What If We Believed In Grace?

Two monks were making a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of a great Saint. During the course of their journey, they came to a river where they met a beautiful young woman -- an apparently worldly creature, dressed in expensive finery and with her hair done up in the latest fashion. She was afraid of the current and afraid of ruining her lovely clothing, so asked the brothers if they might carry her across the river.
The younger and more exacting of the brothers was offended at the very idea and turned away with an attitude of disgust. The older brother didn't hesitate, and quickly picked the woman up on his shoulders, carried her across the river, and set her down on the other side. She thanked him and went on her way, and the brother waded back through the waters.
The monks resumed their walk, the older one in perfect equanimity and enjoying the beautiful countryside, while the younger one grew more and more brooding and distracted, so much so that he could keep his silence no longer and suddenly burst out, "Brother, we are taught to avoid contact with women, and there you were, not just touching a woman, but carrying her on your shoulders!"
The older monk looked at the younger and said, "Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river miles ago.  Why are you still carrying her?"

Have you ever made a mistake someone would not let you forget?  Have you ever messed up and your own conscience wouldn’t forget?  How long have you held on to a hurt or a mistake someone else has made?  Somethings are hard to let go of ya know it?  It is so much easier to keep carrying things; mistakes, wrongs, offenses, and sins.  What if we could let it all go?  

AND what if we could put it ALL down AND THEN have the ability to walk away?  What if we could do it with our friends, our enemies and even our parents?

I grew up with the idea that God has a great big book of everything.  Have ya’ll ever gotten that idea...that God is up there making sure it is all written down, especially the screw-ups?  Where does that come from?  Yes, there are images of God’s judgement in the Bible.  There are mentions of lists too in the Bible and if not read carefully or with the perspective of key points, we miss the more subtle ones.

The Key Point is getting the right perspective of God.  

John 14:6-9  Jesus answered, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me.  (7)  If you really knew me, you would know my Father too. But now you know the Father. You have seen him."  (8)  Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need."  (9)  Jesus answered, "Philip, I have been with you for a long time. So you should know me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too. So why do you say, 'Show us the Father'?

What if you believed Jesus is who he says he is?  Most people like Jesus a whole lot, even unbelievers and atheists.  Then they point to the Old Testament and try to explain away Jesus’ words.  But Jesus is saying here we can’t do that!  “Anyone who has SEEN me has SEEN the Father too.”  Look at God in the Old Testament through Jesus’ glasses.  In Jesus, we see GOD.  Period.  He is quick to forgive.  He is quick to heal.  He is quick to teach.  He is quick to correct.  He is quick to love.  And all those things are true of God the Father.  And when we get that, we can face the subtle point.

The Subtle Point is the same God who forgives, is the same God who helps us live.

Luke 18:1-7  Then Jesus taught the followers that they should always pray and never lose hope. He used this story to teach them:  (2)  "Once there was a judge in a town. He did not care about God. He also did not care what people thought about him.  (3)  In that same town there was a woman whose husband had died. She came many times to this judge and said, 'There is a man who is doing bad things to me. Give me my rights!'  (4)  But the judge did not want to help the woman. After a long time, the judge thought to himself, 'I don't care about God. And I don't care about what people think.  (5)  But this woman is bothering me. If I give her what she wants, then she will leave me alone. But if I don't give her what she wants, she will bother me until I am sick.'"  (6)  The Lord said, "Listen, there is meaning in what the bad judge said.  (7)  God's people shout to him night and day, and he will always give them what is right. He will not be slow to answer them. (ERV)

So Jesus is comparing God to an uncaring judge, right?  Well, no.  James Moore calls this a “How Much More” story.  “If an unjust judge can help you when you ask HOW MUCH MORE will God help!”  Because we know the KEY POINT, we are more aware of that subtle point, that God is in the business of FORGIVING for LIVING.

The doctors and nurses who helped treat my cancer didn’t do that so that I would continue to live like I was diseased but so I could live.  Jesus doesn’t forgive us and heal us of the wound of sin so we wallow around all sickly and reminding ourselves of those sins.  Maybe you’ve seen that and felt that was what you were supposed to do but it isn’t that at all.

Like the older monk, we can sit down what needs to be left behind and walk on.  HOW MUCH MORE will God help us leave behind mistakes, regrets, failures and sins if we ask.  HOW MUCH MORE will God help us live like Jesus if only we ask, if only we turn from our way to God’s way, the way of Jesus.

