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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Build a New One

So your testimony is blown to smithereens.

It might have been temper. It might have been unchecked desire. Maybe you were seriously provoked. Or maybe you had the bad judgment to get involved with dishonest business partners and let things slide rather than stand up. You look back on it and say, “How did I miss that?” or “I should’ve known that was over the line”. It might be something in which you were minimally at fault but — as they say in politics these days — the optics are terrible.

The point is, you did something no Christian should do, and it’s gone really, really public.

You’re not the first person to claim to be a disciple of Christ and find yourself facing ritual humiliation for your sins. You probably won’t be the last. The problem is, you know the other guy did something much, much worse. It hurts when the rest of the world doesn’t understand that. It hurts when everyone has an opinion about what went on and nobody jumps to your defence.

The prophet Micah puts words in the mouth of the nation of Israel. He looks forward to a time when Israel, amid terrible persecution, will cry out to God in repentance for their own sins with a desperate plea for help.

Be assured God will answer. He will not forsake his own when they repent, no matter what we may have done:
“I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him,
    until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.
Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me,
    ‘Where is the Lord your God?’
My eyes will look upon her; now she will be trampled down like the
    mire of the streets.”
We live in a fallen world. Most of us cannot compete with the sins of Israel, but even Christians are not always guilt-free, especially since we have been sensitized to wrongdoing by the word of God, and are more likely to see our own behaviour in the worst possible light.

And we may be right. Sometimes we have to “bear the indignation of the Lord”, at least for a while.

Actions have consequences. Confession and repentance may not change the bad situations we have created for ourselves. They are unlikely to get us re-employed or un-divorced. They are not guaranteed to win back whatever respect we may have lost. They won’t always change how people we have alienated feel about us.

But confession and repentance — if they are genuine — and renewed fellowship with God will always change the way we look at those circumstances. The unrepentant sinner never says, “He will bring me out into the light”. The light is the last thing we want when we are trying to hide our own sins. But the man who is willing to own what he has done can hope for vindication.

The truly repentant believer doesn’t stack up his or her sins alongside those of others. He doesn’t say, “Yeah, but ...” He knows what he did and he waits for the Lord to execute judgment on his behalf. He doesn’t hide his sin or excuse it.

So your testimony is blown to smithereens. Build a new one.

It won’t be like those great stories you hear from the platform about how the Lord took someone out of a life of alcoholic barroom violence or off the streets and how, after a few initial struggles, they never looked back. More like, “I had a good thing going until I pretty much ripped it to shreds all by myself”.

Doesn’t matter. Build that “second-rate” testimony anyway.

Why? Because it’s wonderful that God can save. It’s even better that he can preserve. But best of all, he is always willing to restore. Listen to his promises to Israel:
“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you.”
If God can restore idolatrous Israel from “the uttermost parts of heaven”, he can certainly deal with my selfishness, pride or stupidity.

Who knows, there might be one or two of us who need to hear that.

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