Great Preaching (Part II): Max Your Understanding in Preaching!

Meet Max! Max Understanding. *

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. – Colossians 1:9

Too much preaching is a reaction to something rather than addressing insights gained by “spiritual understanding.” It’s Advent? OK, it’s time to rework an old sermon on the birth of Jesus. Offerings down or time for the annual pledge drive?, then work up a not-to-pushy sermon on giving and avoid any texts that speak of Jesus driving the money changers from temple. We can speak of changing the world … as long as this change doesn’t swap our liturgical colors or interrupt our capital improvement drive.

Reactionary preaching is the “astroturfing” of the wild lilies of the field. A predictable form haunts Sunday’s services like a woman who received too many Botox injections. Even churches that began as wild revolutionaries that held services in open fields have turned electric guitars and drums into a loud monotonous chant of the same decibel crunching pitch and meter.
Artificial plastic smiles are frozen on every face without real spiritual movement.

Reactionary preaching is the “astroturfing” of the wild lilies of the field. A predictable form haunts Sunday’s services like a woman who received too many Botox injections – artificial plastic smiles are frozen on every face without movement.

To move beyond reaction to understanding, you need Max understanding! It was 8:00 p.m. on Friday night of Cinco de Mayo weekend when Max, our neighbor’s Border Collie started barking. An hour of barking later, I looked and saw that our retired neighbors were out with the truck and camper gone. At 10:00 p.m. I began reacting, “How dare they go away and leave their dog. It’s disrespectful to the neighbors!” I considered calling their cell phone … if I had it. At 1:00 a.m., Max had barked non-stop for three hours. I climbed in my car to confirm they were gone and shined my flashlight over the back fence in the backyard to rule out another problem.

A fitful night of sleeping in the guest room, with dreams of calling animal control and leaving a nasty letter on the door, I awakened to attend an all-day course in Flagstaff. I returned home only to see that the truck and camper were still gone and as I stepped on the patio — barking. Reaction had run its predictable course.

It was here that God showed me how I went through my life and ministry … reacting in one form or another, allowing circumstance and calendar to drive my life, attitude and message. I then looked at Max with the eyes of understanding and saw the old dog, recently diagnosed with advanced cancer, staring for his masters at the back of their house, where he remained barking in that position for hours. His jaw hung slack and his coat now appeared dull and disheveled. His bark now a weak rasp, barely audible. His normal brisk walk became a slow shuffle back under the deck. I saw no food or water were in sight.

Now, understanding awakened. “What if our neighbors had an accident or illness and could not return or communicate to care for their beloved pet they raised since a puppy?” “What if the grown daughter, who has placed other burdens on her parents, got carried away in her own Cinco de Mayo activities to the extent of ignoring old Max.

Understanding plowed through the brick-like surface of my astroturfed reaction and moved me into action. I cooked two hot dogs and put them over the fence with a pail of cool water and called Max, but he was too weak to come. No barking was heard that night. I was now afraid Max had died. The next morning, I looked off the porch and saw that Max was now walking and no longer panting. The hot dogs were gone. As he took his position again on guard at the back of the house.

Understanding plows through the brick-like surface of our astroturfed reaction and creates a bloom of transformation

When Jesus disappeared as a boy in Jerusalem, his parents found him three days later in the temple:  

Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.
And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
So when they saw Him, they were amazed.
Luke 2:46-48 (NKJV)

As you have your Bible passage in hand, and the predictable elements pushing you forward through the calendar of teaching and preaching, take a moment and look through the the Bible passage and the issues beating their drums in your ears.

If you will pause and listen to the the Holy Spirit, you will give your people pails of cool water that will not only refresh them but that they can share with a thirsty world. Your church members in the workplace live in a world built on action and reaction. Imagine the transformation when they learn how to max understanding in the workplace, turning reaction, that breeds more reactions, into transformation.

*The image above is that of our Border Collie mix, Shadow. Tonight as I checked on old Max. The house was still dark. Now there is no barking and no sign of Max. I think of how Max’s owners would feel knowing that their neighbors reached over the fence to their distressed companion with of a pail of cool water and warm hot dogs.

In the next video blog, we will discuss some practical tools that you can use to Max Understanding in your Walk to Great Preaching.

-Pastor Jim

The New Driver

A televangelist and a homeless person both died and stood before the angel Gabriel. Behind Gabriel was parked a golden Rolls Royce. The preacher jumped behind the wheel and declared, “I claim this as mine!”

There was silence in heaven. Then Gabriel decreed, “Yes. It is so!” And commanded the beggar to the back seat. Once the rear door closed, the angel announced to the beggar, “Behold, your driver! He was given years of good things to prepare for eternity as your servant.”

