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The God of Second Chance
To me, a good spiritual book is one that challenges and causes me, while reading it, to put it down often so that I could pray and get right with God. A powerful spiritual book is a manuscript of conviction that forces one to confront one’s own sins and flaws. Gordon MacDonald’s book, “Rebuilding Your Broken World” is one such book. Though it was published in 1988, it still offers rich nuggets of truth and marvelous words of encouragement.
MacDonald speaks candidly about broken-world people because he is one himself. He writes, “After years of dreaming, preparing, conditioning, and fighting their way to a particular point, they have (usually by their own initiative) fallen. This ‘world’ they have constructed is suddenly shattered.”
I can identify with that because I was one of these broken-world people. In 1992, during the peak of my ministry, my world collapsed into sins. To punish myself, I exiled myself in the remote kingdom of Cambodia. The Lord did not leave me alone. In fact, it was when I hit bottom that I found God was waiting for me there. When old friends no longer wanted my acquaintance and fellow ministers were disappointed by my failure, I have found God to be a true friend. During those warm lonely Cambodian nights, when my prayers seemed to rise no further than the ceiling, I realized that God was there in my room. He did not need my prayers to reach heaven because He had brought heaven down to brighten the life of this wretched humiliated sinner.
Exiled To Cambodia
As Phnom Penh was not safe back in the early part of the 1990s, I had a loaded Chinese type-64 pistol in my desk drawer and an M-16 in the cupboard. Satan would come regularly and tempt me to use these weapons to kill myself. His cruel voice would mock and taunt at my failure. In the middle of the night, I would suddenly wake up and stare emptily into the darkness. A voice in my head would tell me that God was through with me and had no need for my ministry anymore.
Like a man in a trance, I would walk and sit at my desk, turn on the table lamp, open the drawer and stare at the pistol. The voice would then suggest that it would only take one bullet in the mouth to end my misery. Night after night, that evil voice persisted even in the midst of my prayer. The temptation to end it all was so great that one night, I took out the Chinese pistol and put it to my head. A voice said that it would be better to end it all. I felt that not only the whole Christian community had condemned me… and worse than that, I felt that even God did not want me any more.
I had messed up and deserved to die! That voice kept ringing in my ears, pestering and pushing me into the deep darkness of that terrible night. Before I could pull the trigger, another louder voice suddenly thundered through the sound of my sobbing. That voice was loud but gentle. That voice said that God had not given up on me if I were not to give up on God.
For six years, I put much effort into building my supermarket and restaurant business. It was not all business for me. On the side, I used the money earned and founded an orphanage with my wife and some friends. (Today this orphanage is one of the largest in Cambodia. Two other orphanages were to be established later). I had become a legal Cambodian resident and had planned to live out my earthly life in Cambodia. Like Moses, I was ready to rough it out in this wilderness. However, deep within my heart, I still held closely to the pastoral call of God. Then one day, six years after getting used to being a “Cambodian”, God decided to call me back into “civilization”.
God sent Pastor Susan, an American minister from the outskirt of Pittsburgh, PA, to travel all the way across the globe to look for me. Pastor Susan had never left USA before and did not have the faintest idea where Cambodia was. She had to find it on a map. Before she left for Cambodia, a word of prophecy was given to her – her mission was to look for a man who would stare her straight in the eyes. When she found him, she was to call him back into the ministry. She thought that it would be an easy mission. To her surprise, none of those people she met in Cambodia would hold her gaze. She left Cambodia without completing her mission of finding the “staring” man. She had to come back the second time.
To cut the story short, when she met me at my restaurant, not only did I look at her straight in the eyes but the Holy Spirit told her that I was that “staring” man whom God had wanted to restore. The Lord knew that I would have doubted if He were to send someone from Asia. He had to send someone who had no way of knowing my past. This was the second time that He used a person from a distant land to carry His message to me. The first time was in 1982, when He called me into the ministry. At that time, He sent an Australian lady to confirm the pastoral call.
