Give Thanks- Second Chances

I am grateful for second chances.

There is a childish fear in us that if we make someone upset our friendship is over forever. That if we are sent to prison we can never be a part of society again. That if we, or our parents, go through a divorce we will never be whole again. That if we do something wrong, there isn’t a reason for others to like us anymore.

In short, many times in life we have a sense of something breaking and we believe that now it must always be broken. And while sticks and stones might work that way, living things have always had a remarkable ability to heal. And so forgiveness and second chances and mended hearts are a very real part of life. And when it is the hardest to believe in them is when they need to be believed in the most.

#givethanks

Influence and Persuasion- Matthew 23:37, Nehemiah 9:30-31 (NIV), Psalm 103:8

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples.
But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

COMMENTARY

O Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee
By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention
Yesterday I looked at the example of how Satan tries to force certain behaviors from us, and the methods of fear and manipulation he uses when we resist him. Today I want to look at the example of how God influences and persuades His children when they resist the behavior He wants for them.
And as it turns out, the entire Old Testament is a lesson in exactly this! So many of its passages are focused around a chosen people who will not meet their better nature. God wants one thing, they want another, and we get to see how He deals with that conflict.

How often would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples
And the first of God’s methods I find is that of patience. We see that patience first in how he handles the rebelling of His children. He would gather them, but they refuse, and so He lets them go. He does not try to force them, He lets them choose, and then He lets them reap the natural consequence of those actions.
God cautioned Israel that their neighboring nations only meant them harm, but Israel still chose to make friends with them and adopt their philosophies and theologies. And rather than try to interject Himself, God just let things play out.

In your great mercy you did not put an end to them, for you are a gracious and merciful God
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy
And what is it that God is patiently waiting for? For His children to finally return. Even though they betrayed and abandoned Him, He still waits to give them love. Here we see His second and third principles: to be merciful and forgiving.
He lets us choose for ourselves, He lets us go when we choose to leave, but He’s still there for us when we return. In each step He waits for us to act under our own volition. There is none of the “forcing” we saw from Satan, only patience and mercy.

Dealing With Failure- Isaiah 53:10, Psalm 55:22

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved

COMMENTARY

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed
If you’re like me, you struggled to accept the notion of God’s forgiveness being free. I wanted to pay Him back for the things I had done wrong, overcome my addictions by my own pure grit, and earn my place in salvation. After I failed to do this many times over, I finally humbled myself, and let Him win the victory for me. At long last I felt clean again.

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee
And if you’re like me, once you were washed clean you went straight back to believing it was only up to you to keep yourself clean. I had accepted that I had to rely on God for the “big” stuff (forgiving serious sins and healing very deep wounds), but I was still on the hook for the “smaller” stuff (day-to-day obedience and managing stress).
But this verse in Psalms simply says to “cast thy burdens upon the Lord,” with no qualifier for only the ones of a sufficient size. Slowly I’ve been realizing that God wants me to surrender the “small” stuff too.
And I need to. Because when I rely on myself I fail at the “small” stuff all the time. I try to grip tighter and tighter, but still slip, and wonder why I can’t make myself do it right. And you know what? I don’t think that’s a question I really have to answer right now. I think right now I just need to accept the fact of it and surrender it to God.
I need to say “I really can’t make myself do it right. Simple as it seems…it’s beyond me. So I’ll stop trying to do it alone, and open up my heart to you, God, instead. Will You please come inside and win this battle for me? I will let it be Your victory now, not mine.”

Dealing With Failure- Luke 15:20, Isaiah 54:8

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

COMMENTARY

He arose, and came to his father. And his father saw him, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him
There is a great myth in our society that we cannot love a person unless we also sweep all their misdeeds under the rug. It is believed that if we call a behavior wrong, then by extension we must hate all people that participate in that behavior.
The parable of the prodigal son shows a father that loves his son perfectly, is eager to forgive, and accepts his son’s return without question. But at the same time, he never condones the boy’s wayward behavior. He never claims that sin is not sin. He is able to both disapprove of the boy’s mistakes and also retain his love for him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee
I believe a major reason for the myth that we cannot be opposed to sin but still love the sinner is because anger is so often coupled with hate. As small children anger quickly becomes associated with things like neglect, cruel criticisms, and even physical abuse.
But anger, in and of itself, is not hate. And while hate is never a correct response to failure, sometimes anger is. When we let ourselves down it is possible to be upset with our behavior and call ourselves out for it, while also still immersing ourselves in self-love and care.

All or Nothing- Luke 15:11-14, 17-20, 22-24

And he said, A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

COMMENTARY

Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.
And not many days after the younger son wasted his substance with riotous living.
Each one of us can relate with the story of the Prodigal Son to some degree. Like the son, each of us began life with wonderful gifts from our Father. Whether we grew up in a religious home or not, our common inheritance at birth included a divine soul, the ability to feel God’s spirit in our hearts, and a desire to be connected with Him.
Like the son, though, so many of us (all of us?) undervalue the significance of such things. We take the greatest gifts that we have in life and squander them, vainly pursuing entertainment or medication in all the wrong places.

And when he had spent all, he began to be in want.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many servants of my father’s have bread enough, and I perish with hunger!

One cannot sever the soul from the body. One can try to muffle it, suppress it, and outright deny it. But it is there, and it does ache us when we fail to care for it. We cannot squander our birthright and not feel bad about it. Sooner or later, we “come to ourselves,” and realize that where once we had everything, now we have nothing.

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
We had everything, we traded it all for nothing, and now we’ll gladly take anything. From one extreme to the next to the next, we learn to finally give proper value to that which was taken for granted. We are all in now, willing to do whatever it takes to receive whatever God is still willing to give us.

