Dead Men Walking

When we were dead in our trespasses. 

That’s how the book of Ephesians (2:5) describes the state of our being before encountering Jesus.

We were dead.

We weren’t ‘struggling’ with sin or ‘falling into’ sin.

We weren’t morally good for the most part with just some natural, human struggles.

We were dead.

Deceased.

Kaput.

That’s where we were.

Look at Ephesians 2:1.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. . . – Ephesians 2:1

The book of Romans, chapter five, expands on this language.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. – Romans 5:6

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10 

Weak.

Ungodly.

Sinners.

Enemies of God.

That’s a pretty bleak reality.

This should impact us in a litany of ways. But here’s a few things it gets me thinking about.

Who Is God Calling You To Help Rescue? 

A lost person is unlikely to enter our church building on a whim. That may have been a societal, cultural reality in the past, but it is certainly not the case today.

We are called to bring people into Christian community, not primarily a sanctuary. I believe that lives will first be changed around our dinner tables in our homes. From there, some may have the boldness to come sit in our pews. I believe that hospitality is the key to winning the battle against religious apathy and agnosticism.

I have heard, seen, and read Christians talk about the lost in surprisingly unkind ways (myself included). We judge them on how they act, dress, drink, talk, think, etc.

Have we really forgotten the Bible?

The Bible teaches us that God looks at the interior soul of a man, not their choice of dress. The Bible never calls us to judge the non-believer, but rather to hold the believer accountable (both of which we don’t typically follow well). The Bible tells me that I was a dead, ungodly, wicked enemy of God.

Whenever I drive past a jail on my way to Wichita Falls, I think about how I’m no better than any man or woman in there. The only difference is that God’s grace has kept many of my fleshly desires in fleeting thoughts in my mind and not my actions (they are no less wicked).

The same is true for believers and non-believers.

Some of us have received God’s grace, and the rest of us need to hear of it.

Lastly, this pushes us to evangelize differently. We are to build relationships. What we are telling people with the gospel is that they are evil, wicked sinners that are dead spiritually and destined for hell. That’s a weighty message. It’s a message that must be proclaimed, but it is weighty.

You may disagree with my methods of evangelism, but I think our churches would be far better at it if the emphasis was on relationships as opposed to numbers. For me that helps me make it about love and not just the pressure of making sure I tell a certain number of people.

Are You Living Joyfully In Light Of This? 

The second impact this has on me is that it should drive me to profound joy.

Life is mega-hard.

Today was honestly a rough one. Lots of thinking about what the future holds. Honestly lots of thoughts of hopelessness in the face of tragedy that I’ve had to take captive and give to the Lord. Some days are like that. In this current season of my life, many days are. I have had to cling to God today, or rather rest in His clinging on to me.

Despite life’s mega-hardness (as a budding academic theologian, that sounds so professional), I have experienced joy.

Why?

Because I was dead.

And now I’m not.

Now I’m alive.

Jesus rescued me, redeemed me, changed me, bought me, saved me. And now, He’s sanctifying me. Day by day. Through His Word. Through prayer. Through community. Through mentors. Through friends.

I’m not the man I was this time last year (praise God). I’m not the man I was ten years ago. God is changing me, molding me, growing me. Making me more and more like Himself.

Joy in my life isn’t always a bubbly personality and an ear to ear smile.

Often it is a deep seated remembrance that God is with me and that He has not abandoned me.

Are You Teaching Morality or Jesus? 

Lastly, this should impact the way we parent, teach, disciple, preach, lead.

For those that are dead, they need to be brought to life. They don’t need to be simply told that they’re dead. While God is the one that does this, we have a role to play.

We sometimes (if not all the time) expect non-Christians to act like Jesus (all while we’re not there yet). We teach them how they should live. We quote Scripture to them about alcoholism and crude language (both of which are sinful, but the Bible addresses my ability to be religious without a heart for God and others far more often). But that’s like throwing a book about how to swim to a person who is drowning. We should rescue, and then teach.

God forgive us for our judgmental hearts and teachings.

For those that have been made alive in Christ, they don’t need to be taught primarily how to be a better person. Because the message of Scripture, as we’ve clearly seen here, is not about bad people becoming good. It’s about dead people coming to life. Every sermon I preach, every discussion question I write, every blog, every podcast, every video should be about this full life.

Yes, God calls us to live a certain way.

But the core of the matter is that we’ve been made alive.

Not because we were morally good.

God doesn’t care about that.

But because He was rich in mercy and love.

We were dead men walking.

Now we are alive.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

 

Why Are You Here?

What am I passionate about?

What flows from my mouth into conversation and through my fingers onto social media?

What drives me to ecstatic exuberance?

What motivates the choices that I make and the way I spend my time?

What is my purpose for being here?

These questions are regularly rolling around in my mind. I want to live a life that is all about the glory of God. I fall short of that desire all the time. But I strive for it. I strive to live for Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and discipleship. EVERYTHING else is just extra.

