Practice Vulnerability. Pursue Community.

Vulnerability. 

The word itself is enough to make most of us cringe. We often are scared of it and, if we’re being honest, being vulnerable with a friend is usually the last thing on our agenda. We assume that it will make us look weak, that people will judge us for the things we confess, or that any number of negative outcomes are possible. So, instead of stepping out in faith, we choose to be silent. 

However, most of us desire community. And we should. The Lord calls us to pursue community and it is so vital to our spiritual growth. But, when we are asked to be vulnerable, we shy away, we change the subject, or we remove ourselves from the conversation instead of diving in. 

Friends, this doesn’t work.

I have learned that you cannot have community without practicing vulnerability. 

The Lord has been so gracious to bless me with some God-ordained friendships that have radically changed my life. I am so thankful for these relationships, but they require work. They require honesty. They require trusting that the Lord has placed the right people in your life. They require vulnerability. 

Vulnerability is not comfortable and it is rarely easy, but I have seen firsthand the fruits of my labor, of my pursuit of vulnerability. I won’t tell you that being vulnerable is easier for me than the next person, but I have learned that it is essential and vital to the growth of God-ordained friendships. 

I would love to tell you that vulnerability is easy when you engage in deep relationships with the people that you know God has intentionally placed in your life to be your community. However, to tell you that would be a lie. My heart still beats a little faster, my hands still start to shake, and I still laugh nervously every time I prepare myself to be really vulnerable.

I don’t know what vulnerability looks like for you. Maybe for you it simply means expressing how you feel about something to a close friend. Maybe it means confessing a sinful practice in your life that you need to be held accountable for. Maybe it means discussing your past struggles that you haven’t healed from or your anxieties about the future. This deliberate choice of vulnerability may feel like the hardest thing you have ever done. But, I can tell you that it is so worth it. 

This, however, is not a guarantee that you will not be hurt. We are all human and we all, whether purposefully or not, let the people we love down. We speak before we listen. We don’t bite our tongue when we should. We say things we don’t mean. We are human. It happens in every relationship, and a God-ordained friendship in which you consistently practice vulnerability will not be void of these things. 

BUT, it will push you to be better and do better. It will push you to grow in your faith and to pursue the Lord more fully. It will teach you how to love yourself, the Lord, one another, and others better. 

When we choose vulnerability instead of silence, instead of surface-level relationships, we learn how to point each other to Jesus more. We learn how to hold each other accountable in our sinfulness. We learn what Biblical truths our friends need to be reminded of a little more often. The Lord can use others to pour into us much more when we are practicing vulnerability than when we choose to sit silent. 

Pursuing deep, God-centered relationships is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It takes effort. It takes discipline. It takes energy and so much heart. And it takes courage to be vulnerable. 

The Lord will use your vulnerability to grow relationships in ways that you could never imagine. He will supply you with just the right people in the most unexpected of times. He will do what only He can do, but the Lord cannot make us trust that He has put people in our lives for the purpose of vulnerability. He cannot choose to put in the work and the effort to grow and build a God-ordained relationship for you. He cannot be vulnerable for you. We have to do our part. 

The Lord calls us to be in community and we cannot do that without practicing vulnerability. 

My challenge to you is to look for the people that the Lord has placed in your life. Look for those people that God wants to give you a relationship with. It may be a person that you have known your whole life. It may be a person you have known for two months. The Lord loves to surprise us with beautiful things when we choose to look to Him, when we choose to look for His people. Look for and pursue those God-ordained friendships. When you find them, hold tightly to them. Practice vulnerability. It won’t be easy, but it will always be worth it.  

– Mackenzie Knox 

 

Painful Correction

It’s never pretty when the Lord reveals to my heart the ways that I have been sinning against Him. Sometimes it comes through the Word, other times through the words of a friend, and occasionally via my own conscience in the aftermath of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.

A couple weeks ago, I was on my way back from an orthodontist appointment in Dallas when a friend called me. We chatted about life for a while, and then he lovingly confronted me, revealed to me actions of mine that weren’t in line with Christ. A light was shone on my selfishness and distrust, and I didn’t like what I saw. My flesh burned within me, and my every desire was to lash out, to claim that I was being wrongly accused, to try and cover up the realities of my sinfulness. But instead, by God’s grace, I listened. I wrestled with the confrontation.

God used the words of a friend to ‘discipline’ me, to reveal to me that I was walking out of step with the way of Christ.

In Job chapter five, Eliphaz is continuing to speak to Job about his suffering. Despite the fact that not everything he says is solid, we can glean some truths from the words that he speaks.

Let’s look at it together.

