“Finders, Keepers!”- The Gem of Public Bible Reading

John Huddleston was known by his Arkansas neighbors as a “son of a sharecropper” and a “dreamy backwoodsman.” John and Sarah purchased their 49 acre home farm in 1889 for $100, later expanded to 243 acres.  One day while walking a road through his property he found two crystals which were shortly identified as “diamonds.” Today the property is owned by State of Arkansas as the only place in the world the public can search for real diamonds at “Crater of Diamonds State Park.”

More than 35,000 diamonds have been found by park visitors since the Crater of Diamonds became an Arkansas state park in 1972. Notable diamonds found at the Crater include the 40.23-carat Uncle Sam, the largest diamond ever unearthed in the U.S. Five hours from our house in MO, my wife Carol and her friend, Chris, spent hours digging for diamonds with no luck. Perhaps on our next trip!

The park’s one rule for diamonds – “Finders, Keepers!”

And so it is with public reading of Scripture at church.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.

Matthew 13:44-46

Matthew 13:44-46 New International Version (NIV)“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.”

The most understated and neglected part of Sunday worship is public reading of Scripture. Pianists practice and prepare for the offertory music. Pastors slave hours to prepare and deliver a vibrant sermon. Yet, the Scripture reading is approached like reading the menu at a burger  drive-thru –hurried, with someplace else to go.

The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13).

So, you receive a call from the church office asking you to read Scripture next Sunday, a passage on the descendants of Noah. You think no problem. You’ve heard the Noah story many times … two-by-two into the ark. You’ve even seen the movie! 

So you go about your week, grandchildren’s soccer games, golf, shopping … Sunday arrives and you open the bulletin to review the passage a few minutes before you stand up to read

26 Joktan was the father of

Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah and Jobab. All these were sons of Joktan.

…These names appear before you … unrecognizable names … never heard before in Sunday School. What in the name of Klingon archeology are these names? Your throat tightens as you don’t have time to Google how to pronounce these names. Now you know why public speaking is #1 on the list of social fears as your knees shake walking to the lectern.

What you can’t pronounce you mumble and smudge over to go undetected and escape the lectern as quickly as possible.

There is a better way …

Today I will share with you a few tips to improve your public reading of Scripture. I learned these while serving as Executive Pastor in my last position and reading the Scripture on many Sundays. I realized that Scripture reading was the diamond field of Sunday worship. The diamonds are held in the fabric and contents of the Bible itself.

Step 1. Navigate to biblegateway.com and type in the passage you will read – chapter and verse

Step 2. Copy the passage into a word processor and save 16 point font in two columns

  1. Play the audible passage reading as you mark up your reading sheet – / short pause  // long pause  line up, line down pitch, and pronunciation helps
  2. Practice reading your passage 3 times. If possible, say “mic check” into the lectern microphone to check the volume before the service, speaking no more than 12 inches from the microphone.
  3. Glance at the passage and look at the people while you read.

End your reading with something like, “The word of God … for the people of God!”

Try these tips the next time you read in church. You will find with your church some diamonds in your field.

As Karl Barth wrote, “ I have read many books,  … but the Bible reads me!”

-Pastor Jim

Costco Lady in the Mask

Today I exited Costco of Prescott with two $43 boxes of Newman’s coffee pods and two bags of cauliflower tortillas and 3 bags of Keto cereal, placed the items inside the rear hatch of my Acadia, and pressed the hatch close button. Then I saw a 4×4 pickup waiting for my spot like a Robin for a worm. So, I plopped behind the wheel, removed my Covid mask and visor, backed out and pulled forward a few feet. The pickup crept behind me like someone lacking social distancing. But there in center isle ahead a silver haired woman cut across my path, with a blue face mask that covered all but her blue eyes … focused on me.

Is she looking for her car? Did she need help? Was she disoriented? I don’t feel like socializing. Great, now she’s pointing. Is she pointing to her spouse in a vehicle behind me? Now I’m caught between this lady’s hand signals and her husband. Did she belong with the 4×4 truck who couldn’t get into my space? I wondered how much patience this truck would tolerate this wayward senior. This turned into a scene.

Oh, no. She did not gesture at another vehicle but waved at me. Still pointing at some mysterious apparition. So I accepted my duty to assist the poor woman. I put on my face visor like crooked glasses, rolled down my window and greeted her. She crept to my driver’s door, bent her head and whispered loudly for the hearing impaired, still pointing, ” Did you know your rear hatch is up?”

Glancing in my rearview, I indeed saw my hatch up and the 4×4 still idling, now with other cars gathering behind it. Certainly their conversation swirled around the poor old man rescued by the silver sneakered doo-gooder. Because the two Costco size coffee boxes blocked the electric door path, I had to exit the cab, wave at the sympathetic eyes of those watching a man about to scatter 200 coffee pods across six lanes of traffic.

The silver angel disappeared with approving nod and hidden masked grin of “I told you so.” The truck parked. Traffic passed.

