I recently had the pleasure of visiting Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Park in Hawai’i. Pu'uhonua (also know as the “Place of Refuge”) is a sacred site that includes royal grounds and a temple that was claimed to house the bones of 23 Hawaiian chiefs providing great spiritual power to the priests.
In ancient Hawai’i, the sacred laws or “kaup” were strictly observed and breaking kaup often meant immediate death; that’s were the Pu’uhonua becomes vitally important to the Hawaiian people.
Imagine… a woman is caught eating with a man, a fisherman catches a fish out of season, you mistakenly wear red and yellow feathers at the same time (denotes royalty), a female happens to eat pork, bananas or coconuts (all forbidden to women) or the chief parades by and you just happen to look him directly in the eye – ALL offenses that are punishable by death!
Your only chance to survive is to evade your accusers and swim for your life; battling great distances, strong currents, powerful waves and sharp lava rocks to reach the shores of Pu'uhonua, or Place of Refuge. If you were lucky enough to reach the shores you were safe from your persecutors and your offense hopefully absolved by the priest.
As you can guess many did not survive the journey.
Does this seem a little extreme?
I mean, a young woman mistakenly eats some coconut with her morning oatmeal and by afternoon she’s swimming for her life in the hopes her crime(s) will be forgiven? What!
Yet, is it really that extreme? Don’t we continue to do this very same thing today?
Aren’t we quick to judge others or quick to condemn ourselves over minor offenses?
We compare ourselves and conclude others are far worse than us or we take the other extreme and beat ourselves up for every little offense- seeking unrealistic perfection.
We tend to gravitate to either making much ado of nothing or convincing ourselves that our sins are so pronounced that we must do something extreme and complicated in order to obtain forgiveness (like the ancient Hawaiians risking everything to earn their amnesty).
When guilt or shame creep in we seek pardons in the form of rationalizing our actions, getting approval from like-minded family/friends, or doing enough good works that we believe we will eventually earn our way to absolution.
Where does it stop?
How can we reach the shores of the place of refuge?
First we need to grasp two important truths- 1) Sin and 2) God’s mercy.
Roman 3:23 tells us ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
No exceptions. We’ve all messed up and sinned in one way or another; what’s key is how God views our screw-ups.
We like to believe that a tiny white lie carries a one (1) on the sin scale, with a light sentence when compared to say a ten (10) for killing an innocent child.
We couldn’t be more wrong.
God doesn’t rate our sins on a human scale.
As you will see, in Proverbs 6:16-19, there are seven things that are repugnant to the Lord and God views them the SAME. Yet, we want to assign offenses to a level of severity.
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
Further, the Bible says:
"For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."- James 2:10
Therefore, God considers all sins the same and a misstep of a single one means accountability of all.
Consequently, all sins carry the same punishment- separation from God- both now and for eternity.
In light of the above, our practice of comparing ourselves to each other is pretty useless and let’s face it none of us will ever be perfect.
So, I beg the question again… how do we stop the circle of offenses and reach the golden shores of peace and forgiveness?
The answer… God’s mercy.
Which comes in the form of a simple, pure and true gift; a gift that you don’t have to earn!
The gift of Christ, being extended to all and readily available to grasp and accept.
A gift of not only salvation but also, everlasting LIFE NOW!
I believe a lot of people respond; “yeah, yeah- heaven. I’ve got a lifetime to worry about that” when they hear “gift of eternal life.”
What they fail to understand is it isn’t just about what happens after death, rather, what you are missing out on RIGHT NOW!
The Bible discusses “eternal life” in the following passages:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”- John 3:16
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”- John 17:3
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”- Romans 6:23
Eternal life isn’t just escaping hell. It is also a present-tense possession in the form of intimately knowing God NOW, having a close relationship with Him NOW. It is having the peace, freedom and knowledge that God is for you, he has your back and is walking with you along the shores and given you refuge in this lifetime and in the one to come!
Stop running, stop swimming and stop treading water!
Simply stop and reach out your hands and take the gift that God has been waiting to give to you your whole life.
All you have to do is express your heart to God to accept his free gift and sincerely pray the below prayer of salvation.
It really is that easy!
No swimsuit required!
Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am deeply sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sins and turn toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again in the future. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, He is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey you, and to guide me for the rest of my life. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26