[A project corresponding to the paper: What Marshall McLuhan has to do with Jesus Christ]
The first time I was asked to “share my testimony” was during my senior year of high school on my senior trip. I went to a small, Christian school (called Wilmington Christian School—try chanting that at sports games), so looking back I am surprised testimony-sharing hadn’t come up before. Anyway, our faculty advisers had divided the class by gender into two different rooms in our Canadian hotel, so there were about 20 of us girls together; some were perched on beds or strewn around various chairs, but most of us were crammed on the floor. I’m pretty sure my criss-crossed legs were falling asleep and my best friends, being guys, were in the other room and I was anxious to get back to our game of cards. A lot of the girls there had been classmates since kindergarten and I had joined them at the beginning of eighth grade. Even after attending classes, playing on sports teams, eating lunches, and celebrating “Spirit Week” with them for six years, I had still not told any of them my “secret.”
During the summer before I was enrolled at WCS, I was sexually assaulted. When I showed up for eighth grade, I was still wrestling with the effects of that event. I felt ashamed of what had happened and I was embarrassed because I was automatically “different,” (which is the last thing anyone in junior high wants to be, especially the “new kid”). I felt guilty in my new friendships because I was “hiding something” from everyone; I wasn’t letting them see the “real me,” which I felt was damaged and dirty, especially compared to these Christian school kids. To counteract my fears, I had worked really hard during eighth and ninth grade to convince myself and everyone else that I was not only normal, but healthy and thriving, friendly and confident. Once that role became what was expected of me, I had to keep it up. I was outgoing, “always happy,” and things hardly ever seemed to go wrong in my life all the way through my senior year.
So when it was my turn to speak in that fancy hotel somewhere in Canada, that story is, unfortunately, the one I told. I said something about how I had Christian parents and got saved when I was four, my family was great and we had moved a few times during my childhood but aside from than that I hadn’t had many major bumps on the road of my life, and I was excited to move on to college and to keep growing closer to God. The story wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth. I copped out because I was afraid; I didn’t want to surprise anyone or go against anyone’s expectations, and I still didn’t want people to think I was different or that I had been “living a lie”. I said what they all thought I would say and left it at that. It wasn’t that I hadn’t become assured of my value and beauty in Christ after (and even as a result of) what happened that summer or that God hadn’t salvaged my dignity or self-worth since the event—He had made me very strong in my faith through what had happened and had poured His blessings into my life through the trial I had endured. But I didn’t tell anyone about any of it that night.
I missed a huge opportunity to display God’s power in my life by refusing to be vulnerable and authentic with those girls. Because I wouldn’t admit to my weaknesses, they didn’t see the fullness of God’s mighty works in my life; instead they heard a neatly packaged little story of my own gifts, achievements, and personality—the same one my lifestyle had been projecting since the start of eighth grade. I mentioned God in my testimony, I made it clear that He was important to me and my relationship with Him affected my life, but I didn’t credit Him with much, if anything, in my story. I didn’t provide the context that would have enabled His gracious deeds to shine— my fragility, my flaws, and my failures.
Paul says in II Corinthians 4:7-10 that “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” The “treasure” he is referring to is the Gospel, the precious and powerful story of God’s redemption of mankind from the punishment of death, of our ransom from the captivity of sin, and of the reconciliation of our severed relationship with Him. We not only carry that truth inside of us, but we are to actually be beacons of God’s love and faithfulness to those around us. One of my professors, Dr. Ron Sauer, summarized the rest of these verses this way, “There are two things necessary in order for us to experience the greatness of God’s power: weak bodies, and unpleasant circumstances.” Dr. Sauer’s point is that we need to confess the messes in our lives in order to know God’s strength which beams into us through our cracks. I would like to add that other people need to be allowed to see the messes in our lives in order to witness God’s strength shining out of us through our cracks. If we don’t own our brokenness, we look like we’re doing okay without God’s intervention—our stories are nothing but self-promotion.
The Gospel, the love of God for mankind expressed through the vulnerability, suffering, and sacrifice of His Son (His self) is meant to be mediated by individuals who are united with Christ in weakness, humility, and love for other men. By being real instead of air-brushing our personas, we allow others to see through us and behold our Savior. By forsaking our expectations and preferences, by letting down our walls and our pride in relationships, we give God the opportunity to use us to draw others to Himself. That’s what Jesus did; he didn’t want to die on a cross, but he laid down his life in submission to his Father because he loved Him and because he loved us. True love is selfless; it does what is best for others, not what is best for us. Making ourselves look good is loving ourselves, but allowing ourselves to be vulnerable so God looks good is loving those around us. Imitating Christ is offering ourselves—our time, our comfort levels, our gifts, our reputations, our possessions, etc.—in sacrifice for others.
