GOD’S WITNESS, NOT HIS LAWYER.
(Sanctuary Life Magazine Feb 2012)
When I was studying to be a minister of the Gospel, my student churches were two adjacent wooden churches in the inner slum areas of Melbourne. For seven years during the 1950’s and 1960’s the people of those inner slum areas were my parish.
As I kept asking myself what it was that I should preach, I kept coming back to the one word: Jesus. I should preach Jesus. I became quite enthused with the thought of sharing with other people my understanding about Jesus.
In brief I became fascinated with the person and doctrine of Jesus Christ. He really is the central character of the centuries. The more I taught about him the more people came, and then as miracles of God’s grace people’s lives were changed through the friendship of Jesus.
I remember the night Big Bazza came walking to the front. Big of build, wide of shoulder and unshaven in appearance with slicked long black hair, Bazza was at church because I had insisted he come. I had just been appointed a Probation Officer, the youngest in the State and the only one who worked in the inner slum areas. I was determined that Bazza should come under the influence of the friendship of Jesus and insisted as part of his probation that he meet with me three times a week and on Sunday night as well.
One Sunday night when I gave the invitation for people to come forward to accept Christ as Lord, Big Bazza in his leather jacket and swept back black hair, came to the front and stood with bowed head, with tears streaming down his face. I asked him why he had come forward and he said “Because I want to find Jesus as my friend too. If Jesus can be my friend, I am sure He can make me a different person. He is the sort of mate a guy ought to have.”
The miracle of the Gospel worked in the life of Big Bazza. The friendship of Jesus became real to him. He was baptised, became a member of the Church, Vice President of the Youth Fellowship, a hard working industrious person who kept out of trouble.
Jesus had said “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.”. Somehow we had stumbled upon one of the everlasting truths of the Gospel. If we present Jesus according to the Scriptures, and then get out of the way ourselves, His friendship can change lives today.
Men and women and young people began to crowd the church, enjoy the singing but more than that, they responded to Jesus as Friend and Lord of their lives.
My understanding was confirmed in a remarkable way not long afterwards.
To Melbourne on a visit came the great Methodist missionary to India Dr. E. Stanley Jones. He was an elderly man in his middle eighties but he still had vibrancy in his voice and an enthusiasm in his speaking. I had read one or two of his books and had been greatly impressed.
I rode my BSA 500 motor bike to the Methodist Church one night to hear him speak and afterwards he gave opportunity for questions. I asked him a question about what a young preacher should concentrate on in preaching and he answered by telling a story of how he first started as a young preacher.
“When I first preached, I had prepared thoroughly and a large crowd was present, large for the little church. All of my relatives came and the Jones family is a large one! They were all anxious that the young man should do well. I began on a rather high key too high. I used a word I had never used before and I have never used since the word “indifferentism”. A young lady attending a college put down her head and smiled. It so unnerved me that when I came back to the thread of my discourse again, it was gone! My mind was a blank. I could not think of a thing to say. I did not know how long I stood there inwardly clutching wildly for something to say but nothing would come.
“I finally managed to blurt out ‘well friends, I am sorry to tell you, that I have forgotten my sermon.’ After about six sentences and a stumble over the word indifferentism I stumbled into complete failure
“So I left the pulpit and went down to my seat in shame and confusion for I felt I did not belong up there in the pulpit. I was about to take my seat in the front row when God spoke to me: ‘Haven’t I done anything for you?’ And I replied: ‘Why yes Lord, of course you have.’ ‘Then couldn’t you tell that?’ And I decided that perhaps I could.
“So instead of taking my seat I came round in front and said ‘Friends, as you see I cannot preach, but you know my life before and after conversion and while I can’t preach, I do love Jesus, and I’ll witness for Him for the balance of my days.’
“I said some more things like that to fill in the awful blank.
“But a strange thing happened. Stanley Warfield, a young man came up to me and said earnestly, ‘Stanley I want to find what you have found.’
“I have often wondered what he saw amid the wreckage of things that night that he so wanted. But evidently there was something there, so we knelt at the altar together and he was converted, soundly converted. He became a minister and his daughter became a missionary in Africa.
“As a lawyer for God, putting up His case, I was a failure. As a witness for God, telling what He had done for me. I was a success. In a flash I saw the nature of my ministry, I was to be a witness to Jesus.”
Dr. E. Stanley Jones looked at me for a long time. He did not need to say anything else. I had understood. In my own hesitant and stumbling way I had made the same discovery. I was not to argue God’s cause about creationism, or to be His lawyer on the philosophy of ages, nor match my skill in political or economic theory. My task was to lift up the friendship of Jesus and be His witness.
For the last fifty years, in more than 400 country towns and cities in Australia and in a score of countries overseas I have simply been His witness, telling of the friendship of Jesus.