The Start of the Season...Dove Season!

Throughout much of the southern United States, Labor Day weekend is the opener for mourning doves. Dove hunting in the south represents the beginning of fall and another hunting season, the start of the harvest, a chance to be afield again and to renew old acquaintances.
SOUTHERN DOVES, A LEGACY OF TRADITION

As much as I love Star Wars and Pirates, the outdoors truly hold a most secure place in my heart and life where I go for renewal. Those who I count as my best friends are those who I have spent time with either in the woods or the fields both camping and hunting. Since my first hunt 3 years ago, I have tried to take advantage of every opportunity to be out in the field.

This weekend, I finally get the chance to experience my first dove hunt. Needless to say, I'm pumped! Though I grew up in the south, hunting was obviously foreign to my experiences. But as I've learned, there is a way of surrounding the outdoors and our southern culture I had missed. And I have found, it is a way of life worth knowing.

Contrary to most thinking, the culture of the hunting sports is neither racist nor backwards. I have found it to be richly diverse where I have hunted and in who I have met. The majority of those who hunt are more concerned about the environment and have spent as much to preserve and care for animals as any "environmentalist" group (and I have been a member of the Sierra Club).

I have also found many unchurched and dechurched hunters in my days out. From the highly affluent sportsmen with their high dollar upland guns to the guys in their pickup and their "beater single shots," a relationship with God is NOT on their list of trophies to obtain.

As I look forward to this weekend with some good friends and another season in fields, duck blinds and WMA's, it is worth remembering the souls who are not yet aware of what prize they are truly after. And pray for those of us who have a heart for them.

May I Ask? When was the last time you had a stereotype you held blow up? How did you feel? How did it change you?

May I Suggest? Consider reading a magazine, blog or website of a group or tribe you know nothing about but think you do. As you read, consider the common ground you have. I'd love to hear what you learned!

A Fresh Start, Week 4: Learning to Begin Again

Click here for the sermon text: Matthew 6:25-34

Click here for the MP3

Anne was at breakfast eating the cereal box ad for a “Great New Offer!” Her older sister Mary was reading the other side, “Guess what Anne, the offer is to get your name in gold!” The ad said that with one proof of purchase and a dollar you could get a pin with your name spelled in gold. The astreks noted however: Only one per household.

Anne was excited and grabbed the box, “I’m going to do it!” “I got dibs,” said Mary, “besides you don’t have a dollar and I do.” Anne was crushed, “you always get your way cause you’re older it isn’t fair!” She started to cry and ran off to her room, “Fine Mary, order your stupid pin!”

A few weeks passed and a small package arrived in the mail. Mary took it to her room and Anne followed quietly. She took a seat on the bed while Mary opened the box. Anne said with disappointment in her voice, “I hope you like your pin.” “Oh, it is beautiful!” said Mary. “Your name in gold as promised. Four letters. Do you want to see it Anne?”

“No. It is your dumb old pin.” Mary simply put the pin in the box and left the room. Anne was alone. It didn’t take long for the temptation to look to overpower her. She opened the box and tears began to flow with mixed emotions of love for her sister and shame for her actions. For there on the pin were four simple letters in gold: A - N - N - E. (Chicken Soup for the Kid’s Soul, 116-117). As Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” On that day, Mary fed Anne with a helping of grace.

Learning to begin again, fresh starts are based on a call and a response. The grace of God becomes the call and our acceptance is the response. With school now fully underway, what have been the triumphs and the tragedies? What is it you are longing for and yearning for after the new starts? Where do you sense a call to move forward?

What is the motivation under the surface? The words of Jesus in verses 24-32 dig down deep into our lives. They are words which parallel the first level of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s first level, almost parallel to Jesus’, notes our most basic needs as the first level: air water, food, clothing. (http://www.abraham-maslow.com). We must have these.

Yet, surrounding these words are Jesus’ caution to not only respond to the needs of the poor, but to avoid the temptation of trusting in wealth. Stephen Covey echoes the reality we face in climbing ladders and trying to get to the proverbial top only to discover our ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall!

Jesus speaks to an audience who knows well the Old Testament and the promises God had made. They knew better than we do the truth of Lamentations, “The LORD's kindness never fails! If he had not been merciful, we would have been destroyed. The LORD can always be trusted to show mercy each morning (Lam. 3:22-23, ESV).” Every day the birds are fed. Every day, the flowers are clothed in their best clothing. Do not be anxious.