Our stories are just one of the things we can give. Each of our testimonies is a unique representation of God’s greatness and salvation, our “unfair advantage” over the powers of darkness. To illustrate the idea that authentic Christian lives and relationships are the medium through which the Gospel message is meant to be communicated, I have compiled testimonies from some of my friends. I haven’t edited them, so you can hear their own voices as clearly as possible, (and they’ve each done a spectacular job writing them anyway). These are stories not like the one I shared on my senior trip—devoid of weakness, frailty, and sin—but stories of individuals’ faults, failures, and mistakes which become the platform for God, the real Hero, to speak. Our weaknesses are the stage on which God performs His awesome deeds and victories, our frailties are the canvass on which He paints His beauty and goodness, and our sin is the page on which He writes His purity and holiness. Christians are the medium of the Gospel; our lives are the message of Jesus, not of us.
[This project is dedicated to the girls in the Wilmington Christian senior class of 2006. ~Brianna]
“From my earliest childhood memories I can vividly recall being paralyzed by my fears. I was fearful that an argument between my parents would end in divorce. I dreaded going into nursing homes with my mom for fear that an elderly person would kidnap me and keep me there. I was very much afraid of the disapproving judgment of my peers and teachers at school and spent a lot of time hiding in bathrooms. There is one particular time of fear that has made an indelible impact on my life. It was the summer before seventh grade and I was going away for the first time to summer camp. The night before my mom sat me down to run down my packing list, remind me to wear sunscreen and warn me to, “Never go anywhere alone!” This caution plagued my heart with fear. The “what ifs” started running through my brain like an Olympic sprinter. Looking back, the only thing that I can say kept me from backing out was the grace of God. He had a divine appointment for me that week and if fear would have had the victory, it would have been missed.
It was there at camp that I experienced the living God for the first time. He offered me a free gift of grace through his son Jesus Christ and because of his sacrifice, my guilty heart of sin was declared innocent and I no longer had to live in bondage to fear. His grace is what has guided me from a life of fear to faith. God tells me in 2 Corinthians that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” My weakness is fear, but his answer is grace. I still struggle with fear, but God is patient with me.
My past gives testimony to his faithfulness and daily I experience his grace in new and unforeseen ways. It is my prayer to fear nothing in this life but my Lord, and to live a life of grace to others in honor of Him who has been so gracious with me.”
“While I was in jr. high I struggled with a lot of doubt. Doubt about God. Doubt about myself. Doubt that there was anything great out in the world. I was seriously questioning my faith. Is it real? Am I a follower of Jesus or a “Christian” just because it’s what my parents did? Is believing in Christ just “convenient for me at this point in my life? Will I one day wake up and realize that it’s all a sham? These were the thoughts racing through my head.
During this time I had the opportunity to go on a camping trip with a few other guys and a youth leader from a church. It was man time. Hiking, ﬁres, woods, rivers; it was glorious. I went because I thought it was going to be a bunch of guys having fun (which it was) but God used that “fun” experience to show me so much more.
The day before we left, I was hiking to the river with my bible. I think I was forced to bring the book (I had no intention of reading it). When I came to the river, I noticed that their were a number of boulders that were just within jumping distance of each other. I then hopped out, from stone to stone, into the middle of the river. I ended up on a ﬂat rock in the middle of the river about one hundred feet down stream from a waterfall. I was surrounded by the stillness of nature and I could almost see the ﬁnger prints of God.
That moment of absolute peace was breathtaking. It was then that God hit me like a freight train. I was sitting in utter beauty and magniﬁcence that had been their since the creation of the world. How could I be so blind? How could this possibly be an accident?
God shook me to my core and spoke to me through the silence and beauty of his creation. That day the Lord opened my eyes to his majesty and called me home to his grace.”
“They say beauty comes from ashes. Cliche, I thought. Until I experienced this phenomenon. After several stressful situations occurred during my freshman year of high school, I began believing that the image I saw in the mirror was fat, ugly, abhorrent. For this reason, I began regulating my caloric consumption, and I began exercising rigorously.
After my body began breaking down, I admitted my obsession with food to my mom. My mom informed my doctor, and my doctor recommended that I see a counselor. During this counseling, I learned that biological truth: I would die if I continued to starve myself. But I needed more than biological truth; I needed Biblical Truth. The basic Biblical truth that reshaped my thinking about my image is found in Psalm 139:13-16. In these verses, David praises the Lord by penning the lyrics: ”You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
I realized that desiring to change my body was insulting to my Creator, the One who had imbued me–His beloved daughter–with so much beauty. For this reason, I chose to believe the Truth that God had chosen to express great beauty when He crafted me, and began to recover; I chose to believe Truth over the lies. As my health was restored, I became passionate about helping girls who were dealing with the same struggles find, believe, and practice Truth.
