September 11, 2016

I’ve played golf since I was about 8 years old.  It’s a game I love and despise all at the same time.  It’s a humbling game for someone who doesn’t play very often.  You hit some great shots, and you hit some really, really bad shots.  One of the great things about golf is something called a MULLIGAN.

In essence, when you hit a really bad shot, you may say, “I’m taking a mulligan!”  If you’re with friends and you’re just having fun, nobody cares too much, unless you do it after every shot.  When you take a mulligan, it’s like getting a do-over.  And when you take that mulligan your first shot does not count against you, you just pick up the ball if you can find it, and move on.

There are different stories about how mulligan’s came into existence, but that’s not for today.  Suffice it to say, a mulligan is a do-over, a free shot, an extra shot you take, because the first one was bad.

Have you ever been there?  Have you ever wanted to take a mulligan?  Maybe it was something pretty simply like you gave a wrong answer in class, you made a wrong turn, you wanted to ask someone out, but you didn’t, then they went out with your best friend, or you wore the same outfit as someone else; or you weren’t paying attention and got a speeding ticket or got into a car accident.

It moves all the way to moments when we say something hurtful to someone else, you respond to an email with a scathing email telling that person what we really think of them, and we hit send, or we become so angry – we say some things which are really mean; or maybe in our anger we throw something and break it

We’ve all been there in one way or another.  We’ve all wanted to do something over again . . . we’ve all wanted a mulligan.  We wish we could turn back the clock and start over again, to take back our words and actions, but we can’t.

There are a couple of things we can learn from our actions, even from our inactions.  When we didn’t do what we knew we should do.

1.  We can repent!  We can ask for forgiveness from the people we have hurt.  We can learn from what happened and change who we are because we realize we are not healthy.  We see this with athletes.

On the negative side, we have seen football player, Johnny Manziel lose millions of dollars, be cut from the Cleveland Browns, because he refused to believe he was doing anything wrong.  Partying, drugs, a wild lifestyle, abusive relationships were all acceptable in his eyes.  But it all caught up to him.  He refused to change.  He refused to learn.  He refused to ask for forgiveness.  He’s now re-enrolled at Texas A&M, where he went to college.

Then, you can look at a guy like Michael Phelps.  He’s the most decorated Olympian in history.  He speaks about his downfall.  He admits his sinfulness and wrongdoing.  As great as he was, he was contemplating suicide.  He had drunk driving arrests.  His life was spinning out of control.  That’s when another athlete told him to read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life while he was in rehab.  And it changed his life.  He found faith and he found himself and changed.

Two lives, two very different results.

Now let me say this about the word sin.  It’s a bad word.  In fact, a few years ago, the word sin was removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, as was the word disciple.  They said, those words just aren’t used anymore.  It’s not used anymore and not recognized by the younger generation.

To their credit, the Oxford Dictionary included MP3, blog and voicemail to the dictionary.

I would beg to differ with the folks at Oxford.  We do need the word sin in our vocabulary.  It helps us to understand better our relationship with God and with one another.  The word sin, literally means “To miss the mark.”  This means we were aiming for the bullseye, because that would bring glory to God, but we missed it because of something we did or didn’t do.

You see, we struggle with believing what Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 ~
23 for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God — Romans 3:23

You see, it’s so important for us to move beyond knowing . . . . to believing, believing in our heart and spirit that we are sinners.  Paul said ALL have sinned, not just some, not just you, but ALL have sinned, that includes every person in this room, and every person outside of this room.  We are all sinners.

And because we all have sinned, we have also fallen short of glorifying God.  We want to be just like God, have God’s power, wisdom, strength and more – – – but we can’t.  We can’t because we are not God – – and to prove we are not God, we are sinners.  God is not a sinner!  God does not do wrong things, He does not make mistakes, He does not lose control.  We do — — and we do not bring the glory to God He deserves.

2.  And as part of our changing, we ask others to forgive us.  To say I AM SORRY can be one of the most difficult things for so many of us to do.  To apologize, to ask for forgiveness from the one you have hurt is humbling, it’s vulnerable.  Yet, we are called to ask for forgiveness.  When we hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ, we have also hurt God.  Any sin we commit is a sin against God, it has a worldly impact, as someone must deal with what we’ve said or done, but that sin is also against God.

Jesus gives us this great wisdom ~ 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24 leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24

If you know there is an issue between you and a brother or sister in Christ, then you need to get it resolved.  Jesus tells us there is no time like the present.  Drop what you are doing, be reconciled to that brother or sister, then come back and give your gift.