The Preacher’s Crawl

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. – St. Paul

Preach: Crawl, Walk, Run! is not about how to preach, which is often a personal subject wrapped up in ego. Rather this is a pool of the best resources on 1. how to read the Bible in a worship service, 2. discover your thin-place where God speaks with you in your sermon preparation, 3. tools to prepare you for preaching and 4. launch ideas for your sermon.   

Back again with you after after a few weeks delay for a shed wiring project followed by my wife’s surgery. Thanks for waiting – the shed now has lighting and my wife is recovering. This delay stands in contrast to your regimented weeks marked by Sundays rapidly approaching.

I remember attending our sons’s Saturday soccer games in body while my mind was away on Sunday’s sermon. Present in body but absent in spirit. One regret was that I lacked of a healthy crawl toward Sundays’ services.

Worship Plan Book: Your denomination likely has some sort of plan book for worship and preaching planning. If you teach Sunday School, you likely use a teacher’s guide. I have recently used the United Church of Christ Desk Calendar and Plan Book –

Plan books such as these orbit around the Revised Common Lectionary, a three year plan of Bible readings that provide a guide of passages for reading and preaching based on the church year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter Seasons after Pentecost.

You may, such as I, come from a tradition that doesn’t follow the church calendar. You may consider yourself an “expository preacher” who preaches through the Bible verse by verse. My response, “That’s great!… But beware of the instrument that plays only one note.”

In preparing for these blogs, my wife and I visited many churches in the Verde Valley of Arizona – from Methodist to Nazarene, from Community to Seventh Day Adventist. We noticed many with beautiful views but empty parking lots. We also noted a lack of women women participating in the worship services (This will be subject of a future blog … that women’s ministry means more than just the kitchen, the nursery and the coffee pot! Oouch!

In one church, the pastor had committed to preaching through a series of messages as part of a program that came complete with slides. Though we arrived at the service ten minutes late and the pastor baptized some believers earlier in the service, the pastor determined that he could not push the sermon material to the next week. The fill-in-the blanks sermon note acted like grains of sand dribbling down in an hourglass. The pastor’s prepackaged sermon agenda held him in a grip tighter than any liturgical calendar. I must confess that during a merciful break for prayer, my wife and I slipped out before the conclusion. Almost every blank in the sermon notes could be answered by writing the word, “Jesus.”

Enter Your “Thin Space”: Take your worship planner and enter into your “thin space,” a sacred space where you encounter God. For me, I would take my Anglican prayer beads and go on a prayer walk on the top of a limestone bluff, overlooking Wet Beaver Creek on our Rimrock property, home to rattlesnakes, deer and beaver … and and occasional mountain lion.

He restores my soul …

In the shadow of this mesquite tree, I encountered the presence of God

When Moses encountered God in his “thin place,” he said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”

In the shadow of an old mesquite tree, I encountered God and listened to the voice of the Spirit.

One guest preacher from we hosted at my first church told me his “thin place” was the altar area of the sanctuary at night. Alone in the church, he would place himself prone before the altar and seek God’s presence and ask for insights into God’s message for the people. His personal insight into his “thin place” has stayed with me 34 years. To this day I don’t think his prominent congregation knew of his practice.

All great preaching and teaching begins with discovering your “thin place” and listening to the voice of God. The Spirit of God will prompt your preaching and worship leading only as it springs out of your own experience with God.

Out of the above encounter, you may ask the Spirit to guide you in your worship and preaching preparation. Be prepared … but be open for the Spirit to change your plans.

Feed Your Staff: Church staff’s planning and production depend on your sharing with them. You may now have a quarter of the year charted, for which your worship leader and office staff will rise up and call you blessed. Your staff can now can select music and live in hopes they might print the church bulletin before Friday. There’s nothing more awkward than the church administrator asking the pastor on Thursday, “Well, do you have a sermon title?” The pastor hears this question as, “You mean with all the hours you had this week, you have no clue what you are saying Sunday?”

“Well, do you have a sermon title?” The pastor hears this question as, “You mean with all the time you golfed this week, you have no clue what you are saying Sunday?”

I have experienced more than one Sunday, where I awakened at 4:00 a.m. with the hopes of finishing Sunday’s message. There’s no worse “agony” of preaching than staring at a full coffee cup and a blank screen at zero-dark-thirty on Sunday morning. Thankfully, those mornings were the exception. I share this to affirm that you are not abnormal to encounter this wild beast.

