The Reason For The Season

Yesterday, my good friend Marco and I went to the High School for lunch. In a forty minute lunch period, there were two fights. The saddest part of this is that both were widely encouraged by the other students. There was cheering, screaming, applauding, and the obligatory phone recordings of the festivities.

That more or less affected my entire day. I was supremely saddened by the fact that there is so much violence in our world, so much hatred. It seeps down into the upcoming generations.

After being present at these events, Marco and I had a conversation about sin and it’s global nature. He made a statement that I will forever steal.

Our sin is the reason for the season. 

When we approach the Christmas season, we like to say that “Jesus is the reason for the season”. To an extent this is true, and I’m not intending to split hairs. But we must acknowledge that the reason Jesus had to come in the first place is because of our sin which separates us from God. None of us come away clean, innocent, or pure in the eyes of God.

Although it’s generally not read in any Advent moments, the following passage is worth remembering:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one to come. – Romans 5:12-14

There you have it. According to Scripture, the real reason for this Christmas season is the sin that is prevalent in me.

Our sin is the reason for the season.

Adam’s sin has been imputed to all of mankind. Each of us is born into sin. There are many different worldviews present today that teach that mankind is inherently good. The Christian worldview is not one of them. According to Scripture, all have been born into sin. Instead of being inherently good, we are inherently sinful.

We don’t offer courses at our church to teach people to sin against God. Toddlers don’t go through “Deception 101” and “Advanced Selfishness”. It’s wired into them. They are innately broken.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. – Psalm 51:5

David sang about his innate sinfulness. He knew that he was birthed in sin.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. – Matthew 22:37-38

When I put my life up against this statement of Jesus, I realize just how sinful I am. I don’t love the Lord my God with all that is in me. So if we’re being real, we are way more sinful than we think that we are.

Yes, this is bad news.

That’s also why the good news of the gospel, the good news of Christmas, is good.

You see, the passage out of Romans 5 does not end there on the global nature of sin. It bursts into the glorious light of the gospel.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:15-17

The sin of Adam was imputed to all of mankind. The sin of Adam spread to all of mankind. This is the background of the Christmas story. The shadow of the cross of Christ is on the cradle. The birth of Jesus is ultimately about His eventual death, His sacrifice for our sins.

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we see two beautiful things happen.

Our sins are put on Christ, and the perfect righteousness of Christ is put on us. Just as all of us are born into sin because of the sin of Adam, so we in Christ are righteous before God the Father because of Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf.

Y’all, this is beautiful news.

I’ll be honest. Even when I write out this passage from Romans 5, my logical sensibilities are challenged by that final verse. The righteousness of Christ is a free gift. I cannot earn it. Neither can you.

We make our standing before God dependent upon our own actions and abilities, our personal holiness and righteousness. Yet the Bible makes it abundantly clear time and time again that there’s literally nothing I can do to earn what God did for me in sending His Son to die for me. Even my most noble attempts at righteousness are nowhere close to the perfect righteousness and holiness of God.

The world we live in is broken, ravaged by sin. There are wars, there are natural disasters, there is family violence and screaming matches in cafeterias. There doesn’t seem to be much peace anywhere. It is in this space that the message of the gospel can be transformative and tremendously impactful. The light of the gospel shines brightest in darkness.

This Christmas season, reflect. This Christmas season, in the midst of Sunday School parties and family, gifts and egg nog and decorating the house, reflect upon the message of the gospel.

Our sin is the reason for the season. But God the Father sent His Son Jesus to take our place. 

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

 

Getting Into God’s Word

There are many days when I feel old, when I feel like I should have grown up in a different generation. Especially in Evangelical Christian circles. Especially when it comes to Scripture.

For me, I’ve always had a love for Scripture. Whether it was stealing away into my backyard as a teenager in order to study in quiet, or spending too much on books or Bible studies, I have always enjoyed studying God’s Word. That’s just the way I was made. I acknowledge that.

That being said, I feel more and more lonely in my view and approach to Scripture.

Here’s what I mean.

These days, I see three prevalent approaches to Scripture in the greater evangelical Christian community. And, to be frank, they make me feel isolated when I don’t adhere to them.

