Ode to Liberate. And Dr. Rod.

liberate

A friend and I had just left our first workshop at Liberate 2012. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt was in the pulpit. I love listening to Rod. He doesn’t just lecture about what he thinks or feels. Rod is a preacher. And that means, he is controlled by a message that he hasn’t crafted. Something foreign has gotten a’hold of Rod. Something that is crafting him, repenting him, faithing him… something he calls the gospel of Jesus. In the chapel at Coral Ridge, Rod preached a blessing of forgiveness, life, and resurrection – he unveiled heaven’s surprise for a weary world. It’s special because you can tell that Rod is more devoted to heralding the message than he is to hearing himself talk. In fact, he spent a great deal of his time with us reading from another theologian’s writing. And as the workshop progressed, something else became very clear – Rod was not there to answer questions. He was there to answer the question. You see, Rod is one of the best at revealing the difference between a speaker and a preacher. A speaker may tell you what could be, would be, or should be true about you. But a man who preaches the gospel dares to declare something into a sinner’s possession. He dares to give you a gift…

I’ve wanted to tell this story for a while – what happened at Liberate that day has been cemented into my memory. It was during a part of the conference that wasn’t even on the itinerary (the best moments in life can’t be scheduled). We were all leaving the chapel and Rod was practically begging for me to introduce myself – so, I chased after him through the crowd of people. He made himself accessible to the group of us following him… finally, there was only one guy standing between me and Rod. But, the man talking to him had a whole laundry list of concerns. His long series of questions about faith and practice began to unravel, but none of Rod’s answers had much stopping power. For every reply that Rod offered, the man plowed through it with another inquiry. Then, something happened. In real time, it was only a matter of seconds – but I felt like I was watching it all in slow motion. So, I’ll try to be precise… 1) Rod had been standing at a socially acceptable talking distance, then 2) Rod moved into a distance of approximately one ankle-hair away from the other man’s face. 3) Rod’s post-workshop sermon was about to begin…

Rod surged forward and said, “You’re getting in, son!” The man looked shocked. He struggled to reply, “but… I…” – and Rod cut him off, “You are getting in, son. You’re getting IN!” The man stammered, “but…if…” – again, Rod growled, “YOU’RE IN!” I watched as the young man became motionless. Rod’s words invaded – they moved through the man, like he was listening to them echo off the bottom of his heart. Finally, the man smiled and Rod walked away. As for me, I quietly rescheduled my appointment with Rod – and I tried to decide whether I would laugh out loud or burst into tears. It was beautiful. It was like a rush of fiery wind. It was like I said… a preacher doesn’t answer questions. He answers the question. The trouble is – gospel preachers are few and far between. And honestly, we tend to prefer men that are experts at speaking eloquently without ever really saying anything. The flesh likes a sermon that will buy us a little more time in limbo – not too hot, not too cold. On the other hand, it takes an ambassador of Christ to declare law and gospel. And it takes a chief of weakness to answer the questions we’re too strong to ask. Rod heard a cry for help and he dove through the fog. In a secret place, like many of us, I believe that man was praying under his breath: “God… am I close to your heart? Am I forgiven? Is there room for me, a sinner?” And Rod stuffed his pockets with the “YES!” of God in Christ…

I’ll cut to the chase. This story stirs some serious questions: is this a glimpse of heaven or blasphemy? I mean, did this young man even believe the gospel? Did anyone check that guy for faith before Dr. Rod let him loose into the kingdom? You see – we have this tendency to think that faith is something we can muster. And if we don’t define faith as a supernatural gift of hearing, it is destined to become a work we use to merit grace. In other words, faith can easily become a prerequisite for sitting under gospel preaching. Functionally – it’s like we’re demanding that people learn to dance before the music even starts to play. It’s empty of the power of God’s foolish love for sinners, because we act like faith grows out of flesh. Instead, Paul says “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?… faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:14,17). Many of us have heard the word of the law. A student of the law will learn how to believe in guilt, shame, and fear – but he believes in condemnation only. In fact, if he has any hope in himself at all, he clearly has not understood the curse. If the law has truly done its work, the poor sinner will not expect to be pardoned – quite the opposite. When we preach God’s law with demands as high as heaven, we preach it rightly. I’ll say it another way – when the law is preached rightly, he is personified as a righteous juggernaut that thwarts every chance we have at becoming King of the Hill. The law is God’s holy hitman in the game of religion – he trips up every climber and sends us plummeting into the valley of death. Yet, the valley of death is where Jesus builds his kingdom. For those who admit their spiritual life has become a downward spiral – they are given faith-eyes to see a King who waits with open arms. Our heavenly Father has condescended in Christ to catch his falling children. Down is the only way up to Him. And the announcement of the Gospel turns this journey into a trust fall…

The more we cling to the rock of our performance, the more exhausting our fall becomes. The longer we live in our own strength and attempt to regain control, the more foolish faith appears to be. And the better we become at clawing our way to the top, the more threatening grace will seem in our relationship with God and our neighbor. The ladder of God’s law denies passage to every sinner. The standards are too steep. But there is another word from the Lord that will speak for sinners – the word of Christ. You see, the law declares that we have fallen in Adam. But the gospel promises that we’ll be caught in Christ. Look at it this way – we are falling, and the devil wants us to spend our lives arguing with gravity. But the gospel is an invitation to stop struggling against the fall. It’s a major paradigm shift. I do not nullify the rescue waiting below me – if we could climb up ourselves, then a Messiah would be pointless. So then, my struggle is actually against my natural urge to ascend. The Christian life is a leap away from the cliffs of law. We’re called to descend into the depths of God’s grace. The new man learns to fall freely into his own humanity. He learns that he is free to just be along for the ride of redemption. He learns to smile at the most inopportune times and sweep away the safety nets. Yes, he must even surrender his own sanctification into God’s hands. The law clips the wings that strive, and the gospel beckons us to dive. We dive deep into the gospel of our Savior and, eventually, our fall may even resemble something peaceful, and fearless, and loving. The gospel dive gives us a new sort of wings. They can’t be seen by worldly wisdom, but they will bring us to God sure enough. They are the wings that wait on the Lord and let the weight of grace pull us into his presence. They are the wings of faith that grow from hearing someone finally say, “Jesus loves you.” The great preacher, Gerhard Forde, said it best: “in spite of our reluctance and timidity, it isn’t some herculean task we are being asked to do. It has all been done. All we have to do is say it; just let the bird fly!”

I’m hoping and praying that this story warms your heart like it does mine. If it does, I don’t doubt your life and ministry will be changed by it – but, that’s just part of coming to grips with your own belovedness. Lately, this story has made me think of the famous Spurgeon quote, “if sinners be damned… let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay.” That’s what Rod did. He let the bird fly. He wrapped that young man in the heart of God. And, that’s the only place where people learn to believe. Until glory, we’ll all need to be squeezed in God’s gospel-hug… until we quit climbing and cry Abba. As for me – Jesus got me too. He abducted me with an alien word from far outside the camp of self: “I have climbed and bled out for you. It is finished! You’re in.” But I’ll say this… it doesn’t take very long for me to doubt that. It doesn’t take very long before I stop believing in God’s love. If that sounds like you too… there’s going to be a bunch of us gathered at the Liberate Conference this year. We’ve all lost the game, so now we’re huddling around victory in Christ. None of us are King of the Hill. The scoreboard reads “Grace alone” forever… and if you’re okay with that, register here and please come remind me about all this stuff in a couple weeks. I’ll need reminding by then.

lesmis

“Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of liberated men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!”

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11 thoughts on “Ode to Liberate. And Dr. Rod.

  1. Awesome stuff John. So thankful this is true. Loved this description:
    The law is God’s holy hitman in the game of religion – he trips up every climber and sends us plummeting into the valley of death. Yet, the valley of death is where Jesus builds his kingdom.

  2. Thanks, so much, John, for sharing that wonderful story with us.

    In the face of all objections, the preacher ought say, “you’re sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake” (not even our own sakes).

    “You’re in!”

    But we never want to take that freedom or forgiveness for granted. We live in repentance, as well. Repentance and forgiveness. The picture of Baptism.

    Glad you’re enjoying and being lifted up by the conference.

    • I think “gospel preacher” Rod would not use “but” though. Like, I give you eternal life but don’t take it for granted like you did. In fact the Apostle John wrote that all sin is lawlessness. Better said “rebellion.” That said, ever time we sin we do it because we wanted to. Conclusion: every time we sin we take our freedom and forgiveness for granted.

      • Good point K.C. — reminds me of Gal 5:13 & 1 Pet 2:16… so, absolutely, we’d want to include that in the conversation.

        Only a few points I’d attach to yours… if we’re being instructed not to use our freedom to sin, it would seem we do have that option? I’m very prone to do that — so, I hope misuse of freedom doesn’t mean loss of positional freedom in Christ. In many ways, it only validates my need for such a gift.

        In turn, if we’re going to talk about how to use our freedom… we would want to make sure we’re echoing the declaration that we do possess objective freedom in Christ — that freedom is best used to renounce ungodliness (in fact, that is the nature of grace), but we can use it subjectively as we so choose.

        Also, I think it’s important to include the biblical emphasis into the mix. Paul, and for that matter, Jesus, reserves his harshest words for the self-righteous… meaning, play around with the sufficiency of the death of Christ, you’re under the curse! But, if we sin (although we ought not to), we have an advocate.

        Thanks for visiting — also, I think this quote nails it:

        “To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, To hear His pardoning voice, Changes a slave into a child. And duty into choice.” Cowper

  3. Only one word can describe this story, John. And I think you know what that is. Thank you for sharing. I am so encouraged…so encouraged!

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