Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Kingdom of God and Life after Death

I prepared this for the last couple of weeks of a study I did for my Wednesday night class on the "Kingdom of God" spanning the Old and New Testaments. I thought I'd share it online. 

Over the years, I have contemplated a number of traditions in scripture regarding the kingdom of God and the afterlife. Jesus speaks about the kingdom more than any other subject. It is a great mystery we live into and a reality we pray into being. Jesus taught us to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and this prayer is the centerpiece of our missional theology.

Almost all of Jesus's teaching is dipped in illustrative language such as parables and stories, metaphorical language such as his “I am” statements, and allegorical language such as "if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off."  His teaching is about the mystery of the kingdom and how to live in it now. But the promise is that one day it will come into fullness. The classical theology of the kingdom is that it is both “now” and “not yet.” Jesus said very little about getting us into heaven. Most of his teaching is about getting a little of heaven into us.

There is much in the scripture that leads up to Christ’s teaching on the kingdom of God, starting with the longing for an earthly king by Israel, who was tired of the pesky Philistines, and God’s warning about what it would entail (taxes, the draft, giving their daughters away, etc.). Then, as if out of the disappointments that these human kings brought, there emerged in the scripture a longing for a Messianic king. As we flip over to the New Testament, Jesus, the Christ, fulfills these longings as the Messiah and begins to teach openly about the kingdom. From this theological setting, there are strands of tradition that develop in New Testament scripture about the ultimate reality of the coming kingdom. As George Ladd aptly said, in the Christ event the kingdom was “fulfillment without consummation.”

Jesus promises that there is more to the redemption story beyond the grave and beyond present history, and Paul begins to shed light on it. But we are left with mystery about the details. Jesus couldn’t be more clear about the gift of heaven to look forward to, in the midst of controversy between Pharisees and Sadducees over whether there is an afterlife. But by the masterful design of God’s revelation, we are left to trust how the end times pan out.

Personally, I do not buy into the fundamentalist concept that every strand of scriptural tradition is meant to be literal and somehow fits together in an elaborate scheme of the end times. For example, I do not believe in the rapture (a word not in the Bible), but that Jesus was using metaphorical language to describe an aspect of the second coming. Similarly, I do not believe in a thousand years of the kingdom on earth, because it is based on one verse in the book of Revelation, which is chalk full of metaphorical language. There are those who write books and make charts and argue details, and it’s a futile effort in our worship of the one who said that only the Father knows the times and seasons.

Here are some scriptures to study, as I have personally categorized them. In the strands of tradition under “unrealized eschatology,” I hold them up in creative tension rather than trying to be too exacting about how it all happens.

I always emphasize our two-part promise for the afterlife. There is both an immediacy of heaven for those who call on the name of the Lord in this life, as well as a second coming which brings ultimate reconciliation of all things and raises souls that are asleep in the last days (though I don’t believe God will destroy the gift of free will, so I’m not really universalist). With John Wesley, I don’t buy purgatory and see it as an invented solution to this dynamic tension between the “now” and “not yet.” Just holding up the two-part promise, and trusting God for the rest, is what makes the most sense to me personally.

But study it for yourself and see what you think.

The Kingdom is NOW – “Realized eschatology”
Lk 17:20-21 - Jesus said the kingdom is “in the midst of you”
Mt 12:24-28 – Jesus said the kingdom “has come to you”
Mt 11:2-6 – Jesus threw John the Baptist off guard
Lk 4:38-29 – One crowd wanted to throw him off a cliff
Jn 6:15 – Another wanted to crown him king

The Kingdom is NOT YET – “Unrealized eschatology”

Lk 19:11-13 – they “supposed” the kingdom was to appear immediately
Rm 8:18-25 – creation “groaning”, waiting for redemption
He 2:8-9 – we see Jesus but not everything in “subjection” to him

First strand of this tradition – IMMEDIACY of heaven:
Lk 23:39-43 – Jesus said “today” you will be with me in paradise
2 Cor 5:8 – To be absent in body is to be present “with the Lord”

Second strand of this tradition – RESSURECTION of the body:
1 Cor 15:35-44, 51-52 – trumpet shall sound and “dead shall be raised”
1 Jn 3:2-3 – when Christ is revealed, we shall be “like him”
1 Thes 4:16-17 – dead in Christ shall rise first

Third strand of this tradition – SECOND coming:
Acts 1:9-11 – will come back in blaze of glory “as he left”
1 Thess 5:2 – “day” will come as thief in the night
Mt 24:36-44 – the rapture concept