Approach 1: Brain Power

The first approach to Scripture is the intellectual approach. I have just finished my first year of Seminary, and I have come face to face with how countless men and women in academic circles have put Scripture on the cutting block. As a result, the supernatural is traded away for myth and legend. In conjunction with this view of Scripture is the intellectual pride that saturates so many men and women who are my age (including myself). What I mean is that we bicker and argue about things that are unnecessary. We make mountains out of molehills. We argue on Facebook and Twitter and clap back at one another. The intellectual approach to Scripture is one where the Bible is studied deeply and genuinely, but it is mostly a textbook to be dissected instead of the Word of God to be followed. The following passage has pushed me out of this approach.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. – John 5:39-40

Approach 2: Pixar-ism

The second approach to Scripture is the emotional approach. It could also be called the self-help approach. This is the demographic in Christian circles that wants to have some emotionally-dripping experience every time that they get into God’s Word. Feelings are king. So if you are in worship or prayer or Bible study but don’t have some heaven-opening, emotionally powerful experience, doubt creeps in and you are shaken. This leads to churches programming their services in order to manipulate emotions and produce a revival-like experience each and every week.

Even worse, when emotionalism and intellectualism combine, Scripture’s authority over the life of a Christian starts to crack. If the Bible can’t surely be the very words of God, and parts of the Bible make me feel bad, then it is no longer authoritative to me. What I’ve come to realize is that the Bible is often going to make me feel ‘bad’.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

According to Scripture itself, it’s going to rebuke and correct me. My feelings cannot be king. They can’t decide what parts of Scripture are authoritative or not.

I’ve been married for close to six months, and I’ve quickly learned that I am a selfish turd. I’m horrible at serving around the house without being asked. So when I read in Scripture that we are to put others’ interests above our own (Philippians 2:4), I’m confronted with this truth. And I feel ‘bad’ and have a choice to make. I can either change my behavior accordingly, or I can claim that this part of Scripture is no longer authoritative over me.

Approach 3: Forget-About-It!

The last approach to Scripture is by far the most frustrating, disheartening, and draining to combat. This final approach to Scripture is to simply ignore it. I’m not talking about the world at large, I’m talking about in the lives of followers of Jesus.

I have been in ministry for just a few years, and I have seen the stark reality that a significant portion of our faith communities has no desire to read, study, or adhere to Scripture.

I see this when 10% of my students bring their Bible to church. I see this when I hear complaints about Bible study programs at our church that require homework. My heart breaks at this. We have become so busy and so preoccupied with the things of earth that the thought of taking time to study God’s Word is now a burden instead of a joy. Even as I write this, my heart feels overwhelmed. This subject is something I could write about for hours and hours.

I am an imperfect man who falls short in so many ways all the time.

That being said, I cannot wrap my mind around how our churches are full of people who don’t even open their Bibles during the week (or even on Sundays!). Those in our faith community that are younger than us are looking up to us to see how we walk out our faith. The responsibility is on us to lead the next generation. If they see us with no desire to grow in our knowledge of Scripture, they will follow suit.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also the honey and drippings of the honeycomb. – Psalm 19:10

My prayer is that more and more followers of Jesus would say this about God’s Word. That it is sweeter and more valuable than anything else in their lives. Not because it is ultimate in our faith, but rather because through studying it we learn to love God and love others more and more. It is supremely sad to me that countless people could arrive in heaven one day, meeting a stranger in Christ rather than a friend. No, Bible immersion is not what saves you.

Approach 4: Grace-Powered Saturation

I never want to criticize and condemn, rather I seek to convict and empower. While I see these above three options as prevalent, there is another way.

We can be men and women who, by God’s grace, saturate ourselves in the Word of God. Scripture is extremely clear that the desire to be with God is brought about by God Himself (Romans 3:10). What that means for us is that if we don’t have a yearning for God’s Word, we should pray and ask God for the grace and strength to get into the Word. Then, after relying on God’s grace for strength, we simply start. Start small.

For instance, this next week, read one chapter each morning, or five mornings of the week. Don’t stress yourself out with some elaborate reading plan. Instead, just simply begin. Even when you don’t feel like it. I can assure you, if you put in the effort, God will bring the illumination and the continued desire to keep getting in God’s Word.

For the rest of my life, my desire is to see people view God’s Word rightly and to fall in love with the One who wrote it.

In His Name,

 

Still Throwing Stones

In a world of social media, Christian culture can become discouraging and harmful. Here’s what I mean.

There is an up and coming, incredibly talented singer by the name of Lauren Daigle.