Finding Spiritual Direction Through Service

I stood rigid looking into the bathroom of the men’s homeless shelter.  Behind me were five teenagers who had followed my crazy idea to give up their spring break to go on a mission trip.  I doubt any of the fixtures had seen a scrub brush or bleach in a few months.   I dare not try to describe the smell.

I knew what I had to do but my thoughts had to do with how I move, motivate or manipulate these young people to step forward!  I had only arrived at this church seven months ago!  What on earth had I been thinking?  So, I stepped forward, grabbed the hose and a scrub brush and found the far corner.  Ever so timidly, the youth moved forward, following my lead.

As I worked, I sensed Jesus’ words asking me, “Didn’t I do a little cleaning work too?”  With the nudge, I asked the youth, “Do you remember a time when Jesus did some washing and cleaning?”  One young man said, “Oh yeah!  He got down on his hands and washed the disciples’ feet!”  In a moment, the Spirit transformed the bathroom of this homeless shelter into sacred space.  Joy enveloped us as we began to imagine making this the cleanest bathroom these men would ever know.  

In a recent interview, professor, pastor and author, Eugene Peterson mentioned, “Everything in the Gospel is livable not just true.” (see below for the full interview on PBS)  One of our roles as spiritual directors is helping those who come to us, see a livable Gospel not merely teachable truths.  It is true Jesus washed the disciples feet but is this the point?  “And if your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you should do the same for each other. (John 13:14)”  Missions and service take us to the dirty feet of our world, to places where truths taught become truths lived.

Watch Eugene Peterson on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Sin Bravely - Book In Review

The goal is to provide “a joyful alternative to a purpose-driven life,” so the subtitle declares. Is it an alternative that Sin Bravely gives the reader? Yes. Is it joyful? If you have a fairly good grasp of history and theology, you might find it so but alas, it is more ponderous than joyful.

Professor Ellingsen does a masterful job throughout of researching and presenting the width and shallowness of purpose-driven and prosperity thought. At the heart, Professor Ellingsen seeks to reintroduce the freedom of God’s grace and Martin Luther’s call for Christians to “sin bravely.” “...the concept, ‘sin bravely,’” writes Ellingsen, “is a word of permission to do God’s ‘thing’ joyously and with reckless abandon (64).” This idea is intended to contrast with Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven model and the prosperity gospel which Ellingsen argues, is an extension of a narcissistic world view.

It is worth noting that Professor Ellingsen also delves into modern scientific discoveries to make his case. Chapter 3 includes the subsection entitled, “Biochemistry, genetics, and original sin,” which any pastor, theologian or counselor ought to read. Documentation, footnotes and references to reformation theology, past and present, abound. A good deal of the work includes the history and influence of Puritan thought in the United States, which is worth the time to read.

There is no doubt Professor Ellingsen’s book is far better grounded than any of the purpose-driven and/or prosperity gospel materials. While he takes a weak shot at Wesleyan-Arminian thought, I found he does make the case for sinning bravely by using Wesley’s quadrilateral of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

The greatest weakness, however, is Professor Ellingsen writes as a professor not a pastor. Sin Bravely is not near as easy to grasp as Rick Warren’s or Joel Osteen’s works or words. It maybe a joyful alternative and it most certainly is better theology but the book falls short in being accessible to those who have found their guidance from Warren and Osteen.

An open note to the people called United Methodists during this election cycle...

We often speak of John Wesley extending a hand to those who have things in common. We speak of his quote of doing good as often as we can. Yet, I ask you, where is this evident in your blogs and Facebook posts lately?

Where is there evidence of goodwill and charity when you insult the intelligence of differing political views? Where are you offering grace to those who may not share your view on party allegiance? When do you admit, based on the information available and reasoned thought, a fellow Christian may end up at a differing opinion as yours?

In his sermon, “On Charity,” John Wesley writes,

“’Love is longsuffering.’ It endures not a few affronts, reproaches, injuries; but all things, which God is pleased to permit either men or devils to inflict.”

You may well agree to disagree agreeably and that is our right and privilege under our Constitution but what of how we speak under the grace of God and the love of Jesus Christ? Is the insulting of candidates appropriate? Are the snide and crude pictures an evidence of longsuffering love?