Fourth strand of this tradition – MILLENIALISM (pre- or post-):
Rev. 20:1-6 – Angel binding Satan for 1,000 years

Fifth strand of this tradition – UNIVERSAL restoration:
Acts 3:19-21 – Jesus in heaven “until the time of universal restoration”
Jn 3:17 – not to condemn the world but that the “world” might be saved
Jn 12:32 – when Christ lifted up from earth, will draw “all the world” to self

Unbalanced Views of the Kingdom are PROBLEMATIC
“Sweet By and By” spirituality – fixation on the NOT YET
Prosperity and “Name It and Claim It” spirituality – fixation on the NOW
Gnostic (ancient heresy) spirituality – fixation on SPLIT between now and not yet

A Balanced View of the Kingdom is MYSTERY
Mt 13:10-11 – Jesus speaks of the “secrets” of the kingdom
Jn 18:36-37 – Jesus said the kingdom is not “from this world”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Relishing Moments and Sharing Wounds

This is my column which was published in The Arab Tribune on Wednesday, May 2, 2018.

This has been an emotional few weeks for me.

I do tend to have a little rush with the coming of spring, but my recent highs and lows are not just because spring keeps coming (after I have gotten my winter clothes back out … again).

I suppose it started with Easter, when the biggest crowd of the year gathered at church to rekindle our joy in the resurrection and our faith that Christ is alive. Then in the middle of that same week, my best buddy (since the age of 15) had surgery to get a new kidney.

It’s a day I have spent much of my life preparing for, because he is a walking miracle and I knew the time would come. His parents were told he wouldn’t live past the age of 8, and he’s made it to 52. I love that way he proved them wrong, but now it was time for that transplant. He’s had a bumpy recovery, but for the new kidney, so far so good. He’s taught me many times how to be full of life, and he’s teaching me again.

As if that were not enough, by the end of that same week my daughter got married. I was giddy. I have performed hundreds of weddings in my life, but I had exactly one moment in time to be father of the bride.

I laid awake at night planning my speech to toast the happy couple. I got to walk her in, I got a big kiss on my cheek … all the things I had dreamed of. The emotions continued, too. It was a small backyard wedding, so naturally we have family party after family party for the relatives (one down, two to go!). Being the extravert I am, I loved meeting my new son-in-law’s folks in Mobile the weekend after the wedding, and wishing the two newlyweds off on their honeymoon cruise.

But to balance the bliss, on the way to Mobile we spent the day in New Orleans, where my wife and I performed the funeral of her dear aunt who died at the age of 88 (you do know, of course, that New Orleans is not on the way to Mobile).

So I’ve had a couple of weeks of big emotions, which I can’t describe without a dad joke. I felt like the circus clown who is always stressed, because every day was “in tents.” They were intense indeed.
Just in case you think Easter, a kidney surgery, a wedding, a funeral, and a weekend of meeting the in-laws were enough, the church I joyfully serve paid their last loan payment on the campus we have been on for 18 years. I had no idea how emotional it would be for me to be there for the photo op at the bank and announce our mortgage burning ceremonies. It was unreal.

Now that all of that is over, I have something to say. Relish the moments. Life is not perfect, love is not perfect, and people are not perfect. Give up your expectations on that. Just let the love of God show you how to see life more perfectly. Enjoy the moments of your life because they will never come again.

I also have something to reflect on. In my roller coaster since Easter, I could hardly sleep at night. Can you imagine how emotional their post-Easter experience was?

Jesus’s followers had spent three intense years with him. Then there was all the betrayal, denial, and arguing around the table before a horrible crucifixion. The first apostles, the women, had told them what must have seemed like wild tales of his risen appearance. So they didn’t know what to feel.

They were behind closed doors, locked away “out of fear,” the scripture says. Then Jesus shows up. He started out with a word of peace. Then he showed them his hands and side, and the disciples threw a party.

Can you imagine the emotions? Mine don’t even compare. This year, in the wake of Easter with all my wild experiences, crazy sensations, and gut reactions, I saw something in this story I’ve never seen before. When Jesus showed up, what did he have to show for it? His hands and side.

I guess I thought Thomas was the one that had the bright idea of sticking his fingers in the holes of healed and resurrected flesh because he was the kind of person that wanted proof. But now I see that maybe he was just plain excited. His doubt was mainly because he wasn’t there the first time Jesus swept in.

