Thursday, February 28, 2013

Neither Do I Condemn You

Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. 
-- John 8:11 

In his book Things I Wish Jesus Hadn't Said, Joe Edd Morris reflects upon the story of the woman caught in adultery, among other stories that challenge us greatly. He calls this section of his book, simply and profoundly, "neither do I condemn you."

It is a hard teaching, this teaching of Jesus that we offer grace, that we refrain from condemnation of others. Our brother Joe Edd writes,

Forgiveness is tough; it is a hard thing to do. With all of our biases and prejudices, our conditioned attitudes and our ingrained moral systems, foreclosing is much easier than forgiving. It is simply easier to turn our head, walk away, and not invest. The foreclosing on another is safe, forgiving is risky. We have no guarantees our forgiveness of another will change a behavior. But is that the goal, forgiving with the expectation people will turn around, go and sin no more? Forgiveness comes from love and love accepts without conditions. When we forgive, we have no agenda, no objectives. Unlike the accusers of the woman, when we forgive, we are not interested in control. Tillich reminds us that "forgiveness is unconditional or it is not forgiveness at all.

Jesus forgives the woman with no strings attached. In his demonstration of love for her, he can only hope, but not control, that his forgiveness makes love possible. She cannot love unless she accepts the forgiveness and "the deeper our experience of forgiveness, the greater is our love... Being forgiven and being able to accept oneself are one and the same thing."

Forgiveness is always a miracle, always a gift. There is power in forgiveness, for the one who offers and for the one who receives.
-- Hope Morgan Ward

Prayer: Lord Jesus, teach us to forgive. Grant us grace to withhold condemnation and offer space for newness of life, we pray. Amen.

by Hope Morgan Ward, former resident Bishop of the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Lenten Devotional from the MS Annual Conference

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Jesus Never Said Everyone Was Lovable! 
Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out, two by two... 
-- Mark 6:7 

Bishop Clay Lee published a book of sermons preached at Galloway United Methodist Church. The title of the book is Jesus Never Said Everyone Was Lovable! In the first sermon on the scope of discipleship, Bishop Lee writes:

"A strong lesson for us in the church today is found in Jesus' instructions to his disciples as he sent them out on that initial venture. We do need to struggle with that temptation of choosing whom to serve. More particularly, we need to wrestle with the temptation of hoarding God's goodness, making it our own personal possession.

Let me tell you about a tribe in African known as the Masai, a race of strong, tall people. This particular tribe has always believed in one god, Engai. They believe Engai is passionately involved in his people's lives; that he loves the rich more than the poor, the healthy more than the sick, the virtuous more than the wicked. Engai favors the Masai over every other tribe, protecting them against their enemies.

You could almost call that attitude primitive if it were not for the fact that such a view of God is held by many people in our society today. Our lesson is to capture Jesus' understanding of God. We are to respond with simplicity and trust and generosity, just as Jesus instructed his disciples. Then we will be on the road to the Kingdom."
Prayer: Gracious God, make us givers of grace today, and tomorrow, and every day. Amen.
by Clay Lee is retired United Methodist Bishop living in Mississippi and an active participant in the ministries of Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church.

Lenten Devotional from the MS Annual Conference

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Grace: The Heart of the Wesleyan Way

By "the grace of God" is sometimes to be understood that free love, that unmerited mercy, by which I, a sinner, through the merits of Christ am now reconciled to God. But in this place it rather means that power of God the Holy Ghost which "worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure." As soon as ever the grace of God (in the former sense, his pardoning love) is manifested to our souls, the grace of God (the latter sense, the power of his Spirit) takes place therein. And now we can perform, through God, what to (humanity) was impossible. 

-- John Wesley 

Wesley was convinced that the Christian life did not have to remain a life of continual struggle. He believed that both Scripture and Christian tradition attested that God's loving grace can transform our lives to the point where our own love for God and others becomes a "natural" response. Christians can aspire to take on the disposition of Christ, and live out that disposition within the constraints of our human infirmities. To deny this possibility would be to deny the sufficiency of God's empowering grace -- to make the power of sin greater than that of grace.

Prayer: God of Grace, open my spirit to your Holy Spirit, that my heart and mind may be redeemed and transformed by your Son, my Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen

by Stephen W. Rankin"Aiming at Maturity: The Goal of the Christian Life"

Lenten Devotional from the MS Annual Conference

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Giving means thinking positively.

 “Make the most of every chance you get.   These are desperate times.” 
(Ephesians 5:16 The Message)

Tornadoes in the Midwest, tsunamis and earthquakes around the world, spring floods on the East Coast and along the Mississippi River, state and national budget controversies and rising gas prices. 

