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We Can Relate, Part 4

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So far, what we’ve talked about has largely been an inward and verbal relating, a deeper understanding of our own desperation and rescue that helps us understand our neighbor’s. Here, we move to an outward relating in our counsel. Not only do we understand and convey God’s rescue with our words, but our very approach to our neighbors also relates to them the God who approached us. We display God to them in how we treat them in tangible ways that go far beyond words. My hope is that our awe and drooling over God’s invasion into our own lives shapes and spurs our invasion into our neighbors’ lives. We cannot do mission without knowing God deeply, and mission cannot be Godly without Godly counsel. The two are knit together. May this sever the chains of inaction and shame that keep us in our seats when we have opportunities to approach our neighbor and speak God’s message skillfully into their lives. I do mean “we” and “us,” as this is a raw area for me personally, one that desperately needs the life-changing beholding and enjoying of a pursuing God. Let’s link arms and grow together.

Beholding the God Who Pursues

The fact is that God invades our lives in an entirely unnatural, awkward, and inorganic way with a raw, confrontational gospel message precisely when we were least asking for it. This gospel shines with incomprehensible light like Jesus entering the world in John 1, and it wars on our darkness. He rescues us from a captivity we don’t know we were in. He speaks words that we, in ourselves, cannot connect with until His powerful and skilled hand does open heart surgery in us. This rescue gives us our cues for pursuing neighbors. We lift our eyes in awe to this rescue with such frequency, joy, and depth, that we cannot help but be moved to be like this God who rescues. And in this alone are we able to love our neighbors as we should. The only real love we have to give is to image a worthy God in word and in action.

God Pursues

God pursues us. He finds us where we are in our flesh, and He meets us there with grace that puts down our captivity and brings us out to Himself. He doesn’t wait for us to approach Him first. He doesn’t wait until we look clean. He bends down low into the dirt, sin, and mess of our public accusation, disarms the accusers, calls us to repent of our sin, and dwells with us as we struggle to repent, giving us the very grace by which we repent.

God Cares for the Sinful

God cares about the woes of the utterly sinful. There’s no way around this. Israel was worshipping Egypt’s idols when God rescued them powerfully from Egypt. He invaded your life and my life and atoned for our sins while we were at our worst. When the sinful hurt, God is moved. When He has compassion, He acts: He sends (Matthew 9:36), He heals (Matthew 14:14), He feeds (Matthew 15:32), He delivers (Mark 9:25), He comforts (Luke 7:13), He binds (Luke 10:33), and He embraces (Luke 15:20).

God Risks Shame

The God of the universe, alone worthy of all respect, awe, and worship, was massacred naked on a disgusting cross like a common criminal between two common criminals. He was unsafe, and He became shame on behalf of those who should rightfully be ashamed. His grotesque display disarmed the weight of my shame and your shame so that we can join Him in further becoming shame on behalf of our neighbors to show them the God who is truly shame on their behalf.

God is Steadfast

God chose us before the foundations of the Earth were framed, and in Him there is no shadow of turning. He did not profess love in wild gestures that fizzled out in days, weeks, months, or years. He showed love that gives us the very meaning of steadfast, bearing with our sins not only while we sinned and spat in His face but for ages beforehand in His divine planning. He sticks with a stubborn, hardheaded, and stiff-necked people. He sticks with me and you.

Imaging God’s Pursuit

We are missionaries, and missionaries need to know how to counsel. We obey Jesus’ commands to make disciples (not just “agree-ers”), and this must include Ephesians 4. If evangelism doesn’t lead to local bodies, it simply isn’t evangelism. It is something else. We lift our eyes to God’s rescue of us to get us off our seats, to spur our pursuit, and to inform how we pursue. Counsel doesn’t just speak. It acts. And this is because God Himself doesn’t just speak. He acts.

Posted by Matt Norman with

We Can Relate, Part 3

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“I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to”

There’s been a song on the radio lately about homosexuality, and I find it intriguing. It’s your typical mixture of genuine vulnerability and dismissive pride. But so are all of us apart from walking by God’s Spirit. We cannot genuinely face ourselves without the safety of Christ’s perfection on our behalf. A woman sings a lyric in that song, “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to.” Do you sense the vulnerability? “Look, I’m not making this up, I really feel like I can’t change, I really have tried, and I really don’t even want to.” Do you sense the pride? “I’m certain I cannot change, and I’m certain I don’t need to.” Those aren’t only the same words you’ll hear from a substance abuse addict. Those are the words you could hear from your pastor if you lovingly call him out on a so-called “refined” sin. We all sing this chorus in the flesh. It’s scary though, the prideful part, isn’t it — to be calloused and not feel the callousness, to be blind and not see the blindness? Suppose this was your close friend coming to you with their own chorus of mixed vulnerability and pride, and you feel the stab of fear and hopelessness, wondering: what if they don’t repent? What in the world can I actually do for them? I feel like I don’t have any control to help them. What is it that speaks to this? In short, we relate to their rescue.

A common rescue

None of us really have control of rescue, so if we cannot hope in a God who is able, then we cannot speak to those fears at all. If my rescue is just like theirs, then I lift my eyes to the God “who can even change someone like me.” I see how I myself am rescued, how powerful that rescue was, and that gives me confidence toward my neighbor. Notice, though, that this requires that we really know what God has done for us. I too was stuck in my own sin, far gone, not because I wanted out and couldn’t get out, but because I didn’t really even want out. I was stuck in sin precisely because I desired sin. The same is true for you. But I can also tell you that now, I really do love God Himself more than anything. No doubt, my put-down-but-still-present sin often grasps for reign over my desires with success at times. But in mere moments of remembering the Lord, of fixing my eyes on who He really is, what He’s really done, especially when together with family in Christ, I can embarrass that sinful desire and put it down. Bridging these two people (me in the flesh and me in the Spirit) is a powerful, intervening God.

