Freedom

October 13, 2013

I can’t think of anything to write today. I have a weekly deadline to produce a blog post for Restore Ministries and even though I’ve written three drafts, I’ve deleted each one because after reading them, I thought to myself, “Gosh, who is this person? I don’t like her.

Why is this so hard today?

The topic is “Living in the Freedom to Believe.” Oh, wait! Suddenly I realize why this may be difficult. This is the last thing the devil wants us to be thinking about–the gospel and freedom. So I pray, “Jesus, help me write something that will encourage us to have a biblical understanding of belief.” I realize I’m not really qualified to do that, so I pray again, “Jesus, help me write about belief.” Still, something doesn’t seem right, so I pray once more, “Jesus, help me.” Then it dawns on me…with my eyes closed, hands open, I whisper, “Jesus.”

I can write about what I know, and that is Jesus.

The Bible says that it’s not enough to believe in Jesus; even the demons do that (James 2:9). Belief requires repentance. And to be clear, repentance is not just telling God you’re sorry for what you did but that you’re sorry for why you did it. The sin is in the unbelief, as much as the behavior. True repentance doesn’t say, “God, I’m sorry I complained all day about how hard the writing process is and that I squandered my gift.” It also says, “I’m sorry I felt the need to produce my own righteousness by being an extraordinary writer.”

Last week I wrote about how our need to repent is grounded in forgetting one or two things about the gospel: 1.That God has given me the righteousness of Christ and/or 2. I have a loving Father who’s given me everything needed for this life.

So, once I repent, then what? Belief.

Believe in the gospel. What does it mean to believe? First, I know what it doesn’t mean–it doesn’t mean that I’m not scared or disappointed or angered by the harder moments in life. It doesn’t mean that I call ‘bad’ circumstances ‘good’ when they aren’t–marriages should survive, a paycheck should come, a 36-year-old mother with three small children should live. Belief means that when all of these emotions are in play–anger, confusion, heartache–I am sustained by God. It means that I believe Jesus and take Him at His word in spite of my pain.

Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” [John 6:28, ESV] And what are we to believe of him? That my righteousness is in Christ and that because of Jesus, I have everything I need in this life–this one, not just the one that is to come, but right here and right now: without a spouse, without an income, without a cure, without savings, without a resolution.

Believe is, after all, a verb and not an emotion. But tell that to my heart. The act of believing means that I accept the truth of God as Provider and Provision as if it really is true and apply it to my everyday life. But as we all know, this is done imperfectly, especially in a crisis. When I am faced with an overwhelming situation, my truest theology is exposed.

This fall my seven-year-old son is playing on a youth football league. Football is his passion. His wardrobe consists of various jerseys from his gridiron heroes. Anything that doesn’t have a number and a name on the back is considered “church” clothes. Honestly, I had concerns about him playing tackle football because of his size. He’s adopted from Guatemala, and even though he’s an average-sized kid for his culture, he doesn’t quite measure up to the biggie-sized American boys on his team. What he lacks in height, he makes up in heart. The first game of his season came with a great deal of anticipation. These boys practiced seven hours a week for a month. After sixty minutes had come and gone in his first game, he didn’t play a single down. I was in tears behind my sunglasses. After the game, none of us knew what to say to him. Finally, my daughter offered, “Buddy, you look so cool in your uniform.” He didn’t say a word on the long drive home. Later that night, I emailed the coach to ask why he hadn’t played. The coach apologized and said it was a mistake; he called it “first-game glitches” and promised to make it up to him in the next game. A week later the same thing happened; he played two downs. Several other boys never made it on the field. I was upset but remained quiet because my son was happy about their win. By the third game, however, after only participating in the last play of the first half, I was furious. You know that “warning light” you get when you’re about to say something you’ll regret? Well, I ignored it. As we left the field, I approached the coach–who was all smiles because of their undefeated record–and asked to speak with him privately. I told him that, if he thought playing the same boys on both offense and defense during each half of every game while other boys sat on the bench was something to smile about, then he should reevaluate his priorities as a coach. Then, I told him that his obsession with winning had clearly made him lose sight of the purpose and privilege of coaching. I finished by saying that the weekly six-hour investment these boys (and parents) make was not worth the poor return.

