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There’s a remedy
Deuteronomy 4: If you seek God…you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul.
Again, Moses is no stranger to spiritual failure. As the leader of this people he’s seen repeated failure. Even as he warns them against trifling with God, even as he cautions them about having wandering hearts — even then, he knows that they’ll mess up again. The thing is, not only is Moses familiar with spiritual failure, he’s also familiar with God’s grace. Time after time he’s seen God reach out to these people in mercy, love, and forgiveness. In this, Moses has learned some important things about the God who called to him from the burning bush decades earlier. He tells them, “Before anything else, God is a compassionate God.” Even if his warnings to these people go unheeded, God’s character will be unchanged. People, even people who have miserably failed, who seek God whole-heartedly, find God. There’s so much hope here that it takes our breath away. There’s a remedy for spiritual failure. There’s hope for the fallen. There’s a God of Second Chances and if we seek him with all our hearts we’ll find him…and in finding him we’ll find hope and restoration.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Numbers 5: Tell the People of Israel, When a man or woman commits any sin, the person has broken trust with God, is guilty, and must confess the sin.
The book of Numbers is about naming names. It also contains considerable practical instruction on how this nation of former slaves is going to function as a People of God. Reading Numbers is not always the most uplifting devotional reading one might do. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth reading here. Instead, we have to do a little prospecting to find the gold. This statement from Numbers 5 is a good example of that. Moses explains to the people the true nature of sin; that it is a breaking of trust with God. It isn’t a mistake and it isn’t human shortcoming. Rather, it’s behaving in a disloyal way toward God. Still, there’s hope rather than condemnation here. In spite of the guilt, there’s the possibility of restoration. First, the sinner must acknowledge his sin by confessing it. No excuses are allowed. The offender must meet the issue head on. Second, restitution is to be made. True to the nature of the book, a practical approach is outlined: restore the full amount of the offense plus 20 percent. The concept is even expanded to include just who is to receive the compensation in extenuating circumstances. As a person who lives under the New Covenant, I’m not bound by the letter of the Law. Still, though, the concepts here apply. To sin is to break trust with God. The first step to restoration is to acknowledge my failure. The second is to make things right. The specific steps to a remedy are different but the concept sounds a whole lot like the Sermon on the Mount.
Take Away: Confession and restitution lead to restoration.
The God of Second Chances
Leviticus 26: On the other hand, if they confess their sins…I’ll remember my covenant….
I can’t imagine anyone enjoying the middle portion of Leviticus 26. It’s the “curse” part of the chapter in which God lists all that will happen if they break their promises to God. Like anyone else, I enjoy the “blessing” section and can happily skip the “cursing” part. However, there’s more to the chapter than those two elements. The final section is about God’s faithfulness. You might say that it’s the best part of all. God says that even if they utterly fail and if the entire “curse” comes to pass…even then, he’ll be just a prayer away. These words are all about grace and mercy and faithfulness. In this the Lord opens his heart to us. When it all falls apart because of sin the Lord waits to reestablish the covenant relationship with them. Here’s a clear view of the Lord as the God of Second Chances. There’s unbelievable power in the words, “I’ll remember.” In spite of failure, in spite of the feeling of a people being utterly rejected – in spite of it all, God remembers. I’m thankful, so thankful, that I serve the God of Second Chances.
Take Away: We all need this God of Second Chances in our lives.
The Day of Atonement
Leviticus 16: In the presence of God you will be made clean of all your sins.
Built into the Law given in Leviticus is a special annual event called the Day of Atonement. Both priests and people are to prepare themselves for this event by fasting. The High Priest is to follow a precise ritual and on this day only he is to enter the most sacred part of the Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. Here, in the Presence of the Lord his, and the sins of the whole nation, will be cleansed. Once this is done a great celebration of thanksgiving takes place. I find it interesting that after all the sin offerings with all the shed blood that there remains the need for a specific encounter with the Almighty for their sins to be wiped out. In this I see that, in the end, these ancient Israelites rely, as I do, on the grace and mercy of God. As this High Priest in his colorful and strange garb prepares to enter the most holy place on the face of the earth, I think of my own approach to the Throne of God. When the Priest comes in humility the result is cleansing from sin. It’s also that way for you and me. We approach the throne humbly but in expectation of receiving grace, mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing. It’s only in the presence of God that we are made clean of all our sins.
