Giving Testimony in the Messiness

A friend recently exhorted in his writing that we should give our testimony often. And it’s funny, because I had something good happen, and I thought, I should give testimony about that! But, then that something good twisted and ended up not being so great. And my desire to share kind of faded away. Because it didn’t turn out all smooth and neat the way I was hoping. It’s still messy. Still incomplete. Still a work in progress. But there is so much to give testimony about, especially in the messiness! 

Once again, it’s been a rough week. At one point in time, I felt like I had walked to the very edge of the abyss and was looking down at the sure promise of great sorrow and anguish. And I had no words to pray. I found my mind just repeating over and over again, Mercy Lord. Have Mercy. And the analytical side of my brain chimed in, “Why are you saying that over and over again?” and the parable that Jesus told about the widow who nagged the Judge for justice came to mind. I will nag and nag and nag until I get justice simply because the judge is tired of my nagging. Except it wasn’t justice I wanted. Just mercy. 

And God was merciful. In small measures. 

The situation is not resolved. I don’t have a tidy neat package where I can point and say, Look, a miracle! Isn’t God good! 

Instead I have the testimony that I am alive and moving. My children are alive and moving. Hope still reigns. I am still determinedly putting one foot in front of the other. The world is still turning. Night and Day are still happening. There is beauty in each day, along with sorrow. God’s word is still true. His promises still stand. 

And so I stand in the Assembly and give my testimony of God’s goodness to me today. My eternity is secure. I am not alone. And each day I move an inch or two closer to knowing more about God and his goodness. 

Murder and Human Worth

Well, I had a first today. I served as a witness in a murder trial. 

I promise I’m not making these things up. 

I did not play a major role in the trial. Just came in and confirmed it was me in the 911 recording and then explained again what I had seen. Total of five minutes tops. The cross-examination was one question. (As an avid reader of John Grisham, I found it pretty amazing to be “cross-examined”.)

As thrilling (or rather, nerve-wracking) experience as it was, it was also very sad. Six years ago our neighbor’s nephew was shot when he was walking home from work. It has taken SIX YEARS for this to go to trial. And his parents and relatives are still deeply mourning his death. I pray that the trial ends with justice and closure for all those who are still mourning. 

As I was walking out of the courthouse I was pondering human worth. This trial is a big example of how we place worth on people. Someone’s life is taken. The suspect is taken into custody. Witnesses come forward. The entire bulky justice system sets itself into motion to ensure that justice is served. Time, money, resources, all set in motion to say, this person’s life had worth and we require justice because it was ended wrongfully. 

And then, at the same time, the trial took SIX YEARS to happen! Which sends a totally different message. This is important, but maybe not THAT important. 

We do this with children. We have CHILD SERVICES that are present to ensure that children are not being abused or neglected. Entire bureaucracies devoted to the safe-guarding of children. We have NICU units in our hospitals, devoted to saving the life of prematurely born babies and other infants suffering any kind of malady. All declaring that children have WORTH. Time, money and all manner of resources devoted to showing worth.

And then, at the same time, we’ve decided that if a child is in the womb, the mother can decide that the child doesn’t have worth at all and simply abort it. Not THAT important after all. 

We do it with our elderly. Though, as I sit here, I can’t think of too many ways that we show our elderly their worth. Maybe we just talk about our elders having worth. Our subpar nursing homes, inefficient Medicare and tiny social security payments don’t show a lot of worth to our elderly. But we TALK about them having worth. 

It’s no wonder that we are so confused about self-worth. 

Our social structures give us very mixed messages about our worth. And our overall culture does the same. We idolize people in entertainment who look a “certain” way. (Whichever way happens to be popular at the moment.) And the problem is, that “certain” way is not how most people look. And then we compare ourselves to this touched-up, photo-shopped, made-up version of what we think is beautiful, we don’t look anything like it, and then we feel subpar. Not beautiful. And in our society, not-beautiful equals lesser importance. 

So, how do we step out of this confusing mess of mixed messages that we live in? 