My eating disorder has provided a platform for me to broadcast the beauty of believing Truth. I have dedicated my life to proclaiming Truth however God sees fit. Indeed, He has brought beauty from my ashes.”
“When I was 19 years old I was pagan sinful young man. I decided to go to New Zealand to attend a Bible school. My motives were horrible because I just wanted to go to New Zealand to travel and Bible school was a way I could get there with the support of my parents.
When I was in New Zealand I met a man named Peter Thomas. Peter was the Director of the Bible school that I attended. Something was different about him. He deeply loved Jesus and loved others. He was a great listener and very humble. He also was very wise and gave out good advice. All this to say, this man was the most Christ like individual I have ever met in my life. I was naturally drawn to him and wanted to spend time with him. However, he was a very busy man it was hard to talk him just one on one. I looked up to him and he became a role model. Eventually I had the opportunity to meet with him weekly at 6:30 in the morning for coffee and Bible reading. Three guys and I would wake up and head to his office in the morning. I loved those mornings because Peter would just pour us coffee and pour into us his wisdom. I would hang on his every word and he would teach me new things.
I became born again in New Zealand. I did not have a clue who Jesus was before I went to New Zealand. I saw Christ lived out before my eyes by one of His humble servants. He taught me about Jesus and he taught me that, “Jesus is much more than a dirty welcome mat that we wipe our feet on to get into heaven.”
I am forever changed by this man’s ministry. I now want Jesus to live his life through me to other people. I want to show Christ to others in the same way it was beautiful shown to me. I attempt to copy Peter’s method of ministry because it profoundly changed my life.”
“I began to unravel, slowly at first. I discovered that being a sophomore wasn’t exactly like being a freshman. I faced a new struggle to find where I really belonged. It seemed that the majority of the peers who had come in with me were all doing a fine job of narrowing down the melting pot of acquaintances from year one and forming meaningful connections with smaller circles of friends. I had been comfortable with the previous state of affairs but, now that the time was ripe to define a smaller, closer network of relationships, I suddenly felt incompetent to reach out to others in such a direct, vulnerable way. A sense of isolation loomed increasingly, menacingly larger and the yawning void of loneliness often stifled me. I was on the hunt for my identity. I would make small attempts at relationships during braver moments but, for the most part, I tried to blend into the background. If I didn’t really have authentic relationships, I would at least preserve any vestige that made it look like I was part of an inner circle. I’d go with the flow. That way, no one would ever turn their back on me or have any grounds to evaluate me in a negative light. Early in November, I wrote:
“I don’t say it out loud – I don’t initiate contact and unmistakable interest in the relationship – because, as I’ve only recently become aware, I feel very socially awkward. I feel that I don’t quite fit in anywhere. This is the case whether I’m immersed in the Korean or American culture. In both settings, I sense characteristics about me that don’t quite blend in and, at least to me, seem to jut out a little too conspicuously for comfort. The incongruence makes me feel unsure of myself and act even more awkwardly. Strangely, in my desire to belong and be accepted, incongruities and all, I end up retreating. My sub-conscious reasoning must go something like this: I’d rather play it safe and not risk losing whatever opinion people have of me, without really knowing me, than risk making a fool of myself by working to go deeper in relationships only to be rejected, judged, or misunderstood. In short, my desire to gain a sense of short-term belonging kills my motivation to work toward long-term intimacy.”
More than I wanted to prove to anyone else that, in some way, I truly belonged, I wanted – even needed – to prove it to myself. I viewed my lack of intimate bonds with others as a strong indicator that I was unlikable and was missing something everybody else had. Low self-esteem began to eat away at me and I beat myself to the ground with derogatory self-talk. I also began to see connections between my past experiences and my present insecurities. For the first time, I realized how deeply the previous chapters of my life story had impacted the person I was here and now.
An old score I thought I had settled with God came racing back. One of the chief characteristics of my journey through adolescence had been an ongoing mastery by self-pity, mistrust, and resentment all over a single move my family had taken when I was in elementary school. The Lord had patiently worked to lead me to the point where I could confess in full sincerity that I trusted the goodness of His plan and surrender my perspective to His. Now, the familiar question, sometimes bitter, sometimes quietly grieving, was again on my tongue: Why, Lord? Why? Why did I never receive the experience of being with peers so I could learn how to socialize? Why was I pulled out of the public and private school systems to be homeschooled for most of middle school and all of high school? Why did our church lack a sizeable youth group? Why must I currently struggle to fit in and find my place because I was never exposed to the social nuances and cues of this culture I find myself in? Even the old issue of the move crept back as I asked in desperation, Wouldn’t it have been better for me to remain in New Jersey? I was a young girl, but my peers looked up to me, God. I could have grown up in that church to be a confident, well-liked leader who could relate competently and not have this baggage to sort through. Won’t all this stuff I’m dealing with only hinder me from being truly effective for you? I can’t even talk with people! How in the world will you minister to others through bumbling me?