Take Away: When all else is said and done, we rely on God’s grace and mercy.
More on “God did it”
Genesis 50: Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good….
For over 20 years Joseph’s brothers carried the secret guilt of what they did to him. Now, even though Joseph has forgiven them we see that they haven’t yet forgiven themselves. The reason for this is that, if their roles were reversed, they’d still be holding a grudge. When their father dies they’re afraid that it was for the sake of Jacob that Joseph never took revenge on them. When Joseph realizes what’s happening he assures his brothers that he has no intention of striking out at them. Through the years Joseph has had lots of time to think about the flow of events in his life and he’s developed an insightful theology about it all. On one hand, he knows that it wasn’t God who planned evil things against him. Clearly, it was his brothers who did this and Joseph makes no attempt to say the Lord was behind their evil deed. On the other hand, Joseph sees that when his brothers did their worst that they couldn’t derail God’s ultimate plan. God moved in and redeemed their evil act, turning it into good for Joseph and even for those evil-deed-doing bothers. Earlier, Joseph told his brothers, concerning his being sold into slavery, that “God did it.” Now we see that, while this statement isn’t wrong, it’s incomplete. When people act in their own free will to do the wrong thing God has a knack of stepping in and transforming it into something good. My friend, considering that this conversation takes place over a century before the Ten Commandments are given that’s a pretty mature theology.
Take away: God doesn’t do bad things to accomplish his will, but he’s capable of working through bad things to bring his purposes to pass.
God is the God of Second Chances
2Corinthians 2: Getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.
This is likely a reference to the situation described in the first letter. Apparently, one of the members of the congregation at Corinth was living in an immoral relationship with his stepmother. Now, Paul has received word that the church took action on this. There has been, first: discipline, and then, second: repentance, and now, forgiveness. Paul tells them that that’s good enough for him. He stands by their handling of things and now counsels them to add a double portion of love for the one who had been involved in the immorality. Otherwise, he cautions, the enemy of their souls will use the situation to work against them, doing more harm than good. It seems to me that the church generally errs on the extremes of issues like this. Sometimes, we’re so open minded that we just go with the flow. People behave in immoral ways and “we just love them anyway” never getting around to pointing out that their behavior will destroy their lives and damn their souls. In other situations, the church is so intent on “telling it like it is” that we drive away the very people for whom Christ died. We think we’re being spiritual, but really we’re just being hateful. In the middle there’s loving people enough to tell them the truth in such a way that they know we love them. God is a God of Second Chances and the church should be a Church of Second Chances.
Take Away: We need the help of the Lord to find the middle ground when dealing with sinners who are loved by Christ.
A ruined dinner party
Luke 7: I forgive your sins.
It’s intended to be a formal dinner in the home of a community leader. However, some of the formality is waved off. After all, Simon thinks Jesus ought to be impressed and humbled that a common person like Jesus is even invited to the home of a Pharisee. Then, to Simon’s surprise this disgusting woman has managed to slip into the room. Some servant will pay the price for that! She ruins Simon’s nice dinner party. Not only is he scandalized that such a person would dare enter his very house, but she’s dominating the moment. With all this foolishness going on how can he properly impress his guests? Jesus is obviously uncomfortable with her groveling at his feet, but he’s clearly moved by her sorrow. Maybe Jesus doesn’t know her story? Its then that Jesus speaks first as a teacher and then as a Savior. This woman is overwhelmed by her sins. Simon has missed the point because he doesn’t see himself as a sinner. Jesus then turns his attention to this poor, grieving woman and says the greatest words she’s ever heard: “I forgive your sins.” Simon hears blasphemy, she hears salvation. In this story, do I best identify with Simon or with this miserable sinner?