The confidence we build in God’s power to put down sin in our own lives also dispels our fears for our friends when we see them in the flesh. We see our rescue, and it testifies to His power for theirs. I want to pick out three things about God’s rescue to encourage your hope and confidence in God’s power toward your friends in our common rescue.

1. God alone rescues us

Rescue is God’s solo act. We have to stop attributing our rescue to things that we do. Your desire for someone’s body didn’t wane today because you read the Word, because you prayed, because you called an accountability partner. Your desire for sin waned because a powerful God overwhelmed it for you. We cannot hope to probe God’s wisdom in how He choses things to work, in how exactly our everyday obedience can amount to something so massive as changing our very core desires. We need to stop trying to change our desires by our own contrived means arising from our own wisdom. We must leave the rescue itself to the only one who can actually do it. You might say, “So, why do I do things then, if not to put down sin?” You do them solely because a trustworthy God told you to and you trust Him. Period. We lift our eyes to God in joy, we obey because we trust a real Person, and we leave the massive rescue to His capable hands.

In Exodus 14:16, do you realize that God actually told Moses to part the Red Sea himself? Can Moses really part the Red Sea? Certainly not, but he surely can hold up a stick by faith in a trustworthy God. And Moses did exactly that. What do we see actually happened in Exodus 14:21? God is the one who actually drove back the sea. We’re seeing a glimpse of what Philippians 2:12-13 looks like as we work out with real works what God alone is actually doing in its entirety. Friend, leave the impossible work of rescue to God’s hands. That being said, trusting this God, do what He tells you to do. This breeds divine confidence not only for you but for the neighbor you love.

2. God’s rescue moves our eyes

If our Romans 1 curse involves being eclipsed to God’s glory and being given over to desires to everything but God Himself, then His rescue delivers us to the exact opposite. The curse is what happens when “not God” defines our very being. God’s rescue brings us to a reality where “with God” defines our very being. When sinful desires tug, when callousness drags, and when we don’t desire God at all, our rescue involves ripping our eyes away from all that is not God and placing them squarely onto God, dwelling with Him in His sanctuary, crying out to Him in desperation, and recalling who He really as we run with abandon to His sanctuary like Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife, like the Psalmist of Psalm 63 running to an oasis in a harsh desert.

The fact is that sin knows how to keep our eyes off of God. It has a lot of tricks. You’ll want to try to “figure out” why you want that sin so much. You might look into your past or try to pry apart what lures you as if understanding it would do anything to disarm its luring power. But notice where your eyes are! They’re typically on the idol itself or on your own self, but regardless they are certainly not on God. What we must do is rip our eyes away and place squarely onto God in the middle of His sanctuary. Rescue from sin is not logical or factual. It is a Person, a Person we need to learn to run to often because dwelling with Him alone will disarm the sin that would certainly otherwise overtake us with ease. We are fools to think we have any other rescue than James 4:7-8 in the moment of luring. We are fools to think that we are above that simple child-like everyday discipline of: “God I cannot handle this, but I know You can! Draw near to me, and steal my gaze and loves away for Yourself!” This practice, this rescue, breeds confidence not only for you but for the neighbor you love.

3. God’s rescue works itself out in the everyday

That prayer in the last section, that ripping away of the eyes from all that is not God, that running with abandon to His sanctuary, that emptying of the hands and running to God’s gracious and powerful atonement like an Israelite stretching out in complete  desperation toward the bronze serpent of Numbers 21 — that, in short, is a picture of repentance. Repentance is a gift of the Spirit, is spurred by the Spirit, is done dwelling with the Spirit, and leads to walking more intimately with the Spirit. Repentance should be thought of as our “in-the-moment rescue” from sin. It is my rescue this moment, my rescue mere seconds from now, and my rescue any moment years from now. Its power never diminishes or slows. It is a powerhouse refuge of sin-crushing dominance that turns us into people who grow to belittle sin’s power in us. It takes a presently intimidating sin, it leverages a testimony of other sin that used to be intimidating yet now is belittled, and it breathes confidence and strong hope. Repentance is something we learn to do quickly, learn to do often, and learn to enjoy. It is the sorrow of the Spirit that leaves not regret and quickly leads us to the joy of seeing God’s glory all the more clearly and being satisfied that such a God would ever live so intimately with us. It is in the everyday that we dominate sin, that we tackle the “monster.” In the everyday, we grow in longing for God, becoming fundamentally different people. In the everyday, our desires become every more Godward. In the everyday, we grow confident in His power for ourselves and for the neighbor we love.

Do you know your own rescue intimately?

The real crux of this post is to beg you to know your own rescue intimately. Does this testimony sound like yours? Do you see where this gracious God comes in (not just once but often) invasively, uninvited, and even unwanted, pulls you powerfully out of sinful desires, and places you into Godward desires? Do you see how this is His work alone, and how desperately you needed it, blind do your blindness, unfeeling of your callousness, not even seeing the pride intermixed with you seeming vulnerability? Do you have a testimony of God being displayed before your eyes and the Spirit moving your heart inexplicably to love this God who is displayed before you? Do you have a testimony of seeing the amazing power of repentance to crush a strong in-the-moment sinful desire in your everyday life? These are the confidences that dispel our fear and hopelessness toward our friends when we see them stuck in a really raw situation.

Posted by Matt Norman with