She is a professing follower of Jesus. My wife loves her music, and I gotta say, I can get down to it too. She sounds a lot like Adele, so you can’t really go wrong with listening to her. Recently she appeared on the Ellen Show, sparking a whole lot of Christian outrage, and she then followed that up with a radio interview in which she stated she wasn’t sure about whether or not homosexuality is a sin.

This has caused quite the divide in Christian circles, as people bang on their keyboards empassioned responses to what has taken place. On one side are those who see no wrong in what she has done by not calling homosexuality sin, and on the other side are those screaming the word heretic while getting ready to burn her at the stake. As is the case in most polarizing situations these days, there is animosity and anger and pride on display in these responses.

As a blogger, thinker, and pastor, I strive to find the Christian middle ground in most debates, and so I will try and do so again here.

Through this blog, let me walk you through my personal opinion. You have no responsibility to agree with me, I just ask that if you disagree with me that you would be charitable and kind.

I believe I need to be clear about this first. What I am advocating in this blog is a more loving, fair, and considerate approach to Lauren Daigle, not a more liberal approach to viewing homosexuality. I believe that the Bible makes clear that homosexuality is a sin. That being said, we are to lovingly call people out of that sin, not condemn them with hatred. I struggle with deception, pride, anger, envy, jealousy, and no one is condemning me with hatred. We must lovingly tell the truth about sexuality, instead of berating and hating those who struggle with such a sin.

With that being said, I want to address how we as followers of Jesus should respond to this situation.

Lauren Daigle doesn’t go to my church.

I serve in a church here in Vernon, Texas, and Lauren Daigle has never stepped foot in my church. This is an important fact.

When it comes to the Christian faith, I like to think of circles that are expanding. You have local, state-wide, national, and, finally, international circles. I think about this when it comes to generosity, missions, and in the case of Lauren Daigle, speaking the truth in love. So for me, I don’t want to give to an international charitable organization if I have been totally devoid of generosity in my community. I don’t want to go on an overseas mission trip if I haven’t knocked on my neighbor’s door. And lastly, I don’t want to condemn someone for a sinful action when I haven’t had the courage to speak up to someone in my local church.

This philosophy or mindset has come as a result of realizing that doing things nationally or internationally is far more easier than doing that same thing locally. It takes less effort to send an Operation Christmas Child box than it does to give to someone in need just down the street from me. It takes less effort to share my faith with a stranger in South America that I’ll never see again than to sit down with the neighbor I see every day. It is less awkward to speak the truth in love on Facebook than it is to sit down at a lunch table and confront my brother in Christ’s sin.

In a social media world, we condemn those we don’t even know.

Here’s the reality. My heart is grieved. It truly is. My beliefs on sexuality are not popular, but they are the Biblical truths according to Scripture. I do not hate or despise those who don’t agree with me, but the grief is still there. Whether it is Jen and Brandon Hatmaker or now Lauren Daigle, my heart is grieved when the truth of Scripture is downplayed or ignored, or even flat-out rejected.

To have an emotional response to these things is not sinful. Just today I was reading in Galatians, remembering just how upset Paul was with that church for abandoning the message of the gospel, and how he would eventually oppose Peter to his face for doing the same. But to have a hateful response to these things, that certainly is.

I feel like these verses pop up all the time in my blogs, but here they are again.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:2

Lauren may not repent of her actions, of her words. That doesn’t mean we are to condemn her. I can wholeheartedly disagree with her stance (as I do) and not rake her name through the mud.

Love is not passivity. It is not ignoring the truth, the Scriptural truth. Love is speaking up, but it is speaking up personally in our own community. So for me, I have no hateful rhetoric to spew at Lauren Daigle. I am, however, preparing my heart for conversations with students who may bring this matter up, and I will be prepared to lovingly share the truth with them.

But shame on me or you if we’re ready to throw stones at this woman who we know not personally. Yes, be grieved, but don’t condemn and chastise a woman you don’t know. Before you take to social media, take into account the last time you took sin seriously in your own church or maybe even in your own life.

If you have enjoyed this post and if you have agreed with me, please give it a share. In a world of hateful rhetoric, even in Christian circles, we can remind people that we are still able to love in the midst of speaking truth.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Self-Help and Gimmicks

“If you go all in and all out for the cause of Christ, there will be setbacks along the way. But remember this: Without a crucifixion there can be no resurrection! And when you have a setback, you do not take a step back, because God is already preparing your comeback.”

