Saturday, December 27, 2014

All is calm, finally

This is my column that appeared in "The Arab Tribune" on December 27, 2014.

Here we are, just a couple of days after Christmas.

There are leftovers in the fridge and crumbs in the cookie jar. Trash bags stuffed with wrapping paper lay next to a stack of shirt boxes, and my tummy is full and happy (maybe the word is bloated). An ornament has fallen off the tree and this time, I didn't pick it up. I wonder if I will.

Our family is settling into a post-Christmas lull, enjoying a few days off together. I think of Julian of Norwich’s saying “All is well, and all manner of things are well.” That’s how I feel after Christmas. It feels like all is calm after the storm.

It’s funny how our celebration of Christmas has evolved. Until recent history, no one started celebrating until Christmas Eve, when the tree went up and the festivities began for a holiday that went all the way to January 6. This ancient Christmas tradition is the origin of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Nowadays, the Christmas craziness seems to start after Thanksgiving. There is lots of music, and there are classic movies on TV. The parties go all month. In church life, the pastor gets to go to lots of them. I always say it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

There’s a reason we love to sing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve, because by the time we get there, we are desperate for one.

So for most people these days, December 26 means we are done. Whew. We are dog tired, and Christmas is over.

But not for me. This is the best part.

I have grown to love the twelve days of Christmas, and it’s not just because it’s the pastor’s most common week for vacation (okay, that might be part of it). There is a certain stillness after our winter flurry. Even when I didn’t lose the season to too much stress, it is very nice to have some post-Christmas rest.

After all, it’s still Christmas. And Christmas is about peace on earth.

It occurred to me that by the time Joseph and Mary got to the manger to lay the baby down, all was calm and all was bright. Finally, they could give it a rest.

But getting ready for that day? No rest, only stress.

If we think our days leading up to Christmas were tough, think about Mary. She was about 14 years old, barely old enough to have a child and certainly unprepared to raise one. And though it makes us uncomfortable to use the words, she was an unwed mother. She was engaged, but not married. The angel had cleared up any potential misunderstanding about her pregnancy with Joseph, but others were undoubtedly talking.

Then Caesar orders everybody to go to their hometown. They were of little means, otherwise they would have had connections to get a decent room in Bethlehem. It was an 80 mile trip, and tradition says she rode on a donkey.

A donkey? I’ve certainly never been pregnant, but I do have an imagination. If she was great with child, this 80 miles was a long and bumpy ride. It could not have been pleasant.

By the time they got to the manger, they needed a silent night all right.

Maybe today's Christmas insanity is not just the result of the influence of commercialism. Maybe, just maybe, it evolved because our contemporary experience connects us with theirs.

If we believe in the mystery of the incarnation, this strange claim that Christians have, we have embraced the idea that the Word became flesh to dwell among us. Now that he is here, we could dwell on it a while ourselves.

So rather than succomb to post-traumatic stress, let’s give it a rest - a really good one. Let Christmas be calm and bright.

It's not too late. We're just getting started.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who serves as pastor of Arab First UMC. His blog, "Musings of a Musical Preacher," is found at www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Spirit of Christmas" on YouTube

"Spirit of Christmas" is a song I wrote a number of years ago, during my first semester in seminary. We had been studying Athanasius, an important fourth century church father, in class.

Athanasius is the one who coined the phrase "he became what we are so that we might become what he is" in his quest to clarify our belief in the incarnation. I often think of him around Christmastime.

A musical version may be found on my "Living Stones" CD, and you can listen to Spirit of Christmas on YouTube.

I share the lyrics in hopes that it helps you fathom the mystery of the incarnation during this holy season.

Spirit of Christmas, O come to us
As you came to the wise men of old,
As you came to the shepherds who found their way home
In a manger, so loving a fold.

Spirit of Christmas, you came to us
As a mother and father, so kind,
Surrounded the babe with a blanket of love
That the world, so hopeless, would find.

For God sent the Son to reveal to the people
A love unlike that which was known.
The Spirit of God came down from above
That we might be brought from below.

Spirit of Christmas, O come to us
As we follow our Morning Star,
Our minds be uplifted, our hearts rejoice
In discovering whose savior you are.

Spirit of Christmas, O come to us
As we seek to bring life to the world.
Abide in our hearts, let us rest in your care,
That the Spirit of love be unfurled.

Copyright 1994 Stephen P. West, all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In the Forgotten Verses of a Beloved Christmas Song

Spending time with hymn texts can expand our spirituality incredibly.

There is no doubt that out of Charles Wesley's thousands of hymn texts, the most beloved one today is "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

Did you know our present version fails to capture some of his most beautiful and poetic thoughts on the spiritual formation of the human heart, in response to the miracle of the incarnation? The last few verses were not included in the adaptation we sing today to Mendelsohn's tune.

Here is Wesley's original text of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Spend some time with the “forgotten” verses:

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings.
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born to-day!”

Christ, by highest Heaven ador’d,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb!

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate deity!
Pleased as man with men to appear,
Jesus! Our Immanuel here!

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace! 
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild He lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;
Stamp Thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner Man:
O! to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.

God of the incarnation, fix your humble home in my heart. Bruise the serpent's head in my soul, bringing light to my darkness. Restore my nature and bring me into mystical union with you. Imprint the image of Christ on my very being and restore me in love. Form your very self in my believing heart. In Christ, Amen.

Thank you, Charles, for leading me in prayer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Most Thanksgiving prayers are great, others bug me

This is my column that appeared in the Arab Tribune on Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I have heard many Thanksgiving prayers over the years at public gatherings, ecumenical worship services and meetings. Most are beautiful reflections of deep and humble gratitude for faith, family and friendship.

But the blessings that bug me go something like this: "Lord, we're so proud to live in America, where we have all this great food. We have way more than we need (praise God, I'm going to gain a pound today). Thank you for our wealth - um, I mean ‘blessings’ - because this is the greatest country in the world. We’re glad we’re not poor like people in other countries, thanks to you.”

