Monday, April 01, 2013

Let's get started

So what do you do first? Share a portion of the dialog you have had with the person to whom you are witnessing, especially where the sledding gets tough or stuck. Other things to share include: the first thing the person said themes that continue to emerge in the conversation what does the person keep on repeating when did the person change the subject when did the person become more animated what were some of your responses at key points in the conversation Let's start with these clues. There are more and we will add them as we progress or submissions bring them to the forefront. Blessings!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Invitation to Listen to the Lost

I want to change the direction of this blog a bit and invite my colleagues and friends and those they touch to bring their witnessing conversations to this blog community so that together we can help each other be used by God to lead that person to His saving grace. Using the model of Story Listening I have outlined in previous posts, we can listen over each others' shoulders to the conversations we are having with those God has put in our paths. The key rule to guide us is to always keep the names and identities anonymous of those we are witnessing to and sharing in this blog. I will plan to check the blog daily for entries and give my observations as soon as I have gained insight. I invite you to do the same as we share this help in Christian love. Looking forward to the journey with you.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What Will We Tell the Children?

I never met five year old, red headed Rebekah. Yet my life has been indelibly touched by her life. It was Hugo George Zobjeck, Uncle Hoag to everyone, who introduced me to Rebekah. Rebekah died a few weeks before my first Sunday as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in western Kentucky. That Sunday during the sermon, children were moving all over the country church sanctuary, even rolling down the slope of the floor under the pews all the way to the altar. Uncle Hoag came up to me immediately after the service, apologizing for the distractions which had not bothered me. He told me how everyone in that close knit church family had performed the percussions on Rebekah’s small back, helping to loosen the mucous buildup of cystic fibrosis and give her the breath of life. His words still ring in my ears, “For us, children are a sign of life.” A few years later I held Uncle Hoag’s funeral, preaching from Joshua 4, asking “What will we tell the children?” Then and in many similar situations, I have walked through the valley of death with families, reassuring them, the children, and the child in all of us that God is faithful, just as He was to the Israelites. Placing an imaginary pile of stones in front of the gathered grief-stricken, I would build a monument in their hearts of how God frees us from the slavery of sin, just as he freed the Hebrew slaves. God saw them through the original rock and a hard place when they got caught in their exodus from Egypt between the impassable Red Sea and an approaching army of armed charioteers. The freed slaves passed safely on dry land to the other side. In 40 years of wilderness wandering God was faithful in seeing his chosen people through a dry, aimless, meaningless time in the desert. He provided guidance by day and night, food to sustain them, and leadership. Finally, at the swollen Jordan River (little more than creek in Texas terms), the children of Israel despaired at having come this far only to be prevented from entering the Promised Land. Just as before, God was faithful. Dry land guided them across the river bed. They left a pile of stones on the bank of the Jordan to remind future generations of God’s faithfulness. More recently, the Jordan River has become a metaphor for the crossing from life to death and into eternity. None of us have had full experience with that upcoming event. As I would close the service, I would remind the family that just as God had been faithful in the past, he will be faithful in death, being the first face and the hand that will reach out and welcome us and our loved ones into his everlasting arms. So, in the wake of the unspeakable horror at an elementary school in Connecticut today, what do we tell the children? What do we tell the child in each of us? Simply, God has the final word in all of our lives, not death. The ultimate power of the evil that raised it head and spewed its venom through bullets today was broken at the Cross of Jesus and the power of resurrection will vindicate the truth about evil, brokenness, sin, and the Devil himself. In the same breath, we can shout at the Gates of Hell, “You cannot, you will not have our children!” We tell our children that there is nothing that they can do or happen to them that will ever change our love for them. Just like God’s love, nothing can separate them from Him, His love, as well as our love. Now we needturn to our grieving, heartbroken nation and say in the name of freedom, liberty, and any other patriotic term we can muster, we can no longer pretend God out of our lives. We need to remind our neighbors, far and near, that the stars in the sky were not put there by some earthbound animator. Once again, we need to start living and walking by faith again--no apologies, no excuses, no fine print, no asterisks. Finally, we turn to the world community looking aghast at America and say, fatalistic belief systems will not solve the problems we face nor heal our corporate grief. Grace, love, and hope trump judgment and anonymity. Tonight, Anne and I have called our children and grandchildren, hugging them over the airwaves. We have taken this moment to remind our children what Rebekah’s short life taught me over a lifetime. What will you tell your children, the children of America and the world? What will you tell the child in you that today has been shocked, scared, outraged, numbed, searching for an almost forgotten innocence? If words fail you, remind yourself that God has cried today also. And as His tears dry, listen for Him to speak to your trembling heart. With the confidence of an eternity of faithfulness, hear Him: He WILL have the last word and IT will be a GOOD one, full of genuine hope, grace, and a lasting peace from the brokenness of our world. Blessings as we grieve together today!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Evangelism in a pluralistic world

