Free – Freed – Freedom
Football Player Can't Forget the Ball He Dropped
Noble Doss dropped the ball. One ball. One pass. One mistake. In 1941, he let one fall. And it's haunted him ever since. "I cost us a national championship," he says.
The University of Texas football team was ranked number one in the nation. Hoping for an undefeated season and a berth in the Rose Bowl, they played conference rival Baylor University. With a 7-0 lead in the third quarter, the Longhorn quarterback launched a deep pass to a wide-open Doss.
"The only thing I had between me and the goal," he recalls, "was twenty yards of grass."
The throw was on target. Longhorn fans rose to their feet. The sure-handed Doss spotted the ball and reached out, but it slipped through. Baylor rallied and tied the score with seconds to play. Texas lost their top ranking and, consequently, their chance at the Rose Bowl.
"I think about that play every day," Doss admits.
Not that he lacks other memories. Happily married for more than six decades. A Father and a Grandfather. He served in the navy during World War II. He appeared on the cover of Life magazine with his Texas teammates. He intercepted seventeen passes during his collegiate career, a university record. He won two NFL titles with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Texas High School Hall of Fame and the Longhorn Hall of Honor include his name.
Most fans don’t remember that play but he does. Doss remembers the one he missed. Once, upon meeting a new Longhorn head coach, Doss told him about the bobbled ball. It had been fifty years since the game, but he wept as he spoke.
Max Lucado, Fearless (Thomas Nelson, 2009), pp. 31-32
What controls you? Is it your memories of failures? Is it something you did that you regret? Are there areas in your life that you can’t seem to let go? Who or what controls your thoughts and emotions?
Many people struggle with guilt, failures, sins and major mistakes that we just can’t let go of. Most people today would say (and say is the operative word here) that nothing bothers them. And it does seem like nothing really fazes us today or at least that is what we allow ourselves to believe and we let on that nothing bothers us. If it feels okay it must be okay. So what does control us? I don’t believe that nothing bothers us. I have counseled people for over 35 years and that is not the case people are bothered by things they have done or done and have said and should have said.
Many people if you look below the surface they will reveal uneasiness in life and many times it is a feeling of being enslaved to their own mishandling of things and a guilty conscience. I believe that all of us are in need of freedom; a freedom from remorse and guilt. Here is what Paul has to say about being free.
Romans 8:1-8 (NIV)
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. 5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
I want to just look at the first 2 verses this morning and we are going to use Judas, the guy that betrayed Christ to help us understand the freedom that Christ offers. Let’s take a look at the last encounter with this tormented so-called follower of Jesus – you can check him out for yourself in Matthew 27:1-10:
- After the chief priests and elders decided to have Jesus put to death – they took Him to Pilate.
- The Scripture tells us at that moment Judas realized that he had made a grave mistake and now the Master was being condemned to death – the Scripture says that he became remorseful – gee really nice of the guy don’t you think.
- He attempted to return the 30 silver coins – when he did Judas said, “I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood.” The chief priests and elders basically told him – “so what; you deal with it.”
- The Scripture tells us that he threw the money at the religious leaders and went out and hanged himself.
- The big word here is remorseful.
We can learn some things from Judas, the man who becomes remorseful, regretful and sorry for the decisions he had made. Do we feel sorry for things we have said or done – I mean really sorry? What do you do with those areas in your life that you need freed of?
- Somewhere along the line all of us have done or said something we regret. We know we have sinned and feel terribly about it even if we don’t admit it. We are good at hiding things and our regrets and guilt are prime examples of what we want to hide.
- We may have walked with Jesus. But we can't seem to rid ourselves of the guilt, no matter how we try to give back to God.
- We can't shake the inner voice that makes us feel guilty. That inner voice speaks to us about making choice and we can’t be a Christian with the choices we have made. We believe that some of the choices we have made will destroy our relationship with God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
- That inner voice prompted by Satan says to us "You made a choice. You cannot undo this. Now it's your responsibility." The sound of condemnation keeps ringing like coins clanging across the floor of our inner temple. We obviously haven't literally hung ourselves like Judas did, but we are hanging ourselves in other ways.