Peter thought he was being smart, he thought he was putting Jesus on the defensive when he asked

21 “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. – Matthew 18:21-22

Jesus blew Peter and the disciples away with that answer.  Peter thought forgiving 7 times was pretty exceptional, but Jesus told Peter, not 7 times, but never stop forgiving.  When you forgive you are extending amazing grace.

Paul adds ~ 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

Again, it’s not always easy, but the point it to ask for forgiveness and ultimately to offer our forgiveness for the sins others have committed against us.  I have said it before, forgiving someone does not mean you must have a relationship with them.  It may be harmful to have a relationship with certain people, but forgiveness is very freeing for you and for them.

And often times, we may forgive someone, even though they don’t see the need for it, because they can’t see that they have hurt you.  This is not easy, but the call is still to forgive.  And it’s often times a process.

If you bump into me, I can easily forgive you . . . but if you intentionally hurt me, it may take a little time for me to work through the process of forgiveness.  Unfortunately, forgiveness can be kind of messy.

So, once we recognize the hurt we’ve inflicted, the sins we’ve committed, we need to ask for forgiveness, and in a sense, ask for a mulligan.  Can I try this again?  I would like another opportunity to show you my actions are not congruent with who I am.  I would like to show you I am different.

We often think about forgiving others, but one person we struggle with forgiving more than anyone . . . . is ourselves.  We often beat ourselves up because of the things we have done.  The sins we have committed.  I’ve been there, I’ve done that.  I’ve accepted God’s forgiveness on some things, but continued to beat myself up over that issue.  God had already released me, I wouldn’t release myself.  It may be a great gift you give to yourself, forgive yourself.  If God can forgive you, you can forgive you.  You’ll be amazed at how free you become!!

Now, I want to spend a few minutes talking about seeking God in the midst of our sinfulness.

You see, I said only the first part of Romans 3 a little earlier . . .

23 for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

24 and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus — Romans 3:23-24

That’s a hugely important statement from Paul.  If we just stopped at the end of verse 23, we would know that we are all sinners.  There is no help coming for us.  We are stuck and on our own.  Yet, Paul goes on to tell us we are justified by the grace of God through the Jesus Christ.

God declares us righteous.  It’s not because we’ve done anything to earn it.  But God declares us righteous because of what Jesus did for us.  He redeems us.  He died for us.

Listen to the words of Isaiah.  They really declare who we are and who God is ~
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. – Isaiah 1:18

I love the way God approaches this.  God tells us we are guilty, our sins are red like blood.  We have caused bloodshed because of our sinfulness, but God says, I will make you whiter than snow, you will be healed . . . forgiven, given new life.

It’s a gift from God to you and I.  In essence, God is saying, TAKE A MULLIGAN.  I know you’ve messed up, but here’s another shot at life.  That’s the beauty of what John says ~

9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  — 1 John 1:9

I’ve commented on this passage so many times.  It’s so powerful.  It’s kind of like mulligan theology.  When we confess our sinfulness to God, God will forgive us and cleanse from all of our unrighteousness and He will make us right with Him, and God will clothe us with His righteousness and we will be cleansed from within by God, who loves us.

How great is that?  You see we can get all excited about this being the opening weekend of the NFL season.  I love football!  But that is not going to take me very far in life.  What will get me far in life is being so excited about what God is willing to do for me.

He was willing to send His Son to the cross so we could have life.  Paul said it so well ~ 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace — Ephesians 1:7

Through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross we are redeemed.  We are forgiven of our sins by God.  That’s the power of God’s grace for you and I.

Now, because we are forgiven, it gets even better . . .

There are 4 very similar verses ~
25 “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. – Isaiah 43:25

34 For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. — Jeremiah 31:34

12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.  — Hebrews 8:12

17 I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.  —  Hebrews 10:17

What’s the common thread through all 4 of these 4 verses?  God will remember our sins no more.

Think about this – – I mean really consider this – I will remember the sins you commit against me.  I may forgive you, but I will still remember your sins against me.  I will hold onto them in some file drawer in my heart and brain.  It’s really, really difficult to cause yourself to forget something someone has done which hurt you.

But God tells us He will no longer remember our sins!  As God purifies us through Christ he now looks at us as pure, whole, untarnished by the effects of sin.  It only happens through Jesus.  Nobody else can die for you to help you find the power of forgiveness.  God and only God can make us whiter than snow.

Ultimately, Jesus went to the cross so that He could reach out to you and proclaim “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

God takes us just as we are.  It does not matter where you come from or what you’ve done!  God offers this amazing gift of a mulligan, and that mulligan comes through the person of Jesus Christ!

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