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 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.