Our neighbor in New Castle was a nice guy – kind of rough around the edges and you knew there was something bothering him below the surface. One day soon after we moved there I sat with him outside his garage where he was re-weaving a lawn chair and he told me about an accident that he had as a truck driver. He drove big rigs and was going through New Castle – down a hill on his way home when a little boy darted out between 2 parked cars and he ran over the little boy killing him instantly. He was not at fault but he carried that wound with him even after many years. The parents didn’t blame him, the court cleared him of any charges, but he couldn’t forgive himself. He told himself over and over again that it wasn’t his fault but it ate at him. I don’t believe that he allowed God’s grace to heal his wounds. He raised a family – had a wonderful family and grandkids but one of the first conversations we had was about this horrible accident. He didn’t first tell me about his grandkids – he told me about the pain in his life. I look back and realize that he never experienced what Paul talks about when he said … there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
- When we don't forgive ourselves, it can damage us and those around us.
- It may display itself in a lingering listlessness or sadness that robs you of the capacity for real joy anymore.
- It may turn into an unconscious self-destructive habits. It may lead you to say, "What the heck, I'm a Judas, so I might as well keep on doing bad."
- My uncle was a brilliant man – he had a wonderful career in the army but every time he made a mistake he went out and got drunk. His actions snow balled – he lost his commission in the army, his marriage, his little girl and eventually died in an alley in San Francisco – homeless. I never knew anything about this until he died. I thought he was cool as a little boy (he kind of looked like Clark Gable to me) but his sin caught up with him and he never allowed Christ to heal his broken sinful life.
What about you? Is there anything you struggle to forgive in yourself? Have you got a sin of commission or omission you find hard to think about sometimes or that may be hanging you up? If so, let me touch on four steps that may be of help.
Don't forgive yourself too easily. I know this may sound strange or counter-productive, but forgiving ourselves ought to involve some struggle. Lewis Smedes (professor of theology and ethics for twenty-five years at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California) put it this way: "If forgiving ourselves comes easy, chances are we are only excusing ourselves, ducking blame, and not really forgiving ourselves at all."
If you are self-aware enough, conscious of sin enough, concerned about God and others enough, some part of you ought to ache a bit over the remembrance of the wrongs you've done.
- The Psalmist wrote 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Ps. 51:17 NIV)
- I don’t know about you but I still hang on to things that I have done that I regret. I think of times I promised to do something and never followed through or times I said something in haste and with no thought and afterwards regret.
- Dorothy Kearns story – in my first church as a student pastor I became friends with the Kearns family – they operated a big dairy farm, a large farm auction, and her husband was an auctioneer. Dorothy was a dynamo who kept everything running – she was the treasurer of the church.
- A few years after we moved her and Dutch went through a messy divorce. One day in my prayer time I had this feeling that I needed to call her and see how she was doing. I just kind of pushed it off to the side. Wrong move – I called the next day to see how she was doing and discovered she had committed suicide the day before.
- I live every day wondering if I had called when I had that prompting would she be alive. Believe me if I get a prompting like that I follow through immediately.
- We don't resolve these parts of our stories by taking them lightly. Be very wary of somebody who walks around talking casually about how they've forgiven themselves.
- "Oh, I know I drove drunk and ran over your grandmother, but I've forgiven myself." As Lewis Smedes observes, at the end of the day, there are only two parties that have the authority to hand us a "self-forgiveness license"—the person(s) we've injured, and the God who made them and us.
- This is why we go to the people we've injured and ask them for forgiveness. It is always easier to forgive ourselves if they have forgiven us first. Sometimes, however, the other party is not willing to forgive or even still available to forgive us. It is in these difficult circumstances that the forgiveness God offers to a broken and contrite heart is something that we have to work to claim for ourselves.
On the other hand don't inflate the significance of your sin, mistake, and or failure. Don't let your pride inflate the significance of your sin. It is true that some people make far too little of their failures, but there are also others who make far too much of their sins and failures.
Listen to what one remorseful man wrote in his diary. "I have done nothing. My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations, and in ceaseless rejected prayers that something should be the result of my existence beneficial to my own species." Do you know who wrote those words? (I will give you a hint he is a historical figure and not of our century) John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. Was his whole life really a waste?
How about the last words spoken by Hugo Grotius: "I have accomplished nothing worthwhile in my life." Well that's not really true, for the minor fact that he founded the entire system of modern international law.
- Sometimes what happens is a person puts on an air of humbleness but in reality they are complaining about their failures to get attention. But in actuality, their wailing about their failure was a form of pride.
- Take your sin seriously, but don't define the value of your whole life by where you failed. Give glory to God for all the myriad ways in which His grace has triumphed in your life and can triumph further.