This afternoon, I was hanging out at my house, striving to finish a popular Christian book that has come out in recent years. When I read this quote I couldn’t help but pause and be taken aback. Here we have the ultimate moment of human history, the defining moment of our faith, used to talk about how I shouldn’t give up in pursuing my dreams.

This is what inundates the evangelical world these days, and I honestly cannot help but feel a whole lot older than 25.

The above quote is not heretical, it is not sinful, it is not vile or vehement. But the above quote does stir up frustration in me, it does make me feel like an old soul.

The reason being is that I see a plethora of these types of takes on Scripture all over the place in evangelical circles these days. When I see what’s getting shared on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram; when I see what is getting preached at churches, when I see what fad gains all the hype, they all seem to come back to this style of the faith.

Here’s what I see Christianity to be about. The Christian faith is about using the Bible (often incorrectly or inappropriately) in order to achieve your dreams, in order to grow your self-image, in order to be okay with the fact that you’re not okay, in order to fit in more with the culture at large. The Christian faith for a lot of people these days is about clawing and crawling and fighting our way back into the center of society instead of assuming our rightful place in the margins.

It’s about using Snapchat and Instagram and other pop culture references like TV shows and movies to make following Jesus seem legit, seem relevant, seem worth a student or adult’s time. It’s about wearing t-shirts that say “I’m a Christian, but I cuss a little”. Now to me, cursing is not the unforgivable sin. That being said, why in the world should we be parading around acknowledging sinfulness in order to be relevant and relatable?

When I look around me at churches and sermons and podcasts and videos, etc., what I see is that we’ve lost a vision for what it is that we are to offer the culture around us.

What we have to offer the culture is the incredible gift of God’s grace poured out on anyone who puts their faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross through His death and resurrection. That’s it. That’s what we offer. Now I’m all about striving to make our churches and our Christian culture places where people feel loved and welcomed, that’s why I speak out adamantly against hatred based on politics and other frivolous stuff. But at the end of the day, what I have to offer someone down the street from me is the love of God, not how cool or relevant it is to be a Christian.

I’m supposed to be on the margin, and I’m supposed to be a fool, not cool.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

We know the cross has power, but to the outsider looking in on my life, if I look like a fool instead of being relevant, that’s what is to be expected.

Here’s what I plead for our churches to do, our people to do:

PREACH GOD’S WORD, NOT SELF-HELP

Let’s be honest. This is hard. It’s hard to not slip into morality, into ‘be better’ sermons and speeches. The best way I know how is by preaching through books of the Bible. Immersing our people in the flow of the book. David and Goliath is not about overcoming obstacles. Jonah is not about overcoming fear. Samson is not about strength to fight the enemy. Philippians 4:13 is not about sports. We fall into all of these assumptions about Scripture because we never get a full story. If you’re reading this and you’re not in vocational ministry, model this in your home or your area of spiritual influence. Dig deep. Don’t settle for less.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. – 2 Timothy 4:2-4

PREACH GOD’S WORD, NOT GIMMICKS

I have fought the pressure countless times to be relevant. I’ve come to learn that our society is so fickle, and fads are so quick. Nothing lasts. Well, except the Bible of course. Right now we are preaching through Deuteronomy in our youth group, and we’re growing. Not because the preaching is amazing, but because relationships are being built. The students have been taking notes, and although many I find in the trash, growth is happening through God’s Word. I’m an old soul and love liturgy and the simplicity of the Bible. What I know about my faith didn’t come from gimmicks in youth group, it came from God’s Word being taught.

FIND COMMON GROUND IN HOLINESS, NOT SIN

Here’s the reality. To a culture that is pushing us to the margins, our calls to holiness are not popular. If we read Scripture, we are reminded that they were never meant to be. It is a travesty, a heart-breaking one for me, that we have tried to fight our way back into the center of society by illuminating and emphasizing our sins instead of our Savior. Let us be people who acknowledge our faults no doubt, but find joy in speaking about our Savior and the way He has redeemed us. In Christian circles specifically, may we never find camaraderie in our porn, alcoholism, selfishness, anger, greed, envy, cursing, or any other sin. Let us find camaraderie around the cross of Christ.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE SCRIPTURES, NOT CHRISTIAN FADS

Brothers and sisters, those who know my heart know that I don’t intend to berate or reprimand. Instead, I seek to inspire and encourage and remind. I pray that you and I would be people who dive deeply into Scripture. Not those two minute sermon clips on Facebook or the latest book by a popular Christian author. Rather, get into God’s Word. You’ll find that even books like Deuteronomy are full of amazing reminders of God’s grace for us.