Maybe I’m crazy. I honestly feel that way at times. But I can’t escape the fire in my heart that drives me to want to spread the Kingdom of God on earth. I want to light a fire in the hearts of others as well.

Just this morning, I started a biography on Hudson and Maria Taylor, missionaries to China. I was knocked off guard in the first pages by the reality that Hudson’s father, get this, PRAYED FOR HIS NOT YET BORN SON TO BECOME A MISSIONARY TO THE VASTLY UNREACHED CHINESE PEOPLE. I write that in all caps because it blows me away.

Who is doing that today?

Are we praying that God would send their future children into dangerous parts of the world for the spread of the Kingdom of God?

Or are we praying that our future children ‘make an impact for Jesus’ while accumulating all the benefits of the American dream and likely selling their soul for earthly trinkets?

Church, this must not be.

It cannot be.

This morning I also began a book on the state of the global church. The two brilliant authors spoke about the following:

  1. The Western church is polarized by doctrine and social issues. Sound familiar?
  2. The Pentecostal church is exploding throughout the globe, due to its emphasis on God still being at work.
  3. Jesus didn’t come to simply establish traditional modern churches. He came to inaugurate the Kingdom.

Here’s my quick takeaway. To my fellow Westerners, what is your passion? Is it truly the gospel and discipleship? If someone looked at your time, money, conversations, and arguments, would they see a desire to make God known?

I don’t think that would be the answer for most of us. If you asked me, I’d think that most would see us Christians as the most polarizing of all. Just look at what you’ve said about Covid-19. Have you posted about politics and plots and government takeovers? Or have you posted about God and His glory, for instance how Psalm 9 says that all of the nations are under His control (by the way, when it says ALL nations are under His control, there’s no caveat dependent upon whether a Republican or Democrat is in office)?

The other night, one of my close friends showed me this awesome new telescope he had just purchased. It’s awesome.

This guy is a stinking genius, so once he got to talking about the intricacies of the telescope and the intricacies of space, he lost me. But he was so passionate about it. It was awesome.

I started thinking, I wish I was that passionate about Jesus. Not my doctrinal beliefs. Not my vision for our church (albeit these aren’t bad things). Not my political opinions or my favorite hobbies. Not even my family or my dog. What if I just couldn’t help but talk about Jesus?

What if the Kingdom of God was everything to me?

And just like that, the spark was lit afresh.

Maybe you’re there. Maybe, the spark is lit in your heart.

Here’s how you fan it into flame.

Reflect.

If you aren’t reflecting on the truths of the gospel, you obviously will have no passion to share it.

Just think about Ephesians 2. We were DEAD in our sins. Straight up dead. And then we get this phrase:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, – Ephesians 2:4

The verses that follow this one tease out the gospel message.

Just think.

We were dead.

But God was rich in mercy and great in love.

Commune.

The times I’m most on fire for Jesus follow the times I’m deeply communing with Him. I’m talking distraction-free time with Him. For me it looks like leaving my phone away, grabbing a Message version of the Bible, and going to pray. I love to study Scripture and journal and go through reading plans, and so I have to keep it really simple so that I’m actually communing with God rather than filling my mind with more knowledge.

I don’t know what it will look like for you, but commune with God your Father. Let Him fan your heart into flame.

Disciple.

I will try and keep this simple.

Meet with someone.

One on one.

Around Scripture.

We need to remember there is a difference between spiritual community (a common faith in God that bonds friendships) and Biblical community (a common study of God’s Word).

I have lots of spiritual community, but I’m not sure how much Biblical community I have.

But discipleship, that lights my fire.

I had lunch yesterday with a young man I used to mentor and then met with a young man I currently am mentoring. Hearing them talk about Jesus is the most amazing thing in the world.

Our churches will die without discipleship.

Oops, I hope that was simple.

Go.

This book I read on the global church talked about how the church how we know it is dying. It is.

The church will not grow by pragmatic plans or programs. It won’t grow by clinging tight to tradition and ‘how we’ve always done it’. It won’t grow by complaining or arguing or debating. It won’t grow by simply wishing things were different. It won’t grow by coming up with some great new model of church although those things aren’t bad. It certainly won’t grow by sitting in our ivory towers and judging the world around us for how they dress, talk, and live.

It will grow by doing everything we can to reach a new generation while clinging to the truth of the gospel. This gets me amped because student ministry shouldn’t be a thing. We’ve created a mini church for youth because our churches as a whole won’t often adapt to them. We are called to disciple them, to grow together. Older men and women investing in younger men and women. That’s the call of the book of Titus. If we as churches did this, I wouldn’t have a job. The church would reach the next generation, not one man. And I would be so overjoyed if that came to pass.

The church will grow by going.

By using every single day, every one, to make an impact for the Kingdom of God.

Why are you here?

To make it to the weekend? To get a promotion? To raise ‘good’ kids? To leave a legacy for your own name and praise?

I want to live in such a way that I am answering my own prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

In His Name,

Nate Roach

If you enjoyed this blog, check out my Youtube channel and my podcast!

