You Shall Be My Witnesses

In May I was called to serve on jury duty a Federal Circuit Court. Unlike the other two times I have been called to jury duty, on this particular occasion I was actually called to to serve on a jury to hear a case.

One by one witnesses were called to the stand to give testimony. Even in an ever-increasing secular society, each witness, upon taking the stand, was asked and responded affirmatively to the question, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

The two-day case was a fascinating experience, as witness after witness strolled up to the stand to give their ‘account’ from their unique perspective as to the events and circumstances in question.

As followers of Jesus, one of the foundational responsibilities of our Christian life is to be a witness. Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus’ last words to His disciples were both instructional and inspirational:

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Instructional in that He gave them direction for their lives going forward. This was to be their mission. One can only imagine that just after hearing these words, ‘a cloud received Him out of their sight’ (Acts 1:9). Stunned, they certainly would have recalled the very last things He said before ascending into heaven. They had received their marching orders!

Inspirational in that He promised them the resource that would empower their mission, for they would not be alone! The Lord had previously explained the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit to His disciples in John 14:15-31, just before He was crucified. The Spirit, among other things, was to be their ‘Helper’ (John 14:16, 26).

How would the Spirit help them be His witnesses? He would teach them all things – including how to be His witnesses, and bring to their remembrance all things the Lord had told them (John 14:26). And what had the Lord told them? The truth! In short, the Holy Spirit would be the engine that powered their witness for Jesus!

Just as a witness on a jury stand gives a personal testimony to the truth of what they experienced, we as followers of Jesus are called to give testimony to the Truth – that testimony being of who Jesus is and how He has touched our life.

The Apostle John, opens one of his epistles by providing a personal witness to the reader:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—“ (1 John 1:1-2).

Although you and I have not seen and heard, as we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), we testify that the life was manifested to us. This reality is a personal encounter with the living God through faith in Christ. Because when we put our trust in Jesus, we are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit as were the first disciples. Therefore, our testimony is personal, because we have a personal relationship with the living God.

Part of our testimony is proclaiming the truth of who Jesus is and part of our testimony is how He’s impacted our life.

As I sat in that courtroom with 11 other jurors, listening to the testimony of witnesses, we were instructed both before the first witness was called and after after the last testimony given, to weigh the credibility of each witness.

For even though each witness takes an oath to tell the truth, we had the personal liberty to weigh the credibility of a witness. In other words, believability was an issue that would shape the jury’s view of the evidence provided and testimony surrounding the evidence.

As followers of Jesus, we are all witnesses for Him. How credible is our witness? In our lives, there are people who are watching and listening to us and coming to conclusions about our testimony. For our witness includes more than our words – it includes our actions! You see, being a witness for Jesus is about the show and tell of our lives – in that we proclaim God’s love found in Christ, but we also must demonstrate God’s love. For both proclamation and demonstration of God’s love in of our lives will give evidence to our audience as to the credibility of our witness! Therefore, we should strive to have our words and our ways be in harmony. And to the degree our words and ways match up with the truth of God’s Word, to that same degree will be the credibility of our witness.

The words of our witness impact our credibility. In general, our everyday speech is a testimony, as Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus:

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

More specifically, we also need to be ready to share spiritual truth – the truth that sets men free – with people, as God opens doors of opportunity:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

The works of our witness are also important and will lend credibility to our testimony. Jesus spoke directly to this issue to His disciples, when He said:

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Love would be a distinct characteristic of discipleship for them and it certainly is for us. It was the tangible expression of their faith, characterized by love, that would lend credibility to their witness. The same principle applies to our witness today as His witnesses. Simply, our behavior is also an important component in our witness.

After hearing the testimony of the witnesses in the case I sat on, the judge gave the jury some final instructions. We were to weigh the evidence and come up with a verdict. We know had the evidence and heard the testimony surrounding the evidence. We were now called to make a decision.

As people weigh the evidence of my witness, I wonder at times how credible a witness for Jesus I am. I know people in my life are watching and listening…perhaps more intently than I’m even aware. Additionally, I ponder how the Lord is working in and through my testimony for Him, as I seek to make a case for Christ in word and deed? What decision will they ultimately make about Jesus?