The church is on the margins.

That’s where we’re supposed to be.

Enough with the gimmicks and self-help style Christianity.

Let us be men and women who proclaim the true message of Scripture and parade around God’s holiness rather than our sin.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Behind The Scenes Of Christmas

Aslan is on the move.

There are few phrases that draw out emotions deep in my soul like that one. Whether it was in the book form of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe or the movie adaptation, that phrase brings so much hope. In the case of the aforementioned book, Aslan is a depiction of God in a fantasy world designed by C.S. Lewis. In the book there is much hopelessness as an evil witch presides and reigns over the kingdom. Those loyal to Aslan are captured and condemned. Yet whispers still bounce about in private conversations.

Aslan is on the move.

Sure enough, the titular character ends up defeating the evil witch and bringing joy and hope to the kingdom once ravaged by perpetual winter.

When I sat in the theaters and watched this book come to life on the big screen, my heart was overwhelmed with emotions each time that phrase was proclaimed. Something deep down in my heart was being pricked each time, and I began to realize that the thought of God’s intimate involvement in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations brings so much joy and hope in my heart.

Enter the Christmas story.

Hundreds of years of quiet.

A messiah was promised by the prophets of God, and yet generation after generation passed from life to death and each subsequent generation still had not seen this promised messiah rise up.

Over the last couple weeks my wife and I have been trying to prioritize time in God’s Word together and we’ve been focusing on the Gospel of Luke. As we have been digging in together, I have been struck by the way that the Spirit is moving throughout the first two chapters leading up to the public ministry of Jesus. Just under the surface of the events that are taking place, we see that the Holy Spirit is leading the way.

The Spirit of God was something that only a chosen few received from God the Father in the Old Testament. After the resurrection of Jesus, this Spirit is poured out on all who have put their faith in what Jesus did through his life and sacrificial death. It is not shackled or limited to just a few people. It’s for everyone. It’s the agent of life that works in each of our individual lives as followers of Jesus.

Yet here in the beginning of Luke, it was not for everyone. Not yet.

In the darkness of centuries of silence, the Spirit of God began to move.

First, an angel appears to Zechariah and tells him the following about his soon to be son:

“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. ‘ – Luke 1:14-15

This soon to be child would be filled with the Spirit of God as a fetus. That’s pretty incredible. In his mother’s womb he would have a special outpouring of God’s Spirit upon his life, and he would eventually pave the way for the arrival of the promised Messiah (1:17). This proclamation of the angel comes during an average day, when it seemed like the Lord had forgotten His people.

After Jesus’ birth is proclaimed to Mary, the story continues with Mary going to visit her relative Elizabeth (the woman whom Zechariah was married to). When this happens, we see the Spirit move again.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” – Luke 1:41-42

Elizabeth is given the words to say to proclaim the praises of the Messiah through the presence of the Holy Spirit in her heart and life.

It only gets better though, as the Spirit of God continues to move.

Zechariah was made mute by the angel of the Lord due to his doubting of God’s promises, yet at the arrival of his promised son Zechariah begins to proclaim and sing the greatness of God, something that comes about via, you guessed it, the Spirit of God.

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. – Luke 1:67-68

The phrase Aslan is on the move does something in me, but this verse does even more. God visited and redeemed His people. That is the message of Christmas. Everything else is just noise. Sunday school parties and Christmas lights and gifts are great, truly. But what gets me most excited about this season is that we get to reflect on that promise. God visited and redeemed His people.

The actual birth of Jesus aside, there is one more figure in the proceedings leading up to the ministry of Jesus that is gifted with the presence of the Spirit.

Jesus is now the age where he is required to be purified in the temple (according to Leviticus 12) by his parents. So Mary and Joseph take Him there, and they there encounter a man by the name of Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, and he was waiting for the promised Messiah.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. . . and he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, . . . “for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” – Luke 2:25, 27-28, 30-31

This Spirit-filled man proclaimed the majesty of the infant Jesus. He proclaimed to all who heard him (much like Anna a few verses later) that this infant was the one who would bring salvation to all the nations.

In the bleakness of the perceived silence of God, God shows that He is present and involved in the world.