 

 

 

 

Don’t Follow Your Heart

I am a selfish, narcissistic jerk.

Seriously though. Life for Nathan Roach is about Nathan Roach.

At least when I’m left to my own devices.

You know what’s cool though? I don’t have to live that way. I have a choice now. I can choose to spend time with God and have my heart and mind reoriented back to a Kingdom mindset.

Did you know that is one of the many implications of the gospel? Not that I will always choose the Kingdom, but that I now have the chance to choose the Kingdom.

Before I put my faith in Jesus as my Savior and gave my allegiance to Him as Lord, I had no choice. Everything I did was for Nathan Roach. Even my ‘religious’ actions. Even my morally good choices. Even my generous or loving or kind decisions. It was all ultimately still about me and my glory.

Here’s the way Ephesians 2:1-3 puts it.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. - Ephesians 2:1-3 

That’s where I was outside of Christ.

I was dead.

Not morally wrong, not a bad person.

Straight up dead.

Because of the sins that I was walking in, because my entire life was given in allegiance to the enemy of our souls (the prince of the power of the air). Because my flesh and mind were my guide.

I was dead and deserved God’s wrath.

This passage then bursts into glorious gospel truths about the wonderful grace of God given to those who follow Jesus as Lord. But that’s for next time.

What I want to get you to think about is the fact that our hearts and minds, even as followers of Jesus, will regularly lead us astray.

My heart breaks when I see so many churches, or so many followers of Jesus proclaiming some sort of “follow your heart” kind of worldview. Your heart is not a good guide. Your flesh and your mind are not aligned with Jesus.

Notice again what that passage said. When I was not a follower of Jesus, I was carrying out the desires of my body and mind. Those things don’t magically become worth following when you get saved. They will perpetually need to be wrestled against, they will perpetually need to be reoriented. It’s why the people of God in the Old Testament were to talk consistently about and meditate on the words of God. Left to our own devices, we are selfish, narcissistic jerks. Like myself.

The good news of the gospel is that we now have a choice to live differently. You and I can choose to follow Jesus instead of our wicked hearts.

But my natural state, even as a Christian, is to live in such a way that glorifies me and leads to my own blessings and success in this world. Every day where I do not begin my day in His word and in His presence, I live for me. I don’t think about others. I don’t think about the Kingdom of God. I think about my family and our needs.

Church, I plead with you to bring your heart and mind, dreams, aspirations, motivations, intentions, and plans under the word of God and into the presence of God. It’s only by this intentional action that we can live for the Kingdom of God rather than ourselves, even as followers of Jesus.

Left to my own devices, my heart leads me into sin.

Every time.

I need to teach my heart and mind how to live for the Kingdom.

I do this through time with God in word and prayer.

I plead with you to do the same.

Don’t follow your heart.

Let God teach it.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Nate Roach’s Church

There are times when Scripture just punches me in the face.

Today was one of those days.

I’ve been looking at the book of Ephesians lately here on my blog, and the passage I came to today shined a big ol’ light on some dark parts of my heart that I’ve been content to just ignore or gloss over.

Let’s look at the passage together.

when he raised (Christ) from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. - Ephesians 1:20b-23

This is an abrupt break due to the fact that I covered the previous parts of this chapter in prior blogs.

Here’s the gist of what we’re looking at though. We’re looking at a phenomenal, magnificent, amazing description of what God the Father gave to Christ the Son.

I mean, that list is engrossing.

Look at all that it says about Jesus:

  • He was raised from the dead (what we’re about to celebrate this weekend)
  • He is seated at the right hand of the Father
  • He is over every rule
  • He is over every authority
  • He is over every power
  • He is over every dominion
  • His Name is greater than all others
  • All things are under His feet
  • He is the head of the church

Wow. Now, I generally enjoy looking at least at all the cross-references for a passage before teaching on it. I didn’t do that today because there is honestly just so much here. There are dozens of other passages in the Bible that allude to these different realities regarding the magnificence of Jesus.

In this Covid-19 season of quarantine, this is the type of stuff that we should be meditating on. We shouldn’t be meditating on the news. We shouldn’t be looking up the word ‘plague’ in a concordance and trying to make verses speak into this direct situation. We should be looking to Jesus. We should be rejoicing in all that the Father has given Him.

Did you see all of that? He’s in charge. He resides over every nation, leading every ruler of every nation (even the ones you don’t like). There is nothing more powerful than Him. The entire world is under His feet. This passage brings me so much joy and hope. He’s got me. He’s got you. He’s got us.

But this passage also, like I said, punches me square in the face.

Because do you see who is in control here?

Is it Nate Roach?

Nope, and we should all be abundantly grateful that it’s not.

I’ve shared before that this quarantine scenario has served to take away any facade of my control over literally anything in my life. We like to think that we ourselves are in charge. But we’re not.

For me personally, as of late, that second to last verse is the one that really hits too close to home.

