Are We Not People of Second Chances?



In 2007, President George W. Bush gave a speech advocating for the Second Chance Act.  He was optimistic that the bill would transform incarceration through reentry programs. Bush believed the USA “country was built on the belief that each human being has limitless potential and worth.  It passed and became law. In March of 2021, President Joe Biden followed this up by proclaiming April as Second Chance Month and said, “By focusing on prevention, reentry, and social support, rather than incarceration, we can ensure that America is a land of second chances and opportunity for all people.”


Two presidents.  One a Republican and one a Democrat.  One a United Methodist Christian and one a Roman Catholic Christian.  No president is perfect and there are many decisions that must be made as the leader of a nation that may challenge the faith someone might have.  But here, in these two presidents, we see the convictions of their faith lived out.


There is so much that we can look and see what divides us as individuals, in our marriages and families, within our nation and within our church.  Our United Methodist Church has been in conflict for some time now and is heading for a parting of ways between the Global Methodist Church and the UMC.  For me, it truly puts friends and colleagues of mine of many years on “the other side.” 

But this does not make us enemies. We are a people of second chances…and third and fourth and fifth chances.


Our presidents must have thought of Good Friday and the criminals on the cross:


39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other responded, and rebuking him, said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving [c]what we deserve for our crimes; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-42


Jesus was never inconsistent or contradictory with his words.  Before the cross, one of his disciples asked Jesus point-blank, how many times to forgive:


21 Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I still forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times.  Matthew 18:21-22


Now, you may not LIKE what Jesus advocated for in his words or his actions but they have been and remain foundational to the Christian faith experience and part of our teachings for centuries. Jesus also intended us to use our reasoning and we have no reason to remain in the presence of someone who hurts us. If they demand your coat, give them your shirt also and let them be on their way (those in the UMC and GMC might consider this (Luke 6:29)). Jesus never said you are obligated to hate or hold animosity toward another.


We are a people of second chances and our faith is a faith of second chances and our Savior, this Easter, is a God of second chances, and third, and even seventy-seven chances (and even more)!  There is no limit to God’s forgiveness and let us live the same way!  If Bush and Biden could find common ground from their faith, then we can too. How will you give second chances? Who will you give second chances?


Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God...this is The Way…the way of the Christ, the way of Jesus.





Star Wars? Jedi Pastor Ken? Blasphemous!!!


I hate that there are denominations among Christian churches…and I love that there are denominations among Christian churches.


Look, this could become a huge - massive - expansive type of blog post. Come on, there are whole classes in seminary on the subjects of denominations and then if we dig deeper, there are whole graduate schools devoted to one denomination’s train of thought and justification for existing.  Multiply that out by just a few different denominations and well, there are a lot of differences.

The reason for most of the New Testament letters and books is because…Christians were not getting along. Just by my saying that, some will yell…”NUH UH!!!” and that is part of my point…we don’t all agree but just hear me out, the writers of the New Testament are trying to educate and encourage and help each church or person, get along better with others. Why do we need this? Will, it goes to my second act of simple spirituality: “we are sinners.” We want things our own way and want everyone else to see the world our way.


Case in point, a recent comment on my YouTube channel was that Star Wars doesn’t talk about God the Father and therefore, science fiction wants to do away with God and my little joke and tag of being “jedipastorken” is…wait for it…BLASPHEMOUS!!! Only, that isn’t how logic and reason work. My cookbooks don’t talk about God the Father either and I have a hashtag of #castironkitchen so does that mean all my Lodge cookware is blasphemous too? Of course, that doesn't even mention there is also the problem of C.S. Lewis, the great Christian writer and theologian, who wrote a science fiction trilogy too.  Not to mention the fantasy books, Chronicles of Narnia.  You see where this is going, right?

I don’t want to be blasphemous, God knows better than anyone where my heart is. There really are things that are blasphemous.  I surely don't feel the need to defend Star Wars but dare we miss that at its base is a belief in a higher power and that the good side of this power is greatest.  I have found there is much more in Star Wars that points to God than does the Avengers, or the Lone Ranger or Lassie for that matter.  Dare we then throw out every analogy or symbol throughout the centuries believers have used to talk about God or "translate" God to our pop culture?  Should I mention that George Lucas attended church as a kid?  Nah.  Never mind.

