This is the third message in a series on the experiences of grace from which I have learned and grown in my relationship with God. I pray that the Holy Spirit will stir your hearts about your own relationship to God through these messages.
I was born to a Christian family, educated in Christian schools from first grade through university, married to a Christian spouse, and employed in Christian service right out of law school. With a resume’ like that who needs grace?
What happens if we make the wrong choices, succumb to temptation, or make a mistake or misjudgment? In other words, what do we do when we prove to be human–sinners who fall short of the glory of God? Try harder?
It is humiliating to find out we can’t fix what we’ve broken. Some of us never stop trying. We live like “dry drunks”– gritting our teeth, clenching our fists, angry and frustrated, making others miserable in our self-absorbed struggle for a perfection that eludes us.
Others give up and say “Even if there is a God, we could never please him. So why make ourselves miserable trying? Let’s do whatever we want to do for as long as we can and let nature take its course.” When doing whatever we want bumps us up against someone else doing whatever they want or our demands exceed supply, someone is going to be hurt. What then?
Our hearts are riven between what we ought to do and what we want to do. The Apostle Paul’s plaintive cry speaks for all of us who have failed to complete the “to do” list whether from exhaustion or neglect — “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24). We need relief beyond the limits of our human capabilities and strong enough to deal with the shameful wreckage of our colossal failures in which we are trapped.
Finally, Jesus Christ enters our minds darkened by self-obsession and hearts hardened with scar tissue from disappointment and denial of painful reality. Paul’s cry turns to a shout of grateful relief, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 7:25, 8:1-2).
Jesus Christ arrives with grace, not condemnation. He is the God of the second chance and I, for one, weary, baffled and defeated, need him.
Some people asked Jesus if a group of Galileans who were slaughtered by the order of the Roman governor Pilate suffered this fate because they were worse sinners than other people. Jesus’ responded that tragedy could not be explained by the sinfulness of the victims. He said, “But if you don’t turn to God and change the way that you think and act, then you, too, will all die” meaning die without hope and assurance of eternal life (Luke 13:1-5).
Jesus then told a story to illustrate that God, in his sovereign grace, offers all of us a second chance.
?A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. He went to look for fruit on the tree but didn?t find any. He said to the gardener, ?For the last three years I?ve come to look for figs on this fig tree but haven?t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up good soil??
?The gardener replied, ?Sir, let it stand for one more year. I?ll dig around it and fertilize it. Maybe next year it?ll have figs. But if not, then cut it down” (God’s Word Tr).
The grace of the second chance is the expression of the heart of the Lord who “is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).
In my junior year of high school, I participated in a dishonest prank that threatened one of the hallowed traditions of the private church academy where I was enrolled. The faculty debated my discipline in eight hours of intense meetings over three days. Some of the faculty and staff thought I was worthy of redemption and argued to give me a second chance. Others felt I was a bad influence, insubordinate and a sneak who deserved to be made an example to the student body. I was ashamed and afraid. Those who wanted the harshest punishment prevailed.
I was standing in the hall of the administration building when the last meeting ended. A young English teacher, Mr. Walls, came out the door first. He strode down the hall to me. He put his arm around my neck and pulled my head tight against his shoulder. He whispered a rather colorful word of encouragement. He then walked quickly out the door to his ’69 Chevy Camaro. When he drove away he burned rubber down a half-block of driveway.
The next year, Mr. Walls sought me out before the school year started. He was the adviser to the student newspaper. “I want you to be the editor,” he said.
“Me?” I asked, amazed.
“Yes, you. Pick a staff and let’s get started.” That’s all he said, but it was enough. When some of the faculty criticized his choice, Mr. Walls and the new principal stood their ground and sheltered me. It gave me a fresh start and led to a happy, successful senior year. It taught me a lesson in the grace of the second chance.
Years later, I was a young attorney with a big corporate client. Some of the most important employees and officers of my client proposed a scheme whereby they would manage an important asset of the corporation without disclosure of the profits and losses to the board. I wrote an opinion letter disapproving the transaction in strong terms, warning the board that it had a fiduciary obligation to keep informed and maintain oversight of the corporate assets and operations. The powerful leader of the group making the proposal stood before the board and ridiculed me. “I don’t know why I need to defend myself to our own attorney. He just doesn’t get it,” he said at the end of his remarks. The board voted and my position was rejected.
Emboldened, the same group sought my ouster as corporate counsel. “He’s too cocky.” “He really doesn’t understand what we need to do.” These were some of the milder criticisms. The president of the corporation took a lot of heat but he supported my retention. Then he announced his retirement and I lost my protector. The new president had a chance to pick his own counsel and was expected to do so. The corporation was an important client of my law firm. The loss of its business would be a career-limiting event for me.
The new president called and invited me to lunch. It was a week before he took office. “This is it,” I thought.
He came by himself and picked me up at my office. He took me to lunch at a nice restaurant. We talked about his plans for the future and about baseball which we both love. At the end of the meal, he leaned over the table and looked me in the eye. “I know what they are saying about you,” he said, “but I want you to know that you are my attorney.” He shook my hand to seal the deal and never mentioned it again. The group of critics soon left the corporation. My professional career is anchored in that moment of the second chance.
Years later, I was part of a legal team for the same corporation that advised a high-risk strategy in defense of a lawsuit. Although the case was not lost, the initial strategy failed under withering criticism from an appellate court that complained of overzealous advocacy. It was my responsibility to give a legal affairs report to the corporate board each meeting. I decided to tell the board members what had happened without excuse. They usually heard news of success from me. They depended on my word for guidance. I could not stint on the bad news and expect to maintain credibility.
I told them what had happened. “We are officers of the court,” I said. We take your representation as an honorable organization seriously. Speaking for myself and my colleagues, we are chagrined to have brought this criticism upon you. You have our apology. Are there any questions.”
The room was silent. I looked out at the board members, many of whom were friends and mentors to me. They often expressed pride in my successes and accomplishments. “What will they think of me now?” I wondered with dread.
I took my seat in the quiet. The chairperson went to the next item on the agenda.
Then a surprising thing happened. A board member stood up on the other side of the room. He is a wealthy businessman and philanthropist known for his blunt speech and tough questioning. He had served as a director for many years. He walked around his colleagues and across the spacious board room. He came to where I was seated and stopped. He put his hand on my shoulder. There he stood beside me for the rest of the meeting until adjournment. He walked out of the room beside me. He never said a word. He didn’t have to speak. The grace of the second chance needs no words.
I don’t know about you, but I am the non-producing fig tree in Jesus’ story. I have failed expectations and blown many first chances. The grace of the second chance has been extended to me far more times than the brief examples I described here. I’ve come to know every day I wake up is a second chance.
Receiving a second chance is devastating to my pride. It announces, “I’m not in control. I need a second chance and someone else has to give it to me.”
A second chance requires me to just stand there while someone prunes me back and fertilizes me. Sometimes I have to stand in some pretty stinky stuff to enable new life and growth. I am grateful for every one of my second chances, and most of all, I am thankful for the risen Lord of the second chance.
Jesus Christ is our second chance. That’s why he is called, “Savior.” He does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. There is no formula for accessing his grace, no point system to earn his redemption. All that’s required is an honest confession of your need to a waiting Savior. He does the rest.
Child of grace, do you need a second chance? Is the ground that you started on, that you thought was so stable under you, now dug up and turned over? Are you standing in “stinky” stuff waiting for a second chance to bear fruit? The Gardener of your life knows your faults and inadequacy and he loves you as you are. He offers you the power of his grace and the strength of his life to enable you to come back to the life he created you to live. He desires you to yield the fruit that you were made to produce.
Others may be telling you, “It’s too late. There is nothing to be done but cut you down and replace you with someone useful.” They speak to you of death.
The Gardener speaks to you of life. He gently explains, “Here is an opportunity for growth. Let’s see what happens if we give your roots some space to breathe and spread some nourishment for them to support new life. This is a “from-the-ground-up” proposition and real growth and patience is necessary to realize the promise.
I will testify to you of my personal knowledge that if you accept the truth of the Gardener’s offer, you have a second chance waiting for you in Jesus Christ and you will be on your way to fulfillment of that chance in eternal love and life.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who seek refuge in him.” (Ps. 34:8)
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.