I had my ministry before Covid-19 struck. We were zooming through Philippians, gaining traction, seeing a little fruit, about to start a brand new High School only service. All was well.

Then bam.

Gone.

In an instant y’all.

I’ll be honest, these past few weeks of this quarantine stuff has been tough on me. As it has been tough on all of us. I’ve had to wrestle with doubt, fear, worry, feelings of purposelessness. All the while I wanted to wrestle back control of my life, my ministry, our church.

I mean, seriously, how will any student or child grow spiritually if we’re not gathered and I’m not leading?

Okay y’all, I hope you see what God showed me about the stupidity of that there statement.

Here’s where the fist drilled the face.

This church isn’t dependent on me. Not even remotely.

This church isn’t dependent upon any other staff member.

This church is dependent upon Christ.

He is the head.

Not Nate Roach.

And He is still in control.

Not Nate Roach.

Go back to that passage above. Read it again and again. Look at all that it says about Jesus. Look deeply, closely, intentionally. Be encouraged. Don’t fret or be afraid. God is in control. Jesus is still on the throne.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

I’ve used this quarantine season to get started on a couple other avenues for sharing God’s Word. The first is a YouTube channel. You can find the latest video here: https://youtu.be/f1OnESBOAok.

The second is a podcast! This is what I’m super stoked about! I know reading a long rambling blog is not always the best. Sometimes, having something to listen to while doing other activities is a better way to soak up God’s Word. My prayer is that this new podcast (which will be up and running soon) will be a way for you to grow in your love for Jesus.

Open Eyes, Open Hearts

It is possible to sit in a church pew for decades and never grasp the gospel.

Not truly.

It is possible to sit under gospel-centered, Christ-glorifying preaching for decades and never have a life that is transformed by what is heard.

In the case of my ministry, it’s possible for a student to hear me rant (in a good way) about Jesus and the message of Scripture for years and still not get it, still not trust in Jesus, still not claim allegiance to Him as King.

Why?

Because we can’t just hear the good news.

We have to believe it.

We have to, as Paul says, have the “eyes of our hearts” enlightened and illuminated to the beauty of Jesus and the power of the gospel message.

That’s about the weirdest phrase I’ve come across in the Bible (although the top spot goes to when Paul refers to the church of Jesus Christ as ‘the circumcision” in Philippians 3).

The eyes of our hearts.

Now, growing up in church, I’ve heard the song that revolves around this phrase. It’s a good one.

But still, weird.

I don’t entirely know what it means exactly (those of you reading this likely are smarter than me, so please tell me if you do know). But I do know it’s something we should be praying for on behalf of others. Last time I posted I shared how I am utter garbage at prayer, and how we as followers of Jesus can do better at it. We’re going to keep going in Ephesians. Check this out.

having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, - Ephesians 1:18-20

Now, remember, chapter and verse numbers were added way later than when this letter to the churches in Ephesus was actually written. And this section is kind of the worst (if you descended from one of those scribes who added these verse designations, I mean no offense).

This is part of Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the churches in Ephesus.

Look at what he’s praying for.

He prays that they would have the ‘eyes of their hearts’ enlightened. Why? So that they can know the hope of following Jesus, and the riches of His grace, and the greatness of His power (the same power that rose Jesus from the dead and set Him at the right hand of the Father).

Wowza.

That’s a powerful prayer that we have recorded.

And remember y’all, this letter was written to believers. So this prayer can apply to non-believers and followers of Jesus alike. Some of us need to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened for the first time. Others need that to happen so that we can encounter again the powerful presence of Jesus.

Fullness of hope.

Riches of grace.

Greatness of power.

I want to quickly trace for us where this phrase “eyes of our hearts” shows up in Scripture, and the implications of these other passages (REMEMBER, THE BIBLE IS ONE BIG STORY THAT IS INTERCONNECTED AND YOU COULD SPEND HOURS ON EVERY VERSE MAKING ALL THE CONNECTIONS. Sorry for yelling, the Bible is just the coolest).

WE MUST UNDERSTAND OUR TRUE NEEDINESS

Look at this passage out of the book of Revelation (calm down, I’m not here to give my opinions on end times timelines, namely because I have no earthly idea. Jesus wins and I’m glad I’m on His team. That’s all I know.)

God proclaims the following about the church in Laodicea.

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, SO THAT YOU MAY SEE (emphasis mine). - Revelation 3:17-18

God says, harshly I might add, that the church, the people of God in Laodicea, did not grasp the stark reality of their need.

Y’all, we need to continually pray that God would show us how much we need Him. As soon as I get cocky about my walk with God, God brings in a friend to show me how far short I’ve fallen in a certain area of my life.

GOD DOES THE ILLUMINATING

This is the hard part about this prayer.

I can (and will) preach Christ crucified every single time that I open up God’s Word for my students or on my blog or for ‘big church’. Every time.

But, even the most concise and clear presentations of the gospel (which mine are normally jumbled and messy) cannot produce illuminated hearts. God must do it.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, - Hebrews 6:4 

Again, not the greatest verse break-up.

