Mexico: Unlikely Hero

 Nathaniel: “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” - John 1:46

Unlikely Hero – Mexico as haven for affordable US nursing home and long term care for aging Boomers.

Costs for care in a nursing home approach $100,000 per year.

” Long-term care insurance companies have sought premium hikes as high as 94 percent.”
Crowds rush the Border Wall before completion ... as Baby Boomers seek affordable retirement asylum in Mexico! 
by French street artist JR
More Boomers deciding to retire and move to Mexico – by Yetta Gibson

More Boomers deciding to retire and move to Mexico: Maybe you are one of thousands of Americans retiring and considering moving to Mexico.A new survey done by Expats in Mexico reveals more than 80 percent of baby boomers say they will retire in Mexico. 

Yetta Gibson, (3TV/CBS 5) April 25, 2019

“Double Indemnity:” How to Visit a Church Like an Insurance Adjuster

In today’s blog, you will be receive insights in how to visit a church like an insurance adjuster. In my insurance adjusting career handling all sorts of serious claims across the US, one of my favorite reads was Don Winslow’s “California Fire and Life” –

“Jack Wade was the rising star of the Orange County Sheriffs Department’s arson unit, but a minor scandal cost him everything, except his encyclopedic knowledge of fire. Now working as an insurance claims investigator, Jack is called in to examine a suspicious claim …”

Waving my author wand in a circle three times, I empower you, reader, as “Church Claims Investigator” to prepare you evaluate the claims made by the next church you visit. Can you sniff through the assertions of a church to determine whether this group is a safe match for you and your family? The insights given below will likely raise questions in your journey:

  1. Rule one: ask lots of questions
  2. Rule two: there is no bad question.

Your first assignment begins now …

… Your First Visit

… Begins with the worship bulletin. Below is an example of a church we have visited frequently. The first step, do a survey of the balance between men and women serving in the church. In the bulletin below, count how many men are listed in the bulletin compared to number of women. In a second pass, count how many females are serving in leadership roles, versus watching babies in the nursery, serving coffee or working as office receptionist.

The yellow highlights in the bulletin below show how the church sends the message that female leaders are welcome here:

This Sedona church exemplifies balanced leadership. Note that the Senior Pastor even prints his cell phone in the bulletin to foster communication and transparency within the congregation.

Before you attend the church, you can visit its website’s leadership area. We visited another prominent local church a few times. Below is their website today. Let’s click on this and see what you can observe compared to the example of the United Methodist Church bulletin above:

Upon clicking “Leadership” –

Blurring out the faces and descriptions, you get the picture that males run the church. A review of their doctrinal statement would support that white, straight males run the church.

Who is valued?

Why is the above important? Last month a Prescott pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of America was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation. None of the local male church leaders of this denomination attended the trial. My wife and I visited one of the associated churches, and here is what we found:

All the pastors and elders were male. The women sat at a different table from the men. Women were groomed to have a career under the protection of their husbands, meaning no career of their own. For example, a woman could work in the front office of her husband’s insurance agency.

Divorcees were second class citizens and grown children of divorce were suspect. Gay people have no place at the table. Home school is promoted to advocate separation from sinful society. And, now, most troubling, church discipline is to be administered from the pastor down in the church.

The top down church discipline means that the pastor doles out discipline he sees fit in a tight chain-of-command over the elders, the elders over the church members … the husband over the wives. In essence, the Reformed Baptist Church of America attempted to create a male dominated plantation style of leadership, where any dissent was met with threat of shunning and possibly corporal punishment.

In the associated criminal case, the Prescott pastor used a boat paddle to administer spankings while church members could not challenge the chain-of-command leadership and male wall of silence.

ARE THE DOORS OPEN?

In my last church where I served as Executive Pastor, we offered our Confirmation Class not only to church youth but also as a merit badge for the local Scout troops. Our classes and field trips invited and encouraged the parents of the youth to attend. The parents enjoyed participating as much as the youth, learning along with the youth.

