witness

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [Acts 1:8]

Beyond the fact that this is one of my absolute favorite verses, and there are plenty of people that are tired of hearing about it, God tends to reveal different focuses through the words at different times. Being a witness and having a witness are two totally different things. One is what Jesus calls us to be. The other is how our actions are perceived by others.

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he hung out with prostitutes?

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he went to dinner with a tax collector?

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he touched lepers?

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he told a murderer he would see him in Paradise?

This is why the Pharisees had such a problem with Jesus. His actions went against their ‘rules,’ but what they didn’t understand is that the rules were his to break since the Pharisees had morphed them into something that was never intended.

Christians get held to a higher standard, and that frustrates me, simply because we are the ones that know the cost of our sin and live as forgiven believers of the God who reigns over the universe. Just because I choose to be a believer, does not make me less human. It means I am acknowledging who I am as a human, and struggling through the sin that comes so naturally. I cannot stop sinning. That is unrealistic. It also does not make me a hypocrite. It makes me real, and not a believer who feels they have to hide what non-believers would term as questionable behavior for a righteous person. I am not righteous, unless you are saying I respond to injustice…then yes, yes I am. I answer to God alone, which means I rest in his mercy and grace.

Believers should be the most real people living in this world.

We should be the ones that are an outward example of real grace. In our own lives, as well as giving that grace to others in radical ways.

We should be what others look at and say, ‘Maybe there is something to the whole God thing. Maybe he is real. Maybe life could be freeing with God.’ So that God can have that conversation with them, because their salvation is not dependent on us. It is dependent on the truth of the Gospel. I pray you hear that, because we need to get out of the way of God doing what God does. Takes the pressure off, right? Credit for salvation never belongs in the hands of a human. God gets the glory…every time.

I was once heading out with a mission team that was a mix of people who find themselves in a pew on Sunday morning, people who would never set foot in church and others who used to but don’t anymore. I love it when God throws those mixes together, because you never know what God is going to do among those people and what transformation will happen while serving.

As we were preparing to leave, I was carrying a heavy box and dropped it on my toe and said, ‘Ah, shit!’

One of the other team members was right next to me, and looked over startled. I apologized, shrugged and said, ‘Sometimes things fly out of my mouth.’

The team member looked at me and replied, ‘I was nervous about hanging out with church people this weekend. We are going to get along just fine.’

It started a great friendship. It also started a new commitment to church in that team members’ life.

All because I am comfortable in the grace I received from a Savior that paid the ultimate price for me, and God breaks through walls that have been built for years in those moments. As well as using the realness we are comfortable with in our relationship with God.

I saw a physical wall fall down between that team member and the rest of the team that day. This example has come up a lot through story telling in my missional community. So much so that most of us like the idea of an ‘F-Bomb Ministry.’ I know. Scandalous. Take a breath for a second, and realize this is a solid idea to reach out to people who believe that ‘Christians’ are too good to associate with ‘sinners.’ We are ALL sinners, folks. When we all step back and realized this, God’s glory is going to burst through a redeemed people.

I have a filter, and sometimes it is looser than other times. But the reality is there are a plethora of people in this world that hold Christians to a higher standard, because Christians have chosen to fake righteousness. Their righteousness isn’t real. It’s just hiding what they think showing others will tarnish how Jesus is revealed. But consider how Jesus lived. His reputation was awful based on the people he hung out with…but while he was with them the Kingdom of God was evident and a Savior was revealed. The Holy Spirit flowed not only on them, but THROUGH them.

The Pharisees were righteous…and look what their beliefs did to not only the believers at the time in martyring them, but in hanging Jesus to a tree.

I’m not interested in being fake, and I’m certainly not interested in tarnishing Jesus. Some would argue my inability to filter all cuss words out of my vocabulary is an awful habit for a believer. Others would argue that since I have a penchant for vodka I cannot possibly be able to serve as a witness for Jesus.

To that I call bullshit.

I respect what God is saying in the lives of others, and I adapt my behavior to show respect to those believers. We are all on a journey with God, and for all I know what he is telling them is what God could be convicting me of tomorrow. However, my journey with God has led me to be comfortable with who he has created me to be and that comfort manifests in all areas of my life. What defines me is his love for me, my love for him and how he has called me to be a witness to what he has done in my life throughout the world.