But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring the fatted calf, and let us eat, and be merry
.
And then, of course, the ending which turns would-be followers into full-blown evangelists. Grace and mercy that seem ridiculously over-the-top and totally undeserved. Complete forgiveness and restoration. Not because we’ve earned it, but because God just wants to and no one can tell Him that He can’t! From everything to nothing, to all in, to even more “everything” than we had at the beginning.
This is not some pretty fairy tale that describes an unreal hypothetical. It is not a limited allegory, that will only apply to one or two of God’s most special followers. It is the story that was meant for me, and meant for you, and meant for us all.

Justice and Mercy- Summary

I began this study with the thought that justice and mercy might simply be two sides of the same principle. As I worked through the scriptures, though, I’m starting to think I was wrong. Each is distinct from the other, but both work together for our good.
The way I would define them now is that justice is the principle of fairness by which sin is punished and virtue is rewarded. Mercy is the conduit by which the punishment of justice can be diverted to Jesus’s atoning sacrifice, and the blessing of justice can be received by us.
In any case, I’ve certainly gained a deeper appreciation for why both of these principles needs to exist. Without both, God’s plan for us could not be fulfilled.

Laws Provide Blessings When Followed, but Curses When Broken

Commandments are not given to restrict or condemn. They are given to enable our betterment. It is by receiving and following law that we receive blessings. Every blessing comes as the result of adhering to some law of God’s, and our spiritual maturity is developed by bending our will to His.
However a law cannot simply include a principle and a reward for when it is followed. A law must also detail a punishment for when that principle is defied. Once both consequences, one good and one bad, are affixed to the principle, then the demands of justice will swing one way or the other dependent upon our behavior.
Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21- There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
2 Nephi 2:11- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.

All of us Have Fallen Short of God’s Laws

This certainly seems like a straightforward plan to receiving all that is good, and avoiding all that is bad. All one has to do is keep the law perfectly. And it would be a simple path to perfection, if not for the fact that we are born with a tendency to sin. We are imperfect beings, with imperfect minds and bodies, susceptible to coercion, deception, and misunderstanding.
We all have our particular strengths, areas by which Satan always seems to fail in his efforts to sway us. But also have our weaknesses. And Satan does find them, exploit them, and sooner or later each one of us tastes of forbidden fruit and now stand condemned by the law that was supposed to have liberated us.
With all of the human race failing to attain perfection, we would be doomed as a whole to eternal damnation.
Romans 3:23- For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
Moses 6:55- And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter

Jesus’s Sacrifice Restores us to the Benefits of Justice Via Mercy

Except there was one man who didn’t break a single one of God’s laws. Jesus of Nazareth was the only human ever to walk a perfect life. I do not know how much of that was due to the extra dose of divinity that ran through his veins, or whether it was simply due to his personal nature. In either case, the fact is he was born a human, was therefore put under the same law of perfection, and he actually managed to fill that measure in its entirety.
While I do not know the reasons why, one requirement for being able to replace one law with another seems to be fulfilling the first. As the only one to manage that particular feat, Jesus was free to take the punishment for all of our failings on himself, supplant the demands of perfection, and grant us mercy instead.
Alma 34:14, 16- And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.
And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice.


Justice and Mercy- Matthew 7:2, 12

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

COMMENTARY

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law

We have discussed how the intervention of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice allows the demands of justice to be satiated in regards to our failures to follow’s God law. Which of course means we can be shown mercy, forgiveness, and all other blessings God has to bestow.
And that includes enjoying all of the positive sides of justice. Once we are no longer under fear of its punishment, then we see really it is a principle given for our own empowerment.
Following the golden rule is the right way to treat others, it is what God wants of us and it cultivates the best qualities in our soul. But even after all that, it also allows for justice to tip the scales in our favor. If we do unto others as we would wish to receive, then sooner or later we will receive that which we wish. We will knock and it will be answered, we will seek and we will find. If we forgive freely, then justice demands we be forgiven freely. If we look for the good in others, we will find the good in our selves as well. This is the side of justice God always meant to show to us. The justice of His mercy.

Sow and Then Reap- Question

My last study brought up the example of a farmer trying to grow a crop. I addressed this subject as it related to the topic of being patient while awaiting rewards for good works, but I feel this allegory has even more applications to our discipleship.

The image of farmers tirelessly working their fields day-after-day is one that each of us can relate to. Whether we are literally working for the food on our tables, or toiling through a time of affliction, or hoping to reap an elusive forgiveness, so many times we patiently exercise our faith for a long season before the harvest.

The way of the farmer teaches us both patience and faith. It inspires us to believe that our works really matter, and also humbles us to know that even so we still depend on grace. And hopefully by the end of this study these two truths won’t seem so contradictory as they might at first.

Before we get started with our study tomorrow, I’d love to hear what thoughts come up when you look at your life through the lens of the sower. In what ways have you had to do your own part? In what ways have you had to simply count on rain to come down from above? Did the yield meet your expectations? Or exceed them? Or fall short? Did you perhaps discover that the crop you ended up reaping was not the one you thought you were growing at all?

The Cup

He climbs, he crawls
He slips, he falls
The filth slides in his mouth
She pleads, she begs
Amidst life’s dregs
The bile to spit out

God save us, they plead
How we hurt, we bleed
The night on us descends
Take away this cup
And bind our wounds up
Or else our lives here end

And Christ fell on his face
As he felt their disgrace
And he call’d to Father above
Wilt Thou let this cup pass?
Yet I’ll do as thou asked
Then he drank to show us his love

God’s children beg, for mercy pray
While Jesus seeks another way
To give us mercy, forgiveness show,
God first must tell His own Son “no”
From each of us he takes the cup
Then asks his Son to drink it up

We shudder when we have our sip
But we’re not meant to taste all it
So come, dear one, and let us be free
For all was paid in Gethsemane