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

“Prayer: Dare to be Honest with God!”

A ninety-something year old Mr. Sachs turned to me after a memorial service and said, “There are three stages in life … Youth … Middle Age and ‘You are really looking good!”

Turn to someone and say, “You are really looking good!”

One Friday in seminary, we attended what we thought was one of the more important classes on preaching. The professor always “looking good!” … wearing Countess Mara silk ties, with the embroidered CM. I was determined to own a Countess Mara tie! Which I did and pictured below!

On that particular Friday in seminary a fellow student asked a question that has haunted me to this day, “Do you know what day it is?” He waited as we stared blankly at him. He broke our silence like a trumpet with, “It’s Good Friday!” The day we remember the crucifixion of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As we were going through the motions , “looking good,” and learning about God’s work but empty of the life changing presence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

In today’s Bible passage, Jesus did not teach his disciples about prayer. He taught them to pray … as part of being connected with God. This was in response to the disciple’s request:

Luke 11:1-4 (NKJV)
1  Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
2  So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.
3  Give us day by day our daily bread.
4  And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

It dawned on me that the purpose for the Lord  Jesus in giving us the Lord’s Prayer was to help us to feel comfortable with prayer. It’s not unusual for people to feel uncomfortable with prayer, especially in groups or prayer circles.

We have all been at one time or another at a family gathering, or at a Bible study. And the question comes up:  Who would like to lead us in prayer?  And immediately, eyes glaze over, stare at plates, heads turn the other way. What would I say.  We may think back to the day we mumbled and stumbled  our way through the last prayer. It’s easy to become discouraged in prayer, especially after a few faltering steps.

Likewise, the disciples said: “Lord, teach us to pray, like John taught his disciples.”

In other words:  “Lord, what we need is a model, a pattern, a guide. Why, once we have that we can build our own prayers.”

The first principle of prayer is so obvious … we have literally had to climb over it on all fours to get around it and not notice it.


Here in Luke the greatest prayer of all time was written out –

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

Dr. G. Ernest Thomas was an experienced teacher of prayer to professional people.  Along the way he saw that many of them had never prayed aloud in group before, even though they might have spoken in public to large crowds. 

Dr. Thomas encouraged growth in prayer in two ways.  First, he always had prayer books available on his table.  He would tell persons if you don’t feel like making up a prayer on the spot, look through one of these books until you find a prayer that communicates what you want to say.  Then during your turn, read it to us.

That sounds interesting. Begin a prayer notebook and start collecting prayers.  Prayers in newspaper, prayers in church bulletin, prayers in devotional books, dinner prayers, healing prayers, morning prayers, evening prayers, all around prayers.  Prayers for pets.  Children’s prayers.

When you go to Cokesbury Christian books, ask for books on prayers.

Cut them out and paste them into your prayer scrap book.  If you find yourself going to a family reunion or a Bible study … you may share a prayer that can be a real meaningful event.

You might consider  yourself a prayer reporter. My late friend and saint, Rev. Dr. Larry Hinshaw carried around a reporter’s notebook. Whatever size you carry, let it be a holy book for you. One of John Wesley’s earliest devotional habits was “collecting prayers.”  You can call this stamp collecting.  Collecting God’s stamp of blessing in your life through prayer.

Wesley was right:  The best way to learn to pray is to examine the prayers of others.  We discover content of prayer … spirit of prayer … and the vocabulary of prayer.

Another idea is to clip a photograph or a print that is inspiring to you.  Meditate on the image until a prayer is formed in your heart.   I was cleaning off my desk one day when, I tried to throw out an extra copy of the Easter bulletin, showing the Lord Jesus coming out of the tomb, worshiped by angels.  The stone was knocked flat.  I tried to throw that bulletin away five times. Once I put the bulletin in the garbage … but then dug it out … and set it over the phone.  The image of our Savior shouted to me:  This is what it’s all about!   This is why I am in my office!  This is why we are Christians!  This is it!  He is risen!

I’m going to put that print in my prayer book!

Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary, Bill Moyers, was saying grace at a staff lunch, and the President shouted, “Speak up, Bill! I can’t hear a thing!” Moyers quietly replied, “I wasn’t addressing you, Mr. President.” It is good to remind ourselves that when we pray, we talk to God.

Below is an example of a blank lined and bound book which you can purchase to start your own prayer book.

A prayer journal is a way for you to take stock of where you are spiritually and do an honest accounting before God. When I was thirty-nine and in my third pastorate, my marriage fell apart. During the time of separation, I lived in an 18 foot trailer for several weeks while pastoring a United Methodist Church. In my trailer twenty-two years ago, I took stock of my life in an honest accounting before God. It was the most difficult time of my ministry. Since then God has restored my life with joy, a new work and ministry, a beautiful new wife and extended family and blessings I could not have imagined, but hoped for, twenty-two years ago.

Dare to be honest with God!

Life in “Desert Sands RV Park was a mix between a living at a military base and a rest stop. One day a new 4 x 4 pulling a Holiday Rambler set up with retirees pulling their house on wheels. The next day a homemade camper appeared. A boy pulled his sister, both age 10 or under, away from the only pay phone. “But, ” she sobbed, “she’s not my Mommy …” The boy said, “She is now ! …” as he tugged her arm, dragging her heels on the driveway toward their camper. I learned that the pay phone was the last connection some as they lived on the edge of their world. So, I left my church card at the phone. Ron and Karen F_ , members of my congregation, upon hearing my story and the problems of the park residents helped set up a “Park Angel” ministry to those who needed help. I learned Ron and Karen lived at Desert Sands themselves for 11 years. {Karen has since passed away. Ron remarried her sister and serves as Lay Leader of a church in Cottonwood, AZ.} I remember one person calling the church for assistance. Moments later I stepped out of my trailer, which sat across from the phone, and said, “Hello, I’m the pastor. You called for help?” I don’t think they every figured out the rapid response.

