I traveled to Kentucky for the first time in 21 years last week. I was invited to lead a clergy conference in the Diocese of Lexington and suddenly found myself on a mountain in Eastern Kentucky surrounded by Episcopal priests. While that may sound like a nightmare scenario of Dante-esque proportions to you, take comfort in knowing that I was also surrounded by good bourbon.

Being in the Blue Grass State reminded me of my last encounter with Kentucky. After college, where I served in the Armys ROTC program, I spent four months at Fort Knox training to be a tank platoon leader. Some days I swear this was better training for parish ministry than studying theology, but thats another matter.

Anyway, Route 31 in Kentucky connects the city of Louisville to Fort Knox, and I traveled this road on a regular basis whenever wed have weekends off. Route 31 was nothing if not nondescript, but I distinctly remember passing one particular business establishment. It was a liquor store placed just outside the county line between dry Bullit County, where the sale of alcohol was prohibited, and wet Hardin County, where alcohol sales were legal.

Driving down Route 31 through the dry county and approaching the wet one, the liquor stores giant neon sign read Bennys First Chance. But when you traveled the opposite way on Route 31, through the wet county approaching the dry one, the giant neon sign read Bennys Last Chance. A clever marketing ploy that has probably served Benny well over the years, and its certainly stuck in my mind.

From a spiritual perspective, were offered a number of first chances and last chances. Every day in every moment, were offered a first chance to turn our hearts to God. The door is always open, the arms are always wide, the welcoming embrace is always offered, the invitation always stands. Sometimes that first step into genuine relationship feels like stepping off a cliff -- its called a leap of faith, after all. But that letting go is part of living into that first chance to be with the divine -- a chance were asked to take again and again and again.

Last chances are trickier. A last chance feels like an ultimatum: Turn to God or else... . Preachers have fed off the fear of the last chance for generations and, while its occasionally effective in keeping people in line or coming through the doors, I dont believe it gets to the heart of God. Coming face to face with the last chance of Gods judgment is always within the context of Gods loving mercy. The merciful judgment of God demands that we take God up on the first chances were continually offered to serve God and one another. Regardless, whether its a first chance or a last chance, were always encouraged to take a chance on Gods love.

I had a good time in Kentucky, and I hope it wont be another 21 years until I make it there. A clergy friend of mine in Lexington set me up with a riding lesson -- I was 8 the last time I rode a horse. There I was sitting atop a docile beast named Jack circling the ring along with five other riders, all elementary school-aged girls. The smile plastered on my face the whole time had nothing to do with the bourbon I knew Id be sipping later.

The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Mass. Visit his blog Clergy Family Confidential at frtim.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.