I'm exaggerating, of course. Please forgive me. But I wonder about prayers that simply thank God for our bounty, our food and all the great things we enjoy.

Isn’t there a hint of the Pharisee who was thankful that he wasn’t “like that tax collector over there?”

It’s the nature of true gratitude to go deeper than that. It’s the nature of the American holiday itself to go deeper than that.

When the pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, it was a harvest feast held with the Wampanoaga Native Americans after a long saga of strife. They were religious separatists who longed for freedom to practice their faith.
Their two-month trip on the Mayflower to the new world was not only uncomfortable, it was extremely treacherous. The first winter was brutal and many of them stayed on the ship, where they suffered from exposure and disease.

Half of the original pilgrims died before they saw their first spring. Yes, half.

The ones that lived barely managed to eat until this first harvest. But by the grace of God, they made it.

So when they celebrated the first Thanksgiving, it wasn’t out of thanks for their bounty, riches, plenty and comfort. It was out of deep gratitude that they were still breathing. It was out of sheer joy that, finally, harvest had come.


It was out of the realization that every moment is a gift, every challenge full of grace.

It was out of the belief that it was worth all the hardship and loss to live the great adventure and to find religious freedom. And most of all, it was out of the firm conviction that God had seen them through the great struggle.

I find it intriguing that it wasn’t until the middle of the Civil War that President Lincoln proclaimed this tradition to be a national holiday, held each November.

Yes, it was during the Civil War, the greatest hardship we had ever known. Even in our toughest times, we proclaim God’s goodness.

Thanksgiving is about gratitude that we are still alive, by the grace of God.

So this year, let your prayers go deeper. Remember the true gratitude of the first Thanksgiving. Thank God for the ways you have “made it” by grace. Acknowledge that your livelihood and well-being are in God's hands.

Don't just pray over the fantastic food, but recall the tough times you’ve had this year. Remember that God is the source of every morsel of goodness. Be thankful (and honest) about how we are all in this together, and God sees us through.

Reflect upon Jesus, who taught in the beatitudes that true blessings come disguised as hardship. Let your heart be filled with the kind of gratitude that is so stubborn, it bubbles up no matter what.



  • Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” can be found at stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.
  • Saturday, November 22, 2014

    Grandpa: Pistol-packing preacher

    Pictured is Rev. Charles P. Hamby, Sr., my grandfather.

    This column appeared on the front page of The Arab Tribune on Saturday, November 22, 2014. As I posted this, I realized this appeared on my mother's birthday! She would have been delighted.

    A version of this column also appeared on the front page of the Faith & Values section of The Huntsville Times on July 9, 2010. It was accompanied by the picture in front of present-day Genesis UMC, included below.

    It seems like issues related to gun control lead to endless debate. I am generally in favor of appropriate restrictions, and shots ringing in schools and public places over the years have confirmed my beliefs.

    Yet I can not forget a story from my family history in nearby Madison County that inspires me when I need some courage.

    My grandfather was the Rev. C.P. Hamby, a fiery preacher who spread the gospel under the banner of Methodism. In the 1920’s, he was appointed as "conference evangelist” in North Alabama. His assignment was to lead revivals and start new churches.

    One year, he was sent to the community of State Line, on the border between Alabama and Tennessee, north of Huntsville. Now, in those days, State Line was a bootlegging town.

    There was an old, white clapboard church building there that had been vacant for years, and he was sent to start it back up.

    After visiting in the community for a week, he held the opening revival service. With windows open in the heat of summer, a small congregation gathered. But as soon as the service began, the town bootleggers drove their cars up to the windows, revved up their engines, and laid on their horns.

    The service could not continue with all this disruption, so Grandpa drew things to a close and asked everyone to come back the following night. Would you believe that the next morning, he went to the county seat of Huntsville to be deputized?

    When you were deputized in the 1920’s, you were given three things: a pistol, a badge, and ... another pistol, of course.

    On his way back to State Line, the bootleggers had set up a roadblock to keep religion out of their town. They knew where he'd been but apparently not what he'd been up to.

    After Grandpa Hamby swung his pistols around, they had no choice but to move out of his way. By the time of the revival that night, half the county had heard about the pistol-swinging preacher!

    The little place was packed. There were people outside the windows looking in.

    A man of small stature, Grandpa walked slowly into the church as a hush fell on the congregation. One woman by the middle aisle said in an audible whisper, "No short preacher’s going to change this town!"

    He ignored it.

    As my mother always told it, Grandpa got up to the front, reached into his leather satchel to pull out his Bible, and thumped it down on the pulpit. After a dramatic pause, he got one of his pistols and thumped it down on the right side of the pulpit.

    Then he reached down for the other pistol, thumping it down on the left. 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 to lead a revival and start a new church. And I heard what you said lady!"

    He pointed to the woman by the aisle.

    "This short preacher can’t change this town, but God certainly can," he continued. "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!"

    Later that week, thirty bootleggers professed faith in Christ, and the church has been going ever since. It is now called Genesis United Methodist Church.

    Times have changed since the 1920’s. I certainly would never mix guns and religion. But when I get discouraged, I remember Grandpa Hamby. He risked his life for a gospel worth dying for.

    Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, "Musings of a Musical Preacher," can be found at stevewestsmuginsgs.blogspot.com.


    Steve West in front of present-day Genesis United Methodist Church in State Line, Alabama.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2014

    The Way of Grace

    This is my soul friend Glandion Carney's new book on experiencing grace during his struggle with Parkinson's. In Richard Foster's forward, he notes that Glandion says "No matter how old you are or how many degrees you have or don't have - when grace takes you to school, you start in kindergarten."