May the Lord Jesus grow the credibility of our witness, to the end that many would come into the same fellowship with Him as we have experienced! Amen.

“…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

Lessons from Acts: Overcoming Opposition

‘You have to tell your family you believe in Jesus,’ he exclaimed! These were not words I wanted to hear. They startled, shook, and challenged me. And yet, this charge was the will of God.

It was late December, 1987, and I had just came to faith in Jesus weeks earlier. I was on the phone with my good friend Greg, who had been a key witness for Christ during my college years.

You see, being Jewish and believing in Jesus has its’ challenges. To add, I was the first Christian in my family. Greg’s words rattled me to the core of my being. For concurrently they were words I needed to hear and yet words I didn’t want to hear.

Why? Opposition awaited! And yet, this crisis of faith as a baby in the Lord served as a crucible in which I would grow, trust the Lord, and share my faith in the face of opposition.

It took 18 months for me to ‘come out!’ One by one I shared my new found faith with my entire family…amidst the opposition. You see, my maternal grandmother scornfully said, “Larry, how can you do this? No one in our family has ever believed in Jesus before.” My father plainly stated, “That’s fine. Just never share your faith with your grandmother (his mother).”

Many years have passed, much witnessing for the Lord taken place. And yet, I find opposition to sharing my faith remains! For this opposition is a constant reality for the believer.

There is nothing new under the sun. Two-thousand years ago the Apostle Paul wrote:

“For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears (2 Corinthians 7:5).

What was true for Paul, and is true in my life, is true in yours also. But this question remains for all – Will we overcome the opposition or will we be overcome by the opposition?

In simple terms, overcoming opposition is to witness despite its presence. To be overcome by opposition is allowing it to silence our witness for Jesus.

Here in Acts 4 we see a very practical example of overcoming faith that inspires and instructs.

The scene: After healing a lame man in Jesus’ name, Peter and John are arrested by the Jewish religious authorities, commanding them ‘not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus’ (Acts 4:18).

The response of Peter and John is telling:

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

The Great Commission had a greater influence upon their witness then the mandate of man! Underlying their boldness and courage was this principle for overcoming opposition:

The salvation of people was more important than their safety!

After threatening them further, the religious authorities released Peter and John, who immediately went and reported to the other disciples ‘all that the chief priests and elders had said to them’ (Acts 4:23).

During His earthly ministry, Jesus clearly stated “He who is not for Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23). He would elaborate on the manifestation of the opposition to His witnesses elsewhere in the gospels (see also Matthew 5:11-12, Luke 21:12, John 15:20, John 16:1-2). In light of the Lord’s instruction, the disciples therefore would have expected this push back.

Upon reporting about the great work of God amidst the great opposition of man, Peter, John and the other disciples prayed, lifting their voices to God in one accord (Acts 4:23-30). Part of this prayer acknowledges opposition to God’s plans and purposes, as they quote from Psalm 2:

“Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Anointed One [Messiah]” (Acts 4:25-26).

It’s evident from their prayer that the disciples understood opposition to God’s plans and purposes not only from Jesus’ teaching, but from the Bible itself, which at that time was strictly the Old Testament.

As they acknowledge the present opposition to their testimony, they cry out for boldness and courage:

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” (Acts 4:27-29).

God answers their prayer immediately and powerfully:

“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

Prayer is essential for overcoming opposition to our witness.

Without Jesus we can nothing (John 15:5), but through Christ and in His power, we can do all things (Philippians 4:13), including witnessing in the midst of opposition.

Overcoming opposition in our witness includes utterly depending on the Lord in prayer. Yes, fear is real. Rejection is a possibility. Opposition is a certainty.  But remember, their salvation is more important than our safety! And in the midst of it all, you and I have all the resources we need to accomplish all God calls us to. For His Grace is sufficient…and God is faithful.