- The Apostle Paul sinned terribly – he talks about being the worst of all sinners. And you know what he was at one time pretty nasty. He had people imprisoned and tortured unjustly. He presided over mob stonings. He wasted the prime years of his youth walking the wrong path. Yet Paul prayed for us to keep seeking “… him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”(Ephesians 3:20)
We need to believe Jesus' words. I am not sure that Judas' greatest sin was stealing from the disciples' common purse, or selling Jesus out to the religious leaders, or being a part of the story that led Jesus to the cross. I know that's his story, but I think that storyline misses the thrust of the gospels. I think Judas' greatest failure wasn't his decision to betray Jesus; it was his decision not to believe Jesus.
- His unbelief was what motivated the initial betrayal. Satan entered him but if Judas believed it would have been one of the other disciples – maybe not even one of the twelve.
- Judas was there when that miserable tax collector, Zacchaeus, expressed sorrow over his past and pledged to live differently going forward. "Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost'" (Luke 19:9-10).
- In other words, "Zacchaeus, had abandoned the Jewish family by becoming a Roman collaborator. But I see your sorrow, your readiness to walk a new way. Welcome back to the family. You are forgiven."
- I don't think Judas believed it.
- Judas was also there when the crowd dragged the woman caught in adultery right in front of Jesus. Judas knew exactly what the law required: This prostitute ought to have the center seat at a rock concert. She ought to be stoned. But Jesus saw her remorse, and said: "I don't condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11). Forgiveness for her, when she'd been caught in the act? Judas didn’t believe that this was the way to deal with her. Judas questioned Jesus’ approach to sinners, even though He kept Judas on as one of the 12.
- Judas was also there when Jesus told that story about the son who humiliated his father before the whole neighborhood, disrespected him, took half his family's money and lost it all. Judas knew exactly what should happen. Kill the kid!
- But according to Jesus' story, when the Father saw the grief of his son over what he'd done, when he saw his willingness to be a slave if that's what it took to begin again, "The father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate.
- For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found'" (Luke 15:22-24). I don't think Judas believed it.
- The key question I suppose is this: Do you believe Jesus? Do you take Jesus at his word? Here's the deal:
- If your perfect record is the only thing that will gain you love and forgiveness, you are in trouble because no matter what we think, do, and or react to it won’t get you into God’s kingdom. We need the King to forgive us.
- I am sure that you don’t need any help to experience freedom – you got it all figured out on your own. Right?
- I am certainly glad that I don’t have to rely on just me because I am never going to experience the freedom that Paul writes about in Romans 8.
- But if Jesus was right about how outrageous the grace of God is—as his voluntary death on the cross and his victory over the grave proves—then you and I have something to believe in. We have something to live for. We can forgive ourselves and move on. This is the third step you may need to take. Dare to believe Jesus' word.
Commune with other forgiven sinners. It's hard to keep our belief in the outrageous grace of God that Jesus both taught and modeled, isn't it? Even when we hear the truth that we've been forgiven by others or forgiven by God, the voice of the Accuser attacks us at times. This is why, if you want to forgive yourself, the fourth step I'd recommend is to make it a priority to commune with others who have been forgiven.
- It seems to me that this is the critical difference between the two of the most gifted disciples in Jesus' company. Both Judas and Peter were enormously gifted people. Both of them were zealous disciples. Both of them betrayed Jesus profoundly. Yet one became isolated and died alone. But the other remained in the community of other fallen disciples and found the grace he needed to become a new creation altogether.
- King Solomon of Israel had some spectacular failures in his life but he did have some great wisdom; he valued partnership. He wrote, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Eccl. 4:12).
- We need to fellowship together with other imperfect believers so we can keep our balance in life. If we only fellowship with those who have not experienced God’s grace we are going to be miserable.
- Who are those people who serve as the strands that keep you tied into God's grace?
- Who are the trustworthy people who are honest about their own lives and are willing to support you in those down times in your own life and who can help you believe in the redemptive love of God?
- Whose cord are you a part of?
- Make sure that you are together so you can be grace filled – not condemned but free to serve the Lord and others.
Conclusion: Live as one forgiven – experience what Paul tells us – that we have no condemnation in our lives if we trust in Christ.
- If you really want to forgive yourself, don't do so too easily.
- But don't let your insistence on being perfect inflate the significance of your sin.
- Dare to believe the words of Jesus about God's willingness to forgive a broken and contrite heart.
- Make sure you commune with other forgiven sinners.
- And, as we celebrate on every Sunday morning, go out to live as one over whom God, the ultimate authority in this whole Universe, has written this liberating, this new possibility-creating, this life-beginning-again word: "Thou art forgiven!"