    I have been so blessed to know Glandion. For several years, we were in an accountability group together. Then for a decade, he served as my spiritual director. In an amazing experience of grace for me, when Parkinson's began to take a toll on his life, I was honored that he turned to me for assistance. I was able to express my gratitude by becoming one of his caregivers during a difficult time of transition. And I am the one who is blessed.

    Please consider ordering one, especially for people of faith who struggle with debilitating illness. It is a book of hope.

    You can find it available for purchase here.

    Saturday, October 25, 2014

    Arab eateries - gotta love them

    A slightly modified version of my recent blog post appeared as a column in the Arab Tribune today. Here it is.

    My training in Arabian dining started early.

    On a Wednesday this past June, my family moved into the home our church graciously provides. I was eager with anticipation, though I had a corresponding level of energy depletion. I had to miss the first night of summer Wednesdays at the church because the movers were running late. Really late.

    My feet hurt, and I was hungry. I would have eaten one of those microwave “burritos in a bag” I see at the gas station.

    Yet here came two delightful young women from the church, with a fresh fast-food bag in hand. The only thing better than the adventure of new places is the sight of friendly faces. But my weary craving for sustenance intensified their welcome, as if the skies had opened and angels had appeared.

    The bag had the name of a local burger joint on it.

    “Oh, I love burgers!” I said. Here came my first lesson. “Oh, they do have burgers, but we got you some chicken. One of the first things you’ll learn about Arab is that this place is famous for their chicken.”

    How strange, I thought.

    But it was good indeed. Over subsequent weeks, I realized that this was the moment my intensive training on Arabian fare had begun. I know, it’s a matter of deep suffering for me to learn about local restaurants and give them a try.

    You can tell by my well rounded nature (I have gained so much while I’ve been here).

    But everyone was more than willing to help me learn the ropes. I was surprised at how often food came up in those first conversations.

    Let’s see if I’ve got it straight. The burger place is famous for their chicken. The ice cream place is famous for their jumbo cheeseburger. The pizza place is famous for its chicken salad. The Mexican place is famous for its pork chops and ribs. The wings place is famous for its vegetable buffet.

    It’s so confusing! But it’s definitely not boring. That’s why I find it so endearing.

    Second to my surprise realization that L-Rancho is not a Mexican Restaurant, this was the most curious twist of interesting crossovers in dining experience I’d ever heard of.

    I simply love the food in Arab.

    It’s not only good, it’s whimsical. Why setlle for dining that is anything less than entertaining?

    After four months, I’m still learning some of the deeper nuances of Arabian feasting. I’m discovering what is open when, and who has lunch specials for five dollars or less.

    I’ve noticed that several restaurants serve the best burger in town, because it depends who you ask. And I’m learning where to go to get the good stuff - Brindlee Mountain chicken sauce.

    Some say food is the way to a man’s heart. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know Arab has grabbed hold of mine.

    Like the food, this town is imaginive and creative. It’s artsy, whimsical, and playful. And it’s definitely original.

    Where else would there be two restaurants side by side, owned by the same people, but one is only open for breakfast and the other only at lunch and dinner?

    Where else would the Italian place be in front of the Old Methodist graveyard? In what other small town do you have to specify which kind of "Oriental" you are talking about?

    Where else can you easily identify where the donuts came from, just by looking at them? In what other town can you find a waiter who is the local drum major, and ask him to sing and dance for your amusement?

    Where else do people go to the hospital just to eat at the cafeteria? Only the town that hosts the one and only Poke Salat Festival.

    I have always taught my people to keep their “spiritual antennaes” up and look for God in the strangest of places. I think I’ve found one. This fanciful food is one serendipitous way a deep sense of goodness pervades this place.

    When I get to heaven, I wonder what the table of grace will be famous for.

    Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First UMC. His blog, "Musings of a Musical Preacher," may be found at stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2014

    "Crossover Restaurants" a sign of Arabian Originality

    My training in Arabian dining started early.

    On a Wednesday this past June, my family moved into the home our church graciously provides. I was eager with anticipation, though I had a corresponding level of energy depletion.  I had to miss the first night of summer Wednesdays at the church because the movers were running late. Really late.

    My feet hurt, and I was hungry. I would have eaten one of those microwave “burritos in a bag” I see at the gas station. Yet here came two delightful young women from the church, with a fresh fast-food bag in hand. The only thing better than the adventure of new places is the sight of friendly faces. But my weary craving for sustenance intensified their welcome, as if the skies had opened and angels had appeared.

    The bag had the name of a local burger joint on it. “Oh, I love burgers!” I said. Here came my first lesson. “Oh, they do have burgers, but we got you some chicken. One of the first things you’ll learn about Arab is that this place is famous for their chicken.”

    How strange, I thought. But it was good indeed. Over  subsequent weeks, I realized that this was the moment my intensive training on Arabian fare had begun. I know, it’s a matter of deep suffering for me to learn about local restaurants and give them a try. You can tell by my well rounded nature (I have gained so much while I’ve been here).

    But everyone was more than willing to help me learn the ropes. I was surprised at how often food came up in those first conversations.

    Let’s see if I’ve got it straight. The burger place is famous for their chicken. The ice cream place is famous for their jumbo cheeseburger. The pizza place is famous for its chicken salad. The Mexican place is famous for its pork chops and ribs. The wings place is famous for its vegetable buffet.

    It’s so confusing! But it’s definitely not boring. That’s why I find it so endearing.

    Second to my surprise realization that L-Rancho was NOT a Mexican Restaurant, this was the most curious twist of interesting crossovers in dining experience I’d ever heard of.

    I simply love the food in Arab. It’s not only good, it’s whimsical. Why setlle for dining that is anything less than entertaining?

    After four months, I’m still learning some of the deeper nuances of Arabian feasting. I’m discovering what is open when, and who has lunch specials for five dollars or less. I’ve noticed that several restaurants serve the best burger in town, because it depends who you ask. And I’m learning where to go to get the good stuff, Brindlee Mountain chicken sauce.