I appeal to you all who call yourself United Methodist to consider who you represent and what fruit is evident when you speak with words out loud or with words on a screen. I pray that this year be a year of longsuffering love for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus and the people who claim the name United Methodist.

Five Ways Our Senses Can Help Through Conflict

Thoreau once said, " If I do not keep in step with others, it is because I hear a different drumbeat."

But what if you're surrounded and overwhelmed by drumbeats?  What if you don't even know what a drum sounds like anymore?

I did a wedding in the Duke Chapel this past weekend and saw the Occupy Duke/Durham protest.  I had to wonder (as I didn't have time to ask) if they had taken time to consider their parents were paying over $50,000 a year to send them to a private university and most families at Duke represent the 1%?

And why do so many on the other side of the equation condemn said protesters?  Do they not sense the disconnect?  They talk about greed and envy but what about the forgotten passion known as avarice, the unwillingness to share one's resources with others?

Dr. Roberta Bondi points out the passions cause blindness.  I think they also cause deafness, as well as the loss of all senses.  We need to reconsider and review what we learned in grade school about our five senses.

1.  Seeing is believing.  Our society is dominated by this sense.  The historic first televised debate between Nixon and Kennedy ushered us into the age of sight that has dominated us.  As a broadcasting major, we learned the importance of manipulating an image.  It is easy to make a crowd out of 20 people and just as simple to make 1,000 no more relevant than 10.

2.  You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  We do need to listen more and talk less.  We also need to realize that sound bites are not information - they're appetizers.  I've about had it with both groups of my friends (left and right) who all sound ignorant when they keep spitting out quotes of intended to irritate their 'opponents.'  It does not take long for the ears to reveal true colors and help us see the truth.

3.  I smell a rat.  I have never smelled a rat but I have been into some pretty disgusting places and homes.  You honestly don't have to see a rat (or mouse) to know they are there.  Get enough information and your gut takes over.  Smell is the sense of the gut.  Radio, TV, internet, Wall Street to Washington and Democrat to Republican, we are covered up in rats.  The color makes no difference nor does matter if it is in the wild or a pet: a rat is still a rat.

4.  Taste and see.  This is the sense of faith.  At some point we step out and take a chance, we put the data into us and try it out.  The phrase is from scripture (Psalm 34:8) and it simply points out we can't keep doing life by reason or tradition alone.  Of the debates and senses related to our current world, it is the one sense few have the courage to acknowledge let alone use.

5.  Give me a hug!  It is okay if you don't but you cannot ever lose sight of this one thing: we are each human beings - we are mortal and we have feelings, experiences and thoughts that differ from one another.  I love the song, "We All Bleed Red," for it connects us to the reality of our humanity that we will never escape.

May I Ask?  What sense will you use today to know others better?

More Cowbell? How About More Spirit?

May I ask you a question?  I am asking because I'd like this to be a rhetorical question, something for you to really consider.

Is our faith journey a...
1) Intellectual journey?
2) Spiritual journey?
3) Emotional journey?
4) all of the above.

I have been on my own journey to discovering and learning the spiritual side of the journey.  Recovering it, may not be too harsh a word either.  And while some in the Church today are arching their backs and drawing a line in the sand over the "new age" term: spirituality, it is nevertheless a reality for us who follow Jesus Christ.  This is a spiritual journey.

It seems to me somehow, in the passing of the years, we have, for all practical purposes, removed the spiritual side of faith out of the equation.  I recently attended the 5 Day Academy of Spiritual Formation sponsored by The Upper Room.  There, Dr. Bruce Rigdon discussed how the Church in the west sided with the idealist thought that the physical world was the definition of what was 'real.'  Prior to that point, the Church Universal understood the real world to be the spiritual and the physical world to be a reflection of this.

The Biblical writers saw no division, it was in Dr. Ridgon's words, "the whole ball of wax!"  Dr. Wilkie Au notes, "Christian spirituality offers us a truer understanding of the self and the nature of human fulfillment."  (The Enduring Heart, pg 40).  

Merely engaging in apologetics has failed to grow the Church.  Why?  Reason alone will not carry the day. Consider following the advice of any of our modern thoughts on atheism and we end up just as morally bankrupt as the Church during the Crusades.  Have millions died because of religious beliefs?  Sadly, yes, and how many have died at the hands of governments that have espoused atheism?  Millions again.

What I am more interested in is what will we do as the Church to address the spiritual bankruptcy of our culture.  The role of the Church is to do just this - to be this place - not of intellectual or emotional renewal but of spiritual renewal - to help us see the "real" and not follow the path of Narcissus and become obsessed with the "reflection."

Did you know that hidden in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, paragraph 629, section 6, there is a recommendation for the Annual Conference to have an Area of Spiritual Formation?  That it has its purpose to help develop the devotional life for people and families, CLERGY and LAITY?  

I have found the more I practice spiritual formation, the more I pray, the more I engage in reflection, the more I offer grace and the less I offer gripes.  But that formation isn't merely rote prayer practices that have been shoveled on us by modern publishing houses and contemporary authors.  Spiritual formation engages the width, depth and breadth of Church history and tradition.  

Christopher Walken, a United Methodist lay person, might prescribe more cowbell.  But the real remedy is found not in answers we come up with in our planning and studies.  It is in the reality that "God is a spirit. Those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24).  We need more spirit.  We've been doing far too much banging on cowbells.

Thoughts on Extravagant Generosity: Monday of Week 3

Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’ Luke 21:1-4

Put aside politics for a minute and we get to the heart of the matter. When Jesus tells this story, he isn't talking about giving to just another charity or paying taxes. It is giving to God and that is equal to giving to God's Church. It is we who have made giving into something it isn't. Bishop Schnase makes it uncomfortably clear, "The opposite of generosity is greediness..."

The tighter we hold onto the things we have, the harder it becomes to let go and grab onto something better. Generous people have a knack for being optimistic, why? For the same reason God is optimistic about us - remember, God first gave his own son (John 3:16)!

Has giving changed you? In what ways? Have you ever given more than you thought you could? What was that like?

Week Two: Tuesday (Thoughts on Extravagant Generosity)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2

Reading Bishop Schnase's devotion today I couldn't help thinking about rafting this past summer with our Boy Scout Troop.  One thing I've learned is that going down the river with a guide is far more fun than most people realize.  Guides "know" the river.  Every turn, every rock and every branch.  They also know how to have some crazy fun!

Our guide kept us focused and taught us all a great deal.  Having someone like that to look up to can make a whole lot of difference not just on a river but in our crazy, hectic, fast-paced world.  Guides don't panic - they have been through it.  Having God, friends and guides on our "white-water" life adventure can make all the difference!

Today, think about what has been carrying you along and what "rapids" you're in or about to face.  Who is a guide for you?  If you don't have one, pray about finding one and start looking for those who have some "white-water" experience!

Book Review: Seeking Spiritual Intimacy

“The deeper spiritual life is available to all genuine believers. It is not an ideal reserved for a handful of elite Christians,” writes Glenn E. Myers. “The Beguines epitomize the pursuit of one thing: loving Jesus with their whole heart.” With a little history and descriptive narrative, Myers introduces us to the lives of these women of the twelfth and thirteenth century. While today churches continue to struggle with the role of women, we find in their own words and the record of history, the Beguine women, leading by example how to experience a deeper spiritual life.

Myers does not try to write a mere history but attempts to engage the writings of the Beguines so as to reflect their impact on their society and the faith of Christians during the Medieval Period. The book introduces us to their general histories, the struggles with family and the acceptance of the Church to the writings and lifestyle of these women. In these pages we meet four of the leading women of this lay renewal movement.

The reader is invited at the end of each chapter to reflect on what they have read through a variety of practices. Though it has an extensive bibliography and could be considered worthy of textbook status, it is a book which connects us to themes common in our modern times such as the issue of suffering, creating community and even the issue of men’s spirituality.

As theologians, historians, writers, clergy and lay people alike, try to engage a fuller understanding of Christian spiritual formation, all would do well to consider the influence and example of the Beguines. I found Myers writing engaging and the chapters applicable to my own spiritual journey and my ministry as a pastor and spiritual director. If you are indeed seeking spiritual intimacy or simply an understanding of the Beguine movement and history, I recommend adding Myers’ work to your reading list.

Seeking Spiritual Intimacy
Journeying Deeper with Medieval Women of Faith
Glenn E. Myers. 2011. Intervarsity Press. ISBN 978-0-8308-3551-5


Let Me Ask Ya This...

It is good to be home in Pirate Country! Georgia is now home but East Carolina is always on my mind. I'd like to play a little game today, something interactive to get our minds going a little. It is a fill in the blank game. I'll say a phrase and you finish it...