I sure wish there was only one Church in our human world, but there isn’t but there is one Church in the Kingdom of God, even though we all don’t see everything the same. It is for this reason, I believe the Creeds of the Church are so very important. These are the core elements of faith and the core elements by which we can determine what is part of our faith and what is…(gulp)...blasphemous


With minor tweaks in translation from the Latin, the beliefs found in the Apostle’s Creed, based on Matthew 28:19 and first being put out for the Church in around the 2nd century are found here:


I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.


I know, I know, somehow I’m sure I got this wrong in someone’s eyes but what I am TRYING to get at is what brings us together for now is NOT the time for us to be so mired in petty opinions that hold no basis in fact, thought or reality of faith. It is okay we don't see the same on everything so long as Christians, we hold to the core. I’m trying, ever so much, live as John Wesley preached in his sermon on Catholic Spirit (catholic meaning its more ancient term: universal)


“But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.”



Wesley goes on to ask a few questions but one drills it down for me:


“Dost thou believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘God over all, blessed for ever’? Is he ‘revealed in’ thy soul? Is he ‘formed in thy heart by faith?’”


I can even hear Yoda asking the question.





The Next Sunday and the Next...What On Earth Are Clergy Good For Anymore???

 


Each and every week, I spend the time that most pastors spend preparing for the next Sunday, and the next Sunday and the next Sunday.  Along the way, I call, visit, right notest to people.  There are meetings, some in person and some on Zoom.  I am creeping closer to having been in ministry full time for 30 years (just breaking 25 years).  That is kind of crazy to think about!


Like most pastors…I think…I have read many books.  Some good, some not so good. I have attended conferences and seminars to learn more, to be better at what I do. And along the way, I have learned that the quality of the work I do is far more subjective than I think anyone ever gives consideration.  Oh, sure, there are objective numbers like church attendance and financial statements that are measured but does that REALLY what this is about?

There is one phrase, in one book, that I go back to again and again. When I read it years ago it stuck and kept working its way deeper and deeper into my psyche and my soul.  It is this:

“People speak in various ways of wanting their pastor to be spiritually deep. The ordained person is expected to be a person of prayer that the person in the street cannot be.” 

Urban T Holmes. “The Spiritualiy for Ministry.” 34.


When I wrote, “Life Sucks Seek God,” I didn’t realize I was drilling down to the core of this very idea I had read years ago but that is the reality of things - and it is past time for us to name and work from reality and NOT superficiality.


We need…I NEED…clergy willing and able to name the truth of this too. We clergy are not the Messiah after all - we are just like everyone else in truth - human beings who are trying to be that person of prayer - devoted wholly to God but who are insufferably flawed and weak and selfish…the Bible has one word to describe us but we don’t like it - WE ARE SINNERS!  


There I said it.  Life Sucks and we are sinners. And we can’t deal with that and we clergy don’t want to offend anyone so we just put aside that word but that word works and it gets to heart and soul of it.  


Life sucks and we are sinners so…Seek God.


And I feel better saying it too.  I need to get it out.  Just like so much that I have kept bottled up for too long.  We need a good dose of this reality.  I don’t know why we keep hiding what the Good News is with some kind lame, generic label packaging.  It isn’t just some “sweet, by and by, God of the New Testament thing,” either.  We get the promise right in the prophets - those old, dead guys spouting doom and gloom:

Seek the Lord while he may be found,

    call upon him while he is near;

let the wicked forsake their way,

    and the unrighteous their thoughts;

let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,

    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  (Isaiah 55:6-7 (NRSV))


We don’t like them most of the time BUT again, lets be real - THEY GOT IT!!! They understood the times they were living in and they called it like they saw it!


Life Sucks.

We’re sinners.

Seek God.


Maybe Lent has already dug into me. Maybe it is that we live in times these prophets would surely recognize. Maybe it is that this pandemic has worn away my veneer…again.  Maybe I’m getting old.


Maybe.


I know clergy are retiring as soon as they can.

I know clergy are leaving ministry as fast or faster than ever.
I know, God keeps calling me to stay…to be that person in prayer.


Life still sucks.

We’re still sinners.

I will still seek God.



What will you do?



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