Our fresh starts, our hope begins when we seek after God’s kingdom! A life of simplicity of need and contentment is the answer Jesus gives. Few would argue we should put first thing first. Too many times I have heard the call to keep the main thing the main thing. If we did this; if we truly believed this to be the way, then for the follower of Jesus, we would place the kingdom of God at the fore of our lives...and all the things we NEED would be added.

We are in a position to be givers of grace, to live in practice the words Jesus preached if only we say yes to the grace, the gift of a fresh starts every morning. Let me give you a vocabulary lesson to help. Tom Davis at Due West UMC shared this idea a few years ago but I felt the ending needed a little more work...

Suppose your driving down the interstate, you get pulled for speeding. You’re going 90 in a 65. The officer gives you a ticket: we call that justice. But suppose the officer gives you only a warning: we call that mercy (or a miracle). But then let us suppose again the officer does neither 1 or 2. Instead, the officer gives you a life time supply of gas, unlimited oil changes and all repairs covered on your car. That my friends, is grace.

The Gospel is Good News and it tells us that a fresh start is always available to us and God even gives us the opportunity to be givers of grace ourselves!

What Is Your Motivation? Thoughts Before The Talk

Why would anyone want to president? Every four years we do this in the USA. Underneath all the questioning, debating and mudslinging, I find myself seeking to discover the motivation as to why someone would want this responsibility.



Motivations can be noble.
Motivations can be selfish.
Motivations are shared by us all.

What is your motivation under the surface?

Abraham Maslow introduced us to the Hierarchy of Needs in the 1940's. While there is some serious debates about the upper sections, it is hard to argue about the foundation. In essence, we as human beings need 1) air, 2)water, 3)food, and 4)clothing. We must have these.

In reading Jesus' words in Matthew 6:24-32, I'm struck by the parallel to to Maslow's observation. The words of Jesus dig down deep into our lives.

I do agree with the commentators that surrounding these words are Jesus’ caution to not only respond to the needs of the poor, but to avoid the temptation of trusting in wealth. But I think there is another level, and maybe more than one. If the issues of justice do not come home to rest in the injustice we do to ourselves, we may find ourselves merely changing labels and colors. Would not it be better to be changed into Christ-likeness?

May I Ask? What has been your biggest motivator in 2011? Is your motivation different at work, at home and inside you or are they the same? How does that influence you?

May I Suggest? The practice of Lectio Divina has found a revival in recent years. This practice of the Church helps one to listen for God's message to the reader in a passage of Scripture. Use the practice of Lectio Divina and read through Matthew 6:24-32. What motivations does God reveal?

Not sure about Lectio Divina? View this video from the Upper Room Ministries:

A Fresh Start, Week 3: When the Lead Breaks

Click here for the MP3 of this Sunday's Sermon.






From Ken: If you can imagine it, we had the entire congregation pretending to be a thunderstorm this morning to start the sermon. One section started snapping, the next section clapped lightly, the third section drummed on the pew in front and the final section clapped loudly. Rev. Stasko came forward then and told us, "Peace! Be Still." (BTW, it was a blast!) We all stopped and then I began...

Storms can be scary. Maybe you remember that some storms caused a lot of damage this year in Japan and even here in Georgia. We’ve had thunder storms all summer that have made us come inside from play, get out of the pool or come off Lake Lanier during a day of play. Just like you might be scared, we grown-ups also get scared about those same storms. In the story today, even the disciples, Jesus’ friends got scared in a storm. But Jesus showed them that just by a word, he could calm a storm. God will be with us in our storms too!

Read Mark 4:35-41 for the story of Jesus in the boat with the disciples.

The last thing we’d want to have happen is to have our pencil lead break in the middle of a test or forget the answer when called on in front of the class. As we grow up, times of lay offs and being passed over for promotion can easily paralize us. Like our toys, they don’t go away as we get older, they just get bigger and more expensive!

The storms that terrify us are sometimes those backed by wind and rain. Others however, are backed by the full force of our inner worries and anxieties. Jaws was released in theatres in 1975. I was four years old and even though I still went swimming, I was scared even in pools till I was at least 10 years old. After almost being swept into the Atlantic during a night dive in college, I learned there was more realistic things to be scared of.