At an East Carolina home game you hear: First Down...(and you say:) Pirates!
A Teacher: There is no such thing as a stupid (question)
A Police Officer: Please hand me your license, insurance and (registration)

All three of those phrases were part of my time here in Greenville. But of the three, only one is part of my journey. It is so much easier to major on the minors but it is in the questions, that we come face to face with God. Granted the same might be said to be true: if you don’t want to come face to face with God, don’t ask questions.

There is unfortunately different stigmas around questions. We are afraid to ask for fear we might look stupid. Also, people take questions to mean you don’t like them. One of my best friends asks great questions but because he does, some people take it the wrong way. But as a military officer he learned to ask REALLY good questions.

But questions also cause us two fears. One of the things we fear is not knowing. The other, less obvious, is finding the answer. In the earliest centuries of the church, the formation of monastic communities in the deserts were places where men and women could go to face questions. On one occasion, a group of men went to see Abba Anthony. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a Bible text and beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each had his opinion but to each, Abba Anthony said, “You have not understood it.” Last of all he came to last, to Abba Joseph and he asked him, “And what is your explanation.” Abba Joseph replied, “I do not know.” Then Abba Anthony said, “Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way. for he does not know ("The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," pg 4).” These early Christians learned there was nothing to fear in “not knowing.”

What maybe the greater fear is finding the answer or for that matter, admitting we knew it all along.

The pattern of the desert fathers and mothers grew out of the Rabbinic traditions of the Jewish people. For us, the questioning of Jesus in the temple is exactly the type of pattern which kept the earliest Christians questioning, attentive and passionate about the way of God Jesus had revealed.

Look at this exchange between Jesus and the priests in Matthew 21:23-32

Whoever reported to Matthew the argument only reveals the tip of the iceberg. The priests’ response to Jesus’ first question seems to be the same as Abba Joseph: “I don’t know.” But it is a heart issue. The seeker of God does not fear not knowing. The seeker of glory fears being found out. And it is true of us: We know but we don’t want to know that we know.

But stories reveal the deeper things of our souls. Stories reveal who we are as people. When we hear a story, it brings down our guard. Try this one:
Allan Boesak, was involved in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
That simple phrase told you a story if you know anything about the hideous effects of apartheid. It prepares us for what comes next for Allen wrote, “We will go before God to be judged, and God will ask, "Where are your wounds? Was there nothing worth dying for?'"

Like those folks in the temple, we’re hearing a story, one we casually consider and think it does not apply to us. And then suddenly, Jesus drops the hammer on us... “Who did the will of the father after all?” Or maybe it is Allen’s words, “Was there nothing worth dying for?”

In the height of the middle ages, Mechthild of Magdeberg noted, “...that too often Christians - especially those who are intellectually bright - obstruct the Lord’s intimacy (Glenn E. Myers, Seeking Spiritual Intimacy, pg 143).” How? We avoid the questioning nature of the Spirit of God. We cover over ourselves with “busyness” or “ministry” Examine the Old Testament starting with what maybe the oldest of its writings, Job. Seek after God, question him by all means, but be prepared chapter 38 verse 2 and 3 tell us:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”

In other words, to go after God is (in the words of my friend Jeff Coleman) to put on your big boy underpants and your big girl panties. It is to recognize that any God we can understand or even prove, is not likely to be a God any of us would find worthy to worship. This, I have to imagine, is what must have been so disconcerting for these priests, I more pity them than get angry with them for here appears a man, flesh and blood, claiming divinity!

So let us at least give credit to these priests, they are not yet condemned. Just because some are going ahead does not mean those at the back can’t get in too!
This isn’t an intellectual journey
This isn’t a physical journey
This isn’t a belief journey
I’m not even sure it is a faith journey

No, this is a soul journey and the way to the soul Jesus tell us, is in the story - it is in the questions - it is in the moments that God arrives and we stand our ground and do not shy away.

So let me ask ya? What about those two brothers? Who are you? You may not like the answer but like Sister Hazel once said (maybe even paraphrasing this verse):
If you want to be somebody else,
If you're tired of fighting battles with yourself
If you want to be somebody else
Change your mind...

My invitation to you is this: become part of God’s story.

Thoughts Before The Talk: Who Is Asking You Questions?

