Sunday, March 27, 2011

Little Seed Can Be Great - Wherever It's Planted

This was my column published in the Faith and Values section of the Huntsville Times on Friday, March 25, 2011.

When my wife and I got married, it was a church wedding of church weddings. We were in seminary and both on the part-time staff at the church where we were wed. Naturally, a large group from the church came. The experience was complete with choir and hand bells, a car decorated by the youth group, and lots of bird seed tossed.

The wedding was on Saturday, and we happily went on our honeymoon to Gulf Shores. But by Tuesday, I was feeling a strange, niggling, little itch in my left ear. I started complaining to Sandy about it. It got worse and worse every day.

By Thursday, in desperate need of relief, I was scratching inside my ear. Lo and behold, my fingernail caught on something. I pulled it out. There it was: a piece of bird seed that had lodged in my ear - and it had sprouted! It had become a tiny little plant. Not only that, it was growing inwardly.

No wonder it had been driving me absolutely crazy.

One year, I preached on the parable of the sower and proudly told the story of the seed sprouting in my ear. Though some seed falls in places where it won't grow, I made the conclusion that "seeds take root in fertile ground," referring of course to my head. The church found that a bit humorous.

Yet I never will forget the man who came up to me after the service and said, "you know what fertilizer is made of don't you? Manure!" Then he just walked off. I deserved that.

At my going away party upon leaving that church, he gave me a dentist's mold of an ear with a little plant growing out of it. He wrote on the side, "Hear the Word, Plant the Word, Do the Word."

What a gift. I keep it in my office to remind me that God can do great things with one little seed, no matter how unlikely the place is that it is planted.

Jesus said that if we had the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains. An entire forest begins with one seed. No matter how small it is, each act of kindness, each word of grace, and each demonstration of Christ's love is a seed. Do we trust in this mystery? God provides the growth.

Steve West, husband, father, minister, musician, and writer, is also pastor of Grace United Methodist Church on 2113 Old Monrovia Road. Services Sundays at 8:30 and 10:45 a.m. he can be reached at Other writing at

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Born Again or Born From Above?

In some Christian circles, the term "born again" has become a litmus test. The designation "born-again Christian" carries with it implication that either there's another kind of lesser Christian or that others in the church aren't Christians at all. What is this incessant need we have to separate the sheep from the goats?

What intrigues me about this is that Jesus never actually uses this term. In John 3, Jesus speaks of being born from above (or born anew) and uses this incredible mystical language about wind and water and Spirit to describe the renovation of the heart. It's Nicodemus who is thinking chronologically instead of spiritually. It's as if an artist is talking to a scientist who is not quite comfortable using the right part of his brain. Nicodemus doesn't understand and asks how you could possibly go back in your mother's womb and be born again.

I believe in the new birth. Absolutely. It's a gift of God for those who would freely accept it and be taken by the wind of the Spirit into a new reality of grace. As Jesus said, "the wind blows where it wills." New birth is not about who's in and who's out. It's about the incredible mystery of what it means to live in trust. It's about where our energy comes from. Life in the Spirit is to be born from above.

Don't feel ashamed if you can't name the date or place where you were "born again". If you didn't go down to an altar or have an emotional experience, remember that these are human measures of a deeply mysterious reality. New birth in Christ can come in a potent experience like that. It did for me when I was 10 years old. But to say my experience is the only kind of experience is to put limits on how God can touch somebody. God can also work over a long period of time turning one's heart back toward God. Who are we to put limits on grace?

Christians are born from above. We are born into a way, a life, a journey of grace. Jesus called this the kingdom of God and described it in all sorts of mystical and narrative language. It's a life where the last shall be first and the first last, where the poor are valued and the rich are to care for the needy. It's a life that's not about status and position but about orientation of the heart, where the best place at the table is the lowest place at the table. It's a life where the very definition of leadership is the willingness to wash feet and get your hands dirty, and where love is all about giving yourself away.

This gift comes like wind from above if we only allow ourselves to be carried by it. If you prefer a more precise way to measure who's a real Christian and who's not instead of all this talk of wind and Spirit, remember that I didn't make this up. That's how Jesus taught it to Nicodemus.

I believe in conversion. We need to be restored into the image of Christ and we do tend to stray. But I believe conversion is not a single experience but a way of life. It's the life of grace. We long to be converted again and again into a fuller and richer embodiment of the love of God. When we become Christians, God is not finished with us yet. Like the man who Jesus healed of blindness, yet saw people "like trees walking" so Jesus healed him a second time, we are in constant need of being transformed into a new way of seeing.

In what way is God calling you to be reborn?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fearless: The Courage to Question

Here is a promotional video for my Lenten Message Series that began on Sunday. We will be looking at gospel stories of Jesus' conversations with people who were not afraid to question, to debate, to struggle, and to grow. If you live in the Huntsville area, I invite you to come as we continue the journey!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hey Delores!

Thank God for the gift of humor!

I wrote this spoof of "De Colores." The Spiritual Directors of a recent Walk to Emmaus I was on shared this as an act of agape for our Lay Director. Why not have a little fun?

I share it in honor of the men of New Life Emmaus Walk #19 held at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama.

"Hey Delores!"

Hey Delores!
Hey Delores, the guys love the dresses you wear in the springtime.

Hey Delores!
Hey Delores, you must shop for clothing that's new every season.

Hey Delores!
He Delores, how much is invested in my new blue tie?

Hey Delores, the closet is chalk full of every bright color that pleases the eye.

Hey Delores, I looked in my wallet, and all I can say is it makes my heart cry!

"Hey Delores!" by Stephen P. West. Permission is freely given to use it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Lent 101"

I saw a great easy-to-read article on the meaning of Lent published by my old camp and college friend, the Rev. Penny Ford. It's entitled "Lent 101." I share it with you in hopes that it blessed you. As we enter the season this week, may it be a holy season filled with passion and fire.

You can find the article posted at Alive Now.