Starting Again– Again

Dont Quit_shutterstock_189715886[2305843009213833988]
By Gajus Shutterstock
You may not have noticed, but I haven’t posted a new blog since February 2019—a full six months. I’ve wanted to. I’ve thought about it—a lot. (Some people did notice). But I just didn’t.

I confess I’ve been disappointed in myself, embarrassed I didn’t keep up with my goal of a weekly post. Most of all, I feared I’d lost momentum. Why bother starting again? I mean, what if I hit another long pause in the future? Then I’d have to start again—again!

That got me thinking: How many times have I started strong, but failed to persist? It ranges from practicing both classical and jazz guitar, to commitments to prayer lists, to discipleship projects, to reading the entire Bible yearly, and to a lot more.

We have this idea that stopping means failure. We think beginning again after a long pause will inevitably lead to another time when we’ll stop. Why bother?

But grace doesn’t leave us stuck in feelings of regret, embarrassment, perfectionism and self-depreciation. Three thoughts have helped me start again—again, many times!

Life is about rhythms and seasons.

For example, during my “blog pause,” my wife and I led a 12-day tour to Israel and Petra and a 2-week mission trip to Kenya. We attended our son’s graduate school graduation in Nashville and had visits from out-of-state relatives. We also had 1 week with each of our granddaughters individually (3 weeks total) and a 2-week vacation. OH, (almost forgot), and I preached, led our staff and board of elders, and provided pastoral care and spiritual direction…

I don’t expect you to be all that interested in my activities. But I do invite you to give yourself grace when life gets full, really full. Give yourself grace to “slack off” without condemnation.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 RSV).

There are many dimensions to this verse. The primary message is God’s amazing gift of grace in Christ that frees us from eternal condemnation. But there are valid reasons to apply the release-from-condemnation to other aspects of life, including our response to falling short of our goals and intentions.

Consistency is admirable, but not essential.

Jesus said, “Those who endure to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:22 and 24:13 NIV).

It’s not about pausing; it’s about persisting. Pauses are part of life. Even long pauses. What’s important is starting again.

This isn’t an excuse for stopping. It’s the recognition that life happens, things go on “pause,” and that isn’t the end of the world.

Persistence, as many have observed, can be far more significant than raw talent or ability.

Vince Lombardi, superlative football coach of the legendary Green Bay Packers, said, “Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

A pause often leads to a rediscovery of grace.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23 RSV).

God’s grace and mercy are new every day– and any time of day. I’m continually learning that grace is not the reward for my accomplishments. Grace is God’s gift in Jesus Christ simply because I belong to the Lord.

Our greatest examples of persistence in grace are the faithful who have gone before us and, ultimately, Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV).

Where are you stuck? Do you need to begin again—again? Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be defensive. Don’t be stopped by the fear you may not continue. Embrace grace– and go for it.

Start again—again—and again and again and again…

Advice for a really bad day OR New Year’s Day Every Day

What do you do when you’ve had a really bad day? I’m not talking about a bad day when you’ve  experience all kinds of hassles and problems that are not necessarily of your own making. I’m talking about those bad days when you’ve really messed up:

When you’ve said or done something that you really regret;

When you’ve fallen into that thing that makes you ashamed;

Or when you’ve missed an opportunity because you lacked the courage or wisdom to act.

Bad days are part of life. The question is: what do we do about them– especially when we’ve created our own problems??

New Year’s Day is when the world gets a powerful hint of grace. It’s one of the most vivid experiences of God’s “common grace.” Common grace is a theological term for God’s continuing mercy extending to all creatures, as described by Jesus in Matthew 5:45-46:

…For [the Father] gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

In this case, on the first day of a new year, those who have minimal belief in God get a sense of what Jesus promises in faith, hope, grace and love. It’s a fresh start. New Year’s Day is typically the season when we try to put frustrations and failures behind us so we can move forward in positive, constructive—and dare I say redemptive—directions. We have hope that we can make the coming days different. There’s a sense of wiping the slate clean. What a great celebration! The problem is January 2 and 3 and 4…

Resolutions are rarely sustainable unless something happens in the heart.

Our hearts are changed when we accept by faith God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus took our sin upon himself as the ultimate expression of grace. He gives us that fresh start of being right with God, being released from regret and shame, and entering into the freedom God intends for us.

Take heart in this: Our sin spoils our fellowship with God, but it does not make God love us less.

The wonder of God’s grace is that it lasts, and it lasts, and it lasts. One of the most encouraging passages of Scripture that testifies to God’s continuing mercy and forgiveness is Lamentations 3:22-23,

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness (New International Version NIV).

The Book of Lamentations, attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, is a compilation of five prayers in the form of “dirge poetry” or “funeral songs” written during Judah’s judgment and exile. Even in the midst of God’s people experiencing the consequences of their sin and rebellion, Jeremiah proclaimed and celebrated the blessings of God’s mercy and faithfulness. The time of consequences will not last. God’s mercy triumphs.

This verse inspired the well-known hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” written by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960). Chisholm was born in Franklin, Kentucky in a log cabin and became a teacher at age sixteen. He had a powerful to conversion to Christ at age twenty-seven during a revival. He served as a Methodist minister for one year before resigning due to poor health. In 1909 Chisholm began his career as a life insurance agent. In 1923, at age fifty-seven, Chisholm wrote this popular hymn.

This hymn describes God’s faithfulness being demonstrated in God’s character, (“There is no shadow of turning (or change) with thee…), in God’s creation, seen in the consistency of nature (“Summer and winter…”), and, ultimately, in God’s redemption, described in the third stanza which says,

Pardon for Sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

We cling to God’s faithfulness when it appears God has let us down– and especially when we have let God down.

If God’s mercies are present at times of our unfaithfulness, how much more will they be present when we recognize our failure and truly seek the Lord in humility and brokenness?!

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51:17 NIV).

When you’ve had a really bad day—do what we are called to do every other day: Trust God’s faithfulness not your own performance.