    Some say food is the way to a man’s heart. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know Arab has grabbed hold of mine. Like the food, this town is imaginive and creative. It’s artsy, whimsical, and playful. And it’s definitely original.

    Where else would there be two restaurants side by side, owned by the same people, but one is only open for breakfast and the other only at lunch and dinner? Where else would the Italian place be in front of the Old Methodist graveyard? In what other small town do you have to specify which kind of Oriental you are talking about? Where else can you easily identify where the donuts came from, just by looking at them? In what other town can you find a waiter who is the local drum major, and ask him to sing and dance for your amusement? Where else do people go to the hospital just to eat at the cafeteria? Only the town that hosts the one and only Poke Salat Festival.

    I have always taught my people to keep their “spiritual antennaes” up and look for God in the strangest of places. I think I’ve found one. This fanciful food is one serendipitous way a deep sense of goodness pervades this place.

    When I get to heaven, I wonder what the table of grace will be famous for.

    Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who serves as pastor of Arab First UMC. His blog "Musings of a Musical Preacher" may be found at stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

    Friday, October 10, 2014

    Brushstroke

    You are a brushstroke in the artistry of God's grace.

    The farther along I get in life, the less life seems to be about success, accomplishment, and notariety. I am no longer as motivated by getting ahead, finding a sense of security, and pleasing people.

    Rather, I am called to be faithful. And being faithful means giving myself to the bigger picture of God's love.

    I have been resonating with a line in Audrey Assad's song "Show Me." She sings "Let me go like a leaf upon the water. Let me brave the wild currents flowing to the sea, and I will disappear in to a deeper beauty."

    I pray that this is the journey in the latter half of my life!

    Saturday, September 27, 2014

    No doubt - Grits are from God

    A slightly modified version of my recent blog post (and sermon introduction) appeared as a column in the Arab Tribune today. I'm honored. I am glad to share it here as well.

    I have this theory. I think the manna from heaven, which God rained upon the children of Israel, was really grits.

    I love grits. It's true that I am a thoroughbred Southerner. The farthest north I've ever lived is Athens, Alabama (why, that's practically in Tennessee!).

    Like any true Southerner, I implicitly know how much a "mess" of greens or peas is. I know how to "fix" things that aren't broken (like fixing dinner and fixing to go to the store). I "reckon" all the time. And I know how to eat grits.

    I know they are the manna from heaven because the word "manna" means "what is this stuff?" No one seems to know what they are.

    I was once on the leadership team of an Academy for Spiritual Formation holding our week in Dubuque, Iowa. I had a lot to learn about cheese curds and a lot to teach about grits.

    I find it odd that in the part of the country where the most corn is grown, they have no idea what manna of food can come from it. For the closing week of our two-year journey, I asked the ladies in the kitchen to "fix a mess of grits" for the group. I considered it a parting gift to the community.

    I had to bring a package of them on the plane, of course. When I brought them to the kitchen, the highly professional kitchen staff said "Now, tell us, how do you prepare these?"

    I showed them the directions on the package, but then explained to them that plain grits are like an empty canvas waiting for the painter. There were creative options, but for this group I thought butter, pepper, and lots of salt would do the trick.

    I guess I should have clarified the difference between "lots of salt" and a "mess." I think they put a bucket in. They were the saltiest grits I've ever had, as if they had been cured with the bacon. Oh well. I suppose some folks don't understand the nuances of being a Southern gritsocrat.

    Some of the retreat participants seemed enlightened by the experience, but others said, "what is a grit anyway? I'm willing to try one."

    No one seemed to know grits came from corn.

    But that's how I know grits are manna from heaven. I have definitive biblical proof. In Psalm 78:23-24, the scripture reflects on God's provision in the wilderness "though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven."

    There it is - corn. That proves it. They are indeed grits of grace.

    All this is to say that God provides for us. He gave the people of Israel just enough manna for that day - they could not store it or save it, except on the sixth day for the Sabbath. There was mystery in not knowing what it was, this flaky substance that tasted like honey.

    There was faith in trusting that when the dew lifted tomorrow morning, it would be there again. We may not have everything we want, but we believe in a God who provides what we need.

    God provides for you.

    Steve West is pastor of Arab First United Methodist Church and writes a blog called "Musings of a Musical Preacher," which can be found at: www.stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    Manna from Heaven, Grits of Grace

    I have this theory. I think the manna from heaven, which God rained upon the children of Israel, was really grits.

    I love grits. It's true that I am a thoroughbred Southerner. The farthest north I've ever lived is Athens, Alabama (why, that's practically in Tennessee!). Like any true Southerner, I implicitly know how much a "mess" of greens or peas is. I know how to "fix" things that aren't broken (like fixing dinner and fixing to go to the store). I "reckon" all the time. And I know how to eat grits.

    I know they are the manna from heaven because the word "manna" means "what is this stuff?" No one seems to know what they are.

    I was once on the leadership team of an Academy for Spiritual Formation holding our week in Dubuque, Iowa. I had a lot to learn about cheese curds, but a lot to teach about grits. I find it odd that in the part of the country where the most corn is grown, they have no idea what manna of food can come from it. For the closing week of our two-year journey, I asked the ladies in the kitchen to "fix a mess of grits" for the group. I considered it a parting gift to the community.

    I had to bring a package of them on the plane, of course. When I brought them to the kitchen, the highly professional kitchen staff said "now, tell us, how do you prepare these?" I showed them the directions on the package, but then explained to them that plain grits are like an empty canvas waiting for the painter. There were creative options, but for this group I thought butter, pepper, and lots of salt would do the trick.

    I guess I should have clarified the difference between "lots" and a "mess." I think they put a bucket in. They were the saltiest grits I've ever had, as if they had been cured with the bacon. Oh well. I suppose some folks don't understand the nuances of being a Southern gritsocrat.

    Some of the retreat participants seemed enlightened by the experience, but others said, "what is a grit anyway? I'm willing to try one." No one seemed to know grits came from corn.

