How many of you have made a mistake or two in your past. The ones that haunt me the most, even to this day, are my shortfalls I made in raising my kids.
My parents were my greatest influence for the first seven years of my child-rearing experience. They were very strict with my brother and I and we turned out OK, or so I thought. So I tried to replicate their strict disciplinary approach – and failed miserably.
My daughter was seven and her brothers much younger by the time I committed my life to Christ – and they had to endure my ever-changing style of child-rearing and disciplining that I was learning from the multitude of Christian advisors and trainers I sought guidance from. Each of those claimed to be experts – from parenting classes in my own Bible-centered church, to the Agape Training Center out in Plymouth, to Dr. Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio show that I listened to every day at noon, to a wide range of Christian books and magazine articles on the subject.
I recently thanked my daughter for my grandkids – because I see in them my second chance to get right what I messed up with my own kids.
How many of you are glad for second chances – or would love to have a second chance at making right a situation that you absolutely know you didn’t handle very well – or that you’d do a lot differently now that you’re a lot wiser?
- Maybe, like myself, it’s your kids – you didn’t give them enough time, or you didn’t discipline them properly.
- Or maybe it was a failed relationship.
- Or maybe you did something embarrassing that cost you your good name.
- Or maybe it was some dumb thing you did on a job that cost you financially, or the admiration and respect of your co-workers, or it cost you the job itself.
We’ve all messed up something (maybe a lot of things) in our past.
Thankfully the God we serve is a God of second chances.
I counsel a lot of men – men who’ve messed up in ways that most of us, not even our imaginations would take us down that road. And I haven’t met one man who wasn’t glad to meet that God of second chances, and let Him help them recover their lives and relationships.
In fact God is not only the God of second chances; He is the God of another chance. This is good news because most of us mess up the second chance as well, and we need a third and a fourth chance.
One of the amazing facets of God’s character is His incredible patience with us. Psalm 86 says it well: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” And the prophet Micah says, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.”
Thank goodness for the love, grace and patience of God.
The Bible is full of people who received second chances, and even third and fourth chances: Peter, Paul, David, Jonah, Samson. They and we are all trophies of God’s grace.
A lot of times we have a hard time looking for or accepting a second chance when it comes our way. In some strange way we don’t feel we deserve it – we have so much condemnation for our bad behavior – we feel we deserve being cast down. We feel people should hate us or not forgive what we did to hurt them. If you have that attitude, if you think you’re being courageous or holy or whatever – you’re not. You’re actually insulting God – you’re saying that Jesus’ pain and suffering so you could be forgiven and set free wasn’t good enough.
So just don’t do that! Get rid of that shame and guilt. God doesn’t want you to continue to hold onto it.
There’s no question that there are consequences for past bad behavior and bad decisions. King David lost the son born of the adulterous relationship he had with Bathsheba, and his kids were constantly fighting among themselves and competing for his attention. Samson was enslaved, tortured and even died all the while God was giving him his second chance at defending the people of Israel. Even the Apostle Paul I don’t believe ever fully recovered from the guilt he felt from persecuting, even killing Christians before his conversion – because he talked about it a lot.
Maybe your past bad behavior cost you something dear to you, like your marriage, or maybe it made your relationship with your kids more strained.
I was recently told about a deep-sea fishing expedition a dad took his two high-school-aged sons. All morning long they fished and caught nothing except sunburn. Near lunchtime one of the boys got sea-sick and lost his breakfast over the side of the boat. The second son immediately followed suit. Suddenly this huge school of oceanic fish appeared out of nowhere, feeding unceremoniously upon their breakfast. Less than 10 minutes later, the entire boat caught their limit.
The lesson: they had fished all morning and all they got was sick. But once they were sick, all they got was fish.
Doesn’t that seem to be how God sometimes works? When we come to the end of ourselves, when we humbly acknowledge the mess we’ve landed ourselves in, God delights to pour out His glory in sudden and unpredictable ways.
God’s always offering us second chances – but He often expects us to take the initiative to seek them out. Many of the men I give spiritual counsel to have families in disarray – with kids who have had their minds poisoned by their spouse and other relatives – kids who have let their dads know they don’t want to have anything to do with them. I’ve encouraged the men to take it slow, but to maintain contact with their children – even if it only means sending them an occasional note letting them know they’re thinking about them and love and admire them. In many cases, that’s been enough to trigger more communication and a better relationship.
So don’t be afraid to take the initiative to reconnect with that person you may have hurt years ago, or been hurt by. Maybe your view of the situation is much worse than theirs.
I remember a number of years ago, the family and I joined some friends up in Lexington, Mich at their cottage for sailing and swimming. As we sat around we got to talking about old times; and someone brought up the names of a couple sisters that we had attended grade school with – and mentioned they owned a pie shop just outside of town. I immediately felt guilt rise up in my spirit, for a friend and I had spent most of our 8th grade teasing the girls about their physical appearance. Over the years that guilt would pop up every now and then; but I figured I’d never have the opportunity to ask their forgiveness. All of a sudden that opportunity was available to me. So I decided to take it. On our way home, we stopped outside the pie shop. Only one of the sisters was working when I entered. As I talked with her and mentioned the circumstances that had brought so much condemnation into my life over the years, I found she couldn’t even remember it. Still I asked and received her forgiveness, even though she didn’t feel I needed to.
No matter where you are, God is offering you a second chance. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how many times you’ve done it, no matter where you’ve wandered, God is saying, “If you allow Me, I’ll heal and restore. If you let Me.” That’s the key – to let Him. He’ll take the hurt of your bad decision and the accompanying shame and clean it up. The devil would love it if you remained isolated in your shame and condemnation all your life. Don’t give him that satisfaction.
But even if that’s not where you’re at today – Even if you’re totally at peace with your current relationship with God, with your family, with your church and your life in general, then God has a message for you too.
Each one of us needs to possess and exercise that same godly attitude of respect and tolerance when it comes to others in our society. And that’s not tolerance as society uses it today – which wants us to wink at sin and bad behavior. However, often when we become righteous Christians, we tend to forget our own youthful indiscretions and develop a “three strikes and you’re out” attitude toward others. Sometimes it’s toward our loved ones. But more often it’s toward strangers in the world, people we may not know personally, but whose behavior we find disgusting. But that attitude doesn’t represent God’s nature.
One thing that I always warn other Christians is: any behavior that you’re likely to vocally criticize another person about, be prepared to be tested in that area yourself. While you may not be personally tempted in that area, I guarantee someone that you are close to will be. And if they fall, I guarantee that your attitude toward them will be tested as well.
I’ve seen that in my own life with respect to attitudes of self-righteousness I once held toward people in so-called “alternate lifestyles.” Pray and be cautious with your judgments of others, and especially cautious with critical words that come out of your mouth. Trust me – you don’t want to be tested personally in these areas.