January 17, 2010

Life’s Big Reset Button

Ever wish you could just hit a reset button with God? There are times in our lives when things spin out of control because we have gotten off track and we wish we could just punch that reset button and start all over again. As it turns out, in some ways we can. One of the amazing things about repenting and seeking God.s grace and forgiveness is that, while they don.t erase all of our problems and instantly make us perfect, they can bring us back to a blank slate with God; a slate primed with hope of future blessing; a slate buzzing with the exciting potential of a second chance. For repentance brings a second chance. How many of you have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I love that movie. Now there was a guy who got to hit the reset button. Every day he woke up and it was the same day. The same things happened every day unless he changed them. He had a chance to make right all of the mistakes he made the day before and to figure out a lot of things about himself. You know, during that three day, three night stint in the belly of the fish, Jonah probably had some time to figure out a lot of things about himself too. I mean, there.s not a lot you can do other than think while you.re in the belly of a giant fish. And I suspect he didn.t spend the full three days composing psalms in his head. He had time to think about God.s call and his response. He had time to dwell on the trouble he had caused the sailors and their kindness to him. For the occasions when he dozed off he no doubt dreamed about the waters raging around him, threatening to overtake him. He might have woken up screaming once or twice. But at some point he reached the bottom, as we talked about last week. He reached a place where he could genuinely repent of his failings, and when he did God delivered him up from the belly of the fish. This brings us to the third chapter of our story—turn there now with me if you would. The third chapter, you see, is where everything seems to start over.

Speaking of that, have you ever wished you could just hit a reset button with God? There are times in our lives when things spin out of control because we have gotten off track and we wish we could just punch that reset button and start all over again. As it turns out, in some ways we can. One of the amazing things about repenting and seeking God.s grace and forgiveness is that, while they don.t erase all of our problems and instantly make us perfect, they can bring us back to a blank slate with God; a slate primed with hope of future blessing; a slate buzzing with the exciting potential of a second chance. For repentance brings a second chance. How many of you have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I love that movie. Now there was a guy who got to hit the reset button. It was a good thing too because Murray.s character in the movie is a jerk when the movie starts. He thinks he.s better than everyone around him and wishes he could be anywhere other than the po-dunk town he.s in to cover the February 2nd appearance of Punxsutawney Phil. Like Jonah he was set to run to the other side of the world when a blizzard stopped him in his tracks. And then he woke up in the worst place he could imagine: Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Over and over and over again. Perhaps Jonah had that feeling by the third day he was inside of the fish. Just as fate was conspiring to force Murray to relive the same day over and over until he finally got it, God was giving Jonah a chance to get it. Perhaps he finally did come to the place of saying, “Whether I live or die in here, God I.m sorry I disobeyed You.” Whatever actually transpired in Jonah.s mind while he was inside of the fish, we know that on the third day God had the fish vomit Jonah on the seashore. I wonder if he told anybody about what he had experienced. That fish tale would have been hard to believe even among other tellers of fish tales. The key, though, is that Jonah finally came to the point of repentance. And repentance brings a second chance. In fact, this passage tells not only of Jonah.s second chance, but also of an entire city receiving a second chance.