    But that's how I know grits are manna from heaven. I have definitive biblical proof. In Psalm 78:23-24, the scripture reflects on God's provision in the wilderness "though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven."

    There it is, corn. That proves it. They are indeed grits of grace.

    All this is to say that God provides for us. He gave the people of Israel just enough manna for that day; They could not store it or save it, except on the 6th day for the Sabbath. There was mystery in not knowing what it was, this flaky substance that tasted like honey. There was faith in trusting that when the dew lifted tomorrow morning, it would be there again. We may not have everything we want, but we believe in a God who provides what we need.

    God provides for you.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    Holding People in a Different Place of the Heart

    Jesus loved Gentiles and tax collectors. It’s a good thing, too, or I wouldn’t be here writing this. So I have always been perplexed by the closing words of this scripture:

    “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17

    Does that mean to just put them out of your mind? Or cut all ties with them? Or to treat them as trash and throw them away? Gentiles and tax collectors were deeply reviled by the people Jesus was speaking to. For the longest time, I struggled with this because I thought this must be what Jesus meant. Just forget them as if they are no part of you.

    But here’s the thing: Jesus loved Gentiles and tax collectors. He called a tax collector to be one of his disciples. He ministered to Gentiles. My goodness, prophesy said he came to be a light to the Gentiles. In fact, the entirety of the book of Acts is about how his movement became a world-wide faith for Gentiles and Jews alike.

    So here’s what I am starting to think. Maybe Jesus was saying to keep loving them, but to hold them in a different place. It means to realize we are “out of fellowship” with them. They are children of God, so we can never treat them like trash, or wash our hands of them, or shut down so that all we offer is disregard and unkindness.

    Richard Rohr said it this way. “When you finally come to maturity, you can look back at your life and forgive every bit of it. You can let go of everyone who hurt you, even your first wife or husband. You don’t even need to hate the church that hurt you. Wisdom is where you see it all and you eliminate none of it and include all of it as important training. Finally, ‘everything belongs.’ You are able to say, from some larger place that even surprises you, ‘It is what it is’ and even the ‘bad’ was good.”

    Maybe the scripture means to just accept them for who they are, and to leave the door open but give it a rest. To forgive is not to forget, and it's certainly not to treat them like trash. It is to hold them as part of your life, your memories, and your learning experiences. It is to claim down deep that you tried your best, but now you must simply accept your lot with them. And just love them anyway.

    But that love holds them in a different place of the heart. You are no longer seeking and trying and reconciling. You are simply accepting. You give up the chase, but you don’t let it become chastisement. You just let it be.


    Sometimes I’m slow, but I think I’m finally getting it.

    Friday, August 22, 2014

    What We Believe



    The church I serve is working on a new web page. In a link on beliefs, I attempted to craft a way of phrasing Methodist spirituality in my own words. I tried to be brief and understandable, without using too much jargon. Here is what I came up with:

    Arab First is a United Methodist Church, part of a 12.5-million strong faith group who follows Jesus Christ and is shaped by the spirituality of English reformers John and Charles Wesley. But we are a people of “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors” and value diversity of thought. There are many people from other faith traditions who find a place here. Just make yourself at home.

    We do not believe that we are “right” and everyone else is “wrong.” But we have a unique flavor. Methodists believe that while we are sinners in need of grace, our most essential identity is that we are beautifully created in the image of God. We trust in the expansive nature of God’s grace, which reaches to us before we even know it and continues to transform us long after we embrace it. We believe that God gives us the free will to respond, and we cooperate with God through spiritual practices such as scripture, prayer, worship and sacraments, sacrificing for God, and developing Christian relationships to hold us accountable. These are the "methods" of Methodism, the ways we open ourselves to God's incredible grace.

    Jesus calls us to be followers, not just fans, and personal relationship with Christ nourishes us for that great adventure. We believe in the essential nature of God as Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). We affirm that the scripture is the inspired revelation of God, and we believe that Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh to dwell among us. We assume that faith is informed by a healthy balance of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. We believe that faith in Christ warms the heart and changes the world around us.

    There is a website on United Methodist beliefs which includes sections on basics of faith, sacraments, and spiritual living. Check out What We Believe.

    Thursday, July 31, 2014

    Does Your Church Smell?

    I hope the title of my blog post got your attention!

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the kind of chemical or perfume smell that many can’t tolerate well. I am speaking of the “fragrance of Christ” Paul detected in his church in Corinth:

    “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” - 2 Corinthians 2:14-15

    Every church has a fragrance, a blessed aroma that is their special version of God’s grace. I have spent the last six weeks sniffing it out at the church I am not privileged to serve. I have paused many times to take a full breath, and I am delighted to say that “it smells really good here!” This places smells of the grace and acceptance my family has experienced during the first six weeks of our journey together.

    I am the new kid on the block, but I have already taken a whiff of the essential character, the aroma of love here that is pleasing to the nostrils of God. I have smelled it in the kind expressions of welcome, the willingness to participate in conversations, and in the informal visiting with the people of this place. No church is perfect, but this church does indeed have a wonderful fragrance about it.

    My wife and I are grateful for everyone who participated in our "Dream Gatherings" to get to know the people here, and their hopes and desires. I had my “nose to the air” for the fragrance here as we heard stories of how they found grace in this church. Some responded to the point of tears. Ahh, the sweet smell in the air.

    Some old friends of ours came to visit our church a few weeks ago for the first time. She wrote me about “what she smelled” here, and with her permission, I share it with you:

    "I loved the worship service … such a blessing. I was blown away with the friendliness of the folks in the congregation. I don’t recall one single person not saying hello to us and with a sincere smile on their face. I think that congregation is the friendliest one with perhaps the exception being the congregation at [she named another church she had visited]. Another thing I observed is that the folks at Arab First seemed to truly enjoy being there to worship. I love that small town flavor and hospitality … so very appealing."