This is in the middle of a warning about falling away from allegiance to Jesus as King. Notice the language. Those who have been enlightened, partaken of the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit. I could be wrong here, but the language sure makes it sound like someone outside the hearer of the gospel had to do the work of illumination. That’s the power of God at work.

And man this part of this Scriptural theme is low-key the absolute worst. I want tangible results. And I rarely ever know who in our youth group is growing spiritually because I don’t see their hearts.

I’m going to keep teaching.

I’m going to keep praying.

God will do the rest.

ILLUMINATED HEARTS LEAD TO SALVATION

When God does this work, people are brought from dark to light. Praise Jesus.

to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. - Acts 26:18

This is Paul’s testimony before Agrippa in Acts 26. He’s sharing what the risen Lord Jesus said to him when he was commissioned to the Gentiles. God sent him to open their eyes.

Before you come after me saying this contradicts my last statement, hear me out. Paul was the vessel, the Spirit actually illuminated hearts. Just read the book of Acts and you’ll see.

Anyway, Paul was to open their eyes so that what?

They would turn from darkness to light! So they would receive forgiveness of sins! So they would be sanctified!

When God opens the eyes of people’s hearts, they are saved. Praise Jesus.

But there’s one last thing to remember.

ILLUMINATED HEARTS LEAD TO SUFFERING

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, - Hebrews 10:32

Remember these passages were not written first to us, but rather to specific groups of people in specific situations. The Hebrews, who the writer of Hebrews is addressing, had their hearts enlightened to the beauty of King Jesus and then immediately suffering came.

This theme is so blatantly obvious in Scripture. Following Jesus leads to suffering. You can go to church and like Jesus. You can pray occasionally and read occasionally. But a committed life, where every facet of your life comes under the authority of King Jesus, that kind of life leads to suffering. Every time. That’s why Jesus used the symbol of the most excruciating and humiliating form of torture we’ve ever seen as the calling card. The cross.

We must take it up daily.

This is why I never tell students, not once, that if they pray a prayer they will be saved. It’s so much more complicated than that. I always tell them that they’ve got to be willing to commit to King Jesus as Lord. I tell them that their life will be full of difficulty but that Jesus is worth it and joy is found in Him.

Brothers and sisters, let us pray that our hearts would be continuously enlightened to the hope, grace, and power found in following Jesus.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Prayer For Dummies Like Me

I am pretty horrible at praying.

This is something I’ve written about on my blog many times before.

I’m just not good at it.

I love to study Scripture and teach Scripture (applying Scripture to my life? Not so much. That hurts. That’s hard.). I read commentaries for fun on Saturdays when I’m stuck at home. I think one reason I love to study and teach Scripture is because I see very tangible results. I grow in knowledge. Books I finish go on my ‘finished’ book shelf in my office. Sermons I’ve preached and Bible studies I’ve taught are saved in my Logos Bible software. I can go back to them again and again.

Tangible results.

Prayer? That’s 99% of the time for me something not tangible.

Yeah, sure, the popcorn prayers throughout my day normally get ‘answered’. Like today I ran three miles and regularly panted out “God, don’t let me die”. And alas, die I did not.

But, when it comes to the deeper prayers of my heart, I don’t get to see tangible results.

“God, work in the lives of our students. Grow our youth ministry in depth.”

“God, work in the lives of my family members. Draw us all collectively closer to You.”

“God, grow Your joy and peace in me.”

Those things are 99% not quantifiable. Rarely if ever have I gotten a call or text from a student who just wants to tell me about their walk with God (Although I once got a call from a student who excitedly shared with me their Fortnite experience from the night before). Family members don’t just message out of the blue how they’re growing spiritually. Joy and peace in my heart? No idea if that’s growing or not.

Prayer doesn’t lead me to tangible results.

Yet, prayer is an unavoidable habit to be pursued as a follower of Jesus. It’s not something where I can say “I’m not good at it” and then never engage in it. That’s not how it works.

So, if you’re like me, a dummy when it comes to prayer, I want to share with you some encouragement. These are not tips and tricks for a vibrant prayer life (maybe I should have named this blog “Seven steps to mountain-moving, life-changing, Spirit-empowered prayer”). These are Biblically-based truths about prayer.

Since these are Biblically-based, lets read the passage that got me thinking about all this in the first place!

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, – Ephesians 1:15-17

This passage moves on to some beautiful truths about who Jesus is, what He has done, and who we are in light of that. And we’ll get there in the next two blogs.

But what I want to focus on is how Paul prays.

Pray for Others

Paul prayed for others. A lot. Like most of the time. I’m not doubting that Paul ever prayed for his own wants and needs, but he sure doesn’t talk about it nearly as much as he talks about praying for others. Most of the time I suck at prayer because I’m just repeating my same ol’ wants again and again and again. That gets boring, not gonna lie. And I run out of things to pray about seven minutes in.

