Simply doing the right thing
2 Samuel 15: Absalom…stole the hearts of everyone in Israel.
Permitted back into Israel and King David’s presence should have humbled Absalom. He should be grateful for the kindness of his father in restoring him after had murdered one of his own brothers. It doesn’t work that way though. Absalom wants more. To be exact, he wants the throne of Israel. With that in mind, he implements a patient plan. First, he begins to play the part of the king, making a regal procession wherever he goes. Then, he sets up shop at the city gate, the place where the community leaders meet to deal with issues under their jurisdiction. Absalom plays the part of the kind, caring friend to all who come. He suggests, ever so gently, that his father, the King, doesn’t care about the common man enough to grant justice. The impact isn’t immediate, but over time Absalom rises in popularity to the point that he can challenge his father for the throne of Israel. It shouldn’t be this way. Absalom ought to be the greatest and most committed supporter of David. Instead, he sets himself up to be his father’s greatest enemy. Sadly, this is how life is sometimes. We befriend people, forgive them, and make ourselves vulnerable to them and then they let us down. It happened to David, and, with Judas, it happened to Jesus too. Frankly, I can’t control what other people do, right or wrong. All I can do is the right thing and demonstrate the gentleness and mercy of God in my life. It would be better if the result of that were blessed and solid relationships. Sometimes, though, I have to settle for knowing that the Lord is pleased with me for trying. That, of course, is extremely valuable in itself.
Take Away: Sometimes we do the right thing and the results are everything we hoped for. Other times, it doesn’t work out, but there’s still great value in doing the right thing.
God provides a way back
2 Samuel 14: God does not take away life. He works out ways to get the exile back.
After avenging the terrible thing done to this sister Tamar by murdering his half-brother, Ammon, Absalom has fled, fearing for his own life. Now three years have passed and David’s general, Joab, thinks it is time for David to reconcile with his son. Earlier, Nathan brought to David a made-up story and confronted him with the memorable words: “You are the man!” Now, Joab sends a woman from Tekoa to do a similar thing. She pretends to be the mother of two sons. In her story, one son has killed the other. Now her family is out for revenge by taking the life of her remaining son. David rules compassionately saying he’ll take care of it. It’s then that the woman challenges David for doing the same thing concerning Absalom. She points out that God seeks ways to bring the exile back and that David should do the same thing. David sees the hand of Joab in this but agrees to at least open the way for his son’s return. This incident is a mere snapshot taken during a fast moving flow of events, but I’m taken with the wisdom of the woman from Tekoa. Before Jesus ever tells the famous parable, she pictures for us the forgiving mercy of God for the prodigal. She’s one hundred percent correct: “He works out ways to get the exile back.” We serve the God of Second Chances.
Take Away: Never give up on God – after all, he never gives up on us.
Close encounters of the Third Kind
1 Samuel 24: There was a cave there and Saul went in to relieve himself.
I know this isn’t the most inspiring statement in this story, but it is attention getting. David and his men have retreated to En Gedi, an area with lots of good places in which to hide. Saul has received a tip concerning David’s location, so he and his army are working through the region, searching for David. Saul knows he’s closing in on David, but has no idea of how close he actually is. Then, as happens at inopportune times, nature calls. There are no rest stops in the area, so Saul picks a convenient cave for privacy, dismisses his aids, and enters by himself, never guessing that David and his men (likely a patrol and not the whole 600) are hidden farther back in the cave. Talk about catching a man with his pants down! At this point it will be very easy for David to strike Saul down. His men see this as a golden opportunity to kill Saul, but David sees it as a chance to show mercy and to prove his respect for the person God placed at the head of the nation of Israel. David cuts off a piece of Saul’s laid aside robe. Then, as Saul rejoins his troops, David appears at the mouth of the cave Saul has just departed. The fringe of the robe proves that David has spared Saul’s life and, temporarily at least, Saul’s heart melts. Centuries later one of David’s descendants will declare the principle that directed David’s action that day. He said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Before the Sermon on the Mount was ever preached David illustrated it at the cave in En Gedi.
Take Away: Doing the right thing sometimes means we let a golden opportunity to force the issue pass by.
The God of Second Chances
Judges 16: But his hair, though cut off, began to grow again.
