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We Are Able To Counsel In The Church, Part 1

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A friend comes up to you and says, “We need to sit down and talk sometime.” So you schedule a meal to sit down together. Going into it, you know that it’s probably something difficult in their life, and you press your mind to think of how you can listen to them, serve them, mourn with them, and exhort them about who God is and what that means for them. But when you sit down, after talking about the weather for a bit, what they tell you absolutely blindsides you. It’s uglier, messier, and more vulnerable than you had imagined. While your heart is not to judge them, you’re terribly grieved, and you fear that they indeedmight not trust the Lord but might live out fleshly desires. You fear for them, their family, and your own friendship with them. And you wonder things like: Who am I to speak into this situation? I’m not qualified for this. They need “help.” In terrible plight, they have come to you, and it all sits on your shoulders to make them see the light, to make them love it, and to make them change and trust God in their situation. This is extremely intimidating, is it not?

I’m sure many of you have already noticed the glaring heresy I put at the end of that last paragraph: “it all sits on your shoulders to make them…” I put it there on purpose, not because it’s true in reality but because it’s how we all usually perceive reality to be when another’s burden falls on us to help carry. Even though it’s unbiblical and even though we confess the truth, our hearts so often spring up in wrong beliefs and wrong desires as a first reaction. So often, we really do feel that it all depends on us and what we do. We ask:

How am I going to make them turn and trust? What if they hate what I’m saying? What if another person hears this advice and hates what I’ve told them? What if someone else could do it better? What if I’m actually hurting them and not helping? What if I talk to them and they don’t listen? What if I miss something in my advice? Who am I to do any of this?

These are fears we all have when we meet a heavy issue in a friend’s life, and the very fact that they’re our friend whom we love so much only adds weight to these fears. These fears lead to a lot of very bad counsel for all of us:

  • We do not counsel at all
  • We placate them with things we know they will like
  • We only say what others would nod their heads to
  • We don’t confront them with their sins
  • We don’t expose sins of our own as examples to them
  • We obsess over them in anxiety when we’re not around them
  • We lack confidence in our counsel to them
  • We don’t rest in the sufficiency of scripture for all our sins and trials

When we approach the idea of putting our hands (our simple, untrained hands) to the plow of everyday counsel in the church, we cannot approach it in the midst of these fears. Something needs to break us out of these fears. We need something that speaks to it all in order to free us from anxious obsession, from cowardice, from man-pleasing, from constant uncertainty, and from being ashamed of the gospel. I want you to have a sure source of remedy for these fears because they absolutely will crop up often, needing to be put down often by this remedy.

I want to take you to the story of Moses in Exodus through Deuteronomy. I want to show you a man who, by all accounts, was quite possibly the worst choice for leader and counselor to the Israelite people and confronter-in-chief to the Pharaoh of Egypt, a man basically considering himself to be a god. Moses is an outcast murderer who spat upon the kindnesses of Pharaoh’s finest things because he hated what Pharaoh was doing to the Israelites, a people he belonged to by birth. Moses was plagued by fear, he stuttered, and he was quite content in residing hidden among a group of tribes outside the immediate view of Egypt. But God called Moses in all his weakness, in all his failings, in all his fears, to confront Pharaoh with a simple message, to comfort Israel with a simple message, and to lead Israel with a simple staff. And God’s sole comfort to Moses, His sole motivation, His sole source of help was a simple but deep reality, “I am with you.” I would do you a severe disservice if I did not comfort you solely with the same thing: God is with you!

This week, I want you to meditate on one truth only: You, in yourself, can do nothing, and God, Himself, can do anything. When Moses had led Israel out of Egypt to the edge of the Red Sea, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to pursue Israel with intent to kill them all, pinning them between an impassable sea and the world’s finest military, a very angry military. Then God commands something quite impossible for Moses to do: “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.” Take that in! God actually told Moses to part the Red Sea. He’s calling Moses to do the impossible. And what happens with Moses lifts up his staff, obeying by trust? We read that it is God who actually parts the Red Sea. God told Moses to do the impossible by a simple, real-life, tangible act. Moses obeys by faith in doing this simple, real-life, tangible act. And we see that God Himself does the impossible work. It’s all right there for you to read in Exodus 14. Check it out.

What impossible things has God commanded you to do and also promised that He Himself will do? What real-life tangible commands has He given for you to obey? What promises has He given for you to trust as fuel for your obedience?

I want this be your comfort and motivation in counseling, your greatest anchor and hope for yourself in your sins and trials and your greatest anchor and hope for others when you enter into their sins and trials with them. Do not be ashamed of His power. Do not be ashamed of His gospel. Their greatest hope is that you faithfully obey God in His commands to do impossible things through real-life obedience by faith. Display who God is to them both in words that breathe out scripture skillfully and applicably to their life and in actions and embodiment that put texture and shape to those words. Knowing God intimately — that He is with you, that it is His power at work and not your own, that He Himself is your greatest treasure and theirs — is your cure for intimidation and fear in counseling. It disarms sinful reactions and breathes out vibrant God-displaying, heart-changing power to those around you.