I’m always absolutely amazed by those who are constantly in prayer for others. There are a few people in our community here in Vernon who have wowed me with their ability to do this. Tammy Chapman. Ronnie Gibbs. Jimmie Parmer. Dr. Darrell Monday (I may have spelled his name wrong).

These are just a few people who have put this on my heart. They regularly follow-up with those they’re praying for. They’re always encouraging.

Paul didn’t cease to pray for others.

Neither should we.

Pray Christian Prayers

What about the content of our prayers though?

A whole lot of the time, we pray for things that non-Christians could pray too. We pray for health, recovery, blessings.

But do we pray for spiritual things for our friends, families, fellow Christians?

Look at what Paul prayed for in that passage above! He prayed that they would gain wisdom and knowledge of God!

That’s a prayer that is distinctly Christian.

Pray for the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in others. Pray for spiritual disciplines. Pray for a deeper understanding of Jesus! Pray for the Spirit’s power! Pray for Christian things.

Pray the Bible

This has served to help me sooooooooo much in prayer. Instead of praying lists, pray the Bible. Pray passages. This is actually extremely easy. Paul prayed that the church in Ephesus would gain knowledge of God. We have the complete revelation of God in the Bible. So pick a passage and pray.

The Psalms is the easiest place to do this. I read a verse and then pray all that comes to mind in light of that verse, and then I move on. Passages like Ephesians 1 are super easy because you can literally just pray the prayers of Paul.

Use the Bible!

Pray Alone

These last two don’t flow out of Ephesians 1. But they do flow out of the story of Scripture. Jesus prayed alone frequently and unashamedly.

I’ve realized that this is important for me. I will get anxious, angry, afraid, and my wife will encourage me to go to my closet. I sit on top of the seven feet of dirty clothes, close the door, and pray with God. And man it works wonders. I don’t magically open the door to a changed circumstance. But I 99% of the time open the door to a changed perspective.

Get alone with God.

Pray Together

But don’t forsake praying with others! I am bad at praying with my wife every night, but when I do it does wonders.

One of my closest friends lives in Phoenix and he recently (months ago) called me and we didn’t say a word except to pray out loud together, via Scripture, for over thirty minutes. I’ve never felt so strengthened in my faith.

And y’all, church doesn’t count. Too often prayer is used at church as guardrails for the start and end of activities, or for delays between moments when stuff is happening on stage.

Call up a friend.

Pray.

I’m a dummy when it comes to prayer.

But you don’t have to be.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

He Dwells In Us, Not Our Sanctuaries

“There’s nothing magical about these steps. But we can come up here and take the humble posture of prayer by kneeling.”

I got into the habit during the invitation component of my sermons of saying something like this. I point to the altar in our sanctuary and downplay its significance. The posture of prayer is significant, but not the carpeted steps leading up to our stage. There’s nothing significant about them, in terms of holiness.

We are living in unprecedented times. Unprecedented times that are affecting the way that we gather together as the church.

I do not envy one bit those who have had to prayerfully make decisions for the coming weeks for their churches.

I don’t know what the right answer is.

Our church leadership has chosen to gather together over the radio or over livestreaming as opposed to in person. We believe this is what is best for the time being.

So right now, our sanctuary will be empty for the foreseeable future.

There has been a proliferation of posts that fit the following mantra: “the church isn’t the building. we are.”

And as much as this language makes me cringe a tiny bit, it’s true.

But I want to talk about it from a slightly different perspective.

I want to talk about where God dwells.

God doesn’t dwell in the sanctuary at First Baptist Church of Vernon, Texas. He dwells with His people. Somewhere along the way (and I’ve studied zero minutes about this) we began to believe that God dwelled in a building like the temple that Solomon built for Him. So we started making sanctuaries these holy places where God dwelled with man. And yet God doesn’t dwell there.

He dwells in us.

I’ve been studying the book of Ephesians (my last two blogs have been out of this marvelous book of the Bible) and I’m reminded again and again that the message of the entire scope of Scripture is not God coming to dwell in a building, but rather God coming to dwell with a people.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. - Ephesians 2:19-22

I mean, come on y’all.

The second chapter of Ephesians details the amazing work of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It tells us how utterly broken we were in our sin, in the kingdom of darkness. Then we see the work of God. We see how we were SAVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. The implications of this wonderful news continues on into this passage.

We are fellow citizens with one another.

We are saints and fellow members of the family of God.

Even those who go to other churches in town.

The implications and applications of that reality alone is far-reaching.

But look at the conclusion. We have been brought together, built up into a dwelling place for the Lord.

Let that sink in.

It’s always been about the people.

In Genesis, we see the framework of this, as God promises to bless all the nations through the line of Abraham.

In Revelation, we see the culmination of this, as every tribe and tongue and nation bows before King Jesus.

All throughout the way, in tabernacles, temples, and Jesus, God has dwelled with His people. Paul tells explicitly in Acts 17 that God doesn’t dwell in buildings made by human hands.

So what does that mean for today?

It means that maybe, just maybe, we come to know this truth of Scripture like never before.