I mess up. I make mistakes. I hurt people I don’t intend to hurt. But at the end of the day, I am embraced by the loving God who unconditionally covers me with love and grace. The God who loves my quirks. The God who, I imagine, laughs when I do stupid things. The God who smiles when I am holding a kid who needs to be held. The God who knows I will go where he sends me. The God who knows when my filter will be slammed in place…and when it won’t.

Don’t take this post as reinforcement to sin blatantly and outlandishly, I fully recognize there are boundaries. But do take this post as a reminder to talk with God about the parts of you that are hidden and the parts of you that are not. Jesus has put a calling on your life to be his witness, and he is revealed through all of you, because he has redeemed you wholly…not in pieces. And that is good news for a sinful world that needs a lot more witnesses to what Jesus has done in the lives of his people ‘in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’

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As I sit here typing this, the sounds that surround me are the Pathways kids arguing about a foul while they play basketball, which quickly turns into girlish giggles and taunts…from boys. There is Creole floating over the wall from the village next door. A baby crying. A plane coming in for a landing at the airport. The tap tap honking as it passes another car on the road. The breeze fluttering through the trees. Goats yelping. Basketball bouncing. Rooster crowing. The fan whirling above me. The buzz of electricity. A gecko squeals. Someone help that goat, its head is probably caught in a can…it won’t stop ‘meh-ing.’ More roosters. Laughter from the community of kids next door.

Wherever you are reading this, close your eyes for a moment and listen to what surrounds you.

God has put you in that place.

In this unlikeliest of places, he has placed me. He has placed you. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the grace of the God over the entire universe…you have been placed and have the opportunity to encounter the one who placed you.

I have had Exodus 33 ringing in my head for almost 2 months. Moses finds himself yet again in the unlikeliest of places while trying to lead a people that have been placed with him…who refuse to actually do what they are supposed to be doing. Moses says to God, this being the ‘Stephanie Abbreviated Version,’ of course…Moses says to God, you have been telling me to lead these people, but clearly they are not all willing to do what I say. So which ones am I supposed to be leading? Which ones will you send with me? Then Moses asks for God to teach him his ways, so that he can know him and continue to please God. And God replies:

‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’

There is the sarcastic, human part of me that would have said, ‘God. Come on. We’ve been hanging out. You are already with me, I just want to know who else you are sending with me.’ But there is the other part of my brain that acknowledges the relationship that Moses had with God, and that God met with him face-to-face. Moses was set apart, and placed where God needed him. It didn’t matter that Moses felt unprepared for this adventure. It didn’t matter that most ignored what he said, and continued to go back to their ‘old’ ways. It didn’t matter that he was an awful speaker. God gave him a voice, and placed him where he was supposed to speak the words and instructions God gave him. We can’t control who listens. We can only be obedient to what God asks of us.

But none of this is what has been reaching into the depths of my soul and speaking to my heart.

Moses says, ‘Now show me your glory.’

Now? After being chosen. After the burning bush. After God gives him all the signs he asks for. After all the plagues. After the exodus. After the parting of the red sea. After the manna falls from the sky that isn’t enough…so then quail comes and covers the camp. After he is given the Ten Commandments. After spending one-on-one time with God, ‘as a man speaks with his friend.’ [Exodus 33:11]

After all that…‘now show me your glory.’

You could make an argument that Moses was a bit greedy with wanting to see more of God’s glory. But aren’t we all like that? Seeing the amazing things that God does around us, then asking for more. As if what he had already done wasn’t proof enough of his love, compassion, rescuing and grace. Granting a job when there is none. Saving the life of a child. Curing someone of cancer. Freedom from the bondage of sin in our lives. Reconciliation across cultural and racial lines. Holy Spirit moments that fill us to the point of giddiness.

When we experience significant moments when it is crystal clear that the hand of God is all over a situation we ache to see more of him. We are expectant for more…and so was Moses.

It is, also, the only place in the entire Bible that someone asks God to show them his glory.

And God’s response? God the creator obliges Moses, and that same creator obliges all of us.

As you listen to the sounds around you, acknowledge that God has placed you to see his glory in all the ways his glory shows up. With your family, friends, coworkers, sports teams, grocery stores, neighbors…in all of the places that you are every single day. God shows up there, and you should be looking not only for his glory, but for the ways he is calling you to be a witness to the glory you have already seen from him. Be willing to hear his voice in however that manifests for you. Be willing to rest in the presence of God. It is where you belong, and you will feel incomplete without it.

God, show us your glory.