Overnight or Forever

The park printed on its entrance sign, “Desert Sands RV Park – Overnight or Forever.” You have a choice today to begin an honest conversation with God. This will make the difference between staying overnight in your addiction, conflicts and grief … or staying forever. Recovery begins with honesty – with yourself, others and with God. Perhaps today, you feel numb and shock from events in your life. Consider beginning a prayer journal and beginning with an honest accounting before God. This practice helps you grieve your loss while taking stock of what you have to work with. I promise you that you look back and see how God protected and guided you through your most difficult hours. Right now, you may really “Look Good” but inside you feel spiritually isolated, alone and empty. Remember, prayer begins with honest conversation with God.

Pastor Jim

In the next blog, I will share with you “Prayer Beads – an Essential Utensil in the Kitchen of Prayer”

“Come and See!” Your Fabulous New Year

A bed by the window!

There were once two men seriously ill in the same small room of a great hospital.  Just large enough for the pair of them, with two beds, two bedside dressers, and a door opening on the hall, and one window looked out into the world!

One of the men as part of treatment was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each day, for therapy to drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the window which he was able to look out, during an hour in the  afternoon.

But the other man spent all his time flat on his back.  Both of them had to be quiet and still, which is why they were in the small room.  And they were grateful for peace and privacy.  None of the bustle, and clatter, and prying eyes of other wards for them.  Of course because of their condition they could not do much — no reading, no radio, no television.  They just lay still.

So they talked together, hours and hours.  About wives, children, homes, jobs, hobbies, what they did during the war, etc.  Every day during the hours of the afternoon, the man who was propped up near the window passed the time by describing  what he could see outside!  The other man began to live for those hours!

The window apparently overlooked a scenic park with a lake, skirted with evergreens.  Ducks of every variety and swans drifted across to whatever children were throwing bread. The afternoon sun turned the lake into a mirror upon which paddle boats, lazily crisscrossed with lovers pressed  together.

And there were rows of flowers.  Games of softball … fast pitch and slow pitch.  People taking their ease on  checkered blankets, and picnic baskets swelled with chicken, cheese, and iced tea.  And above the trees there was a magnificent view of the city skyline.

The other man would listen to all of this, enjoying every minute.  The exciting ballgames.  A child playing alone with his puppy.  Then one day a child fell into the lake … barely saved by a heroic rescue!

The other man could almost see what was going on outside the window.  He began to think,  “ Why should he get to look out the  window, while I am stuck in this bed, to look at the ceiling?”

He tried not to think like that. He brooded, and sunk in thoughts and grew more seriously ill. “He should be by the window! The doctor did not understand it!”

One night, the man by the window awoke struggling! Fluid in his chest choking him.  He struggled to find the nurse’s button on his bedside.

The other man watched! . . . and DID NOTHING!!!

The coughing continued on and on.  But the man stared at the ceiling. Soon the coughing turned to a soft wheeze …  and then silence.

 The nurse came in the morning for their baths and found the other man dead.

 They removed the body quietly and, as soon as it seemed decent, the man asked if he could be moved next to the window!  They moved him, tucked in quiet and still.

As soon as alone, he laboriously propped himself up on one elbow to look out on the park . . .


In the story the man near the window – is the man who lives by faith with a pure heart.  He is able to see a better life through eyes of faith. He is able to look beyond the barriers and see HOPE! He gives hope and joy to others around him.

The other man – is one who lacks pure motives and eyes of faith.  He only envies the one who sees with faith!  He  secretly wishes the man of faith would fail!  So they both could be miserable as he!

John 1:35-39 (NKJV)
35  Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples.
36  And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
37  The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
38  Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”
39  He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw …


I used this story, shared widely by clergy, in a sermon preached January 4, 1987 at Laveen Baptist Church, Arizona, where I was ordained in 1984.

My Ordination Council, a memorable day of examination in 1984 by these fine men. Time has faded a few names, but what I can remember:

Back Row (Left to right): Rev. R.G. Whitehead, area Missionary, Deacons Ralph Spotts, Dick DeShazo and Armon D Cheatham.

Front Row (Left to Right): First two were fellow clergy from the Association, Deacons Dan Cain (third in) and “Bud” Graham.” My former pastor and Chair of the Ordaining Council, Rev. Jim Harvey. On the end was a fellow pastor who served in Ajo, Arizona.

Because of the faith and vision of these men and women (not shown), the church was able to grow and become what God wanted it to be, building first a new parsonage, converting the old to an office, a new Sanctuary and further education space. Many people since have captured a new vision of Jesus Christ.

Looking back, vision takes more than just eyes of one person. Jesus called more than one disciple. “John stood with two of his disciples.” Andrew had vision and brought his brother, Simon Peter to Jesus. And that was the beginning of the story of the Apostles who followed Jesus.

What do you see for your New Year?!

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Sony-4-GB-PX.jpg

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