This Life Is Troublesome 

For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. – Job 5:6-7

Can I get an amen?

We are all in tune with the fact that this life is not a walk in the park. It’s troublesome, difficult, hard. As followers of Jesus, we know that it is going to be even harder for us as we walk against the grain of this modern culture.

There are popular pastors these days who claim that following Jesus with enough faith leads to prosperity. They claim that if you’re in the midst of storms or giants you can overcome them through a stronger faith. They claim that the road of blessing is the road of being called by God.

This is not only experientially false, it’s also straight-up Biblically false.

Recently I’ve been studying the book of 1 Samuel. At my church we will be taking our students and kids through it. We see in the book of 1 Samuel that David is chosen by God, and yet he spends the majority of the latter half of the book on the run from Saul, who is striving to kill him.

Being called by God leads to suffering and difficulty.

Eliphaz gets this right. There is no rosy world free of hard times.

God Disciplines His Children

Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal. – Job 5:17-18

Eliphaz hits some truth here in this proclamation to Job. The imagery of God wounding and shattering is not necessarily accurate, but he gets that first part right.

The blessed man is the man who is disciplined by God.

Do you believe that?

Do you believe that you are blessed when God disciplines or corrects you? This used to make me so upset. I remember being a teenager or college student, facing the aftermath of sinful decisions, seeing the painful and exposed parts of my heart with clarity, all while hating that I was being disciplined by God.

It didn’t seem fair or right.

As a young man, I see now that God doesn’t lead with discipline. We have His Word. We know what’s right and wrong. We know how to walk in step with Christ. But for many of us, we don’t. At least in different aspects of our lives. So the Lord brings difficulty to reveal our dependence upon idols, and then to restore us, often painfully, into dedication to Him.

Consider the following verse out of the book of Hebrews.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11

We don’t like discipline.

But it yields righteousness if we’re willing to listen.

If I were to buck up against what my friend was saying, which I was tempted to do, I would not have grown in my faith, in my faithfulness to Christ.

I had to be willing to receive correction.

God Does Unseen, Marvelous Things

(God) who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: – Job 5:9

Eliphaz reminds Job that God does unsearchable and marvelous things without number.

That’s what we have to remember as followers of Jesus here in 2019.

I just reminded us that life is hard.

But life is also beautiful in that God is doing innumerable things that would blow our minds if we were to see it all.

In your life, today, God is at work.

Do you believe that?

You may not see it, you may not feel like it’s true, but according to the entire corpus of Scripture, we know it is.

God is at work.

I have a journal where I record ways that God shows His faithfulness to me. I could sit down with you for hours and hours and tell you all that He’s done this very year, and that’s just what I’ve been able to see. He’s done immeasurably more I’m sure.

When you bring all of these points from chapter five together, you get the following.

GOD USES THE DIFFICULTIES OF THIS WORLD TO CORRECT US AND TO OPEN OUR EYES TO HIS FAITHFULNESS

I’ll say it again.

God is at work.

If you believe that, then I encourage you to respond to the correction of God’s Word or a trusted friend with the humility to ask God what unseen wonders He’s wanting to open your eyes to.

I ended my conversation with my friend that day with “I want to be mad at you, but I know you’re right.”

Honestly, that’s a pretty good prayer to pray.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

The Weeds Of Life

A few weeks ago, my dad had shoulder surgery. Since then, what he has been able to do has been pretty limited. That means all of his yard work projects have been put on hold.

You’re probably thinking “sweet, I wish I had an excuse not to do yard work,” right?

Well, he is probably thinking the same thing.

Me, on the other hand, not so much. You see, dad not being able to do yard work means his tasks and projects get delegated. To me. Not so fun now, huh?

If you know me, you probably know that yard work is absolutely not my thing and pulling weeds is one of my least favorite activities. But, pulling weeds is my delegated task. The first time my dad asked me to pull the weeds, I did it. I thought it would be a one time thing.

Funny thing about weeds: they never go away.

The next time, he asked me to pull weeds in the back corner of our property, behind the barn. After I begrudgingly put it off for almost two weeks, I finally went out to pull the weeds. And if I’m being honest, my heart was a little bitter at this point. Why did I need to pull weeds BEHIND the barn, where no one could see?

But, I started to realize that this sounds a lot like our walk with the Lord.

Holiness has been on my mind a lot recently.

We should all be pursuing holiness, but, in reality, most of us are not.

Most of us just want to look holy without actually doing the work of pursuing holiness.

