Perhaps you have witnessed something called a “cardboard testimony” in a worship gathering. The congregation I serve has shared in this experience twice, and both times worshippers were moved to tears. A cardboard testimony involves briefly describing a personal challenge on one side of a large piece of cardboard, then describing how God has claimed victory over the challenge on the flip-side. For example, a recovering alcoholic might write “addiction” on one side of his cardboard, and “set free by grace” on the other.
I am convinced these testimonies touch people deeply for two reasons. First, they demonstrate the power of God over our struggles, and secondly, they remind us we are not alone. This second point is what seems to take many people by surprise. They are shocked to discover how similar other people’s battles are to their own, and are inspired by the transforming work of Christ as He administers grace through His church. The living example of a wounded human being who has found healing through community is radiant.
There are many secular organizations and resources available for people who are suffering from addictions, broken relationships and other painful seasons in their lives. I believe God uses talented people in these places to administer grace in unexpected ways. However, His Bride is unique since she is cleansed by His blood and supernaturally equipped for ministry. When Christ’s love works through His church, there isn’t a force on earth that can stand against it (1 John 4:4).
The anatomy of a relationally radiant church is found throughout the pages of the New Testament. In the writings of Paul it is the result of a mind that is being transformed by God’s “good, pleasing and perfect” will (Romans 12:2). Peter says the word of God purifies us with truth, and leads us to a sincere love for our brothers (1 Peter 1:22). John reminds us Christ’s blood cleanses us and brings us into the light where we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7).
During our most recent cardboard testimony a friend of mine became confused on stage. He forgot where to stand, and when it was time to turn his card over he had trouble figuring out how which way to flip it. Some other people on stage came to his rescue. Since you don’t know my friend’s backstory you might perceive me to be uncaring when I tell you I smiled throughout his presentation. Please know, I had compassion for him, but under the circumstances I couldn’t feel sad.
My friend is a recovering alcoholic who helps lead our congregation’s Celebrate Recovery ministry. He is suffering from progressive dementia, which doctors believe may have been spurred on by years of drinking. This part of the story is discouraging and my friend and I have talked about the frustrations he faces every day of his life. But as he stood on stage that Sunday morning, somewhat disoriented, I looked to his left and his right and recognized two of our church members holding signs of addictions. Both of them had received healing through Celebrate Recovery. I saw these two hold their signs boldly in air with joy written all over their faces, and I glanced at my friend whose body was being beaten down by his disease.
I thought, “Take that Satan! You have spent years trying to destroy my friend and he stands before us now in this community of grace, flanked by two people he has plucked from your devilish arms.” My friend might have looked broken down to some, but to me he looked radiant. The whole stage glowed with the brilliance of a Savior who washes us clean and binds up our wounds through His servants.
In the church we “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). We “love one another deeply from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). We confess our sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16). Do we always do these things? No. Do we sometimes do the opposite? Yes. But when the church functions as Christ’s Bride and walks with grace, there is no greater display of God’s love.