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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Second Chances

By David B. Crabtree
Aug. 14, 2011

My first sermon was an eight-minute disaster. I began with the brash confidence of a 19-year-old know-it-all and ended in a shattered state of embarrassment.

I can still see the surprised look on the pastor’s face when I finished my message and 32 minutes remained in the service. I sat down in utter humiliation. When I wrote the sermon, I thought it was pretty good. When I preached the sermon, I knew it was awful.

I should have known your first swing at a task is usually a miss no matter how badly you want to hit it out of the park. My first swing with a literal baseball bat was a total miss. No one masters the first attempt ... at anything.

My first toddling step was a stumble. My first pour was a spill. My first kiss caused my first girlfriend to laugh out loud. My first bowling ball ended up in the gutter. My first drive on the golf course was a shank. My first fight was a loss. My first fish was not a keeper. My first job ended in termination. My first article was kindly rejected.

All of my starts have been rather halting. I shudder to think what my life would be if it had not been for second chances. I would have missed out on everything if somebody had not suggested, “Let’s try that again.”

I’m not alone.

The story of God and humanity is a story of second chances. If it were not so, all of human history would have terminated in the Garden. But God does not hold a one-and-done attitude toward us. He is longsuffering, full of mercy, and rich in grace. He sends the light of a new dawn where it seems that night will never end. A one-shot world is completely out of step with the God of the second chance. God’s Word paints graphic portraits of new beginnings. It is the story of grace.

A second chance for the one who runs away

The Old Testament prophet Jonah was given an audacious assignment. He was to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, and declare their imminent destruction. Nineveh was that place later identified by the prophet Nahum as “the bloody city!” He wrote, “It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs” (Nahum 3:1, NKJV).

Jonah booked passage on a ship setting sail in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Jonah was afraid and ran for his life … or, more accurately, Jonah ran from his life.

He thought he held a ticket to a fresh start, but Jonah was sailing into a storm. The ship was soon in the grip of a howling tempest, and superstitious sailors began to pray to their gods and seek the cause of their dilemma. With genuine compassion for his fellow man, Jonah came clean and suggested the crew might be preserved if they threw him into the sea. With great reluctance, the sailors tossed him over the rail.

For the ship, the crisis was over. For Jonah, it had just begun. He was swallowed by the ocean, then he was swallowed by a fish. Imagine his horror and surprise to be alive in the inky blackness of the deep.

Most people lost at sea are never found again. But God was neither hindered in His purpose nor limited in His reach in the midst of Jonah’s failure. From the bottom of the sea He heard the prophet’s desperate cry and gave him another chance. The fish spit him up on some lonely shore and “the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time” (Jonah 3:1).

You might remember Jonah when life bottoms out. He discovered that God gives second chances even to people who get what they deserve and bring it on themselves. God reaches from the heights of heaven to the lowest of depths. He redeems those fleeing from His plan in panic and uses them again for His divine purpose.

A second chance for the one who jumps the gun

Abraham and Sarah tried to find a way to fulfill God’s promises through their own efforts. Their biological clocks had long since run down, and the necessity of an heir lay at the very heart of God’s promises to them. Sarah recognized the impossibility of the situation and, according to established custom, chose Hagar as a surrogate.

The child born of that union was named Ishmael. His birth brought no relief to the household. Even though Abraham pleaded for God to endorse the “Ishmael solution,” it was not to be. Ishmael, by no fault of his own, was not the promised child.

Though Ishmael was clearly a departure from God’s will, God did not withdraw His promise. He gave Abraham and Sarah a second chance, and then He gave a son named Isaac.

God knows our ways and our times. The clock never runs out when it comes to His miraculous power. He is never in need of some human device to save the day. Though the prospect of childbirth was laughable given Sarah’s age, in the hour of God’s choosing Sarah felt the baby move. The old song says it so well: “He may not come when you want Him, but He’s always right on time.” It’s never too late for God. He gives second chances, even when we’ve tried to do His will our own way.

A second chance for the one who fails morally

King David was the consummate winner. He had slain the giant, vanquished armies, and united the broken house of Israel. He was known as a man after God’s own heart. Then, his moral life ran off the rails.

Lust was followed by adultery, which was followed by pregnancy and conspiracy. Conspiracy was followed by murder (2 Samuel 11). David tried to guard his malignant secrets, but with God there are no secrets. God told all to a prophet named Nathan. The prophet confronted the king, and the game was up.

The words David had so eloquently spoken at the death of Saul became a central part of his own biography: “How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:19). Yet, David repented, and God gave him a second chance (Psalm 51). The life that followed was not easy. The effects of sin often linger when the offense has long since been removed. But David lived to worship again. He lived out the magnificent promise found in his well-loved 23rd Psalm: “He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3).

Second chances are indispensible if moral failure is to be overcome. A broken marriage can be restored, but not until all are willing to try again. I’ve too often watched the prospects of restoration slip away when grace seems to be a bridge too far. On the other hand, I have seen vows renewed and strengthened through the fire of adversity. Even from the brink of destruction a marriage can be made better — not on the strength of a human vow, but by God’s grace that makes it whole again.

A second chance for the one who speaks too soon

There was a day when even the great apostle Simon Peter needed a second chance. After boldly declaring his undying allegiance to Jesus, he denied ever knowing the Lord.

Courage is tested in crisis, and Peter failed the test. After his stunning collapse of faith in Caiaphas’ courtyard, Peter was reduced to bitter tears and the awful, recurring memory of Jesus’ prophetic words. Just as the Savior had predicted, the apostle denied Him three times (Luke 22:61). Peter had failed the ultimate Friend, and his own words condemned him (Mark 14:31).

Yet at Jesus’ resurrection, the angels instructed the women who had gathered at the empty tomb to go, tell His disciples — and, specifically, Peter (Mark 16:7). God gives second chances to people who panic, who talk big but can’t deliver, who promise forever but go missing when the heat is on.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe we might get a second chance. When our actions have led to a fall, the enemy of our souls attempts to dash all hope with a string of lies. You’ll never love again, he whispers. You’ll never laugh again or live again, he shouts. You’re through. You’re finished. You’re hopeless. You’re lost.

Never believe it.

Take some time and study the portraits of grace in the Bible. God’s second chances go on without number, from Adam and Eve to the Prodigal Son. He reaches beyond our scarred record to personally heal anonymous sinners like you and me. Let’s try it again, the Holy Spirit says.

With love and compassion, our gracious God forgives us, He lifts us, He washes us, and He offers us a second chance.

DAVID B. CRABTREE is lead pastor of Calvary Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Greensboro, N.C.

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