Would you have believed it? Showing off his hands and side was Jesus’ idea, not Thomas’s. He did it for the others a full week before Thomas asked for it. That’s because his answer to fear and doubt is grace. We give Thomas a bad rap, but this story is not about the depths of his doubt. It’s about the joy of Jesus’ gift.

When I got in touch this year, in my own little way, with all the emotions of the stunned disciples, I began to read differently Jesus’s comment to Thomas,“blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Maybe it was less of a reprimand and more of a bridge, leading to the next words, which are the key words of the book of John, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe.”

This was not finger-wagging, it was a setup. That’s how grace works.

Jesus could’ve done some other miracle when he popped in that day. He could have changed water to wine again, or multiplied loaves and fishes, but no. No tricks. Jesus showed his wounds, because it is healed wounds that reveal the power of resurrection.

That’s true for us, too. Sharing the love is not just about words and it’s certainly not about miracles. In the wisdom of God, it’s the fleshly, the real, and the practical that makes the difference. Share your wounds.

Not too long ago, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the famous wrestler-become-actor, spoke publicly about his and his family’s struggles with depression. His mother had once attempted suicide, and he reflected on his feelings after that. “Struggle and pain is real. I was devastated and depressed. I reached a point where I didn’t want to do a thing or go anywhere. I was crying constantly.”

When I see “The Rock” on TV, I see someone quite strong, so I was surprised. But I admire him even more. He had the courage to be real, to be honest. His healed wounds can become somebody else’s healing grace.

He said, “We all go thru the sludge and depression never discriminates … [it] took me a long time to realize it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You’re not alone.”

Openness is not sign of weakness. It’s a testimony of strength. I myself have overcome depression. You may be surprised that a preacher would say that, but don’t be. It is how God grabbed hold of me. It was a living nightmare, but it led to a depth of prayer.

Do you have wounds in your life? See his hands and side. He joins us in our woundedness. Join him in the emotions of those resurrection moments, and share your healed wounds with someone else. Believe. Trust.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

Friday, March 23, 2018

God Bless ...



I recently saw a large church-sponsored billboard in a nearby city that said “God bless America.” It had on the billboard the colors of the American flag, shaped like the map of the continental U.S. Underneath it was the name of the church that was sponsoring the rental of the advertising.

That is a good prayer. That is an appropriate prayer. There is nothing wrong with asking for God’s blessings on this nation, the one we call the land of the free.

We desperately need the blessings of God’s divine compassion for others, of justice and righteousness for all people, and of unity that comes with great awakenings of the Spirit such as those that have swept over our continent in times past. These days, we are an increasingly divided, violent, and secularized country that seems to be losing touch with our civility. We have seen difficult times before. Yet we need the blessings of God as much as we ever have.

Yes, there is much good in the midst of life these days, don’t get me wrong. Progress doesn’t come without price, and sometimes it takes time for things to shuffle themselves out in history.

But I have been thinking that if my church were going to spend that kind of money, I think I’d want our billboard to say “God bless the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure, the peacemaker, and the persecuted.”

What? Why?

It’s simple. Those are the words of Jesus. We call them the Beatitudes. These are the ones God most wants to bless - the poor in spirit, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and the pure in heart. God blesses them in our country and God blesses them beyond our country.

Those are the ones I named in my imaginary billboard above, the “blessed” of the eight beatitudes themselves, in the same order as in Matthew 5.  They are Christ’s very definition of who is blessed in the opening of his Sermon on the Mount.

No, I’m not being un-American, I’m just being unashamedly Christian. I’m certainly not pointing fingers or making any judgments about those who would want to spend money on a billboard to express themselves.

I’m just saying that what makes more sense to me personally are the dear words of Jesus. My deepest desire is that we take the words of Jesus seriously, for the wisdom of his words trumps all cultural values and even, at times, our zealous nationalism.

So if I were going to rent a billboard to pray for blessings, it’s what I’d have to say.



Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Astonishing Red-Letters of Jesus

This is my column that appeared in The Arab Tribune on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. I found it humorous that the editor entitled the piece "Jesus' red-letter words show he was progressive," since I am, hopefully, claiming a set of Christian ethics that defies political labeling.

Somebody came in my study a few days ago and said, “wow, you have a lot of books. Have you read all of them?”

Why ask a pastor a question like that? Of course I haven’t.

In fact, I pulled one off my shelf and placed on my desk a few months ago … and it has sat right there ever since. It’s on standby. It’s called “Primal” by Mark Batterson, and I suppose I’ll get to it when the time is right.

But the back of the book inspires me. I read it every once in a while.