I didn’t want to pull the weeds behind the barn, in the shadows, lurking in the back corners, because I thought they didn’t matter. But what about the weeds of life? Our deep-rooted sin that we don’t want to uncover? Those sinful habits we have that we are hoping no one will notice because we try to hide them in the dark corners of ourselves? Do those matter?

They should.

We cannot pursue only partial holiness.

As Christians, the Lord is our firm foundation, providing us good soil in which we can grow beautiful, healthy, and holy relationships, ministries, practices, habits, etc.

Imagine how many more godly relationships we could plant if our soil wasn’t filled with weeds. Imagine how we could serve His kingdom more fully if we would actively work to pull the weeds. I am just as guilty as the next person, putting off repentance and confession of my sins even more than I put off my task of pulling weeds.

If you know anything about weeds, you know that despite the hours you put into pulling them, trying to make your yard or garden look and be healthy, the weeds always come back. Pulling them is not a one time task. Pursuing holiness is not a one time effort. It is not a one time confession. It is not a one time act of repentance.

It is a continuous work, a continuous pursuit, a continuous fight against our deep rooted sin. It’s easy to convince ourselves that the sins no one sees don’t matter, that the weeds in the back corner don’t matter, that the things we do behind closed doors don’t matter. But holiness cannot exist only partially.

Holiness doesn’t stand in front of the barn so that it won’t see the weeds hiding in the back. Holiness does not wait outside the door so that we can hide our sinfulness on the other side. It is all or nothing. We must diligently pursue it, carefully examining our lives and what the Lord is teaching us, actively working to confess and repent of the weeds of our lives.

When I went out to pull the weeds, I didn’t understand why I had to pull the ones hiding in the back, but now I know that weeds corrupt good soil and that holiness cannot live where the weeds of our lives are rooted. 

– Mackenzie Knox

Choosing Vomit or Jesus

One time at the zoo, I watched a gorilla puke out the contents of its stomach. This alone was disgusting, but I was appalled to watch him return to his vomit and start to eat it, only to puke again and restart the cycle. This happened over and over until I was whisked away to watch the shenanigans on display in the next exhibit.

You want to know something?

The Bible teaches that we can be just as nasty and disgusting.

This prior week, I was at youth camp with our students, enjoying the worship and Word. I saw many of our students take intentional steps toward Jesus. I was encouraged and amazed and overjoyed.

As the time came for us to have our last devotional together, I had been reminded of the realities of the broken world we live in. Many of our students were exiting the camp high, just to enter the darkness of broken homes, broken communities, broken hearts, broken dreams. Worse than this, many of our students were returning to friend groups that would guide them away from Jesus, not to them.

Falling back into the same old actions and sins is a foolish thing.

Look at this passage with me.

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:20-22

Peter is addressing those who were in sin, heard the truth, and then returned to sin.

I told our students this week that it would have been better for them to have not come if they were simply going to return into the same lifestyles of sin (not sin struggles, that’s different. That’s going to war.) after camp.

Peter’s teaching is honestly pretty harsh. We don’t like harsh. But here it is anyway.

So where are you at?

Have you had an experience where God has recently clearly called you out of a certain sin in your life, but you find yourself back in the same lifestyles that Jesus rescued you out of? If you are, the Bible describes that aspect of your fleshly desires and actions as a dog returning to vomit.

If I’m being honest, I’m like that gorilla.

I return again and again to the same vomit.

I return to the same sins instead of using my knowledge of Jesus to redeem my thoughts, words, and actions.

Let me offer us some hope as well though. Look at this verse from the next chapter.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

God is patient with us. God has a desire to see us come to repentance rather than perishing.

So how do we choose Jesus rather than the vomit?

The answer I’ve found is this.

We must be taking small and intentional steps toward Jesus.

I personally am not a fan of altar calls, emotional songs playing as everyone cries and makes shallow decisions for the Lord. Because in the face of brokenness, emotional decisions brought about by borderline-coercive and manipulative moments fall flat. They aren’t followed through on. August and September steal away emotional decisions. When school starts back, students fall into the same rhythms they had in the Spring.

That’s why in my youth ministry we don’t do them. We share the gospel every week through the lesson and then tell our students to come talk to one of our leaders if they need to. If a student isn’t able to forsake volleyball and gaga-ball to talk about becoming a Christian, then they are likely not ready to go all in with Jesus. They haven’t counted the cost.

While I believe kids and teens are most susceptible to this emotionalism, adults can fall into it too.

There is one big decision in the life of a Christian, and that is the salvation decision, where we actively place our faith in Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross.

Every other decision is small, ordinary, boring even.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

This passage is always so encouraging to me. We are being transformed into the image of Jesus from one degree of glory to the next. It comes from the Spirit, not our own discipline or actions.