    Monday, July 7, 2014

    Uncovering the Mystical Church

    There is a difference between the institutional church and the mystical church.

    Both are gifts of God, but one serves the other. The institutional church serves to uphold the mystical church, to ensure its propagation and to invite and welcome people to encounter its mystery. But it is the nest where the real eggs are hatched.

    Many of the frustrations and hurts of Christians are rooted in getting tied up in the institutional church, which is all about programs, property, and personalities. The institutional church is not bad, not at all. It's just imperfect to be human, and the church is not immune to being human. In fact, we should be the first to stand up and say we are all broken, for our entire purpose is to point to the One who brings healing and wholeness and transforms our hurts with grace. When the institutional church sins, it sins boldly and trusts God to redeem us, rather than pretending that what we are doing is perfectly in the will of God.

    A healthy and vibrant institutional church knows deep in its bones that there is a deeper movement underneath the surface. It's not a matter of recovering the mystical church, it's already there. It's a matter of uncovering, not recovering. The Spirit is at work and we are the body of Christ, bound together with a love that is beyond our human ability to love.

    The mystical church is the fine wheat in the midst of tare. But where would we be if both churches did not co-exist, graced by God to grow?

    The institutional church seeks converts, members, and volunteers. The mystical church seeks Jesus. The first serves to make the second possible, adn we give God the glory.

    Tuesday, May 27, 2014

    Memorial Day is a Monday

    Memorial Day is a Monday, not a Sunday.

    I say that as a grateful American who loves my country, who celebrates the blessings of freedom that so many laid their lives down for. I say that as someone who has a number of ancestors that fought boldly in the Revolutionary War, in addition to those that fought with courage in a variety of conflicts. I say that as someone who has traced his ancestors from early American history in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, some of whom were involved in the beginnings of Methodism and some of whom were directly involved in the establishment of our principles of religious freedom. I say that as someone who has been to see their graves and remembered their sacrifices.

    One of the things I value most is religious freedom in our country. The downside, of course, is that there are more versions of Christianity than I can count on our continent. Most are faithful traditions seeking God. Others are distortions that I consider dangerous. But I believe that due to the religious freedom we value so dearly, time sifts through what is truth and what is not. Each movement thrives or dies according to the purity of its fruit. I leave that to God, and I appreciate the right to choose expression of faith.

    All this is to say it’s important to acknowledge those who have gone before us, remembering their sacrifices. But I must admit, it bothers me that we seem to forget Memorial Day is a Monday. We tend to just take the day off to barbeque, or go to the lake, or get some housework done, or spend leisure time with family. And we assume the church is there to cover for us on the day before.

    Memorial Day is a federal holiday celebrated every year on the final Monday of May. It originated after the Civil War to commemorate the deceased Union and Confederate soldiers. By the 20th century, it had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. I usually spend a little time maintaining or sharing the online memorials I have made of family who served in the military.

    So I suppose I’m not reminding us Memorial Day is a Monday just because of my discomfort with too much of a sprinkling, into Sunday worship, of “civil religion,” that set of quasi-religious attitudes, beliefs, rituals, and symbols that tie members of a political community together. It is true that I am conservative about what is displayed on the communion table and religious symbolism in the sanctuary, which should point to Christ and to the grace of God, and not who we are and what we stand for. It is true that I do not consider the flag an essential piece of Christian worship furniture with the same prominence as the communion table, the pulpit, and the font.

    Mainly, I’m reminding us the Memorial Day is a Monday because we must never forget national holidays, such as Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, and Labor Day were created to give us Mondays to commemorate, remember, and respect our heritage and national blessings. It’s not to be “covered” by worship the day before. Worship is to focus all of our lives on the redeeming grace of God through the love of Jesus Christ. Each national Monday is a time to do something intentional to remember, reflect, and respond.

    Monday, May 5, 2014

    Letters to Jesus

    Each year, I invite confirmands to write a letter to Jesus, expressing their thoughts and feelings to Christ and their decision about whether to be confirmed. I promise them that only I will read them, and they were all incredibly beautiful.

    I would like to share a few quotes, so you can have a sense of what God has been doing in the hearts of these young men and women:

    “I think my heart is going to say yes I am ready to be confirmed.”
    “Thank you for dying for me. I love you.”
    “I am ready to be confirmed because I want to follow you the rest of my life.”
    “I believe in you. Not just because people tell me to, but because you’re a friend. When times are bad you’re there. When times are very good you’re there.”
    “I really feel loved in this amazing church.”
    “My beliefs for you are strong but like everybody I have my ups and downs.”
    “I am very grateful for you being my Savior, my one and only God.”
    “Thank you for letting us know that when things may seem like they are over and gone, they never really are.”
    “I feel very peaceful because I know that you are always there for me. I have always known this, but right now it seems very real, like you are right beside me and smiling while watching me compose this letter.”

    What a joy it is to serve and share Christ with all of God’s children.

    Monday, April 28, 2014

    Pushing the "Pause Button" in the Middle of Easter Stories

    Yesterday in morning worship, we shared about Jesus appearing to Thomas, who did not yet believe he had risen. We reflected on the way Thomas experienced his own “resurrection” of the mind, now able to see with different eyes. Jesus did not do funerals. Jesus did resurrections. And he continues to do them!

    Sometimes there is more I wish we had time to share in a sermon. So last night, at our last “Evening Prayer at the Piano” for the spring season, I shared a few more thoughts about John 20, reading the remainder of the chapter. I would like to share these thoughts with you.

    In John chapters 20 and 21, several amazing resurrection appearances are reported. It begins with disciples running to see the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene weeping outside, mistaking Jesus for the gardener. Then Jesus appears and breathes on them, inviting them to receive the Holy Spirit … and Thomas wasn’t there. Then there was the story of Thomas, who did not believe until he saw for himself, a story which ends with Jesus’s words “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

    Then John pushed the pause button. Woah!

