God’s great grace and the power of second chances

People hurt each other all the time. Sometimes it’s intentional. Most times it’s not, and it just happens because nobody is perfect. Communication breaks down. Misunderstandings happen. Maybe you do something you aren’t supposed to do, and you lie to cover it up. Then you have to lie more to keep it covered. And you can’t lie that long without there being consequences, whether you get caught in your lie or not.

In any case, you end up at odds with people. But you forgive them. Of course, you forgive them. Maybe it’s not the strong, independent thing to say, but I usually forgive people pretty quickly, especially if it’s only my feelings that have been hurt. If I’m the only one who has been wronged, it doesn’t bother me that much. But there’s forgiveness and then there’s restoration. And there’s a big, big difference between them.

Unless you’re God.

AD76394B17Today’s verses are Romans 8:1-3.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

I love how God approaches forgiveness. When you come to God with a true view of your sin and your dependency on Him, He doesn’t push you away. He doesn’t scorn you or make you feel guilty. He sees you from a far-off distance and runs to meet you. He wraps you up in His arms and welcomes you home.

There’s nothing in this passage that discusses how we have to prove ourselves to God so that He will restore us to a right relationship with Him. We don’t have to prove anything to God. We can’t. All we are capable of doing is turning our hearts, our wills, over to Him. And He knows full well that we might turn away from Him again (we probably will), but He doesn’t let that stop Him from showering us with blessings and making us feel loved and wanted.

God is a God of second chances. And third chances. A fiftieth chances. And two-hundredth chances. I know that’s been said to death, but it’s true. God doesn’t push anyone away. Not ever. Nobody who ever came to God seeking help has been turned away.

I need that. I need someone who will forgive me when I screw up, because I screw up a lot. Do I think it’s wise to instantly restore another human being to a place of ultimate trust after they’ve betrayed me? No. We can’t prove anything to God, but when it comes to our relationships with each other, trust needs to be earned again after it’s lost.

But still… how often are we too harsh on someone who has let us down? How often do we feel the need to punish those who have hurt the people we love? And is that really what God has for us to do? Are we supposed to make it harder for someone to earn our trust after they’ve failed us?

Jesus says in Matthew that people with vulnerable hearts are happy. Sure, that guy hurt you. Yeah, that gal might take advantage of your kind spirit and stomp all over your heart again. But isn’t God’s grace strong enough to withstand the failings of other people? I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. When someone you love stabs you in the back, it hurts. When someone you trust turns out to be different than you thought, it’s like your insides twist all up. But who are you trusting for your happiness?

God’s grace is enough.

It’s enough to free me from slavery to my own sin. It’s enough to help me forgive people who’ve hurt me. It’s enough to help me forgive people who will keep hurting me. And if God loves me enough to give me second chances over and over and over again, can’t I afford to do the same for someone else?

Cat in a field at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Turn back

Do you ever get stuck thinking that God has a great big hammer in His hand and He’s just waiting for an opportunity to whack you with it? I know life can make us feel that way sometimes, but it’s not true. The Bible is full of instances where God demonstrates just how merciful He is.

Ezekiel isn’t exactly the book I would first go to in looking for verses about God’s mercy. Ezekiel is pretty hard core, actually. So when I was looking for a verse about second chances, I was surprised to find this passage.

Cat in a field at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Cat in a field at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ezekiel 18:30-32.

Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign Lord. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!

Repent is one of those religious words that can be scary. But there’s really nothing religious about it. Repenting simply means that you change your mind. It means that you change your mind about the way you’re living, that you let go of your rebellion and live the way God wants.

God wants everyone to repent because everyone is freakin’ screwed up.

A little earlier in the same text, God says that He finds no pleasure when wicked people die. God doesn’t want anyone to die. I don’t know if we can wrap our heads around that, but that’s who He is.

This passage has so many applications, but the one I need this morning is that God is truly a God of second chances. He is a God who freely allows anyone to turn away from a lifestyle of rotten choices and turn to Him for salvation.

Anyone. Freely. And all we have to do is to accept His free gift — Christ’s sacrifice for us — and we don’t have to be judged on our actions. But if we don’t accept Christ as Lord, then all we have are our actions. But that’s a topic for another day.

Today, Election Day 2012, I needed to remember that God is merciful. And that He listens. And that He cares. And that He’s got everything under control, even when nothing seems like it’s going the way it should. By tonight, we should know who the president for the next four years will be, but whoever that is, I’m honestly not holding out a lot of hope.

No matter who wins, America is in very grave danger. Not from the economy. Not from our aging Baby Boomer generation. Not from our dependence on foreign oil. Not from terrorists. The greatest danger America faces today is America. We are slowly but surely destroying ourselves with double-mindedness, self-entitlement, and rebellion.

No matter who assumes the chair in the Oval Office in January 2013, he cannot fix our greatest problems, he cannot answer our greatest questions, he cannot give us what we need. And the plain and simple reason why? We already know how to fix our greatest problems. We already know the answer to our greatest questions. We already know what we need. And we have rejected all of it.

And if you think I’m talking to non-believers, Christians, think again.

Ezekiel was a prophet sent to Israel, the chosen people of God. God’s own people who had turned against Him. These weren’t heathen nations. These weren’t people who didn’t believe in God. These were the descendants of the ones God rescued from Egypt with His own hand.

So let Ezekiel’s message resonate with us today.

Let’s set our rebellion aside. Let’s do what we have been called to do, and that is to follow Christ. Let’s turn away from the choices we know contradict God’s Word. And let’s get down on our knees and our faces and beg God for another chance. He’s not done with us yet because we’re still here, but the time is coming when His patience is going to run out. And there are still so many people who haven’t heard the truth, who would accept it if they heard.

2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”

God wants everyone to repent. He doesn’t want to lose one person. He’s giving everybody space and time to change, and He’s giving 21st Century American Christians the opportunity to get their heads on straight.

Obey Scripture. Do what’s right. And if you don’t know what’s right, look it up. And while you won’t be judged on your actions if you truly know Christ, when all is said and done you won’t be able to ignore Truth anymore.

The second Adam

I’m so thankful God gives us second chances. And third chances. And fourth chances. And 100th chances. No matter how hard I try, I still end up doing what I know is wrong. So knowing that He will always be there for me is comforting, especially when I’m struggling with guilt in the aftermath.

I get so frustrated with myself because it’s so easy to think any sin I commit isn’t as big a deal as other people (there’s my pride issue creeping back in again). But Jesus said even thinking about committing a sin is just as bad as if you had done it. If you look down on murderers, have you ever hated someone? If you look down on adulterers, have you ever had an innappropriate thought? Just thinking about it is tantamount to doing it.

We’re all the same. And all our sin is the same. Just because some of us think about it instead of doing it doesn’t make us any different. Or any better.

Many people curse Adam, the first Man, for the sin he committed in Eden — eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when he knew he wasn’t supposed to. And even when I was little, I wondered why he had done it. Why he had sacrificed all of us for a piece of fruit. But the truth is, folks, Adam didn’t know about us. He didn’t know that there would be uncountable billions of people who descended from him thousands and thousands of years later. He was human. He had no clue about the consequences of his sin. Just like us.

We stumble along in life doing what we want to do because we want to do it, and we have no idea how our actions are going to affect our children and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children. But we don’t think about that because it’s too big for us to wrap our heads around.

And we curse Adam for failing us in the garden? Adam did the best he could. He was the best shot we had. Otherwise, God would have made someone else instead of Adam.

Our sin deserved death. People think death means something it doesn’t most of the time. In our normal human connotation, death means the end of life as we see it. But death in the Bible just means separation. Physical death is separation of the Soul and Spirit from the body. Spiritual death is separation of the spirit from God. With Adam’s sin, because all of us are descended from Adam, we were all born spiritually dead, doomed to spend the rest of eternity separated from God when our bodies die.

That’s why God sent Jesus to die for us. Jesus was the second Adam, the second chance for the human race to have a relationship with God.

1 Corinthians 15:20-22

20But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

 21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.

Adam was the best hope we had, and he blew it. Not because he was a bad person. On the contrary, I’m sure he was a great guy. I’m excited to meet him someday soon. But he was still human.

Jesus was human, but He was also God. Able to feel everything a human feels, to struggle with everything a human struggles with. But God enough to overcome all of it. And Jesus didn’t fail. He triumphed victoriously, and because of His sacrifice on the cross, anyone who believes in Him can be restored to a one-on-one relationship with God.

Does that mean that those who believe are automatically perfect?

Yeah, right. I wish.

Believing makes us right with God, but it doesn’t get rid of our smelly old sin nature. We’ll still struggle with that until the day Jesus comes back to take us home.