Lessons from Acts: The Clash of Light and Darkness

Growing up in the Tampa Bay area in Florida, lightning was a common occurrence. In fact, Tampa Bay is known as the lightning capital of the nation. In June, 1993, more than 21,000 cloud-to-ground lightning flashes occurred within a 50-mile radius of Tampa Bay. In June 1994, the number of flashes rose to an incredible 50,000. And you know what? Every one of them happened in a flash!

I actually like to experience thunder storms, particularly at night. For lightning has an unparalleled capacity to engage the night and expose things normally shrouded in darkness. This exposure is quite amazing.

Spiritual light is also quite amazing in its’ own right, revealing both truth and exposing darkness. And in the spiritual, whenever light exposes darkness, there is a reaction and a response.

The scene is Acts 3 – Peter and John are at the temple, when a lame man asks them for alms just before the enter the temple (Acts 3:1-3):

“And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 2:4-10)

How is it a man lame his entire life is healed…in a flash? It was by the same power that controls the clouds and makes the lightning – the power of God (Job 37:11,15; Matthew 8:23-27).

Peter explains: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:12, 16).

Peter goes on to proclaim the gospel (Acts 3:17-26) to this captivated audience. In one sense you would think this miraculous work would result in unanimous approval. A lame man healed – this is awesome, right? Well, not so fast! You see, this miracle was done in Jesus’ name, and the name above all names creates a reaction and response unlike any other name.

For the spiritual light of the gospel brings revelation and conviction, resulting in salvation for some. Yet, for others, this revelation and conviction results in rejection and even vehement opposition to the light:

“Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” (Acts 4:1-4)

It was not the miracle that offended the religious leadership. Rather, it was the message behind the miracle, and more specifically, the name behind the message! Because Jesus is at the core of the gospel message. For Jesus is the rock of salvation that leads to liberation and life for those who believe. But for those who oppose and reject Jesus, He is a rock of offense that leads to condemnation and judgement.

This is the clash of light and darkness.

Following Jesus is to walk in the light: “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Rejecting Jesus is to continue in darkness: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).

As you live for the Lord and seek to shine the light of Christ, understand the clash. Expect the clash, and forge on in the midst of the clash. Remember, while many will run from the light, some will walk into the light and be saved! Hallelujah.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).

Lessons from Acts: The Witness of Community

When we think of evangelism, we often think of it in terms of the church going to out and engaging the lost. For we understand the Great Commission, when Jesus told his followers in Matthew 28, “Go out and make disciples of all nations.”

What we may overlook in the evangelistic process is not ‘the church going out,’ but ‘the church being the church.’ Let me explain.

While Jesus was giving His final marching orders just before His arrest and crucifixion in what we know commonly as the ‘Upper Room Discourse,’ He said:

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Here we get a hint into the upcoming corporate witness of the believing community of Jesus followers. For one of the distinguishing characteristics of their witness to the world would simply be their love for one another. Simple, yes. Profound, yes. Easy…not so much.

And two thousand years later we can identify. Can I get an amen?

You see, Jesus knew a community united would be powerful and effective, a community divided weak and ineffective.

I have witnessed this reality in my own Christian experience. Thinking back to the 1990’s just before entering vocational Christian work for the first time, a good friend gave me forewarning. He said, “Larry, the most difficult thing about ministry will not be your outreach, it will be getting along with your co-laborers!” And I have learned, over and over again, sometimes painfully so, that a house divided cannot stand! Perhaps you’ve also experienced this as you’ve sought to function in a local church family or ministry organization. But a house united is powerful. And the power behind that unity is love, the love of God expressed through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When the church is born in Acts 2, we see 3000 people baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Immediately following, Jesus’ words from John 13:35 will come into clearer focus:

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

It is challenging to comprehend the love these early believers had for one another, because in our contemporary church, we’re not of ‘one accord.’ Yet, we see the standard and ought strive to ‘do life together,’ loving one another. And for what purpose?

That they may know?

‘They’ referring to those who’ve not yet met the Savior. It seems to me our saltiness and brightness (Matthew 5:13-16) is somewhat connected to our love for one another. And yes, as individuals we strive to be salt and light. Yet, our saltiness and brightness also contains a corporate component because you and I are part of one body – called the Church. You can study a bit of the functioning of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:14-31.

