Being a Testimony
by Lynette Woods
As any lawyer will tell you, the most important thing about a testimony is that you testify to something that you personally have witnessed, experienced, seen and heard. A judge and jury don't want to hear about what you think, what you have read, what someone else has told you, what you think you're expected to say, or even what you believe to be true; they want to hear about what you have actually seen and know to be true from your own experience. That is what a testimony is.
In religious circles, a "testimony" is usually about how bad you were until you discovered God, started going to church, became a "good Christian" and supposedly lived happily ever after. And usually the worse the person was, the "better" and the more sensational the "testimony" is considered to be. Unfortunately, these "testimonies" can be more about what the person did and what has been seen and experienced physically here in this world, than what has been genuinely seen and experienced spiritually outside of this world...
I recently read the testimony of a man who had been promiscuous, a drug addict, and was a drug dealer who ended up in prison where he reached the end of his rope and turned to God. Whenever I hear testimonies like that, I feel as though my own story is pretty boring because I was always so "good". But although I can't talk about being saved from being "bad" according to this world's definition, I can testify about being saved from being "good". And yes, I truly did need rescuing from my "goodness", such as it was!
It is far more difficult to be rescued from being good than from being bad, because when you (and others) believe that you are doing all the right things and that you are inherently good, you can't see that you are really self-righteous and proud. Goodness doesn't seem bad to us, but as they say, "good" is the biggest enemy of "best".
So what is my testimony? In a sentence: My testimony is simply one of being brought from death to Life!
My Life as a "Good Christian"
I had a very privileged upbringing in Christian terms, I was born in New Zealand, began school in Australia while my parents attended Missionary Training College in Tasmania, and grew up on the mission field in the jungles of Borneo where my parents were church planting missionaries with an interdenominational faith mission. My brother and I helped them in their work in the villages and even as a teenager I never rebelled, I did everything "by the book". I "asked Jesus into my heart" when I was just 3 years old. When I was 5 I had a dream in which I saw myself going up a ladder into heaven and God giving me gifts that I then took back down to earth to give others. It is the only dream I remember from my childhood.
From the age of 7 I remember sensing God with me and talking with Him. I was a sickly child and suffered from asthma, eczema and many allergies. A doctor told my parents that they shouldn't be taking me to the tropics, but they knew that God had called them there and trusted that He would take care of me. We moved to Indonesia when I was 8 years old, and all of my symptoms began to disappear. I never had another attack of asthma, most allergies disappeared, and the hot, humid environment was the best solution for my skin condition.
On the day we arrived in Borneo we flew straight to the small missionary children's boarding school that my brother and I would be attending. My parents were with us for a few days and then we were left in a strange country, with strange people... they were Americans (please excuse the humour, I really do love Americans)! Being left at boarding school and not seeing my parents for months at a time was something I always found hard.
When I was 10 I asked God to prove to me whether the Bible really contained His words or not, and He totally convinced me. Throughout my childhood I saw God continually supply all that we needed. My parents were part of a faith mission whose policy was to never make appeals for money or tell people what you needed, but to make your needs known only to God and allow Him to provide. Because of this I witnessed God providing for us time and time again, often miraculously.
I returned to live in New Zealand when I was 18 and my parents went back to the mission field once more. When I was 19 I prayed for a friend who had a lump on her wrist and it disappeared. When I was 20 I prayed for a woman (I didn't know her) who had collapsed in a meeting and an emergency crew was called in. After working on her they said she was dead. As I was praying for her I felt something stronger than myself rise within me, which made me declare out loud that it wasn't her time to die and she was going to live, and she did. The pastor of her church said it was because I had prayed that she lived, but it was because God intervened that she lived! It is about time that people realised that just because God speaks or works through someone, this does not mean that He endorses that person or thing (or donkey....in the case of Balaam in the Bible)! He can, and does, use many different means.
When I was 21 I met my husband Mike at a Youth For Christ camp where we were both leaders of groups of young people. Ten days before our wedding, we were in a car accident. My eyelid was so badly lacerated that they thought I would need a skin graft and there was concern about saving the eye. When the plastic surgeon was told that we were soon to be married, he decided to try his best at stitching me up instead of doing a skin graft. It took quite a few hours, but he did a great job, and my vision was fine; we were married on schedule.