But even though we still sin, it doesn’t mean that we forfeit the new life we’ve been given through Christ. He paid for all our sins with His one sacrifice. I don’t know about some of you, but all my sins were in the future when Christ died for me. So any sin I commit tomorrow is already paid for. Nothing I do or say or think is enough to separate me from God again now. It’s out of my hands. And I’m glad. After all, my hands don’t really accomplish a lot when left to their own devices.

So if you’re creeping back before the throne of God today like I am, asking for your 490th chance, remember that the price has already been paid. No matter the sin, no matter the severity, no matter how many other chances you’ve already had, it’s taken care of.

Make like a tree and leaf

Did anybody go outside to watch the “supermoon” come up last night? We did. My folks came out and we watched it rise. I can’t say it looked a whole lot bigger than it normally did, but it was startlingly red. Then, it decided to go behind some clouds and we couldn’t see it anymore. But waiting for it to rise was interesting.

I am always amazed at all the sounds you can hear outside if you just listen for them. I live out in the middle of nowhere so there’s no city noise. So you can hear the wind blowing a rusty-hinged gate a mile away. And you can hear the chug-chug of the enging running the oil derrick a couple of miles away. And you can hear packs of coyotes howling in the distance. But the loudest sound that pretty much overrules everything (if it’s not a car driving down the blacktop) is the wind in the trees. A rushing, whispering sound, it silences most other noises until the wind lets up.

I love trees, and it’s sad that we don’t have a lot of trees in Kansas in comparison to other states. They make it easy to spot a road or a house or a creek or river from a distance though. It’s unusual to see a tree standing off in a field by itself. Usually, a tree will grow either because it’s been cared for or because its location provides it with everything it needs to flourish. Kind of like in an oasis. You don’t see lone trees in the desert unless they’re at an oasis where they can get plenty of water.

I’ve already rambled on longer than I’d intended to this morning. What I’m trying to say is that a tree planted beside a river never has to worry about running out of water. It can be unbearably hot. The air could be dry. But the tree will still have access to what keeps it strong and healthy and productive.

It’s the same with us and our relationship with God.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
      and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
 8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
      with roots that reach deep into the water.
   Such trees are not bothered by the heat
      or worried by long months of drought.
   Their leaves stay green,
      and they never stop producing fruit.

At first I thought the reference was wrong because it made me think of Psalm 1:2-3.

2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
      meditating on it day and night.
 3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
      bearing fruit each season.
   Their leaves never wither,
      and they prosper in all they do.

But they’re obviously different. It’s just God using two different writers hundreds of years apart to say the same thing. And when God takes the trouble to repeat something, it’s a good idea to listen.

Trees can grow without being planted beside a river, but if they aren’t they have to get their water from somewhere else. They have to rely on rain or human care. Well, what happens when it doesn’t rain enough? Or what happens if people don’t take care of them? And, those of us in Kansas know about weather issues. What happens to a fruit tree in a hailstorm? Or what if we have another April or May blizzard (I’m not exaggerating)? All its fruit is destroyed.

The comparison between trees and people is so clear, so perfect.

If you trust God, you’ll be like the tree planted at the riverside. You’ll have everything you need to survive — and not just survive but flourish — even when everything goes wrong. When you lose your job. When you lose your family. When nothing makes sense. When people let you down. If you trust God, that confident hope you have in Him will see you through any difficulty. People relying on their own strength will wither and dry up. And though you may not be surviving in the best circumstances, you’ll still be at peace if you trust God.

And, what’s more, God will be able to use you. Even when it seems like your life is spinning out of control, if you can hold on to God and His promises and trust that He knows what He’s doing, He will take your faith and use it to accomplish something amazing.

Trees have it easy. It’s not like they can move. They can’t decide one day that they don’t want to be planted by a river anymore and the next day get up and change locations. We do that all the time, deciding that God can’t be trusted and following our own ideas or opinions. We need to be like a tree. Planted. Solid. Rooted. So deep in God that we can’t move away from Him, that we can’t help but trust Him.

All God wants is our trust. That really is all that He wants. It’s all He’s asking for. And it’s all we need. Unfortuately, though, with my stupid human pride, it’s the hardest thing for me to give. Because I really think I know better most of the time (I know I don’t, but try convincing my deceitful heart of that). So it’s a daily struggle for me to stop trying to figure things out and stop trying to plan everything and just let Him do what He wants to do.

But what’s nice about that is if you’ve left Him, we can always come back. You don’t have to prove yourself to God. He already knows your heart and your motivation, and if you truly desire to come back to Him and trust Him, He knows. And He’s more than happy to give us a another chance, no matter if it’s a second chance or a forty-second chance.