As I left Costco, I called my wife who said, “You see, you can’t go to Costco without me!” I have advanced to the ranks of I can’t go anywhere without my wife, and she has proof. What’s next? Coffee cup on the roof? Card left at the register? (I did check for that before I left the lot).

Self-checkout: In our mid-Covid, post-Capitol time of prepare for the worst and trust no one, I had a masked reminder of why we need each other. We need to learn to trust again. Kindness cannot exist without trust. When I roll my window to give a dollar to a homeless person, I take a trust risk. When I pause to help one who lost her way, I trust that I won’t lose my way. Kindness shown means kindness received. Rather than a political agenda, let us muster a kindness agenda.

Love is patient, love is kind. - I Corinthians 13

– Pastor Jim

Sunday School Party Animals

My Texan Sunday School teacher was a Democrat who managed to work the Party’s platform into of every lesson to captive Baptist seminarians. Democrats ruled Texas for 100 years, voting last for Jimmy Carter in 1976. After all, “Jesus rode into Jerusalem, not on an elephant, but a donkey!” Another ancient and frequent visitor was an old geezer member of the “Temperance Movement,” spouting the evils of any alcohol. Looking back, I wish I would have listened more to the geezer but found a another Sunday class. You may say, “Jim, God could still use that teacher.” Yes, God even used the jawbone of an ass to slay the Philistines. Ergo, I know, Samson was a proto-Democrat? Don’t get me started.

How Texas Voted

I arrived in seminary in January of 1981, with the Democrats stinging from their defeat to Ronald Reagan. As I consider separation of church and state, I remember my old teacher and his taking liberty to mold young seminarians in the ideal that God was a Southern Democrat.

Republicans and Democrats need not worship together like the feuding Hatfields and the McCoys. Let us beat our political swords into bowls to catch the new rain of God’s Spirit to a thirsty world. In this we can find common ground.

-Pastor Jim

Bulldozers for Christ

Like a Good Neighbor. There was a large white middle class church out of parking in a booming Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Older small homes of minorities landlocked the church. The church pastor and board became possessed with a plan: eliminate the houses around the church to expand the blacktop. So the plan was launched to bulldoze the homes of the Hispanic neighbors and replace them with good, Christian pavement, all the while singing, “We are Standing on Holy Ground.” “Surely, those people know we are expanding the Kingdom of God.” Meanwhile, the historic memory of the departed neighbors was buried under a fresh grave vault of hot asphalt. “Blessed are the parking attendants, for they shall be garbed in florescent green.” How was this church a neighbor to its community? [Based on at true story. Stock bulldozer image and not actual home involved.]

Sample Church Parking

Bulldozers for Christ – “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”! The church’s bulldozers were legal and financial before the real thing arrived. For some church leaders I’ve known, “bulldozer” would be an improvement.

Don’t ask me which church this was lest they shun me again from their fabulous annual “All Church Parking Lot Potluck and Hymn Sing.”

-Pastor Jim

The Pastor and the Floozy

“The issue facing us is not the left versus the right but the crisis of intolerance.”-Pastor Vincent Woolsey

Tolerance … “The pastor’s wife is a bar-fly who frequents a bar. We don’t want our church money going to a floozy … ”

So, the rumors wafted about the local teetotaling Wesleyan Methodist pastor’s wife and family, friends of mine. Visiting in their home, they came clean to me. Their only beautiful son, a toddler, had serious medical problems. As they couldn’t afford healthcare on his pastor’s chicken feed salary alone, they agreed she would take a job waiting tables at night in a Phoenix restaurant that happened to serve alcohol. To this day I wonder if some of those very church members dined in that restaurant? I, too, am a floozy for Christ .

-Pastor Jim

Saloon Girl

Journey into Joy

Behind the Camera Lens

The preparation of today’s blog became an exercise in joy itself. For days from my devotional porch swing, I watched the rising sun kiss the sunflowers in a daily greeting, accompanied with a chorus of hummingbirds and bees. I felt joy surround me and the impression from God saying, “My joy is this big!”

I felt Joy surround me and the impression from God saying, “My joy is this big!”

One sunflower can hold 2000 sunflower seeds, with some plants reaching 25 and even 30 feet high. Of the 4000 bee species native to North America (the European Settlers brought the Honey Bee), we see two tiny bees enjoying the sunflower’s bounty.

I set the large sunflower on my desk in front of me, started the video camera and told how the flower became a “joy island” for bees, hummingbirds, yellow finches and then all across the desk … Ants. Ants dropped from the severed head of the sunflower like a rain of crazed paratroopers. Crawling over my notes and my hands, do I smack them while speaking of the joy of the Lord? Should I make a disclaimer that, “No ants were harmed during this filming?”

Out the door with the flower and the ants, or at least the majority, gathered up, the shooting continued. Blessedly, the lens was out of focus and you were spared witnessing the ant assault on Pastor Jim. Though I am certain I would have been a better preacher over the years if I were covered with ants during the sermon.