Take Away: We tend to see ourselves as the “good people” in Gospel stories, maybe, though, we’re supposed to recognize ourselves as those who aren’t so good.
The Christian way
Matthew 18: If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you.
We Christians claim to be followers of Jesus but we tend to overlook some of the inconvenient things he teaches. Jesus says that if there’s something going on between me and you that my first order of business is to go to you and explain to you how I’ve been hurt. If that doesn’t work out there are further steps I’m to take in seeking reconciliation with you. The thing is we Christians seldom follow these clear instructions. We go around with a chip on our shoulder, talk about people (otherwise known as gossip), start lining up our allies and identifying our enemies and, in general, toss aside this teaching of our Lord and Master. When that’s done, a rift in the church is formed that draws people into the fight and drives people out of the church. Energies that should be spent in winning the lost are wasted in attempts to win the fight. Still, for those of us who can’t imagine dealing with a broken relationship like Jesus says, I’m going to offer an alternative approach. Just forget it. Stop being hurt, stop “remembering,” stop talking, and forgive from the depths of your heart. Apologize to Jesus for being so shallow as to be hurt about whatever it is and ask him to forgive you as you’re forgiving them. This alternative is almost implied by the rest of this passage in which Jesus talks about the unforgiving servant. So, when I’m hurt and upset about something, as a follower of Jesus, I have a couple of options. I can go to you and begin the reconciliation process Jesus described or I can stop being so sensitive and let it go, forgiving as I’ve been forgiven. Responding to hurts in these ways is how Christians do things.
Take Away: A Christian with a chip on his or her shoulder isn’t behaving like a Christian at all.
The way to forgiveness
Matthew 12: If Satan banishes Satan is there any Satan left?
It’s really about the Sabbath. The religious leaders have taken “Remember the Sabbath day” and turned it into a heavy burden laid on the backs of the people. Even picking a piece of fruit to eat is considered to be a transgression. Jesus responds with examples from their own law and history proving that they’re wrong. He goes on healing people, even on the Sabbath. When a demon-afflicted woman is set free the critics of Jesus sputter that he must be in cahoots with the devil. Our Lord responds that if they say that about him what do they say about their own exorcists? Beyond that, it’s a silly contention anyway. If Satan casts out Satan there wouldn’t be anything of Satan left. He then deals with the opposite side of the same coin. If the Holy Spirit is the One who forgives sins and we cast the Holy Spirit out of lives, how can we ever expect to be forgiven our sins? Its serious business isn’t it. We’re sinners in need of forgiveness. There’s one who forgives. Throw him out and we’re left without hope. Stated differently, there’s one road to forgiveness, if I refuse to travel that road, there’s no way I can ever arrive at forgiveness. The way to God is abundant and grace-filled, offering hope to the worst sinner. Still, it’s the only way. I can take it or leave it, but if I leave it, I’m left with nothing.
Take Away: We have, in Christ, hope abundant, but aside from Christ we have no hope at all.
The Perfect Sermon
Matthew 5: Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
In one glorious Sermon Jesus sums up the life to which God calls us. In every word we hear pure gold. It’s in retrospect that I realize that this beautiful, perfectly constructed Sermon challenges me at every level of my life. This chapter of the Sermon touches on everything from how to be blessed, to heavy topics like murder, adultery and divorce. Jesus deals with the promises we make and our relationships with our enemies. Obviously, the religion he teaches isn’t merely about “me and God.” Just about every word in this perfect Sermon is about “me and you.” It concerns my relationship with people I like (and maybe like too much according to the section on adultery) and people I don’t like (I’m to settle things with my old enemy quickly before things get even worse). He sums up this first part of the Sermon by teaching me to live “generously and graciously.” Rather than protecting my turf I’m to think the best of people and be generous in my dealings with them. This pretty Sermon has teeth. It’s supposed to work out here in the real world. And, just so I clearly understand the measure of this gracious, generous life style, Jesus tells me that I’m to treat others in the same gracious, generous way God treats me. I need to spend a whole lot of time here at the Sermon on the Mount.
Take Away: The Christian life is as much about “me and you” as it’s about “God and me.”