A God of Second Chances - The Completed Sermon

Here is my completed sermon for tomorrow morning. If you read this, please pray that I am healthy enough to preach. I am feeling terrible right now. I have bolded the new parts from the other versions for those of you who might want to just read what is new to this one.


If you’re somewhat like us and turn your television on to be entertained during the evening you are bound to run across dysfunctional relationships. We used to watch the reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond frequently. That was until Isaac became addicted to Wheel of Fortune. In Raymond, you see a dysfunctional family at work. You see everyone looking to be more exalted than the other. Everyone wants to be the apple in everyone else's eye. Instead of being a loving family, they are a jealous family. Although it makes for some good laughs, it shows how how commonplace dysfuncionality has become in our culture.

Take a newer show for instance. According to Jim is, I hope, an extreme case of dysfunctionality. In it we have everyone constantly lying and deceiving one another in order to get their way. I remember in one episode Jim created a fictitional college friend in order to have nights away from the family and do whatever he wants. Although it might be funny on television, it is tragic when people deceive one another in order to get their own selfish way.

Although these stories might be fictitious, we don’t have to look far to find real life dysfunctional relationships. We live in a society where dysfunctionality has become the norm. Our friendships, our families, our own lives, and the lives of our churches all seem to be failing to live up to the standard intended for them.

Take the story of Jose Canseco for instance. First, Jose Canseco turned tail on all of his former friends in the clubhouse and ratted on them about their steroid use. Not only did he betray the code of the clubhouse, in which players aren't supposed to tell what goes on, but more importantly, he betrayed the more important code of friendship. We shouldn't air our friend’s dirty laundry in public in order to make a buck. There might be reasons for us to air our friend’s problems in public in order to help them, but never should we do it for our own selfish gain.

But Jose Canseco's story isn't the only story of betrayed friendship. Sadly stories of betrayed friendship are commonplace. The same week that the media focused on the Jose Canseco story, they focused on another story that at its root was friendship betrayed. This one dealt with our President, George Bush. Little did, at the time, Governor Bush know that his phone calls with his friend Doug Wead were being recorded by him. Another friend betrayed for personal profit.

And the weird thing is that both people tried to justify their selfishness and call it something else. To Jose Canseco, it was standing up for the integrity of the game. For Doug Wead, it was for the sake of history. If it was for some reason other than selfish gain, then why didn't they betray their friendships for free. Sadly, they both used their friendships in the past for personal gain in the present. For them, it seems that friendships have become nothing more than a rung in the ladder on the way to success.

If you would like to turn in your Bibles, we will be reading from Galatians 6 today. Paul is writing to the Galatians about how they can be a healthy church. A church is a collection of interconnected individuals. For a church to be healthy, the relationships between the members must be healthy. What is the answer to dysfunctional relationships in the church? Paul addresses that in Galatians 6:1-10:

Galatians 6:1-10

1 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4 All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. 5 For all must carry their own loads. 6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. 7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

The sad thing is that the dysfunctionality of our relationships isn't something that we only observe in the news or on the television during the evenings. It is something we experience day in and day out. We live in a society of failing relationships. We see people lie, cheat, or manipulate in order to get their own way. Sometimes we might even do it ourselves.

It would be sort of comforting if the dysfunctional relationships stopped at the churches across this land, but they don't. The church has succumbed to the pull of people's selfishness time and time again. We also do things selfishly. We have failed to do the things which the verse we read today states we should. We usually don't restore our brother's or sister's when we see them in a transgression; we just allow them to wallow in their sin and proclaim that it is their right of privacy. We disguise our selfishness with a much grander label just like Jose Canseco and Doug Wead did, respecting their privacy. But we ignore the fact that the most respectful thing to do is to help a brother or sister out of their struggle rather than to allow them to wallow in their sin. It says that "all must carry their own loads" but that doesn't give us a reason to ignore the statement just before that where Paul wrote that we are to carry one another’s burdens and help restore those we notice caught in a transgression.

Another thing the church fails at is acknowledging and living as if we are truly a "family of faith". “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Too often we compare our church to failing churches. It would be like judging whether Lindsay, Isaac, Eli, and I have a healthy family based upon a comparison between my family and those on the television in the evening. We need to always compare ourselves and our church to the ideal. Paul wrote, "All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride." Each man should examine his own conduct for himself. Don't compare yourself to others who are failing. Compare yourself to the ideal. Then you can measure yourself. Then your work, which should be the work of God, is something you can be proud of and boast about because you will not be boasting about yourself, but you will be boasting about the work of God. Paul wrote about boasting more than a few times. For example in Romans 15:17-18 Paul wrote: "In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed." And in 1 Corinthians 1:31 he wrote: "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." When we’re a healthy church, we will see God at work and have much more to boast about in the Lord.

