Sunday Evening Sermon - God of Second Chances

We used to watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond regularly. Now with my new work schedule, I don’t get to as much. In Raymond, we see a dysfunctional family at work. An underlying theme to every show is that everyone looks to be more loved than everyone else. Robert wants to be the apple in everyone’s eye, but Raymond always seems to get the attention. Raymond’s mother wants everyone to view her as the most essential person in their lives and she manipulates everyone to secure that position. Instead of being a loving family, their desire to be the most important causes them to be a jealous family.

Raymond’s stories might be fictitious, but the stories are funny because they are reflections of our society. We don’t have to look far to find real life dysfunctional relationships. We usually don’t have to look much further than a mirror. In our society, dysfunction has become the norm, and too often we, who should be freed from such chains, find ourselves falling into the same pits as those who live solely for themselves. Our friendships, our families, our own lives, and the lives of our churches all seem to be failing to live up to the standard God intends for them.

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 just a collection of interconnected individuals under the headship of Jesus. 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 answers that in Galatians 6:1-10:

Galatians 6:1-10

1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one will bear his own load. 6 The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

It would be sort of comforting if the dysfunctional relationships of our culture stopped at the people of God across this land, but they don't. In 2004, George Barna did a study on divorce rates in this nation. 35% of all adults get a divorce in their lifetime. The percentage within married born again Christians, 35%. The church has succumbed to the pull of people's selfishness time and time again making us no different than the world.

Just like those in the world, or sometimes maybe even moreso, we do things selfishly. We have failed to do the things which the verse we just read 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 while probably discussing it behind their back. Paul said in Galatians that "each one will bear his own load" but that doesn't give us a reason to ignore the statement just before that where he wrote that we are to carry one another’s burdens and help restore those we notice caught in a transgression.

Another glaring difference between the community of believers described here by Paul and the church today is living as if we are truly, as verse 10 describes, a "household of faith". The New Revised Standard states it as a “family of faith”. The full verse reads: “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” What makes a healthy family? I think a healthy family meets one another’s needs. During the summer, when I was real busy at work and rain came down on my days off, I wasn’t able to get around to mowing my yard and it was getting out of control. My father came over and did it. A healthy family meets one another’s needs. The question we have to ask ourselves in relation to this passage is: Do we really adopt one another as brothers and sisters or do we make a distinguishing difference between our biological brothers and sisters and our spiritual brothers and sisters?

Too often when we compare how well we are doing as people or as a church we compare ourselves to people worse off than us or churches that are struggling more than ours. It would be like judging whether Lindsay, Isaac, Eli, Aria, and I have a healthy family based upon a comparison between my family and those on the television shows like Everybody Loves Raymond or the worst family in the neighborhood. Instead of comparing ourselves to the worst examples, we need to always compare ourselves and our church to the ideal. Paul wrote, “But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.” Each man should examine his own conduct. But in doing it, don't compare yourself to others who are failing. That causes us to be judgmental and prideful. Instead, we need to compare ourselves to the ideal. Then we can accurately measure ourselves. Comparing ourselves to others rather than the ideal will prevent us being part of the great things God has planned for us.

Jewel, a singer whose latest album reached the top ten, has a song entitled Good Day where she says, “I might watch TV cause it's nice to see people more messed up than me.” We, like Jewel, seem to find comfort in comparing ourselves to people who are worse off than us. But it isn’t a healthy habit to get into. We need to make every effort to stop comparing ourselves to those around us and start comparing ourselves to the ideal. 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 and for his people, the result is always devastating: We are all failures.

It would be depressing if we were to stop here, but this, thankfully, isn’t where God stops.

We serve a God of second chances.

There is a theological error in the church that whatever happens is God's will. 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 a few arch-enemies that keep us from experiencing the complete life that God has planned for us, one of them being ourselves. When we give in to our own selfish desire we commit sin. Sin is any act where we step out of God's will. Sin is a proclamation to God that we think our way is better than His. When we do that, we don't deserve to be taken back. We don’t deserve a second chance. 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 who was oppressing some Hebrews. 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. Moses was given a second chance.

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. David was given a second chance.

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. And Jonah was given a second chance.

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.

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 and to you. Although he will always graciously accept us back, there are times 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 can use to bring about His will.

It’s expressed clearly in the parable of the talents. Those who are given some 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, trained in the word, 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?"

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 when 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 read a book entitled Generation Kill. It was the true story of an embedded reported who traveled with the Recon Marines, the Marines equivalent of Navy Seals, sent in to head up the invasion of Iraq. In it there is a great story about how Major General Mattis chose the Recon Marines to head up a mission they weren’t even trained for:

When the author asked Mattis why he put First Recon into this unorthodox role, Mattis fell 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’s approach is similar to Major General Mattis’ in the way he chooses people to bring His will into our reality. God’s criteria might not be courage and initiative. For Him it is faithfulness and obedience, especially when it comes to loving God and loving our neighbor.

God has a plan for you, He has a plan for this church, and He has a plan for Antwerp and the surrounding areas, but He’s not going to force it. He’s waiting for a group of people who are completely dedicated to loving him and loving others. The question is, “Are we going to be that group?” John Wesley, a great man of the faith and church history, 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 lone ranger Christians, but as the 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 will change our world.

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. We are just as likely as non-Christians to get a divorce. Pedophilia springs its ugly face 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 needs 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 this church to be a church that loves the world like he does. That, I can confidently tell you, is what His will is right here, right now.

The lost people throughout this 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, 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.

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 and missed opportunities to bring about God’s will, 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.

Watch out for the potholes.