The God of Second Chances

 ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
Ezekiel 33:11

I love this verse. I remember the first time I read it, printed on the back of our bathroom door where my Mom regularly put up prayer lists and encouraging Bible verses. What stuck me then, and continues to strike me now, is the desperate love God has for His people. He desires so much for them to take strength and try again, and He wants more than anything to show them mercy.

God's love and mercy are endless!

God’s love and mercy are endless!

I also love the Veggie Tales movie Jonah. It does a fantastic job of bringing out the themes of compassion and mercy, and uses the story of Jonah to demonstrate that God both shows these to us and desires us to show them to each other. As Christians we know that God is forgiving, and that His love is never-ending, but I think this head-knowledge doesn’t always translate into heart-knowledge. The Bible is full of examples of human failure followed by Divine forgiveness:

  • Adam & Eve brought sin and death into the world – yet the world has been saved through Jesus
  • David committed adultery and murder – yet is a lasting example of a man after God’s own heart
  • Nineveh was a city full of wickedness – yet it is a story full of hope and forgiveness
  • Paul was an infamous persecutor of the church – yet he became an honorary apostle and prolific church-planter

With such a heritage of sinners and such examples of forgiveness, it should be easy for us to remember that this grace is for us, too! But sometimes, it isn’t easy. Perhaps we have a tendency to get too bogged down with the sorrow of sin. We dwell on the wrong we – and others – have done for too long. Whilst sin is always serious and requires repentance, when remorse inhibits joy and renewed enthusiasm to ‘try again’, I think we are falling into another trap which Satan puts in our path.

There are many things I fail at frequently. Some of them may not even seem important to others, and some of them are more obvious.  A personal example:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

I was thinking the other day that it has been too long since I incorporated prayer into my devotional time with my kids. I know how important it is, yet it had been months since we included that aspect into our devos! So yesterday, we started again. It is great! Do I wish I’d never stopped? Yes. But God is a God of second, third, fourth, fifth…. chances. So when I realise my mistakes, I have joy in knowing I can be forgiven yet again and move on with renewed intentions.

So if you have let your housework get out of hand and feel a little guilty – say sorry to whoever needs to hear it then stop feeling guilty and take the chance to try again. If you have forgotten to read your Bible in weeks… months… years… – pick it up and thank the Lord for another chance to read. If you go to bed tonight and realise that today, like most other days, you have not been patient with your children, don’t dwell too long in the sorrow of this – ask forgiveness then praise God for His grace and for a new chance tomorrow.

And if you see someone who seems to have it all together and you start to feel guilt and jealousy creeping in – remember they are just another David, Paul, or Ninevite, who has taken another chance from the God of grace. May we always take joy in the steadfast love of the Lord, and His new mercies each morning.

Seasoned with salt – lessons from my Mom’s roast dinners

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Colossians 4:5-7 (NIV)

I love the imagery used in the passage. Full of grace; Seasoned with salt. It makes me think of my Mom’s home-cooked Sunday roasts. We would come home after church (usually with an eager guest or two) and the scent of potatoes, veggies, meat, Yorkshire puddings and gravy would fill the air as she finished off the final touches of the meal. It was a delicious, comforting, wholesome smell, and the food was always just as good as the anticipation. I think my Mom really IS the best cook in the whole world. But I’m getting side-tracked…

In these three verses of Colossians, the author Paul is referring specifically to the way we talk with people who are not part of the body of Christ. But I would like to take his idea and apply it to the way we talk to our kids. In a way, it’s not too different, because both are in need of experiencing the grace and love of Jesus through the way we talk to them.

Opportunities abound in the life of a parent.

Paul urges Christians here to “make the most of every opportunity”. As parents, we have LOTS of opportunities to witness to our children. We are around our kids a large part of every day, and talk to them often about a myriad of different topics. Because it happens so often, it is easy to forget that these conversations are chances for us to show the wonderful love and grace of Jesus. Unfortunately, it is especially easy to forget this in times of discipline, where it can be most important and have the greatest impact.

We need to be aware (and yes, intentional!) of the way we talk to our kids, and not let these opportunities slip by every day. We also need to be careful that we are not seasoning our conversations with judgement and bitterness instead of grace and salt, as so often happens.

But what is a conversation full of grace and seasoned with salt like? Well, I think it’s a bit like my Mom’s roast dinners…

  • It is wholesome.  It is not rude, inappropriate or unkind. Rather, it is respectful (it is possible to be respectful whilst still being in charge), carefully worded and loving. For example, instead of saying, “I told you to pick that up – do it now!”, we can say “Do you remember that I already asked you to pick that up? You need to remember to listen and obey straight away. Please do it now.”
  • It smells good.  Even though our words don’t have actual smells, they do have a scent in their own kind of way.  Conversations which are full of grace and seasoned with salt will have an overall good smell to them. Our kids will be able to tell that what we are saying is right and true and good, whether we are praising them or disciplining them.
  • It provides nourishment.  Although for the most part I loved my Mom’s roasts, there were occasionally vegetables I wasn’t so keen on. Even these, though, I would usually eat as I knew they were healthy and good for my body. In the same way there might be times we have to say things to our kids that they won’t want to hear.  We need to make sure that at these times we are full of grace and salt, and that we are speaking only to benefit out children, not to vent our anger.
  • It is comforting.  On the other hand, there are also times when our words can be a great source of comfort to our children. Here we can take the opportunity to show our kids the love and peace and joy that can be found in Jesus, no matter what circumstances we are living through.

Mom and me.

I want to end with a thanks to my Mom.

Thanks for your wonderful Sunday roasts, and for the lessons of love you have taught me all my life.  I love you.

Selfless mothering

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Philippians 2:4

One of the men at church yesterday spoke about this verse in Philippians, and it got me thinking about parenting. Of course, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of looking out for the needs of others when He selflessly sacrificed Himself on the cross for our sake. But I want to look at this verse in relation to being a mother.

Prince, 18 days old.

Becoming a mother is one of the best ways to expose your inner selfishness. Even the most selfless of women will be put to the test as they enter the world of motherhood. As a new mother we find ourselves constantly having to attend to the beck and call of a tiny new person. Whether we are sleeping, eating, reading, cleaning, cooking or even using the bathroom – we are on duty and must be ready to drop our own agenda to fulfill the ‘interests’ of our babe.

As our children get older, they become more able to tend to themselves. At first this comes as a much needed break (at last! We can shower more than once a fortnight!), but I have also discovered that it can be a dangerous time. Dangerous, because it’s so easy to slip back into our old selfish ways and miss this wonderful opportunity to curb selfishness long-term.

Too many parents treat their children as an inconvenience. They complain about the strain kids put on their finances, their time, their relationships and their fun. Even those who don’t openly complain might show selfishness more subtly. Whilst there are some things that us adults need (including time alone), I find that more often than not the needs of children are ranked as secondary to those of parents. This, I believe, is wrong.

As parents, we sometimes spend too much money on our house, cars or clothes, then don’t have enough to feed our children healthy food.

As parents, we might indulge in things that we enjoy, but rarely make time to take our kids to play in the park.

As parents, we can be tempted to spend hours watching T.V, but hardly ever make time to play games with our kids.

As parents, we might prefer to leave our children with other people while we go to work or out with friends, rather than sacrifice time, money or entertainment and shoulder the responsibility of raising and training them ourselves.

Whilst none of the things a parent might do for themselves are (necessarily) wrong, they become so when done regularly at the expense of the needs of our children. Parents, we have a duty to consider the individual needs of each of our children and meet those the best we can. We must be willing to sacrifice our often-selfish desires and serve the interests of our kids. If we read on from Philippians 2:4, we see this example set for us:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:5-8)

As a mother, I need to humble myself. In my parenting, I am to have the same attitude that Jesus had when He denied His right to equality with God, and died on the cross to save mankind.  As a mother, my first and foremost motive must be the care and nurturing of my children.

Let’s leave a legacy of selfless love.

Leave it to God

‘[Jesus] said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”   But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”  And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.”
Luke 5:4-6

Sometimes we try and try and try to do things on our own, and they just don’t work. We try to be a good parent, or a good friend, or a good spouse, yet we fail again and again. We lose our temper, break a trust, or act in selfishness and pride. When I read this passage in Luke today it reminded me that we are nothing on our own strength – but everything with God.

Would you go back out in the boat?

I love the total faith and obedience Simon Peter shows in his response to Jesus’ command to go back out fishing. Although he acknowledges that he had already tried this on his own, he doesn’t hesitate to go and try again. I think my response would have been more along the lines of, “You’ve got to be kidding?! Don’t you know I’ve been trying this ALL NIGHT LONG, and there’s not a fish there! It’s not going to be any different this time. I might as well give up.” Certainly, this is how I’ve felt at times in my life.

Now, I’m not a fishing person (worms? raw fish with the eyes still in? EW!) But I have my own ‘fish’ to catch. I’m trying to get a firm hold of patience, and wisdom, and peace, and righteousness. And too many times I go fishing on my own, exhausting myself in a futile attempt to catch them by myself, believing that if I just try harder I will do it this time.

To make it more practical (since I’m a girl after my Dad’s own heart), here are some areas that I find myself slipping out of God’s strength and into my own:

  • Teaching my children to love the Lord.
  • Figuring out financial problems.
  • Trying to keep my family healthy.
  • Inspiring people close to me to love God deeply and follow Him sincerely.
  • Dealing with sin in my own life.
  • Educating my children.
  • Showing my husband support and encouragement.

Whilst there is no ‘three step plan to relying on God’, there are some things I have found that make it easier for me to remember to draw strength from Him:

  • Read the Bible regularly.  However, don’t let this become another check box on your list of things to do. Rather let it come from a heart that earnestly desires to know God more.
  • Pray with passion.  It’s easy to quickly pray before meals, before bed, or at church. This is all good, but it is no substitute for prayer that comes from deep in your heart. Pour yourself out to God.
  • Relax.  When we try to work things out for ourselves, we get stressed, fatigued and burnt out. We need to take a deep breath and look to the example of Jesus, who loved to the point of death because He relied on God. When we take the pressure off of ourselves and turn our face to Him, we find a new strength, an endless hope, and a joy to see us through.

Praise God for His faithfulness. When we offer Him the little we have, He gives us the same power that can raise the dead back to life! With Him, all things truly are possible.

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