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Let Them Know
May 19, 1996

ACTS 1:1-11

Have you ever been a witness in a trial? In Modesto, I was called to identify some items that had been stolen from our church offices, and recovered by the police. Because of the O. J. Simpson trial, Matlock, Perry Mason, and the plethora of novels about courtroom dramas, we now are experts on how to witness!

Jesus commissions us all to be witnesses. The resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples, talked to them, commissioned them, and then disappeared into the clouds. We, the disciples of today, are the Body of Christ living in the interim between the resurrection and final triumphant victory. This is not a time to stand around gazing into heaven. Can't you see the disciples standing there, awe-struck, gazing upward with their mouths open, dumfounded, watching? The angel reprimanded the disciples, "Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" Jesus had told them, "Get busy." He told them two things: "You will receive power" which we will discuss next week on Pentecost; and, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Jesus commissioned them and us to be witnesses. Some of you have the spiritual gift of evangelism, the gift to spread the gospel and bring people to belief in Christ. But, all the disciples were commissioned to be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. We are all commissioned to be witnesses, in Merced, Merced County, Stanislaus and Madera Counties, and to the ends of the earth. The phrase, ends of the earth, assumes a flat earth. Beginning with the Genesis creation accounts, the Bible assumes a flat earth. But, let's not get technical or geographically sensitive. We get the point. There are no boundaries on our witnessing. We are commissioned to tell the world, to let them know, to witness.

From our TV and novel expertise in courtroom drama, we know that a witness is asked and allowed to tell what you have seen and heard. A witness is not allowed to draw conclusions. If you do, the other side's lawyer will object. A witness is not required, in fact, not even allowed, to indulge in theology, to go into detail on the meaning of your testimony. As a witness, you tell what you have seen, heard, and personally experienced. A witness is not allowed to indulge in hearsay, to tell what God has done in Mrs. McGillicuddy's life. A witness is restricted to your own experience. Let them know what you have seen, heard, felt, and experienced.

Don't let witnessing frighten you! Don't be intimidated. Don't make witnessing too difficult. Actually, you are witnessing by everything you say and do. Your life is a witness. Probably where most of us fall down is not making it clear to others what God has done for us. Many of us find it difficult to give vocal credit to Jesus.

When others are struggling, when others are facing crises, when others are seeking answers, take advantage of every opportunity to say, "Let me tell about Jesus. Let me tell you how God has worked and is working in my life." Let them know what you have seen and heard, and give credit to Jesus. It is quite appropriate to use praise language. For example, it is quite appropriate for me to tell you that I have the most precious granddaughters in the world. They are the loveliest, sweetest, most beautiful, most wonderful granddaughters in the whole world. You all understand that kind of language. You smile, nod, and politely accept my plaudits. What is not appropriate, and what you will not accept politely, is if I would say, "My granddaughters are better than your grandchildren!" Then, I have crossed the line!

It is appropriate to use praise language when witnessing. Jesus is the sweetest name I know. There's something about that name, a name which is above every name. He is the way, the truth, and the life. O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth! For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great King over all the earth. That is praise language. That is witness talk. What is not appropriate is for us to say to others, "My God is better than your God. My religion is better than your religion. My religion is the only true religion. My religion is right; yours is wrong." Then, we have crossed the line into offensive. Then, we have a fight on our hands. Then, we have made enemies. Then, we are not witnessing. To witness is to let them know what you have seen and heard. Let them know what God has done and is doing in your life.

You can also witness by doing for others in the name of Jesus. A man in a luxury car approached the toll booth, but the attendant refused to take his money. Instead, the attendant handed the driver a business card, and said his toll had been paid by the man in the car in front of him, "with his compliments." The surprised driver took the business card, discovered it was from a stockbroker, turned the card over, and read a handwritten message, "If you think this unusual, you should see how I trade stocks and bonds." Creative! Next time you are in line at the supermarket, let the person behind you take your place "in the name of Jesus." That ought to spark some conversation! Or, weird looks! Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty "in the name of Jesus."

We all witness by our lives and by all that we do. Are you happy with the witness you are making with your life? 6'8" 285 lb. football player for Michigan State, Colts and Raiders, Bubba Smith swore off selling beer. He was probably the first athlete to give up a lucrative, stupendously easy job making beer commercials because he decided it was wrong! He sold a ton of beer making cute television ads, but he gave it up. Here is what he said,

I went back to Michigan State for the homecoming parade. I was the grand marshall and people were yelling. But, they weren't yelling, "Go, State, go!" They were yelling, "Tastes great!" "Less Filling!" Then we go to the stadium. Everyone in the stands is drunk. It was like I was contributing to alcohol, and I don't drink. It made me realize I was doing something I didn't want to do. I was with my brother, Tody, who is my agent. I told him, "Tody, I'll never do another Lite beer commercial." He almost fainted. That was hard to give up, especially for me, being a black athlete. It's hard to get commercial endorsements. I loved doing the commercials, but I didn't like the effect it was having on a lot of little people. Kids would come up to me on the street and recite lines from my commercials, verbatim. They knew the lines better than I did. It was scary.

Bubba Smith gave up lots of money because he didn't like the witness he was making. You witness with your life, by the way you live. Are you happy with your life, with the witness your life is making?

We witness with our lives. Let's also witness with our words. Give vocal credit to Jesus. Tell others about Jesus-- what you have seen, what you have heard, and what you have experienced. Use praise language. But, there is also another form of witnessing. Sometimes, words aren't necessary. When you can witness on a deep, spiritual level, words are not necessary. Silence sometimes scares us. We want to fill the void with chatter. Sometimes chatter is not necessary. Barbara Stevenson, our Administrative Assistant, gave me a copy of the new book, A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Actually, she gave it to me on her birthday! How is that for a precedent! Please listen to Afternoon in the Park, by Julie A. Manhan,

There once was a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his suitcase with Twinkies and a six-pack of root beer and he started his journey.

When he had gone about three blocks, he met an old woman. She was sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons. The boy sat down next to her and opened his suitcase. He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed that the old lady looked hungry, so he offered her a Twinkie. She gratefully accepted it and smiled at him. Her smile was so pretty that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered her a root beer. Once again she smiled at him. The boy was delighted!

They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word.

As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he had gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old woman and gave her a hug. She gave him her biggest smile ever.

When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face.

She asked him, "What did you do today that made you so happy?"

He replied, "I had lunch with God." But before his mother could respond, he added, "You know what? She's got the most beautiful smile I've ever seen!"

Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home.

Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and he asked, "Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?"

She replied, "I ate Twinkies in the park with God." But before her son responded, she added, "You know, he's much younger than I expected."

Don't underestimate the power of a loving, generous act of sharing. Don't underestimate the power of a smile. You will be my witnesses, commissioned Jesus. You witness by everything you do, everything you say, and even by what you don't say.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris