The Power of a Witness

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The Power of a Witness.
Sermon Notes – Ps. Jim White
Sunday 3rd June, 2018

What an incredible and insightful message Fiona brought last week. I have never heard a sermon on that scripture from Luke 7 before. And yet when Fiona started quoting the words of Jesus – about what this generation is like… it just made so much sense.

Jesus said – this generation is like children in the marketplace – they are crying out to one another – “we played the flute for you and you did not dance. We mourned to you and you did not weep.”

Fiona took the time to tease out the meaning of this often bypassed scripture – but the thing that spoke to me so powerfully, was that we are part of a generation that wants to play their own tune, and demand that everyone else dance along with them. But not everyone is dancing!

We are part of a generation that wants to mourn and weep over their own lost sense of identity and purpose – crying over their own perceived lost rights to do whatever they want to do – but then to drag everyone else along to the pity party. But not everyone wants to go to the party…

Fiona thought she was getting a bit heavy about it – well welcome to part two!

But let me say straight up – there are awesome God loving, righteous, passionate people throughout all the different generations that are alive right now – young ones and old ones – and we are going to see the Holy Spirit empower every one of them to reach into our generation and reveal the true sound of heaven – not just someone else’s tune – and they will dance with true freedom and true joy.

And instead of mourning over their own sense of personal injustice, they will find healing for their soul. Many people are simply wounded and broken. Many people? Actually all of us have been wounded in one way or another!

But some have been so broken by life’s experiences – rejected – abandoned – abused – and I believe that often that demand for others to dance to their own music is ultimately a cry for someone to love them – to accept them – to understand them – to hear their story…

I think Fiona actually said that – they just want someone to see them, and acknowledge them, and tell them that they are worth something – that their life is valuable.

So the message is not – what a bunch of mis-guided, self centred rebels this generation is – but rather – how do we guide a generation that has become lost, back to the truth that they have a Father in heaven who loves them, and wants them to know Him. That their true identity and destiny can only be found in the One who created them in the first place – the One who knew them in their mother’s womb – Who knew them by name – Who had their life planned out for them before the earth was even formed – and it is an awesome plan, a plan that is good, that is filled with hope…

Everyone wants to be free to be who they are. Freedom is something we all value as a nation – but true freedom is so much more personal than that.

Real freedom comes from knowing the truth.

John 8:31-32, “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Truth and freedom go hand in hand.

There are a lot of things to be free from. Pain, hurt, past memories, mental struggles, emotional struggles, relational bondage, religious bondage, sin…

Sin is a bondage. Without Christ, we are slaves to sin. Slaves to something that robs us – and in many cases has the power to destroy us… destroy us emotionally, relationally, financially, mentally…

With a lot of these bondage’s that we can potentially struggle with, Jesus has given us the key to freedom – and it’s called repentance. We probably need to speak more about repentance, but that’s for another day…

Jesus confronted the bondage and slavery of sin, but it was religious bondage that He also often confronted…

When Paul was writing to the Church at Galatia, he was speaking into this whole area of religious bondage when he said:

Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

The Passion Translation says:

‘Let me be clear, the Anointed One has set us free—not partially, but completely and wonderfully free! We must always cherish this truth and stubbornly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past.”

But these words can apply to anything that holds us in bondage – not just religious man-made traditions, rituals and rules.

In the end, freedom is very personal – it’s found in relationship with Jesus Christ.

And this is our message to the generation that has its own agendas and own self focussed and self motivated attempts to demand that others follow them.

Freedom isn’t found in self. We’ve tried that. We tried it in the Garden of Eden. The desire to be like God and to be self exalted. We’ve tried it all throughout history – and pride and selfishness has followed us down through the ages.

Freedom is only found in Christ. The Anointed One – Jesus Christ – has made us free. It’s the truth that’s found in the Word that sets us free – because Jesus Christ and the Word are One!

We have the capacity as humans to endure the most horrific and unjust experiences to maintain personal freedom – to believe and uphold the truth. In fact, there’s something about persecution that actually fans the flame of Christian faith.

Venese and I both read different books while we were on holidays. But the theme that ran through them both was exactly the same.

Some of you have read “The Insanity of God.”

There’s one quote from that book that is profound – and it’s a comment made by someone who knows what persecution really means.

He says: “Don’t you ever give up in freedom what we would never give up in persecution – and that is our witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!”

We have freedom in this country. The threats to “religious freedom” are constantly in the media… they are like clouds bearing down upon the Christian Church – but for now, we are pretty free to live our lives the way we want – and to express our Christian faith the way we want. And as at this moment, we are not forced as a church, and I am not forced as a Pastor, to validate the worldly tunes that are being played in the market place. What I mean by that of course, is that legislation and culture may be changing at a rapid pace, but we still have some freedom of speech and freedom to what we choose.

We are not dancing to the flutes that others would like to demand that we dance to! And might I just add – as long as we are the Pastors here – we never will!

But we can all feel the pressure building. We have a number of school teachers here who teach in Christian Schools; many of you work in environments that will face increased pressure to dance to the tunes of the marketplace. So we would be blind and ignorant to not be facing the reality of these issues that are mounting before us.

But this comment about not forsaking what we have in freedom, spoke to both Venese and I while we were away… and it comes as a clarion call to us to continue to not only preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen – but to be a witness continually to the power of the resurrection – to be a witness to what it means to live life in the Spirit – living out of the resurrection life that we carry on the inside…

Let’s celebrate the fact that we have the freedom to live that life right now, not only in our church life, our home life, and our market place life – but let’s make sure that truth and freedom are established much deeper in our hearts than what’s going on outside.

Because we have a sound that is far sweeter than any other sound that could be made. And when the rubber hits the road, it’s how we live life from the inside out that really matters.

The book I was reading was an historical novel. It involved the lives of Jews and others – before, during and after World War 2. It was set in Budapest, along the banks of the Danube, in Paris, and other cities of Europe.

The thing that gets me, is that WW11 officially ended only a decade or so before I was born. The reality is, the suffering went on for much longer. And for some of you here, you would have memories of actually living through that period of history. So in the big scheme of things, it’s not that long ago.

And yet the persecution, the torture, the murder of the Jews and Christians from all over Europe is indescribable.

The point I guess I’m making is that humanity, without God, is capable of going on such a downward slippery slide that leads eventually to the utmost evil.

But I want to share a story from “The Insanity of God.” I know a few of you have already read this book, but I’m sure you won’t mind me sharing one story.

It’s about a man named Dimitri – a man who lived with his family in a small village in Russia. When the communist regime began to squash all genuine expressions of Christian life, shutting down churches, with pastors disappearing overnight, Dimitri decided that even though he had no formal training, he thought that he could at least lead his wife and sons in bible reading, prayer and singing hymns. He did this in the face of very real danger, and regular threats from government officials.

Soon the group went from 4, to a few more neighbours, to 25, to 50, to 75 – all trying to fit into his small house, or looking in from the outside.

The police came one day during a meeting and Dimitri was severely beaten and told to stop, in front of all who were gathered there. He said he was then sacked from his job, his wife lost her job, the boys were expelled from school. He said, “little things” like that happened.

One passionate old woman confronted one of the policemen as they were walking out after beating Dimitri. She said, “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will NOT survive.” That was Tuesday. By Thursday the official had died of a heart attack.

The group soon became more than 150 people. As a result, Dimitri was sent to jail for 17 years. But this led to the most incredible part of his story.

In prison, Dimitri was the only Christian amongst 1500 hardened inmates. They would shout obscenities and insults and clang their metal cups against their cell bars every morning when Dimitri would rise at day break and sing worship songs to God. These were what he called his “heartsongs.” This went on for years, along with the torture, the beatings, the cruelty from the prison guards. All the while they were trying to break him, and get him to renounce Christ.

There’s more to the story, but just as he nearly came to the point of breaking, he heard in the Spirit, his wife and sons praying for him and singing over him from thousands of kilometres away. The guards, by the way, had told him that his family had all been killed. He thought it was a lie – And now he knew it!.

The next day, when he refused to sign the confession and renunciation of his faith that the guards had prepared, and after he had written scriptures on paper and plastered them on his cell wall, as he often did, they dragged him down the corridor in the centre of the prison, toward his execution.

I want to quote this next bit directly from the book.

“…the strangest thing happened. Before they reached the door leading to the courtyard – before stepping out into the place of execution – those 1500 hardened criminals stood to attention by their beds (just as Dimitri did every morning).

They faced the east and they began to sing. Dimitri told me that it sounded to him like the greatest choir in all of human history. Fifteen hundred criminals raised their arms and began to sing the Heartsongs that they had heard Dimitri sing to Jesus every morning for all of those years.

Dimitri‘s jailers instantly released their hold on his arms and stepped away from him in terror. One of them demanded to know, “who are you?” Demitri straightened his back and stood tall and as proud as he could. He responded, “I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is His name!” The guards returned him to his cell, and some time later, Dimitri was released and he returned to his family.”

This is Dimitri’s story. It’s a very sad, but very powerful and inspiring one.

But every one of us has our own story. We’ve all had our own battles to face. We could all be out in the marketplace ourselves demanding that everyone else mourn and join us as victims of our circumstances and brokenness….

But our story is that we we have chosen the One who has made us free – because He first chose us… He first loved us…

We are witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. We are witnesses to the power of redemption.

And I made a really interesting discovery as I researched a bit about what the word “witness” means.

We would naturally and correctly think of a witness as someone who can give a true account of something; they witness to what they have seen, what they have experienced, what they have heard…

We think of a witness as someone who testifies in a court case. They can give a first hand account of what actually happened.

And that’s who we are to be as witnesses of what Christ has done in our own lives. We can only tell the truth of who we are, who we have become, because of who Jesus is, and what He has done for us all.

But did you know that the word “witness” in the original Greek language, is “martureo”, where we also get the word martyr from?

And particularly as the early Church grew, and as people were martyred for their faith and their witness to Jesus Christ – the words witness and martyr became synonymous.

Fiona thought she was getting a bit heavy… it doesn’t get much heavier than that.

I shared the story of Dimitri, who was persecuted back in the dark days of communism… but people are being persecuted and becoming martyrs at this very moment because they are witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

So what is this message really all about? It’s about knowing freedom on the inside – it’s about knowing the truth of Christ and His Word, because that’s what makes us truly free. It’s about being a witness to what Jesus Christ has done in our own life. It’s about telling the story of why we are so passionate, so committed, so unwavering in our faith.

Just as a side note, and some information for you about what Venese and I are getting involved in with INC… We are part of a small team of Senior Pastors, helping Gary Hourigan support, coach and encourage all the churches within INC Australia that are under 75 people. It’s really a role of standing alongside these pastors as they continue to bring their churches to a place of health.

So at this stage, there are 13 churches that we personally will be connecting with. We’re overwhelmed, daunted and honoured to be part of it.

I don’t think you’ll notice any change in our role as Pastors here… but what is really important to us is knowing that Seacoast Church is doing this. Seacoast Church has come to the place of maturity and health itself where it can reach out beyond its own vision, to support the vision of other pastors and other churches. And what an awesome thing to know that what you are sowing your lives into is touching many other people, families, and churches from here right up to the Sunshine Coast.

And the reason I bring that up now, is because Gary reminded us on Thursday when we met with him at Tweed Heads, that INC is witness to an incredible story of being birthed in the supernatural power of God – and has grown through extraordinary challenges, some failures, many successes, sovereign moves of the Spirit, to become an international denomination of churches, schools, social justice centres, a university, having its own financial institution, and much more…

And amazingly, many of our churches are thriving and growing in a time when other denominations are seeing only decline.

It’s God’s story! It’s our story as a movement! We are witnesses to His story in this generation.

That’s a bit of a diversion from where we began – but let’s celebrate all that we have witnessed and are witnessing. And let’s celebrate and be witnesses to the even greater truth – and that is, we are testimony ourselves to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We have a beautiful tune of redemption to play. We have our own “heartsongs” and although not everyone will dance to them, praise God for those who will. Let’s give everyone at least the opportunity to respond.

Don’t forsake the call and the opportunity to share the resurrection life of Christ to your generation, while we have outward freedom to do so… and if the time ever comes when we are persecuted for what we believe, let’s have that revelation and that story so deeply planted in our heart, that out of that place of freedom on the inside, we will still witness to our Saviour and King.

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