The experience the disciples had with Jesus on the Sea of Gallillee points to a secret long forgotten. In the midst of storms, we feel God does not understand our situation. The problem, it seems, is that we don’t understand our situation! In his book, Shattered Dreams, Dr. Larry Crabb notes the likelihood that we have come to believe something about God which he has never promised in all of Scripture or in the history of the church - “to have a good time (pg 31).”

Like the disciples, we rush about doing our own things until we are overcome. It is then, we run to Jesus, to use Him to solve our problems. The storms, the difficulties of life in truth are the greatest blessings for it is here we can discover our true hope - a relationship with God. A relationship built on the truth of the Bible, the reality of experience, the foundation of tradition and the logic of reason.

The boat, from the beginning has long been a symbol of the Church. Over and over, the disciples of Jesus from Peter to Paul, found themselves on boats and in storms. The early church saw it as a symbol of how we journey together. That Jesus was asleep, is also significant for sleep in the Bible is a symbol of death. It is easy to think, because he is silent, that Jesus is dead and not Ressurected? But Professor Sharon Ringe makes this key truth: "Life and death are at stake in the storm, and Jesus holds the key to both."

Having faced my own storms of depression and cancer among other things and even shattered dreams in ministry, faith is a fact. Our faith isn't to be in a Jesus who calms the storm either. Our faith is in Jesus who made the world and who comes to be with us in the boat.

We are in the boat together. This is what Church is. If you are in need of the Church to support you, we’re here. Our Stephen Ministers are here to listen in the storms. Our Grief Recovery Groups are another way for the church to be the Church. Our mobile website and pew folders are ways for you to communicate today with Rev. Kathie Stasko.

We are in this boat together. With one another, and with Jesus. But today, as we face so many things, we need each other. Inspired by St. Patrick’s prayer, we’re going to pray for each other. Look to the person in front of you and turn and look behind you. Look to left and then to the right. As we pray together, pause and pray for those around you.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me (Pause),
Christ before me (Pause),
Christ to the right of me (Pause),
Christ to the left of me (Pause),
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.



Use this pray to pray for the jerk who just cut you off in traffic or the neighbor whose dog leaves you presents. Pray for your friends on the school bus. Where in this boat together and whatever the storm, Jesus is here with us so it is always a good time for a fresh start!

When Do You Wake Up Jesus? Thoughts Before The Talk

The Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared," is more than applicable when I think about the days my pencils broke. It happened taking in High School when I took the SAT and thankfully I had my extra number 2 pencil ready to go.

But the story that goes with this week's sermon comes from Mark 4:35-41. The problem I have with this is we find the disciples of Jesus, many of whom are fishermen, dealing with something they were prepared to handle - a storm on the sea (more accurately it was a lake). Yet in all their years of experience, some how this storm brought them to their wits end and they cry out to Jesus.

What was lacking, Jesus said was faith and obviously this is significant to what Jesus has been teaching. It is so obvious in fact, we (I) skim over what faith must mean for us. Can you be so prepared your faith doesn't fail you? Metaphorically speaking, sometimes life's storms are nothing more than an inconvenience like when you leave open your windows and the seat gets soaked. Other times, our house is destroyed by the storm.

I don't think the issue is a problem having to do with the existence of evil, it is an issue with life. In the world we live in, we don't go out without our share of storms and scars. Nothing in the Biblical record promises us that God is the almighty giver of a good time yet we act like it and even preach it, all unintentionally mind you.

I wonder if the lack of faith comment comes from the disciples failure to do one thing...wake up Jesus first. God doesn't help those who help themselves - this is not in the Bible. God comes to those who call on him when the lead breaks. Don't wait till you fail "the test." (For a scholar's take on this text, look at Sharon Ringe's take at WorkingPreacher.org).

May I Ask: What are you waiting to "wake-up" Jesus for today?

May I Suggest: If you're preaching the Fresh Start series, this text is in the year B cycle of the lectionary and Text Week can help you out. You'll find a great children's sermon or opening for your congregation if you use Philip Schroeder's idea in his book.

Enough with Christian Leadership Books...Spend Time With A Dog

Guess what I read about the other day on the internet? There is a new book about pastoral leadership!! Yes, another one! But this one is different! The authors recognize the spiritual life of clergy isn't the issue for the church. People already respect their pastors. It isn't the programs, the programs are great too! The worship? No, that isn't it. No, the dust jacket blurb indicate, bu we've got the answer!