Internalize the Passage: Now, here is a resource most often overlooked by today’s clergy – the oral interpretation of the Word. First, visit and look up your passage in New International Version (NIV). Click on the speaker arrow and you can listen to the narrated reading of your passage. Print out your passage and as your listen, make marks on your passage, noting where the reader pauses and how phrases are emphasized.

Now make it yours – Read the passage through as the narrator gave … until you are comfortable with the words. Now practice it and emphasize the passage so that the reading makes the most sense to you. Until you have the passage in you, you will not be able to share it from you. Too many preachers try to talk about the Bible rather than sharing what they have experienced in the Bible.

Too many preachers and teachers try to talk about the Bible rather than sharing from what they have experienced in the Bible.

How many times do you need to read a passage to internalize it? I recommend three times listening while marking from the narrator. Then three to four times on your own. So, let’s say a good biblical reading aloud seven times.

OK, you have crawled by encountering God in your “thin-place,” shared with your staff, and internalized the passage. Your choir leader is sings your praises as she can select music for a full quarter. And your church administrator no longer thinks you are golfing way to much as her bulletin is done by Thursday.

Hold the phone – we are not done. This is “Crawl …” In the next blog, we will “Walk” … putting flesh to the passage that has become part of your life.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

– Romans 10:14

-Pastor Jim

Special thanks to my wife, Carol, whose editing fixed issues where I was limited by a growing cataract in my left eye.

The Agony of Preaching

Some helps for preachers and those who hear them

28  We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” – Colossians 1:28-29 (NASB)  

The word “striving”* in the above letter captures the gnawing reminder that Sunday’s coming! What is the message from God? With all that is in the Bible, the problem is not running out of something to say; it is running on saying something. When I was called to my first church, we held worship services Sunday morning and Sunday night, with prayer meeting on Wednesdays. Throw in Bible studies and church training, and I learned the agony of having something to say versus having to say something. You can’t stand in the pulpit and say, “I’ve been so busy dealing with church property issues, I haven’t thought about God much. So, let’s skip right to the closing hymn and call it good!”

The next three blogs on Preach: Crawl, Walk, Run! is not about how to preach, which is often a personal subject wrapped up in ego. Rather this is a pool of the best resources on 1. how to read the Bible in a worship service, 2. discover your thin-place where God speaks with you in your sermon preparation, 3. tools to prepare you for preaching and 4. launch ideas for your sermon.

The outcome of your sermon and results of your preaching I leave in God’s hands. If this blog has lessened the agony of the process, then I have succeeded.

Related image
Paul before Herod Agrippa  – Some Sundays a preacher can feel the chains of preaching the Gospel.

One of the benefits of having served as full-time pastor in four churches and having attended church as a full-time insurance adjuster is that I have experienced the view from the pew through the eyes of someone who battled through the workweek tied to a computer. The sense of relief and peace just to make it to Sunday. My own fatigue of the work world has given me the eyes of the layperson who makes a commitment of time to attend church. Our appreciation of that time begins with the agony of preaching.

While attending Southwestern Baptist Sunday in Ft. Worth, Texas, we attended South Wayside Baptist Church a few minutes from campus and filled with fellow students. There I began to capture the reality of preaching. Some of the elderly ladies, when the clock struck noon, jingled their car keys as an audible warning to the preacher that he was cutting into their cafeteria time! This particular preacher, by the way, had a nasty habit of considering prayer time as opportunity to correct sagging suit pants and other fashion problems while “all eyes are closed.”

Now that I am part of that cafeteria crowd, I understand the purpose of keys. If you are a layperson in your church, thinking that you should break out the truck keys, then give your pastor a link to this blog. Who knows – you might find some extra cafeteria time!

When I started my first pastorate in 1984, you felt you earned your keep by delivering a 35 minute sermon, with three points and an altar call in which one person walked down the isle. The next day at Piccadilly Cafeteria the minister’s group would ask one other, “Did you have any movement?”

The question, “Did you have any movement?” referred to the practice of church members physically walking down the isle at the end of the service to make a commitment of faith. The question “Did you have any movement?” today speaks more to moving the minds and hearts of believers. What is a symphony without movement?

Make it Meaningful. Make it moving. Move on! Try one moving point shared in ten minutes …without notes.

Let’s crawl, walk and run together!

“Lord, Fill my head with useful stuff, and stop me when I’ve said enough!”