And that body will most effectively function when moving in a coordinated effort – that effort being driven again by love. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul shows the way of love in the ‘love chapter’ – 1 Corinthians 13. And in this section of the chapter he cuts to the core of the matter of love:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

In Acts 2 that corporate witness of the church characterized by love was incredibly powerful and attractive. The effect of that loving community of faith resulted in the church finding ‘favor with all the people’ and ‘the Lord adding to the church daily those who were being saved’ (Acts 2:47).

The Power of Love for you and I is to live out the Sweet Song of Salvation – united, engaged, and committed to the effort of the body – that they may know! This thrust is characterized by love and the first example of this corporate love and witness is seen in Acts 2.

What does it mean for you and I to fulfill this command to ‘love one another?’ That is a matter of prayer. It Certainly it looks different in application for each of us, but the principles are overarching as we see.

May we grow in our love for one another, that they may know we are His disciples – to the end that some would come to know Jesus personally! Amen!

Lessons from Acts: The Power of His Witness

Sharing Jesus is a team thing! While we may think evangelism a solo activity, it is actually done in tandem with the Holy Spirit. In fact, no matter how, when, or to whom you’re witnessing, the Lord is always with you. As Jesus taught the disciples just before He ascended into heaven:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

As we learned from Acts 1:8, the disciples’ power to witness would come from the Holy Spirit.

Now in Acts 2, His promise comes to fruition as the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples at Pentecost, also known as the Jewish feast of Shavuot (Leviticus 23:15-22):

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

And what were the disciples saying in the power of the Spirit? ‘The wonderful works of God’ (Acts 2:13; see also Acts 10:46, ). And not only that, their testimony was uttered in the various languages of the multitudes, as Jewish people from all over the known who would have been in Jerusalem for the feast (Acts 2:5-6).

Yes, the birth of the church started off with a bang – shock and awe we might say! God working mightily in and through His people.

Additionally, we see this collaboration in God’s redemptive work later elucidated by the Apostle Paul as he addressed the church in Corinth:

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Though Paul addressed this letter to the church in Corinth, this ministry of reconciliation remains a priority for God’s people. And while we should have a heart that breaks for the lost, how much more the Lord’s heart for lost sinners – for He is ‘longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9; see also Matthew 9:35-38).

As the ‘wonderful works of God’ were uttered by those Spirit-filled believers in Acts 2, the goal and hope of that witness would result in people being reconciled to God. And what of the response?

The response to a powerful gospel witness will be polarizing: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Such was the case in Acts 2 and we’ll see in the entire book as we continue our studies. And such will be the case in your life and mine as we seek to share Jesus with others.

Polarization is illustrated as the initial response to the testimony of the disciples is confusion (Acts 2:6), amazement and perplexity (Acts 2:12). Some wanted to understand, while others responded mockingly: “They are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13).

Peter stands up and clarifies what’s happening (Acts 2:14-21), then proceeds to share the good news of Messiah Jesus (Acts 2:22-40) in the power of the Holy Spirit (see John 15:26).

For Peter’s power in that day is our power to witness today. As Peter spoke, God moved. You see, ultimately it is the power of the Holy Spirit that does the work of conviction, righteousness and judgement:

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” (John 16:7-8).

People will respond to this conviction by rejecting it in unbelief, or responding to it in repentance.

When Stephen gave testimony in Acts 7, the people were ‘cut to the heart’ in Acts 7:54, reject the message and kill him (Acts 7:54-60)!

In response to Peter’s sermon here in Acts 2, when the people are ‘cut to the heart’ in, they want to know what to do! After Peter tells them to repent and be baptized, 3000 received the word with joy and were baptized (Acts 2:37-41)! Hallelujah. It’s important to note the Spirit also does the work of regeneration in the life of the repentant sinner who puts their faith in Christ:

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)

So be encouraged! Remember it is the Holy Spirit who is working and witnessing through us – for His glory and for the building of His Kingdom! For His work and His witness are awe-inspiring and worthy of our praise!

