Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pointers for Scripture that Doesn't Make Sense

This is my column that appeared in The Arab Tribune on Wednesday, September 30, 2015.

Jesus said some strange things.

It's part of his whole strategy I think. Jesus responded to people and circumstances in ways that completely surprise us. He didn't just do the usual or act like normal - that never figured in to his methods.

Here are some of the many things Jesus said that seem crazy, but he didn't say them to make us crazy. He said them to take us to a deeper, crazy kind of wisdom. They are signals into a richer reality. On the surface, they just don't make much sense:

  • "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone."
  • "Let the dead bury their own dead."
  • "Be perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect."
  • "I come not to bring peace but a sword."
  • "It is not good to take food from the children's table and throw it to the dogs."
  • "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off."

That last one is a stark reminder that the scriptures are not always meant to be taken literally. It's a good thing, too, because I still have all my fingers and toes.

There's more where those scriptures came from. How do you deal with difficult sayings of Jesus? For that matter, how do deal with difficult passages in the Bible?

Scripture is meant to open us up to the mystery of grace and the revelation of truth, and not always to be taken literally. There is a deeper spiritual meaning under the surface. It's a matter of discovering the Word that is sometimes hidden underneath the words. It is there for us, when we are ready to find it. Scripture is like a treasure hidden in a field. (Matt. 13:44)

Here are my pointers for reading scripture that doesn't seem to make sense.

1) Read around it. Examine the context around difficult passages to see how the saying functions in the setting. Look for literary devices like hyperbole and exaggeration that help get across a point. Allow other scripture to help you interpet scripture.

2) Pray through it. Invite the Holy Spirit to pour over it, as you pore over it. The Spirit is our advocate, and as Jesus promised, the Spirit will teach us everything Christ has given us. The Spirit opens the heart and unravels truth.

3) Begin to see it through lenses of God's grace and Christ's love. These are the "interpretive lenses" that guide us to see underneath the surface. They bring light on the subject. They help us to see more deeply.

4) Expect to come to a new conclusion. Look for a deeper spiritual meaning underneath the text. The scriptures are the gift of God for the revelation of truth, but by the grace of God who wants us to wrestle and struggle with that truth there are stumbling blocks.

There is grace in all the wrestling. There are endless layers of mystery underneath the stories, the unfolding of grace. It is for our growth in the journey that the scriptures say these things.

So yes, Jesus said some strange things indeed.

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

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Great Fishing Boat Caper

This is my column that appeared in The Arab Tribune on Wednesday, September 2, 2015.

I enjoyed writing this story down for the first time!

When I was growing up in the years around kindergarten and first grade, my family lived in Sheffield, Alabama. I had older brothers, but I was the one folks remember as the toe-headed kid running around the church my father served.

We lived in the church-owned home on a cul-de-sac on Rivermont Drive. Behind our houses, back in the woods and down the slope, was a large creek.

Amy and Becky were my friends. They were the two little girls that lived across the street, and we always found something to do.

Playing down in the woods by the creek one day, we came upon a little fishing boat tied to a stump. And that was the beginning of the great fishing boat caper.

Every day, we would go down to the boat and untie it. One of us would hold the rope while the other two climbed in the boat. Then we would trade places. I have no idea how many times we did this, but boy, it was fun ... until the day one of the girls dropped the rope.

I can still visualize her scrambling to take hold of it before the boat drifted to the other side of the creek, with Becky and me in it. It lodged into a grassy area on the other side, but it was nowhere near the other shore. I did not know how to swim yet, and there was no paddle in sight. Oh dear.

My parents were going to find out, and all I could feel was the shame. Amy ran to get help, and help did come. My memory is fuzzy on how many people came to the shore and how long it took them to come up with a plan.

But what I vividly remember is the little motorboat coming up the creek to save us. Here we were, lost in our fears, and a young man appeared in the distance with the buzz of the motor behind him.

I've never been so glad to see a motorboat, before or since. It was as if Jesus himself was parting the waters, with a divine glow about him and heavenly music playing in the background. With no hint of judgement, and a smile on his face, this man came and took us to a place of safety.

In the years since, I've laughed that as a kid I was smart enough to know it's easier to get forgiveness than permission, but was just not wise enough to leave the boat tied up to the stump.

But I've never forgotten the joy of that moment when I saw the motorboat coming.

All these years, I've pondered what a Christ figure he was for me. Here I was, wallowing in my shame and fear, but he offered no condemnation and no harsh words. He just smiled and invited me to get in the boat.

Jesus is the one who comes.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer that pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, "Musings of a Musical Preacher," is found at