Are parents encouraged to chaperone the youth activities? Does the church practice “child safety” practices?”

child safety practices

Brotherhood Mutual Insurance provides excellent resources on how to maintain child safety in your church – CHILD SAFETY. If you are serving as a deacon, elder or pastor, you have a duty to implement practices described at https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/resources/child-safety/

There is no excuse not to adopt such principles. In fact, failure to adopt safe practices could implicate you as party to a crime if you had evidence of abuse and failed to take action to stop it.

OPEN WINDOWS

Your assignment is to visit a local church of your choice. Begin with the website. Visiting the church: Where are the women in leadership? The people of color? Are gay people welcome? Divorced people? Does their doctrinal statement read like a multi-paged single spaced Manifesto? A sample “Manifesto” copied below is one of three “Affirmations” from one of the Reformed Baptist Church websites which serves as church “twin language” relaying that the church holds to the similar code of “submission, allegiance, and protection.” In particular, these like-minded groups hold that women need men to protect them from their own life choices and decisions. Male control of finances can limit life choices such enrolling in a college course, clothing and beauty purchases, selection of friends, and education of children. It’s hard to escape when you can’t buy shoes for the journey. Children, likewise, fall under the same “discipline and protection.” Buzzwords I highlighted in red from the Reformed Baptist website post below: allegiance, we have nothing good in ourselves, controlled, vulnerable, we submit, through the roles he has called us, we seek our own good when we seek the good of the body, protection and guidance, respective roles, God’s sovereign will, honor and obey, we submit.

The conservative dogmatic diagram below is widely circulated on social media to show how male “protection” runs downhill –

An excellent blog on this can found at “How Sexism in the Church Almost Ruined My Life.” Jennifer Martin subtitled her blog “A Supposedly Feminist Website.” The diagram describes a trickle down theory from the males in power. Women sheltered under this protection find a world in which they want for nothing. The man provides their financial needs and shields them from pressures of having a career. However, when a controlling or abusive man enters this world, he discovers his own gated entertainment park, where no man can question his exploits and no woman has a voice. A woman’s protected world of quilting, crafts and apple pie becomes a prison walled by the cage of protection and reinforced by the complicit advice and silence of the male elders and pastors.

To suggest that women don’t need men to protect them from their own life choices upsets the entire testosterone filled male compound. I like the old Baptist motto, “It’s not how high you jump; it’s how straight you walk.” Or as Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” John 8:36. For those who are trapped in a faith group described above, there is hope for you to escape and begin anew.

-Thucydides, Athenian historian and general. 5th Century BC.

In Practice

Just as I encouraged preachers to use a “vook” (vision book), I encourage you to use a bound journal. If you are visiting a new church, write your own interpretation of its “Beliefs” and “Practice.” The worship service of one church reverberated with drums and guitars and Bible based preaching. I spoke with a woman attending with her young son. She thought this might be the church for her husband and family. What she didn’t discern was to join this church meant attending two or three afternoon long “training” sessions explaining what we really believe. In other words, by the time you and your children made friends, you begin to discover what they believe and practice. The young mother lacked the tools of which I speak in this article to sniff out the unspoken rules. The church we visited that day was led by the all male leaders pictured blurred above.

Your journal might say something like this:

Observations: Ask reporter questions

Beliefs: In plain language

Practices: What it means to be a member here.

Through your journal you can “hold onto your car keys.” Through this process you may find a church through which you can find spiritual growth and freedom. It may take you a year of observation to get to a place you are ready to join. Why rush it?

FINAL SECURITY CHECK

You have a duty yourself to be informed on child safety in the church and to promote it wherever you join: https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/resources/child-safety/

Background checks are like locking a screen door; they provide peace of mind but don’t replace securing the other doors of exposure. As an insurance adjuster I run some form of background check daily and find:

  1. Organizations either fail to run background checks or fail to re-run them
  2. Employees and volunteers can move to another state and change their name and provide a false Social Security number and date of birth
  3. Organizations could have detected an alias or fake ID but either failed to act or did not know how to act on the information
  4. A “no match found” on a report may not indicate a clean background
  5. An organization can simply fail to read or interpret its own reports.

