New beginnings

A new year has begun and offers the possibility of a new beginning. Looking back on life we have regrets because things haven’t turned out as we hoped they would. We may have experienced problems in our marriages and families which are deeply painful. Broken relationships with friends leave their scars. Disappointments in our work and career are not easily overcome. Our own behaviour can cause guilt and sadness; the things we wish we’d never done or said, but cannot change. So the opportunity to make a new start is attractive.

A woman was once brought before Jesus when he was teaching the people in the Temple. It was the time of one of the great pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem and thousands of people were in the city. The religious leaders were self-righteous and hated Jesus. They wanted to have a reason to accuse him so they had gone out before dawn and found this woman committing adultery. They brought her to Jesus as a test case. The Old Testament law said that people guilty of adultery should be stoned to death, although this had not been done for centuries. The religious leaders were proud and despised Jesus because he dealt gently and kindly with people who had fallen into sin. Would he say that someone like this woman, who had been caught in the very act of adultery, should not be punished?

Jesus challenged them saying, “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” At this, the men who had accused the woman began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. Then he declared, “Then neither do I condemn you go now and leave your life of sin.”

Like this woman we, too, can experience God’s forgiveness and a new beginning. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn us, but that through him we might find forgiveness and new life. Oswald Allen’s hymn reminds us of God’s gracious promises: “Today your mercy calls us to wash away our sin. However great our trespass, whatever we have been. Today your gate is open, and all who enter in shall find a Father’s welcome and pardon for their sin. The past shall be forgotten, a present joy be given, a future grace be promised, a glorious crown in heaven.”

The God of second chances

It is not easy to cope with failure, especially when it is very public. The England football team went to the World Cup in Brazil with high hopes. The team is a blend of youth and experience and carried the expectations of a nation. They were drawn against strong teams and had to play in hot and humid conditions to which none of the players is used. The performance of this England team is the worst ever at a World Cup and some of the players have publicly apologised to their fans. It remains to be seen whether the fans and the pundits will forgive them.

God is a God of second chances. He knows that we have all failed and have fallen short of his moral standards. We fall short even of our own standards. The Bible is a very straightforward book. It doesn’t hide the weaknesses and failings of even the great men and women of faith. We read of the serious failures of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David and many others. The wonderful thing is that God didn’t give up on them, but graciously restored them.

Peter was a Galilean fisherman whom Jesus called to be one of his disciples. He emerged as a leader amongst the twelve disciples and was close to Jesus. It was Peter who first recognised who Jesus was saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” He was with Jesus, together with James and John, on the mount of Transfiguration when the divine glory of Jesus was revealed to them. On the night before he died Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before the morning cockerel crowed. Peter said he would never deny Jesus and was ready, if necessary, to die for him. But before the next morning dawned Peter had denied his Lord and was devastated.

One morning, after the resurrection, Peter and the other disciples met Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee. After breakfast Jesus asked Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you really love me?” Each time Peter said he did. Jesus told him to take care of his sheep. In this way Peter was forgiven and restored to leadership and ministry in the church. This is a great example of the wonderful grace of God we can all experience. No matter how often and how seriously we have failed; the God of second chances is ready and willing to offer us a new beginning.

Andy Murray wins at Wimbledon

Andy Murray’s triumph at Wimbledon has brought great joy to him and his family, to the town of Dunblane and to the nation. The long wait for another British men’s champion is over. It was a fiercely contested match, in 40C heat, between two men who know each other well. Novak Djokovic is just 7 days older than Andy and both have committed their lives to becoming tennis champions. Novak left Serbia at the age of 12 to go to Germany to learn his skills. Andy left Dunblane when he was 15 to train in Spain.

Andy has experienced great sadness as well as triumph. He was a pupil at Dunblane Primary School when a local man shot 17 people. Andy’s class was due to be the next in the gym where the shooting took place. This year Andy’s best friend, and former doubles partner, Ross Hutchins, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As Wimbledon began Andy said, “Tennis obviously means a lot to me, but at the end of the day my tennis career is going to be, I hope, seven or eight years more, but there’s a lot more to life than just playing tennis.” Ross was at the Centre Court to see Andy win the title.

Andy has achieved success through hours of great physical and mental effort. He has steadily improved through dedication and patience in the face of disappointments. He said, “I think I persevered, that’s really been it, the story of my career probably. I had a lot of tough losses, but the one thing I say is I think every year I always improved a little bit, every year my ranking was going in the right direction.”

Andy exemplifies very important qualities and insights. The triumphs of life are very brief and transitory. We learn far more through the hard things, such as disappointments, setbacks and tragic events. A Christian song affirms this, “I walked a mile with pleasure, she chatted all the way, but I was none the wiser for all she had to say. I walked a mile with sorrow, not a word said she, but O the things I learned that day when sorrow walked with me.” Sad experiences remind us of our mortality and point us to the ultimate realities of eternity. The apostle Paul wrote, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.”