Does God Give Second Chances?

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By Larry Short

Several weeks ago Pastor Martin shared from Luke 1 the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who desired a child but were childless into old age. God ultimately met their deepest desires and went way beyond them when Zechariah learned, while serving in the Temple, that his elderly wife would become the mother of the Prophet John the Baptist.

This made me think of Abraham and Sarah. You know the story, from the pages of Genesis: God promises Abraham a son from whom the nation of Israel would derive. But Abraham and his wife grow old, with no son in sight and the possibility seeming dimmer with each passing day. They want to wait and trust God, but it seems impossible.

So, they take matters into their own hands. At Sarah’s urging, Abraham takes her handmaiden, Hagar, who conceives Ishmael.

But Abraham and Sarah’s folly, patience and disobedience do not defeat God’s plan. Ultimately, Isaac is born.

Even when we mess up, God is still in control. His will be done.

Is a Second Chance Simply a Free Pass to “Try Again?”

So, did God give Abraham a “second chance?” The answer to that question depends entirely on what you mean by “second chance.”

If you mean that God gave Abraham a mulligan, a free pass, a chance to “try again” to get it right, then the answer is “no.” God is not a God of second chances.

But if you mean that God worked His will in Abraham’s life despite his failures, that God’s mercy and grace was new every morning (including that wonderful morning when Sarah discovered she was pregnant with Isaac); if you mean that God always gives us a second chance to believe and obey and trust Him and see Him work His will in our lives, then the answer is: “Yes! God is a God of second chances!”

Also, it’s important to note that even though God didn’t give up on Abraham and Sarah, there were still serious consequences to be paid for their disbelief and disobedience. (Due to the enmity between Isaac and Ishmael, the world is still paying those consequences, even to this day.)

Second Chances and “New Year’s Resolutions”

It’s about that time of year when many of us make “New Year’s Resolutions.” We say to ourselves: “I want to be better. I will try harder to be the kind of person God wants me to be. To be healthier, to be happier, to be whatever it is I am hoping to be.” The problem with this kind of thinking about the New Year is that it is me-centered; it assumes that my transformation will occur if I simply “try hard enough,” if I make good goals and lift myself up by my bootstraps to achieve them.

Such thinking leaves no room for God’s grace, mercy, and power. Remember, it’s not our strength and willpower that are new every morning; it is His mercies that are new every morning! He who has begun a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it. That verse doesn’t say a lot about the contribution that your own effort might make. No, it’s not up to you, is it? He will complete it.

Do We Give “Second Chances?”

But what about us? When someone hurts us, or disappoints us, or fails to live up to our expectations, do we give grace? Are our mercies to that person “new every morning?”

After washing His disciples’ feet (to their shock and dismay), Jesus says to them (in John 13): “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” We often think of these verses strictly in terms of acts of (potentially unpleasant) service, but I think the implications go far deeper. Whatever service, love, grace, and mercy Jesus showed us, we would do well to also to show one another. (Unless we consider ourselves “above our Master!”)

Speaking of Second Chances …

… and of God’s grace and mercy! You all know that last Sunday (December 24) was Elim’s “Giving Sunday” event. We committed to “give away” all undesignated funding that came in through the offering that day (providing our income to spending actuals remained “in the black” as they currently appear to be) to three worthy causes, all above and beyond our approved 2017 church budget.

Some of us were a bit concerned when we looked around the sanctuary, the morning before Christmas, and attendance seemed a bit sparse. Would Giving Sunday be a bust?

So you can imagine our excitement when we were told that the total offering last Sunday was $28,161 … nearly five times Elim’s average weekly offering, and one of our largest ever! God is so good, and we are so thankful for faithful givers who responded to His leading.

Some have asked whether there would be another opportunity (a second chance!) to contribute to the Giving Sunday project (benefiting the Future Expansion Fund, the Benevolence Fund, and the Tabitha Center ministries in the Congo). The answer is yes! If you missed out on Giving Sunday due to vacation schedules and would still like to contribute, simply designate any gift made before the end of 2017 to “Giving Sunday” and it will be included in the total.

