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Friday, April 24, 2009

The Witness

"There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light." (John 1:6-8)

Perhaps you have heard from time to time about some of "those" phone calls pastors receive. "A word from the LORD" has been "recieved" by someone with nothing more than good (or bad) intentions: thoughts regarding the pastor, the church, his sermons and/or delivery, and the list goes on. Pastors often listen and thank the caller, hang up and go back to work with little or no consideration. Some calls get screened. Once in a while, a trusted friend calls. James Ryle (not to be confused with J.C. Ryle of the 19th Century) tells of a call he once received from a friend that had a deep impact on his ministry. He describes this friend as "a man who rises early in the morning and spends great lengths of time in prayer; a man of significant influence, whom the Lord has used to touch many, many people with the Gospel. He had my undivided attention.

'OK,' I replied, 'what is it?'

To this day I will never forget his answer, for it truly was a word from the Lord; a word which I needed to hear at that moment, for I was undergoing severe personal attack in the form of criticism and outright slander. I was being lied about, ridiculed for my beliefs, and spoken against by opponents who held me in contempt – you know, a typical week in the life of many pastors. So my phone-a-friend had my undivided attention.

'Ping,' he said; holding the sound out like a sustained musical note.

'Ping?' I answered, in a blunt, one syllable monotone reply.

'No,' he graciously answered, 'Ping,' once again making the sustained sound, rather than simply saying the word. And then he did it again, 'Ping.'

'What is that supposed to mean?' I asked, and my friend replied, 'That's the sound of a twenty-two caliber bullet bouncing off the hull of a nuclear submarine. Ping.'

He paused for a moment and then said, 'The Lord wants you to know that these attacks of criticism against you are nothing more than that – puny and ineffective cheap shots that cannot penetrate the hull of your ship. They can only annoy and distract. Stay the course and do what the Lord has directed you to do.'

That was a meaningful moment for me. I was being tossed about in my soul with mounting frustrations – wanting to answer in self-defense and set the record straight, but being restrained from doing so by the grace of God. The storm has long passed and, like any storm, has left much debris in its wake. And with regularity someone will pick up a piece of the trash that was tossed about and take it as current news, and hammer me once again.

Funny, though, I seldom even hear the ping anymore."

The Gospel of John opens with a theological introduction to the person and work of Christ. Jesus is described as The One who came into the world He created and was unknown. He came to the people He had called from all the peoples of the earth and was not received. He came as light and life to darkness and death. John the Baptizer was not the light nor the life but is described as a man sent from God to bear witness about the Light in a world of spiritual darkness. Jesus is the disrupter and John got to bear record, give testimony of the disruption.

A number of years ago, a man I know had the priviledge of running the Olympic flame across a portion of our state. He stepped out of his job, his ministry, and to a degree, away from himself as he ran that torch. Instead he became for a while the bearer of everything that flame represented. Dr. Don Howell describes a witness as "one who has abandonded neutrality, steps out of the way, and now speaks as an earnest endorser of another." This was John the Baptist, a torch-bearer.

A witness of the gospel does not herald himself, but that which is given to him. As he or she faithfully steps out of the comfort zone, one is pelted on all sides by the flaming arrows of the enemy; however, one so dedicated to delivering that message that was given will seldom hear the "ping." The sword of the Spirit is at work, shield of faith is raised, the helmet of salvation is one, the breastplate of righteousness protects, the belt of truth is cinced and the feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace tramples.

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