Background checks are like locking a screen door; they provide peace of mind but don’t replace securing the other doors of exposure.

Some street smart suggestions from an insurance adjuster:

  • Run your own own background check on leaders involved with your children
  • Background checks do not replace organizational and personal safeguards for children
  • If the church or organization will not implement safety measures for children, as spelled out at Brotherhood Mutual, leave it.
  • If you discover abuse in an organization like that above, for the sake of the victim, report it to 1-888-SOS-Child.
You can order a background check yourself (List above – https://www.toptenreviews.com/best-background-check-services )

As an insurance adjuster myself for serious injury and high exposure claims for a national company, I carry a risk management mindset with me as I attend church. You don’t have to live in fear or isolation. Knowledge gives freedom. Hopefully, you have learned how to visit a church like an insurance adjuster. Bring your highlighter to church next visit.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14

Freedom & Courage to Claim Your Future,

Pastor Jim

Postscript: If you are searching for new church, The Church at Litchfield Park serves as a hallmark of a balanced ministry, where all people are welcome to worship and serve in a safe environment. You can review the church website at https://www.churchatlitchfieldpark.org/ and use it as a touchstone as you visit churches your area.

Great Preaching: (Final Cut) Run!

“If I was ever going somewhere, I was running!”


Now you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but I could run like the wind blows. From that day on, if I was ever going somewhere, I was running!

Forrest Gump

As we discussed in parts I and II, you have spent time in your “thin place” seeking the heart of God. You have walked in the light of God’s Word as revealed in your living situation as you visited the “flight line” of your people. Now Sunday’s coming! In today’s blog, we will discuss how to run with your sermon come Sunday!

A few years ago, we visited a local church one Sunday where the pastor wore shorts and sandals, something like you would wear to a barbecue. We sat pretty close to the front. The worship service start time came and went. An elderly woman from the senior home next door timidly asked,”Excuse me, Reverend, my watch shows that it’s time to begin.”

The pastor stared her down and snapped, “Not according to my watch.” And continued to saunter around like he had no place to be. When he did realize it was time to start, he walked over to the choir room, snapped his fingers, whistled and commanded the choir out of their hiding place, “Come on, let’s go!”

Needless to say, my wife and I gave the pastor an “Irish Goodbye.” We stood, said nothing and walked past a few not too surprised deacons as we exited the service. As I still drive by the retirement home, I think about those captive old-timers who have no other choice but to endure Sundays there.

Head to Heart

We don’t rise to the level of our expectationswe fall to the level of our training.”

Archilochus (Frequently credited to an anonymous US Navy Seal)
Archilochus

Or as heard from sports coaches, You play like you practice.” The movement of a sermon begins in the head then moves to the heart. Assuming you have a two or three page outline or manuscript of your sermon, Saturday night is the time to read aloud the Bible passage two or three more times and practice looking at the people while reading the phases. Listen and mark for emphasis.

There is a huge difference between writing for reading versus writing for speaking and hearing. This is a pitfall of many a sermon. Pen in hand, read your sermon aloud as though you were preaching it. Edit for sound effect. Does your text translate well to the ear? If not, mark it through as you go. These edit notes are for you.

Recommended format for preaching notes: Two columns with text 14 point 

The two columns allow room for emphasis and edit notes. The 14 point font size make for a quick use in the pulpit if you need to fall back to notes. One way to preach without notes, its to uses notes as a security blanket, like the harness used for rock climbing.

For years I have used used a presentation binder with vinyl sheet protectors.

Allant”The Graduate Collection” Professional 3 Ring Business Card Holder Book. Swapped out the card holder sheets with 8.5 x 11 inch sheet protectors. This binder has front pocket for the bulletin.
Front and back view allows for easy reading of your edit notes. You can put your Bible passage with emphasis and pause notes for reading in the service.

If you’ve ever lost a page of sermon notes or mixed up the order, you can thank me later. If you preach enough, you will surely lead a service in a windy cemetery or under a busy ceiling fan and watch your notes blow away like leaves on a autumn day … an unnerving start of your message.

