Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Second Chances .... Are They Real?

Second chances .... are they real? The obvious answer screams from the pages of scripture. Look no further than 2 Corinthians 5:17 to remember that "... if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (ESV) God's extraordinary demonstration of grace through Christ's death, burial, and resurrection displays the truth of second chances. Never forget 1 John 1:9, where the disciple teaches that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

The question dominating my mind tonight goes back to my childhood days and has been with me through the teenage, early adult, and adult years. In scripture we see a host of examples where Jesus brought those spiritually dead to life;  however, the deeper question remains. What about second chances for those who are already believers?

As a young child, I struggled with forgiveness. Anger and guilt over some childhood experiences plagued me in ways that I still have trouble verbalizing. I read the Bible every night and journaled notebooks full of confessions and cries for help. More Sundays than I would like to admit found me walking down the aisle of our small church rededicating my life to Christ and promising to be a better person, never to sin again. The nine years invested in Bible Drills afforded me hundreds of verses committed to memory, but the more verses I learned, the more condemnation I felt. Several years ago a friend and I were driving through an orange grove, and I admitted that of all of the verses I committed to memory, few of those verses had to do with grace. Most proclaimed law, judgment, and rebuke. From before sixth grade until my freshman year in college, I walked through the baptismal waters three times, hoping to wash away the accusations of  my repeated failures. During those years, I met Jesus. I sincerely confessed my sin and repented of my sinful condition. I committed my entire life to him, yet the prison I was in kept me chained in a dark place that seemed inescapable.

College proved to be a memory that I wish could be undone. Depression and defeat dogged every step. Insecurity destroyed any relationship that came my way, and I successfully graduated from college with few, if any, long term friendships. My next stop was seminary, but even that journey began as a reaction to a painful experience. Efforts to get away from college life propelled me into graduate school, where once again, I tried to soothe my pain with education and theological learning. Friendships from seminary? I made three. Two roommates and a fellow lifeguard. I call them friends, though an outsider would find my role in the relationships lacking.

Three ministry positions, secular employment, and three more ministry positions forced me to deal with many of the failures in my life and the effect that the failures had on my present and the effect they would have on my future if I didn't face them head on. Decisions made in the past persisted in killing my future, but somehow the decisions made in the past clung to decisions made by others in my past on my behalf. The blame game became ineffective, and over time I found myself calling out to my Father asking for relief and mercy that only He could give. Somewhere in those moments the Spirit of God reminded me of another young Christ follower who made a monumental error in judgment. His life testifies to the truth that the gospel is for those coming to Christ and for those already in Christ.

Scholars tell us that John Mark came from a prominent family known for following Christ. His exposure to Jesus and the disciples introduced him to the gospel early in life.  Tracing his family tree brings us to a cousin named Barnabas who introduced him to Paul. John Mark joined Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey, and at some point, he decided to go home. Scripture doesn't tell us why he went home, though many have speculated about the reason. Perhaps the Spirit of God left the reason a mystery so that we could make the generalization that no matter what the reason, no change of course forces devastation in our lives. What we do about the change of course matters immensely. At some point, John Mark decided to return to his mission. Paul refused to give him a second chance, but Barnabas saw grace and mercy in his life. Barnabas extended this grace and mercy to John Mark in a way that brought him back to Kingdom advancement. The Spirit graced us with the writing of John Mark in a gospel message and reminded us in one of Paul's letters that John Mark reentered active service for Christ with reckless abandon. Many sermons have been preached about Paul giving John Mark a second chance. What would happen if John Mark were preaching the sermon? Would he talk about Paul's influence and the second chance God offered through Paul? Most likely, he would not. Instead, John Mark would most likely preach boldly about the second chance God offered through Barnabas. Reconciliation with Paul likely mattered a great deal. Barnabas, however, never gave up on him. Barnabas never quit, never doubted, and never held John Mark's past against him.

Family members often won't let you forget. Friends and certainly enemies want you to remember your past forever. A few - maybe less than a handful - will pour out grace and mercy in your life. The Spirit provides some - maybe only one or two - who will serve as reminders of deeply embedded truths that every day pushes us to a second chance. Stop listening to those who thrive on your slavery to the past and instead listen to the Spirit through God's word and those who know well the One who wrote it. We can all begin again. Today. Now. Seize your moment this moment in time.

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1, ESV.

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