a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance

Ecclesiastes 3:4

This was me, looking very Baptist,  as the new pastor of Laveen Baptist Church, 1984.

Back in my office, which was separated from Ruth Ann’s, the Church Secretary, by the mimeograph room. A mimeograph was a noisy device that demanded the user wear rubber gloves as it flung chemicals and ink all over the room in the name of printing.  No mimeograph clattered as I sat in silence behind my desk.

There newly called to my first pastorate, I had the sensation of floating in a tiny boat on some vast sea, without a compass. I had no seminary professor to tell me what to say when the phone rang. I remember looking at the phone and thinking, “What if the phone rings? … How do I answer it? … What do I say? … What if it’s for something important? … What if someone dies? Do they know I’m not quite sure what I’ll say?”

So, in prayer I turned my inadequacy over to God and He brought me through my insecurity. And, yes, my phone eventually rang … and rang … and rang.

When you are a pastor, elder, deacon or family member who receives a call regarding the death of a loved one, let me share a few helps.

A New Testament with Psalms & Proverbs is essential, along with a Clergy Book of Services as shown below United Methodist Book of Worship Pocket Edition  and Nelson’s Minister’s Manual (pocket version) . All these are are available on Amazon, which you  could receive in a day. I prefer the New King James or the New American Standard Bible versions. The New Testament  link above displays the same New Testament, reasonably priced,  shown below:


A New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs
The United Methodist Book of Worship – Pastor’s Pocket Edition

Coffee stained and held together now by my library sticker, Dr. Powell’s “Gospel for the Graveside” has served me well.

On the flyleaf I taped questions that I have used over the years, which someone adapted from “The Clergy Journal.”

Along with the questions, a tool I use a lot is a Sony 4GB Digital Recorder.

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Nothing takes the place of being present with the family and listening to them as they share their story. This doesn’t mean spending hours with the family, but perhaps an hour listening to them.

In a smaller church, you may find yourself sitting in the living room or at a kitchen table is a good way to connect with someone on their journey of grief. In a larger church, the church office may be the most time efficient way to meet the family.

Along with the questions, I suggest you put together a brief outline of a typical service, which would provide a starting place for the family.

If you have a church musician to join with the family to discuss music, it is an excellent idea.

lay aside any theological “explanations” as to why this happened. Trying to help someone feel better by telling them that “God wanted another rose in heaven” falls short of facing the mystery of pain and grief we share in this life.

Sometimes I give the questions to the family ahead of time for them to work on before we meet –

In my last church, the Kitchen Angels served a light brunch following a funeral. During this time, a DVD slide show of the person’s life was played. This was certainly a meaningful ministry.

I debated writing this blog …

After all it is Christmas time. Then I officiated last Wednesday for a coworker, whose husband died suddenly the Friday before. Yesterday online  I saw that  friend grieved over the loss of a parent.

Knowing how difficult it can be to find clergy to help during the hectic Christmas season, may this blog help those who find themselves seeking to comfort the grieving at a most unexpected  time. Should you find yourself waiting for the phone to ring and not knowing what to say, may this be a source of comfort in a time of great need.

-Pastor Jim

From Darkness into Light

Postscript

I wanted to blog about living through the “dark night of the soul” as it has been my own experience this year. Last January I underwent a successful da Vinci robotic surgery for a stage 2 cancer on my right kidney. Coming up on the one year surgical anniversary, I’m able to reflect on the experience and what helped me. My wife and I presently have a house guest for six weeks. Each of us is a cancer survivor, with our guest, Nancy, dealing with the death of her beloved spouse, Joe,  from pancreatic cancer this year and  having just finished her own radiation. So, we are walking together in God’s light.

As I posted the blog today, I saw that I missed a voicemail from a coworker who called me again this evening to ask me to officiate at the funeral of her husband who died unexpectedly last Friday. She was home with him when he drew his last breath.  So, following my own instruction of “light the path of another,” I will be ministering at his funeral in Phoenix this week.

