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The Gospel Of The Second Chance

Acts 9:1-19

Three of my friends—Elicia Beasley, Theo Kaffenberger and Charlotte Selzer—unbeknownst to each other, have delivered to me a wonderful collection of bloopers which have actually appeared in church bulletins. Here’s a sampling from that collection:

  • The pastor is on vacation this week—massages can be given to the church secretary.
  • The Rev. Merriweather spoke briefly on Wednesday night, much to the delight of the congregation.
  • Eight new choir robes are needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
  • Our Outreach Committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
  • Due to the Pastor’s illness, Wednesday’s healing service will be discontinued until further notice.
  • The eighth graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in the church basement Friday at 7:00 P.M. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
  • Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
  • Wednesday night there will be a Potluck Supper in the Fellowship Hall. Prayer and medication will follow.
  • The third verse of “Blessed Assurance” will be sung without musical accomplishment.
  • The 1997 Women’s Council Retreat will be hell May 10 and 11.

You can bet that the folks responsible for those bloopers wish they had a second chance to put things right. We almost had a blooper like that in our bulletin today. If you look at the announcement page in your bulletin today, down where it lists the menu for Wednesday night, originally it read as follows: “Dinner will be Chicken Marco Polo or Poached Salmon with Dill Sauce. The kids have chicken fingers!” Well, I must admit that we have some wonderfully unusual kids in this church, but I have yet to see any of them who have chicken fingers. Fortunately, as you can see, we had a second chance with the bulletin and it enabled us to put things right.

All of this is a lighthearted reminder of a deep spiritual truth. Here it is: You and I must come to terms with the fact that we are human and fall short of God’s glory—all of us, every single person within the sound of my voice, me as well as you. But we’ve also got to come to terms with the fact that we believe in a God who never gives up on us. He knows that we are human. He knows better than we ourselves know that we are human. And yet, in spite of that, He calls us to give our lives to Him and to keep giving our lives to Him every time we stumble and fall, because He knows that in the long run He can change us. He can put things right in us. He can heal us and make us whole.

I know, wherever we turn these days we are being told that people cannot change. In “Peanuts,” Charlie Brown mentioned to Lucy that she was wearing her “crabby face” again. Lucy replied: “There’s nothing wrong with being crabby. I’m proud of being crabby! The crabby little girls of today are the crabby old women of tomorrow!” Later, Lucy does try to be nicer, but Peppermint Patty sees right through that and says: “You’ll never be able to change. You’ll always be crabby. You were born crabby and you’re going to stay crabby. Don’t think you’re going to change because you’re not!” Lucy responds with a sense of relief saying: “Suddenly, I feel very good!”

Well, give some persons an excuse to believe that people cannot change and that’s all they need. That’s why the most chilling words in the human language are these: “He will never change” or “She is a hopeless case.” If you want a blatant example of practical atheism, there you have it. To write people off as hopeless, as forever locked into their present state of behavior, is to write God off, to deny the power of Christ’s resurrection, and to treat the Gospel as a cute little fairy tale. To believe that we as human beings are so traumatized by our past or so paralyzed by our future that all we can do is write “case closed” across our lives—that is the ultimate affront to the God who made us.

But, dear friends, I would argue that too many people have been caught up for too long in the grip of that kind of false psychological determinism. The time has come for us to preach and to practice the potential for what I call “The Gospel of the Second Chance.” Persons can be changed by the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The lives and habits and purposes and behaviors have been and can be changed by the power of the faith we hold dear. No one, but no one, is beyond the reach of the transforming power of Jesus Christ. It may take place differently in different people, but the potential is always there. Nowhere is that truth more clearly defined than in the story found in Acts 9 of Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road.

Look at how the story begins in darkness: “Meanwhile, Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them, bound, to Jerusalem.” Here he is, like some ecclesiastical bounty hunter, headed toward Damascus in a spirit of darkness, filled with hatred and hostility, breathing threats and murder. But there comes a light—a light from heaven. It flashes about him. It scares the wits out of him.

He falls to the ground, trembling in fear. Suddenly, the voice of Jesus Christ thunders in his ears: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Why are you choosing the way of darkness in your life?” Saul stammers out the question: “But who are you, Lord?” The answer comes out of the light: “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting.”

If Paul was scared before, now he was really shaking in his boots. He knows he is about to get it in the neck. He braces himself, waiting for the ax to fall. But to his absolute astonishment, the ax doesn’t fall. Instead, Jesus says: “I want you on my team. I know the terrible things you’ve done in your life, but I want you on my side. I’m giving you a second chance. I forgive you. Come out of the darkness and into the light.” And right there, on the Damascus road, Paul stepped into the light. His whole life changed. From that moment on, everything he said or did or wrote traced its origins to that day when he grappled with his soul on the Damascus Road. And he remembered how Christ gave him that second chance and a new strength to win the battle.
Beloved, don’t fall for the lie being peddled in our society today that people can’t be changed. If Paul could be changed, anybody can be changed, everybody can be changed. God accepts us just as we are, yes, but God doesn’t leave us just as we are. Belief in Jesus Christ is transforming in its effects. It changes us. So let’s take a closer look at how it happened to Paul.

