Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Farmer Builds Solomon's Temple


This is an intriguing article on a farmer who has spent an enormous amount of time building a replica of the temple in Jerusalem. What wonderful meditation he must have experienced during these hours and hours!

Studying the temple of Jerusalem has always given me enormous insight into the roots of Christian worship and the sacraments. Christ's self-giving love is the sacrifice that tore the curtain of the temple in two.

Check it out at Farmer Builds Model of Biblical Temple.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Pistol Swinging Preacher

There are times when I'm feeling down or cowering in fear. Times when I'm so challenged by the complexities and mysteries of human relationships that I don't know how I can keep going. Then I remember Grandpa Hamby.

His name was Charles Pinkney Hamby, but everybody called him C.P. In the early part of the twentieth century, he was a fiery young preacher who cared deeply about spreading the gospel under the flag of the Methodist movement.

In the 1920’s, Grandpa Hamby was appointed as "conference evangelist" in North Alabama. His job was to go around the state, lead revivals, and start churches. One year, he was sent to a little town called State Line, Alabama, which is on the line between Tennessee and Alabama, just North of Huntsville. State Line was a bootlegging town. There was an old, white clapboard church building there that had been unoccupied for years, and he was sent to lead a revival and start the church back up.

After visiting folks in the community for a week, it was time to have the opening revival service. With windows open in the heat of summer, a small congregation gathered to worship. But the bootleggers in town did not like it at all. As soon as the service began, they drove their cars up to the open windows of the church, "revved" up their engines, and laid on their horns.
Of course, the service could not continue. Grandpa Hamby had to wrap things up and he told everyone to come back the next night.

He was not about to let the bootleggers shut him down! The next day he went into Huntsville, which was the county seat, to be deputized. When you were deputized in the 1920’s, they gave you three things - a badge, a pistol, and another pistol. The bootleggers did not know what he was doing but they did know where he was. On his way back to State Line, he encountered a roadblock to keep him out of town. But after he swung his pistols around a little bit, they moved out of his way.

By the time of the revival meeting that night, half the county had heard about the "pistol-swinging preacher"! The little place was packed. There were people standing in the back. There were people outside sticking their heads in through the open windows.

My grandfather was a short little man. He walked very slowly and dramatically into the church as a hush began to fall on the congregation. One woman in the middle remarked under her breath, "no short preacher’s going to change this town. Hmph." He ignored it.

Grandpa got to the pulpit and looked out at the people. He reached into his leather satchel and pulled out his Bible, then thumped it down on the pulpit. After a dramatic pause, he reached down again and got one of his pistols, then thumped it down on the right side of the Bible. After another pause, he reached down and pulled out the other pistol, and thumped it down on the left side of the pulpit.

You could hear a pin drop.

He began, "My name is C.P. Hamby and I’ve been sent by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. I've been asked to lead a revival and start a church in this town. And I heard what you said lady," he said strongly, pointing to the woman in the center aisle. "This short preacher can’t change this town, but God certainly can! And if you don’t believe me, I have two boys up here, and each of them speaks six times. I’d be glad to have a conversation with you!"

That began a week in which thirty bootleggers gave their lives to Christ! The church has been going ever since. It eventually relocated but is presently called Genesis United Methodist Church in State Line, Alabama.

Times have changed since the 1920’s and methods are no longer the same. I certainly would never want to mix guns and religion. But whenever I get discouraged, or feel like I can’t muster up the energy to do what God calls me to do, I remember Grandpa Hamby. He risked his life because he knew the gospel was worth dying for. The fire in his soul was stronger than the fear in his heart.

If he could do that, I can do this. Whatever it is.

Copyright 2009 Stephen P. West, all rights reserved

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Sound of Music is Still With Us!

Don't you wish that spontaneous bursts of joy truly happened in public places? After all, we are Easter people! I love this amazing video and it is strangely inspiring. Be sure and keep watching as the whole train station eventually bursts into song and dance.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Best Stimulus Package Ever

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” Mark 1:8

Our nation is having a huge debate over what stimulates the economy. All agree we need to do some things to give it a jolt, but there is little agreement over what. Do we invest in programs that create jobs, or cut taxes to create spending? Do we need regulation, or deregulation? Is government involvement the solution, or the problem?

I don’t know much about economics, but I do know about the greatest stimulus package … ever. It involved a cross and a resurrection. The details of this package were outlined recently in churches during Holy Week.

We need to reclaim the stimulus of Easter more than ever, for we find ourselves stuck in deadly patterns. But this is not new. The Bible is full of deadness created by sin. In God’s time, we were sent a stimulus package to shake us up and loosen the patterns of death.