And thinking about second chances, have you ever wished you could just hit a reset button with God? There are times in our lives when things spin out of control because we have gotten off track and we wish we could just punch that reset button and start all over again. As it turns out, in some ways we can. One of the amazing things about repenting and seeking God.s grace and forgiveness is that, while they don.t erase all of our problems and instantly make us perfect, they can bring us back to a blank slate with God; a slate primed with hope of future blessing; a slate buzzing with the exciting potential of a second chance. For repentance brings a second chance. How many of you have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I love that movie. Now there was a guy who got to hit the reset button. Kind of like Jonah got to do with God. Listen to how his second chance started in 3:1: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: „Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you..” For those of you keeping score, that.s almost exactly how the book started. Jonah.s second mission from God is eerily similar to his first…in fact they.re nearly identical. This is the completeness of God.s grace. When we hit the reset button with God through repenting of our past failings those things are gone as far as He is concerned. God doesn.t hold a grudge. God doesn.t make us sit through a trial period. He throws us right in the deep end…so to speak…if we are willing to be faithful. Think about how this might have played out in most churches today. The church decides to start a new outreach ministry to the at-risk community a couple neighborhoods over from the church building. After much prayer they feel that God has prepared a certain young woman to lead the project. This woman has been in the church for many years and has successfully led some powerful in-house ministries. Now the leaders of the body want to give her the chance to do some work out in the community. With much fanfare they present her this opportunity. The next week, though, she isn.t at church. They call, wondering where she is, but can.t get her. Trips to her house turn up fruitless. In fact, nobody sees her at all until one of the deacons runs into her at the grocery store six months later. When she finally has a break down moment and comes back to church, the leaders probably aren.t going to jump at the opportunity to give her a big ministry assignment any time soon, let alone the same one. Yet here we find Jonah receiving the exact same call he received before. Fortunately, this time, with the weight of experience behind him, he responds like he should have the first time. Verse three: “So Jonah got up and went to Nineveh according to the Lord.s command.” Jonah had repented in the belly of the fish and he got a second chance. Praise the Lord that repentance brings a second chance. It.s like Jonah reset everything back to square one and got a fresh start.

Ever wish you could just hit a reset button with God? There are times in our lives when things spin out of control because we have gotten off track and we wish we could just punch that reset button and start all over again. As it turns out, in some ways we can. One of the amazing things about repenting and seeking God.s grace and forgiveness is that, while they don.t erase all of our problems and instantly make us perfect, they can bring us back to a blank slate with God; a slate primed with hope of future blessing; a slate buzzing with the exciting potential of a second chance. For repentance brings a second chance. How many of you have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I love that movie. Now there was a guy who got to hit the reset button. When God graciously allowed Jonah to hit the reset button with Him, he went directly to Nineveh and didn.t pass go. But that didn.t mean everything was magically hunky-dory. Jonah includes a side comment here on the size of the city: “Now Nineveh was an extremely large city, a three-day walk.” In other words, this was a big place. I have to think this would have been a bit overwhelming for Jonah. I suspect as he got closer to town he started grumbling to himself. “Why did God send me to this place? They are not going to listen to me. There.s no way I.m going to be able to warn everybody. I.m just going to go in a ways, tell them what.s coming, and then hope I get out with all my limbs still attached.” Now hold on a minute, Jonah.s preaching saved an entire city from destruction. Aren.t I being a bit hard on him? Well, look closely at the text with me. The Hebrew used in v. 2 suggests that the message God sends him to proclaim is not only one of judgment on the Ninevites, but also of hope. In fact, when the Old Testament was first translated from Hebrew into Greek, the word the translators chose here was kerygma which is the same word used to describe what the disciples preached about Jesus in Acts. It was a message of the judgment of sin but also of the hope of salvation. In other words, Jonah was to preach gloom, doom, and hope. Look at v. 4: “Jonah set out on the first day of his walk in the city and proclaimed, „In 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown!.” That.s it. That.s all the record we have of his preaching. He went one day into a city that required three days to cross, told them they were all going to die in 40 days, and then walked out to sit and watch the fireworks. Clearly all Jonah.s issues with this people and his assignment from God are not resolved. And yet with a truly mustard seed-sized faith he sort of follows through on what God told him to do. As a matter of fact, repentance doesn.t mean all of our issues are resolved. It means we have given ourselves fully to God for Him to make right which happens over time and with experience. In the act of repenting we turn ourselves over to God including that part of ourselves which was holding us back from Him. When we then start fresh it is without whatever it was. Whether or not we add it back later is another issue. Repenting and being accepted by God doesn.t mean we.re perfect. It doesn.t mean we don.t still have a long way to go. Jonah clearly did. Repentance means God has graciously hit the reset button for us thanks to our accepting of the work Christ did on our behalf. It means we are clean in His sight once again. Repentance brings a second chance.

Speaking of that, did you ever wish you could just hit a reset button with God? There are times in our lives when things spin out of control because we have gotten off track and we wish we could just punch that reset button and start all over again. As it turns out, in some ways we can. One of the amazing things about repenting and seeking God.s grace and forgiveness is that, while they don.t erase all of our problems and instantly make us perfect, they can bring us back to a blank slate with God; a slate primed with hope of future blessing; a slate buzzing with the exciting potential of a second chance. For repentance brings a second chance. How many of you have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I love that movie. Now there was a guy who got to hit the reset button. I think I might have mentioned before that his character needed a reset. You know who else needed a reset button? Nineveh. The Assyrian people worshiped a host of different gods and goddesses, none of them the One True God. On top of that, they were a brutal, violent, bloodthirsty people as far as the historical record goes. There were superpowers of the ancient world like the Babylonians who were interested in promoting their culture in the foreign places they captured, and then there were the Assyrians who just killed everybody and moved in new people from places they had for whatever reason decided not to kill everybody. The Assyrians, led by the city of Nineveh, were so bad God sent another prophet, Nahum, years later to predict a pretty graphic and violent end for this violent people. This was a warlike people who would have had no reason to listen to this single prophet from their distant, puny neighbor, who as a people weren.t even all that faithful to their own God. Yet who knows what God will do when we respond to Him obediently. In this case, Jonah gave God a modicum of begrudging obedience and look what happened in v. 5: “The [people] of Nineveh believed in God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth—from the greatest of them to the least.” All Jonah said was, “You.re all going to die in 40 days,” and the whole city believed him. They believed him and the entire city participated in this incredible demonstration of repentance, from the greatest to the least of them. Yes, if you look very hard you.ll find various scholars and critics, both sympathetic and antagonistic offering cultural and historical and astronomical and social reasons why this entire city would drop to their knees before God on the word of this puny prophet, but all reasons from the realm of science aside, this was something God did. It is certainly God who accepts our repentance, but He is also the one who enables us to come to a place of desiring repentance. You see, God is just and as a result He punishes sinfulness justly, but He is also love and quickly shows mercy to those who earnestly seek it. The people of Nineveh, when faced with the reality of their sinful lifestyle, demonstrated with great earnestness a desire to repent and put themselves on the right track with Israel.s God, the One True God.

In the same way, have you ever wished you could just hit a reset button with God? There are times in our lives when things spin out of control because we have gotten off track and we wish we could just punch that reset button and start all over again. As it turns out, in some ways we can. One of the amazing things about repenting and seeking God.s grace and forgiveness is that, while they don.t erase all of our problems and instantly make us perfect, they can bring us back to a blank slate with God; a slate primed with hope of future blessing; a slate buzzing with the exciting potential of a second chance. For repentance brings a second chance. How many of you have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I love that movie. Now there was a guy who got to hit the reset button. And it was him that needed to hit the button. No one could have done it for him. His producer and cameraman were great. They were light-hearted and kind and willing to show others the benefit of the doubt. Yet as a team, they left a sour taste in the mouths of the townsfolk on the day they arrived because Murray was such a jerk. You see, problems in any sort of a team or an organization can almost always be traced back to the leader. In the situation of Nineveh, the king had to lead the way in the spirit of repentance sweeping over his people if this reset was really going to take. Without his consent and leadership, the popular repentance movement in hopes of a second chance would have fizzled out fairly quickly and quietly. As it turns out, however, he was just as moved by Jonah.s message of judgment as the rest of the people were. Look at v. 6 and following with me: “When word reached the king of Nineveh, he got us from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” By the way, those were all distinctly Israelites ways of showing grief and repentance. Continuing: “Then he issued a decree in Nineveh: By order of the king and his nobles: No man or beast, herd or flock, is to taste anything at all. They must not eat or drink water. Furthermore, both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth, and everyone must call out earnestly to God. Each must turn from his evil ways and from the violence he is doing.” This was a full scale repentance of the people of Nineveh from the king all the way down to beast in the field. Now, of course the cows couldn.t really repent, but the king wanted complete solidarity from his kingdom. They certainly covered all the external bases of repentance: they fasted and they demonstrated that they were mourning over their past transgressions by sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But the text indicates that this repentance went more than just skin deep. They cried out to God as a whole people, certainly to beg His forgiveness. They also turned from their evil ways and from the violence they were doing. This was perhaps the most important thing they did. The Hebrew word for repentance carries the basic meaning of turning away from something to face another. The people were to turn from their evil ways to the righteous ways of God. Without this internal heart decision there is no repentance. Repentance brings a second chance, but not if it goes only skin deep. Let.s say I stole a tool from you. Eventually I came and apologized for it, but didn.t bring it back or buy you a new one and in fact stole another tool from you when I went home. Was there any repentance here? Of course not! Simply saying “I.m sorry” to God but not changing anything about our life is meaningless. The people of Nineveh knew this. From their response to Jonah.s preaching they demonstrated that they didn.t just want to avoid destruction, they wanted an entirely fresh start.

Have you ever wished you could just hit a reset button with God? There are times in our lives when things spin out of control because we have gotten off track and we wish we could just punch that reset button and start all over again. As it turns out, in some ways we can. One of the amazing things about repenting and seeking God.s grace and forgiveness is that, while they don.t erase all of our problems and instantly make us perfect, they can bring us back to a blank slate with God; a slate primed with hope of future blessing; a slate buzzing with the exciting potential of a second chance. For repentance brings a second chance. How many of you have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I love that movie. Now there was a guy who got to hit the reset button. Yet does reaching for that button automatically mean repentance is accepted? Doesn.t asking for forgiveness and repenting mean God has to accept us? No. That would make God kind of like a vending machine. Put in the right amount of sincerity and out pops our get-out-of-Hell-free card. That would put us in control of God. The king of Nineveh rightly recognizes that no one is in control of God. From v. 9: “Who knows? God may turn and relent; He may turn from His burning anger so that we will not perish.” Now, we may want to react in shock to this statement. Of course God accepts us when we repent! That.s what Jesus died to ensure. Yet the king of Nineveh demonstrates some real insight into God.s character here. God doesn.t have to accept us. Sending Jesus didn.t back Him into a corner. Repentance brings a second chance, but that second chance comes thanks to grace. God, in His great mercy is gracious to accept us when we truly turn back to Him from the things of this world. In the same way, God responded to the genuine repentance of the Ninevites. Look at v. 10: “Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways [actions in this case revealed the state of their hearts]—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it.” Now did this mean either that Jonah was a false prophet or that God didn.t know what was going to happen? No. It means that God in His great mercy responded to the heartfelt turning to Him on the part of the Ninevites. There is a tension here, to be sure, but it is a tension that marks our entire relationship with Him and won.t be resolved until we see Him face to face. And protests that God wasted His time with this people are themselves wasted. We know the historical and theological end of the Assyrians, but that was a generation or two removed from this people. If even one of these people remained faithful to God, then His efforts were not wasted. We can.t game God. We can.t pull a fast one on Him. He doesn.t have cracks for people to slip through. They received a second chance because they repented and God in His wisdom and grace accepted it and them as genuine. Repentance brings a second chance.

Thinking about that, have you ever wished you could just hit a reset button with God? There are times in our lives when things spin out of control because we have gotten off track and we wish we could just punch that reset button and start all over again. As it turns out, in some ways we can. One of the amazing things about repenting and seeking God.s grace and forgiveness is that, while they don.t erase all of our problems and instantly make us perfect, they can bring us back to a blank slate with God; a slate primed with hope of future blessing; a slate buzzing with the exciting potential of a second chance. For repentance brings a second chance. How many of you have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? I love that movie. Now there was a guy who got to hit the reset button. Okay, so really it was hit for him, but either way, things finally stopped starting over when he finally learned to love others more than he loved himself. When he learned that he wasn.t the measure of all things and started giving himself more to the people around him, his reset button got hit for the last time on that day and the first time on the rest of his life. In the same way when we, like the people of Nineveh, humble ourselves and turn from any sinful ways we are pursuing in favor of the righteous ways of the kingdom of God—in other words, when we repent—God will respond with the amazing grace of a second chance. Or a third chance. Or a millionth. This morning, if you find yourself in the place of looking up at the ways of God from the bottom of life, reach out with arms of repentance. Thanks to the work of Christ, we know that when we reach, God will graciously reach back. Repentance brings a second chance.