Oh, and if a snake had feet and wore shoes, what would you call them? While your thinking about the answer and wondering why I am sounding a bit snarky today I have a good reason. I am just a wee bit tired of all the books that have been shoveled and marketed to the Church in the past and present century. When you add to that number what pastors have spent to get the latest and greatest thing to be effective, well, I'm wondering what we've got going on here. This is just speculation mind you, but I've got to imagine we'd have a few more trees standing and a lot more kids with food on the table who need it. "Beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge. (Letter to Joseph Benson (7 November 1768); published in The Letters of John Wesley (1915)." Oh, and the answer? Snakers instead of sneakers. Thanks Laffy Taffy.

That is about what I feel like every time I get a new piece of marketing propaganda. There are places all over the world where Christianity is growing and they are not spending near the dollars on stuff the way we are in the USA. I feel like all I'm getting is snakers. It is the emperor's new clothes all over again. While I'm writing, I just got a message on my phone about a new video testimony series I can order...(wait for it)...SERIOUSLY?!?! It was Abba Serapion who was asked for wisdom by a monk. He responded, "What shall I say to you? You have taken the living of widows and orphans and put it on your shelves." For he saw them full of books (pg 227, Sayings of the Desert Fathers.)

I would question anyone who makes the assumption that the spiritual lives of our clergy is healthy. Spend some time reading Dr. John Crowe's work at BACH Development and you'll find plenty of material to the contrary. It has more to do with things than we realize.

Abba Xanthias, in the early centuries of the church, said, "A dog is better than I am, for he has love and he does not judge." Jon Mark's post at A Spoken Silence unpacks this very well. We need less study in leadership and more time with our furry abbas and ammas. We are not doing love really well at all.

We are a people in the west who are grasping and gasping for greater glories. "Seek first the kingdom..." were the words of Jesus. "If you don't have love you're a clanging cymbal," declared Paul. We give lip service and a passing nod to the idea of love, the ideal of love, and the ideology of loving God and loving neighbor. But do we practice it? Are you loving? Do you really LOVE your neighbor? How about the needy and how about your enemy?

"All growth is costly," writes Dr. Robert Kegan in The Evolving Self, "It involves the leaving behind of an old way of being in the world (215)." I don't want to just grow, I want to grow in love and right now, I know I have not even really begun to love. May I go the better way, the way of cats and dogs.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.


A Fresh Start: Are You Fitting In?


Click here for MP3 download.


Once, while a lion lay asleep in the forest, a little mouse came upon him unexpectedly...so that the lion woke up.
The lion grabbed the mouse and, holding him in his large claws, roared in anger. 'How dare you wake me up! Don't you know that I am King of the Beasts? Anyone who disturbs my rest deserves to my next meal!”
The terrified mouse, shaking and trembling, begged the lion to let him go. 'Please don't eat me Your Majesty! I did not mean to wake you, it was a mistake. Please let me go - and some day I will surely repay you, maybe even save your life!”
The lion looked at the tiny mouse and laughed. 'You save my life? What an absurd idea!' he said scornfully. 'But you have made me laugh, and put me into a good mood again, so I shall let you go.' And the lion opened his claws and let the mouse go free.
'Oh thank you,' squeaked the mouse, and scurried away as fast as he could.
A few days later the lion was caught in a hunter's snare. Struggle as he might, he couldn't break free and became even more entangled in the net of ropes. He let out a roar of anger that shook the forest. Every animal heard it, including the tiny mouse.
'My friend the lion is in trouble,' cried the mouse. He ran as fast as he could in the direction of the lion's roar, and soon found the lion trapped in the hunter's snare. 'Hold still,' squeaked the mouse. 'I'll have you out of there in a jiffy!' And without further delay, the mouse began nibbling through the ropes with his sharp little teeth. Very soon the lion was free. “You laughed when I said I would repay you,” said the mouse. “Now you see.”

Tell me, who was the more powerful?

Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

At the start of a new school year or anything new, sometimes the hardest thing to do is fit in. We work hard to be at the top, the head of the pack. We live in a world and society that hasn’t changed, really, in 2,000 years. Don’t tell me this book is not relevant for we still jockey for position and status. And since it was an issue for the church at Corinth, should we even wonder if it isn’t an issue for potentially any church today?