Jesus said to religious leaders that they had become "whitewashed tombstones," a metaphor for people who wanted to be so alive but were dead at the core. Our economy has faltered and we are in a "life and death" moment. Do we continue patterns of death such as partisan posturing? Or do we let imagination bring us to life?

If we live in denial about our deadness, we can’t be raised. Yet Easter is about a jolt, a stimulus, a real shock treatment.

I was in the checkout line when my son noticed some pastel jellybeans, renamed “bunnybeans.” What in the world is a bunnybean? They were the size of rabbit pellets, so the images that came to my mind were not pleasant. We make Easter so sweet, but our real hope is in recovering its audacious, racy claim.

In Mark, Easter is anything but nice. The women are so profoundly shaken they couldn't follow the angel's instructions to go and tell. They were stunned, alarmed, and bewildered. How can we make it about "bunnybeans" when they were confounded, perplexed, disturbed, disordered, and confused?

The cross and resurrection have messed with our assumptions about life and death and what it means to win or lose. It kicked in a whole new “economy” in which self-giving love is the greatest power in the universe.

I looked up the term “stimulus” in the dictionary. Most definitions were not surprising. One that entertained me was "something that incites especially a violent response." That sounds like some recent news commentators, but it also sounds like the women at the tomb.

If you've ever lost somebody you love, you know that we find meaning and comfort in rituals. We may not bring oil and spices anymore, but we do bring flowers. Imagine coming back to the grave a few days later only to find a big hole in the ground. The coffin lid is flung open, and the suit or dress you picked is neatly folded. Would your first response be “How nice, let's make a chocolate bunny?” I don't think so. It would be more along the lines of screaming “who the heck has desecrated my momma’s grave?”

We need a little shaking up. We choose patterns of death, not intentionally but subtly, as we live in a functional atheism. We believe with our heads, but in our hearts it's all up to us, we've got to fix everything or please everybody, and we'd better make sure everyone measures up.

I hope you let the cross and resurrection really bother you, get under skin, and perturb you. I hope it continues to irritate you when you'd rather go back to sleep. That's how new life comes in the morning.

To hear the complete sermon this article is based on, go to my sermon archive.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Praise of the Heart of Jesus

This poem by Joyce Rupp has touched me. It is entitled, “In Praise of the heart of Jesus.”

The heart of Jesus
Nearest to the Father’s heart
A wellspring full of love
Wholeness for my brokenness
Home for my wandering
Fullness for my emptiness
Loving care for my selfishness
Healing for my hurts
Faith for my mediocrity
Courage for my fears
The heart of Jesus
Nearest to the Father’s heart
Drawing all of me to him reaching from his heart to
Tender, compassionate, true,
Wanting one thing only:
My loving response.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter - Not Just a Holiday but a HOLY Day

Years ago, when I was leading an Easter Sunrise Service, a guest from the community dropped in. After the service I went up to greet her. She shared that she didn’t have a regular church home at that time, but she always found a place to go for Easter Sunrise service. Then she said something I’ll never forget, “You know, Easter isn’t just a holiday. It’s a HOLY day!”

She pegged it. Easter is the holiest day of the year because the resurrection brought all of history together in one divine moment. Because Christ rose, all of the yearnings of faith’s history were fulfilled, and human brokenness was healed. Because Christ rose, salvation was poured out to Jew and Gentile, and power was poured out on the early church. Because Christ rose, we too are made into a new creation. The victory over the grave propels us into a lifelong process of being transformed into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory into another.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why Do We Call It "Maundy" Thursday? And What's So "Good" About Good Friday?

This weekend, we begin the "triduum," a traditional term for the movement of three events: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. The fullness of the resurrection can only be experienced in life when we go through the whole of the experience, from communion and servanthood, to betrayal and crucifixion, to the dark night of the soul, to the glory of the new morning.

Why do we call it "Maundy" Thursday? This is not only the night on which Jesus instituted communion, our sacramental way of experiencing the grace of what crucifixion and resurrection means. It is also the night Jesus gave us a new and very important commandment, that we love one another (that's not so new) as he has loved us (that's the part that's new). According to the fourth gospel, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, taking on the role of a servant, and instructed them to do the same for others. The word "Maundy" comes from the Latin word mandatum (from which we get our English word "mandate"). It is usually translated "commandment," from John's account of this Thursday night.

Why do we call it "Good" Friday? What is good about the suffering and pain of a cross? Only a poor understanding of the atonement would assume that for a brief moment God lost control and the devil won, as if God was helpless to prevent tragedy but then made a comeback. No, out of the extreme and mysterious goodness of God, self-giving love was ultimately expressed in body broken. Christ willingly went the distance for us to pour out the heart of God, redeeming us by his blood.