It says, “What would your Christianity look like if it was stripped down to the simplest, rawest, purest faith possible? You would have more, not less. You would have the beginning of a new reformation—in your generation, your church, your own soul. You would have primal Christianity.”

The book cover continues, “This book is an invitation to become part of a reformation movement. It is an invitation to rediscover the compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy that turned the world upside down two thousand years ago. It is an invitation to be astonished again.”

Do you long to be astonished again?

If so, I have a suggestion. It sounds simple, and it is ... the simplicity is precisely why we don’t do it. It’s coming back to what Jesus actually said.

Christians focus so much on having Jesus “in my heart,” and holding a ticket to heaven, that we forget being a follower is about our whole life. Following Jesus is about our jobs, our marriages, our families, our neighborhoods, our finances, our health, our priorities, and our politics.

So if you want to be astonished again, go back to the "red letters" of Jesus. You find them in those Red Letter Bibles that highlight the words Jesus actually said.

Honestly I’ve always had mixed feelings about Red Letter Bibles. His words aren’t more “scriptural” than other scripture. But the farther along I get in my faith, the more I see that if I’m really going to live it, those red letters are more fundamental than fundamentalism.

The words of Jesus have profound impact when lifted out. Like raw sugar, it shows us the raw Jesus, pure and unvarnished.

What you discover may surprise you. Jesus did not talk at all about things we tend to make religion about in politics, when we reduce it to a couple of controversial moral issues. But on the other hand he lived an incredibly political life.

He was amazing in his progressive treatment of women. He confronted the racism of his people against Gentiles and Samaritans. He had a heart for the outcast. He lifted up mission with the poor and impoverished. He taught radical peacemaking, saying “those that live by the sword die by the sword.”

He said that it is what comes out of our mouth, not what goes in, that defiles. He spoke of those who are without sin casting the first stone, calling out judgmentalism for what it is. He affirmed those who are poor, meek, mourning, and weak.

He called people to a whole new world of grace, the kingdom of God, which has embedded in it a vision for justice for all people. He said strange things like “the last shall he first and the first shall be last.” He stood squarely against the accumulation of wealth.

These are the “Red Letter” issues.

Are you a “Red Letter Christian?” Or are you content with human, divisive labels like liberal and conservative?

I accept neither label because I’d rather just follow the gospel. It’s time that we disentangle divisive political labels from our faith and let the gospel be our guide.

Mark Lowry is a self-proclaimed "recovering fundamentalist." He sang with the Gaither Vocal Band, then took year off and decided to read the "red letters.”

I heard him speak once, when he said, “Have you ever read the red part of the Bible? It will mess you up!"

He continued, "You know what I found out? We've been hanging around the wrong people. We've got to start hanging around some more prostitutes! Jesus hung out with the outcast. Jesus hung out with the freaks and failures and vagabonds. The only people Jesus chewed out were the religious folks."

Lowry admitted "I didn't make a good fundamentalist because I could never figure out, how do you love the sinner but hate the sin? There's so many of you! I don't have time to hate your sin ... hate your own sin! Hating my own sin is a full time job! The psalmist said 'my sin is ever before me.' I say this ... love the sinner, but hate your own sin! You hate your sin, I'll hate my sin, and let's love each other!"

Now that’s a “Red Letter Christian” if I’ve ever heard one.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is at www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Post

Today is New Year's Day, and I am beginning a journey of focusing on two things: losing 20 pounds and finding new direction for my life and ministry. I have been challenged by my Spiritual Director to spend time seeking the heart of God for what life will bring during the next 10 years of my journey.

I accepted the challenge.

The first thing that came to mind was this prayer of Thomas Merton. I will keep it handy to begin my time of exploring with God:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Thomas Merton

Sunday, December 24, 2017

When God Comes Near

This is my column which appeared in The Arab Tribune on Saturday, December 23, 2017.

A number of years ago, long before blogging and social media were something I could imagine (but after email and fax machines were born ... I’m not ancient you know), I figured out how to make my first group list with an email address book.

Woah. This group email thing was new and unheard of technology. Yes, this story ages me, but it was then that I started sharing some devotional writings.

They certainly weren’t the length and breadth of the columns I try to write today, but it was a start. I began with a one-pager called “Faithclick” which went out every week or two.

One year, I got a call from a Birmingham newspaper, asking if they could quote my Faithclick in a piece they were doing on Christmas. I wasn’t even sure how they had gotten hold of it. I was honored and said “sure!”

Little did I know the editor was doing an op-ed piece to starkly contrast my thoughts with that of another pastor. I had no idea what I had gotten into.