Broken World Experience
The gist of my story is that God is the God of second chance. Broken-world people can rebuild their broken world again. If we check our Bible, we should notice that majority of those people who were used by God, had broken-world experience.
Jacob tricked his father and brother by gaining the blessings and birthright. His peaceful world was disrupted when his brother sought to kill him. He escaped to his uncle’s place and was promptly conned by his uncle. A far greater loss was that he would never see his parents alive again. He then struggled with the Angel of the Lord and had his name changed to “Israel”. That encounter left him with a permanent limp. It was only when he became a much older man that he returned to Canaan. From him, God raised up the twelve tribes of Israel.
Moses’ world came crashing down when he murdered an Egyptian. He ran and hid for forty years until God called him back to Egypt.
David who had the courage to kill Goliath, fell into sin at the feet of Bathsheba. He did not only commit adultery but murder – he killed Bathsheba’s husband. After he repented, God restored him.
Jonah disliked the idea of preaching God’s message to the Assyrians in Ninevah. He ran away from that prophetic call until God took him back to his ministry in the belly of a whale.
Peter’s world broke to pieces when he denied the Lord, not once but three times. When Peter repented, the Lord in turn, affirmed Peter three times and restored him to become a leader in the early church.
Paul, formerly known as Saul, was a proud Pharisee. His world of religious activities ended when, while on the road to Damascus, he was knocked down by Jesus Christ. He rose from that heap of discarded self-centered dreams and became one of the greatest apostles of his time.
There are two ways we can respond to our broken-world experience. Like Cain, we can deny that it is our self-will and sin that cause our world to collapse. That is the path of denial. On the other hand, like David, we can face our sin and accept the moral responsibility for it. One of the worst things that we can do is to try and use our own flesh to atone for our sin. In the effort to show that we have sincerely repented, we rush into activities after activities of good work. The fact of the matter is that no amount of work can cleanse us from the guilt and frustration of our past.
The only way is to find peace is by acknowledging our sins and our responsibility for them before the living God. As we humbly kneel in repentance at the Cross, His blood will wash and cleanse us again. It is true that we will encounter dreadful humiliation and our reputation would be thoroughly tarnished! We may lose our network of friends and acquaintances and even our ministries. Some of these acquaintances would judge us severely. We should not be too surprised by that. We have done wrong and all these judgments, gossips and condemnations are part of the fallout or consequences. We should not even demand grace from them except, to receive it humbly when it is given. All these are the penalties of our sin and we have to accept them. No matter how painful they are, we know that God will speak to our hearts in the midst of the pain. When we have been restored, let us be careful not to fall into the same trap again.
There are five things that we need to recognize as we live a repented life:
1. Our Sinful Nature
Even though we have been saved by the grace of God, we are still in this sinful world. Our sin-nature still affects us and no matter how much we think that we have overcome sin, we still have to be very careful. On 4 October 2003, a seven-year-old supposedly tame white tiger attacked an animal entertainer, Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas. It charged at Horn and bit him in the neck. Then it carried the shocked entertainer like a rag doll in his mouth. Our sin nature is like the white tiger. It may look tame but we should not be playing with it.
2. Unguarded Strength
MacDonald warns that many of us make the mistake of boasting about our strength. We think that Satan can never attack us in the area of our strength and so we leave it unguarded. Then to our horror and surprise that is the quarter where the attack comes.
During World War 2, the Allied Special Forces took many German positions because they attacked from areas where the enemies least expected to come. For example, they would scale a vertical cliff wall on a stormy night and overwhelm the enemies when the latter were sure that no attack was possible from that position.