How do we do evangelism in a pluralistic world? Our communities are filled with people of competing and conflicting faiths and beliefs, and even those who clamor for their attempt at unbelief to be believed. Perhaps the first thing we need to remember is that Christianity came into the world in a similar setting—a pluralistic world where government and its leaders were deified, multiple, competing deities clamored for attention and allegiance, and in that fullness was a vacuum that sucked the life out the spirit of everyday people. We could even go back to the beginning of God’s story of self-revelation. It came to Abraham in a land of competing deities. Moses wondered if the messenger in the burning book was also a jurisdictionally limited being. David, a man after God’s own heart, saw the God’s of the Philistines, Dagon, seemed to have clout with people. Later, reviving bull worship at the high places from the Egyptian past edged out the worship at Jerusalem, leaving a people divided in their expression of worship. The second thing to bear in mind is to remember what also has not changed over the years. God’s story of how He is at work to redeem his creation has not changed. And humanity’s story of brokenness in relationship to the Creator has not changed. The competing religions then, as well as today, sought to find God and His peace, forgiveness, hope, a place in the afterlife, and in some cases grace. That brings me to today. How do we share faith? By bringing God’s story and a person’s story together. As Leighton Ford wrote, “The aha! moment in salvation occurs at the intersection of God’s story and the lost person’s story.” The 21st century witness needs to be equipped, not with some exotic theology or dynamic business-tested sales pitch. Rather, today’s person of Kingdom faith concerned about the people who need to know Jesus, need to know God’s story, their own story of experiencing God’s story, and to know how to listen and hear that person’s story that can only be self-heard in its encounter with God’s story of redemption. Knowing God’s story is knowing the stories of Scripture. Also, the person sharing faith has to be sensitive to seeing, hearing, and feeling the movement of God’s story toward the person with whom they are sharing faith. Knowing your own story means becoming comfortable and confident in what God has done and is doing in your life. Years ago Paul Little wrote in How to Gove Away Your Faith that if a person waked in the room with a fried egg hanging off their ear, saying it was the best thing to ever happen to that person, you could not argue with that. In fact, that dangling gift from a hen may be the best thing that ever happened to that person. You cannot argue with experience. And that is true for the Christian. No one can argue with you that what Jesus Christ has done for you is the best thing that has happened in your life! Well, some people will try to argue with that. Don’t let them. Quietly let them vent their wasted arguments. Your testimony has self-defined you as a person of faith. What you receive in their arguing is a change back reaction that happens autonomically—trying to change you back to the person you were before, not because they are right and you are wrong, but because they are uncomfortable. The balance in your relationship has changed. The third ingredient of 21st Century evangelism is listening. Helping a person who needs to find God through a relationship with Jesus involves knowing how to hear a person’s meta-story—that deep structure story that is driving to the surface of that person’s consciousness all the other stories being told. Many witnesses have heard a person tell the same story over and over again. Each attempt to lead that person to faith experiences resistance. That is not because you, as the witness, have not heard the repeated story. Rather it is the storyteller that has not heard his or her own meta-story. The resistance comes because that repeated story may be what is currently holding that person’s concept of faith or disbelief together. When the meta-story is heard, an aha! moment occurs, and the story usually does not get repeated. Most importantly, God’s story gets heard and salvation begins. A number of powerful skills can be used to assist the 21st witness to share faith. The Aurora Network has committed itself to being the go to organization for cutting edge training in what we call Story Listening Evangelism. If you are interested in learning more about how to incorporate these listening skills into your witness, contact Ernest Izard at epizard@verizon.net. If you have someone you have been sharing faith with and have run into resistance, contact Dr. Izard and he will listen and look over your shoulder to make some listening skills suggestion on what to do net in your witness. This approach to sharing faith was successful on the Gaza Road for an Ethiopian official and for some one time philosophers whose stories were heard on Mars Hill in Athens. The same can be true for those you care enough to listen to in order to hear their story. We will be looking for your email.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Ain't the Time for a Sermon

I know I am a bit behind the times when I tell  you I heard Sandi Patty's song, The Bare Stage, for the first time last night.  If you are not familiar, the words express the deep longing and need for God by the performer who has walked off the stage having completed a performance to a rousing crowd. Now the stage is empty except for the lone work light  illuminating the darkness.

The song resonated with those moments after having delivered a sermon.  Emptied,   knowing full well only His presence could fill, no matter how much I got patted on the back for a good sermon at the backdoor.

Last night my mind raced ahead to think of the people in worship on Sunday.  I wonder if Sunday morning is when they will hear that sermon, that Word from God ?  Or will there be enough in the Word preached to remember in the moments after....?

...after notification of the death of a loved one,...after delivery of papers from the other's attorney,...after the doctor confirmed the symptoms with a diagnosis,...after your child reminded you that you might have trained them up in the way they should go, but they have definitely not returned--yet,...after a pink slip lies limp in your stunned, though competent hands,...after a betrayal kisses your face with the hot salt tears, staining your cheeks.

Most of us know the need for God in those moments.  What about after...?

...after that graduation,...that raise,... after that promotion,...after that wedding,... after the birth of that child, or grandchild,...after that mountaintop experience....?