“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36

Lessons from Acts: The Power to Witness

Power! In the mechanical realm, nothing works without it, One afternoon in mid-August 2003, the lights went out in New York City! In fact, there were 50 million people in the Northeast affected by the blackout. Our family was living in New York City at the time, as we were doing missions work with Jews for Jesus. Can you say interruption! It lasted about 24 hours and when the power went back on the city exhaled with a sigh of relief!

In the spiritual realm, we need power to effectively witness for Jesus.

We may be tempted to believe the power to witness comes from the ‘how to.’ And while the ‘how to’ is important, without the power source, we’ll be like a machine that happens to be unplugged! Certainly the machine called New York City is impotent when unplugged. But when plugged in, New York City is remarkable. In our witness, unless we’re plugged into the power source, we’ll be ineffective. But when plugged into to that power source, we can ‘do all things through Christ who strengthens us’ (Philippians 4:13), including the work of evangelism.

For the Christian, our power source is none other than the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to His disciples just before ascending into heaven:

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Evangelism that is fruitful and glorifies God is done in and through the power of God. For Jesus says, “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So our personal witness needs to be both Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered.

As believers, God the Holy Spirit, the second person of the trinity, indwells each of us. And it is He who empowers our witness.

The Holy Spirit helps us know what to say. In Luke 12:12 Jesus was teaching the disciples to not fret about what they might say when undergoing persecution, telling them “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” While in our witnessing efforts we do want to strive to ‘always be ready’ to share when God provides opportunities, we need to also trust in the power of the Spirit to know when and what to share.

The Holy Spirit gives us boldness. After Peter and John had healed a lame man in Acts 3, they were arrested by the Jewish religious leadership (the Sanhedrin) and asked by what power or name they had done it. Peter, ‘being filled with the Holy Spirit,’ then witnessed to them, saying in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Upon their release they went and prayed with other believers, asking God to give them boldness to speak His word.  “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

The same fearful and cowardly Peter who denied the Lord three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest is now a powerful, bold witness for the Lord.

Remember the disciples were of no great pedigree. Jesus didn’t choose the best and brightest, those with the gift of evangelism, to be His witnesses. Rather their gifting was in the power and presence of God. In fact, when the Sanhedrin “perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

And therein lies the key for us as we strive to be powerful witnesses – Spend time with the Lord. Spend time in His Word, spend time in prayer. Remember, a powerful witness is a ‘plugged-in’ witness.

I can tell you that I desperately need the Holy Spirit in my personal witness to others. I need Him to fill me, to empower me, to help me know what to say, and to give me courage. How about you?

Ask Him move mightily in and through all you do in your witness. And ask the Lord to move mightily in the heart of the one to whom you’re witnessing. For it is the Lord who is your power to witness.

Lessons from Acts – an introduction

The power of modeling or setting an example is replete throughout life! As a young tennis player, my idol was American John McEnroe. Johnny ‘Mac’ was the one of the best players in the world in the mid-1980’s and even to this day, is my all-time favorite. My friends and I would try to hit certain shots just like McEnroe, for he was artistic in the way he played the game. His touch and ball control were impeccable – he was poetry in motion. I was inspired to try to play like him – so much so that I used to drive my coach nuts when attempting to hit certain shots just like McEnroe…and miss!

Whatever your passions or interests in life, there are role models who set the standard – people who exemplify how it’s done!

As we think about growing in our witness for Jesus, the book of Acts provides the powerful model of the early church in the evangelistic endeavor. For it is in the book of Acts that the church is born. And it is here in the book of Acts that God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways to dramatically grow the church. The believers in the early church exemplify powerful and effective witnessing.

Acts records the initial response of believers to the Great Commission and provides information on the first three decades of the church. So there is much to be gleaned from this foundational work, including many lessons that will both inspire and inform our witness.

From beginning to end, this remarkable book is instructive.

For example, in Acts 1:8, the Lord instructs the disciples just before His ascension:

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Here we learn that the power to witness comes not from technique or method, but from the Holy Spirit. We’ll say more about that in our next lesson.