So, for you, maybe you need to just take a step.

Set that alarm for five minutes earlier than normal and pray. Read through a book of the Bible over the course of a month. Share a percentage of your income with others through church offerings and non-profit involvement. Meet with a younger or older man or woman to grow in your faith.

Take a step.

Invite your neighbors into your home for a meal and conversation. Volunteer at the local food pantry. Find where the foreigner and refugee are in your midst and provide them with the necessities of life. Call your estranged sibling or parent or cousin. Repent to a friend. Confess sins. Forgive.

Take a step.

Grandiose proclamations of life change more often than not don’t pan out. Simple, small steps toward Jesus always produce results.

So what step can you take this week?

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Life Stinks, Then You Die

Out of all the classes that I took during my undergrad time at Oklahoma Baptist University, one of the most impactful was Basic Counseling Skills. I use what I learned in that class more than most of the others in my day to day life in vocational ministry.

One thing that was repeated over and over in that class was the fact that the counselor is supposed to listen intently and ask gentle questions that get deeper into the issue at hand. What you were not supposed to do was start projecting your beliefs onto the person you were counseling, much less berate them.

That seems like some pretty common sense in my opinion.

In the case of Job and his friends, Eliphaz did not have any common sense. Sure, he started well, by simply sitting with Job in his suffering. But then he had to go and open his mouth.

Today we’re talking about Job 4. If you want a crash course in how not to counsel someone in suffering, just read it. In the previous chapter, Job has poured out his heart to the Lord and within earshot of his friends. He bemoans his suffering and despairs of life itself. Then comes Eliphaz.

Eliphaz starts strong. He reminds Job of the ways that Job himself has been an encouragement and counselor to many, how he has strengthened the weak with his guidance (vv. 3-4).

Let’s jump down to verse seven. It’s Eliphaz’s crucial mistake in my opinion.

“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?
    Or where were the upright cut off? – Job 4:7

This is the central tenant of Eliphaz’s argument (condemnation against Job really).

In his mind, the innocent never perish. The upright, morally upstanding men and women of the world never get cut off from the blessings and prosperity of the Lord.

Eliphaz’s world is black and white. Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad.

If we are brutally honest with ourselves, many of us basically adhere to such a version of Christianity in our own lives. We convince ourselves that God is ready to bless us when we’re in his Word and when we’re actively seeking His face in prayer. It gets messy though when we believe the opposite as well. That if we snooze six times and barely make it to work, skipping personal time with Him altogether, then we are going to face curses from the Lord.

This is the world of Eliphaz.

He looks at the immense suffering of his friend Job and jumps to the immediate conclusion that Job is at fault. Some secret sin in Job’s life has led to his entire world imploding.

If I was Job,

I’d have punched Eliphaz in the face.

Eliphaz had a high view of God, this can be seen through much of what he says in this first speech. Consider these verses with me.

By the breath of God they perish,
    and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. – Job 4:9

‘Can mortal man be in the right before God?
    Can a man be pure before his Maker? – Job 4:17 

Eliphaz believed that God was powerful, that His anger consumed the wicked, that His purity and holiness was such that no one could stand before Him. I would agree with all of these assertions.

But Eliphaz got it wrong when He jumped to the conclusion that only the wicked suffer.

That’s where Eliphaz’s argument begins to break down for me. He simultaneously says that all are unable to stand before God in purity and that all who are not pure before God are punished accordingly on earth.

His view is quite depressing actually.

When I was a kid, one of my friends would say basically all the time: “Life sucks, then you die.” I think he was mostly joking, but there’s some who deep down believe that version of viewing the world.

Bad things happen perpetually and consistently, and then you die.

I feel like this was the belief system of Eliphaz.

Look at how he concludes his first counseling session with Job.

Even in his servants he puts no trust,
    and his angels he charges with error;
how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
    whose foundation is in the dust,
    who are crushed like the moth.
Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces;
    they perish forever without anyone regarding it.
Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them,
    do they not die, and that without wisdom?’ – Job 4:18-21

That’s one of the more depressing things I’ve ever seen.

Eliphaz says God trusts no one. We are crushed like moths. We are beaten to pieces. We perish and die without anyone caring. We die without wisdom.

No hope.

No grace.

If you believe in a black and white world, you are forgetting the cross.

You see, we get to view the world from the other side of the cross.

We don’t get what we deserve.

Yes, the wicked seem to thrive while the righteous suffer.

But at the end of the day, Eliphaz was right. We’re not pure. We can’t stand before our Maker. We deserve punishment.

But we don’t get it.

Not in the way that we deserve.