The apostle Paul writes, “Make the most of every chance you get.  These are desperate times.”   How will we as United Methodists make the most of every chance we get during these desperate times?  For one thing, we’ve just come through another tax season.   I’m always amazed that no matter what kind of a year we’ve had – good or bad – we always find a way to pay our taxes.

If you examine your tax return and you wish you had given Jesus a bit more so that you could give Uncle Sam a bit less, we invite you to consider starting now for next year.   “Resurrect your finances” during the Easter season.   Here are some suggestions:

  • Make the first check you write each pay period, or the first automatic withdrawal you make, be a “thank you” gift to God.  
  • Instead of buying your children or grandchildren candy and trinkets for Easter or graduation, consider a gift in their honor to help victims of a natural disaster through UMCOR or to your church’s portion of our shared mission (apportionments).
  • Give at least 50% of the total you might spend on a vacation or special events during the summer to the ministry of Christ.
  • Try tithing; i.e., giving 10% of your income to the church for 3 months during the summer or fall.
--from Wisconsin United Methodist Foundation

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

God's Will On Earth

Our Father Who is in heaven, hallowed (kept holy) be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on the earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread... 
-- Matthew 6: 9-11 (Amplified Bible) 

During the early winter of this past year, a married couple in one of the congregations in our charge approached me and asked, a little hesitantly, if they could talk to me about something important. "Of course... let's talk," I replied. They then proceeded to talk to me about an extended member of the community who was dear to their hearts -- Mr. Sam, they called him.

Mr. Sam is an African American gentleman in his late nineties who has been a part of the family since the days long before the marriage of this couple. As they shared stories, I saw the mist of tears expressing deep abiding emotion and love for this elderly gentleman.

Their question to me was: Would I be willing to go and visit Mr. Sam?

Even though Mr. Sam is in his nineties he still mows grass and works to earn a living. This church has extended grace by providing groceries for Mr. Sam including a great Sunday dinner each and every week. I was so taken with this request we set a date for me to return and meet Mr. Sam. So, on a Sunday afternoon we met. Chip rode with me to Mr. Sam's residence. When we arrived, we were met at the door of this humble home with a smile and a welcoming handshake. This began a warm friendship and now I consider Mr. Sam a part of our congregation.

Reading Scripture with Mr. Sam, sharing the continuing story of the Gospel, and praying with this fine man has now become a part of my regular monthly pattern of pastoral care; I am fed by his warm hospitality and spirit. As we talk, Mr. Sam tells me about his granddaughter who is a doctor, and shares stories of his wife and their years of joy and laughter. Chip and his wife always let me know what is happening with Mr. Sam, and I look forward to each visit with anticipation and joy knowing that I can share with him more of the love of Christ.

I wonder if we see how God's will is done on earth as it has already been accomplished in heaven in acts of Grace. Mr. Sam receives physical bread through an act of generosity, but I wonder also if he realizes that his relationship with us constantly feeds our souls. -- Kathy Price

Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, during this Lenten season, we ask you to assist us in bringing the message of Christ, the living bread, to hungry hearts. Assist us as we lead others to the wells of salvation that they may draw deeply from you that which satisfies us spirit, soul, and body. In Christ's holy name: Amen 

by Kathy Price is pastor of the Desoto Charge in Clarke County.

Lenten Devotionals from the MS Annual Conference

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Web Content Producer

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Feel the Breeze

Read Matthew 18:21-35 

Then Peter came and said to him, 'Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 
-- Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV)

Jesus said, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." It has always been interesting that "Church folk" seem to be the ones whose feelings are easily hurt. It was a concern even with the disciples (as stated in the text.)

Often when there is something said or done we retaliate, saying or doing something even more ridiculous. We then assume the character of the unforgiving servant.

In the parable of Matthew 18, Jesus clearly asked the question of the wicked servant "Should you not have had compassion on his fellow servant as the master had forgiven him?" It must be terribly depressing to be burdened with a grudge against someone. To hold onto any negative causes much stress.

To forgive and be forgiven relieves one of stress and depression and gives a feeling comparable to walking in the right sunshine and feeling the breeze of a balmy spring day. Forgiveness makes you free. Freedom in Jesus is freedom indeed. -- Juanita Franklin

Prayer: Gracious heavenly father, thank you for your forgiving love and grace. Enable us to be forgiving and loving as you loved us. We pray in the name of Jesus, your son and our brother. Amen

by Juanita Franklin is St. Paul United Methodist Church in Foxworth and serves as chairperson, of the Conference Commission on Religion and Race.

Lenten Devotional from the MS Annual Conference
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Friday, February 22, 2013


For it is by free grace (God's unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ's salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God. 
-- Ephesians 2:8 Amplified Bible (AMP) 

I am sitting in my office looking at two paintings given to me by my aunt, Pat Hines. Both paintings depict churches with people heading toward worship. The settings are filled with beautiful trees, dirt roads, and people in simpler, older times. The paintings are beautifully done by a very talented artist. They came into my possession as gifts.

I never saw the paintings until they were given to me. It is not that I asked for them. It is not that I offered to buy them from her. And I can think of nothing that I have done for my aunt that would trigger this generous gift. The reality is that she chose to give them to me because she chose to give them to me. And that is grace.

We so often claim to be a people of grace, but our conversations are filled with must, should, and ought. We lay burdens upon ourselves in order to achieve grace. And then we are really good about laying burdens upon others before we deem them worthy of God's grace. But the text reminds us that grace is God's unmerited favor. Salvation is the gift of God.

I invite you to just sit in the sunshine of God's grace. Then look around and see who might need some light in their lives? -- Mike Hicks

Prayer: Lord, thank you for choosing to give your best to me just because. Amen

by Mike Hicks is the District Superintendent of the Hattiesburg District.

Lenten Devotional from the MS Annual Conference
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

God's Cornfield

Read Luke 15:4-7

Be still, and know that I am God... -- Psalm 46:10a

Years ago, my cousin Joann and her husband Harold had a dairy farm in Olive Branch and raised field corn to feed the cows. One hot summer day, when the corn was at its succulent best, Joann took her four-year-old son, George with her to the field to gather corn for the family. As she worked she didn't notice that George had slipped away. When she looked for him he was nowhere in sight!

She called to him and he answered her but she couldn't tell where he was. As she continued to call they both became frantic trying to find each other. Finally, Joann said, "George, BE STILL, and I'll come get you. Keep calling so I can find you."

The story had a happy ending as George and his mother were reunited in that cornfield and he stayed close to her the rest of the day, not letting her out of his sight.

This story makes me think of all the times I have strayed away from God, not very far, just far enough so that I could not feel His presence. Just far enough so that he has to come looking for me in the cornfield of life.  I've learned that when I feel far from God it's because I slipped away; God didn't change, I DID!  Just like my little cousin George, if we will be still and keep calling out to God, he will come for us and return us to His love and care.

Prayer: Loving Father, forgive us when we go our own way, when we stray from the warmth of your presence. Help us to always seek to do your will and follow your way. Amen

Thought for the Day: God loves and treasures each of us; when we are lost and frightened God will find us and comfort us if we will just 'Be still" and call on Him
by Jane B. Thomas is a member of Free Springs UMC near Como Mississippi.

Lenten Devotional from the MS Annual Conference

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lenten Devotional

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.'
And lead us not into temptation.
-- Luke 11: 2-4 (NASB)
 We all long for a purpose that makes us feel alive. It strikes a deep chord within us as we listen to someone who is deeply passionate about life; people who are totally devoted to, and energized by, their daily existence. On a recent business trip I met one of those passionate people. Jack had recently retired, yet he was still so excited about the migrant head-start program he founded. He has spent decades of his life helping the families of migrant farm workers. Jack's town, like many small agricultural communities, depends upon migrant workers to harvest the crops. He saw the needs of the impoverished migrant families and dedicated himself to helping them have a better life. Joy and energy just radiate from Jack; he is a man of passion. 

How this passion started is the real story. Jack fell in love with the migrant community through tragedy. One night his daughter was driving home when she was involved in a head on collision -- she was killed instantly. The driver of the other vehicle, who was driving impaired, was a migrant worker. Anger and grief motivated Jack to learn about the man who had killed his daughter. He met the driver's family and learned about the community in which he lived and worked. A turning point in Jack's life came when he remembered how loving his daughter was. He felt she would have forgiven the driver. Somehow, in the midst of this horrific tragedy, true grace surfaced. Instead of living a life of anger and bitterness Jack found forgiveness and, unbelievably, passion. His passion is to help the family, friends, and community of the man who killed his daughter. Jack's love for the migrant community is contagious. Talk with him and you can't help but be moved by his sense of purpose. Once you understand that his passion was birthed out of such tragedy, you begin to realize how amazing God's redemptive grace really is

Prayer: God, your grace is bigger than we can ever imagine. Even in the midst of pain and suffering, Your grace somehow abounds. Help us to catch a glimpse of it and share it with those in need, even if they do not seem to deserve it. Amen

by Scott Briggs works for Mississippi Regional Office of the Society of St. Andrew.

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Miss Lladale Carey
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lord, Have Mercy

Read Luke 18:9-14 

Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. -- Matthew 5:7
In one of the many church classes and seminars I've attended over the years our District staff person, Cheryl Denley, talked about a breath prayer.  It is a short phrase that is repeated often during the day as a way of staying close to God and being open to His leading.

As I thought about this concept of prayer, I realized that I had been doing this, however unconsciously, for a long time. When my feet hit the floor in the morning the first words out of my mouth are usually, "Lord, have mercy."  I didn't really think about this as a prayer until one morning my husband said, in response to this utterance, "What are you complaining about?" I replied, "I'm not complaining, I'm praying."  From that time on, I consciously make this statement a prayer.

