I’ve been working on the first edit of testimonies that will, in due time, make up a second book for the incarcerated. From what I’ve read so far in both, these true-life stories of bad apples turned saint should impart faith and bring much encouragement to inmates (and all) who think they’re beyond help.
When my husband shares of his miraculous transformation from a life of drugs and crime, to evangelist, he often begins by quoting Revelation 12:11. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. He goes on to say that our personal stories are so important to God that He placed them right next to the blood of His Son. The atoning blood of Jesus in Bill’s life—and any life, in any condition—changes everything.
Isaiah 59 refers to times of darkness and injustice, rebellion against God, and of blindness and stumbling. Sound familiar? It goes on to say that God saw that was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him (vs16). The arrival of that promised Messiah would bring back the fear of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him (vs19). Jesus is that victorious standard raised against the devil.
And we, as ambassadors of Christ, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, continue to live out and speak out that standard. People can argue all they want, that Christ’s death and resurrection are not powerful enough to change lives, to heal, to deliver, to bring restoration and reconciliation. But our own personal stories are indisputable forces to be reckoned with. Who can deny walking, talking, living epistles of Christ, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God (2 Corinthians 3:2–3)? We are trophies of Christ’s victory
. . . through us spreads and makes evident the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere. To some, we will be the fragrance of life; to others, the smell of death (2 Corinthians 2:14–16). It’s all done through the power of story. Our story in Christ.
Take the blind man in John chapter 9 for instance. To him, Jesus was the fragrance of life. To the Pharisees, this violator of their sacred Law stunk to high heaven. They questioned the man, questioned his parents. Dissatisfied with their answers, they interrogated him again. But the more they pressed the issue, the bolder he became. “Well, this is astonishing”, he finally said. “Here a Man has opened my eyes, and yet you do not know where He comes from [That is amazing!] (vs 30). Needless to say, the man received Christ that day . . . and their left foot of fellowship (vs 34, 38).
A crippled man was miraculously healed (Acts 3–4). What a wonderful fragrance of life to someone subjected to such a lowly place of begging . . . and to those who glorified God because of the miraculous incident (vs 21).
Because this deed was done at the hands of Peter and John, church leaders laid hands on them. The audacity of these two to follow in the footsteps of One so disruptive to their tradition! They promptly hauled them in for questioning.
Peter and John’s explanation for such an act? They had been with Jesus. And thus, couldn’t help but speak about the things they had seen and heard . . . and experienced on account of Him. How could they not weave their own personal stories into what was said? They were fishermen turned stinky fishers of men. All because of Christ.
Paul testified of Christ at every turn. In Acts 21, despite prophetic warnings of bonds and possible death ahead in Jerusalem, he headed out just the same. And sure enough, when certain Jews noticed him in the temple, they incited a riot. Which escalated into total mayhem in the city. Paul was dragged from the temple and would have been killed, had a chief captain and his soldiers not showed in the nick of time and quieted the crowd so Paul could speak.
"Brethren and fathers, listen to the defense which I now make in your presence," he said (Acts 22:1). Paul then commenced with giving his personal testimony. Afterward, he was ushered into his next audience—the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin council (22:30). And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day” (Acts 23:1). He had indeed lived his life unashamedly before God and before people—and the council hated the fragrance of Christ he carried with him. So, they plotted his death.
The chief captain once again rescued him, whisking Paul off to Governor Felix, who, with his wife, Drusilla, heard Paul’s story numerous times over the next two years. When Porcius Festus succeeded Felix in office (24:27), Paul testified to him, to visiting king Agrippa, his wife Bernice, to military officers, and prominent citizens of the city (chapters 25, 26).
Paul’s demanding circuit then continued, when off to Rome they sent him to present his case before Caesar. Needless to say, this walking, talking, living epistle of Christ kept at it, kept spreading the fragrance of Christ to everyone aboard ship, to island natives, and finally to those in Rome (chapter 27, 28). Paul was one continual testimony of Christ to any and all who listened.
And so are we, as Christ’s story is told and retold through our own personal testimonies of transformation. Luke 12 speaks of the end times and of escalated persecution of the church for Jesus’ sake. Like Paul, it sounds like some may end up standing before an audience of kings and rulers (vs 12). We are Jesus’ flesh-and-blood connection with those around us—known and read by all men (2 Corinthians 3:2).
And it shall turn to you for a testimony (Luke 12:13). It’s the power of story.