Karl Jacobson over at Working Precher.com shared a quote from Voltaire this week that we ought to judge a person by his questions rather than his answers. I think taking it a step further would be better, we ought to judge a person by the people who ask him/her questions.

Jesus and the priests go at it with a battle of questions in Matthew 21:23-32. Jesus doesn't just ask a better question, he trumps them (and us) with a story. It isn't a big one but this only proves how effective a story can be.

The priests got pownd. Obviously, we love it. In my life in the Church, preachers and congregations have always seemed to love these texts when the religious leaders take a fall. We get to laugh at someone else and secretly say, "thank goodness that wasn't us!" Really? You think so? Let me ask ya then, who do you think this applies to today? If you don't have people around you asking good, hard, questions and telling simple engaging stories, you are sliding to back of the line.

Who is asking you questions?

This weekend I am going home. The Emerald City. Pirate Country. East of Tobacco Road. Carolina is on my mind (North Carolina, that is). Greenville. On Sunday, I am preaching at my home church as well, Jarvis Memorial United Methodist Church. It has been a church which has supported me, shaped me and encouraged me. I'm nervous and excited. Not only do I have a question to pose to this church, I know there is a question coming back - maybe the very same one Jesus asked.

Four Easy Steps To Build Power and Influence in Your Own Mind

Why is it super-villians always feel they need to take over the world to fix it? Super-computers and robots are the worst about passing judgement on the whole human race. Of course, the space aliens come a pretty close second. The political party or religious group opposite of our own, comes in third...oh, wait, I was talking about super-villians wasn’t I? (BTW, can you tell we've been on an Avengers kick in the Hagler house!)

Condemnation is our default program be it super-villian, super-computer or ordinary human. Nurture it, and you too can build power and influence in your own mind. It goes something like this...

1) Inflated Ego. We’re kings and queens of our own internal world. If we can sell it to enough people, we might get somewhere. But truth be told, we condemn because when we feel powerless, it gives a sense of power - unfortunately, it is false power. We take it without earning it.

2) Responsibility. Of course, now that we have the power to condemn, we get to take responsibility for the decision. In other words, the buck stops with you. Think about the judge in the courtroom who has the authority to pass sentence - the decision rests with you.

3) Build the Prison. Once we’ve condemned we’ve got to build the prison to house the inmate(s). Since this is all internal, we’ve got to lock-up the emotions inside of us. We get to feed them, clothe them and maintain the prison. Did you know it is hard to find prison workers?

4) Hold the Key. Now you’re the warden. The person or people you condemned are now locked away (hopefully, metaphorically). Congratulations! You have a new career! Good luck with that one.

Jesus intended to upgrade our program:

Here is how this upgrade works...

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked him, "Lord, how often do I have to forgive a believer who wrongs me? Seven times?" Jesus answered him, "I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven. "That is why the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to do this, a servant who owed him millions of dollars was brought to him. Because he could not pay off the debt, the master ordered him, his wife, his children, and all that he had to be sold to pay off the account. Then the servant fell at his master's feet and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will repay everything!' "The master felt sorry for his servant, freed him, and canceled his debt. But when that servant went away, he found a servant who owed him hundreds of dollars. He grabbed the servant he found and began to choke him. 'Pay what you owe!' he said. "Then that other servant fell at his feet and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will repay you.' But he refused. Instead, he turned away and had that servant put into prison until he would repay what he owed. "The other servants who worked with him saw what had happened and felt very sad. They told their master the whole story. "Then his master sent for him and said to him, 'You evil servant! I canceled your entire debt, because you begged me. Shouldn't you have treated the other servant as mercifully as I treated you?' "His master was so angry that he handed him over to the torturers until he would repay everything that he owed. That is what my Father in heaven will do to you if each of you does not sincerely forgive other believers." (Matthew 18:21-35, GW)

Do you notice the wisdom of the master to start with? He had the power and did not need to condemn - he started with forgiveness! He could have held this servant responsible from the beginning but since he forgave the debt, he had nothing to track, no prison to build or maintain. His authority and influence is shown at the end.

The true power of the manager is shown at the beginning however. Real power is in forgiving.

May I Ask: Who are you trying to hold captive? What person, place or party do you have locked up?

May I Suggest: Consider your biases this week especially in light of 9/11, as well as politics, religion and race. Read Matthew’s story again. Who is really the captive in your life? Unlock your prison.

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.

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!

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