As I go through my day and something hurts, or things don't go as I want them to, or someone disappoints me, or I don't have time (or didn't plan well enough) to do something I want to do, or just in general Life Happens, I find myself saying, "Lord, have mercy."

I think of mercy as a gift, something I haven't earned but something I pray will be shown to me as I, like the tax collector in our scripture reading from Luke, acknowledge my shortcomings and failures as I ask God for mercy.

The flip side of this equation is found in the Beatitudes in Matthew, "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy."  So, in order for me to expect
God to show mercy to me I must show mercy to others. It's that simple. "Lord, have mercy!"

Prayer: Merciful God, look on us with mercy and love and teach us to reflect that love and mercy to others as we go about our lives everyday. Amen    

by Jane B. Thomas is a member of Free Springs UMC near Como Mississippi.

Lenten Devotional from the Mississippi Annual Conference

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Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, February 18, 2013

Growing in Generosity with Children: A Quart of Coins

We keep a quart jar in a prominent place in our bedroom and put our loose change into it on a regular basis.  When it’s almost full we take it to the bank and are surprised to discover there’s about $100 that has magically accumulated!  

It’s also amazing to me that for just over $100 per member/year we are able to fund the worldwide mission and ministry of the entire United Methodist Church!  We may have loose coin offerings for a number of very worthy ministries in our churches throughout the year, but what are we teaching our children if we don’t meet our primary commitment to the ministry, done in our name here in Wisconsin and throughout the world, through our apportionments?

I invite you to start now – at the beginning of the year – to find a way to fund your share of the church’s apportionments.  Maybe you can write a check for the full amount upfront.   Or you may be like many folks who are struggling to make ends meet and the most you can give are a few coins each week.   Start now and when that jar is full, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve saved! 

If you don’t have children or grandchildren at home, invite a child or two from your church to help you count it.   And, if you wish, involve those children in giving the gift the following Sunday in a special envelope marked for apportionments.    For many wonderful stories of how these gifts are used for the ministry of Christ and the glory of God, go to   For more resources to help you and yours meet your financial goals this year visit:

-- by Rev. Jean Ehnert Nicholas, WI Ann Conf

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Keeping What Matters

Then the king responded, ‘Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.” (1 Kings 3: 27, full story 1 Kings 3: 16-28)

It was close to Valentine’s Day and the confirmation class was tittering. To cut through the silliness I invited them to go around the circle and share a scripture about love to the best of their memory. I was impressed by how many “love passages” they knew, more than – love one another … neighbor … stranger.
Andy’s unique choice was the story usually called Solomon’s choice.
Two women with newborns shared lodging. One infant died in the night and both claimed the living child. They screamed at each other. Solomon suggested the baby boy be bisected and each woman be given half. One woman said, “Fine.” (Can you hear the teenaged boy say it?) The other said, “Give her the baby – don’t kill him.” Solomon gave this woman the child. Whatever the biological truth was – this was the mother!
“So how is this a love story,” I asked?
“Well, if you really love something or someone, you know that cutting it in half will kill it,” said Andy. A young woman (soon to get her driver’s license) picked up the thought. “Also, if you really love something, you’re willing to let it go.”
These wise confirmands suggest some Solomon-stewardship for our churches. In a difficult budget time – cut, cut, cut is frequent advice.  But there is much precious and vulnerable programming that won’t survive the knife. Keeping what matters in our faith communities alive often requires personally sacrificial gifts – gifts without strings, ownership or naming rights – gifts of love.

-- Maren C. Tirabassi is Pastor of Union Congregational UCC of Madbury, NH.

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Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Giving for the Glory of God

“Imagine the President of the United States and the Committee on Ways and Means sending out jugs, mugs, boxes, barrels, eggs, and buttons with their pictures on them to catch pennies to meet the fiscal needs of the great government of the United States! 

Imagine the different states and counties holding fairs, festivals, concerns, and ice cream socials.   With women cooking, sewing, and acting so that each community may meet its apportionment! 

This would disgrace any earthly government in its own eyes and the eyes of the nations.  Yet this is what Christians are doing year by year to finance the Kingdom of God!”

-from Gems of Thought on Tithing, published 1911, By George W. Brown, a Presbyterian layman

 The early Hebrews mentioned only crops and herds in their base for a tithe.  Later when the people settled and started raising olives and grapes, products such as oil and wine were included in the base.  A generation or two ago people could not conceive of anything but cash as the base for a tithe.  But with more people investing in the stock market, and in real estate, people can now consider tithing other assets as well.

--Wisconsin United Methodist Foundation

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Miss Lladale Carey
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