Are you uncomfortable yet?

See what happens when I forget that the condition of my son’s heart is not my responsibility? I get ugly and mouthy.

I didn’t only forget the gospel for myself, I forgot it for my son. Have you ever done that?

I went to bed angry but unsettled, and a subtle shame snuck up on me. By the time I awoke the following day, I felt sick inside. Rather than having cereal for breakfast, I was about to eat crow. I realized the reason I was disturbed was because I worried about how not playing was affecting my son. He’s a boy in a broken home. He’s also aware that, because he’s adopted, someone who should’ve wanted him didn’t. He wrestles with rejection and anger. I was so bound up with fear that my son wouldn’t have what he needed from this experience–or worse, that it was doing irreparable harm. My nail biting kept me from entering into the experience with him. I was as much of a spectator of him as he was the game.

In my unbelief, I thought I could fix the problem by “talking” to his coach, but all I’d done was take off my robe of righteousness in exchange for a filthy rag. I wish I had taken that rag and stuffed it down my throat instead.

I didn’t believe that God is my son’s righteousness. I forgot that his identity is not in his broken home or his orphan status but in Christ Jesus–solid and secure. I didn’t believe that God had given him the resources to cope with this disappointment. I didn’t believe that God could be using his pain for a greater and glorious purpose that will serve him beautifully in his future. I didn’t believe in anything other than the sharpness of my tongue and my ability to use words like weapons.

I called the coach and apologized. I kept it simple because that’s what coaches do. I strapped on my “big-girl’’ chinstrap and said, “Coach, I’m sorry for what I said last night. I was wrong and it won’t happen again. Will you forgive me?”

I wanted to say, “You see, I’m worried about my son. He’s already endured so much pain and I’m afraid that not playing him is crushing his fragile spirit. He needs this and you aren’t giving it to him.” But I knew that wasn’t repentance, so I didn’t. The coach said, “All is forgiven.”

All is forgiven. All is secure. All is provided.

My son’s team is undefeated after seven games. He plays regularly and even scored a touchdown last week. I later learned that he’d been kept out of those earlier games because the opposing teams were so big that the coaches worried he might get hurt. Ahh, humility. I’m glad I didn’t know because the experience allowed so much unbelief to be exposed in me. “It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance.” [Romans 2:4, ESV]

This day, I choose to believe that Christ is my righteousness and not how I respond to disappointment. I choose to believe that God is a Good Father and that He’s using everything for my good and His glory. In other words, I don’t have to make a way for myself (or my child). Will I forget? Probably by the end of the day, maybe even the hour. That’s why I stay in the Word, not so much that I won’t sin (though that’s the idea) but rather when I’m tempted to unbelief, I know the truth from the lie.

     “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” [Galatians 5:1, ESV]

I’m free to try and fail without either defining who I am or how I live. I’m free to believe.

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I recently started working for a counseling ministry in Birmingham, Alabama called Restore Ministries. My first assignment was to write a response to a dynamic bible study called Idol Addiction created and taught by Restore’s co-founder, Julie Sparkman. I am writing about Chapter 5, titled “Remember, Repent and Return.” The lesson deals with the biblical beliefs that as children of God we possess the righteousness of Christ and that we are well-provided for children of God. And since we’ve been given a perfect standing and an equally perfect provision, we can live like heirs rather than orphans.

I wrote this piece while twisting and turning with my own unbelief. Every word I penned was hard-earned and fought for, not by me, but by Jesus. During the week of my deadline, I found my back against the wall emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. My personal circumstances were being crunched by external pressures making this writing assignment especially difficult…and needful. I wrestled with every word until a divine mercy transported my spirit beyond the temporal and terminal into the eternal. How? The gospel sank in, like way in. I found myself trusting not in “things seen but unseen,” believing God’s Word over my cynicism and circumstance. It was grace, mysterious and inexplicable, like grace always is. 