    He paused before he tells of Jesus appearing by the lakeside, telling the disciples where to find fish and inviting them to the fire to eat breakfast. He paused before he reports on Jesus telling Peter three times to “feed my sheep” after asking if he loved him, and before the book closed with John’s confession that he is the beloved disciple he had been referring to (and clearing up the rumor that he would not die).

    He paused right between chapters 20 and 21, in the middle of these amazing stories, to say this: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

    Why hit the pause button? Why insert commentary there?


    Look at the setup. He hit the pause button right after John told us what Jesus said to Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” He is speaking of you and me, and he is speaking to you and me. We are blessed because though we did not see the risen Christ for ourselves, we believe. And through believing, we find life in his name. This is the whole point of the resurrection!

    Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    The Tide of Easter - Reflections on the "at-ONE-ment" of Christ

    Easter is a day of great joy and celebration, not only because it is the culmination of the drama of Holy Week, and not only because it is the climax of the entire Lenten experience. It is the grandest celebration of the church because it is the ultimate expression of new life in Christ. Because of the resurrection, we have been set free from the bonds of sin and death. Thanks be to God!

    Now that the holy day is over, and the season of “Eastertide” has begun, it is a good time to reflect on the deeper mystery of what I sometimes call the “great trilogy”, the three big events that changed faith history: the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.

    One of these standing alone would not be enough to save the world. These three pivotal events intertwine to form the sacred story of salvation by grace. It is by the work of God, who crossed over the chasm between the divine and human, that Jesus became what we are so that we can become like he is. It is by the self-emptying love of Christ that we find the ultimate expression of God’s very being and discover the essence of true love. And it is by the immense victory of life over death that we find meaning when we ourselves walk through death’s shadow. These three events shape our spirituality and restore the world to wholeness.

    I have never been a fan of teachings related to the concept of “substitutionary atonement.” These teachings revolve around the idea that God had to vindicate himself against himself, because of the blood sacrifice he demanded for sin. So Jesus had to pay the price to purchase our forgiveness from God (when Jesus is, himself, God’s self). I do not mean to caricature a belief that is sacred to many, but for me, it simply doesn’t make any sense. The atonement is not a transaction, a slight of hand, or tricky payoff.

    But seeing each of the “great trilogy” of events as an integral part of the salvation story puts the atonement in perspective. I appreciate what the Disciple Bible Study series teaches, that the essence of the atonement is the restorative “at-ONE-ment” action of God. This is what both the cross and the resurrection are about.

    The cross is the ultimate expression of God’s self-giving love, and it is the emptiness of the cross that expresses our victory over the grave. The atonement is not some twisted transaction that an angry God required to satisfy himself. It is the most extreme, life-changing, earth-cleansing expression of the very nature of God’s stubborn love. God refused to give up on us, on a world that kept “going to pot” on its own. And the grace of God’s love is what transforms the cross into victory.

    Easter is not about avoiding God’s judgment. It is about embracing God’s grace! We must never stop at thinking Easter is our ticket to heaven. It is about more than personal salvation. It is about the world’s redemption.

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    Churches Are So Full of Drama!

    Usually when people talk about all the “drama” at their church, it’s not a good thing. But this week? It certainly is.

    Holy Week is the most dramatic week imaginable for people of faith. We began yesterday with grand processionals and palms, acknowledging the kingship of Christ who reigns in glory. During the services themselves, we moved our thoughts toward the passion of Christ, who emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant. We began to fathom the wondrous love this is, that he would pour himself out for others.

    During the week, our thoughts and liturgies will move toward the cleansing of the temple, when Jesus made his boundaries clear that cultural and commercial religiosity is not acceptable to the heart of God. When Jesus got angry, we need to pay attention to it.

    Then there is the betrayal and denial. I can’t imagine the sorrow Jesus felt when he was betrayed and denied by such close friends (as we all know, people you don’t care about can’t hurt you as much as someone you love). I often reflect that out of 12 disciples, which Jesus had spent 3 years closely with, one of them betrayed him, one denied him, and two of them couldn’t see past their own desire for status and position. In the end, 1/3 of the disciples let him down.

    Then there is Maundy Thursday, when Jesus shared Passover with his disciples, dramatically changed the symbols of the night to become about his body and blood and sacrifice, instituted our precious sacrament, washed the feet of his disciples, and gave them a new commandment that we love one another as he has loved us.

    Then we arrive at Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross and gave himself for you and me. How strange that we should call it “good” when it is a day so full of darkness. Yet we call it good because it is holy darkness; this is how God chose to save and redeem the world. Then we pause for the darkness of the tomb on Saturday.

    Then we will gather for Sunrise service and breakfast on Easter. We are always (and have always been, and always will be) people of hope! All of our liturgies and activities lead us through this dramatic journey. I hope you will participate as much as you can.

    But the drama of the story itself is greater than anything we can possibly dramatize. Let the week move your heart and deepen your soul. Let it bring you to tears and cause you to struggle. Let it be dark night of the soul, which brings us to the joy of Easter light.

    It’s a good thing there’s a lot of drama at your church. That’s just what the world needs.

    Pictured is Antonio Ciseri's "Behold the Man"

    Sunday, April 6, 2014

    The Way of the Methodists

    We are entering a time of transition at Saint Mark. On Sunday, our Staff-Parish Relations Committee chair announced that I am being appointed by Bishop Wallace-Padgett to serve as pastor of Arab First United Methodist Church in Arab, Alabama.

    Saint Mark is truly an incredible church, well-known for doing great things in missions and hands-on ministry. Sandy and I love the people here, and the church has been very good to my family as we finished the journey of raising Jeremy and entered the transition into the empty nest. I will always cherish and value our time together, and I have learned so much about love and about life!