And, as you begin the new year and consider what goals you might set or resolutions you might make, be sure to seek God and thank Him — that “His mercies are new every morning,” that He will complete the good work He has begun in you, and that His grace is enough!

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By Larry Short

JonahWe’re living in a day and age where an outflowing of national anger and disillusionment with broken government promises, increasing bureaucracy, and taxation are having a significant impact upon presidential politics. Whether that impact will be negative or positive for our country is hotly debated and beyond the scope of this Last Word.

What I am concerned about here is the impact that anger has on us personally. And I speak from that of which I know. I was raised by Christian parents, but the general mood in our household was often very angry. My parents fought a lot. Usually they were angry with each other, for a variety of reasons; and sometimes they were angry with us kids. I remember once my mom was very angry with my brother and me about something (I don’t remember what; I’m sure we deserved her wrath). She went for the belt to administer a whipping, which she rarely did. As the oldest, I was, unfortunately, first in line. She was so angry she didn’t realize she was holding the wrong end of the belt when she hit my backside with it. The first (and, as it turned out, only) blow landed with the metal buckle coming in contact with the target.

My mother was instantly horrified when she realized what she had done in anger; she burst into tears and ran off sobbing. It was the last time she ever took a belt to any of us five kids, as far as I know.

The fortunate part of the story for me is that my mom wasn’t very strong, and even in her anger the metal belt buckle, while it stung a bit, didn’t do much damage!

Some of this anger transferred to me. As a young father, I had a hard time not getting angry at my kids, particularly my son, who was very good at goading me. By the time he was 17, he knew exactly what buttons to push to get me pretty much out of control. Once he sent me into a blind rage, and I was so angry I grabbed a telephone (the cordless kind) and launched it at him with all my might. Fortunately, he had good reflexes and ducked the missile, which punched a hole right through the drywall of our staircase.

He grabbed some things out of his room and left the house, announcing that he was going to report me to Child Protective Services. I probably deserved that. I was appalled and dismayed and spent three days just pleading with the Lord to help me get my anger under control. At the end of that time, realizing that through the Lord’s empowerment I indeed did have control, if I only had the discipline to exercise it, I vowed I would never be goaded into that kind of anger again. And I have kept that vow to this day, some 15 years later. As a result, my relationship with my son has vastly improved. (Not that he hasn’t occasionally tested the limits!)

I realize now (and I probably realized then, to some extent, at least) that my anger was holding me back from becoming the kind of father, and the kind of disciple, God wanted me to become. I am so grateful to be able to look back and see how God has helped me get some victory over this particular broken and sinful aspect of my life. I am hoping that it has made me not only a better dad, but also a better husband, employee, brother in Christ, and citizen. (Now, on to the next big project!)

A Prophet with a Problem

At worship on Sunday, I mentioned what I am learning from the book of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet who had a problem with anger. And the Ninevites deserved his anger! They were among the most brutal people ever to inhabit the planet. The records of their horrific brutality, if you read about them in the history books, make you feel ill even now, thousands of years later. I won’t go there; I’ll just assure you that whatever your imagination can conjure up, what they did to their enemies was worse.

And they didn’t like the Hebrews. And the Hebrews didn’t like them. Which is why many people think Jonah ran in the opposite direction when God told him to go and deliver His message to Nineveh. Wa-a-a-ay in the opposite direction!

But the real reason Jonah ran is revealed in Jonah 4:1–4.

But it [God’s mercy on the Ninevites after they repented] displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

The answer to the Lord’s question was, of course, “No.” But instead of answering, Jonah just sulked. He went and staked out a position on the hillside overlooking the huge city of Nineveh, hoping against hope to see God rain down fire and brimstone on it while he ate popcorn.

It’s amazing, when you think about it, that the reason for Jonah’s anger was the kindness, grace, and mercy of our steadfastly loving God! In his anger against the Ninevites, Jonah wanted vengeance. He was only all too happy to preach God’s simple message: “Forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed!” No love lost there, as far as he was concerned.

