Monday, June 8, 2015

Where We Need to Witness

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied “it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:6-8

Jesus told the disciples that they were to be witnesses about the good news of salvation. The duty of a witness is to tell what they have experienced and seen.  In a court of law, on TV commercials and in our churches we look to witnesses to tell us their personal story in order to make a decision. We want a faithful witness that we can trust.  
When I am buying a car I always ask my mechanic, who day in and day out works on cars, what he has experienced in the repair shop with various brands of cars.  His experience is the key to his credibility.  Jesus’ disciples were credible witnesses because they had first-hand proof of the resurrection.  Jesus called on his disciples to simply tell what they had seen and heard.

Jesus wants us to do the same.  Christians, you have experienced the power of Jesus’ forgiveness and his Spirit that dwells in you for victorious living. That is what we need to share with people!  So where are we to witness?  Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth!

The disciples happened to be in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ Ascension and prior to the day of Pentecost. This was strategic because soon many visitors from other countries would be coming to Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration of the Jews.  The disciples themselves were from Galilee. Some interpret the use of “Jerusalem” to mean to witness at home first.  Galilee is not mentioned.  Jerusalem is where the most work can be done for evangelism.

“Jerusalem” is where Jesus wants us to witness.  That means we need to witness to people who are most open to the gospel.  Jesus was sent to preach the good news to the poor.  You notice he did not go to king’s palaces or even to the religious leaders to preach.  He knew the poor would be the most receptive. This still is true. Reach out to people of limited means.

“Jerusalem” also means opportune times. On the Day of Pentecost the many visitors were especially in tune with God at that time.  We need to look for those special times as well.  Let’s be more intentional about witnessing to people during times in the year like Christmas, Ash Wednesday, or Easter when people are looking to God a bit more.  Be there with your best witness not only in the church building but out in the streets. 

I know of a church that stands at street corners and offers people the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday.  This is a great ideal. It is grabbing a moment when people are most receptive and witnessing to the truth. Don’t forget that Easter Egg Hunts, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween are other key times to teach about resurrection, saints, Christian mission and martyrs.

Be a witness in strategic places of contact.  Teach children and youth in “Jerusalem.”

"Judea" means people like you.  In the case of the disciples it meant witnessing to fellow Jews.  Many Jews came to faith in Jesus because of the witness of those first apostles.  We often have a better  connection with people who are just like us.

I used to serve as the pastor at a Deaf church and we would often go on evangelism tours to other Deaf churches around the country, and I would intentionally not do all the preaching.  I would use a Deaf lay speaker to tell their story.  Deaf people will listen to another Deaf person often before they will listen to a hearing person.  It is just human nature to trust and better understand a person who is like you. 

You have “ins” with people that you associate with on a daily basis.  That gives you opportunities to talk to them about what Jesus means to you.  Recently I witnessed to a secretary in a doctor’s office.  She had seen me several times, and the topic of God came up in our conversation.  Being casually acquainted in that office opened the door for conversation.  Look for ways to witness in your “Judea.”

"Samaria" means people who are from a culture other than your own.  Jesus did not want his disciples to just stay close to home.  Samaria, though close by geographically, was an area where the Gentiles lived along with those Jews who were not full-blooded Jews. The Samaritans were Jews who had gone into exile and come back to the homeland. But they returned with an ethnic mixture and some religious practices that were different from the orthodox Jewish practices.  The famous parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told illustrated the tension between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day.

It took a lot for the early church to be willing to accept Samaritans and Gentiles.  Some believed that the gospel was only intended for the Jews, and if someone else wanted “in” on it they would have to become Jews first by adhering to the Law of Moses.  In the 15th chapter of Acts we read about Paul and Barnabas, who attended a big council meeting of the early church leaders to advocate for ministry with the Gentiles. They proved that the Holy Spirit came upon non-Jews, too, when they accepted Christ as their Savior.  Ministry to Gentiles was finally accepted, but the many restrictions of the Law were not imposed.

Jesus calls us to be willing to be cross-cultural in our witnessing.  In spite of us, or through us, our witness can still win souls for Christ.  I love the story of Rev. David Wilkerson, the famous evangelist who founded “Teen Challenge.”  It is still the most successful drug rehabilitation program after 50 years in this country. He was a humble preacher from Pennsylvania who saw something on TV one night about young people in gangs in New York City who were addicted to heroin. 

Without much consideration of his own safety or skills he went to New York and began to work with these teens.  He did not know a thing about city life or drug addiction.   He just went in obedience to a call from God, and God used him.  Now even after his death. this life-saving program lives on. 

Sometimes we have opportunities to give our witness to people who are not like us.  Cross-cultural ministry is especially challenging but not impossible. Often God calls us into fields of service where we don’t feel so sure of ourselves, and then we depend all the more on God and less on ourselves.  Be a witness in "Samaria."

Finally go to the ends of the earth with your witness!    Global mission is included here.  Jesus said that before he would come again, “The gospel must first be preached to all nations.”  That is happening  around the world now, but we are not totally there yet. 

I hope global missions is part of the intentional ministry of your congregation.   Adopt a missionary.   Go on a mission trip to another country.  Support the UM Global Ministries and its many churches and humanitarian projects.  Continue to support our UM efforts to stamp out malaria. The possibilities are endless. 

And so are the partnering opportunities.  International Christians have much to teach us about the gospel as well.  The UM churches that are growing the fastest are located on the continent of Africa and in the Philippines.  They have evangelism skills that, partnered with our resources and technology, can hasten the day of the Lord’s return. 
As sure as the sun rises, Christ will come again.  So spread the good news of Jesus’ good news, of his saving love and his promise of life everlasting for his witnesses. 

Proclaim the love of Jesus by word and deed in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  There is no time to waste.  Know that we don’t do it alone.  Jesus promised the disciples that they would have the power of the Holy Spirit with them to get the job done.  Indeed, that same power is available to you, to all of us, today as well. 

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