Sod’s law: ‘When you toss a coin, the more strongly you want heads, the more likely it is to come up tails’

Applying Sod’s Law, a best practice is to email yourself Sunday’s message and formatted Bible passage. Should you forget or lose your binder, you can either print the copy at church or use a smart phone or tablet to download your copy.

First Contact

Now you have moved your message from your head to your heart. Your outline or manuscript is captured both in your binder and in the cloud. Your first contact at the church on Sunday can set the tone for the rest of the services.

Arrive early with expectation – Something is happening here. God is with us! This is not a show or a game. It is encountering the presence of God.

Do a quick walk around campus. Ask the custodian to check that the coffee is on and that the restrooms are open and well supplied. Applying Sod’s Law, the day you think you have your best sermon will be the Sunday with no paper in the restroom. You will be the first to hear of it and asked by your elder deacon to personally restock it now.

Do a mic check. use new batteries. Your sermon is worth it.

Prepare for technical difficulties. The best sermon can be tanked with when the projector bulb fails at the start of your service. Expect technology to fail you and roll with it. In my last church, the sanctuary’s video and sound control booth was caged in another building. A tiny speaker broadcast to the operator what was heard in the sanctuary. During one funeral, the facility manager was recording the service and running the slide projection, when an audio feedback filled the sanctuary with a heavy-metal like screech at the level of a jet aircraft. I made a visual gesture to the camera that remained unseen. I had no choice but to announce to the grieving congregation, “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” As I stepped out on the sidewalk, I saw the facilities manager looking back at me out of the other door. My sign language confirmed – “Pull the plug!”

Check in

Check in with your musicians. Your music and choir members are your fellow ministers. A moment sharing a smile and good word breeds goodwill that will continue through the service and beyond. Tell them how glad you are to serve with them. Praise your choir leaders for their choice of music and song.

In contrast, avoid any hint of accusing a musician with a pastor’s righteous indignation, “I didn’t approve the choice of that song, and I am striking it from the bulletin today. Don’t you ever do this again without my approval.” Word of these pre-service arguments will squelch the spirit of your choir and worship team.

This would be good time to return to your office and pray for the people. Sunday mornings before services are not the time to be on-call for listening to the woes and complaints of church members. You want to be listening to the voice of God.

Look ‘Em in the Eye and Tell ‘Em What You Got!

The first step of preaching to the people 
... is that you must like the people.

People have the innate ability to tell whether the pastor likes them. My first piano accompanist’s father was an Episcopal priest. His wife used to pray for him that”the people would like him, so that they would like his message.” Too many clergy treat other staff members, music people and church members as obstacles in the way of their message.

You may say, “Jim, how could that be true?”

  • The answer is do you actively listen to your people?
  • Do you welcome their opinion of value?
  • Do you promote and encourage them?

One of the values of working a separate career as an insurance adjuster is learning how people desperately need encouragement.

Eye Contact

I once knew a pastor who shook hands with the people as they left church. But you learned that as he shook your hand, he looked down the line for someone he didn’t want to miss. Your eyes are the handshake with the congregation.

Make eye contact for a few seconds before your begin the service.

Make eye contact for a few seconds before you begin your message.

Make eye contact for a few seconds when you want your people to get the point.

Are you with me or have you gone home yet?

Crossing Over … barriers between you and the people

Pews corral in the people.

Aisles isolate the saints.

Pulpit cages the clergy.

The banister quarantines the choir.

I knew a Catholic priest who, during funerals, would step down from the chancel and put his hand on the casket on level with the people as he spoke to the congregation and family about what a wonderful wife and mother she was. The steel casket and flowers formed a separation layer, but the pastor’s touch made a human connection crossing the barrier.

One effective Baptist evangelist I knew mastered crossing over. This evangelist held a concurrent career singing country music in Branson, Missouri. His voice resonated like a combination of Marty Robbins and Elvis Presley. At the close of one service, as he called the people to the altar, he stepped out from behind the pulpit, crossed the front isle, stood on the first pew and made eye contact with those seated on the back row of the packed church. He appeared like a sea captain on the bow of some ancient ship peering through the fog in search of land.

