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#FreshStart, Week 2 — The “Fresh StartS” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Came from Lamentations.   Yes!  Lamentations!
  • Was inspired by my many recovery friends;
  • Led to a bottom line with a — non-sexual — double entendre:  Mercy beats you up.

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So we’re talking about Fresh Starts in this series and this one is called “Fresh StartS” & I originally wanted to call it “Over & Over & Again & Again” because here’s the question that haunts me.  How do you get a fresh start when you’ve already had ten of them and the moment you make the promise of the new/next one you’re greeted with the eye rolls of your family and friends because nobody believes you anymore?  And to be honest, you don’t really believe yourself anymore, either.  There are fresh starts over and over & again and again and whatever credibility you had left a long time ago.

            Now sometimes, I guess, it’s not the worst thing in the world.  Like boy who is waiting at a bus stop and eats three candy bars in a row.  Baby Ruth 1,2,3.  And an elderly gentleman is first intrigued, then bothered, and then horrified by the epic eating display. And he says, “Young lad, eating all that candy is bad for your health and will rot your teeth!”  The boy replied, “Mister, my grandfather lived to be 97 years old.”  The man:  “And I’ll bet he didn’t eat three candy bars in a row.”  The boy:  “No, but he sure knew how to mind his own business.”  And you know a fresh start from know-it-all-ness is in the works there!

            But there’s more and more painful.  It’s the guy who is thinking about trying yet ANOTHER new diet … but he fell off the wagon on the last three.  It’s the woman who after six months of searching finally lands a new job and vows:  This one’s gonna be different!  I’m not getting laid off again!”  It’s the student who tells mom and dad, “this is the year I’m going to take it seriously.”  And mom and dad can’t help but think, “Yeah, we’ve heard THAT before.”  It’s the husband who after a long period of indifference suffered first the wrath (bad) and then the apathy (much worse) of his wife.  And he goes through his list:  “I’ll never”  “I’ll be better”  “I promise.”  And the more he talks, the less she hears. 

            There’s even my favorite.  The people who say this year … just like they did last year … “this time I mean it, preacher.  I’m gonna get real regular in church!  You better get used to seeing me!”  (Pantomine look).  Now I love the enthusiasm but I know the type, and in general it’s better to tell what you’ve DONE, not what you’re GONNA DO.  And then you know about this because you live with one or you are one:  That’s it!  I’m never drinking again.  And then for dramatic effect you dump the booze down the drain.  I just smoked my last J.  I’ll never bet again.  I’ve had it with surfing the net for porn.  Some of you who are in recovery, you know all about white chips … which is what you get at AA on either your first meeting OR your first meeting AFTER your last drink.  You go to a meeting and start all over.  And some of you have drawers full of white chips.  And with every relapse, every over & over and again & again, you feel progressively more and more beaten up.  Your failures beat you up.

            Which is really pretty appropriate since the library book we are checking out today is called Lamentations.  Now:  Lamentations is one of those books that if you merely open the bible up at random to read it, it will make no sense.  It is so dark and despairing (though the name Lamentations should have been the first clue that something was awry).  But again CIE – and in this case, the “C” has to do with history and setting.  The year is approx. 587 BC and Jeremiah is one of the last stragglers, the few remaining holdouts, left in Jerusalem.  That city has been sieged and then stormed and then gutted by the Babylonians.  The whole ordeal was so awful that the people resorted to cannibalism to survive.  So it’s as if Jeremiah composes Lamentations while walking around a city that is, quite literally, in ruins:  rubble, smoke, corpses, smoke. 

All in all, Jeremiah and his fellow citizens have been beaten up – by life, by the Babylonians, and maybe, just maybe, by God himself. There is a lingering belief that all that trauma is the fallout from Israel’s own disobedience – their rampant idolatry and their mistreatment of the poor.

With that in mind, look at 3:1-3:

I am the man who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
    in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
    again and again, all day long.

Whoa.  Who is the actor in all those verbs?  God.  It’s pretty clear in Jeremiah’s mind at least that God has empowered the enemy to punish his people.  It sounds shocking to us who believe God is ever-indulgent, but it’s actually a common perspective in both Testaments: that, for our ultimate good, God is more than willing to share his severest kind of mercy.  God will actually allow us to bear the weight of our own sin.

            And then there’s more.  Look at 3:32-33:

Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

 God is the actor in all of it … compassion AND punishment.  Grace and sorrow.  God reluctantly does what he must do.  And any parent who has ever disciplined a child for his or her own ultimate good knows exactly what it’s talking about.  God weaponizes his own mercy!  His compassion is a boxing glove and Jeremiah’s the one beaten up.  It’s for our own good though it is incredibly painful to acknowledge: that separation, that night in jail, that stint in rehab, that diagnosis of diabetes.  It was mercy. You NEEDED it even if left you battered.