*”Striving”- Greek ἀγωνίζομαι – agonizomai – transliterated English “agony”- to strive earnestly, to combat in public games

The Encontré DNA Ministry

The Encontré DNA  Ministry – Finding lost migrant children today. This new work would provide hope for migrant children to be reunited with their families. What is needed are faith groups to work with DNA testing companies and the US Government to make resources, testing and databases online.

jesus as shepherd art

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” – Luke 15

Pregnancy Care Centers of Chandler & Gilbert, Arizona

Interview with Mary BAxter, Executive director

In light of the late term abortion issue in New York, I went in search of the best resource to help with an unplanned pregnancy. Christians Need to Know interviewed Mary Baxter, Executive Director of Pregnancy Care Centers of Chandler and Gilbert. Easy to talk theory, but PCC is a present help –

As a senior pastor of three churches and executive pastor of a fourth, I’ve learned … pastors are not good at everything! When the phone rings and a church member wants to talk with you about an unplanned pregnancy, this is not the time to give advice but a referral to those who can help. I wince as I think back to those Sundays we failed on sensitivity to women’s issues. On some Mother’s Days, we would present roses to the oldest mother (please stand up!), the mother with the most children, the youngest mother? What about the mother with the unplanned pregnancy? The miscarriage?

The Pregnancy Care Centers of Chandler and Gilbert, Arizona, provides a gentle “Rose of Sharon” ministry” to women who need a present help in a time of unplanned pregnancy. You are not alone! – Pastor Jim

The Rose of Sharon

“Walk Together Economics”

Step One: Design a replacement for the failed 401(k) Plan. 

Professor Daniel Hemel, University of Chicago Law School, presents a viable option –

Professor Hemel’s retirement plan, as published by ThinkAdvisor, borrows the same model used by members of congress and other Federal employees: “A public option in the form of the Thrift Savings Plan, currently offered to members of Congress and other federal employees. Its fees total only 3 basis points per year.”

Step Two: Give all employees shares in the corporation with profit sharing. Instead of “Trickle Down,” … develop “Walk Together” economics!

One example of a corporation’s “Walk Together Economy” is Costco, as the Seattle Times wrote, “Costco employees, 90 percent of whom are paid hourly, make on average about $22.50 an hour, Galanti said. Both full- and part-time employees have access to medical, dental, and vision insurance at a cost of more than $10,000 a year, 90 percent of which the company pays.”

Step Three: A “One Time Student Loan Amnesty” … to end the silent national emergency crippling our young people.

Step Four: Globalize prescription drug sales, creating a fair market, allowing patients to fill prescriptions online.

Is this not fundamental to Adam Smith’s economic theory? One full-time RV’er described her experience in Mexico –

Step Five: Allow taxpayers to write off medical tourism to seek medical treatment in another country.

As shared by CBS below –

step 6: beyond the wall- create a north american INTER-OCEANIC Trade and Security Corridor

After politicians will solve the immediate US Border security issues, what’s next? Beyond “The Wall” the U.S. needs a safety corridor, that strengthens the economy of the U.S., Guatemala and Mexico by creating an improved inland version of the Panama Canal, turning the three countries into “super trade partners” on the world’s stage. The U.S. could build in “The Corridor” a Customs and Immigration “Super Port of Entry,” which would take the pressure off of the Southern Border and provide managed immigration from Central America. Mexico, after all, is the U.S.’s third largest trading partner. This is what China and Russia fear, hoping we would wall ourselves off from the world’s economy and go bankrupt.…/guatemala-future-interoceanic-cor…/

The U.S. could tap “Summit,” the world’s fastest computer at Oak Ridge National Lab, to develop the vast economic model for the “nation building” project.

Summit Supercomputer from

Could Russia be involved beyond election meddling and actively attempting to destabilize Mexico’s relationship with the U.S.?

You have just heard, for the first time, the principles of “Walk Together Economics.”

I am not a politician, just one voice in the desert crying, “Walk together!” Jesus spoke openly of economic issues of his day, while avoiding being claimed by any one political party. Jesus blessed the poor (Luke 6:20). He praised the poor widow who came and put in two small copper coins (Mark 12:41-44). He cleansed the lepers, the socioeconomic outcasts (Luke 17:11-19). A survey of the Gospels shows that the spirituality of Jesus manifested itself through “Kingdom Economics,” by which the poor become rich and the rich poo. The blind see while the sighted choose to “turn a blind eye.” Jesus’s Gospel calls spiritual communities to walk together in a transformative “Kingdom Economic.” In the name of “separation of church and state,” too many churches have defaulted on their call to engage the economy in the name of Christ. Meanwhile, other Christians have embraced empty politics, which produces no meaningful change toward the Kingdom Economy. Jesus never entertained the question, “Which is better -a Sadducee or a Pharisee?” Rather, He taught about what it meant to be a neighbor.

The song, “Walk Together Children,” by the Issacs, captures the spirit of this “Kingdom Economy” –

“the voice of one crying in the wilderness …”

“Dissent is the birthplace of dialogue.”

– Pastor Jim