When we compare ourselves with other fallen humans rather than the ideal, we will always fail to reach that which God intended for us. What we need to do is stop comparing ourselves to those around us and start comparing ourselves to the ideal. In so doing, we will see that we are really no less selfish than the Jose Canseco's and Doug Wead's of this world. We will see that our church is just as dysfunctional of a family as that of Raymond's and Jim's. When we compare ourselves, not to one another, not to people or churches that are failing, but to the ideals that God has planned for us, we are all failures. It would be depressing if we were to stop there, but that isn’t where God stops.

Thankfully, we serve a God of second chances.

There is a common myth in the church that whatever happens is God's will. And, let me reiterate, it's just a myth. The Bible never says that everything that happens is God's will. God never wills evil to happen. However, he does give us the promise in Romans that whatever happens, He will work those happenings for the good of those who love him. He is guiding history for the benefit of those who love him.

However, we have an arch-nemesis that keeps us from experience the complete life that God has planned for us, sin. When we sin, it is an act of stepping out of God's will. Sin is a proclamation to God that we think our way is better than His way. When we do that, we don't deserve to be taken back. We've betrayed Him, but God is forever gracious and takes us back time and time again. He is a God of second chances.

He was with Moses. In Exodus 2:11-15, we see Moses step out of God's will and kill an Egyptian. It appears that Moses was trying to force God's hand into liberating the Hebrews. Moses failed by taking God's will into his own hands and not waiting for God's timing. However, we see throughout the rest of the first five books of the Bible that God continued to use Moses to help bring about His will on earth.

He was also the God of second chances with David. In 2 Samuel 11, we are told the story of David committing an affair with Bathsheba. Not only did he commit an affair, but he didn't come clean right way. He then proceeded to try and cover up the act. When the cover-up failed, he proceeded to have the husband murdered. But we see that God was gracious once again and didn't stop using David to bring about His will.

And He was the God of second chances with Jonah. In Jonah 1:1-3, we see Jonah running away from the call God placed on his life because Jonah had no desire to love the people God wanted him to love. But by the end of Jonah, we see that God had used Jonah to bring about His will.

Despite all of their failings, God continued to use those who turned back from their sin and began to follow Him again. God is a gracious God of second chances, and he does the same thing for us.

A few weeks ago, there was an episode of Lost that perfectly illustrates the concept of second chances. If you haven't watched Lost at all, it is the story of the survivors of a plane wreck who find themselves stranded on an isolated island in the middle of the ocean. It's like Gilligan's Island with a lot more drama and not as much comedy. By this point in their life on the island, they have pretty much given up all hope of being found. Because of that, they have to begin life anew on the island. During the episode two weeks ago it was constantly brought up that they have all been given a second chance to be whoever they want to be. Their pasts matter no longer. They can be new people. The tragedy that struck them can be the greatest thing to ever happen to them, a tangible second chance.

Sometimes it takes tragedy for us to reach the point of surrender and accept our second chances from God. Sometimes we have to feel like we are stranded and alone to return to the way God has planned for our lives. I hope none of us have to reach that point. I hope that no matter what happens we are always willing to do God's will when we make mistakes. I hope that we don’t continue to walk away from God and hit rock bottom, but even if we do, God will pick us up as soon as we want him to.

But I would be mistaken to not mention other cases from Scripture. There is a drawback to our sinning and stepping out of God's will. If I were to just paint a rosy picture, I would be doing a disservice to the word of God. Although he will always graciously accept us back, there are time when our turning away from Him causes us to miss the window of opportunity to be a part of His will. There are times when our actions prevent us from receiving the blessing that God had intended for us. A few stories come to mind.

In Numbers 20:1-13, we see Moses, who was told that he would be the man to take the Hebrews to the Promised Land, be removed from that role because, in anger, he took credit for an act of God.

In Numbers 14:20-25, we see the Hebrews remove themselves from the plan God had of them being the people to live in a land flowing with milk and honey. God is patient and will bring about His will with another Hebrew generation rather than use those who have constantly been in rebellion to Him.

And we also see it with the story of Adam & Eve. God planned perfection for them in the garden. However, their sin removed them from the perfection that was planned.

God doesn't break his promises. Humans do. And sometimes when we do, we remove ourselves from the blessing that God has intended for us. We serve a God of second chances, but sometimes, our actions prevent us from being the people that God wants to bring about His will.

It’s expressed clearly in the parable of the talents. Those who are given and use it for God’s benefit, receive more. Those who are given and refuse to use it for God’s benefit have it taken away. The key is to be sensitive to the Spirit and obedient to what God wants us to do.

And that leads us to the big question, "What does God want out us?" "What is God's will for our lives?" "How do we live in such a way that we can be a part of God's actions here on earth?"