The people streamed forward to recommit their lives to Christ as they realized that, even hidden on the back rows, God knew all about and cared for them.

You may not stand on a pew at your next service, but you might try walking up into an isle. A word of caution: crossing over does not replace “flight line” visits with your people during the week. A pastor’s “flight line” includes the home, hospital, surgical center, care center, golf course, camping trip, retreat, conference, fraternal organization, mission trip, workplace and entertaining in your home.

A pastor’s “flight line” includes the home, hospital, surgical center, care center, golf course, camping trip, retreat, conference, fraternal organization, mission trip, service project, workplace and entertaining in the home.

An example – Karen served as a Senior Deacon. Her late husband, JD, would join Karen and me at her private care home for home Communion. As part of crossing over ministry, the church recorded its services on DVDs and provided home players to be delivered on home visits. Here you see the ripple effect of a crossing over ministry that involved, the choir, musicians, pastors, church staff, and visiting pastor. These types of ministry extends the impact of your preaching and ministry beyond the four walls of your church. Not shown is my trying to diagnose a stubborn DVD/TV connection. In this photo, you can see Karen’s joy at the clear picture and sound as she felt part of the worship experience and that her church remembered her.

Trying to shake hands with every parishioner every Sunday, coming in and going out, may actually distract them from their encounter with God. The evangelist described a few paragraphs above ate dinner in a different home each night of the revival where he laughed and prayed and cried with the families. A trustworthy message is built in the home visit and not in the handshake on Sundays. As my wife and I visited over a dozen churches and faith groups in the Verde Valley, we received a few canned welcome letters with no personal visit, with the exception of two young missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We can learn something from them.

A trustworthy message is built in the home visit and

not in the handshake on Sundays.

The most effective pastor I knew in using crossing over is Rev. Jud Souers, Pastor Emeritus of The Church at Litchfield Park, Arizona. I have seen him glide like a cat from the chancel out into the isle and look back on the chancel as though he were carrying on a dialogue between the people and God. For decades, he demonstrated the same fluid movement through his golf swing as a member of the local club for decades. For Pastor Jud, the local golf club served as his Jacob’s Well place of meeting the people.

The Lazarus Ending – the sermon that ends … and then ends again … and again

The Lazarus Ending goes like this – The pastor hints that time is late but there’s just one more point to consider. “Oh, wait, I remembered you really need to know … ” Following the benediction and closing hymn of five verses, you’re ready to leave. But wait. “Lazarus, come forth! …” The pastor, out of some need to prove her message was important, gives the people a summary of what she said in the sermon.

This sends the message, “Just in case you weren’t listening the first time …”

Lest we focus too hard on the clergy, for churches that don’t have music directors, you are now set free to sing only a few verses of a closing hymn.

Why are congregations held hostage to singing all 13 verses of Amazing Grace as though some ancient hall monitor demands they sing all verses?

Start White Hot

Listen to a few Johnny Cash songs. They start strong and hot out of the box. Some churches start their worship service like a late opening at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The only think lacking is a number dispenser.

A white hot start would feel something like the introduction of the series Chef’s Table … something is about to happen.

Schedule the Unexpected

In your sermon, give space for the “impromptu moment” for the Holy Spirit to lead and surprise. Expect the Spirit to come down … welcome this. In my first church, in the middle of an evening message. A 6’4″ young man entered the back of the sanctuary and slowly shuffled up the center isle asking aloud, “Can I find God here? … Can I find God here?”

I paused my message, realizing the message came to me. “Yes,” I announced, “You have come to the right place. You can find God here!”

Later I learned that he was a patient of the Arizona State Mental Hospital. His parents told me he would scale the barbed wire fence and wander off into the desert in search of some peace for his soul.

One Easter Sunrise in the main courtyard, church members will remember as I stood to deliver the Easter morning message, all the sprinklers clicked on then off for a half second. Not enough to soak them but enough raise the question, “Will they turn back on?”

I made eye contact with the people and broke the damp silence with, “Well … you done been baptized!”

Leave Them Wanting More

Start Two Minutes Early.

Be Meaningful.

Be Brief.

Save Fill-in-the Blank Notes for the Classroom.

Leave ‘Em Wanting More.

The Gift – take and do

In the sermon shown on Vimeo [password is grace4you], you can see where both pastor and people “crossed over” barriers: the people, in response to my prior sermon calling them to a prayer shawl ministry, crossed over the front isle and placed their prayer shawls on the prayer rail for dedication. In January 2018 I received my own prayer shawl in the hospital during my kidney cancer surgery. The prayer shawl kept me warm and reminded me of God’s presence during those long nights. I am thankful for my cousin, Karen, who first shared with me the prayer shawl ministry of her church. This ministry I shared as a gift with my congregation.

Example of using “Crossing Over” and “The Gift -Take and Do”

What gift will you give to your people that they can take and do?

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1,2

Run!,

Pastor Jim

Great Preaching: (Part III) Walk in the Light!

Leave It The Way You Found It?

A pastor places his order at the pet store: “I need at least 50 mice, 2000 ants and as many of those little silverfish you can get.”

The clerk replies, “We can probably do that, but it might take some time. Mind if I ask why you are placing such an unusual order?”

The pastor replied, “I’ve accepted a call to another church and the congregation council told me to leave the parsonage the way I found it.” From My-Pastor.com * That is the problem with so much preaching today – it leaves people the way they found it.

In a few years, will you have left your congregation the way you found them? Or, will your preaching have sparked a spiritual awakening … that glows long after you’ve gone?

The first step of Great Preaching: Walk in the Light is –

Learn to see the light of God

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. I John 1:5-7

Charles Adams helped his son to see the light in the world by taking him to the Panama-Pacific Exposition fair in 1915. A gift to his son to capture the visions of the fair and the Golden Gate area was a Box Brownie #1.

The following summer the family crossed the shimmering heat of the San Juan Valley and wound their way to El Portal, where 14 year-old Adams exited the vehicle to take snapshots with his Brownie. From that day forward, the vision of Yosemite held Ansel Adams, as he wrote –
“That first impression of the valley—white water, azaleas, cool fir caverns, tall pines and stolid oaks, cliffs rising to undreamed-of heights, the poignant sounds and smells of the Sierra…was a culmination of experience so intense as to be almost painful. From that day in 1916 my life has been colored and modulated by the great earth gesture of the Sierra.”

Move Beyond Snapshot to Vision

Below is a snapshot I took of our dog, Shadow. A snapshot captures a surface, temporal point in time. It captures what is required for a picture that might get a “like” on social media. It presents what is expected. A snapshot captures what happens in a typical Sunday morning pulpit. The people come, with expectation that the pastor will perform a sermon. Once completed, the pastor gets an “atta-boy” and everyone goes home. The pastor is satisfied that he/she did all that was safely required to retreat into the pastor’s office “dog house” until the next Sunday.

Shadow

Vision discerns the eternal truth behind the surface. Vision moves beyond the required to the acquired. Vision finds that serendipitous moment as Jacob described in Genesis 28 “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it. “

Thunderstorm at Yosemite Valley, Ansel Adams

The above shows a thunderstorm at Yosemite. Using the darkness mixed with light, Adams was able to point his lens to the picture behind the picture. Adams used his black-and-whites as a medium of change that would ultimately expand the US National Park system, for which he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.

In the photo below, Adams captured a simple baseball game, something like he might have snapped with his Box Brownie at 14. We can taste the mustard on the hot dog and feel the sun and breeze on our cheeks.

Baseball 1943

The image of the game captured what is typically required of clergy on Sunday morning. The organist throws out the opening hymn, while the choir director tosses some high and low notes. Finally, the preacher walks out as the heavy-hitter to send everyone home.

Not so fast … True to Ansel Adams’ use of “picture behind the picture,” let’s add some clues to see through the surface of the photograph – World War II, California, Japanese Internment Camps 1943. We receive a serendipitous moment that these Americans, enjoying the “All American Pastime,” were interned as part of the 110,000 Japanese Americans held in 10 camps on the West Coast . Adams helped to heal America’s blindness to the plight of our fellow Japanese Americans. Photos from slate.com

As a result, in some instances Ansel Adams’ books were banned from bookstores and even burned as un-American. Remember that while Adams showed what he could in the camps, he was forbidden to photograph the guard towers and barbed wire.

Are you willing to take the risk to move beyond preaching what is required to sharing what is acquired as a word of God for the people? When was the last time your church heard your church bulletins were banned or burned as they moved the masses toward embracing the unfolding truth of God? What are the new forms of internments, the social concertina, that hold people captive today?

The New Sitz Im Leben

Back in my seminary studies across Baptist and United Methodist seminaries, we learned the term sitz im leben represented the original “situation in life” that gave gave rise to the Bible text. The New Sitz Im Leben is the situation in life of your people which provides the fertile soil for the Bible passage to produce life.

While attending seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, I spent a summer as a paid student chaplain at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. About that time, I read about an Air force Base colonel who saw that his base chaplains sat in air conditioned offices and debated Karl Barth while the crews sweltered on the flight line. So, the colonel ordered the chaplains out of the office to minister to the soldiers working on the hot tarmac by the aircraft.

You may say,

“Jim, I’m too busy preparing my sermons to visit the people.”

Get out on the flight line.

“I’m more of an ‘executive leader’ than just a pastor. “

Get out on the flight line.

“I’m more of a teaching pastor than a pastoral caregiver.”

Get out on the flight line.

“It’s just not exciting visiting widows and shut-ins than discussing the computer images of the next big service.”

Get out on the flight line!

The result of failing to embrace your sitz im leben will be that your sermons will come across as Kodak slide shows of vacations you’ve taken where your members pretend to be interested. The message will be void of life that springs out of that context. For those of you who don’t remember, a Kodak slide show was a meeting of friendly captivity at which a host projected images of distant lands while guests feigned interest. Feigned interest is quite difficult and can only be accomplished by consuming large quantities of chex party mix.

f/64 Sharp Focus

  • Use and carry a Vook. A Vook (vision book) is a small lined book that you use to obtain insights and applications that you gained from your sitz im leben – your vision book. Keep it by your bedside and be ready. God may give you insights in the middle of the night that may become the heart of your message.
  • Use Bible software to do an in-depth “instant verse study” that will compile the data from a variety of Bible translations, commentaries, word studies and devotional works. The image below shows a favorite tool of mine used for over ten years and versions – Wordsearch Bible

I chose Wordsearch Bible as a tool over other more technical Bible study software as it more applies to the lives of the people versus a Bible language analysis tool. The people don’t need the nuances of meaning of the Greek verb if they are facing a death in the family or a job layoff.

  • With a few clicks, you can create a 40 page instant report containing the best Christian writings available on your chosen text. With that you can read through the study material and mark it with a check mark (for check this out!), ! for must focus, and ? for question.

The Shutter Squeeze

You’ve spent the week with your Vook and have consumed your “Instant Verse Study” with process notes. Now is the time for the frame, which involves focus – What is the subject of your message? What one or two points will you use to convey the message? Focus – What is the subject of your message? What one or two points will you use to convey the message?

As every photographer knows, frame is followed by shutter squeeze. Your “instant verse study” resulted in 40 pages. You may find them all as interesting as riding every amusement ride in the park. Squeeze your message down to ten minutes but have something to say.

Some rules of thumb:

Leave them wanting more.

Rather than fill-in-the-blank sermon notes, provide vision space in the bulletin for flash notes on an empty canvas.

Today fill-in-the-blank sermon notes have crept into PowerPoint slides – a form of the Kodak vacation slides party.

Write out your sermon. Give yourself permission to cut it down to two points.

Keep your outline on the pulpit as a safety-net while you preach without notes.

If you can’t remember what you’re saying, how will your people?!

Start on time. Finish early.

In the next blog, we’ll talk about how to Run with your Message!

Pass the Chex Mix!,

-Pastor Jim