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Tuesday, July 17, 2007
I needed to hear this today.

"The God of Second Chance"

I was speaking at a college some time ago, and after one of the meetings a young man came to talk with me. He was quite upset. He told me he felt that God had given up on him. I asked him why he had come to that conclusion. He said he had grown up in a religious home, but when he came to college he had rebelled against everything he had ever been taught. He had broken his own standards and he had broken God's standards. He had gotten in trouble with the police. It was pretty serious stuff.

What bothered him most, though, was that he had done the same wrong acts over and over again. He knew better, he said, but he continued doing what he knew was wrong. He once thought of himself as a Christian, but no longer. He was convinced that God had given up on him. He felt that he was beyond hope.

Perhaps you can identify with that young man. Perhaps you've done things you're ashamed of. In fact, you may have a dirty little secret that you keep bottled up in your life. You don't want to think about it, and you live in fear that someday somehow somebody will find you out. Deep down inside you are uncomfortable and even afraid. Once, perhaps, you may have been part of a worshipping community, but no longer. What caused you to give up your faith was that you think that God might not tolerate someone like you. You, too, may feel that you are beyond hope.

If you feel that way you are not alone. I'd like to tell you about two men who messed up their lives. In fact, they turned their backs on God completely. You couldn't blame God for giving up on them.

The first of the two was a man called Peter. Peter was one of the best known of Jesus' disciples, and he served as a kind of unofficial spokesman for the group. Although Peter was brash and outspoken, he was intensely loyal to Jesus. Yet, in a way, Peter became a tragic moral failure.

Here's what happened. Jesus was arrested and put on trial. Peter lingered outside the courthouse warming himself by a fire. As he stood there trying not to be noticed, a young woman spotted him and accused him of being a follower of Jesus. Peter was probably frightened by the accusation so he denied it. But the young woman wouldn't back off. She accused Peter a second time. Again Peter denied any association with Jesus. Then as he made his loud denial the crowd picked up on his accent. The accent was a dead giveaway. Peter wasn't from their part of the country. He was from up north. So the crowd joined the young woman in accusing Peter of being a disciple of Jesus. Then Peter cursed and swore and denied that he even knew Jesus. In that hour of crisis, Peter betrayed his good friend.

If you had been there and heard Peter utter a stream of profanity to deny Jesus, would you have written him off? If you were Jesus would you have given up on Peter? If a friend did that to you, would you forgive her?

That was a grim episode in Peter's life. And later, when he realized what he had done, he wept bitterly. Peter must have wondered if there was any hope for him. After all, in a way, he was no better than Judas who had betrayed Jesus. Peter had betrayed a friend, someone he had once sworn to protect.

Yet, after his resurrection, Jesus went looking for Peter. You see, Jesus had died for Peter. He died so that Peter's sins could be forgiven and so that your sin and mine could be forgiven. That is why Jesus forgave this man who had vehemently denied him. What is more, Jesus restored Peter and set him free. In a matter of a few weeks Peter preached the first Christian sermon. That sermon was about the forgiveness of sin. Out of his defeat, Peter learned something. He learned that God is the God of a second chance.

Now, look at the second man who turned away from God. His name is Jonah. You may think of Jonah as a man who had a whale in his story. But, believe me, the story of Jonah isn't about a fish. It's about the God of the second chance.

Jonah, a prophet, had been commanded by God to preach to the citizens of Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of the nation of Assyria. Jonah was to tell the Assyrians that judgment was coming. And he knew that if he did that, they could repent and they might be forgiven. That was hard for Jonah to deal with. You see, Jonah hated the Assyrians

The Assyrians were easy to hate. If you were to wrap up in one package Nazi Germany, and Iraq and Iran at their worst, you can get a feel for Assyria. The Assyrians were arrogant and cruel conquerors, and Jonah despised them. To tell Jonah that he was to preach to the Assyrians was like asking a man whose family had been threatened by terrorists to offer those terrorists complete forgiveness.

Forgiveness? Nothing would have pleased Jonah more than to see the whole bunch of the Assyrians wiped off the earth. Those Assyrians may have mattered to God, but they didn't matter to Jonah.

God had directed Jonah to travel east over land to Nineveh. But Jonah booked passage on a ship headed west toward Spain. During that journey, a tremendous storm arose, and Jonah ended up in the Mediterranean Sea. That's when the fish swallowed him. Within a short time of gulping down the prophet, the fish suffered an attack of indigestion. Wasn't hard to figure out why. Jonah's disposition was enough to make anyone sick! But God allowed Jonah to survive being swallowed by that fish. You might have thought that God would have given up on Jonah and drafted another prophet easier to work with.

But, in the middle of the book of Jonah there is a most interesting phrase. I think it's the most interesting phrase in the book. It says, "The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time." Deliberately, consciously, stubbornly, Jonah had run away from God. Yet, God came to the prophet a second time and allowed him to carry on his ministry. That's one important lesson from the story of Jonah ... God is the God of the second chance.

On New Year's Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played the University of California in the Rose Bowl. During the first half of the game a player by the name of Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California on his own thirty-five yard line. In evading some of the Georgia Tech tacklers, Riegels became confused. He started running sixty-five yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, outran him and tackled him on the one yard line just before Riegels was about to score for Georgia Tech. Then, on the next play, when California attempted to punt out of its end zone, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety, which was the ultimate margin of victory.

That strange play came near the end of the first half. Everyone watching the game was asking the same question: "What will coach Nibbs Price do with Roy Riegels in the second half?" The players filed off the field and trudged into the dressing room. They sat down on the benches and on the floor. All but Riegels. He pulled his blanket around his shoulders, and sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and wept like a baby.

A coach usually has a great deal to say to his team during half-time. That afternoon coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, "Men, the same team that started the first half will start the second."

The players got up and started out. All but Roy Riegels. He didn't budge. The coach looked back and called to him again. Still Riegels didn't move. Coach Price walked over to Riegels and said, "Roy, didn't you hear me? The same team that started the first half will start the second." Roy Riegels looked up and his cheeks were wet with tears.

"Coach," he said, "I can't do it. I've disgraced you. I've disgraced the University of California. I've disgraced myself. I couldn't face that crowd to save my life."

Then Coach Nibbs Price put his hand on Riegels shoulder and said, "Roy, get up and go on back. The game is only half over." Roy Riegels did go back, and those Tech players testified that they had seldom seen a man play as Roy Riegels did in that second half.

When I read that story, deep inside I said, "What a coach!" When I read the stories of Peter and Jonah and the stories of a thousand men and women like them, I say, "What a God!" We take the ball and we run in the wrong direction. We stumble and fall. We're so ashamed of ourselves that we never want to try again. And God comes and in the person of Jesus Christ puts a nail-printed hand on our shoulder and says, "Get up; go on back. The game is only half over."

That's the good news of the grace of God. That's the good news of the forgiveness of sins. That's the Gospel of the second chance, of a third chance, of the hundredth chance.

posted by Ricky @ 6:12 PM  
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