And in the last verses of the last chapter (Acts 28:30-31), the book of Acts concludes with the primacy of Paul’s ministry – preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus:

“Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.”

Paul’s example of keeping the main thing the main thing in ministry is a good lesson for us – our witness should focus on the Kingdom of God and the person of Christ!

There are a number of other general themes we’ll touch upon during this series as it relates to our witness – including:

– walking by faith

– dealing with persecution

– overcoming fear and aspiring to boldness and courage

– teamwork and the gospel endeavor

– contextualizing without compromising the gospel

– engaging people different than ourselves

– understanding open and closed doors in our witness

– witnessing on the way

– blooming where you’re planted

I would encourage you to read the book of Acts from beginning to end, either this week or ensuing weeks during this series. It’s an exciting read to be sure, for their is never a dull moment in this action-packed adventure chronicling the birth, growth, and expansion of the early Church.

May their example instruct and inspire us to powerfully and boldly live out the Christian life, being salt and light among those who’ve not yet met the Lord.

Lord Jesus, as we begin learning lessons from Acts, grow our witness for Your glory and for the building of Your Kingdom. Amen!

Spiritual Conversations: summing up the process

I like to describe evangelism as a process. From a witnessing perspective, we as believers are in the process of being conformed more into the image of Christ through what the bible calls sanctification. This takes a lifetime. And so it takes time to grow as a witness for Jesus. Unbelievers with whom you’re engaging in conversation are also in process – meaning their beliefs about God and ‘the way it is’ have been shaped…over the course of their lives. So typically it will take time for a person to process a view that initially will be contrary to their own – the gospel says they are lost and under God’s judgement without Jesus. The parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) reveals the processional aspect of evangelism.

With this context, let’s summarize the main components undergirding witnessing conversations. Because in all my years teaching, whether it be in the sports (tennis) or spiritual (evangelism) arenas, I’ve learned that repetition is a key to learning. As witnesses for Christ, we never ‘arrive,’ no matter how skilled or inept we may feel in talking with others about spiritual matters. The main components undergirding witnessing conversations include:

Prayer

The foundation of prayer should undergird everything we do – including spiritual conversations. Go to God on behalf of people before you go to people on behalf of God.  Praying should precede the doing and will galvanize the doing – this can make a huge difference between walking in the spirit and walking in the flesh.

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18).

Since spiritual conversations are a God-thing, we need to acknowledge our dependence upon Him to provide ministry opportunities and open up doors. Hence, we pray!

In Colossians 4:2 the Apostle Paul asked the Church in Colosse to pray that ‘God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.’ So pray for open doors, ministry opportunities, divine appointments, and ‘a word aptly’ spoken.

For a deeper study on praying and evangelism, click here for an excellent resource from Dr. Kevin Meador.

Questions & Listening

Questions are the key that open up conversational doors. Click here for a list of conversation starter questions. And once the that door opens, we need to actively listen and learn. We previously pointed out this subtle but powerful difference in thinking about conversations: Do I want to speak ‘to’ someone or speak ‘with’ someone about spiritual matters?

Speaking ‘with someone’ conveys the idea of working together, sharing ideas and thoughts, seeking understanding.

Questions also affirm others.  Inquiry communicates that we care about what another thinks, believes and feels.  You know as I, that often we as Christians are sometimes accused of simply wanting to talk and be heard. Yet a winsome and humble witness will include the willingness to listen.  And listening will be the result of asking questions.

Active listening will inform our witness [What is their God-paradigm & are they open to speaking about spiritual things?] and will enable us to effectively contextualize the gospel. Remember when the Apostle Paul went into synagogues, he reasoned with the Jewish people from the Scriptures – the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. But in Acts 17 on Mars Hill, Paul addressed the Athenians, who were not well versed in the scriptures, by starting with general revelation (see Acts 17:22-24).

Questions provide the platform for listening. While listening affirms others, informs our witness and allows us to humbly and gently share the truth in love as doors of opportunity open.

Answering Questions

Questions or objections are a normal part of spiritual conversations. In our witness, we ought to expect and affirm them. Additionally, we need not be fearful about not having the a right, good, or sufficient answer (2 Timothy 1:7). Remember also it’s ok to say, ‘I don’t know. That’s a good question. Let me get back with you.’