Maybe, just maybe, we will remember that we have always been called to primarily live in the world, not in judgment, but in hopes of bringing the good news of the gospel to bear on the lives of our friends neighbors (just read 1 Corinthians 5, 8, and 9).

Maybe, just maybe, we can live out the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives (joy and kindness) when we interact with others (Had to repent just today for some judgmental responses to others. This isn’t easy).

Maybe, just maybe, families will wake up and realize that the job of the church is to merely supplement their discipleship practices at home, not the other way around.

Yes, church community is going to look different for a while. I absolutely dread how awkward it is going to be for me to teach to an empty room this Sunday. But the community has never been about the building in the first place.

Y’all. This gets me pumped. When my church family gathers on Sunday mornings, it should be an opportunity to celebrate what God is doing in our community as well as to remind ourselves of the task ahead.

We should be doing far more outside the walls of our sanctuaries than we do in them. More people should be encountering Jesus outside than inside. We should be studying Scripture together far more outside than inside. We should be singing praise to God far more outside than inside.

Y’all.

God has chosen us as His people to dwell with. Every single believer who follows Jesus as Lord is part of this.

The sanctuary may be empty, but His presence is in us.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Evan Hansen, Calvinism, and Holiness

I love musicals.

I love how musical themes that are present in songs at the beginning of musicals come to a head again and again throughout the entirety of the show (the Bible is much the same way. If you study Biblical theology you will see themes that repeat over and over in the one big story of Scripture). I love how powerfully you can tell a story via music.

I get hooked on a musical and listen to it lots.

On my way to an orthodontist appointment this week in Dallas, I discovered Dear Evan Hansen (now, there is a bit of language. So hearers discretion advised).

Dear Evan Hansen is a powerfully provocative dark comedy about teenage loneliness, suicide, broken families and the desire to be loved.

Evan Hansen is a loner, struggling to find community, wrestling with the lack of a father in his life. Another student named Connor takes his own life, and Evan finds himself propagating a big lie, that he and Connor were best friends. He back-logs e-mails, continuing to lie to Connor’s family for quite some time before the truth comes to the forefront. (That is a really poor synopsis, but oh well).

I found myself driving down 287 with tears filling my eyes. As a Family Discipleship pastor I see the pain and brokenness that teens are facing. I know how real this story the musical is telling is. There is great loneliness. There is pain. I see it. I counsel it. I cry over it. I pray over it.

All of these emotions came pouring out as soon as I got home. Jamie was my unsuspecting target. I half-yelled via excitement through the entire plot of the musical. I found it so powerful and so stirring that I didn’t even stop to take a breath when I shared it all with Jamie.

We tend to rant about things that excite us, that stir up emotions in is.

The apostle Paul was much the same way. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he is so stirred by the beauty of the gospel story that he doesn’t even stop to properly punctuate his sentence.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is in fact just one long sentence in the original Greek.

Paul is so pumped and stoked about the beauty of our salvation in Christ that he just lets it all out in what comma-infused rant that any modern English teacher would be frustrated by.

I’ve been giving this passage some thought.

Recently I’ve been absolutely blown away by the reality that our sanctification, not just our salvation, is brought about by God’s work in us (See Philippians 3:9 for instance. Or if you’re interested in books on the topic read Possessed by God or Rethinking Holiness or How Does Sanctification Work? – if you’re a Vernonite come to my office at the church). God does the work in us. We are passive participants in the work of the Spirit. We rely on Him wholly and completely for our growth in godliness.

The start of this long run-on by Paul is yet another example of this fact.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. - Ephesians 1:3-4a

Now, most people can’t read this passage (or the rest of it for that matter) without their first thought being about the ol’ classic Calvinism or Arminianism debate. Let me give you my two cents on that matter. This might be the first time I’ve blogged about this.

  1. God is higher than us. Romans 11 and 1 Corinthians 2 make this abundantly apparent. As finite humans, we can never fully comprehend God. Does that mean we don’t even try to comprehend Him or His Word? Absolutely not. I mean, you’re reading a blog from a guy who reads commentaries for fun at night. But we will never fully understand the acts of God. So I think it’s foolish of me to think that I can fully understand how God chooses to save. And I think we’re missing the point when we bicker over this matter. Do I believe that God is sovereign over every thing in the universe? Yes. Do I believe that God has given man free will? Also yes. Does that make sense? No. But maybe that’s where faith comes in. This is likely an unsatisfactory answer for many people, but it’s all I know for sure. The Christian faith is absolutely full of paradoxes that make no logical sense. I read a ton of reformed theology that touts the sovereignty of God but what I consider myself doesn’t fit the two-sided debate:
  2. Three point Roachist. Back when I was in college, the debate around Calvinism was raging. I was told by some that I wasn’t reading the Bible well if I wasn’t a Calvinist. I was told by others that Calvinists were arrogant jerks. I got so tired of all the needless debate that I said “I’m a three point Roachist. I love Jesus. I love pizza. I want to get married one day. That’s all I know for sure.” That always brought laughter and the end of arguments, even if people were annoyed with my answer. After years of reading and studying I still don’t have firm beliefs in every single secondary or tertiary matter.
  3. Missing the Heart for the Head. Lastly, I believe that maybe, just maybe, when we take this passage and rip it into theological debates about salvation, we’re drastically missing the point. Paul is pumped. Excited. Overflowing with joy and praise. Why? Because of all the spiritual blessings that we’ve received in Christ. If our response to this passage (or any passage in Scripture for that matter) is merely to get ready to defend our beliefs, we’ve missed the point. This passage should cause us to worship.