Posted by Matt Norman with

We Need Counsel In The Church, Part 2

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Inevitably, society seeps into the church and causes us to process things unbiblically in ways we don’t even realize it. Legacy is no different. This is all the more reason we need adiversity of rescued ones in our local body to better cover our blind spots as we are built together into Christ’s fullness, that we will be able to catch when society, not God, has the say in our view of something. One way this has happened so far at Legacy and the church at large is in the area of “small sins.” The root problem is either (1) that we don’t see God clearly in His Word as He describes our fundamental problem or (2) we don’t apply well it to the ins and outs of daily life. I want to take a look at Romans 1 and ask, “What is the worst thing I could possibly do in life?”

Romans 1 begins in a context of God’s name exalted in obedience throughout the ends of the Earth: “…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you…” The powerhouse declaration of the gospel lifts our hearts to behold God: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” But there’s another reason even behind this that tells us why this gospel is so worthy of our awe and unashamed rejoicing: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” Paul’s ministry finds its deepest end in God’s display and worship among all nations. The gospel finds its deepest end in God’s righteousness being revealed. Romans 1 opens up with the language of display, and it continues throughout the letter.

Why is God’s wrath revealed against mankind? Because mankind, “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” We see display language: “revealed, suppress, known, plain, shown, clearly perceived, …” What was our first sin? We did not honor, we did not thank. God was absent from our thoughts. And what was His first expression of wrath? We were given futile (amounting to nothing) minds now that the only eternal God is absent from our thoughts. We were given darkened (literally, “eclipsed”) hearts now that the only light by which we see is removed from us. We were given foolishness so foolish, we boast like idiots, thinking we are wise, now that the only wise God is outside our reach and noticing. Our desperate condition began from us choosing to be absent from Him. His wrath against us is most directly expressed in Him handing us over as captives to His absence, controlled by lusts for creation. Only then do we find ourselves expressing the list of sins at the end of the chapter.

But let’s take a look at this list: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” Do you gossip? Have you disobeyed parents? Are you faithless? Do you envy? Have you boasted? Have you slandered? Do you do these things often? Addiction is captivity to sin, and we all lived as addicts before we were rescued, and we all live in sanctification now, seeing our rescue put down addiction in our daily lives. The point is that big sins are not what society says they are. God has a radically different view of big sin. Look at the harsh disciplines that fell upon Israel because of their grumbling  hearts! Do you and I imagine and long for scenarios of a different life, inherently grumbling against what God has chosen to give us in our lives, calling His provision of trials and difficulty ill-intended? How about after a tough night with the kids or a fight with the spouse or roommate?

What is the most damaging thing you and I could possibly do to another human being? The most damaging thing I can do to you is suppress the display of God’s glory and true nature, either by acting different than He is (i.e., being a broken image bearer) or by lifting up something else in creation as more worthy of your worship by my own example. All sin iscommunity sin. Personal holiness, while I get what it means, is an oxymoron because holiness is corporate. All sin tears apart your brothers and sisters around you because it defames God, maligns His character, and lifts up other things before Him. Should I spend my night mindlessly watching television like a vegetable, it is not a personal sin, and it is not neutral. As I wake up tomorrow, not having dwelt with God, I am unable to clearly display Him to you, and that is a sin to you. Having spent an hour in front of a mirror hating and fixating on your body image, you do not commit personal sin, you commit community sin because, having fixated on yourself, blind to God, you will not display the true God to your brother or sister. Looking up pornography or engaging a fit of rage toward your friend, you sin against the whole church because you suppress the truth of God’s glory to all around you by lifting up idols of sex or self-vindication rather than functioning as one who makes God more clear to everyone around. This is God’s view of sin. This is the weightiness of “small sins” and the truth of our addictions to things we refuse to call addiction because they seem fairly innocuous. Seeing the disparity between ourselves and Christ, who is the brilliant reality of who we were created to be, small sin becomes much larger!

We have the big sins at Legacy, and we need to get good at seeing it like God sees it, and at curing it like God cures it. Romans 3, when Christ swoops in and rescues us from captivity under sin by our faith, we see something curious: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” God’s righteousness, the risen Christ atoning for many sinners, is revealed, manifested, displayed anew in this gospel! Our rescue is a restoration of God’s glory to our eyes and hearts. In 1 Corinthians 1 and Ephesians 1, among many other places, we now see God where we were blind. We now trust Him where we mocked. We now long for Him where we were previously unaffected and preoccupied. Our thoughts revolve around Him where He was previously an afterthought. We are restored to His display, to loving Him from a pure heart, and this rescue is purchased by Christ. In fact, this is precisely how we counsel: a renewed display of God. “This is where you’re not seeing God as He really is. This is who God really is. Lift your eyes with me, and shake loose the hindrance that distracts you!”

We need counsel at Legacy. We need it badly. We need it often!

Posted by Matt Norman with