There were other ‘why’ questions connected with life at home, especially the relationship I shared with my mom. I found myself asking: Why did I have to face Mom’s angry outbursts? Why did she sporadically have to turn on me and tear me apart when the rest of our relationship was so good? Why couldn’t she have been physically healthy so that our family life was more consistent and stable? Why did I have to be emotionally damaged and soak in words that I believed were my deserved identity? Now I’m coping with a burden of shame and this overwhelming task of overcoming lies that I have come to believe in. I do have a voice; You have given me a voice. I can be accepted just the way I am; You have accepted me just the way I am.
It’s been a long road that often felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. But, looking back on the hard steps travelled, I can testify that the journey has indeed led somewhere – and the place He has brought me up to this point makes every ounce of yesterday’s pain worthwhile. In fighting to forge an identity aligned with His own assessment of me, I have stumbled across the treasure of His unfailing love and been re-amazed at the Gospel. In having to tell myself the truth about God and about me over and over, I have learned the tested power of His Word. It is living and active. My Father gets the final say. Through weekly group counseling, my Bible study group on campus, and the community of girls who are part of the floor’s ministry team, He has given me beautiful glimpses into the wonder of the Body of Christ and all that He intended it to be for each of its members.
Even with the good work He has done in me, I am far from finally arriving and suspect I’ll be grappling with these same issues and questions on and off for the remainder of my pilgrimage here. For now, He has been gracious to answer my prayer for closure as the semester rolls to a finish. He is filling me with a vision and hope to speak identity into people’s lives as part of my present and future ministry, and my heart wells up in gratitude that He would redeem my bruises and aches to shed abroad His truth and love to others.
He has given me a voice; therefore, it will be my highest joy and honor to use it to speak highly and rightly of Him and what He has accomplished in one daughter of His this past academic year. Every movement of His hand is guided by His heart, and His heart is unconditionally, unchangingly for us. I am now convinced that God indeed works all things together for our good – our best! – and for His own greatest glory.
As my walk with Him continues, I pray that I will place greater and greater faith in the One who is – and continues to prove that He is – perfectly faithful. His Word is true; thus, my identity is secure. His will is good; thus, my pain has a purpose.
This God whose thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and whose ways are higher than my ways, has truly withheld no good.”
“A year before I came to Christ, many things in my life were going wrong. As a sophomore in High School I was living a good life. I had a job, a car, was in the tennis team, and was looking forward to joining the soccer team in the fall. It all went downhill fast though.
It all started at home. I got home one day and my older brother, Jose was on crutches. I asked what happened and everyone just had a blank stare. Jose, one year older than me, was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma: bone cancer. He had a tumor on his left knee and would have to go through Chemotherapy for the next year, for one week every four weeks. The impact that it had on me and my family was devastating. I had to quit the tennis team and pick up more hours at work since my parents were taking time off work to take my brother to the hospital.
This led to problems with my girl friend. Today as I look back, the problems with her do not seem as bad as problems today. But for teenagers, that could be the world on their shoulders, as it was for me. I was so devastated with both of these things that I started to see another girl including my girlfriend. Three weeks passed by and I lost my virginity with her, something I didn’t even do with my girlfriend of 8 months!
My brother’s cancer, my bad relationship with my girlfriend, and having sex with another girl on the side was not the best year, but it did lead me to the best decision of my life. A neighbor of mine noticed that I was troubled and started to ask me questions. Eventually with her help, her family, and her church, I came to Christ. Christ then started to grow hunger in my life for the Scriptures. As I read more and more of the Bible, I found that Christ is the hope for healing my past, present and most of all, I can be sure that he is the healing for my future troubles.
My heart has been restored through many group Bible studies, many books, and now many classes. I am happy to even say that the girl that helped me out is my fiancée! God has worked for His kingdom in my life. I look forward to do ministry with lost teenagers having heart issues that find their “fix” in girls, and for those in the hospitals, fighting off life threatening issues like my brother. God is good.”
“God brought me through my rebellious nature. He came to me when I needed him most because my sin had taken me far away from him. I rebelled against my parents and began drinking and partying because I was convinced there wasn’t a God. I hit rock bottom when my actions led to me almost getting raped. In my darkest time, he came to me when I cried out to him. He healed me from my wounds and gave me a purpose in a life spend serving him. Now I am at school hoping he will take me to people of other nations; letting me serve HIM.”