    I couldn’t be more excited about the pastor coming to Saint Mark. Ron Gonia is a well-known, brilliant, and gifted pastor in our conference with 24 years of experience. He is presently serving as pastor of Fultondale United Methodist Church. His wife, Rachel, is also a member of the clergy and will continue serving as pastor of Hoover First UMC. They have a wonderful daughter, Jessie, who is 22 years old.

    Rachel is well known in missions in our conference as former director of the Society of St. Andrew, and Ron plans to graduate in May with a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia seminary in Altanta where he did his DMin project related to his involvement in prison ministry.

    Sandy and I love Saint Mark, but at the same time we are excited about the new opportunity and adventure with the people of Arab First UMC!

    During Lent, I have been preaching on the theme of “The Way” and we have considered the “Way of the Pole,” the “Way of the Mud,” and the “Way of the Wind.” Smooth and healthy pastoral transitions are the “Way of the Methodists!” I look forward to the next steps of my life and ministry.

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

    Setting Our Hearts Free

    I had a most incredible week as part of the Mexico Mission Team from Saint Mark. As I shared on Sunday after my return, it was an amazing journey of connecting with brothers and sisters in the faith in our sister church in Rio Bravo, addressing the overwhelmingly systemic problem of poverty one casita (small house) at a time, and putting our hands and feet to work in service to our Lord. I came back tired but very full!

    On the first day of our trip, as we gathered there for worship, shared testimonies, and met the families that were to receive the casitas we worked on, Pastor Marco did a sermon on discovering the truth of who we really are, the question of our existence that runs deep and that we can not avoid. It resonated with the people, and with me. It is a message that transcends all cultures and languages.

    I took with me on the week's journey a devotional book that I went to during devotional time each morning and each night. It is selections from the writings of Francis de Sales, who was Bishop of Geneva in the early 1600's. He was noted for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation. He is also known for his writings on topics related to spiritual direction and spiritual formation. One of the entries really struck me, and I feel led to share it with you today in hopes that it helps continue your wilderness journey of Lent, longing for the heart of God and rediscovering who we truly are.

    A heart that is free is the close companion of a peaceful soul.
    A free heart is one that is not attached to its own way of doing things, that does not become impatient when things don’t go its way.
    A free heart will surely enjoy spiritual consolations, but is not dependent on them and will, to the best of its ability, accept troubles in their stead.
    A free heart is not so tied to a schedule or a way of praying that any change is upsetting and a source of anxiety.
    A free heart is not attached to what is beyond its control.
    A free heart prays to God that his name be hallowed, that his kingdom come, that his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
    For if the name of God is hallowed, if his kingdom is in us, if his will is being done, a free spirit need not concern itself with anything else.

    Lord, set our hearts free. Help us be who we truly are created to be.

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

    A Few Lenten Thoughts from a "Wild at Heart" Christian


    Lent is a 40-day time reflecting Jesus' 40-day journey in the wilderness. Have you ever felt called to "wilderness time?"

    I am a part of one of the two men's studies this winter at Saint Mark exploring the book "Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul" by John Eldredge. In addition to our studies, we have hosted a day of hiking, a night of shooting, and a guy's movie night.

    I and the rest of the group members do have some issues with the material, but that doesn't bother me. Part of what I love about Methodism is we believe in using our brain (reason) in this way while learning.

    I had read the book but the videos are new to me. I do feel that the author tried to make the videos epic and exciting, as an entry point to the concept of Christian masculine spirituality, while I the book reads a bit more solidly. In general, of course we noticed some denominational differences in language. Methodist literature does not generally use spiritual warfare language, for example, and I find that hyperfocusing on scriptural images of spiritual warfare can be very unhealthy. But we are really enjoying the study.

    I guess the reason I like it so much is that I grew to a place in my 40's (the hard way at times) where I was desperate to reconnect with my true self. I had spent my 20's trying to figure out where I was going, and my 30's "going for it" (success, achievement, an adventure). Then all if a sudden, this felt empty and I began to want to reconnect with my true self, my "Christ self."

    So part of that led me to various spiritual practices such as retreat, spiritual direction, and spiritual formation studies. But another part of that cry of the soul led me to the wilderness. I wanted to get outside and get quiet. Somehow, being in nature, rather than at a desk or coffee shop all the time, stirred up something in me. It was certainly the way of Jesus.

    Adventure was part of it, yes, but not in the competition sense or crazy epic sense, but in the wilderness sense. This was part of reconnecting with my true spirit. So I love the epic adventures for that reason. I think that the curriculum videos do go over the top and are a bit cheesy, but on the other hand it is probably an overcompensation for all the "nice guy," docile, please-everybody assumptions the church has often made about what it means to be a good Christian.

    More deeply, there is a theological undergirding underneath the yearning of the soul to get outdoors and to see the things of the Spirit as adventuresome. Too often in the Western church, we have assumed that spirituality is "from the neck up" (talking, reading, and thinking). But the essence of the gospel is that faith is embodied, it is about the heart of who we are. Our passions and longings are healthy and are part of our spirituality. And there is something about wilderness time reconnecting with nature that helps us find our true self.

    We come out of creation, we are not separate from it. Humility means, in its true sense, reconnecting with the earth ("humus"), where the humble terminology "down to earth" comes from. I long to be truly grounded in God, which means to be rooted in scripture but also rooted in creation. And the processes we experience in creation (adventure, challenge, courage over fear, etc.) are mirrored in our spiritual and emotional lives.

    So the Spirit drives me into the wilderness, and I love it. There is nothing like the adventure of being alone with God in the woods, on foot or mountain bike. I pause and breathe it all in, and I feel free. I am spiritually and emotionally connected to this earth, with love and respect for all of creation.

    When Jesus said, in John 3, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son..." the word translated "world" in Greek is cosmos. Christ did not come because God loved the people, but because God loved, and desired to redeem, all of creation. Get in touch with the earth from whence you came. Jesus certainly did. And he came back refreshed and ready to be who he was called to be.