The story of Christmas is a story of God’s movement in the world.

Aslan is on the move.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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Serving God in Cancer and Infertility

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. – Luke 1:5-7

Elizabeth and Zechariah faithfully served the Lord. The Bible describes them as righteous, walking blamelessly in all of the commands and statutes of the Lord This at first glance doesn’t seem all that extraordinary, until you reflect on two key parts of this story that the text shows us. 

First off, Elizabeth is barren and they are both in their old age. Elizabeth lived in a world where there was tremendous shame associated with barrenness, to the point of people assuming God had something against the woman who was barren. Yet despite being in such a culture and struggling with infertility, Elizabeth’s barrenness didn’t prevent her from wholeheartedly serving the Lord. That alone is astounding. Here in Elizabeth we have an example of a woman who faithfully submitted herself to God even in the midst of what many would perceive to be God’s indignation with her. 

I can’t speak for you my reader but I find it difficult to serve the Lord when I feel like the Lord has slighted me in some way. It’s hard for us to sing out his praises on Sunday morning when in the previous week tragedy has struck, whether major or minor. Yet day after day she faithfully served the Lord alongside her husband Zechariah, putting up with innumerable chide remarks regarding her barrenness from those around her no doubt. We see this because later she will proclaim that her disgrace has been taken away by God (v. 25). 

As I am typing this, memories come to mind of my dad’s former colleague and best friend, Michael O’Brien. Although the Lord has brought him home to glory, his legacy lives on in countless ways. One such way is in my memories, and one such memory stands out in my mind as I reflect on submissive worship in the midst of tragedy. 

You see, Michael had a long bout with cancer, which he eventually succumbed to. Yet in the midst of this fight, he worshiped. Day after day he worshiped while leading his family through the darkness of his own disease and when gathered publicly with other followers of Jesus his praises rang out from battered lungs. I watched him one time in a service sing out “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.” This while his own cancer-battered lungs fought against him. I cannot write these paragraphs about him without fighting tears. Although I did not know him well myself, his worship and devotion to God in the midst of his own pain was worthy of emulating and worthy of admiration. 

These stories are amazing. 

When I look at Elizabeth and Zechariah, I see glimpses of Michael O’Brien. 

Let’s get back into Luke chapter one. 

Zechariah is going about his duties as a priest when it becomes his opportunity to enter the temple of the Lord. When at the altar, an angel of the Lord appears to him. . . 

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, – Luke 1:13-14

Silence. For hundreds of years the voices of the prophets have echoed away into silence. The people of God waited, hoped, and waited some more. God was seemingly far away, distant, unwilling to reside with His people. Little did anyone know that on this day, this mundane and ordinary day of service to the Lord, God would prepare the way for the greatest moment in human history. A Messiah would soon be arriving on earth, and the angel of the Lord was shining upon the darkness of one couple’s barrenness to signal the impending arrival. 

Their child was to do the following. . . 

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. – Luke 1:16-17

This child was to prepare the way for Jesus. 

Zechariah would end up doubting the angel’s message and end up being mute until the birth of his son as a result. 

That aside though, we serve a God who faithfully visits His people in their brokenness and sin. He is not far away. Whether it is the book of Ruth or the book of Exodus, God’s timing is perfect and His purposes are great. 

Although we are not quite at Advent, my wife and I have been studying this chapter and have been in awe of God. As you head towards the holiday season, I know there are struggles you are facing. The holidays can be wonderful and beautiful, but the enemy can make them dark, brooding, and a constant reminder of what you’ve lost. 

Maybe the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah hits incredibly close to home for you, you long for a child. Maybe you are facing cancer like Michael. Maybe you have a wayward child or a tense relationship in your family. Whatever you are facing this season, meditate on the beauty of this passage. Follow the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and ultimately Jesus. Be a man or woman of God who faithfully serves God regardless of personal pain or darkness. Submit to Him.

He comes close. He brings healing and hope. Maybe it’s a child in the midst of infertility. Maybe it’s being taken home to glory. 

I long for the day when I will be in glory with Michael O’Brian. Until then, I pray that his example and the example of the Biblical characters we looked at today will spur me on to good works for God’s glory until the day my race is done. 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach 

 

When You Want To Give More

We’re entering the end of the calendar year. 2018 is almost over, beckoning us to contemplate on the next year and beyond. 

Maybe you’re not there yet. I understand.

Going backward in time from January 1st of next year, we have:

  • New Years Eve
  • Post-Christmas (Does anyone know what you’re supposed to do during these last few days? I’m still not sure.)
  • Christmas
  • Christmas Eve
  • (My sister’s birthday!)
  • Advent
  • Cyber Monday
  • Black Friday
  • Thanksgiving

That’s a lengthy list.

And holidays are nothing but costly. They cost time, money, attentiveness, and emotions.

So even if you’re not thinking about 2019 and beyond, you’re most certainly thinking about the coming holiday season(s). And as a result, you’re most likely considering the cost of them too.

But I don’t want to talk about money here the way you might be expecting. I want to talk about what I’ve been learning in my own heart about giving. And I specifically mean giving money.

Here’s a story I want us to consider in our discussion:

‘Sitting across from the temple treasury, [Jesus] watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.’ – Mark 12:41-42

Read that again if that helps you capture the image of what’s going on here.

What’s happening is something like this:

Jesus was sitting around with his disciples, probably chatting about who would be first in the kingdom or something like that. At some point, Jesus zoned out of the conversation and zoned into observing some obviously rich people walking up to give money to the temple.

Now, this is a really, really good thing to do. What they’re doing is praiseworthy. They’re rocking the Lottie Moon offering here. That church goal of $10,000 for missions–surpassed in one check! Boom, chaka laka.

They walk away, but Jesus isn’t watching them anymore. Meanwhile, the disciples notice Jesus checked out a while ago, and they start watching what he’s watching: an old, poor widow.

She drops in two quarters. Yes, 50 cents. That’s not making a dent in the thankfully-now-surpassed $10,000 missions fundraising goal. The rich people noticed her gift. How precious, they think. The disciples noticed too. That’s good, but not much really. We left our jobs and financial securities for Jesus.

But thankfully for everyone involved, and most importantly, Jesus noticed. And this is what he did and said:

‘Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had —all she had to live on.”’ – Mark 12:43-44

She did what?! Jesus says she “put more into the treasury than all the others.”

I remember from 1st grade that 10,000 is greater than 0.50. Right? (Maybe it was 2nd grade.)

(Google even says it’s 10,000. I checked.)

So what is Jesus talking about? What does he mean 50 cents is more than $10,000?

He explains with a little more detail, “For they gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had–all she had to live on.”

The rich people gave out of their surplus. They had a surplus of at least $10,000! I’m not kidding here when I say I wish I had a surplus of half that.

This is why I mentioned thinking about 2019 and beyond before. This is why I mentioned the holidays and money and giving. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about wanting a job that pays well. I mean, really well. I want to make money. I want to have a surplus out of which to give. I really do. I want to be able to take care of a family, provide for tangible needs in my church and community, buy a decent house, stock my library, have a reliable car, and meet those $10,000 goals with ease. I would love that. And I don’t think any of that desire is inherently wrong.

I used to think having a lot of money was evil. Now I realize it’s the love of money that’s the problem.

So I’ve been thinking about trying to get a better paying job. Or thinking about going back to school to get a master’s degree that could result in a high paying job and career. I’ve thought about it a lot recently. I want to love others and love God with my money. And I’ve thought I needed a lot of money to do that effectively.

And I realized I was wrong.

I realized when I read what Jesus said about the poor widow could be true of me. I could give more than the wealthiest people I know. By living paycheck to paycheck (yeah, really), I could give even more than people with thousands invested and in assets. I could even give more now than in the future (if I end up making more money in the future, which is more likely than not).

In God’s economy, which is wonky to our limited perspective, my giving can be more in God’s eyes than I think it is. And I don’t need a lot to give a lot.

You don’t need a lot to give a lot.

And people who make a lot less money than I do around the world are giving way more than I do to the Church. What a humbling realization!

God’s economy doesn’t compute. The bottom line seems written in by pen regardless of the numbers above. It’s a mystery. But we get to participate in it. By giving money you are participating in the coming of the kingdom. By giving money you are demonstrating your citizenship in the economy of heaven. By giving money you are showing the world that money isn’t worth what it’s worth to the world.

Giving out of surplus is commendable. Giving out of a generous and cheerful heart is amazing.

But giving out of lack is worth the attention and commendation of Jesus.

Think about this story as the holidays approach. Think about what Jesus notices in the widow.

Pray for the heart of a poor, old widow.

– Matt Welborn