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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There’s gotta be more to life…

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By Bill Naron

No doubt life is a balancing act, learning to juggle — work, home, relationships with spouses, children, and friends. We spend our days racing from one place to another and from one activity to another. We must balance the checkbook, do the dishes, get gas and groceries … on and on it goes. We rush and rush and we try to hold on tightly to as much as we can. This is life in America, right? This is the American dream, isn’t it? We work 40 hours, sometimes more a week to get as much money as possible to line our pockets so that we can afford nice cars, houses, a yard that looks better than our neighbors’. But, is there something more?

Jesus has showered blessing upon us, in ways we cannot even fathom. A couple of years ago we lived in a house that was 990 square feet. It had three bedrooms and we felt we were bursting at the seams. Our little family of six at the time was outgrowing the house so fast, and we had no clue what we would do. We began to consider our options and as we did it started to feel overwhelming. The thought of moving and trying to purchase a home all seemed so impossible because we wanted more kids, which naturally meant we needed a larger house than we could afford in our price range.

So, amid our running around frantically trying to figure out what we were going to do, we realized something: We had not sought out what God would do for us in this situation we were in. The Bible says that God cares for his children, and that He knows the plans He has for us. So, in our newfound clarity we decided to stop pursuing options and simply wait on the Lord to see what He would do.

Less than a month later we were offered the opportunity to move into the house we currently occupy. God brought us a larger house, in the exact perfect way that we needed it at the time, and in His perfect timing — because six months after moving into this house, our family of six would be prompted to enter a fostering situation where we would find ourselves growing in size, from six to eight.

I share this as a hopefully encouraging testimony of God’s goodness and provision that we have had the chance to experience, as a family. I have been reading on the topic of “reverence.” As we see God work in our lives, through the events and people we encounter, we grow deeper in our awe and respect for our Father. We learn that we can trust Him and gain an awareness of the way He is working within our lives.

I believe that this is the “something more” that is there beyond the facade of the so-called “American dream,” beyond the glamour we are encouraged to seek, beyond the glory of the kingdoms of this earth. There is a life lived in reverence to our Creator, Father, and Redeemer. There is a life lived in dependence on Him for our sustenance. There is a life lived as a disciple of Christ, where the desires of our hearts become the same as His. Where we desire to share the experiences that have made the power of God a tangible thing to us. Because our desire becomes like the heart-cry of the Father, that we who act orphaned would come home.

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A Bit for Good

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By Hannah Comerford

Last Sunday, Larry Short shared with us from James. One part he touched on was James’s description of the tongue:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. . . . So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. (3:3, 5, ESV)

Years spent working with horses have given me a special love for this passage, and I appreciated how Larry discussed how a bit guides a horse, using pressure to tell the animal where to go and when to stop. Yet this analogy goes much deeper than Larry had time to talk about in his sermon.

It’s easy to look at the metal rod we stick in a horse’s mouth and think of it as a form of punishment—a tool to annoy the horse when he misbehaves or doesn’t listen to our directions. With a rebellious horse, it can certainly be that. The more the horse fights its rider, the more pressure will be placed on its mouth from the bit as the rider pulls back. But with a well-trained horse, the bit becomes something so much better—a tool to communicate with its rider.

If you’ve ever watched horsemanship competitions on TV, whether while flipping through channels or during the Olympics, you may have come across something called dressage. You may have even seen forms of it at shows such as Medieval Times. To put it simply, dressage is like horse dancing. The goal is not to be the fastest horse and mount or to navigate obstacles; rather, the rider must show how smoothly her horse can follow her subtle cues, resulting in breathtakingly beautiful movements that often look as though the animal is floating through the arena. The rider uses the bit in communicating, but only with small gestures—the horse has learned to pick up on just the slightest touch.