Notice first that Paul was confronted by the light of Jesus Christ.

There in the flashing light on the Damascus Road, Jesus got right into Paul’s face and cried: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Usually, change begins in confrontation. Most of you know the name C.S. Lewis. He was born 100 years ago this year, and today he is known as perhaps the most powerful Christian writer of this century. He was a brilliant thinker and writer before his conversion to Christianity, but he was negative and atheistic toward religion. Then everything changed. His conversion was no easy process. He describes it in his book Surprised by Joy, a book you ought to read if you haven’t already. Here are his words: “For the first time I examined myself with a practical purpose and there I found what appalled me: a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion … Then the reality with which no treaty can be made was upon me. The demand was not even ‘All of nothing.’ The demand was simply ‘All.’ You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen College (Oxford) night after night, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, feeling the steady, unrelenting approach of the God whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God and knelt and prayed; perhaps that night the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing—the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful and darting his eyes, in every direction for a chance of escape?

The words “compel people to come in” have been so abused by wicked people that we shudder at them; but properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of people, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

Dare to confront the compulsive claim of Jesus Christ upon your life and your life will be changed. It happened to Paul. It happened to C.S. Lewis. It can happen to you.

Of course, that’s my other point today. Notice that Paul was changed by the light of Jesus Christ.

The Bible tells us that Paul was blinded by the light of Jesus Christ, but in that blinding light he was given a second chance. A whole new world opened up for him. That is the true miracle that took place on that road when Saul became Paul. Not only was he given a new name, but he was given a new status and a new start. His new name symbolized a new reason and purpose for his living. He was changed by the light of Jesus Christ.

Let me tell you a little story to underscore this truth. Vonette and Bill Bright, directly and indirectly, have won more people to Jesus Christ than almost anyone else in our time. I am honored to serve as their pastor, but even more, I cherish the friendship which is ours. Last spring we traveled to California together for a meeting. We took a taxi from the Los Angeles airport to the hotel, a journey of some 45 minutes. I got in the front seat. Bill and Vonette got in the back seat and off we went. Our driver was named Cesar Flores. Now one of the things I most admire about Dr. Bright is that he relates to people of all circumstances just the same—and he shares the Gospel of Christ with equal passion and forthrightness with those who are prominent and those who are not so prominent. Well, our taxi driver fell into that latter category. No sooner had we pulled away from the airport than Bill Bright leaned up on the seat and very gently and winsomely began to inquire about the driver’s life—how long he had been driving a cab, how long he had been in the states, whether or not he had a family. In heavily accented English, the man replied. Then Dr. Bright asked if he was a Christian and attended church. The man hesitated a moment, then he said that he had been baptized a Catholic when he was a child, but he hadn’t been in a church since. As Cesar continued to drive us along the 405 expressway in Los Angeles, Bill Bright very simply and very beautifully began to talk to him about Jesus. Cesar became very quiet. After a few minutes, as Bill Bright continued to speak so winsomely of Jesus, I noticed tears begin to run down Cesar’s cheeks. I reached over and touched him on the shoulder and asked if he was all right. Never once taking his tear-filled eyes from the road, he said: “No one has ever talked to me like that before. I wish I could know this Jesus he is talking about, but it’s too late. I’m too far gone.” Dr. Bright immediately assured him that it was never too late, and then Dr. Bright said: “Cesar, Dr. Edington is sitting beside you and he is going to pray for you and with you to receive Christ. If you will join him in that prayer, your life will be changed.” Now mind you, we are in heavy traffic, hurtling down the 405, so I said: “Now Cesar, I am going to close my eyes and pray, but I want you to keep your eyes open and pray this prayer with me!” The 405 Expressway isn’t exactly the Damascus Road but it might as well have been, for something equally as powerful happened there. By the way, Bill Bright didn’t leave it there. I happen to know that later on he saw to it that that taxi driver had everything he needed to travel a new road with Jesus Christ in his life.

You see, there is never anyone who is beyond the reach of the transforming power of Jesus Christ. There is never a life which cannot be changed by Him. And it’s never too late, for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of the second chance.

Well…

The aisles of this church may not look much like a road, but for some of you here this morning, maybe a lot of you here this morning, it may be the very road that will bring about a change in you. It may be that on that road today you will be confronted by the Christ who humbles you and blinds you and ultimately changes you into everything He wants you to be.

It happened to Paul.
It happened to C.S. Lewis.
It happened to a taxi driver in Los Angeles.
It could happen to you …

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