BEARING WITNESS . . . For life . . . Whether it be short or long

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.“ (Reference: 2 Timothy 2:11-13 )

I was trying to figure out what to say concerning this passage and the passage it is paired to in the book that our scripture passages come from this year. So I looked back five years to see what we said, and was presented with my own words. They were good words.

My focus at that time was a contrast of bearing witness as the historic Anabaptists did it and had to assume they would be persecuted for it and perhaps put to death, and bearing witness in our contemporary times where that simply meant living out a good authentic Christian life.

The excerpt for this scripture passage was a letter from Thomas van Imbroeck to his children and wife giving them advice about how to remain true to the doctrine they used to guide their lives. Even if it meant physical death. Five years ago I characterized both this letter von Imbroieck and Paul’s letter to Timothy as “dutch uncle” advice. I explained at that time that I was using this phrase “dutch uncle” to mean “Well-meaning and wise, trying to advise those he cares about.”

I said further, “Paul faced much persecution, but he also had much to say about living a good and accountable long life. This letter to Timothy shows that Paul was thinking about the next generation and how to prepare pastors for ministering in the years to come. Sometimes the Bible reads as a short instruction as to how to get through until Christ’s imminent return; other times it is an instruction manual for living out one’s life and the generations to come. And since we are multiple generations from both biblical times and the Anabaptists, it would be good for us to live our lives in a longitudinal way. Paul, being a good ‘Dutch’ uncle, writes so that his advice covers both the short term and the long term.” If you want to read what I said in its entirety just  follow this link to “ Longitudinal Living

The way I ending that posting remains true, and so I quote myself further beloved: “And remember, it takes just as much courage and conviction to life out one’s entire life span in the world as it does to face up to persecution, and witness in the face of it. May you bear witness in this life, and remain faithful to the complete and life-affirming message of Christ. Selah!”

BEARING WITNESS . . . To what we know to be true . . . and what we think we know

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (Reference: John 3:31-36 )

I read this passage in the Easy-To-Read Version and I still am slightly confused. Not that I do not understand the underlying concept that the Divine who comes from heaven knows all things. Jesus spoke the words of God, and God’s words are true. And the person who believes in God and in Jesus believes what is true and will have eternal life. But the person who does not believe is doomed. But there are so many darn pronouns that a person could get lost in it all.

It is said that the writer of the gospel of John loved the mystical, mysterious and spiritual side of God and Jesus. From the first “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” you know there are going to be some twists and turns. And for the entire gospel of John there are. Some witnessing is involved and convoluted. But other witnessing is straightforward and easy to understand. I would quote or insert an excerpt from the testimony of the historic Anabaptist that is paired up with this passage in Reading the Anabaptist Bible but that quote is kind of “messy” too.

Theologians over the years have almost seemed to have a contest to see who can produce the most involved and tangled theology or philosophy. Or it would sometimes seem so. Do not be deter beloved from witnessing to what you know. The simple basics of faith can be just as compelling as any dense theological discussion. So testify to what you know, and may the God who made belief simple by sending Jesus Christ be with you. Selah!

BEARING WITNESS . . . Having the knowledge . . . and a plan

He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Reference: Luke 24:46-49 )

As a response to the passage Peter Riedeman wrote in his Confession of Faith “Christ’s kingdom would soon have to fall if he did not send out servants who are like him in nature. . . Christ will not permit a messenger to go out who is not first clothed with the power of his Spirit. Those who feel this power will heed the command of their Lord, who has sent them. They will be able to proclaim to his good pleasure the tidings they bear in his name.”

In order to bear witness we need to who and to what we are bearing witness to. Faith statements and creeds help us to keep in focus what we believe, and tells others what we believe. If the way the bear witness to God is simply through the way we live, as I have stated previously, knowing who we believe in and what we believe will be very sufficient to the task.

However, if we feel called to bear witness in other ways, more explicit and interactive ways, we need to have a plan. Not a plan of what we are going to say, but a plan as to how we will remain focused and empowered to speak and witness to our faith. In Luke Jesus equips (and had equipped throughout his ministry) the disciple with the knowledge they need. But Jesus also reveals his intention for the disciples to be “clothed with power from on high.” You will, or would have known if you were equipped and blessed in such a way. If you are not sure, pause and ask Jesus Christ and our Lord God to equip you and clothe you.

When we talk about going into ministry, that is planning on ministering directly in a church or faith institution or setting, we talk about one’s “call.” That means the feeling from within or the external affirmation from another that God intends you to bear witness in a direct or interactive way. God will not call you to that unless the Divine has given you what you need and the power to bear witness in that way. The thing is, often you do not know you have been given that power until you use it or it just comes forth. The disciples were fortunate the the clothing of the Spirit came in an obvious way – there was no question of what happened. Paul/Saul was also fortunate that his called was obvious.

Have you been called beloved? What have you done or will do with that calling? And as you wait for God’s plan to emerge, may you be clothed more firmly in the Spirit so that the knowledge and planning you need is clearly before you. Selah!