In her study on power in organizations, Janet Hagberg notes how successful people “...interpret the symbols as signs of their worth (pg 46, Real Power).” Yet this is only intended to be part of our life’s journey. The church is intended to take the next steps. Jesus reminds us, “You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last... (John 15:16a, CEV).”

Then we hit on Paul’s words and he lays out the counter-culture of the church. We’ve got these eye balls and loud mouths like me, who seem to be essential. But we know they aren’t really. What are essentials? The heart, the lungs, the digestive organs, those often less conspicuous. Mess up a nail and see if your whole body doesn’t scream out. Let’s not forget the hangy-thingy in the back of your throat or the spleen!

Don’t think you have a place? Really? Then watch this video...


As a cancer survivor myself and as a pastor, I know that the simplest act matters. You have a place to fit.

Stephani Satterfield heads up our serving ministries all you have to do is click on the tab on the homepage of CFUMCGA.com. If you have your smart phone, you can go now to the mobile site right now. You can go to my blog at kenhagler.com and find the link to a Spiritual Gift inventory provided by the United Methodist Church - it is free.

You were made in fact to fit and it is here, in the family of God that there is a place for you. Are you fitting in? Today is the day to start - fresh!

Revealing Roots of Violence


“The real violence starts in the way we speak about people, make assumptions about them, and decide that they are not like us...As long as people keep buying into these words, it will not take much more for them to buy into the action that has to follow.” (Henri Nouwen in ‘The Road To Peace’)

Symbols of power are not always related to the size of our home, the title on our office door or amount in our bank account. The symbols of achievement are defined by each person. Therefore, one’s place in the public arena can be just as much a symbol of power. How many people who listen to our words, articles we’ve published or those who read our blogs and tweets can all define power for us. It may well be we are on the verge of proving the pen is mightier than the sword but is it a good thing?

I have tried very hard to stay out of the fray of political banter on the blogs and Facebook. I have friends enough who run the full spectrum of political ideals. Many of them I know to be Christians. In my position as a clergy, I do not have the luxury of expressing my political leanings. As I have stated elsewhere, I make my voice heard at the ballot box. But I do have a few words on the state of things.

We are doing a disservice to one another across our nation and in our churches by the words being spoken. The accusations heard in our media are a rhetoric of condemnation of our fellow country women and men. In many cases we are throwing not the stranger or neighbor but the very family of God under the bus for the sake of our political ideals!

Churches speak of changed hearts. We claim mission statements of loving God and loving neighbor on our cool, hip websites. We pray for revival in our land. But I ask for what end? Is it so all come to know the love of God or so all come to agree with our view of the American Dream?

In the early days of the church, a brother asked Abba Sisoes: “I long to guard my heart.” The old man said to him: “And how can we guard the heart if our tongue leaves the door of the fortress open?”

You may disagree but I do not think it is a stretch to say that we often find politicians and pundits as influential as pastors in the lives of today’s version of Christians. Is Jesus?
(8)"All of you praise me with your words, but you never really think about me. (9) It is useless for you to worship me, when you teach rules made up by humans." (10) Jesus called the crowd together and said, "Pay attention and try to understand what I mean. (11) The food that you put into your mouth doesn't make you unclean and unfit to worship God. The bad words that come out of your mouth are what make you unclean." (Matthew 15:8-11 CEV)

Jesus was obviously speaking about the Pharisees. But just who are the Pharisees of our day? Who are the one's influencing and adding to the Law of Love? Who are those in our day who are saying it is okay to demonize another because of a political view? This is the evil, the demon we face today. Not in others but our selves.

This journey of violence in words is my own journey too. I have felt it and struggled with my own assumptions about people. I have seen the results in both my actions and other people. I’m trying to speak the words about myself before I speak them of others to see how they taste. If it tastes like vomit then I try not to share it. But Jesus intended no gap between the spiritual world and ordinary life. The Church doesn’t need to add to the violence. We are called to something more – peace.

Community Kindness...Road to Recovery

There is so much hype about making a difference in the world. From the President to media personalities to athletes, there is a lot of rhetoric out there. But in ever increasing ways, we seem to have less and less time for volunteering and we certainly have less and less to give financially. Or at least this is what we tell ourselves.

I learned this past week about a very simple program available to most people out there. I think it is especially relevant to small to mid-size churches (but that doesn't mean a large church can't do it either!) who may find it difficult to reach out to their communities. It is called Road To Recovery and it is a program of the American Cancer Society.