Don't skip from Palm Sunday to Easter. Go the whole journey.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Liturgy for Lighting the Easter Candle

This is a new liturgy I have adapted for use on Easter for the lighting of the Paschal Candle during the opening Easter Hymn. I share it with others in case it may be helpful for you.

Lighting the Easter Candle

Sing the first four verses of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today."

The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

The Lord be with you.
Lift up your hearts.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is indeed right
that with open hearts, clear minds, and exuberant voices
we should praise you, unseen God, creator of all that is,
and your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who has ransomed us by his death,
and has risen triumphant from the grave.

Therefore, in the joy of this blessed morning,
when sin is washed away
and mourning is turned to joy,
accept our sacrifice of praise.
Grant that this Easter candle make our darkness light,
for Christ the morning star has risen, never again to set,
and is alive and reigns for ever and ever. AMEN

The congregation continues singing verses 5 and 6 of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”

Copyright 2011 Stephen P. West, all rights reserved

Saturday, April 4, 2009

How Deep the Well?

I saw a phenomenal post on the website "United Methodeviations." It concerns a study done on clery burnout and its direct correlation with the lack of attending to one's own spiritual life. I hope you will check out How Deep the Well.

Here is what I commented under the post:

"I resonate with this as a pastor who discovered it the hard way. I have been a pastor for about 20 years, and about 10 or 12 years ago I found I was drawing from an empty well. Some significant challenges knocked over my tree and I discovered how rootless I had been while living in the world of functioning and performing. Through a journey of the dark night of the soul, I began to claim regular time and space for personal spiritual formation and attending to my relationship with Christ. It has been completely lifegiving.

"We pastor in a culture that so devalues anything but productivity. On top of that, our denominaton’s instituational anxiety about loss has led to increased pressure to perform with less spiritual support for those serving. It is so easy to fall into 'doing mode' and spend ourselves completely at the expense of being rooted in Christ. By grace, I experienced enough brokenness to shatter my assumptions and draw me back to the true vine.

"I have written about this on my blog at My Personal Journey With Spiritual Formation. I hope others will find it helpful and be inspired to attend to one’s own spiritual life as a primary calling."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Consecration Liturgy for New Building

This is the liturgy I adapted for the consecration of our new Grace Ministry Center. I share it with you because it expresses my prayers and hopes for this holy space!

Invitation (Pastor)
Consecration is the historic tradition of
Setting aside land or buildings for sacred use in perpetuity.
From the most ancient times of church practice,
The consecration of a church building has been a sacred task of a bishop.
William Willimon, resident bishop of the North Alabama Conference
Of the United Methodist Church, leads us in these holy moments.

Declaration of Purpose (District Superintendent)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a day of rejoicing.
We have come together to consecrate the Grace Ministry Center to the glory of God.
You have sought the will of God,
Listened to the desires of hearts,
Discerned the movement of the Spirit,
And negotiated a plan in good faith.
God’s people have responded with generous giving
And the sharing of time and talents in planning and constructing this project.
Now we are standing within these walls,
Preparing to see life emerge from this bold vision.
We pause to offer all of who we are and all that we have
To the glory of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Presentation (Chair of Building Committee)
Bishop Willimon,
We present this building to be consecrated
For the ministries of recreation, fellowship, study, nurture, and mission.
It is our desire that lives are changed and people are touched
By all that happens within these walls.

Act of Consecration (Bishop)
Dear friends, it is with joy that we consecrate the Grace Ministry Center
To the glory of God and for the transformation of lives.
“Unless the Lord builds the house,
The laborers build it in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)
Let us give ourselves anew to the service of God:
Our minds, that they may be renewed after the image of Christ;
Our bodies, that they may be fit temples for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit;
Our spirits, that they may soar according to God's will;
And our labors, that their fruit may glorify Christ’s name.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:
We consecrate this building.
For the fellowship of the body of Christ and hospitality for honored guests,
We consecrate this building.
For the recreation of the human body and the building of character,
We consecrate this building.
For the renewal of the mind for all who come here seeking truth,
We consecrate this building.
For the empowering of a new generation of Christians,
We consecrate this building.
For the ministry of the arts that glorify God and lift up God’s people,
We consecrate this building.
For the equipping of the saints for ministry that makes a difference,
We consecrate this building.
We consecrate ourselves anew
To the service of others in our community and world.
May all that happens at the Grace Ministry Center
Glorify God, proclaim Christ, and serve others.