As a young couple we considered going to Bible school (because that's what seriously committed Christians do) but thankfully, God prevented us. He had another "school" in mind for us! I followed my career in computer graphics, and Mike followed his career in the education sector. When I was 27, due to being a new mother, losing my income, and having recently moved into our newly built home, we owed quite a sum of money to a company. We received the final notice and after praying about what to do about it, I felt God say that I was to write out a cheque for the amount we owed and post it, even though we didn't have the money in our bank account. So I did. The very next day in the post we received a totally unexpected cheque (I think it was a tax rebate) which completely covered the amount!
When I was 30, anyone looking on would have thought we had it made: we were a healthy young couple with two beautiful young children. We were living in a stunning architecturally designed home on top of a hill in our capital city with great views out over the sea. We were active in our church where I was in leadership. And then something happened which changed my whole life. Many of my closest friends won't know all these other details about my life, but they DO know about this, because to me those other things are not nearly as important as what happened to me at this time; it was life-changing and completely eclipses everything else in my life. But absolutely nothing happened that you could see outwardly. It was inwardly that everything changed: God brought me to Life.
A Change of Heart and Life
Now, remember that I was a "good" Christian: I had done, and was doing, all the right things. I had all the knowledge of Christianity. I knew, read and taught the Bible. I went to church regularly, as well as many other meetings, and we were leaders in the church. But then God began to open my eyes... and I saw things I'd never seen before. God is always after truth and reality and truth and reality is what He required from me. I saw the truth: that I was rotten to the core, and my being good, doing all the right things, and my "righteousness" meant absolutely nothing. There is only One who perfectly pleases God: His Son. I cried many tears because I saw how self-sufficient and proud I had been.
With my eyes now opened here is what I saw: I thought I had been a very good born-again Christian; a totally committed, Spirit-filled follower of Jesus Christ, when I really was a spiritually promiscuous drug addict and drug dealer. The drug that I was hooked on was "Christianity" or more precisely, Churchianity: the church was my life and I was in love with things about Christ instead of Christ Himself; a religion instead of a relationship. I was addicted to the Christian religion and addicted to going to church and everything about church (as most Christians are); it was my life... and that is a very telling statement. I had to get my regular fix of it every week. And I sold it to others as if it would solve all their problems. The church was in the place of Christ in my life; it was my god/idol. I had been a spiritual prostitute. I had loved many church bodies instead of one Body: Christ. These churches and the people in them had been my focus and my loves instead of Christ. I had no idea that I needed saving from myself and from my religion. I was a hypocrite and I did not deserve this new Life that God was now breathing into me.
Now, you may think that isn't very bad. That's not as bad as being a "real" prostitute or drug dealer, you may say... Well, let me ask you this: which is more important in terms of eternity; your physical life or your spiritual life?
Of course it is your spiritual life because our physical life ceases to exist after just a short period of time, but your spirit will live on forever. So what is believed and done by us spiritually now, has eternal ramifications.
Thankfully, God was dealing with both Mike and I at the same time in similar ways, so we were both hearing the same thing and were prepared to do whatever God asked of us. The very last thing we expected Him to do was ask us to leave the church, but that is exactly what He asked us to do was really the best test ever of whether we really trusted Him or not. We had never heard of anybody being called out of the church before, but we trusted God in this, it was a step of faith even though at the time we didn't even know why He was telling us to leave. All we knew was that we had to make that first step and then He would show us what was next. What was next wasn't easy, but was necessary... it was a baptism of fire.
Just as Saul of Tarsus thought that he had been doing exactly what God wanted, so did I. And just as he needed to be struck down by the Light of Christ to see what he was doing and who Jesus Christ really is, so did I. Each of us needs a Damascus Road experience to show us who He really is, and who we really are. This experience of seeing Him will do what nothing else can ever do: it will completely turn us around so that we can never go back to what we were before. Why? Because we have SEEN and we have HEARD! Once you have seen something, you cannot un-see it; you've SEEN! My testimony is that God not only can, but DOES save and rescue people from themselves, from this world, and from religion. Death completely separates us from those we love and it is exactly the same with spiritual death - it separates God from those He loves: US. We are all spiritually dead (which means being separated from God) until He breathes His Life into us. He loves us so much and desires to have a close relationship with us as a Father has with His children, but that relationship and intimacy is not possible unless we are alive to Him, born from above as His children with His Life in us. The problem with someone like me who was raised in the church, was that I thought because I had done all the right things, that I was part of Christ and His Body when really I was part of something man-made: the church.