Behind the above events, lies another hidden grief  . . . that of an estrangement that I have with one of my sons and his family. Without pointing a finger at the cause, for which there can be many, estrangement creates its own grief, with a sense of helplessness.  Out of my own pain and grief I share with you what helps me. Hopefully, these things will help you discover God’s presence and his shining Kingdom within you amidst “your dark night of the soul.”  Part II of this message, omitted for brevity was “Share your light with others” as a part of your own healing. Now you have resources you can share. – Pastor Jim

In God’s Care

Kindness Boomerang


For an excellent chart on where the prophet Isaiah fit into the history of Israel, visit – Bryan Easley’s chart work published at bryaneasley.com

Common Ground



The first Sunday of New Year I couldn’t wait
For my favorite pew … where I’m never late.
Bulletin, Bible held tight in right hand,
I marched down the aisle to my holy stand.
 
When to my shock, he sat there in my place,
That Mr. Oink, by himself, such a disgrace!
Oh, that Oink is so clever, a man of two faces;
He got there quite early and took up two spaces.
 
Wheeling around I marched even closer.
I’d show that old Oink who’s the real loser.
But the two rows ahead fueled my dark fear,
All filled with the Yuffies, their grandma so dear
 
Why they can’t sit there, I started to sob.
They’ve lost their house. They don’t have a job.
I give every week. My name’s on the check.
Come Monday morning, I’ll give Pastor heck!
 
Oh, this is too much! ... It's making me pout.
This Happy New Year is turning about.
The whole place is filled with the Grumpies and Woopies,
The Rappies, and Opals and even … The Posties!
 
Dragging my feet to the back row I did muster.
One final seat left next to young  … Buster.
Age 14 and pimpled, our church not the same.
Forced to hear a sermon and video game.
 
Our pastor he preached, that Rev. Gold Collar.
He poked and he prodded just short of a holler,
“In spite all the odd folk  who ‘round us surround,
In Christ, it is true ... We find common ground.”*

- Pastor Jim - written in the midst of a busy Holiday season.
Shared in a sermon as Executive Pastor of The Church at Litchfield Park (circa 2012).


* Each of the families and characters of are marketing acronyms that describe different social tribes in the U.S.  Oinks- “One Income No Kids;”  Grumpies- “Grim Ruthless Urban Professional;” Suppie– “Senior Urban Professional;” Rappies – “Retired Affluent Professionals”(often retired “Suppies”); “Opal – Older People Active Lifestyle;” Buster – “Twenty-SomethingYear Old’s” aka “Posties;” Yuffie – “Young Urban Failure;”  Woopie – “Well Off Older People.”
 
https://www.enterprisemarketing.co.uk/glossary/#w







In seminary they never told us about some of the ministry projects in which we would be involved. Following a sermon on the making our campus more accommodating to the disabled , the The Church at Litchfield Park immediately funded the Restroom Renovation Project. Alberto, our Building Manager, was the most multi-gifted person with whom I ever served (see link for story and photo below). I guess you could say my ministry was a “great relief” to many ;o)

Heaven’s Gifts


Driving home from the Mega-Super store
On the Interstate pushing seventy-four.
Mini-van loaded full of Christmas toys,
A day of rush, stress, press and noise.
 
Turning on the radio to find joyful a strain,
I blinked and rubbed my eyes to ease their pain.
Fiddled with a knob adjusting the  the heat,
Two kids stuffed with candy, and gifts wrapped so neat.
 
Beside me was Billy's saber saw -- I got the last.
An old woman nearly beat me but wasn't quite as fast.
And Jessie got her Barbie, price was marked too low.
Not my job to watch their prices, you've got to know.
 
I gave a Christmas blessing to that salesman so rude,
A cursing and a yelling, until the air was blue!
The manager came running, asking what was wrong,
As the local schoolboy choir broke out in Yuletide song.
 
