this not because complaining is my spiritual gift (although, I really think it might be…), but because I am realizing that while, yes, I should be hacked off about this situation, I am way beyond the appropriate level of angry.

Why?

Because those workers are blocking my goal of doing what I want to do with my morning off. And, also, because I am the least flexible person in the world (not literally, although, that’s probably true, too.)

I hate changes of plans. I hate people interfering with how I have already decided my day should go.

Why?

Possibly because I don’t feel in control when someone else changes my plans without my expressed, written consent. 

If I have the time over the next couple of months (which is laughable), I anticipate writing a lot about control. God is bringing me into a period where He intends to harp on the fact that my name is Kelly, and I’m a Control-aholic.

He brought this to my attention years ago when I had my first baby and stressed everyone in my zip code out by demanding they care for her EXACTLY HOW I WOULD when they graciously offered to keep her FOR FREE ANY TIME I WANTED THEM TO. (I won the daughter-in-law of the year award for at least three consecutive years.)

After my first daughter survived 2.25 years under my tyrannical rule, I had my second daughter and lightened up. I was still a stickler for things like don’t feed the 6 month old donuts and chocolate milk (a necessary rule with certain caretakers…), but, by and large, I learned to trust that God would take care of my girls when I couldn’t.

The dust settled for awhile, but I can see now the control-tide has been steadily rising in other areas of my life over the past year or so.  God has been unsuccessfully trying to teach me to trust Him with relationships instead of strong-arming circumstances and people. I really don’t see myself comprehending this lesson anytime soon, which is frightening because we both know God won’t leave that alone.

But most recently God has begun to show me my propensity to want to control things in ministry. My husband and I have started an adult Sunday School class together in which two curse words are involved: shared leadership. We have a team of leaders running this show, of whom I am just one. Which means the control – I don’t have it.

Throw in the lingering/chronic need to control my kids and my schedule and my uncooperative hair, and, well, I am just about ripe for some delightful “pruning”, as Jesus would say. Stay tuned for reflections on how much I kick and scream through that process in the upcoming months…

Turning Over Tables

One of the stories in the gospels that intrigues me is when Jesus got so ticked off He started turning over tables like a mad man.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:13-16)

I guess I’m drawn to this part of Jesus because I can identify with feeling angry. I get angry every day. Anger is a commonplace human emotion, and to read that Jesus experienced this emotion, too, makes me feel like He gets me. He understands. He wasn’t always cool, calm, and collected.

What’s peculiar to Jesus, though, is that while He was angry, He didn’t sin. He couldn’t sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Even when He looked totally out of control, He wasn’t sinning.

Of course, that’s not usually the case with us. When we get angry, we often sin. Sometimes our anger prompts us to use speech that tears down others (Ephesians 4:29), to retaliate against the person who hurt us (Matthew 5:38-42), or to harbor bitterness and resentment (read: unforgiveness) (Ephesians 4:31).

As Jesus illustrates, it’s not the anger that is sin. As we demonstrate, it’s the feelings and behaviors that flow out of anger that can be sinful (Ephesians 4:26).

Truth be told, I struggle with knowing how my outbursts are any different/worse than Jesus’ tantrum in the temple courts. And on the outside, they may look very similar. But inside – in my heart – things might not be so similar.

Everything Jesus did was motivated by love for His Father and love for people. Everything. Even scattering animals and flipping over merchant tables (John 14:31, 15:9).

Jesus wasn’t angry because He wasn’t getting attention or because things weren’t going His way or because somebody hurt His feelings. Jesus’ anger wasn’t fueled by self-focus at all.

Jesus was angry because God the Father was being disrespected. Jesus loved the Father too much to idly sit by and allow others to disrespect Him.

At the same time, Jesus was angry that the money changers weren’t making God-honoring decisions for themselves. Jesus loved every person in the temple courts. He loved them too much to idly sit by and allow them to disrespect God because He knew that wasn’t in their best interest; Jesus wanted better for those money changers.

When we find ourselves turning over tables, or at least wanting to, we need to ask ourselves why? Why are we angry? Are we angry for self-centered reasons or for God and others-centered reasons? Is love the motivation of our violent display of emotions?  If not, we should probably hold off on pulling a Jesus-in-the-temple-courts.