So Jonah set himself up on the hill, and verse 6 says “the Lord God appointed a plant” that provided shade over Jonah and gave him relief from the heat. And Jonah was glad for the plant. (He’d apparently had enough of discomfort after spending three days and nights in the gastrointestinal tract of a large fish!)

But then our merciful, gracious, and loving God did something very interesting. Verse 7 says that at dawn of the next day, God “appointed a worm” that attacked the plant so that it withered, and Jonah lost his comfy shade. (For the fascinating biblical story behind the worm, check out this blog post.) After the sun rose, “God appointed a scorching east wind” to make Jonah really uncomfortable. And, once again, Jonah was angry and “asked that he might die.” (You can almost hear him thinking, “I’ll show God! We’ll see how he feels after His prophet has died of heat stroke.”)

The discomfort was, of course, intended by God as an object lesson for Jonah. “Do you do well to be angry about the plant?” God asked him in verse 8. And Jonah replied, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

I hope Jonah saw the divine humor in this. God was under no illusions that the Ninevites were model citizens. His view of them was that they did “not know their right hand from their left.” Not very flattering, eh? And to drive his point home, God adds, “And also much cattle.” Come on, Jonah, at least feel for the cows!

(Something about this reminds me of that strangely hilarious scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou?: “Oh, George! Not the livestock!”)

I continue to be blown away by a recognition that I probably share with Jonah that God is so good at love, and I am so bad at it. He is indeed “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Thank God He often (probably more often than we know) “relents from disaster,” even though we certainly deserve it!

What do you do if you struggle with anger?

Do you struggle with anger? Be honest. I don’t think I’m alone in this one. We know there is a “righteous anger,” an anger at sin and its effects on innocent people, and injustice, and man’s inhumanity to man, and so much else that has resulted from the Fall. But how often can our anger truly be counted in this category? Or how often is our anger instead a result of the fact that we haven’t gotten what we want or think we are owed? Our anger blinds us. We think we are concerned about a mote in someone else’s eye, when our anger has blinded us to the log in our own.

And our anger separates us from the blessings God wants to bestow on us, and through us, to others. My advice is: Deal with it! Lay it before the cross. Recognize how the blood of Christ absorbed the righteous anger of God, anger at the sin we so willingly partake in. If you need help, get it. Ask brothers and sisters around you to pray for you and hold you accountable. Get professional help if you need it. Please don’t wait for God to give you a loving sunburn to drive His point home, as He did with Jonah!

Larry welcomes your comments and questions, either here or on his personal blog.

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Worship and the Best Fruit Salad

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By Nate Champneys

If you ask 10 different people the question, “What makes a good fruit salad?” you will undoubtedly get 10 different answers. “Oh, I love banana in mine!” “No, I hate bananas! You have to have blueberries!” “You have to have Miracle Whip in it!” “No, I can’t stand Miracle Whip!” And so on.

I know, because I asked this question at the last extended-family dinner we had together. But, in order for you to have a good time with your family during a meal, must everyone agree on the contents of the fruit salad? Probably not.

I like to compare worship to a fruit salad. What is “good worship” to you? What are the circumstances under which you are able to most easily connect with God? The answer to this question may be very different, depending on who you ask.

I recently was privileged to represent Elim at the Evangelical Free Church of America worship leaders’ gathering at EFCA headquarters in Minneapolis. It was such an amazing time for so many reasons, but one of my favorite things was being able to worship together with other worship leaders from across the country. It could have been my least favorite part, if God hadn’t helped me get out of my own way in connecting with Him.

As we started the gathering, there were about 30 of us in the room, with a group of musicians and singers up front leading. They handed us a booklet containing a liturgy of readings and songs. Sadly, an attitude of disappointment began to form within me. At Elim, we tend to not do a lot of traditional, liturgical things in our worship, so it’s something that I’m not used to. Thus, when they handed me the book, I was skeptical.

The guy who was leading the worship time began to play and sing, and I immediately began thinking critical thoughts. It can be very hard for me when I am at another church or at a concert to focus on anything other than the tech they are using or what chords they are playing, because I deal with all those things on a daily basis.