Well, I’m going to point you back to the Bible. Again. Cause it’s the only thing we have that speaks truth. What does God say about you? 

You are Loved by God John 3:16

You are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus Ephesians 2:10

You are Created in God’s Image Gen 1:27

You are Forgiven through the work of Jesus on the Cross Colossians 1:13-14

As a follower of Jesus You are Heirs of eternal life 1 John 5:13

As a follower of Jesus You are Blessed with all Spiritual Blessings Ephesians 1: 3-6

I could go on and on and on. All about how much worth you have. I would say that any place in our society and culture that declares to you your worth as a human being, you can thank God for those being there. And any place where you are being devalued, that is the Enemy, known by many names, whose only mission is to seek and destroy all that God has created. 

It’s late. I’ve had a really long day. But before I go to bed, I just wanted to let you know, You are Beautiful. You are loved. You have Great Worth. 

Is Prayer Enough?

Have you all ever read Isaiah 58? The other day, I was moving things around in my dining room, and a Bible that had been on a side table was set on the dining room table. I went to eat breakfast and there was the Bible, lying open right where I usually sit and eat. How nice. I sat down and looked to see where it was open. Isaiah 58. I started reading. And it kind of felt like I was suddenly sitting in the Principal’s office being read the riot act. 

I will summarize. Basically, God says, I’m not interested in your fasting and praying if it’s not accompanied by acts of mercy and justice towards the people around you. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot concerning our country. Before the upcoming election, and even throughout this momentous year, I have heard a lot of Christians, from all denominations and political stances, calling for prayer for our nation. I have often heard people quote, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, I will heal their land..” and then we are all called to pray for our country. Except that the verse they are quoting actually says, 

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

We seem to forget about that “turn from their wicked ways” part. Isaiah 58 gets pretty detailed about what God thinks of as “wicked ways”. 

Isaiah 58:6 -7

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke? 

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

I don’t believe it’s an either/or kind of thing. We’re not supposed to choose between fasting and prayer or social justice. One without the other is empty. I am not trying to put a yoke of condemnation on our shoulders. In this world where we are overwhelmed by all our responsibilities, being told that you should be out feeding the poor and lobbying for social justice, well that just feels heavy and impossible. But, saying, it’s too much, I can’t do it, is also a cop-out. 

Each of us has talents, gifts, and resources. We can use those to help those around us. We can send that extra spending money to a homeless shelter. If we have time to volunteer, there are endless possibilities. We can write letters. We can call our local government offices. We can serve people in our community through one-on-one relationships or through supporting others who have time for that one-on-one. For those moms with young children who are in the trenches and barely hanging on, you can befriend someone at your church who is new. Maybe reach out to another young mom who desperately needs fellowship and encouragement. For those who are housebound, you could write letters to people in prison, start researching the issues in your community, email people with influence. There is SO MUCH we can do! 

We all desire the grace of God on our country. But I am going to say that prayer is not enough. If we want to see changes in our country then we need to follow Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. God’s heart is for the homeless to be fed and sheltered, for the worker to earn a living wage, for people to be treated with love and respect. 

We are saved by grace through faith. Not by works, but when we have faith and grace, it should compel us to do works. 

James 2:14-17

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

I would like to suggest that while we are praying for our country, we also add to that prayer: God show me what I can do to help the homeless, the oppressed, those who are under a yoke. Show me specifically something I can do to help. 

In Jesus Name Amen. 

Here is Isaiah 58 if you are interested in reading the whole thing:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.

    Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion

    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;

    they seem eager to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that does what is right

    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.

They ask me for just decisions

    and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,

    ‘and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,

    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please

    and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,

    and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today

    and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

    only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

    and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness[a] will go before you,

    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

    and your night will become like the noonday.

11 

The Lord will guide you always;

    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

    and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

    like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

    and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath

    and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight

    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,

and if you honor it by not going your own way

    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

14 

then you will find your joy in the Lord,

    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land

    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.