Practice Vulnerability. Pursue Community.

Vulnerability. 

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

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

Friends, this doesn’t work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Mackenzie Knox 

 

The Weeds Of Life

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

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

Well, he is probably thinking the same thing.

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

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

Funny thing about weeds: they never go away.

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

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

Holiness has been on my mind a lot recently.

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

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

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

They should.

We cannot pursue only partial holiness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Mackenzie Knox

Choosing Vomit or Jesus

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

You want to know something?

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

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

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

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

Look at this passage with me.

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

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

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

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

So where are you at?

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

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

I return again and again to the same vomit.

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

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

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

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

So how do we choose Jesus rather than the vomit?

The answer I’ve found is this.

We must be taking small and intentional steps toward Jesus.

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

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

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

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

Every other decision is small, ordinary, boring even.

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

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

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

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

Take a step.

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

Take a step.

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

So what step can you take this week?

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Who Do You Love?

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

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

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

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

Have you ever felt or thought any of these things?

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

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

Here’s the deal though.

That doesn’t sound like love to me.

It just doesn’t.

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

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

Let’s read part of it together.

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

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

Where have you heard this passage taught?

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

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

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

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

The body of Christ.

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

How we doing?

How are our churches doing at this?

How are you doing at this?

I recently read a quote that was pretty abrasive.

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

Talk about some convicting stuff.

Do we exemplify mature or childish behavior?

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

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

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

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

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

We are called to not be a keeper of wrongs.

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

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

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

Reconciliation is the desired end result here.

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

Love protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

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

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

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

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

You know what?

You’re still called to love them.

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

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

 

 

 

What God Taught Me About Community When I Had No Friends

About a year ago I moved to a town where I had no friends other than my soon-to-be husband. Although we were thrilled to be living in the same town after almost two years of long distance, my whole concept of community was changing. Suddenly, “community” didn’t look like five 21 year old girls, five spoons, and a pazookie. Community didn’t look like living in the same building as two hundred other girls on a campus full of people who were approximately the same age as me and roughly in the same stage of life as me. I moved to a town where there are very few people my age and in the same stage of life as me.

In school, you can pretend to have community even if you don’t. The people around you are at least similar to you in some way. Then you graduate. You go to work, come home, and then what? There’s no club meetings… no events… no wandering down the hall to find someone to hang out with.

You have to work for community.

My friendships now don’t look the same as before. We don’t eat every meal together or hang out every weekend. They are moms and some of them are even old enough to be my mom! But you know what? They show up. They check in. They encourage and share wisdom.

College spoils you. It’s so great, but it spoils you! Friendships and community won’t look like that your whole life! And sometimes that is hard. But you find people who share in the important things – people who will help when needed and celebrate when needed!

Matching pajamas and pazookie nights are great, but community changes just as the seasons of life do. When I let go of what I think friendships should look like at this stage of life, God provided me with great friendships that spur me on toward what is good.

To all of you college peeps out there… soak it in. But make it about more than just fun. Find encouragers and supporters and people who push you closer to Christ. Those relationships last.

To graduates… trust the Lord to provide you with community… and then get involved in a church. You may have to let go of some expectations about what you think your friendships should look like and that’s okay. God knows our desires and our needs and He will provide. But also don’t forget that He is the ultimate companion and can provide all that you need. If it is taking a long time to find your community, be patient and lean into Him.

When I had no friends, God brought me a community more caring, wise, and encouraging than I’ve ever known! And I am so thankful.

– Jamie Roach

Why The Long Face?

It was late Saturday night, and I had woken up groggy and disoriented yet again. For a few nights in a row I was having experiences where I awoke from my sleep with the sensation that I was coming out of anesthesia. I knew where I was, but things felt hazy and cloudy, and my arms and legs felt weighted as if they were moving through water.

It had been five days since my jaw surgery, and I was getting over the hump of the discomfort, only to have my sleep continuously upended by these lingering side effects. The day had been a little rough, and I was just so done.