Praise God for choosing me. How? I don’t know. I just know it’s been done.

Praise God for making me blameless and holy. When He chose me, He made me blameless and holy. Did you see that? This passage doesn’t say that God chose me in Christ so that I could work hard to be holy and blameless. It says that God choosing me makes me holy and blameless.

How does that work?

Faith. Paradox. Belief.

I have sinned a lot today in thought, word, and deed. Yet God the Father sees me as holy and blameless because of my Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s worth worshipping about.

That’s worth sharing about.

Praise God.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Did God Change Saul’s Name?

When I was young, I played soccer in Wichita Falls. My coach began to call me “Nate the Great”, based off some popular detective books for children. That didn’t stick for very long, and I began to go by the name given on my birth certificate, Nathan.

All throughout my childhood, teenage, and college years, I went by Nathan (or in college, Papa Roach).

After I graduated and moved to Phoenix, I decided one day to start going by Nate. This was not a deeply thought out decision, it just kinda happened.

What that has now led to is the confusing reality that anyone who has met me in the last four years calls me Nate, but my family and wife still call me Nathan.

In the New Testament, we hear of a man named Saul (Acts 7:58). He was a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, and he was persecuting the church. First he stood idly by while Stephen was stoned, then he began a systematic persecution of the church, traveling from town to town and taking all who belonged to ‘the Way (of Jesus)’ into custody.

In Acts 9 we see his insane conversion. We see him go from a persecutor of the church to a man who would be used by God to reach the Gentiles with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was reading this morning in Ephesians, and we see something interesting.

Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. - Ephesians 1:1-2

The man who approved of the stoning of Stephen is now writing letters to the churches in Ephesus to encourage them in the gospel.

But there’s something else there.

Did you see it?

He addresses himself as Paul.

Now, most people in church understand this. They understand that the Saul we read about in Acts and the Paul we read about (also in Acts starting at 13:19) are the same person. But here’s the reality. I believe that the majority of us have a complete misunderstanding about why this name change took place (including myself for a very long time).

God did not change Saul’s name to Paul.

There is a very popular misunderstanding of what took place with Saul. So many people believe that God changed his name to signify his new life in Christ.

This isn’t heretical by any means, but it’s not true.

If anything I think it’s not nearly as cool as what actually took place.

Now, let’s acknowledge together that God has done the name change thing before. He does it a lot as a matter of fact. We see Him in conversation change Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. We see Jesus do the same, changing Simon’s name to Peter. These things certainly happened in Scripture. That’s because in ancient cultures, names had a profound impact, significance, and meaning. Today, that’s not always the case (I’m looking at you North West).

But in the case of Saul/Paul, that’s not what happened at all (Dr. Seuss should’ve written books on Scripture).

Saul started referring to himself as Paul, in order to reach the Gentiles with his Roman name (Paul was a common surname and it may or may not have been in Paul’s family).

Do you grasp that?

God didn’t change his name.

Paul changed his name to better reach the people that he was on mission to reach.

He was by no means a perfect man. He was angry, discouraged, anxious, lonely. But he knew Christ, and that led him to give his life fully over to Christ (Philippians 1:21).

When Paul accepted the Christian faith and began his mission to the Gentiles, he identified with his listeners by using his Roman name. In all of his letters, Paul identified himself with his Roman name, linking himself with the Gentile believers to whom God had sent him with the gospel of Christ.

Life Application Bible Commentary: Ephesians

Saul’s name was a big deal. It harkened back to the days of the first king of Israel, also a dude named Saul. King Saul was a Benjaminite (of the tribe of Benjamin), just like the New Testament Saul. That means that New Testament Saul had a very significant, honorable, glorified name. And he gave it up for the people he was seeking to reach. He gave up that honorable name.

Paul is an example all throughout the book of Acts of a man who gave up his rights for others.

Like seriously, he was a Roman citizen. This means he was not supposed to get beat like he did all over the place. And yet, Paul only uses that right twice (once to avoid a flogging, once to appear before the Emperor to talk about Jesus).

In a culture like our own obsessed with rights, we can learn something from what Paul did.

To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to comfort.

To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to put your opinions about any number of things on Facebook.

To reach others, maybe you need to give up your ‘right’ to use your money for yourself.

Fill in the blanks for yourself.

Saul changed his name to reach others for Jesus.

What are you willing to do to reach others?

In His Name,

Nathan Roach