Let’s go back to James. In 3:2, he says, “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” James is giving us a key to perfection—if we can control what we say, bridling ourselves, then we can be perfect! But there’s a problem: a horse can’t bridle itself, and neither can we. Even Paul said that he can’t keep himself from sinning, finding himself doing the very things he hates (Romans 7:15-20). Like the horse needs the rider, we need God to bridle us. With more “training,” we can use the bridle of His direction and laws to understand His commands and do what He says.

This all can seem kind of frustrating, can’t it? If we want to get anywhere near perfection, we need to be told what to do? We need to be subjected to another’s force? Our sinful selves hate feeling controlled, and the world tells us we should be free to do whatever we want.

But let’s take another look at the bit. If you watch a high-level dressage horse at work, its neck is elegantly arched, with the head making a straight line directly up from the ground. This isn’t just for looks, and it doesn’t mean the rider is pulling hard on the horse’s mouth. In the case of these well-trained animals, the horse is arcing its neck voluntarily, and there is very little tension between the mouth and the rider’s hand. This is a posture of obedience from an animal that knows it could yank itself free and bolt—this horse is allowing the rider to be in control. It is not a contest of wills, but rather a sort of dance in which the rider is leading. What’s more, when the horse is “on the bit,” as it’s called, it becomes easier for the horse to move, as the horse’s body is in better alignment and able to use its muscles more effectively. (Think of it like having good posture while lifting weights or running.) The horse’s humble obedience is doing good for its body.

Go to YouTube and search for videos of dressage horses. Watch the beautiful, amazing work they can do because they eagerly listen to and trust their riders.

When we humbly accept God’s leadership, He doesn’t need to use negative reinforcement. He can move us with the smallest touch, because we’re waiting to hear from Him. We’re in a position that is healthiest for us, because He knows exactly what we need. I pray that we would learn what this humble obedience means, to be willingly bridled by our God.

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Reflection

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By Brian Sharpe

Reflection is an interesting thing. Think about it: You can stand in front of a mirror and see an exact replica of yourself. Over the years, mirrors have gotten clearer and clearer. In fact, most of us have never faced a time when we couldn’t see our reflection clearly in a mirror. In Jesus’s time, however, a mirror was not so clear. I read once that mirrors in that day gave you the basic outline of yourself, and it wasn’t very clear.

A mirror is used in many ways. When we wake up, we look in the mirror in order to see how bad our bedhead is (if we have hair). We use a mirror to check to make sure what we are wearing matches. A mirror is used to help guide putting on makeup and make sure nothing is in our teeth. It is extremely helpful.

James 1:22-24 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” None of us have a time that we can think of when we didn’t know what we looked like. The thought of that is absurd, but we do have times when we know what the Word of God tells us to do, but we choose to not listen. We go from being an effectual doer of the Word to being passive listeners who are not reflecting the things God wants us to reflect.

I know this is cliché, but we may be the only picture of Christ that people see. The way we live, act, and move reflects something. It can be reflecting selfishness and pride. It could be reflecting Christ. I guess the question I am asking myself is, “Who or what am I reflecting to my wife, my kids, my friends, my family, and my neighbors?” I am reflecting something. Is it what I want to reflect? Is what you are reflecting what you want to reflect?

There was a time when I remembered what I looked like when I was younger and I would forget that it was not what I looked like anymore. It wasn’t until I was willing to really look in the mirror to see what I was like that I could start making the changes in my life that could help me change what I looked like. This can happen to us in a spiritual walk. We all need to understand what we really look like so that we can seek to reflect Christ to those in our life. We all reflect something. Do we like what we are reflecting? Are we honest with what we are reflecting?

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Great Expectations

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By Jeff Foerster

My expected delivery of a short treatise on how the philosophy behind Star Wars has infiltrated the Christian church has been pushed back past its opening date. This coming polemic will simply have to wait, as I myself uncovered, and will here reveal, something simpler and much greater: hope. In this age of Islamic terrorism, economic instability, and frequent natural disaster, hope has by many been relegated to the category of “four-letter word.”