But at that moment it was as if God said to me, “Nathan, will you stop? Stop critiquing. Stop focusing on all the instruments. Stop focusing on the everything but Me, and just be with Me in this time. Just be with Me!” And at that moment I let go of all the analysis and the critique and merely began to simply be.

What followed was one of the sweetest times of worship I have ever experienced in my life. The funny thing is, the ambience of the room was still not ideal. The flourescent lights were very bright. The sound wasn’t perfect. The instrumentalists made a few mistakes here and there. The songs were not even all songs I knew, nor were they particularly my favorites … BUT, it didn’t matter. Because I was with Jesus!

I have been asking the question, “What is worship and what are we really doing here?” God has continued to break out of the box that I’ve put Him in. I have realized that the biggest barrier between us and a close, intimate time with God is not the lighting, the music, the strength of the vocalists, or the volume level. Instead, it is what I see when I look in the mirror. Me! I have heard the phrase, “We should be able to worship God no matter what the music is like.” It’s a simple thing to say, but it’s much more difficult to follow. I have said it myself. But I don’t think I really believed it.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about the heart we are to have. He says, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

We will never have the same passions or the same preferences, but we can have one mind, as Paul says. We can have a mindset of selflessness and the heart of a servant. We may not agree on what is the best style of music or what color the lights should be, or even what songs to sing, but we do agree that Jesus is worthy of praise, that He is the object of our praise and that He modeled humility and selflessness to us and has asked us to follow Him.

So I challenge you, the next time you’re in a corporate worship time and you find yourself thinking negatively about the songs, the music, or the lighting, ask Jesus, “Lord will You help me to just be with You, worship You, and let my heart honor You during this time?”

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:5-7)

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Big Targets

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By Dan Amos

Many years ago, Pastor Brian asked me to listen to a Seattle preacher. He was reportedly raw at times, but was getting press coverage for his teaching. I listened to him critically, looking for disagreement at first. What I heard was a good speaker who was challenging people, especially men, to be countercultural, to make Jesus their Lord, and, in the case of men, to be godly men. The message resonated with me, and I knew he had a gigantic target on him.

As time went on, I listened to hundreds of hours of preaching. I didn’t always agree with him, but on the major points there was agreement. The minor points weren’t worth making an issue over. For instance, he prioritized his family’s safety above all in the choice of vehicle. I choose a smaller vehicle more suited for urban use and more efficient in use of resources. It’s not a big deal.

Many times I heard him say he is not the person you would choose to have dinner with. Despite his fiery preaching, he’s an introvert and not the best company. He talked about how many feel they have a right to be the pastor’s friend and are upset when they are not.

He talked about his résumé, about how he started a church (too soon) right out of college with very little experience in leadership. Nothing in his education prepared him for management. He is a voracious reader and a gifted preacher with amazing recall. He preaches for an hour at a shot with no notes. But none of that makes him good with people.

This pastor is under attack. I don’t know what the charges against him are. He has not said, nor has his church. What he has said is he has made mistakes that he dealt poorly with some people and situations and has repented. That is, he apologized, attempted to restore what was broken and has changed. He has also stepped down from his role for a time as the elders of his church investigate the charges and evaluate what needs to be done.

What I have seen in the media (while I don’t know the hearts behind this), is angry, nonspecific complaints, many of which are against what is taught and an attempt to take down the teacher. They would have the gospel in their image and not evaluate the message against God’s Word.

I care because I love the Bible taught fiercely and the clear call to make a choice for or against God, and for men to accept the responsibility to lead in a Christlike manner. I care because thousands have heard the message and responded on their knees. I care because the gospel is the power to save our generation and the next.

So here’s the application for us. Our pastors are good men, but men. They have families to lead and provide for. They get tired and cranky, too. They have been trained in God’s Word, but they are learning management by trial and error. They struggle in their relationships just like us. Pastor Martin lives a pretty transparent life so we can see not only the mistakes, but also the power of a transformed life lived in humble obedience. It’s not perfection, but constant struggle.

