given on Sunday, January 19, 2014
Don’t ask how the title for today’s thoughts developed because I have no good answer. All I know is I was thinking about sermons and suddenly the phrase just popped into my head—and I have not been able to shake it off. Sometimes you just have to follow what God seems to drop into your head.
Last week, the thought I had was whether or not one could yell at God. While working on that, this idea came through, too: I just fell off my horse so what do I do now?
Most of us have had the experience of riding a horse or maybe a bicycle. We know that if you fall off you must get up, brush yourself off, and get on again. If you don’t, you may not ever get on and try riding again.
Believe it or not, I went searching for a connection to this brain flash. I thought surely there must be a proverb that connected to the idea, but there is not one!
Step 2 was to figure out how this phrase relates to our Christian lives. Is there something to which this old adage is connected? Is this a metaphor for one of Jesus’ lessons for us? I was reading my nightly devotional and the phrase interfered. But I found myself connecting it to the concept of forgiveness.
God forgives us. Jesus tells us that we are to forgive one another. Now how does that fit with falling off a horse! Then the connection became clear!
We all know that falling off your horse or bicycle is part of the learning process. There is no other way to learn than to simply get on, put your feet in the stirrup—or on the pedals—and nudge forward. On a horse, you use your knees to urge the horse to begin moving. On the bicycle, you keep one foot on the ground and push off as you push down on the opposite pedal.
Balancing is also important. In the saddle, you must keep your balance in relation to the horse’s leg movements. The feet are in the stirrups; the knees tucked in against the horse, and you balance while the horse moves. One of the most important tricks of staying on the horse is knowing how to use your legs as springs absorbing the unevenness of the gait or the ground.
Now bicycling is a bit different. It seems like everything is moving in different directions once you pick up your foot off the ground. The handle bars move, the feet are moving, the wheels are moving, and suddenly you are moving—hopefully forward, but all too often you fall to the ground. That is when the parent is right there to catch you and to encourage you as you get up and back on the bike.
These experiences are just like living the Christian life. If you fall off, you simply have to get up, brush off the dirt, and get on again. God is always there and always loves us. He does not leave us stranded. Instead, he waits for us to realize we have fallen, and then he starts to help us.
As a parent, when our kids fall, we rush to their sides to help them get back up; but they continue to grow and we begin letting go so they can develop their own independence. God is always beside us, but he also knows he cannot do everything for us. He cannot physically pick us up, carry us and fix our problems for us; he has to let us do it ourselves.
Throughout the Old Testament, the stories tell of the mistakes the faithful made. When one looks up the term ‘forgiveness’ in the index or in a concordance, the Old Testament references are outnumbered almost 2:1 by New Testament references.
One of the references is annotated with the phrase: no sin too great for God to forgive. That phrase is then connected to four passages, two from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament:
- 2 Chronicles 33:12-13–11 Therefore the Lord brought against them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh captive in manacles, bound him with fetters, and brought him to Babylon. 12 While he was in distress he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 He prayed to him, and God received his entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord indeed was God. [NRSV]
- Psalms 51:1-7–1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;[a]
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. [NRSV]
- Acts 2:14–14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. [NRSV]
- I John 2:2–2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. [NRSV]
These verses lead us to understand how much God loves us and that he gives us simple instructions on how to live a Christian life. Yes, three verses make absolute sense, but that one from Acts is confusing.
Why is a verse on forgiveness referencing Peter? The key is to look at how Luke explains Peter’s story. The fuller text creates a more complete understanding. Peter is addressing the Crowd who just witnessed the Pentecost, Acts 2:13-21:
13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Peter was speaking, and knowing that he had denied Christ three times during the trial, Peter had fallen off the horse, so to speak. He was struggling to understand the full story, struggling with how to share the story, and simply did not know how to get back up from the entire series of events through the trial, the crucifixion, and then the resurrection.
Pentecost made God’s word real once again. Peter, after receiving the Holy Spirit, found his ability to once again share the story with authority. And the first thing he shared was a reference to the Old Testament prophet Joel.
“No sin too great for God to forgive” is shown through Peter’s own experience. From denying he knew Christ, he was forgiven, baptized by the Holy Spirit, and continued to follow the commission to make disciples of Christ.
Christians need to remember that they are always learning how to be Christians. We are humans and we fall off or out of God’s favor all too often. But, when we realize our errors, we ask God for forgiveness and we get back up and continue to learn.
God does not care if we made a mistake, he only cares if we do not acknowledge that mistake, ask for forgiveness, and return to living by the one commandment to love one another as we would want others to love us. We must get back up and get on the horse to become better and better.
Certainly no one wants to fall off, but society has a way of throwing off our balance and we fall. We might run with the wrong crowd. We might ignore someone who is hurting or share a rumor that turned out to be hurtful. We might overspend and forget to tithe. We might drink, eat, or talk too much; but we must do the right thing when we realize our mistake.
Get back up, shake off the dirt, and get back to God. It really is not hard to step back into church after you have been absent. It is important to get back to reading the Bible or go to Sunday school. Why, you can even ask for something new, a new tool, to help you grow in your Christian life.
The K-Love radio station is trying a new approach. They are asking people to take the 30-day challenge. The station asks listeners to commit, call in and commit, to taking the 30-day challenge of listening to nothing but Christians music. They believe it will make a life-change for the listeners.
Should we set a challenge? What type of challenge would strengthen us in our Christian journey? I suggest a challenge, try reading a daily devotion from now until Lent. Maybe it is just a paragraph like the Daily Word, Guideposts, or the Upper Room. Maybe it is a devotional that pops up in the inbox of your computer every day.
A challenge could be along any of the basic recommendations from John Wesley such as daily prayer, grace before each meal, sing a hymn or listen to Christians music, read the Bible, have a discussion with a friend or a spouse. Whatever you choose, get up and get it going!
God does not care if you just fell off or if it has been a little while since you fell off. All God cares is that you realize you fell, and that you want to get back up and learn more. He forgives our mistakes and he will rejoice many times over if you pick yourself up and return, too.
Dear Patient Father,
I fear I made a mistake and fell off my Christian path.
Help me to start all over with the skills you have taught me.
Help me to make changes in my daily life that show I believe.
Help me to show others that I can return to my faith
by listening and following your words.
Keep me near to you and let me lean on you when I stumble,
and open my heart to others who may have fallen, too.
Let me be a little like Peter knowing I am forgiven.
Give me the words and the actions to share God’s love
with those who are so alone without a Christian family.
Let my lessons be examples to others so they may know
how much You love them, too. –Amen