Here’s the deal. Since ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11:1), our faith is substantive and based upon evidence. In other words, God has given us a brain to use, and faith is not blind – it is reasonable and rational. So strive to be ready for questions and/or objections.

We mentioned previously there are two types of questions: sincere and insincere. Is this honest inquiry or does someone simply want to ‘jerk your chain?’ If you suspect, insincerity, it’s ok to ask them, “Do you really want an answer?”

Answering honest inquiry may be with a ‘coffee shop’ answers, or with books, video’s or in-depth articles that can deal more comprehensively with questions or objections.

One of the keys in answering questions is to be familiar with standard objections and being ready with simple answers – “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). If you need more comprehensive answers later, you always can access them using various resources.

Click here for an excellent link to brief answers for many other standard objections.

A Final Word Of Encouragement

The ‘will to’ precedes the ‘how to.’ As you read these words you are demonstrating a ‘will to’ grow in your witness, and I affirm you. The best way to grow in the area of conversing about spiritual matters is to practice. Trial and error are an important part of the process. In addition to personal experience, watch or listen to others witness to the lost and answer questions. Additionally, you can read how other believers are responding to questions and/or engaging issues, whether age old questions (i.e. What about the origin of evil?) or contemporary questions (What’s wrong with gay marriage?). Walk by faith, asking God to grow you in this area, making you a more effective ‘conversationalist for Jesus!’ And God is faithful!

“A man has joy by the answer of his mouth & a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” Proverbs 15:17

Spiritual Conversations: Answering Objections (part 2)

Earlier in my life I was a professional tennis coach for fourteen years. And I can assure you no beginner ever took a lesson or series of lessons with the expectation of becoming an accomplished player in that brief time. To play well requires some basic instruction and lots and lots of practice.

Spiritual conversations are very similar to playing tennis in that it takes time and practice to grow in competence and confidence.

In the specific arena of answering objections, we learn from others and we learn through practice. And it should be noted that answering objections in real time is an inexact science, because spiritual conversations are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. For you and me, none of us ever arrives, so growing is the goal no matter how competent or incompetent we may feel.

With that said, as we anticipate basic objections and questions about the Christian faith, it will help to have what we might call a ‘coffee shop’ response.  A ‘coffee shop’ answer is a simple answer that can keep the conversation centered on the topic at hand and move the dialogue along.

Click here for five common objections to Christianity and ‘coffee shop’ answers to each.

In addition, click here for an excellent link to brief answers for many other standard objections.

There are excellent resources that can also provide in-depth responses to honest inquirers who want and need a more thorough response than we can initially provide.  There are great Christian apologists and thinkers who deal with these and many other objections with skill and depth. For example,  Norm Geisler and Jason Jimenez authored a book entitled “The Bible’s Answers to 100 of Life’s Biggest Questions.” As you ponder the question(s) posed, be prayerful, asking the Lord to lead you to the appropriate follow-up resource – article, dvd, book, or youtube/Godtube link.

When pondering answers to objections, brevity is our friend. Jesus’ parable of the soils in the Gospel (Luke 8:4-15, Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20) sheds light on the reality that evangelism is a process. As we answer objections within spiritual conversations, we are simply planting seed or watering soil that already has seed within it.

Think about sowing and watering in the physical.

In sowing seed, there must be enough space for that seed to grow. Sowing to much seed at one time may actually be counterproductive. A reasonable amount of water is necessary for growth of seeds in a garden, as in a light summer shower or controlled watering.  But a deluge from a big storm or a fire hydrant will wash the seed away. Water is good. Too much water – not so much.

When answering objections, in a spiritual sense we’re providing bread and water.  Don’t overdo the process – give a hungry person a piece of bread and a thirsty person a glass of water. This takes practice and discernment. Learning and growing also involve trial and error…and more trial and error. And God is faithful. For He will grow this area of our witness as we commit our way to Him.

As you listen, study, learn, and practice, you can and will grow in your ability to give a ‘word aptly spoken.’