You may not be able to accomplish all that you ever dreamed, but you will be able to accomplish all that God has planned for you! He knows the end from the beginning and knows you better than yourself. He has plans that are greater than you can imagine or could ever craft if you had a thousand years for planning and another thousand to execute; but, do you believe this? Will you trust that being the servant of all here on Earth can lead to greatness for eternity? (Luke 9:48, 22:26-27)

I tell you these words with truth, but true hope does not originate with me; neither does it come from you. This is good news! Being a hope-filled person doesn’t require boundless energy, nor a gregarious personality brimming with enthusiasm. It doesn’t require me to listen daily to talks from motivational speakers or to make lists of happy things. I am not the source. Nor are you. God alone is the source of all hope, for hope requires promise, and promise requires power to fulfill it; He alone is able.

JeffLastWordI have hope because of Jesus. I have hope because our Savior was promised from days of old. I have hope because Jesus lived a life bent not on His own glory, but to seek and to save the lost, declaring the great news of the Father He was sent to deliver. I have hope because Christ despised the cross, but went willingly, becoming a slave to the will of the Father. I have hope because He died, showering the ground with His blood in order to shower me with forgiveness and mercy. I have hope because Messiah rose from the dead so that you and I could have life eternally! I have hope because Jesus is coming back again for all those who love Him. I have hope because heaven and earth will one day become one as God makes His dwelling among men forever and ever, amen!

I wanted to stop writing there. I wanted to end with an exclamation point, and where do we go from here? But “go” we must. Inspiration without action is futility; it is a love song never given voice.

Just as thankfulness is a choice, so too, embracing hope requires the will. Hope requires bending the will to focus on what is not seen (Hebrews 11:1), Living in hope is faithfulness of the heart. It requires an attitude, a pathway of conscious decisions to divide thoughts into two camps, those that please Christ and those that should be crushed, bound, and burned.

How do we “choose” hope? Again, hope is not all butterflies and lollipops and Cheshire smiles. It is lived out among struggles, and difficulties, and sorrows. It requires a firm adherence to the truth, and a reliance upon God to administer it with integrity. Choosing hope announces the unstoppable power of our Creator and affirms the loving-kindness and persistence found in His grace.

It is a choice – a choice to see the day not as a set of circumstances with dictates defining reality, but as a series of opportunities to express thankfulness, trust in His promises, and take action in steps small and large. If you find yourself staring into broken circumstances and listening to voices telling you, “It doesn’t matter …” or, “No one will know …”, or “How many times do I have to …?” At that point recall the words of God, what he has said about you and His promises for you: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). In addition, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). God has plans for us, for good, and we can demonstrate our faith in Him and hope in these promises.

Choose obedience like Abraham did. He was a man who “went forth” from everything known when God called him to do so. Now, God has not called all to travel to unknown lands or to sell all that they own and give to the poor, but He has called each of us to obedience to the clear commands of Scripture. Allow me to engage you in two practical steps:

  1. Pray for God to reveal His commands as you read the Scriptures. Pray for His power to obey those commands He lays upon your heart by your eyes and through your ears.
  2. Refresh your view of the Ten Commandments as Jesus describes them -asking God how you might step out in faith to obey from the heart, honoring God when no one else may know, when you don’t see a reward on the horizon, save for pursuing a closer relationship with the Almighty, even if you’re not sure how obedience and trust work together toward that end.

Embrace obedience for sure, but above all know your Bible and keep your eyes and heart fixed upon our Savior (Hebrews 12:2). May your adoration forever be poured out to the One who loved you before the foundations of the world!

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I’m Gonna Follow You

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By Tom Chase

Jesus called and still calls His disciples with the phrase, “Come follow Me …” (Mark 1:17). Later, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me for whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? As I have been processing this question, several things have come together for me.