T. Austin-Sparks wrote, "Religion can be the greatest enemy of God’s true thought, because it is Satan’s best deception... If we were writing a treatise, we could show that what is called 'Christianity' is really the greatest enemy of Christ." And what a miracle it is that God saved me from that great enemy! The Bible became a new book overnight; it was full of meaning and full of Life as God Himself taught me from it, often teaching me things that were the opposite of what I had been taught. I couldn't believe how clearly He has put things in the Bible and yet how I had never seen it; it had all been veiled from me! He began to strip me of everything I had been taught by man and instead taught me His Way, Truth and Life Himself.
We began to see some of the reasons why God told us to leave the church and it was not a pretty picture. Mercifully, this didn't all come at once, it was a progressive thing, and the more we saw, the more we were released from the bondage and addiction that religion had in our lives. Seeing can be a very painful thing, because you see the good as well as the bad. At one point I was crying to God, saying that it was just too painful. He asked me if I would rather not see... I realised that I had a choice: there was a cost to seeing, and I decided that I wanted to see, no matter what it cost. I wanted the truth at all costs. In the language of The Matrix, I was being offered the red pill (an excellent illustration of this is given here: www.awildernessvoice.com/Matrix.html).
When Paul saw the truth, he was a changed man. Nothing but God could have changed him so drastically and delivered him from the clutches of religion. He was hounded by the very religion he had previously served. He had to run for his life. We didn't expect to be attacked and maligned by our "church family" because of leaving, although in hindsight we should have expected it! In many ways we were very naive; we were just doing what we had heard God tell us to do: leave the church. But religion is always out to kill Christ and His Life and it is no different today than it was two thousand years ago... and we had our own experience of this when God called us out of the church. It was a very difficult time and that is another story in itself! We felt like contagious lepers and none of those who we had thought were our friends in the church stayed in contact with us. We were outcasts... and so we learned about life with Jesus "outside the camp" (Heb. 13:13).
The Journey Onward and Upward
Living outside the camp doesn't mean things were easy - Jesus promised His followers difficulty (John 15:18-20), not a life of ease! When I was 33 our beautiful 6 year old daughter poured boiling hot water onto her face and chest. Layers of her skin were peeling off... she suffered second degree burns on her face and chest. We were having a break in a remote area with no telephone, so we had to use a neighbour's phone to call for an ambulance. The emergency doctor gave us pain killers to give her as needed. I stayed up most of the night praying for her. I would rather have been burned myself than have my child suffer and I realised just a little of how God felt in seeing His Son suffer on the Cross. Amazingly, my daughter slept fine, and needed NO pain killers whatsoever, not even the next day. She said that the burns didn't hurt; at all! That, to me, was such a miracle! After weeks of dressings, the doctors could not believe how well her skin had healed, to the point that there was no scarring whatsoever. This, on a girl who scars easily, and had a small scar on her cheek for years from the scratch of a playmate's fingernail at age 3!
A few months later, my husband, who had been very unwell for 9 months with something that the doctors couldn't diagnose, got to the point where he was so sick and weak that he could no longer keep any liquids down or get out of bed. I couldn't get him to the car so an ambulance took him to the hospital where they put him on a drip to rehydrate him. Finally they diagnosed his illness and proceeded to treat it, but in doing so, sent his body into shock with tonic-clonic seizures and he almost died. The doctors in the emergency room all left their patients to work on Mike who had a blood pressure of only 40/20. After a couple of days in ICU, he was a new man, they knew what was wrong with him (Addisons disease) and how to treat it. He was home in five days feeling the best he had felt in many months!
While Mike was sick we had put our house on the market. With Mike not able to work for months, and me at home with our two young children, we felt we needed to sell the house and pay off the mortgage in order to survive financially. We felt very at peace about this, in fact, God gave us great peace throughout the whole ordeal of Mike's sickness, to the point that our Doctor later apologised, saying that he had wrongly interpreted our peacefulness to mean that things weren't as bad as they really were!
When God had called us out of the church, we had also felt called to leave our home and country and were ready to sell our house. We thought that perhaps God was using Mike's sickness as the trigger to get the house sold. But it was on the market for six months with no buyer. So with Mike recovered, we took it off the market again. A few months later, out of the blue someone knocked on our door to ask if the house was still for sale. On a date that was significant to us (it was the same date that God had told us we were to leave the church three years previously) they made a cash offer and we sold the house for the amount we had been asking!