So don’t run from questions and objections – prepare for and anticipate them.  And in providing answers, do so with a spirit of love characterized by gentleness and respect…for the glory of God and for the building of His Kingdom.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” 1 Peter 3:15

Spiritual Conversations: Answering Objections (part 1)

While a missionary to my Jewish people in New York City, I was meeting regularly with an orthodox Jewish man in Brooklyn named Ben. I’d go to his apartment once or twice a month and share the claims of Jesus to be Messiah. One day Ben raised a very intimidating objection. He said Jesus couldn’t possibly be the Messiah due to the curse of Jeconiah! What did I know about the curse of Jeconiah? I had had been exposed to it before in my missionary training, but couldn’t recall any kind of cogent response at that moment. What’s a missionary to do? I’m supposed to have all the answers, right?

No worries. I simply told Ben, “that is a good question and I’d look into it.” It so happens I was familiar with the foremost Jewish apologist in the world, Dr. Michael Brown. And it so happens he has written five volumes entitled, “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus.”

Dr. Brown covers every conceivable objection and question that could be raised from a Jewish perspective. I found a biblical response to Ben’s objection and shared it the next time I saw him.

Now I can’t say that changed his position on Jesus – it didn’t. The point is there are answers to objections. And objections are a healthy and appropriate part of many people’s journey to faith. [For our purposes we’ll use objections and questions interchangeably.]

You see, answering questions inherently answers the objection that our faith is blind!

Additionally, providing answers to legitimate objections is a powerful tool in helping the sincere inquirer in their search for truth. For we know that definition of faith includes reason and rationale:

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

So faith is substantive and based upon evidence. For example, one powerful historical evidence is the empty tomb! I like to say God has given us a brain to use, so trusting in Jesus doesn’t mean I check my brain at the door. In fact, God has given us many reasons to believe. And answers to objections can provide reasons to do just that – believe.

In the midst of spiritual conversations, we need to be ready to give ‘a word aptly spoken’ to objections that are raised. Because questions will be raised – count on it. And that’s a good thing.

When thinking about how to answer objections, let’s establish some ground rules:

When qualifying a person – we need to find out if they’re open? For the ‘$64,000 question’ we need to raise before engaging a question is this:

Are they genuinely interested in getting an answer to their question or objection and if so, are they prepared to deal with the answer they may find?

Because the reality is this: There are consequences for the person who engages in honest inquiry into the truth claims of Jesus and the Christian faith – the most profound consequence being: “What will you do if you find out it’s true – that Jesus is exactly who He claims and who the bible claims Him to be?” Or in other words: “If God shows you the gospel is true, will you believe in Jesus?”

You know, when someone raises questions or objections, we need to qualify if that person is sincere or insincere?

The ‘honest inquirer’ is actually searching for the truth. The ‘insincere’ may pose questions and objections as sport because they simply want to blow you off or make you squirm. This is where listening and qualifying apply. For the insincere, there’s no need to waste your time scrambling for answers.

I’ve often asked people, especially my Jewish people, this question – Is there any possibility Jesus is the Messiah?  If they say no, we’re done. What can I do?  I’m just a guy. If a person has already made up their mind, fine. If they say maybe, my next question is – Are you interested in finding out?

Find out if their question or objection is sincere – Do they really care to engage an answer or response?  If so, proceed. If not, continue loving them, serving them and praying for them as we’ve noted.

In conclusion, a healthy aspect of the spiritual conversation is the question posed by the sincere inquirer. We need to affirm honest inquiry and be ready with ‘a word aptly spoken.’ Don’t think you have to be ready to answer every question – that’s an intimidating prospect. ‘A word aptly spoken’ includes the freedom to respond: “That’s a great question. Let me do a little research and get back with you.” We may not have an answer on the spot, but it’s important to be able to find appropriate answers to honest inquiry. In contrast, you may have an answer that provides greater understanding and propels the conversation along.

Next time we’ll address specific answers to objections as we seek to grow in our conversational witness to others.

“A man has joy by the answer of his mouth & a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” Proverbs 15:17