Thursday, July 16, 2009

The God of Restoration

The God of Restoration
As you read through the Old Testament, especially the books that deal with the history of Judah and Israel you can clearly see the heart of God for his people. Many people think that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament. They see him in the OT as a vindictive God who kills and destroys lives while they see the God of the NT as one of grace and peace. God has not changed; he is the same yesterday, today and forever. His character and nature have not morphed into a big teddy bear god who loves and forgives everyone whether they repent or not. He is still of God of holiness and justice and he holds each one of us accountable for our actions. The image of God has been distorted by people who want to create God in their image and likeness so they can feel good about the lifestyle they have chosen to adopt or a specific sin that they do not want to give up. We need to be conformed to God’s image and likeness and not vice versa. We need a clear picture of God so we can worship and honor Him in spirit and in truth. Tonight I want to look at one aspect of God that is revealed throughout the OT and NT and that is He is a God of restoration.
One of the clearest examples of His desire to bring restoration is seen in the life of Manasseh. Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah. He was conceived during the 15 year extension of life the Lord gave Hezekiah after he cried out to the Lord that his life be spared from the sickness that was going to kill him. God had mercy on Hezekiah and gave him more time to live and also gave him the joy of having another child during these final years of his life. I do not know what kind of father Hezekiah was but he was a man who sought after God and brought reforms to the people. He cleansed the land of idols and reestablished the priesthood with the sacrifices in the temple along with worship (2 Chron. 31). 2 Chron. 31:20-21 recaps his life with these words, “Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered.” Hezekiah was not a perfect father because there came a time when his heart was filled with pride because of the greatness of the blessings God had given him, but he did humble himself and God delayed punishment.
His son Manasseh was a different story. He was not like his father but was one of the most wicked kings of Judah. 1 Kings 21:1-10 describes his wickedness.
New king of Judah: Manasseh
His age at the beginning of his reign: 12 years old
Length of reign: 55 years, in Jerusalem
Mother’s name: Hephzibah
Character of his reign: evil; he did the same things the nations had done that were thrown out of the land to make room for the people of Israel
3-5He rebuilt the hilltop shrines that his father Hezekiah had destroyed. He built altars for Baal and made a shameful Asherah idol, just as Ahab the king of Israel had done. Heathen altars to the sun god, moon god, and the gods of the stars were placed even in the Temple of the Lord—in the very city and building that the Lord had selected to honor his own name. 6And he sacrificed one of his sons as a burnt offering on a heathen altar. He practiced black magic and used fortune-telling, and patronized mediums and wizards. So the Lord was very angry, for Manasseh was an evil man, in God’s sight. 7Manasseh even set up a shameful Asherah idol in the Temple—the very place that the Lord had spoken to David and Solomon about when he said, “I will place my name forever in this Temple, and in Jerusalem—the city I have chosen from among all the cities of the tribes of Israel. 8If the people of Israel will only follow the instructions I gave them through Moses, I will never again expel them from this land of their fathers.”
9But the people did not listen to the Lord, and Manasseh enticed them to do even more evil than the surrounding nations had done, even though Jehovah had destroyed those nations for their evil ways when the people of Israel entered the land.

Hezekiah was dead when Manasseh was appointed king when he was12 years old. The godly influence of his father was not there to help direct his life. Perhaps he had a lot of evil people influencing his decisions but nonetheless he became a very evil and wicked king and God had to bring judgment upon him. God’s judgment upon Manasseh and Judah was just. Whenever God brings judgment it is not without warning or opportunity to repent. He sent prophets to warn Manasseh but he did not listen. Finally judgment fell and he was carried off to Babylon with hooks through his nose and fetters on his feet. How humiliating that must have been for him. During this time of captivity among the Assyrians Manasseh realized what he had done and he greatly humbled himself and repented. God heard his supplications and restored him to Jerusalem as king. Manasseh made an about face and destroyed the idols, the foreign gods, the altars of sacrifice to the gods and restored the altars of sacrifice in the temple. It was a dramatic change in his life and a dramatic demonstration of God’s desire to restore us when we humble ourselves and repent of our evil ways. God could have left Manasseh in Babylon, he certainly did enough damage and evil that God would have been justified in leaving him there. Yet God is a God of restoration. He is longing for people to humble themselves and repent so he can restore them into the relationship he desires to have with them. He is a God of wrath but He is also a God of restoration when are hearts are right before him. God wants to bless his people. He is a loving Father who always wants to give what is best for us but we hinder and block the reception by living lives outside of his will in disobedience to his word. We may not immediately receive the full brunt of his wrath because of his mercy and long suffering that causes him to delay it with the hope that we will repent and return to him so he can restore us. This is the image of God that the world needs to see, a God who desires to bless us and restore us to the relationship that he longs for and waits for as we humble ourselves. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins mentioned in Proverbs. Pride is what caused Hezekiah to fall and pride is what caused Manasseh to fall. He would not humble himself and turn from his wicked ways in spite of the warning he received. We all have the same tendency in our lives to ignore what the Scriptures clearly tell us not to do. In our pride we think we are different and we think we can handle it or that we will not be affected by our disobedience. You cannot play with fire and not get burned. You cannot bypass a road block and not suffer the consequences. Our pride causes us to think we know better and that the rule does not apply to us. We set ourselves up for a fall and if we do not repent we will suffer. God patiently waits for us to come to our senses so he can restore us to himself and bless our lives.
I was talking to a Pastor recently who was trying to resolve a serious problem between two members of his church. One of the young ladies who was going through premarriage counseling revealed to him that one of the leaders of the children in the church had violated her when she was 8 years old and he was 16. He did not do this one time but numerous times. She never revealed this to anyone but it all came to light in the counseling session. When the now married man with a child was confronted about the issue he immediately denied ever having done it. I sat in on the confrontation meeting with him and my immediate sense in my spirit was that he was filled with pride and was unwilling to admit any wrong doing because he had too much to lose. He offered to submit himself to disciplinary procedures by the church leadership but was not willing to admit he did anything wrong. He was willing to be disciplined for something he would not admit that he did which to me is pretty strange. Why would you want to be punished for something you did not do? It was obvious to me that he did not want to humble himself and make things right with this girl, who had forgiven him and had no reason to falsely accuse him, and get his heart right with God. What he did was shameful but what he is now doing is worse because he will not seek forgiveness from his heart for the wrongs he has committed and he is hindering his life from being blessed by the Lord. His pride will not allow him to admit he is wrong probably because he does not want to suffer the consequence of his admission. The sad part is that he is already suffering for his unwillingness to ask for forgiveness and he cannot be placed in a leadership role in the church with this hanging over his head. I think of the humiliation that Manasseh went through being led off to a foreign country like an animal and I wonder what it will take to bring this young man to the point of repentance so he can be restored. God eagerly awaits for him to humble himself so he can be restored. It does not matter what you have done, how evil it was, whatever we do probably is not anything compared to what Manasseh did in his life but the message God wants to communicate is that he will restore us, he wants to restore us and he waits for us to humble ourselves before him.
Someone once said the three greatest words you can say to keep your marriage relationship in tact are, “I AM SORRY.” These are not flippant words but are words that express humility and willingness to admit you were wrong and that you wronged someone else by your attitude and actions. It does not apply when our attitude is one that says, “I am sorry I got caught.” Or “I am sorry because I am paying a price for my actions.” But is it the true expression of someone who is sorry because they have been convicted of their sin and they admit it and take responsibility for what they have done. These words spoken in humility open the door for restoration to begin in the relationship.
One of the reasons we do not say these three words is that we have a self-righteous attitude. We truly think we are right in our actions or responses to someone. We are right and they are wrong and we are not going to humble ourselves and admit our part in the problem. We hold on to our pride and self-righteousness and hinder any kind of restoration from taking place. We practice avoidance of these people, we shut them out of our life and we feel very justified in what we are doing. Meanwhile the separation gets wider and the hurt or resentment grows deeper and it becomes even more difficult to bring restoration to the relationship. Sadly some people live their entire lives with these unresolved issues and seem to be content with acceptance of the unchangeable status of the relationship.
I am glad that God is not like that. He wants restoration, he is not content to keep things between us but has made provision for us to be able to come to him and receive forgiveness for our offenses against him. He does not reject us when we approach him but welcomes us because he values the relationship. He is a God of restoration and he has gone to great lengths to enable restoration to take place in our relationship to him. The story of the Prodigal Son clearly demonstrates the heart of a father for a lost and wayward son who made horrible choices and decisions yet when he returned home with a repentant heart he was robed, ringed and restored to sonship. David wrote in Psalms 51:17; “A humble and contrite heart you will not reject.” This is what God is willing to do for us. Are we willing to do the same for people who have wronged us or whom we have wronged? In order for reconciliation to take place someone needs to take the first step.
In the story, “Peace child” two tribes in Papua, New Guinea were warring against each other for wrongs that both had suffered at the hands of each other. Don Richardson and his wife lived among one of the warring tribes and witnessed the tremendous suffering that the people experienced not only in the physical injuries that happened in the battles but also the tremendous fear they live it as they constantly had to be prepared for the attack of the enemy. There was no peace in their minds. The warring went on for an extended time and finally the Richardson’s told the tribe that they would have to leave unless something was done to restore peace between the tribes. The leader of the tribe realized they were serious and he also realized how much they needed the Richardsons in their community as they had done many things to make their lives better and healthier. The only solution to bring peace between the tribes was through the offering of the peace child to the other tribe. This meant that the leader of one tribe had to give up his baby to the other tribe and allow them to raise the child. As long as they had this child there could be no war between the tribes. It was a tremendous price to pay but the leader was willing to do it. Relationships were restored as a result and peace ruled between the tribes.
We have to be willing to be peacemakers, people who want restoration of relationships more than being right. Often times misunderstandings cause the breaking of relationships or they keep people from even considering restoration. Our approach to people who have been at odds with us can often be met with greater acceptance if we come to them to ask forgiveness for the actions and words we have spoken against them even though they may have been guilty of doing many things against us. We have to be willing to take the first step toward reconciliation and restoration. We have to be the ones to go and begin the process by humbling ourselves, not approaching others with accusations but with a desire to restore a broken relationship. The story of David and Absalom is an example of what happens when a relationship that went wrong is not made right. Absalom was guilty of killing his step brother for violating his sister Tamar. He fled from Jerusalem as was not permitted to see his father David. This separation went on for three years until Absalom made the first step toward restoration of his relationship with his father. David did not seem very interested in bringing Absalom back and surely he had justification. But one day Joab, David’s military commander sent a woman to make an appeal to David by speaking a made up story that was a reflection of the relationship between David and Absalom (2 Sam. 14:1-24). The woman claimed to be a widow. Her sons got into a fight and one killed the other. The people in the community wanted to put her only son to death and she was appealing to the king that this not happen because it would leave her without descendants and the name of her husband would be snuffed out. David responded favorably to her appeal and said he would issue an order on her behalf to prevent her son from being killed and she would also be protected along with the rest of her family. The woman was not done talking to David. She was now going to address the problem that existed between David and Absalom.
13 So the woman said: “Why then have you schemed such a thing against the people of God? For the king speaks this thing as one who is guilty, in that the king does not bring his banished one home again. 14 For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him.

This statement truly reflects the heart of God who he seeks to restore those who have been driven away from him by their sin. God does not delight in seeing people banished from his presence he desires restoration of all broken relationships.

David allowed Absalom to come back but he did not see his face. He alienated himself from Absalom and the relationship never mended. Absalom eventually tried to overthrow his father and led a coup that resulted in his death. David mourned greatly the loss of his alienated son and I wonder how often he thought about what he perhaps could have or should have done to try to mend the relationship.
Paul in his letter to the Galatians church encouraged the church to restore the one who had fallen into sin.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Gal. 6:1-2
If we truly are spiritual people we will have a heart that desires to restore one who has fallen. We will not be content to see them alienated from others. The word “restore” in its original meaning was used to describe setting of a bone that has been broken. It has to be done gently so that there is no more damage done. I have had only one broken bone, my collar bone, and in order to set it correctly so it would heal properly I had to have surgery. I was asleep during the operation that inserted a 6 inch screw into my shoulder and connected the two parts of the bone that were out of alignment. I can’t imagine what the operation would have been like if I had been awake but I am certain that the doctor would have been very gentle trying to move the bones in place. So it is when we are restoring another person, putting things in right order in their lives so they can heal properly. It must be done gently and also be done with the right attitude lest one be tempted to think more highly of oneself because you did not fall into the same temptation. We are all guilty of passing judgment on people who have done things they should not have done and often we make statements such as: “What was he thinking?” What an idiot, what a moron, what a complete idiot.” “Helloooooo!” Paul recognized how weak we can be and when we allow pride to enter we invite failure, because pride goes before a fall.
When we restore people who have been caught doing wrong it has to be done in the right spirit and the right way. The goal must always be to restore to full health, complete restoration of the relationship with the Lord and anyone else that has been affected by the actions of the person.
Not all relationships will be restored; this is the reality of the world we live in. Many will go to their grave with unresolved issues that possibly could have been restored if there had been true humility, willingness to admit fault and a true desire to have the relationship restored.
I want to close with a story I read authored by Bart Campolo in Sojourners Magazine. It is one of the greatest examples of restoration that I have ever read.
“I often tell people not to ask me for statistics because in this work all the statistics are bad. Ask me for stories instead, I say, because even in the worst of times I always have a good story. Whether it is one of my own or comes from someone else doesn’t really matter to me anymore. What matters is that it rings true. Like this one I picked up on a visit to Philadelphia last week, which was first told to psychologist Jack Kornfield by the director of a nearby rehabilitation program for violent juvenile offenders:
One 14-year-old boy in the program had shot and killed an innocent teenager to prove himself to his gang. At the trial, the victim’s mother sat impassively silent until the end, when the youth was convicted of the killing. After the verdict was announced, she stood up slowly and stared directly at him and stated, “I’m going to kill you.” Then the youth was taken away to serve several years in the juvenile facility.
After the first half-year the mother of the slain child went to visit his killer. He had been living on the streets before the killing, and she was the only visitor (in jail) he’d had. For a time they talked, and when she left she gave him some money for cigarettes. Then she started step-by-step to visit him more regularly, bringing food and small gifts.
Near the end of his three-year sentence, she asked him what he would be doing when he got out. He was confused and very uncertain, so she offered to help set him up with a job at a friend’s company. Then she inquired about where he would live, and since he had no family to return to, she offered him temporary use of the spare room in her home. For eight months he lived there, ate her food, and worked at the job.
Then one evening she called him into the living room to talk. She sat down opposite him and waited. Then she started, “Do you remember in the courtroom when I said I was going to kill you?” “I sure do,” he replied. “I’ll never forget that moment.” “Well, I did it,” she went on. “I did not want the boy who could kill my son for no reason to remain alive on this earth. I wanted him to die. That’s why I started to visit you and bring you things. That’s why I got you the job and let you live here in my house. That’s how I set about changing you. And that old boy, he’s gone. So now I want to ask you, since my son is gone, and that killer is gone, if you’ll stay here. I’ve got room and I’d like to adopt you if you let me.” And she became the mother he never had.”
Tonight we all need to ask ourselves if all is well with our soul. Is there anyone that you need to seek to be restored to, any relationship that has been broken through sin or misunderstandings? If you find yourself in this situation you need to be the one who acts like God who devises ways for the banished to be restored. You need to be the one who is willing to take the first step to bring restoration. Perhaps you need to be the one who admits wrong even though you have been wronged even more than the other person. This is not an easy thing to do but it is worth the effort because a restored relationship brings peace and joy which have no market value we can place a dollar figure on. You must make the attempt, be the initiator and leave the results up to the Lord. The other person may not be receptive, you have no control over that, but they will live with the memory that you made the attempt to restore the relationship and the door will always be open for the process to begin when they are ready.

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