BEARING WITNESS . . . By using up everything we are and have

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Reference: Matthew 5:13-16 )

Excuse me while I hum a few bars from “Godspell.” I was then going to suggest that we look at this verse from the historic Anabaptist perspective, but the excerpt paired with it (writings from Andreas Ehrenpreis) concerns the larger context of the gospel of Matthew instead of the specific verses cited here. One germane thing that Ehrenpreis said is “No, those who want to be a light in the world must give themselves and, in giving light to others are themselves consumed, Matt. 5:14-16.” The editors of the book Reading the Anabaptist Bible give emphasis to this when they say, “To bear witness is to give of oneself, even to the point of being consumed in the process.” Now, in a sort of quasi-metaphor way this fits. Salt being so used up it loses its saltiness, and so it needs to be thrown out. A light on a hill or in the household being used until it is burned out. And shining before the world until your life has come to an end. In bearing witness we bring everything we have and use up everything we’ve got . . . actually in the same way we are to love the Lord with all of our mind, body, and strength.

And this would be analogous to a may fly or some other portion of creation that does not last long EXCEPT God can renew us! When we think we have used up everything within us, God renews us – maybe through others ministering to us, or circumstances having us being placed on the sidelines, or our seeing our exhaustion and stepping back, or through direct intervention of God. Now, Ehrenpreis may have the notion of being consumed because the historic Anabaptists were “taken out” almost as quickly as they came to faith. But we know that believers can live their whole lives (that is, from young adulthood until extreme old age) without being subject to torture, persecution, and death. And in order to do that, there must be renewal of faith and energy. Christ himself took time away to pray and communion with God, and that is a good example to us. We may feel “burned out” and consumed, but God can re-lit us from within and redeem our “saltiness” so that we can continue on bearing witness through good deeds and bringing praise to the Lord in heaven.

May you beloved bear witness all of your days in full shining strength. Selah!

BEARING WITNESS . . . Or, in other words, being mouthy

I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” (Reference: Isaiah 62:6-7 )

I am not sure, beloved, what to make of verse 7. But verse 6, that one I know.

9 o’clock and all is well, for the Lord is with us”

10 o’clock, take your ease believer, for the Lord draws nigh!”

11 o’clock believer. Sleep with assurance for the Lord watches over you”

It is midnight believer! The Lord never sleeps or slumbers!”

And so on. Bearing witness means that any time, day or night, someone somewhere is testifying to God’s presence and power. The Lord’s blessings upon us are constantly being announced, and the Lord’s attributes are constantly being broadcasted. We do not witness to God in isolation. All believers and all creation testifies to God. All you need to do is speak openly when prompted by the Spirit, and speak in truth and compassion. And what better way to spend the second Sunday of Lent. May you, beloved, do so. Selah!

 

BEARING WITNESS . . . Saying it with words

You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.”(Reference: Isaiah 43:10-11 )

I have strong memories of reciting the creed of faith during church services. In fact, I can almost visualize on the page of the hymnal I grew up with. And somewhere I have a copy of that hymnal, but I cannot put my hands on it. I did find a new version that I think replaced the old one I have in mind. The creed we used was either the Nicene Creed or the Apostle’s Creed. Both have the high points of believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and the established church on earth. I am sure if you did a Google search you would find both.

Dirk Philips in his tract “Confession of Faith (Concerning) God” stressed the importance of acknowledging and witnessing God, and serving God only. He said in part, “We believe and confess that there is one God and Lord just as is basically contained in all of Scripture and expressly stated in writing, Deut. 4:35; 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4; 12:6; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Gen. 1:1; Isa. 45:21. This only God is a Creator of all creatures, a sustainer of all things, and a mighty King. . . . He is a Lord of heaven and of earth, an eternal, true, holy, living, merciful, righteous, long-suffering, and alone good and wise God, the first and the last, who knows all past, present, and future things. . . . He alone is a Redeemer and Saviour in whom alone we must believe, whom alone we must fear and love, Matt. 10:28; 22:37; Ps. 34:9; to him alone we must pray, and serve him alone, and in whom alone we must hope and trust, Exod. 20:2; Isa. 43:11. Him alone we must hold and confess for our God and Lord; in him alone we must place our salvation and from him alone hope for recompense, Heb. 11:6. To him alone be glory and praise in eternity. Amen.”

It was the excerpt of Philips’ confession that reminded of reciting the confession of faith that I mentioned above. There is also the “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” that I have commented on twice when it was in the rotation of the year long theme found on Third Way Cafe in the “Sip of Scripture” section. (The same site and section that this year features Reading from the Anabaptist Bible .) The “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” is not a simple multi-lined creed, but a small book that outlines each aspect of faith such as God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Scripture, Marriage and Family etc. The book contains two creeds of faith in the appendix.

Many Christian faiths share the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed, and over the years it has evolved slightly in its language. The versions I found online were not entirely inclusive, so be warned if you go searching for them. But then the creeds constructed by the historic Anabaptists were not overly inclusive either, so what you find may well reflect context from a different era.

At the risk of bruising tender sensibilities, it is more important to state your faith and beliefs clearly than it is to use inclusive language. I am very sensitive to inclusive language, but even more sensitive to clear statements of faith. If God is described as “He”, “Father”, “Him” etc, one must overlook that and discover instead if the faith confessed reflects the nature of God and one’s relationship with that God. The important question is . . . Who are you bearing witness to?

May you beloved confess and bear witness to a God who seeks to include all people, in all places, and at all times. And may that God bless and bear witness to you in return. Selah!