The Clean Slate Club

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One of the common phrases we hear around New Year’s Eve and Day is the opportunity many take to “start with a clean slate.” The reference is to the slate students used (like a mini-blackboard – or now we have whiteboards!) before paper was readily available. They’d do their arithmetic sums on a piece of slate (like shale) then wipe it off to do more. Mistakes were easily erased, so they could start again—with a clean slate.

As I was musing on the clean slate, I thought about “the clean plate club” many parents use to try to motivate their children to eat all the food (especially vegetables!) they’ve been served. My dad used to promote this concept with me, and also with our children, his grandchildren. A clean plate meant we were grateful for our blessings, especially considering the needs of starving children around the world. (Pretty heavy stuff for a four or five-year-old…).

Clean plate and clean slate sound similar, but they have very different emphases.

The clean plate club is well-meaning, but misdirected. It imposes guilt and pressure.

The “Clean Slate Club” I’m suggesting does just the opposite. The clean slate club removes guilt and pressure.

Many of us live so continually with a burden of guilt (see my recent “Thriver’s Guilt” blogs) that we hardly know what it’s like not to feel guilty. Jesus gave his life so we could break from bondage to sin and guilt.

By faith, God’s love for us in Jesus Christ erases the slate of charges against us.

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 NIV).

And there’s these reassuring verses from Psalm 103:

…[The Lord] does not treat us as our sins deserve

    or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

    so great is his love for those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

    so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:10-12).

Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place (about her’s family’s courage in hiding Jews from the Nazis) said it this way:  “Bury your sins in the deepest part of the ocean and hang a sign there that says, ‘No Fishing.’”

But a clean slate is not just a New Year’s thing.

A clean slate is not even a new-morning thing, even though I heartily celebrate Lamentations 3:22-23

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

A clean slate is moment-by-moment thing.

In spiritual direction, I find one of the greatest barriers to experiencing God’s presence is focusing on our failures and shortcomings. Because our minds naturally focus on just one item at a time, focusing on our sins (both of omission and commission) takes our attention from God’s grace and goodness.

I continually remind myself of the practical wisdom of Brother Lawrence (whose given name was Nicholas Herman and is also known as Lawrence of the Resurrection). Following his death in 1691, the abbot of his monastic community compiled his letters and notes in a booklet treasured by many, The Practice of the Presence of God. Abbe Joseph de Beaufort recalled of Brother Lawrence:

[That] when an occasion of practicing some virtue offered, he addressed himself to God, saying, “Lord, I cannot do this unless thou enablest me;” and that then he received strength more than sufficient.

[That] when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss.”  That after this he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

So, I invite you to join the Clean Slate Club. By faith in Jesus Christ, live in the freedom and joy of God’s holy eraser.

Starting Again– Again

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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…