By this time we had made friends online with others who had also heard God call them out of the church. They too, had also suffered the consequences. Strangely enough, none of them lived in our own country, they were all in the USA. We made our first trip to the States to meet some of these friends in 1999. We also set up the Unveiling website the same year in order to share some of the things that God had been showing us.
Two years later, when again on a visit to the USA, a friend showed us a couple of books by an author who had written many books between 1925 and his death in 1971, T. Austin-Sparks. We hadn't ever heard of him. After skimming through the books, I knew we just had to get them to read, as so much of what was written in them was exactly what God Himself had been teaching and showing us. It turned out that many of his books were available readily and for free. Upon receiving them, I devoured them! We had looked online for books by this author when we had first heard of him. However, we had found virtually nothing online. We felt that putting his messages onto a website was something that God was calling us to do. There were too many of his books to put on the Unveiling website, so we set up a separate website dedicated to his writings.
We had no idea how large this website would get, God in His wisdom prevented us from knowing that or we might never have started it! This website www.austin-sparks.net now contains an online library of messages by T. Austin-Sparks and is available in several languages. Although the website takes a lot of my time and work, it has not felt like "work" at all because the messages are so full of the Life and Light of God that they are a delight to work with! In the "Other Authors" section of Unveiling.org, you will find messages from some other authors who featured in Mr Austin-Sparks' magazine, "A Witness and A Testimony".
When I was 40, something else happened that could only be God. We moved to the USA for a term of four years. When God had called us out of the church 9 years before this, we had also felt that He was calling us out of our country of New Zealand, to go wherever He said. The place we felt He was calling us to go to was the USA. We felt ready to go, so we proceeded to "help God" make it happen and got our passports up to date. Then God clearly told us to wait. We had no idea why, and thought He must mean next year... We didn't know that it would be 9 years later, and it was best that we didn't know the wait would be that long! Like anything with God, trusting Him is the best policy. The way He got us there was far beyond anything we could have imagined: we were sent as diplomats to our Embassy in Washington DC. Arranging of visas, travel, accounts, housing etc. was all taken care of for us; we lived in accommodation rented for us in the name of the Queen of England, while we were living for the King of all kings! Even the job in the Embassy itself was a small miracle, as the job was a new position. Mike was selected out of quite a number of applicants.
Now, when I read through all this, it is quite a testimony to the many ways that God works. He has done so much for us and with us and through us... and yet, by far the greatest miracle and the greatest testimony of it all to me is not the many things He has done for us, but it is what He has done in us: reproducing His Life. This eternal and everlasting Life that is living in me every day is the greatest testimony and greatest miracle of all! This Life is the greatest testimony any one of us can possibly have. It was this Life that opened my eyes to see my true state and to see Him. It was this Life that not only saved me from that state of death, but is continuing to reclaim every part of me, replacing my old life with His new Life.
Christ is my Life and my testimony; this is what I have seen and witnessed. It is Life... "but not as we've known it" because it is in the spiritual and not the physical realm. That phrase (which I have often used on Unveiling) is from Star Trek - "It's life Jim, but not as we've known it"! The phrase turns out to have been very appropriate. So much on this journey has been the opposite of what we had thought and expected, it has been "not as we've known it". It is an exciting journey of discovery!
If this Life is your testimony too, then I celebrate Him with you! And if not, then please be real and honest with yourself and with God. Give up on going your own way and ask Him to bring you into this Life that He is longing to share with you, for you will never regret it! As Jesus Himself said, "I am the Door (the Way in) anyone who enters in through Me will be saved (will live). He will come in and he will go out [freely], and will find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy Life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)." (John 10:9-10 AMP). This is what we were born for: to be in close, intimate relationship with this One who loves us so very much and wants to share His Life, heart and mind with us. The God of this universe wants to be our friend, our love, our Life! That is so amazing and mind-blowing! This Life that He gives us propels us on into a life of continual unveiling as we discover: "Christ: The final frontier... our mission: to explore strange new worlds... to seek out new Life; to boldly go where no one has gone before!" And we say with Him: "Make it so!"
The Word of Life existed from the beginning. We have heard it. We have seen it. We observed and touched it. This Life was revealed to us. We have seen it, and we testify about it. This is the Testimony: that God has given us His Life and this Life is in His Son. 1 John 1:1-2; 5:11