"Silent Night, Holy Night..." and then an awful whack.
I planted on my child's behind for teasing little Mack.
Coming to the checkout brought me such good cheer.
For the end of Christmas shopping was so near.
 
But there amid much standing my anger then arose.
When the cashier tried  her register to close.
Scheming, I told her my mother was quite sick,
And would be worse if I did not get home ... quick!
 
Now  on the car radio I heard a golden voice,
Soothing, deep,and far above earthly noise.
It  said there were vast worlds without money;
Galaxies without stores, where cash is funny.
 
For in heaven there's only one gift we can give
To the living God,with the saints who there live.
It is that which is made in the most secret parts
Gifts formed and created deep in our hearts!
 
When the radio crackled and returned to the noise.
I turned us round to return the junk and the toys -
The Mega Rangers, and 'lectric shaver that beeps.
Ties and coats, a VCR and remote control jeeps.
 
The Sabre saw, Old Spice cologne, and cordless fan.
And said, "Kids,gifts this year we'll make by hand!"
 
     Written after a day Christmas shopping.

                   --by Pastor Jim Butler
Christmas 1993 while Senior Pastor of
The Community Church of Buckeye




The story behind the blue robe … While serving as Senior Pastor of the Community Church of Buckeye (circa 1992), I learned of the unexpected passing of a United Methodist pastor in Sun City. His wife posted a notice that her husband’s clergy robes were free to a minister who needed them. She gave me a white and a blue one pictured. To this day I am grateful for the gift from  her and her  late husband.

My family and I lived in five church parsonages over the years – two of which were situated right next to the church. One benefit of The Community Church of Buckeye was the cement floor of the Fellowship Hall, which became the impromptu rollerblading arena for me and my two young sons, Steve and Scotty! We would roller-blade from the back of the parsonage into the hall!

“You Visited Me” – Home Communion Ministry

One ministry that will touch lives and endure the tyranny of the urgent is a “Home Communion Ministry.”

There was a man who called at the church and asked if he could speak to the Head Hog at the Trough. The secretary said, “Who?” Then she gathered herself and said “Sir, if you mean our pastor you will have to treat him with a little more respect than that and ask for the …’Reverend’ or ‘The Pastor.’ But certainly you cannot refer to him as the ‘Head Hog at the Trough.'”

The man said, “I understand. I was calling because I have $10,000 I was thinking about donating to the building fund.”

She said, “Hold on for just a moment-I think the little piggy just walked in the door.”

As a senior pastor of three churches and executive pastor of a fourth, I know the church matters that call for immediate attention …

… somebody in the AA meeting smoked in a classroom … the preschool children tracked sand in the nursery again … a thief stole sound equipment … a deacon complained that your sermons are too long … a retired man wants to give a large endowment to the church.

The list goes on.

One ministry that will touch lives and endure the tyranny of the urgent is a “Home Communion Ministry.” A first step is to ask for volunteers. Then train them in the meaning of Holy  Communion. Some steps below how to carry out the ministry:

Identify those home bound or in care centers would like to receive Communion. You could start with a notice in the bulletin.

Calendar the monthly Communion visits in the office calendar. Those home bound will likely not complain if they are forgotten. One missed month turns into two, then three … then just forgotten.

Buy enough home communion sets to facilitate the ministry. Yes, these portable communion sets are available on Amazon from about $20 –

For a small to medium church, three to four sets should suffice.You can use a  quality grape juice and store bought communion wafers. Or you could make your own Communion bread. See our video below on how to make your own bread. Carry enough elements so you can serve family who may be present on your visit.  Communion wafers and plastic disposable cups are available online.

Empower lay ministers to serve Home Communion. While Home Communion  makes an ideal extension ministry for clergy, lay ministers  may find their calling in this ministry. Deacons and elders can assist coordination and implementation of the work. One option for this ministry is to provide a monthly Communion Service at a care center.