Peter the Apostle fell into sin because he thought that he was the bravest and most courageous of all the Disciples. Instead it just took a small servant girl and a couple of other ordinary-looking people to get him to deny Christ. Satan is tricky and he will find us most vulnerable in the areas that we think we are the strongest. MacDonald says: “Talk to broken-world persons who have honestly faced up to the realities of the situation, and they will admit that they were unprepared when it happened, disarmed as it did happen, and terribly disillusioned about themselves after it happened. Quite likely they will say, ‘When I talk about what happened, I almost feel as if I’m speaking about another person. I want to believe that it couldn’t be me'”.
3. Zone of Temptation
One of most dangerous situations is to place oneself in the Zone of Temptation. Christians or non-Christians alike, have to make choices and decisions every day. There is definitely no excuse for making decisions that would lead to sinful actions. MacDonald observes that everyone may make choices in certain situation that they would probably never make in another situation.
Business travelers are especially susceptible to temptations because of loneliness and supposed anonymity of the foreign place. The apparently innocent business trip becomes a Zone of Temptation. When it interacts with our sinful nature, it may cause us to behave and act in certain ways that contradict our beliefs and faith. All temptations are like that – they seek to challenge us to violate our God-given laws, principles and values. There is absolutely no excuse for any Christian to use this Zone of Temptation as a justification for sinning. The only way is to adopt preventive measure if we cannot avoid entering that particular zone. For example, some business people travel with their spouses. Others travel with a godly companion. If these are not possible, some business travelers immediately connect themselves with a church in that area and seek fellowship with the Christian community there.
MacDonald also encourages us to warn our Christian brothers and sisters of these Zones of Temptation so that they would be aware and not fall into the traps of the devil. He also asks us to be more compassionate to those who have fallen in the Zone of Temptation so that we can help them recover.
4. Decision In Weariness
Another factor that may cause Christians to make sinful choices is weariness. MacDonald says, “I spoke of weariness when I wrote Restoring Your Spiritual Passion because I had experienced firsthand what it was all about, and I had become sensitive to the number of people who were signaling that they had the same problem. I did not say in that book what I might have: in the context of weariness I made a series of very bad choices that led to falling flat on my face into sin and hurting many people. Weariness is never to be construed as an excuse. It simply suggests that a person may make certain choices in one environment that he would probably never make in another”.
Rick Warren, the pastor of the famous Saddleback Church says that some times the most spiritual thing to do is just sleep and get rested up.
5. Rear-view Mirror Journey
In as much as it is difficult for one to drive by looking at the rear-view mirror all the time, it is just as difficult for us to make good decisions if we were hampered by the events of the past. MacDonald identifies three distinct influences of our past that might blotch our decision-making process.
The first negative influence could derive from a tragic background. Some people make bad decisions because such background emotionally handicaps them. They could have experienced a lack of love, security or affirmation in their childhood and therefore, they do need help in making the right decisions.
The second negative influence from the past is un-addressed or un-confessed guilt. MacDonald says that such “guilt may cause a person to misinterpret reality and reduces that person’s confidence in meeting temptations of the present”.
The third negative influence is the “untreated pain” of the past. When hurting people do not receive any help, they have no way of recovery. Their wound would become aggravated in time and they would make unwise decisions in life. Therefore it is important for anyone with an untreated pain to seek healing so that the poison of the past will not destroy the potential of his or her future.
God is indeed the God of second chance. We must always remember that He will justify the repentant sinner but never the sin. After we have been restored, we must follow the instruction of our Lord to “go and sin no more”. MacDonald says that a repentant life is a lifestyle.
A repented life does not only regret the sin of the past but is fearful of potential sin. We must be willing to make changes to the behavior that has initially led us into sin. We must renounce all the thoughts, ideas, habits and attitudes that have created the broken-world experience.
Certain relationships have to be broken and certain places we have to stop going so as to prevent ourselves being tempted and falling into sin again. We may not be able to change the past but we can definitely prevent the broken-world experience from occurring in our future.
God’s grace is really far greater than all our sins combined. The beacon of hope is that by God’s grace, we all can be restored and forgiven and we can rebuild our broken world.
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