I can't help you figure out the personal stuff of where God wants you to work and live - or if you're younger where he wants you to go to college and whether he wants you to marry - and if so, to whom. But I can share with you some things that I definitely know God wants out of you.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied in Matthew 22:37-39:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

He wants us to love Him, and He wants us to love those around us. Loving God and loving others isn't only an emotional thing of the heart. John 14:15 says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." I John 2:3 says, "Now by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we obey His commandments."

And concerning loving our neighbors John wrote in I John 3: 17-18: "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action."

Love is not some abstract concept. It's action. It's tangible. When we live out the greatest commandments and love God and our neighbors, it is something that transforms the world into what God intends for it to be.

We will continue to find ourselves in the center of God's will if we focus on doing those two things. And when we find ourselves in the center of God's will, we will find ourselves being the solution to society's ills. God's will is brought to earth through the lives of those committed to Him, and he want us to be completely committed to following Him no matter what the cost. We can't expect to be used by God to bring about His will if we aren't completely dedicated to following Him.

I’m reading a book right now titled Generation Kill. The language is a little harsh at times because it is the true story of Recon Marines, the Marines equivalent of Navy Seals, sent in to head up the invasion of Iraq. But in it there is a great story about how Major General Matthis chose the Recon Marines to head up a mission they weren’t even trained for:

“What made Mattis’s selection of First Recon for this daring role in the campaign even more surprising is that he had other units available to him-specifically, Light Armored Reconnaissance battalions-which are trained and equipped to fight through enemy ambushes in specialized armored vehicles. When I later ask Mattis why he put First Recon into this unorthodox role, he falls back on what sounds like romantic palaver: ‘What I look for in the people I want on the battlefield,’ he says, ‘are not specific job titles but courage and initiative.”

God is similar to Major General Mattis in the way he chooses to do His will. God’s criteria might not be courage and initiative, but it is faithfulness and obedience, especially when it comes to loving God and loving our neighbor.

God has a plan for Antwerp, but he’s not going to force it. He’s waiting for a group of oeple who are completely dedicated to loving him and loving others. The question is, “Are we going to be that group?” I might’ve used this quote in a sermon here before, but it is my favorite quote outside of the Bible in church history. John Wesley, the man who started the churches that are presently the Methodists, the Wesleyans, and us, the Nazarenes wrote, “Give me one hundred men who hate nothing but sin and love nothing but God and we will change the world.”

God also wants us to be not just individual Christians but a family of believers filled with love for one another and the lost around us. Jesus didn’t just teach one disciple and leave him to train the world. He created a group because he knows that Christianity cannot be lived out in isolation. We are a witness to the world, not as a lone ranger Christians, but as a loving body of Christ. He wants us to be of one mind, one heart, and one spirit. If we truly and genuinely live out a life of love, we will be brought together with others on the same path. That is what the church should be, a group of believers united together under the headship of Christ to continue living out His life here on earth. A body like that is what will change Antwerp.

As I mentioned at the beginning, our society has relationship problems. Friendships betrayed. Dysfunctional families. Children growing up unloved. Marriages crumbling. The church needs to be the answer. Sadly, I don't think we have been. The church in America has failed to be different than the world when it comes to healthy relationships. George Barna did a study that showed born-again Christians are just as likely as non-Christians to get a divorce. Pedophilia runs rampant throughout all denominations of the church. People run to the government for help rather than the church. For many, the church is the last place they would go to have their needs met. This has to change.

Thankfully, we serve a God of second chances, a God who is willing to help us be the people to bring about His will. All we have to do is repent and come back to Him, dedicate our hearts fully to him, not just as individuals but as a group of believers. God wants the church in America to be a church that loves the world like he does. And that is what he wants us to be in Antwerp.

The lost people throughout our town will see the light that shines among us and be guided to the Lord if we completely devote ourselves to, not just being another church with a more modern worship style, but to being a church that is completely devoted to following God in our finances, in our worship, in our Bible study, in our lives together outside of this building, in whatever way possible.

If the extent of our relationships is only what happens inside this building on Sunday morning, Wednesday night, and in our small groups, then our relationships are a joke. People in the business world have relationships with one another at business functions. The step we have to take in order to be a light shining throughout Antwerp is to make our friendships authentic and more than just mirror images of the business relationships people in the world have. We will never be an effective light if all we offer is belief statements rather than lives that are transformed by the grace of God.

God has a plan for us as individuals, for our church, and for this town. But we have the option of stepping out of that will, not being part of God's work, and not receiving the blessing he intends for us. He isn't going to force His will on us. But he is longing for a group of people that will step up and place themselves in a position to allow God's will to come about. We always have a choice. We can either choose to be like the world, not completely love God and our neighbors, which will result in the continuing downward spiral of dysfunctional relationships around us, or we can make our second chances count and step into a transformed life that will change us, our church, and our town. No matter what we have done or what we will do in the future, that option is always there. God is always the God of second chances.