Johnny Cash and your faith testimony

I admire people who can openly and honestly share their faith testimony with little hesitation and conviction.

It goes beyond deep commitment; it’s also a skill that comes from a comfort with public speech. I’m not too bad talking in front of a group, but certainly my preference would be to let writing do the talking.

It was under this self-evaluation I attended a seminar provocatively titled, “How to Give Your Testimony and Not Look a Dummy!” on Saturday while at the National Gathering of United Methodist Men in Nashville, Tenn.

The talk was given by Dr. R. Allen Stewart, pastor at Hartwell UMC in Hartwell, Ga. Stewart had some general tips, such as not ad-libbing it and planning it in advance, keeping it short and to the point, and to tell your faith story in a genial conversational manner.

These are all good points and Stewart is a pretty engaging guy. I can see why he likes his job and why he’s good at it.

But the thing that sticks with me the most is Johnny Cash.

Stewart used a pair of video presentations to illustrate how one’s life is part of their testimony as a person and a Christian.

First he showed pictures of himself and his wife at different points in their relationship, his two athletic college-attending daughters and his middle school-aged daughter. It was clear that he cherished his relationship with his family and saw it central to his walk with God.

Next he showed a video Cash did in 2002. It was released about a year before his wife June died in May 2003. Johnny Cash died shortly thereafter in September 2003.

As soon as it began playing, I recognized it immediately; it’s one of the most striking music videos you’ll likely ever see. Cash was covering the song “Hurt” written by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. Since you can watch the video here I won’t spell it out for you, the images speak for themselves of a dying man looking back with regret on his life.

The lyrics refer a few times to being left behind with an “empire of dirt.” It’s like saying in the final stages of life that your existence was nothing but accumulated junk. This is especially poignant for a music celebrity who amassed great wealth at points during his career.

The video certainly seems at least semi-autobiographical for Cash. He battled drug addiction during his career. He was anything but a mass-produced pop country superstar.

Many Christians think they aren’t facing an empire of dirt, that they have a future to look forward to beyond physical death. How we avoid those feelings and how we internalize our relationship with God through prayer, outside of even sharing it with others, will inescapably shape how we feel and deal with serious illness or end of life situations.

One good way to think of sharing those beliefs is well-summed up in Philemon 1:6, which Stewart highlighted with the audience: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.”



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