Crawling with Joy

What humor {wait I feel something crawling on my leg} God must have to watch me swinging at ants like a distracted orchestra conductor while speaking about joy. Now I begin to understand the note CS Lewis scribbled about joy tucked inside a used book –“Real joy … jumps under ones ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights”.  It shocks one awake when the other puts one to sleep. My private table is one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure. I think you really quite agree with me.”

“Real joy … jumps under ones ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights”.  It shocks one awake when the other puts one to sleep. My private table is one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure. I think you really quite agree with me.”

CS Lewis – handwritten found in the flyleaf of a book
Van Gough did a series of 12 paintings on sunflowers. Perhaps we shared the same experience with ants. Certainly with joy he painted not a single painting but two series of paintings entitled “Sunflowers.”

Happy Me,

Pastor Jim

This audio blog talks about a journey to joy islands to find the secret to overcoming isolation, depression and anxiety. When Jesus walked with his disciples between the Upper Room and the Garden of Gethsemane, he spoke with them about joy that comes from God. This joy can be yours today! Some resources mentioned: How to use prayer beads: A Bead and a Prayer.

Blue Jasper and Robles at Unspoken Elements Tell Heather that Pastor Jim sent you.
A Bead and a Prayer from ChristianBooks.com

Anger: The Wind that Blows out the Lamp of the Mind

Despite number of miles driven dropping 8.6 percent due to COVID-19, car crash fatalities jumped 14 percent. Road Rage … Righteous Indignation … and Refusal to Let it Go … are the fuels of anger and bitterness. Bitterness is simply anger that has petrified, hardened and entrenched in its position over time.

Mandrel Baboon

Yesterday I experienced the strangest road rage at the hands of a fellow driver. A little irritated from forgetting my wallet, I left my cart in Home Depot and pulled out of the parking lot for what I thought was an uneventful three minute trip home. Then the unexpected happened.

My grown sons, and grandson, chide me for my slow driving. “Have to drive the speed limit or less, you know the dashcam records speed.” At tortoise speed I traveled a mile per hour below the speed limit. Then behind me a gray import car drafted on my rear bumper.

Then the ominous signs – headlights flashing in my rear mirror and horn honking like an enraged goose. Not just once or twice … Multiple times. Beyond the first stop sign, that car still glued on my bumper in the no passing zone. So I did the only Christian thing to do … I slowed down two more miles per hour. This is a good time to teach that little gray haired lady a lesson on safe driving.

Upon my reduced speed, I saw the driver’s hand extend out the window, gesturing at me. “This is too much!” I told myself. I will skip my turn coming up and teach this “little old lady from Pasadena” a godly lesson on obeying the speed limit.”

“What if I brake checked her … and dealt her a real lesson? She would deserve it. No one would know. Wait, my dash cam would capture it. Can’t do that. Lord, help me. I am weak!”

Wait, the blue-haired speed demon is turning right; so I made a sudden lane change at the same right turn to stay ahead of her. Now, I see instead of her hand … she’s holding her cell phone out the window. “Just great! She’s possessed and capturing my slow driving on her phone! Another mile or two at turtle speed limit should reinforce my righteous lesson. Someone must hold forth the banner of safe driving.”

At the stop sign, I saw the driver’s door crack open. “Oh, no. She’s not going Rambo on me, is she? I guess you can find all types in a good neighborhood.” She followed me as I made my next left. “Oh, no. I hope she doesn’t live on the same block.” Now almost attached to my back bumper … I look her right in her glaring eyes through my rear mirror.

There she was looking right back at me! Then as though someone gave a lunatic the oxygen mask of sanity, the expression on her face, I realized was not anger after all but … puzzled … The puzzled expression… on the face of my wife, Carolyn!

After I left for Home Depot, my wife saw I left my cell phone with my credit cards. So, she followed me to Home Depot and intercepted my car as I made my turn out of the parking lot.

What I thought was a mobile lunatic was someone who loved me trying reach out to me with a gesture of love.

The hand extended … not as an obscene gesture but one offering help.

The phone not invading my privacy but an offer to return my own phone and help me complete my purchase. My wife ran to the side of my stopped car and gave her embarrassed husband his phone and credit cards. I thanked her for her love and consideration (while wondering what the outcome might have been had I brake checked her, causing her to damage her 2019 Honda CRV, possibly even deploying the air bag. “Didn’t you not recognize me?,” she pleaded.

The Apostle Paul addressed the central issue in Ephesians –

Ephesians 4:31 (NKJV)
31  Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.

Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind. -Anonymous

Are you angry? Bitter? Pretending that anger is not there does not erase the problem but delays the healing. Paul does not say, “Put those who irritate you away from you with all malice.” That makes us angry people who are alienated with those closest to us.

Do you feel that you have a “good reason” to be angry? Justified even? Righteous? Before you “brake check” your closest relationships, ask God to release you from anger. Take a time out before your anger dims your mind and you hurt those who care most for you.

Keep Both Hands on the Wheel!,

Pastor Jim