Prepare a simple service of Communion. The attached Home Communion Service might be place to start (click)- Home Communion Service

Without a church or pastor? A blessing to prepare your own Home Communion Service

You may say, “Jim, we don’t have a church or a pastor to serve us.” Should you find yourself between churches, please consider the linked Home Communion Service as a sacramental blessing for you to prepare your own Home Communion Service. Gather the elements and prayerfully examine your heart as you partake of the Lord’s Supper.  As you remember the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord, may you experience the Risen Christ as the two disciples on the Emmaus road who met the risen Christ – And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:27).

May you know that you are not alone. We pray that God would lead you to a church you could call home. Stay tuned for the upcoming lesson on how to find and attend a church.

Pastor Jim

Thanksgiving – The True Holy Grail!

Today on Christians Need to Know, we will talk about Thanksgiving – your key to opening the doors of relationships in your life …With God and with others.

Fred and Madge are the perfect neighbors. Their house was decorated for Christmas the week after Halloween! Children and families pilgrimage to their yard. They also bake. This week they brought over their homemade cinnamon rolls with tart sour cream icing – two plates full.

Fred and Madge’s Cinnamon Rolls 

Giving someone the gift of bread, something made with your hand, is the universal sign of friendship … It opens doors of relationships!

Today as we share Holy Communion together, also known as The Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist.  The Eucharist from the Greek word that Jesus used when he gave thanks to God before sharing the bread and the cup with the disciples. Why did he give thanks? We see that Jesus gave thanks this way before momentous signs he performed –

In John chapter 6, Jesus gave thanks and multiplied the five small loaves and two fish to feed a multitude. John 11, Jesus gave thanks, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me” when he raised Lazarus who had been dead three days.

It was with his grieving friends at Lazarus’s tomb that “Jesus wept.” Jesus gave thanks as a vessel to hold and pour out the power of God. While others have searched for the Holy Grail, the cup that held the wine of the Last Supper, the true Holy Grail was the Eucharist – Giving Thanks to God – before we share in the power of God to open the door of relationship. Jesus Christ through his life, death on the cross, burial and resurrection offers us a restored relationship with God and others!

Years ago after my 3rd pastorate, having lived in 5 church parsonages, I found myself single and between churches. I felt very isolated and alone. Almost like my memories of those church and family dinners happened to someone else.

Now working in the insurance industry,  I then lived in a condo, with my two sons visiting for the holidays. My youngest knew to smuggle in cans of chili because I was a terrible cook. The season caught up with me. For the holiday dinner, I took my two boys to Denny’s restaurant. What I didn’t expect, was seeing other fathers, alone in the restaurant, with their children. My astute youngest surveyed the room and said, “Dad, this is embarrassing!”

There in that odd bunch of single fathers and their children, the waitress served as an angel, sharing the bread of fellowship and joy with those who felt alone.

I’m grateful for that Denny’s dinner, because that humble shared meal reminded me that even when we feel alone, we are not.

Some of you hearing this feel desperately alone, hurt, estranged from your family, friends and church. And you are not sure how to move forward.

First, let’s follow the example of the Lord, “Give thanks to God! – that he loves you and that Jesus Christ is your Savior.

Now, as an expression of your thanks, share something done by your hand with another!

  • A postcard, card or letter
  • A loaf of bread
  • A coffee with the person behind you in Starbucks.
  • A smile with an overworked cashier

And you will receive the power of the Holy Grail to open doors of relationships! While we have no control over others, even God allows free will, we will find the door opened in our life.

Now: Pause this recording and gather a small piece of bread or cracker and juice, grape juice if you have it. 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NKJV)
23  For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24  and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
25  In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes again.

Thanks for Walking with me today on Christians Need to Know!

Remember, Keep on the Sunny Side and Give Thanks!  As the singer, Willie Nelson, said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around!”

Stay with me in the next video as my lovely wife, Carol, shows us how to make homemade Communion Bread!