            But then, but then, tucked in a corner of this cloudy, gloomy book is an incredible ray of sunshine.  Look at 3:19-23:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

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.

 See that?  Through a declaration of his will and an orientation of his mind, Jeremiah changes the direction of his thoughts.  He stops thinking of the punishment he deserves and begins to dwell on the blessings he doesn’t. All the tangible expressions of God’s grace & mercy & love.  What in particular does he notice about them?  3:23: new every morning.  Like clockwork. Waiting for him when he gets up.  Like your toddler who wanders in at 5:45 ON A SATURDAY MORNING ready to eat?  Watches you sleep?  Or your dog or your cat who is ready to ENGAGE (and be fed) and beat you to morning sunshine by a mile.  Man, our son Riley was that way when he was 2 or so. One morning I turned to Julie and said, “My God, he is just RELENTLESS.”  And he was.  He beats us up every morning!

            Jeremiah says that’s the way it is with God’s mercy and favor and blessings:  it’s waiting for you every morning when your awake.  Relentless.  Get this from Jeremiah 3!  The same mercy that … beat you up via discipline … now beats you up in the morning.  It’s awake before you are.  Yes! That’s it! All of you who wonder if you can have fresh start #11, the answer is YES.  Because Mercy beats you up.  The abundance of blessings and favor and goodness that you don’t deserve but get anyway … all of that is awake long before you are in the morning, just waiting for you to open your eyes and see. 

            See, your failures – that relapse, that inconsiderate thing you said to your spouse, that less-than-your-best-effort in school – you can count them. There is a finite, countable number of your failures.  God’s mercy? Countless. Immeasurable.  Let every single sunrise announce to you:  oh yeah, mercy beat me up today.

            Think about it:  how many times has the sun risen?  How many more times do you think it’s gonna?  Who could possibly count all that?  Your failures?  They may feel infinite but they are numbered.  Sunrises are numberless.  God wants you to know that as long as that is the case there is ALWAYS one more opportunity for another fresh start.  He’s not the God of the Second Chance.  He’s the God of Another Chance.  Someone here has had so many relapses with your drinking, you’re already planning on it this afternoon. Don’t.  Just don’t.  Why?  Because mercy beat you up this morning and invites you to yet another fresh start.  Someone else is despairing that you’ll ever get that job right & you might as well quite now.  Don’t.  Just don’t.  Why? Because mercy beat you up this morning and invites you to yet another fresh start.  REFRAIN.

            Goodness, what God wants to give you is like the state trooper who pulled over the young dad for speeding. And the trooper walked over, looked in the car, saw the frazzled young dad with two sleeping kids in car seats in the back, and said, “You can’t afford a ticket at this stage of your life, can you?  Do better the next time.”  And he let him go.  Deserved?  Nope. Received?  Yep. That’s it. That’s what God wants to bring each morning.  REFRAIN

            Or even like that time you ask for a PB sandwich and it gets handed to you with some jelly on it as well.  You didn’t ask for it; you just got it. You didn’t deserve it; you got better than you deserve.  REF

            Or maybe more than anything, it’s that rehab center in another state where ppl just beginning recovery are given a new way of identifying themselves. Instead of standing and saying, “My name is Talbot and I’m a cocaine addict” it’s “My name is Talbot and I’m a blood bought child of God.”  Yes you are.  That’s what I’m talking about.  You didn’t buy the blood; it bought you. REFRAIN

            Look at 3:23 again: READ.  He is so steadfast and reliable; he is therefore the fuel for every fresh start you have and need.  Because he is consistent, that propels your ability to be persistent.  He doesn’t change so you can.  By a decision of your will where you will turn your mind and your life over to the care of Jesus, you can center your mind not on the pain you deserve but on the provision you don’t.  That’s why in your fresh start you can … start writing that book again, begin having a quiet time again, start treating your wife as a queen again, get that next white chip again, start seeing that counselor again.  Over and over and again and again. Why?  Because when you got up this morning, God’s mercy and power was already there waiting.  Mercy had already beaten you up.

            Where is it for you today?  Some of you have been conditioned to think of your failures – whether with a profession, a relationship, or a behavior – as a tattoo.  Permanent. It’s not.  It’s more of a … bruise.  Mercy beat you up just a little bit to get you to repent.  But then it beats you up every morning to get you to renew.  Over and over.  And again and again. 

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