In a recent article, Linda Conyers, who is a member at Cumming First United Methodist Church, told her cancer story. She highlighted this opportunity which makes it possible for churches to make a real difference in lives without the usual overhead. As a cancer survivor myself, I'm planning to make time.

If you're up for exploring other opportunities, The United Methodist Church also offers an online Spiritual Gift Inventory. One of the things that the early church understood was how our personal spiritual growth is tied to our willingness to put others before ourselves. I'm convinced faith doesn't fit till we do.

Fresh Start Week 1: How To Take God With Us


Click here for the link to John 8:1-11

Link for MP3

Who doesn’t need a fresh start? Students know that a new school year is before them. And there is both excitement and anxieties around it. Your parents feel that too. New jobs are beginning and life changes for newlyweds and new parents. We sense fresh starts at election times. There is a change of seasons too. Oh, not summer to fall, I was thinking baseball to football...following the Braves this year will do that.

But when we think of fresh starts we rarely think of religion. In my friendships, most people associate religion with tradition and routine. We have come to think that changing the style of worship or preacher or church membership makes for a fresh start. In a way, it does. It may change our position on your GPS but it doesn’t change the condition of our soul.

When the condition of the soul is addressed, the position of your address matters little. Caught in the act of adultery, of breaking a commandment, this woman’s place on the map mattered, to the religious folks. She was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, participating in the wrong action. “The law says she has to die! Our principled-centered lives demand a verdict! What do you say Jesus?” The thing about fresh starts is when you’re on the verge, rocks may fly.

In the new Captain America movie, the doctor asks the scrawny little, Steve Rogers who is on the verge of his fresh start, “Do you want to kill nazis?” Steve responds, “I don’t want to kill anybody. I just don’t like bullies.” We know that God wrote once in the Old Testament and it was the law. Jesus wrote once in the New Testament and we have no idea what it was. Maybe it was “I just don’t like bullies.”

Jesus told them to cast their stone if they had no sin. The only one who could cast a stone was Jesus and he threw no stone. John Wesley said Jesus’ silent action..."signified that he was not then come to condemn but to save the world." Bullies condemn. Heroes save.

A hero is what Stacy Ballanger, a former inmate found when she met Karen Poore, a United Methodist mentor, through My Sister’s Keeper. Even when she relapsed she came to them. She says, “They didn’t judge me at all.”


What did Jesus do with Peter, the denier? How about Matthew, the tax collector? Paul, the executioner? The same thing he did with the woman, he slung, grace at her. He threw mercy all over her. We don’t know what happened to her but we know she walked away with a fresh start.

Jesus put things right with her and God. He addressed the condition of this woman’s soul and his desire is to address ours. But what happens to us when we walk away, when we come down off the mountain? When Sunday morning meets Monday morning or Friday night, how will this fresh start stay fresh? Jesus told a story to help us, a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both came to pray in the same synagogue. Pharisee, even in prayer, couldn’t resist throwing stones, words of insult at the tax collector. The tax collector simply hung his head, beat his chest and said, “Lord, have mercy on my a sinner.” And it is that prayer which has become known as the Jesus prayer.

It is a prayer that positions our soul in line with God - Jesus first, us second. “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.” It has been prayed for centuries by Christians as a way to take God with them. Pray it out loud or in your mind. It has been prayed to rhythm of a heart beat, the pattern of steps or the breaths one breathes. It is a prayer that will go with you.

God will be with us in our fresh starts but will we be with him? Whether we make our way to his presence by force or choice, he is waiting, not with stones but mercy. A fresh starts always awaits!

Fresh Starts...recycling

This next month I'm stepping away from the lectionary and joining with United Methodist Communications for "A Fresh Start," series. Since I'm preaching every Sunday through this month at Cumming First United Methodist Church and it is time to get back to school, I couldn't turn my back on the hand of Providence.

I am really looking forward to dealing with text NOT in the lectionary plan, namely John 8:1-11. It is the story of the woman caught in adultery, a story noted in almost every Bible to not be part of the original manuscript (for a more in-depth look visit 5 Minute Bible on this).

Having been involved with prison ministry at Crossroads UMC, I couldn't help but find this a great story. God is in the business of giving second chances. He is indeed the great recycler.


Nothing But...



Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV)

Click here for the mp3 download.

There is a connection between moving boxes and rabbits...they multiply. I know the last time we moved we did not have this many boxes and I know we didn’t collect this much stuff! I know that I gave away almost my entire collection of Star Wars books to the Paulding County library system and I still find boxes with books in them. I did take up hunting as a hobby but I don’t have that much stuff. I only have one head, I’m thinking I need to get rid of some of these hats.

We have nothing here in our house but a few odds and ends but come time to move, it all seemed to add up to far more than we thoughtl

The little the disciples had they dis-counted. It was nothing but it was the nothing that was theirs. It was a nothing that they owned, all five loaves and two fishes (they didn’t have to do an inventory). Stephen Covey, in his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, talks about the Law of Abundance vs. the Law of Scarcity. The problem is always in perspective.

Jesus would not send the people away and the disciples wanted to hang on to every item they had, especially their filet o’ fish sandwiches. I have got nothing but...a diploma on the wall. I have got nothing but...this car/van/SUV. I have got nothing but... this house that really isn’t worth what it was when I bought it. I have got nothing but...my collection of stuffed animals, DVDs, Star Wars, ___________________ (fill in the blank for yourself).

I often here people talk about getting mad with God and give Jesus a pass. But this text is what infuriates me about Jesus sometimes. He gets too close. He oversteps the boundaries between the material and spiritual. But as pastor Rob Bell put it so well, “Everything is spiritual!” Try as we might, the heresy of the gnostics continues to confront us even after 2,000 years! We may try to parse are way to dividing the reality but it remains. God became flesh and blood - the spiritual and the material were joined in Jesus - and so that reality will continue to confront us.

A tourist arrived in Poland and went to visit a famous Rabbi who lived there. He arrived at the Rabbi’s home and found himself amazed by what he saw. The home consisted of book shelves full of books, a chair and a table. “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” asked the tourist. “Where is yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine? But I am only a visitor here,” was the reply. “So am I,” said the rabbi. (The Spirituality of Imperfection, pg 34).

The parallel of this passage in John chapter 6 lets us know that the people were so moved by the miracle, they began to push for making Jesus king and start a revolution. That Matthew omits this, in my mind, underlines his need to make a distinction. Jesus was not so interested in nationalism but in people.

Let me share with you that I have heard sermons and lectures on this passage. I’ve read books that refer to it. It does speak about the importance in needing time away from the crowd. Jesus was grieving over the news of his cousin’s death. It speaks too of putting aside our needs for others. The words here speak about how we are given an opportunity to serve Jesus and how he will bless our little bit. There are words here that parallel the Communion meal as well. Professors and researchers note that the bread was likely barley which was the common bread of the poor. The fish on the other hand, represent a likely delicacy. Surely, the twelve baskets left over are not coincidence and are intended to hint at the 12 tribes of Israel.

But this is not a lecture hall at college and this is not a text book. We Christians believe that this book contains all knowledge sufficient for salvation. We believe that is “God-breathed.” We believe it is the primary source for understanding God that is over our tradition, reason and experience. We see scarcity and it is there that Jesus digs for sincerity...

“You give them something to eat.” “We have nothing here BUT five loaves and two fish.”

“I’ve got nothing here but this and that and in this economy and the state of the world Jesus, it is all I’ve got!” And he says, “Bring them here to me.” Jesus pushes us to being sincere for the disciples are right they’ve got nothing BUT this little bit. We’ve got nothing but... You’ve got nothing... I’ve got nothing but...and so we are forced to admit our abundance, we are forced to put our cards on the table. Jesus calls our bluff because everything matters...

We are at an uncomfortable convergence of many religions and philosphical ponderings as well. We don’t like the thought of giving up what we have and what we’ve earned. “After all, compared to the ‘Joneses’ (apologies to the Joneses), I’ve got nothing here but...” And we’ve got to earn it, we’re meant to do it - we have to go after it all! - We’ve got to do it! Look at the book of Joshua in the Old Testament. You can chalk up victory after victory. He achieved it all and still he too came to this point of choice: And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15

In time there comes A TIME where we must set our own goods beside what is our own GOOD...and Jesus meets us at that point and, says, “Bring them here to me.” Our goods at 13 years old are far different than those at 33 or 53. Our victories must be achieved but for our own good, we must lay down our goods. Only then can we take up Jesus. If we’ve got Jesus, then we’ve got by far the better end of the deal.

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