Truly.

Now, again, this is not the words you say in direct response to someone’s first venting against God in the midst of suffering. If someone came to me in the hospital bed that I was laying in after my surgery and told me “I know you’re hurting, but at least you’re not in hell”, I would have not been very happy.

But this is what you can do if you have a family member or friend in the midst of suffering.

Listen and pray.

Listen.

And pray.

Don’t give a speech.

I know that the Lord works in the midst of suffering. He did so in my life (Why The Long Face?). Let Him do it in his own timing.

The world isn’t black and white for the Christian.

For the Christian, there is the cross.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

Who Do You Love?

I want to be involved in church, but I don’t want to be around that person.

I want to serve on this team, but not if that person is in charge.

I want to engage with God’s Word, but not if that person is preaching.

I want a community of people to grow into Christlikeness with, but not if they’re older than me or younger than me or they go to private school or go to public school or vaccinate their kids or don’t vaccinate their kids. They better be just like me if they want to be in community with me.

Have you ever felt or thought any of these things?

If we’re real honest with ourselves, the answer would certainly be yes.

I definitely have. More often than I care to admit.

Here’s the deal though.

That doesn’t sound like love to me.

It just doesn’t.

To refuse to listen to preaching, or serve, or be in a small group because there’s someone you don’t like is about one of the least loving mindsets you and I can have.

Today I want us to be reminded of one of the more misunderstood passages in the New Testament. I’m talking about the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.

Let’s read part of it together.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

One of the most important steps of studying the Bible is understanding the context of what you’re reading.

Where have you heard this passage taught?

Most likely at a wedding. This is one of the classic wedding messages.

This isn’t sinful or heretical or wrong, but it does skew our view of what this passage is about.

If you open up your Bible, you’ll see by looking around the immediate context of this passage that this is not primarily about romantic love. It’s about congregational love.

This is a description of what love should look like in the church. The last time marriage was mentioned is in chapter seven. A lot has come up since then. Just previous to this chapter is a long discussion by Paul about the role of spiritual gifts and diversity in the body.

The body of Christ.

This text is not about romantic love, it’s about congregational love.

How we doing?

How are our churches doing at this?

How are you doing at this?

I recently read a quote that was pretty abrasive.

God is looking for mature men and women to carry on His work, and sometimes all he can find are little children who cannot even get along with each other. – Warren Wiersbe

Talk about some convicting stuff.

Do we exemplify mature or childish behavior?

I’ll tell you, there’s much room for improvement in my life when it comes to loving the body like Paul teaches us to here in this passage.

I’ll be honest, my heart breaks when I hear of petty disagreements, turf wars, drama, disunity, cliques, and all the like. My heart breaks when I’m culpable in such matters.

We are called to be patient and kind. To all people. We are called not to be jealous of others. We are called to not be prideful.

We are called to not be self-seeking. The church isn’t about what any of us can gain from it. It is about what we can give to it. If anyone had the right to be self-seeking, it was Jesus. The whole universe was his. But instead of taking from the people of God, he gave his life for the people of God. Are you trying to create your kingdom of sand in your church, or are you giving your life for it?

We are called to not be easily angered. Let’s be honest with ourselves. What is at the root of the issues that fire us up? Is it about the glory of God and health of his church, or is it about  our own egos or preferences?

We are called to not be a keeper of wrongs.

This does NOT mean that you are to be a welcome mat, treated poorly over and over.

This does mean that you shouldn’t hold a grudge, but instead you should forgive them. This isn’t an easy process, it doesn’t happen in an instant, but it is what you’re called to do.

Regardless of what someone in the church has done to you, it is a far cry to all you’ve done in your rebellion towards God, which was forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Reconciliation is the desired end result here.

Divisions and disunity, cliques and squabbles, pettiness and immaturity. These grieve the heart of God.

Love protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

Before you think that this is an idealistic view of the church, let me remind you what the church in Corinth was like. This was a messed up place. Yes, more messed up than the church you left or the church you’re in. There was incest that wasn’t being addressed, and the people were suing one another in the church. I’d say that’s some pretty grotesque and intense stuff.

Yet, Paul doesn’t give them a way out here.

He doubles down and tells them to love one another. To be the body.

I’ll be honest, few things break my heart more than seeing the people of God full of hate for each other. Sure, there are people you will get along with better than others. There will be some that you never have a deep relationship with. There will be some that are not easy to get along with.

You know what?

You’re still called to love them.

Let us all set an example for the world around us of a people who aren’t petty, who aren’t angry, who aren’t envious or self-seeking. Let us be different. Let us be loving.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach