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Second Chances

Do you really believe everyone deserves a second chance?  That question was posed to me by a congregant in the Friendship Center following worship this past Sunday.  I had just preached on the Demoniac in Mark 5 who was given a second chance at life by Jesus when his demons were exorcised from him.  And I even used the phrase, “In the kingdom Jesus is building, everyone deserves a second chance.”  It seemed natural that someone might want to raise this question.  Especially this man, who had spent a career in law enforcement and admitted that he had “seen too many things” to think that everyone – literally everyone – deserves a second chance.

 
                                               

We chatted briefly, our conversation most amiable, and in just a few moments we acknowledged several things:

  • Preaching can be a difficult event for the both preacher (who can’t cover every possible question a listener might be thinking) and listener (who can’t really respond, as preaching is very much a one-way communication experience)
  • When we say “second chance” we should be clear about whether we truly mean a second chance or the repeated giving of chance after chance after chance.
  • There are truly heinous acts that fall under a different category (as outlying cases should do)

But I believe his question deserves a bit of a longer answer than a quick back-and-forth after worship can afford.

 

“Second chances” – whether we are talking about our earthly relationships with one another or our relationship with God – are about exactly that.  Relationships.  And in relationships there is always a role for accountability in addition to the grace and forgiveness of a “second chance.”  Giving too many chances without any kind of accountabitly in return can lead to enablement of undesired behavior.  Conversely, too much accountability without a chance to live anew is abuse and oppression.  For the relationship to be such that the individuals in it have the opportunity to live up to their potential, there must be a balance between grace (“second chances”) and accountability (a change in behavior).  Jesus said this very thing in John 13:34  I will give my love to you (grace), he said, and the expectation in return is that you love another (accountability).  In this respect, I would have to say, I don’t believe in giving a “second chance” without some kind of change in behavior in return.

 

Yet, this thought alone misses a larger point.  “Second chances” – whether extended by God or among people – are about faith.  The reason we grant grace to one another is because we believe the recipient of that grace is capable of producing something good for others; something that will improve relationships and community.  When we fail to grant grace – or when we are hesitant to give a “second chance” to someone – it is because we doubt their ability to do this.  So perhaps the better question is not “Do you believe everyone deserves a second chance?” but rather “Does God believe everyone is capable of producing something good for others?”  To this I would respond “Yes.  I believe God does.”  This is why God grants grace to us – not just a “second” time – but again and again and again.  Such is God’s faith in us to produce good for others. 

Navigating the waters of “second chances” and accountability – in our families, in the workplace, and in every conceivable way in a wider society – will always be difficult.  Only when we seek to find the balance between the two will we truly thrive.  And only when we are motivated by God’s faith in us – and by God’s grace to us – can we hope to find it.        

Posted by Michael Karunas with

“Shine Where You Are”

Have you ever found yourself in a place you didn’t intend to be, but later discovered it was exactly where you needed to be?  Whenever I think of how that’s been true in my life, I think of Acts 16:6-10.  A few years ago I stumbled across those verses.  The words in these verses are, of course, not new and have been around for millennia.  But they were new to me on that particular day.  They are easy to gloss over and hurry past.  They read like a travelogue connecting the Apostle Paul’s more important meeting up with Timothy and the very important conversion of Lydia, the dealer of purple cloth.  In other words, they are easy to get lost in the shuffle.  Besides, they include a variety of proper names which… when we read scripture… tend to intimidate us and cause us to rush by them for fear of pronouncing them incorrectly.  But here they are:

“When they (Paul and Timothy) come opposite to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow it, so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man from Macedonia pleading with him, saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  When he had seen the vision, we immediately crossed over to Macedonia…” (the underlining is mine)

Paul and his traveling companions attempted to go to Bithynia.  That was their agenda; their plan.  That is what they wanted to do.  But the Holy Spirit did not allow it.  Why?  Because God had other plans in store for Paul.  God needed him to be the city of Troas, for it was in Troas that Paul received a vision that they were to travel to Macedonia and preach the Good News there. 

What struck me about those words was the juxtaposition between what we want to do and what God needs us to do.  How many times in our lives have we ended up in a place we didn’t intend (or even want) to go, but it turned out to be the very place we needed to be?  What we desire to do – our plans, our agendas – may not be God’s plans for us and the role we are to play in the world.  And yet, the good we can offer the world is not only done on our terms.  We can shine wherever we are.  In fact, that is our calling.  To bloom where we are planted. 

Often we tend to think that our job would be easier, our lives would be better, our future outlook more positive were something in our lives different.  If we were in a different place.  Or if we had different resources.  Or if we had a different body.  Or if some condition of our lives were different than what it actually is.  And yet the message from Acts 16 is that it is not about our plans, agendas and wishes.  They don’t have to be accommodated for us to be able to do some good for the world on behalf of our faith.  It is God directing us, and our faith in that guidance, that makes it possible. 

This Sunday we will be taking a look at one of my favorite figures in scripture – a man possessed by demons who is healed by Jesus.  After his exorcism he begs to travel with Jesus.  But Jesus says “no,” just as the Holy Spirit would later tell Paul “no.”  Why would Jesus do this?  Because he needed the man to go home and tell his friends how much the Lord had done for him and what great mercy the Lord showed him (Mark 5:19).  Jesus needed him in a place elsewhere than where he wanted to be.  And what was the result?  This man would end up being the first Gentile evangelist of Jesus’ Good News and “everyone” would be amazed at what he shared with them. 

Believing that we can serve God where we are; shine a light for love and grace where we are; be a living witness for Christ where we are – no matter what the condition of our earthly life – is perhaps the greatest realization we can make as people of faith.    

Posted by Michael Karunas with

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