Perhaps these are the moments that preceded Sunday morning sermon attendance.  I am not saying Sunday morning sermons are a waste of time, or that we have to schedule our times in God's presence as Israel did on the Day of Atonement.  Rather, I am yearning, along with Sandi Patty,  where is the sermon, the Word of God, God Himself when the work is over, the accolades have faded, and no one is around to know you were the headliner?  Just one source of light guiding you safely across the barren stage.

That's where sermons belong: like a bag of refreshing trail mix that gives timely energy for the present moment and the hike that lies ahead when we have used up all our stored energy.

I am confident that God will show up in those moments (He keeps His promises and appointments), like he did for Lt. Dan on top of that mast in the movie, Forrest Gump.  What about the sermon, the vehicle, equipping for that moment the listener walks off stage?

The challenge is twofold:  Proclaim the Gospel truth in such a way that the listeners will leave with more than a doggie-bag-ful, ready to nourish when those moments come.   As caring, compassionate Christians, we need to be sensitive to the clues from others who can't wait for Sunday morning's sermon.  They are in need of something more immediate than three points and a poem.  They need a Word couriered intervention from an ambassador like Philip on the desert highway. 

As fellow performers walking across the bare stage after our show is over, let's listen for others standing in the darkness.  Some can't wait for Sunday morning.  Others may not make it into a pew under a steeple next Sunday for whatever reasons.  Listen!  Then see the Presence of God fill that bare stage like He did for Isaiah when he grieved his king's death!  All because God loves them and used you to listen them to that aha! moment!

Want to know more about the kind of listening that makes such a difference as you share the Good News of Jesus?  Contact me at epizard@verizon.net.  I'll be listening for you.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"First things first"

"How does a person get started in witnessing?"  I get that often from people who are apprehensive and concerned about offending people.  The genius of Story Listening Evangelism is that the witness goes with what the person they are listening to is saying and doing.  That way, there is no offense.

So how do you get started? 

Listen to the first thing a person tells you.  Contained metaphorically, symbolically in those words is what the person is struggling with--their lostness.  Hold what the person says in abeyance.  Do not problem solve the issue(s) that surface.  That is because you will get resistance from the person you are listening to.  Just listen to the next thing the person says to you.

I went to the bank when we lived in New Jersey and said to the young woman who was the teller,"  Hi, how are you?"

"Can't complain," was her reply. 

I came back, "Would you like to?"

"Oh, no body will listen."  Hear the resistance?

So I said, "I would."

You'd thought I had hit her with a bat as surprised as she was.  For you see "can't complain" is an acceptable way to say "hello" in America.  AND it is not a neurological accident.  She was testing the waters to find out if anyone is listening because she did have something she wanted to complain about and people she had already approached turned her down.

With that permission from me she began to tell me her story.

Let me invite you to practice listening for the first thing a person says to you this coming week.  Listen, notice, even write down what they say.  Remember not to problem solve what they say.  Just pay attention to the next thing said.

Send me a sample of what you hear.

Next week we will go to the next step in listening a person into the Kingdom.

Blessings!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"I'm back!"

These are not the words from a horror movie. They are my own words to you before God to finish what I started and felt called to do for years: Complete the development of Story Listening Evangelism as a new paradigm for believers to share their faith and write the book, too.



Last year after several years of this effort languishing, I realized that my health was in the way of me completing this calling. I would leave work with great intentions of getting home and writing in the evening. When I arrived at home, I was tired, not only from fighting traffic for an hour, but also from the effects of being 140 pounds overweight and diabetic.



I knew that the direction I was going with my health would shorten my life and I would not see my grandchildren grow up, let alone be an influence in their lives. Earlier last year I asked god to give me one more chance like he did Samson. Now I did not ask him to let me take out several thousand people when I go. That is where the comparison ends. I just knew that I had sinned against God by not taking better care of the body He gave me.



Little did I know how He would answer that prayer. I was approved for bariatric surgery but changed my mind because of the risks. My heart doctor said I had no choice. I left his office angry at the situation I knew I was in. Later that day at the internist's office waiting for my flu shot, I saw a poster that answered my prayer as I found a safe and effctive program with a free health coach to guide me back to health. 10 months later I am 75 pounds lighter.  Thanks to the weight loss my blood pressure, blood sugars, and cholesterol have improved. Got a few more pounds to go to goal weight, but I have my health back. The weight loss has improved my energy level. That has helped me lose several thousand pounds of clutter around the house as I realized I needed to pare down for the journey that lies ahead.



So here I am almost finsihed with the declutter of home and body and ready to write and lead workshops on how to listen a person toward the Kingdom instead of just propositioning people with a checklist of do's and don't's.



Will you join me on the journey with this renewed enrgy? the teacher in me promises to teach you how to do Story Listening Evangelism. The listener in me will listen to what you are hearing and saying to the people with whom you are currently sharing faith.



Let me know by your response to these words and an email at epizard@verizon.net. Interested in following the weight loss and journey toward optimal health? Check out my blog at www.healthypilgrim.blogspot.com.



I have become a certified health coach with the same organization that provided the coaching that has saved my life and my health. that web site is at www.ernestizard.tsfl.com. Let me know if I can help you or someone else who struggles with their weight and health. I'd love to pay forward what I have been given.



Blessings!