The experience is etched in my memory as a reminder of not only the value of diverse faiths but of my intense commitment to the mystery of Christmas.

The other pastor’s point of view was that Christmas was not important. Salvation came through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, not his birth, he argued. So the only holiday that was important was Easter.

Bah, Hogwash.

My point of view is that Christmas is the great feast of the incarnation. The incarnation is that divine-become-human miracle that changed the world as well as the trajectory of salvation history.

Of course the crucifixion and resurrection are incredibly important, and my claim on Christmas is much more than a banal reminder that if Jesus had not been born he could not have died.

Christmas is much more than a birthday party for Jesus. It’s not even his birthday, since we have no idea when that was! Christmas is a feast that beholds the incredible miracle of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection are a divine trilogy, if you will, of events of salvation significance. To leave the incarnation off the salvation menu is to abandon the great miracle of God crossing over.

I believe the incarnation is what is most distinctive and unique about Christianity. Other religions believe in one true God, in sin and grace, in prayer and holy writings, in the redeeming quality of suffering, and in loving God and neighbor. But no other historic world religion believes that God became human. In fact, this is the key offense other religions have against it.

Jesus was not just a teacher or prophet. In him we behold God’s glory. God crossed over to us because we can’t on our own cross the bridge to God. No amount of effort or religiosity or right living or correct doctrine can save us. So God came. What a strange way to save the world.

The incarnation is so integral to our faith because this miracle is the nest in which Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are born. And it has a huge impact on Christian spirituality.

Christ is still alive and present, a truth that is confirmed by the victory of Easter. His presence is in the world and the Church is his body. He is the living Word. It’s the reason the virgin birth is so important in the scripture’s narrative.

It’s the reason that in the wisdom of the ancients, folk winter festival traditions were adopted to serve the greater mystery. If you ever get frustrated by the secular and cultural aspects of Christmas or bend to the temptation of believing we are in some sort of culture war, remember that this festival adopting secular enhancements was a choice made long ago. It’s a reminder that the sacred and secular are not entirely opposite.

Just as the divine became human, the human can still point to the divine. This is incarnational spirituality.

I’ve always believed Christianity is something you follow, not swallow. To follow God’s lead, a key feature of our faith is to develop new eyes with which to see God in our midst.

I know Christmas is hard for some, especially for those who are grieving. There can be tears during this season.

Yet in our sorrow, may we know Christ is present. This is because God is, as Carlo Carretto famously said, “a God who comes.”

C.S. Lewis is well known for being a skeptic who, after years of intellectual struggle, converted wholeheartedly to Christianity. He noted many times that what really sold him on Christian faith was the incarnation. He wrote, “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. We must not use the Bible as a sort of encyclopedia out of which texts can be taken to use as weapons.”

This year, take some time to come home to the miracle of the incarnation. It’s time to stop using religion to support our pre-set opinions and prejudices. Let the incarnation wash over you.

Let Christmas be a holiday for you in the true sense of the word, because a holiday is a “holy day.” Take some time to pause, to reflect, and to be silent ... not just because you need to collapse every once in a while because of all the shopping and parties. Do it because you are intentionally building the beholding of a mystery into the midst.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is at www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

“Steve’s Sayings”



I’ve been reading the memoirs of a contemporary politician, as I have in times past when books have been published. I find them inspiring in a strange sort of way. Whether or not agree with all of their ideas, they are leaders. I look for what it is they hold onto that makes them tick, those deeply held beliefs that drive them to serve against all odds.

This time around, it has spurred me to think of my own core values. What are the primary things I believe? In addition to gospel essentials, of course, what are the things I will always go to bat for, that I will pursue no matter what?

Once, at a going away party hosted by the church I had been serving, they recalled the things they had heard me say. Much of this was for the sake of humor, of course, like the time I had said in staff meeting, “we don’t want people in wheelchairs tripping over wires.“

Reading the memoir got me to thinking what I’d like to be remembered for. What are the essentials that I live for? The stakes I have in the ground? The points of no departure, no matter how much pressure I feel?

So I have come up with a few. Some are phrases I picked up from friends, some I’ve lived with for years, and some are fresh expressions. I confess that these are somewhat random. Some are theological, some are inspirational, and others are leadership principles. That’s just the way they came to me.

1. Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is more people who are fully alive. (from Howard Thurman)
2. I am not what I do, nor what I have, nor what other people think of me. I am a beloved child of God. (from Henri Nouwen)
3. God is love. This is not just sentimentality. This means if it is not loving, it is not of God. Period.
4. If you are looking for the perfect church, you won’t find one. If by chance you do, don’t join it. You’ll mess it up.
5. Self-giving love is the most powerful force in the universe. Really.
6. Jesus boiled it down to love of God and neighbor. Everything else is secondary.
7. Christianity is not about being right. It’s about being in relationship.
8. Religion can get really out of whack when it gets confused with politics.
9. It’s better not to wrestle alligators. They know how to fight in the swamp. If there is a way to drain the swamp, do that. Otherwise stay out, because if you get pulled in, you’ll lose. (from a friend Don Neal)
10. If you have integrity, that’s all that matters. If you don’t have integrity, that’s all that matters.(from a friend Lem Carter)
11. The Church is not perfect. But it’s the gift God gave us. That makes it my hope for the world. (from my friend Stewart Jackson)
12. The true measure of Christianity is faithfulness, not success. The reason we get this mixed up is institutional anxiety about loss. When the church focuses on success, it has sold itself out to culture.
13. There is no right or wrong worship style. Jesus’s only requirements were that it be done in spirit and truth. That means it must be led with a sense of God’s presence and a willingness to take a theological plunge.
14. Christian life is about rhythm that forms you over time. This is not a quest for the fantastic.
15. I am not responsible for everything. That’s God‘s job.
16. The Church is the body of Christ. It’s a mystery. There’s a reason the gospel uses metaphorical language for it.
17. You cannot grasp God and you can not master the Bible. Let God grab your attention, and let the scripture master you.
18. God is profound mystery. Certainty is a myth. Listen for the still, small voice.
19. Christianity is about being continually restored into the image of Christ. Your decision to follow is important, but grace didn’t start there and doesn’t quit after that.
20. Christ must not be reduced to being “my personal savior.” He calls me to live the values of the kingdom of God. If I do that, somebody is not going to like it.
21. Christianity is not about being a fan, it’s about being a follower. We don’t need pep rallies, we need authentic and heart-felt yearning.
22. There is a reason the first name for Christianity was The Way. It is a path, a journey. You never get “there.”
23. There is great diversity within Christianity about political issues. God made the diversity beautiful. It’s us who make it ugly.
24. There is evil in the world, and Christians should call it out. But be prepared to pay a price.
25. I can’t control other people‘s actions. If I live the love God has placed in my heart, that is all I can do.
26. The miracle of Easter is the miracle of worship. Jesus shows up.
27. Worship is not an event. It is a life.
28. If we don’t get things perfectly right, God is not mad.
29. Praise is not something you do. It is something you join.
30. Even with the immense responsibilities of being savior of the world, Jesus took time for himself. Do I think I have more important things to do than Jesus?
31. I don’t talk about people. I talk to them. Otherwise, how can I expect people to do the same with me?
32. Forgiveness is the most essential practice in church. That’s because the Church is a big rehearsal for life in heaven, where we will let it all go.
33. My life is about practicing the presence of God. It’s called practice, because I’m still trying to get it right.
34. There is no replacement for gentleness and kindness. They are sweet but they are also not optional.
35. Nothing good comes after the phrase “I’m just being honest.” Speaking truth in love is absolutely necessary.
36. Fundamentalism and prosperity are the two uniquely American derivatives of real Christianity.
37. You can’t draw from an empty well. I must take time to nourish my own spirituality.
38. Living your baptism is living the deepest truth of who you are as God’s beloved.
39. All are welcome at the table because it’s a table of grace.
40. I have high expectations of what it means to be in Christian community. That comes with a price. Sometimes people will let me down.
41. The way of the cross is the best way to respond to conflict. It’s not fight or flight, it’s a third way, the Christ way. It’s not winning. But it’s also not losing, because if we are faithful to the gospel, that’s all that matters.
42. Love hurts, especially when someone betrays your trust. But the only love other people can have for you is imperfect love. We get our unconditional love from God.
43. The Bible is the unfolding revelation of God’s love. Don’t read it “flat.” The best way to interpret it is through the lens of Christ, who is himself the Word of God.
44. The only true leadership is servant leadership. Teamwork was the way of Jesus, and it’s the only way to change the world. I am not a Lone Ranger.
45. God is not finished with us yet. We are always being formed and shaped.

I’m sure I could come up with more. If my ministry is being a tabernacle (a place of God’s dwelling on this temporary journey we call life), these are the stakes I shove in the ground. They are the values I carry from place to place, as I set up a tent and invite others to experience God with me while I’m here on earth.

What would yours be?

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.