My favorite football player of all time was not a Green Bay Packer (sorry Wisconsin peeps!); it is Kurt Warner. There is much in his testimony that I relate to. He grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the same place my wife grew up. He played football at Northern Iowa, which is also my alma mater. Here is what Kurt Warner has to say about his life in a nutshell:
“I was raised in the church, so faith and God were part of my life, but for me it was just kind of there only on Sundays. I always had God as a background, but I never truly accepted Jesus until I was about 25 years old. My arena league teammates (before being in the NFL), a pastor friend and my future wife were constantly asking questions about my beliefs, and I began to question where I was and whether I had really put my complete faith in God. Their questions led me to the Truth – that faith is about a relationship, and it’s about Jesus. Up to that point, I had never really considered that. I struggled for so long and so many things went against me. I was swimming upstream. When I finally gave my life over to God, it was then the joy and happiness came into my life. I realized my role here on Earth was not to throw touchdown passes and win football games, although that is the position and the platform I was given. I realize my goal is to win as many people to Jesus as possible. I have an open-door policy, where I’m able to talk about what is most important to me, and, for me, God is #1.”
Like Kurt Warner, I grew up with God only in the background of my life. I remember going to church as a kid and having agonizing boredom be my experience. When I became a teenager I dropped out of church and of really believing in God because I did not see any relevance to my life. My family and my school could give testimony that I was a weird, stubborn kid who did what he wanted to do. And it put me into a slimy pit, lost and far from God.
In all my years of church-going growing-up, I had never read my Bible. But God was gracious to me. I remembered all those sermons I heard about Jesus, and I gained a newfound sense of my own sinfulness and desire to read God’s Word. God saved me. My circumstances did not much change, but I did. My loneliness turned to joy; my aimlessness turned into purpose; and, my selfishness became a deep concern for others. My heart had been black, and what God did to change it was nothing less than miraculous.
As a young woman, Frances Havergal, author of the hymns, "Take My Life and Let It Be" and "Like a River Glorious," had a very quick temper - the kind that would explode. Afterward she would be mortified and confess it to the Lord. But then she would lose her temper, again and again. One day after a particularly bad explosion, she threw herself down by her bed and wept. She prayed, "Lord, must it always be so? Will I always have this temper to keep me humble before you?" While she was on her knees, the Lord brought a verse of Scripture in her mind: "The Egyptians whom you have seen today you will see no more forever." God spoke those words to Moses when the Egyptians pursued the Israelites to take them back into bondage. Frances Havergal related the verse to her temper and the way in which Satan wanted to use it to pull her into bondage. She saw that God could take her temper away. She asked, "Lord, could it be forever?" It seemed to her that the words came back from the Lord, "Yes. No more, forever." Her sister said that from that day Frances Havergal never again lost her temper. She trusted God, and God did a miracle.
We not only practice a personal faith, but we also have an equal responsibility to bless the church with our personal testimony of what God has done in our lives. The telling of stories in which we declare what God has done is a necessary part of building up the Body of Christ and helping the congregation move forward.
Let’s not shelve this idea of giving testimony to others as if it were only for pastors, missionaries, or other very religious people. When a person decides to play hockey in twenty-degree below-zero weather, we might think that person is a little crazy; but if they love hockey that much, more power to them. We must not think about Christianity in the same way, that if a person is passionate about Jesus and desires to tell others about what God has done for them, more power to them; just don’t expect me to go out in the cold and do that because it isn’t my thing! Take this to heart: Christianity is not a sport or a hobby; it is not a means to looking respectable; it cannot be reduced to church attendance and putting money in the offering plate. Christianity is a life, a relationship with God through Jesus. Try looking at marriage as simply showing up for supper and paying the bills and see how far that gets you!
What if you feel like you have no testimony to give? In the fall of 2000, doctors diagnosed Pastor Ed Dobson with Lou Gehrig's disease, an incurable and fatal disease. The doctors gave him two to five years to live and predicted that he would spend most of that time in a disabled condition. Shortly after he was diagnosed, Ed wanted someone to anoint him with oil and pray for healing. And he wanted someone to pray who really believed in healing. So Ed invited a friend, a Pentecostal pastor who had regular healing services, to come over and pray for him. Here's how Ed described what happened: “It was one of the most moving evenings of my entire life. He began by telling stories of people he had prayed for who were miraculously healed. He also told stories about people he had prayed for who were not healed and had passed away, receiving that ultimate and final healing. Before he prayed for me he gave me some advice: ‘"Don't become obsessed with getting healed, Ed," he said. "If you get obsessed [with getting healed], you will lose your focus. Instead, get lost in the wonder of God; who knows what he will do for you!?" This is some of the best advice I have ever received …. Since that night, I've been trying to get—and stay—lost in the wonder of God.”
Sometimes, like in the case of Frances Havergal, God completely delivers. Sometimes, like in the case of Ed Dobson, physical healing does not happen. But in both cases, they each have a personal testimony of deliverance because either we can be delivered from our problem or situation, or we can have just as much the miracle of being delivered from the need to be delivered.
New life comes not from a change of circumstances, but a change of heart. When we have a firm reliance on God; when we have a glad obedience to God; and, when we have a readiness to give testimony to God’s actions, then we are living into God’s continuing narrative of changed lives. Soli Deo Gloria.