Saturday, March 28, 2015

There's So Much Drama in my Church!

This column was published in The Arab Tribune on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

Usually when I hear someone talk about all the drama in their church, it’s not a good thing.

Maybe they got their feelings hurt or a decision didn’t go their way. Maybe they caught wind of the occasional gossip or internal politics. Maybe someone spread a rumor or jockeyed for a leadership position.

This kind of drama can sting, and I’ve seen it happen over the years. While this is not part of the nature of what it means to be the Church, it’s definitely part of the nature of what it means to be human. And last time I checked, everybody in the church is human.

Nobody likes drama in their church. Or do they?

This next week, we’ll see some of the best drama the Church could ever have. Holy Week is the most dramatic week imaginable.

It begins with Palm Sunday, a day full of children, grand processionals and palms, and acknowledging Christ as king who reigns in glory and honor. During many churches’ Palm Sunday services, our thoughts and prayers progress toward the passion of Christ, who emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant. We begin to fathom the wondrous love it is that would pour itself out for others.

During the week, our thoughts move toward the cleansing of the temple, when Jesus made his boundaries crystal clear - cultural and commercial religiosity is not at the heart of God. When Jesus got angry, it’s good to pay attention to it.

Then there is the betrayal and denial of the week. Talk about drama! I can’t imagine the sorrow Jesus felt when he was betrayed and denied by such close friends. It’s the people you care about that can hurt you the most, not the people you don’t know.

It has occurred to me that out of twelve disciples Jesus spent three years closely working with, one betrayed him, one denied him, and two couldn’t see past their own noses, which were sniffing out status and position. In the end, a third of the disciples let him down.

Later in the week, Maundy Thursday rolls around, when Jesus shared Passover with his disciples, dramatically changed the symbols of the night to become about his body and blood, instituting our precious meal.

Despite their protests, he 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.

We pause for the darkness of the tomb on Saturday. Then as a community of churches, 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 church activities lead us through all this drama. I hope you will participate in your church 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 in your church. That’s just what the world needs to see.


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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Prayers for the Persecuted Church

Our beloved bishop in North Alabama, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, released this prayer which we used in worship yesterday at the church I serve. It is a prayer for the persecuted church.

She has invited all United Methodists in North Alabama to a week of prayer for our brothers and sisters who face persecution for their faith. Whoever and wherever you are, please join us in this prayer. In today's world, there are those in our Christian family who are losing their lives and livelihood because of their belief in Christ.

I try to pray prayers not clouded by the language of politics, but purely for the sake of the Body of Christ. It is not the first time in history that the blood of the martyrs has been part of the painful struggle of carrying the cross of Christ.



Prayer for the Persecuted Church

God of us all, You love us so passionately that you sent Your Son to help us experience the fullness of divine love. And while we love you, we are not often asked to risk our lives because of our faith.

This is not true for many of our sisters and brothers in Christ. Our hearts break as we see more of them suffering and dying simply because they are living as disciples of Jesus. We pray for their safety and sanctuary. We pray that you will give them grace in suffering. We are humbled by the witness of these martyred for their faith. We pray for their persecutors, and that acts of violence and persecution will cease.

Help us to grow in our commitment to live as Jesus' disciples. Remind us that we are the One Body of Christ: when one member suffers, all suffer. Stir us to pray unceasingly. And empower us to speak boldly.

We pray all of this in the name of our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Kiss of Peace

This devotional was written by Pastor Steve for the "Night Watch" at Discovery Weekend.

John 14:27 says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I went to see “Bye Bye Birdie” last weekend at Arab High School. What an incredible show! I had seen it before, and knew a few of the songs. But I had never seen it performed so flawlessly. I’m so proud of the talent in our community.

“Bye Bye Birdie” is about a huge rock and roll star of the 60's who was drafted for the army (I assume it’s based on the true story of Elvis Presley). His assistant thinks he can make a fortuneand marry his girlfriend, if he gets Conrad on the Ed Sullivan show to kiss a high school girl goodbye. So it’s all about that kiss.

Have you ever thought about how God has given us a BIG kiss? Obviously, it’s not the kind of kiss you can get from Conrad Birdie. It’s more like the kiss my mother used to give me on the cheek to wish me goodnight. It’s the kind of kiss that makes you feel warm and safe, the kinds of kiss that makes you feel special.

This kiss is called the peace of Christ. He gave it to his disciples when he was saying goodbye. He knew he was going to die and that they would miss him, at least until he rose again. So he gave them one last kiss, the kiss of his peace.

The reason am calling it the “kiss of peace” is because in the ancient church, people actually did that. They puckered up and kissed each other during worship, and called it “the kiss of peace.

For obvious reasons we don’t do it anymore … we shake hands and give hugs! But it still means the same thing. We pass the peace of God to one another.

So let God “kiss you goodnight” tonight. His gentle presence brings you a “peace that passes all understanding.”

PRAYER: Dear God, you promised us a peace that passes all understanding. That means it’s a peace that makes no sense. Sometimes we don’t feel a whole lot of peace in our lives, but you said you do not give it to us as the world gives. Tonight, help melt away the trouble in our hearts and take away our fears. Help us feel your presence. In Jesus’s name, Amen.