First, I am seeing that the Christian life is not intended to be lived out of convenience. We get that from the verse above “denying one’s self” and “take up your cross.” These are not terms of a life lived the way we have been programmed by the world to live. We have been called to the opposite:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Michael Ramsden (with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) also talks about not living life out of convenience from the story of the Good Samaritan. You might remember the story in Luke 10:29-37, about the man who was beaten, stripped of his clothes, robbed, and left for dead along the road. First a priest and then a Levite came by, but both avoided the injured man. It was not obvious that the injured man was a Jew. If they knew he was a Jew both of these men would have been compelled by the law to help him (Lev 19:17-18).

We might assume that these men were callous or simply too busy (as suggested by VeggieTales.) But they were not simply too busy and they were not callous. This road was notorious for life-threatening danger and robbery. It was given the name “Bloody Pass” as a result. The man lying there could have been the perfect setup to initiate a robbery. The priest and the Levite act in self-preservation; they want to live.

The story continues and finally a Samaritan came by and helped the man. He ignored the dangers, bandaged the injured man’s wounds, put him on his donkey, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day the Samaritan left but gave money to ensure the injured man would be alright. Absolutely none of this was convenient, and his actions went far beyond simple inconvenience. We have heard about the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. Apparently it went both ways and ran deep like the feuds between the historical Hatfields and McCoys. Because of this hatred, it is interesting to note that there are no Samaritan towns even remotely near this road — only Jewish ones. He takes an injured man (likely a Jew) into a Jewish town. Not only does this Samaritan risk his life by stopping to help, but he probably also risks his life by taking him to the inn. This is absolutely incredible, inconvenient, self-sacrificing, life-endangering stuff here.

Then, following this parable, the words of Jesus to the expert of the law are amazing and alarming: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37b). This cuts me to the core; when I look in the mirror of my life, I’m not sure the reflection is too appealing.

Second, this call to follow Jesus again hits me between the eyes from a book I have been reading, The 10 Second Rule by Clare De Graaf. I certainly cannot do the book justice in the few words I have here, but it challenges believers to live a life of simple obedience to Jesus. The author was challenged by the words of Jesus in the Gospels that he found “amazing” and “alarming,” like:

“Do good to those who hate you.”

“Deny yourself daily.”

“I came not to be served, but to serve.”

“Whoever wants to be first … must become last.”

“No man can serve two masters.”

De Graaf didn’t know many Christians who lived like that, but he began a journey to pursue a life of following Jesus with the motto he calls “The 10 Second Rule”: “Just do the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do.” Simple obedience to Jesus is anything but simple. When we look at the standing orders He has given us we understand that life will be anything but sensible. It will not necessarily be safe, but it will be an adventure of walking with Jesus daily! Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b). I know that just doing the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do sounds very simplistic at first. It has the benefit of not getting bogged down in the “God’s will for me” debate and allowing one to begin following Jesus today. The 10 Second Rule is in short a way to move me from inaction to action. Many of the things I am reasonably certain Jesus wants me to do I simply do not do because they go against my sensibilities and I can talk myself out of doing them. The book goes on to share some real, practical ways of how to begin and continue walking this radical way of living, which is in fact following Jesus.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.
It has been found difficult and left untried.”
– G.K. Chesterton

I don’t want to be that guy who has been unwilling to follow Jesus. So I am being challenged to live out this life not just when it is convenient for me but to live in simple obedience to the One I have committed to follow. It is my desire to pursue Jesus with a lot less self-centeredness and a renewed willingness to submit to His direction. I am reminded of an old song, “I’m Gonna Follow You” by Silverwind. I think it expresses some of my heart. If you’re also a bit challenged by all this, maybe this song can be your song to Jesus too!

I never thought that I could ever feel this way
You’ve got me falling more in love with you each day
You made my life matter, like no one could do
So for ever after, I’m following you.
I’m gonna follow you.

Some people tell me that I take a road so rough
They say I’m crazy but I say it’s only love
No it doesn’t matter what people may do
‘Cause forever after I’m following you forever
I’m gonna follow you.

Though the road may be narrow and the road may seem hard
Lord I’m still going to follow and I’ll never turn back and I’ll get through ‘till I do
I’m gonna follow you!

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