Our pastors will say and do things we don’t like. I chastised Pastor Martin just this week for his praise of Apple (for which he remains unapologetic, too). But we’ve been given much grace and need to give that to each other, too—even our pastors. Our pastors are physically incapable of giving everyone a high level of individual attention. They have worked hard to raise up and train others to lead and care. We call them ministry leaders, community group leaders, mentors, Bible study leaders, accountability partners, and friends.

Our pastors have targets on them, too. It’s in the Bible: Jesus told us that those who would stand with Him will earn the hatred of the world. So continually give each other grace and lift each other up. And, rather than fling arrows at our pastors, stand with them, between them and those who would attack. It has happened before and will happen again.

Postscript: I have since learned the pastor has voluntarily resigned.

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Mission Scrubbed Becomes Mission Accomplished!

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By Stan Peterson

I have been traveling down a long, winding road to becoming a U.S. Army Chaplain.  I applied back in June of 2012 and have been awaiting a green light for my medical exam, which is the last portion of my Chaplain Packet. I need to complete my Chaplain Packet prior to going before an Accession Board where a team of high ranking chaplains will determine whether or not I will be accepted into the regular Army as a Chaplain.

Last week I was notified that I was approved to fly to Los Angeles to take my medical exam. On Wednesday my family drove me to the airport, dropped me off in love, and returned to the house. I checked the departure monitor, found my flight number, and saw the words “on schedule.” I proceeded to the TSA checkpoint, where I was x-ray’d and allowed through to my gate. I found a comfortable chair and nestled in, preparing to spend my hour and a half wait listening to an Old Testament lecture and taking notes on my MacBook.

About 45 minutes into the wait I got a call from the north Los Angeles area; I knew this was my recruiter. I did not think he’d be calling me to wish me a good flight, so I assumed he was giving me pick-up instructions for after my arrival at LAX. His voice tipped it off — I knew it was not good news. The processing station would not take me because of a lack of paperwork.

He apologized profusely and I forgave him. He said that he would reschedule me for the end of this month, and our conversation ended after he apologized again and said that he would take me out to dinner after my medical exam.

We laughed together and I said goodbye. I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, and called my beautiful wife, who’d just arrived safely at home 15 minutes earlier. This was an “uncomfortable grace.”  I have been rescheduled for this medical exam three times since this last October. At this moment, how was I to react? I could react out of my feelings. What was I feeling? Frustration, anger, disappointment. But did my feelings justify my thoughts and actions? Who was I to get upset with the recruiter, let alone his commanding officer? What good would it do to spew out my long list of sacrifices and entitlements?

No, this was a grace from God!  An “uncomfortable grace.” As Paul Tripp puts it, “God will take you where you haven’t intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.” I was weak and wanting, wanting in so many different ways; but His grace is sufficient, and in my weakness His power is perfected.  I say this not to boast in me or my response to this circumstance but to boast in the cross of Christ and what God does to test and grow us. God has done this with the saints from the beginning. We see it in the life of Abraham when God calls him to sacrifice Isaac. We see it in Gideon when God asks him to tear down his father’s idols. We see it in Esther going before King Ahasuerus to plead for Israel.

Whether you are a man, woman, or child, “God will take you where you haven’t intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.”  Be encouraged!  This testing is a sign of God’s purpose in our lives. God loves you and He does not withhold from those He loves. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

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His grace is enough

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by Chris Pace

I have currently been dwelling on a passage these past two months. I find such an amazing joy when God brings it to mind. Lately, He has been bringing it up rather frequently; at the men’s retreat, in worship, conversations, lessons, and sermons. Of course, He knows it takes a few times for me to be told in order for it to really sink in.

In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 God tells Paul, after he asked God a few times to take a thorn from his flesh, that “My grace is all you need.” How extremely powerful! To know that I’m capable of nothing without Him; that my faults are not limiting what God can do through me. In fact, God goes on to say that “My power works best in weakness.”

I am now beginning to learn the lesson and understand what Paul figured out: “…to boast in my weaknesses; knowing the power of Christ CAN work through me.” This means I need to learn how to not only “take pleasure in the insults”, but the “hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ,” as well as “For when I’m weak, then I’m strong.”

So my prayer is that God will make me weak so that He can be my strength and continue to use me however He wills.

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