Jamie woke up to my groans, quickly coming to my side to see what was wrong. I told her, and started to tear up. All I wanted was to sleep.

Jamie, in her always on point wisdom, encouraged me to pray aloud while she went to the kitchen to get me some medicine.

I didn’t feel like praying, not gonna lie. Yes, all things considered, my suffering in the aftermath of my surgery was minor. My pain was not extreme, my battle not with death. But, in the moment, I was fighting despair.

So that’s where I found myself. Disoriented and uneasy in bed, encouraged by my wife to pray aloud.

As I stared up at the fan, I started to pray.

The words got louder and louder, my heart pouring out and echoing down the hall. The tears started flowing and things continued to escalate until I yelled loudly, “Look at what I’m doing for You, and this is what you did to me.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, things got quiet in the room and in my heart. You see, Scripture clearly teaches that our words come from the overflow of our hearts. Every thing we say displays some aspect of where our hearts are at.

Suffering tends to really reveal our hearts.

My suffering had revealed some things in my heart I didn’t really like.

I strive to serve God in all that I do. I strive to be obedient. I strive to point others to Jesus. I strive to show others the wonderful grace of God. I strive to extend the love of God to others. I strive to be a lifelong disciple of my risen Lord and Savior.

There’s nothing at all wrong with any of those desires of mine.

Yet my scream of anger at God showed that I certainly felt like I was entitled to a good life, one of prosperity and blessings. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. I tried to serve God faithfully, so it only made sense that He should bless me with favor.

In the quiet stillness after my outburst, I felt God lovingly but firmly reminding me of what is true about Him. He doesn’t need me. If I wasn’t a family pastor in Vernon, someone else would be brought in and fill the same role.

Talk about oof.

What followed was the reminder from God of all the bazillion good gifts He had given me. A wonderful wife, parents who pray for and care for me, a brother and sister-in-law that let me have a fun weekend stay at their place before my surgery, a church family that has been continuously so amazing towards me (they’ve brought me meals and mowed my lawn), friends, a wonderfully talented surgeon, in-laws that let me stay with them when I got out of the hospital. The list goes on and on, and that’s centered around simply this past week or two.

Big oof.

Suffering causes us to lose sight of all of the light of God’s good and gracious gifts to us.

God continued to speak through His Word to me. He reminded me of His control over the situation. He reminded me that in the darkest of moments, He is still at work and still cares for His people like me (this has been slammed into my face since I’ve been studying Job for my blog and teaching Judges to the youth on Sundays).

All of this happened in my heart so fast.

Jamie came back in the room, helped me take some medicine, and soon I was back to sleep.

I wanted to share this experience with you for a handful of reasons.

First, I want to hopefully take away some of the stigma associated with acknowledging a hard day. It’s easy for us to compare our suffering to that of others, feeling like we can’t share that it’s been tough on us in fear of sounding pathetic or wimpy. If you’re struggling through something in your life right now, I genuinely pray that you have a faith community around you that can uplift you and that you can be open with. Stop the facades people, we need to be more real with others about our suffering and struggles.

Secondly, I want to remind us all that is in those dark nights (in my case literally) that we can ask the Lord to reveal the content of our hearts to us. Hear me, suffering is NOT always the result of sin. We don’t live in a black and white world like that. But, suffering can be used by God to reveal some sinful attitudes, motives, desires, etc. Just as He did with me.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. – Psalm 139:23-24

Lastly, I want to encourage you that our God reigns. Every single day, He has walked with me through this. Some days are harder than others, but He has brought stability. As I’ve been studying Job, I’ve been so encouraged by the following verse. Job cries out in all his emotions to the Lord all throughout the book. He despairs of his very life. Yet, in the midst of despair, He has a confidence in God. He is able to make the following declaration.

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. – Job 19:25

Living in 2019, we are able to say the same. Our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, lives.

Whatever you’re going through, you’ll get through it.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach