On our computer keyboards return and enter are synonymous. The return key moves the cursor to the beginning of the next line, yes, but it also returns control to whatever program is currently running.
Additionally, the return key activates whatever is highlighted or selected.
Our computers are even designed to insert a “hard return”. And did you know that hitting return and 1 tells the main brain that the program has not executed successfully and there is some error?
Keeping with this theme of return, August 7 began the Hebrew month of Elul, the month that preceeds Rosh Hashanah, and is a month of self-examination, repentance and returning to God. During this time, in preparation for the Day of Atonement, we reflect on the previous year and look forward to the next year. It is a month of returning to God and receiving a clean slate, receiving forgiveness.
The Jewish sages tell us that the relationship between God and man during this time is pictured as between two beloveds with a yearning to connect. God is actually yearning for man to return to him to connect with Him.
During this month of returning, in Jewish families and synagogues the shofar is blown each day as an invitation to wake up and seek a deeper connection with God.
Could it be that in your life it is time to hit the return button and return control to God’s program? Could your brain be signaling return 1… notifying you there is an error somewhere that needs addressing?
I truly believe that we are living in a season of return.
Return is a call to all people and all nations. We here in America have turned away from God, we have removed God. Yet those who return to Him will find forgivenenss, will find a new faith activated, sin deleted, and a hard return inserted into our main drive. It is time to seek the Lord and return to Him.
Hear Him calling you, urging you to come close and connect with Him:
Zech. 1:3 – return to me and I will return to you
2 Chron. 30:9 – the Lord is gracious and compassionate, He will not turn His face from you if you return to Him
Joel 2:12 – return to me with all your heart with fasting, weeping and mourning
Hosea 14:1-2; 9 – Return to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall. Take words and return to the Lord. Say to Him, forgive our sin, receive us graciously. Who is wise, he will understand this. The ways of the Lord are right. The righteous walk in them but the rebellious stumble in them.
We cannot be certain how long this season of returning will last, judgment will follow, but we can be certain that He is calling us now to return. As a beloved spouse, He yearns to reconnect deeply with you, to highlight and activate you in His program of life, peace and joy.
Let’s hear the shofar blowing, alerting us to wake up! Let’s diligently enter this month of self examination and repentance and let us return to God who is gracious and compassionate. Let us use our words to highlight our sin, ask for forgiveness and return to walk in God’s ways.
Return and enter into all God has for you. He loves you so.
And I ask Him to remind you to return and enter every time you see a computer keyboard. May the visual on that keyboard serve as a constant reminder to return and enter.
Spoiled foods can be beyond hope. A totaled car can be beyond hope. A fire’s destruction can be beyond hope.
But for people there is always hope. There is no situation so bad, no sin so grievous, no distress so deep that hope is inaccessible or change not possible.
Some of you may need to reread that last sentence. Go ahead. I know it is bold, but I also know it is accurate.
To support that statement and encourage you today, I want to take a deep dive into the bible king Manasseh, of Judah. You will find his story in 2 Chronicles 33 and 2 Kings 21.
As we look at his life, notice his situation, sins and distress. Compare across to your life, draw comparisons and gather your takeaways.
Here we go.
Manasseh was the 14th king of Judah and the oldest son of Hezekiah, the previous king. He was born during the 15 years that God added to Hezekiah’s life. Hezekiah was a really good king who followed God’s ways. (that is why in his sickness he prayed and asked God’s help, to which he was granted 15 more years of life.)
Manasseh’s name means “one who forgets”. That’s important.
Manasseh reigned over Judah for 55 long years. In those years he totally undid, disgraced, rejected and demolished all the good that his dad had done in the kingdom. He was one who forgot the ways of his dad the ways of his upbringing.
Not only did he forget, he willfully, actively, passionately and nationally followed these evil practices. These practices were not only a regular part of his daily life, but he had them instituted as national norms in Judah. The entire nation followed these “detestable” practices.
From 1 Chronicles 33:3-10:
he rebuilt the high places his father had destroyed – these were sex and religion shrines scattered all over the nation. The sexual perversion involved here is astonishing and involved phallic statues in abundance.
he bowed down to the starry hosts – he worshipped cosmic powers and took orders from the constellations.
he built altars in the Lord’s temple – cosmic altars, altars to Baal and Asherah, altars to many secular gods.
he practiced child sacrifice – Molech was worshipped by offering children in the fire. He offered his own sons and perhaps even his grandsons in this ritual sacrifice.
he practiced witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums – he gave full way to Satanic rituals, seances and the underworld.
“he did much evil in the eyes of the Lord” – bad dude!
the last straw, he had built and erected a statue to Asherah in the Lord’s temple – this sex goddess, was now worshipped in the Lord’s temple
Manasseh led the people astray – what he did privately was put into national practice and legislation
“they did more evil than the nations” – now that’s saying something, that’s alot of evil
One last sad note to Manasseh and the nations evil practices-
“The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention.”
2 Chronicles 33:10
Not only was he one evil practicing, sex maniac, proud, idolatrous, killer, but when the Lord spoke to him, he ignored the Lord’s voice.
Manasseh is considered the most wicked king in Judah’s history. There was none worse. Ahab was the worst in Israel and Manasseh the worst in Judah. Now you can see why, right?
Tradition and scholars tell us that Manasseh is probably the one who had the prophet Isaiah cut in two. Now that’s no way to treat your Grandfather. Geesh.
His tyrannical reign lasted for over half century!
So Manasseh’s situation is pretty dire. He is in deep, needless to say. His sins are pretty insurmountable as well, cuz these are “big time sins”. So how is his distress? Let’s check it out.
First, we must continue the story.
The Bible tells us that because Manasseh and the people paid no attention to the Lord, (forgot the Lord and His ways), the Lord allowed the Assyrians to overthrow the city and capture the King. He was taken to Babylon as a prisoner, bound in shackles, and a hook in his nose. 2 Chronicles 33:11
Here is where we identify Manasseh’s distress.
“In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.” And he prayed to him.
2 Chronicles 33:12
While a prisoner of war, in prison, in a foreign land we see his distress. While he is powerless, alone, overwhelmed, outnumbered and empty his distress is evident.
What does he do in this state?
He sought God’s favor, humbled himself greatly and prayed.
Now that is a turn around!
Somehow, in his distress he remembered the spiritual training of his childhood. The training of his ancestors. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” I’m sure Hezekiah was looking over the balcony of heaven finally cheering on his once evil son.
So we have the most vile, perverse, corrupt, person & political leader crying out to God. He needed his own experience with God, not his dad’s. He was calling out for it.
“God speaks to us in our pleasures but he shouts to us in our pains.”
God had been shouting to Manasseh but now Manasseh was shouting out to him.
How did God respond?
“And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.”
2 Chronicles 33:13
This is mindboggling to me.
After life long practices of gross and despicable sins, once Manasseh humbled himself and sincerely presented himself before the Lord – THE LORD WAS MOVED!
His humility, laying down his pride, and seeking God’s blessing and favor actually moved God to the action of restoring Manasseh to his kingdom.
In the Apocryphal book of “The Prayer of Manasses” he says, “I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea.”
There is always hope.
Our God is compassionate, loving, forgiving, just, strong, engaging, and ever present.
The story doesn’t end there tho’. Manasseh made a drastic and remarkable change when he returned to Jerusalem.
Side note- Do you think the citizens of the city were glad to see him return or scared for their lives? You see, personal repentance brings forgiveness but the influence of sin lingers and abides.
When he returned, he:
rebuilt the city wall & made it higher- reinforced the city defenses
stationed guards around the city
got rid of foreign gods
removed all the idols and altars in the temple
restored the altar of the Lord
His personal experience with God, “knowing that the Lord is God” motivated his change in behavior, word and deed. He took action nationally to undo what he had done. He took action personally. He had truly met God and was changed.
The amount of evil he had done was totally forgiven and covered because he humbled himself, sought the favor of the Lord and prayed to Him. His sins were forgiven, his distress was lifted and his situation changed.
God heard. God was moved. God responded to Manasseh’s humility and entreaty. God changed him. his situation, his sin, and his distress.
There is always hope.
If there is hope for Manasseh there is hope for all.
“No mortal man hath excuse to perish is despair. No one is justified in saying God will never forgive me.”
Let’s return to our opening – There is no situation so bad, no sin so grievous, no distress so deep that hope is inaccessible or change not possible.
There is always hope for those who in humility make their entreaty of the Lord.
” I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”
Acts 24:16 NIV – The Apostle Paul
Striving to maintain a clear conscience is honorable, right, healthy and important. But is intentional, deliberate and hard work. Maintaining a clear conscience keeps us connected to others and helps us to override selfishness.
My hunch is that during this season, there have been ample opportunities for selfishness, personal conflicts, and ruffled feathers in our family or at work relationships. So let’s look into our conscience and put the focus on it and it’s partner – guilt.
Carrying around guilt, the weight of one’s own conscience, literally weighs us down. It actually makes us feel heavier. Science has done studies showing that to be true..
Because guilt is meant to play a role in regulating moral behavior it sends signals throughout the body, and the body responds with perception changes, insomnia, loss of appetite, stress, headaches, backaches and a general sense of feeling dreary. Or it responds with the strong motivation to apologize, correct or make up for the wrong. Perhaps, it even does all of those things in your life.
Another writer, describes guilt, or not having a clear conscience this way, “When I kept it all inside, my dishonesty devastated my inner life, causing my life to be filled with frustration, irrepressible anguish, and misery. The pain never let up, for your conviction was heavy on my heart. My strength was sapped, my inner life dried up like a spiritual drought within my soul.” Psalm 32:3-4, TPT King David
The power of guilt is terrifying. The worry of guilt is debilitating. Being consumed with what I did or didn’t do, what I thought or didn’t think, how I harmed another individual, what I said or should have said, all these cause pain and anguish inside of us. “It is overwhelming and a burden too heavy to bear” King David cried in Psalm 38:4
Here, is where our conscience kicks in. Therefore, what is conscience?
Oswald Chambers describes conscience this way, “The ability within me that attaches to the highest standard I know and reminds me of what that standard demands that I do.”
That explains to me why two people can face the exact same moral dilemma and come away with two totally different answers for what is “right’ in that situation. Their “highest standard” is different. Both could even engage in that moral dilemma and state it quite differently – one could feel no sense of guilt or remorse while the other will hold to the belief that they have done something wrong and need to right it, and them self.
We see this played out everyday in our family, neighborhood, church, media, politics, everywhere. As many people as there are, will determine the variety of standards there will be.
So for today at least, let’s assert God’s standard. It is the highest possible standard for my mind and heart to attach to. God’s standard is His perfect law. His Word.
His law is not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 NIV
His law is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, firm, more valuable than gold, and sweeter than honey. Psalm. 19:7-10 NIV
When I apply His Word to my guilt, what happens?
Well, as mentioned above, if I keep silent or ignore any guilt or wrongdoing when in fact there should be guilt because I have wronged someone, then that is where the psychological consequences kick in and the cycle of guilt plays out: 1. should 2. action/inaction 3. guilt
But the other option in the face of guilt and God’s word is – “I acknowledge my guilt and do not cover it up… and you forgive the guilt of my sin.” Psalm 32:5
When we see that the purpose of guilt is to restore relationship and we admit our need for that restoration, we receive his forgiveness, His cleansing and restoration. We admit our need to Him and he forgives us. Psalm 51 In this process, we learn to take action as needed, move on from it and learn from our mistakes. Our conscience is then cleared before God and man.
Clearing our conscience is vital for healthy living. Allowing things to build up, unresolved, unaddressed is of no value to you or your health. Keeping our conscience sensitive to Him means staying open on the inside and addressing needed issues each day.
We are charged in scripture to not let the sun go down on our anger. We are reminded that His mercies are new every morning. This indicates the daily practice of taking out the trash of our cluttered conscience, and not allowing guilt, grudges, or messy life decisions to pile up.
Blessed is the one, whose sin is not counted against him and in whom is no deceit. Psalm 32:2
Having a clear conscience keeps us connected to others and to God.
That is why we “strive always to keep a clear conscience”. I hope it’s a conscience held to the highest standard of God’s Word. But that choice is yours.