It was another step towards my true self, my child-of-God self.

 

 

Strong Flesh, Weak Memories

As I get older my memory fades. My children love to remind me of the things I’ve forgotten.

“Mom, you forgot to send a check for the book fair.” “Mom, you forgot to sign my permission slip.” “Mom, you forgot to put peanut butter and jelly on my sandwich, I only had two pieces of bread!” (Yes, I did this.) It’s usually small stuff that doesn’t cost much in the way of negligence. But one thing I cannot afford to forget is the gospel, it is the “life” within my life. When my aging brain is unable to dial up my “to do list” or why I’m at the grocery store it’s one thing, but to forget that I have a righteousness before the Holy God of the universe is another.

Forgetting my perfect position in Christ costs me more than a wasted trip to Publix; it costs me a night’s sleep, a fight with my husband, humility in relationships. It costs me peace. Not long ago, I texted my oldest daughter to ask when she would be home from a night out and she replied, “I’m waiting on you to pick me up.” Oops. I forgot. I forget constantly and not only about carpools but about my Christ-righteousness, especially when another mom has waited 20 minutes for me to collect my child. I forget the gospel when I look bad. I forget because my flesh is strong and my memory is weak. When I “blow” it, I scramble to recover my lost credibility. I begin to clothe my shame with filthy fig leaves, it looks like this: “I have five kids, you know…I’m a single mom…I’m not used to this new school schedule.”  Then, I remember 2 Peter 1:9 that says when I lack faith I am “nearsighted, blind and easily forget.” So, I’m off the hook, right? Well…yes, because God knows this about me He has provided a remedy for my strong flesh and weak memory–Jesus–but it requires a knowledge of Christ and with that, my repentance. Instead of covering, I must welcome the exposure. Then, it looks like this: “Jesus, I did it again. Help me to live like I believe that my righteousness is in you.” This is true repentance, not just a “mending” of my ways because my sin runs much deeper than that, it’s a cry for rescue from my unbelief.

Repentance is admitting that you don’t believe the gospel in two ways: either you forgot that you have a righteousness through Jesus (like I did on the infamous “bread sandwich” day) or you forgot that you’ve been given all you need for life and godliness. I forget this too, almost on a daily basis. Just yesterday I had a friend say to me, “Michele, if God were to show you and me the factual forecast that, of course, shows a magnificent bottom-line for us, I dare to guess, we would not be disappointed.” You know why she had to tell me? Because I forgot that I was a well-provided for daughter. I forgot like I had some sort of spiritual amnesia and not just a bump on the head. She grew very sad watching me frenetically scramble around securing all that’s “mine.” I was acting like an orphan so she reminded me that I have a heavenly Father running towards me with open arms. I had a choice in that moment, I could keep pilfering the air or I could breathe in Christ.

I like the way The Living Bible puts it, “For as you know him better, he will give you, through his great power, everything you need for living a truly good life: he even shares his own glory and his own goodness with us!”

Really, Lord? Can this be true?

“I will supply all of your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” [Phillipians 4:9 NIV]

Hmm.

It really changes everything, doesn’t it?

So, I repented of my unbelief, “Lord, forgive me for forgetting that I already have been given all I need in spite of how things appear; give me clarity beyond my vision. Forgive me for taking matters into my own hands; I forgot to trust you. And Jesus, the next time I feel a wave of panic wash over me, make me remember that my righteousness is in you, and I have everything I need.”

What if I believed that I am a well-provided for child of the King?

“Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” [Deuteronomy 33:12, NIV]

I want to stand securely in the righteousness of Christ, allowing His peace to be my shield from shame and worry. Only God can show me how to rest “between his shoulders.”

It’s all grace.

 

 

“But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.” [John 1:9, The Message]

For more information about Restore Ministries or Idol Addiction go to: http://restore-ministries.org/