Samson, lacking both self-control and common sense, has ruined everything. His undisciplined behavior with women and specifically his inability recognize Delilah for the traitor she is has cost him everything. His pride, strength, freedom, and eyesight are gone. The phrase “his hair began to grow again” is powerfully symbolic of what’s happening in Samson’s heart. As he does the work of an animal, grinding out grain, somehow, through his darkness, he begins to see God. However, a word of clarification is needed here. This isn’t a Samson story; rather, it’s a God story. We aren’t to focus on Samson’s strength or his stupidity, but on the marvelous grace of God. Samson had been raised up to be a deliverer of his people and even in his miserable state the Lord’s still willing to work in his life to that end. “His hair began to grow again” is a hopeful word in a terrible situation. This is a picture of our God of Second Chances at work. Samson’s end is not the conclusion to the glorious story as it could have been. In the exercise of his free will Samson sabotages his own life. However, even when everything’s messed up we find God at work salvaging even this destroyed life. That’s the kind of God I serve.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances, full of grace and mercy, offering us undeserved restoration.
Cities of refuge
Joshua 20: A person shall escape for refuge to one of these cities.
We’ve been looking over Joshua’s shoulder as the newly occupied Promised Land is divided up among the tribes of Israel. Frankly, this isn’t an especially inspirational section of the book. Now we are down to special cases: cities for the Levites and priests, and the Asylum-Cities. These cities are important places indeed. If a person has messed up and accidentally killed someone they can flee there and find mercy. These cities of refuge are the only hope for some in need of a second chance. I think there will always be a need for “cities of refuge.” Simply put, people mess up. Our world is filled with broken families, broken promises, and shattered dreams. The need of the day is not for the Church to tell lost people how bad they are as it is to tell them that there’s still hope. To some extent every church is to be a “city of refuge.” God’s people are to offer, in Christ, mercy and hope of restoration. The Church is to be a city of refuge for hurting, broken people.
Take Away: Hurting people, including people who’ve messed up, need hope and through Christ the Church offers that hope.
A humbling reminder
Deuteronomy 7: God wasn’t attracted to you…because you were big and important…he did it out of sheer love.
It’s a bit humbling. Moses is talking to the “chosen people” who are about to enter the “promised land.” Everything about this causes them to think of themselves as being somehow special. But Moses says “no” to this kind of thinking. Frankly, this shouldn’t be too hard. Their ancestors for ten generations were mere slaves in Egypt. Their parents were nomads without a land to call their own. Moses says to them, “You aren’t special – it’s God’s love that’s special.” Well, that’s kind of what he says, but the other side of this coin is that because God loved them and treasured them — because of that, they are special. As I read these words I find myself, rather than being a somewhat interested bystander, right at the heart of this story. I was on the outside looking in, unworthy and unwelcome. Then, I received an invitation to come in. That invitation was signed in blood, the signature: “Jesus Christ.” Now, I read these ancient words of Moses with new eyes and with a whole new level of respect. God wasn’t attracted to me because I was big and important. In sheer love he reached out to me. Today, I’m humbled by this reminder.
Take Away: I am who I am by the grace of God.
Live long and prosper
Deuteronomy 4: Obediently live by his rules and commands which I’m giving you today so that you’ll live well and your children after you.
So how does it work? Is it that God has given me these rules and regulations and will pay me back with blessings if I keep them? I don’t think so. God doesn’t lay down arbitrary rules just for the purpose of keeping me in line and he doesn’t treat me like a little child who’s rewarded with a stick of candy if I’m good. His purposes for me are filled with grace and mercy. If God says, “Don’t” I can be sure that it’s for my benefit and not his. My Creator, who knows me better than I know myself says, “When I created you I hardwired some very specific things about you. If you want your life to function at its best, here’s how you’re to live.” Following these guidelines doesn’t mean life will be trouble free (after all, there’s that ugly business of the fall in the opening pages of my Bible) but it does mean that I’ll live the best, most satisfying and fulfilled life possible. Not only that, but by living according to God’s plan, I’ll be teaching my children the best way to live. The result will be that my kids will be more likely to adopt my approach to living in a relationship with God and their lives will also be better lived.
Take Away: When I live God’s way, not only is my life better, but I also influence my children to live for God, resulting in their lives also being better.
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.
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.