Where’s The Love?

I walked up to the youth room to get ready for youth group and came to notice that all the chairs were messed up for another week. Instead of having them in neat, well-manicured rows, they were in piles in the corner of the room. I frustratingly put them all back. This transpired for several weeks and my ire grew. I finally wrote a note and left it for whomever was using the room to please put everything back. I tried my best to be respectful in the letter, yet I realize that I was annoyed. What took place after that has been convicting and encouraging.

It’s a bummer sometimes that I notice after the fact how God gives me a perfect opportunity to immediately apply what I’ve been learning in Scripture to my life and I just don’t capitalize. This scenario was one such opportunity missed.

The last few weeks I’ve been attending an early morning Bible study here in town with a handful of men from the church I work at. We’ve been slowly, and I mean slowly, walking through Romans. Since I’m new to the study we’re already in Romans 12. We were dialoging just the other week about Romans 12:9-18.

Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible on your part, live at peace with everyone. 

Wowza. That is a tough passage to measure up to for sure. Too many of our churches are full of infighting, disrespect, gossip, and slander. Too often my heart is prone to those things as well. Yet as Christians we should be fighting for one another, not against one another. We should be striving to love, bless, rejoice with, weep with, honor, respect, and be hospitable towards all who are in our faith community.

Instead, what tends to happen? When relational friction occurs, we go to other members of the church to talk all about it (seeking counsel and gossiping are decidedly different things, and we all know the difference). When someone else gets their way instead of us in something church-related or life-related we may put up a facade but are we actually rejoicing with them? For those who have any type of leadership in the church (elders, pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, etc.), are we loving our people or are we trying to control them?

Like I said, this passage is a lot to live up to.

And in this situation, I didn’t.

Instead of striving to respect, honor, and love those who were using the youth room, I instead got all bent out of shape for having to spend an extra seven minutes getting ready on Wednesday nights. Instead of trying to figure out who was using the room and approaching them in kindness, I hid behind a note and their anonymity.

They responded (I still don’t even know who was using the room) with love, respect, and kindness above and beyond that which I was hoping for. The day following my note they put the chairs back, put the cords to the Tv on the right inputs for my youth slides, put up all the Bibles on the shelf, vacuumed, wiped down the counters, and cleaned some downstairs as well.

I was amazed that they would go to that extent in showing love to me and our youth.

That love shines bright in the darkness of our societal and cultural norms. What I mean by this is that we live in a culture saturated with disrespect, disdain, and division. I can hardly stand to get on social media anymore as it breaks my heart that there is so much hatred in our world. One cannot disagree with another anymore without attacking them, slandering them, making fun of them, clapping back at them, or generally mocking them. It’s heartbreaking. Kids disrespecting leaders, those leaders disrespecting kids. Neighbors and ‘friends’ engaged in hateful speech towards each other, getting extra points if they’re particularly witty in their comebacks. This very week I read a comment thread where even politicians did just this.

In a world of hate and division, loving and honoring and respecting each other will go a super long way. Especially in the local church. We of all people should be the brightest example of love, even in the midst of not seeing eye to eye on all things.

Let’s all be more like this anonymous group of people that have been cleaning the youth room for our students.

Let’s love.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

You May Be Religious

Much has been said about the classic parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), to the point where I’m not looking to add to the discussion today. Rather, I wanted to share with you all a series of questions that I heard in a sermon I was listening to yesterday that challenged my heart and could be of use to all of us if we explored them individually.

The pastor’s name is Josh Kouri and in his treatment of the story, he zeroed in on the older son, who’s unwillingness to join the feast for his brother that had returned is an example of how we too can behave towards the grace and mercy of God. Kouri proclaimed that the older son struggled with religion rather than irreligion, and was in just as much danger of missing out on God’s love than the prodigal son who had left was.

Kouri posed the following four questions. These were his litmus test for whether or not you are living in grace or living in devotion to religion (in the bad sense of the term, the type of mind-driven rote behavior that God has disdain for).

Do I obey God to be loved by God?

Why do you follow the commands of God? Are you trying to earn his love, his affirmation, his support? We all need to pause and remember that God already loves us, that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross confirms that, and we have no fear of condemnation any longer. You can miss out on the grace of God if you get so caught up in following the commands of God in order to feel affirmed by God. It is out of the overflow of our gratitude for God’s saving work in our lives that our desire for holiness and obedience should come.

Is my identity in myself or in Jesus?

Many of us have rollercoaster spiritual lives. When we’re in God’s Word, we’re on top of the world. When sin wins the day in our lives, we feel like we’re underground. Since our commitment to holiness is more often than not sporadic, we have emotional lives that are thrown for a loop. The answer to this is remembering what Christ has done, and that our identity is SECURELY ROOTED in Him. On my best day, I’m deserving of hell. Yet because of Christ, on my worst day I’m awarded heaven.

Do I try and control God through my works?

You can’t manipulate God. But we sure do try sometimes. When trials hit we remind God of all the things we’ve done for Him. If our works are done in a way of putting God in our debt, then we misunderstand grace. God’s grace when comprehended leads to a desire for good works, but God cannot be coerced into blessing us because of our flippant faithfulness to Him.

Do I look to ‘more sinful’ people for righteousness via comparison?

This one is classic. Feeling bad about your life? Then look at your neighbor and see how much better you are. Righteousness via comparison is pathetic. We all fall short of God’s glory, so excusing sin in our lives because we think someone else’s sin is worse is hilariously ineffective in the long run.

If you’ve answered yes to any of these, which we all do in different ways at different times, then you may be religious.

Rest in God’s grace.

Repent of where you’ve tried to earn it.

Come in and enjoy the party of God’s love for you.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Pillows and Promises?

In the following blog post, I will be confronting the teachings that have become prevalent at a popular church. This blog post is not an indictment against the church or the people who attend it. Nor is this an unjust attack in what can become at times a heretic witch hunt in Christian circles. I have friends who have worked for this church, and I myself have listened to, read, and learned from this church. I am confronting what I believe to be untrue teaching, not condemning the man or church that brought this teaching about. 

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“I have the ability to take a common situation, put some purpose on it, and if I say it’s a gate, it will be a gate. I can look at something that seems so ordinary, a job that I hate can become the gate, if I point at it and anoint it.”

I came across a conglomeration of clips of pastor Steven Furtick’s message to his church earlier this month. This quote is from that church-produced synopsis of the message he preached. I never want to refute something that’s out of context, so I went to the church website and listened to the section of the message in question.

In his sermon, A Pillow and A Promise, Pastor Furtick takes the story of Jacob in Genesis 28 and makes it about claiming good things from God in the ordinary moments of life. In a manner that is actually done quite often, Furtick preached allegorically through this passage, taking aspects and objects of the story and drawing out convoluted parallels to modern life. This take on Biblical narratives saturates his sermons. This was one sermon among dozens about taking control of your life and being blessed (go see for yourself).

For instance, in Genesis 28:11 it says that Jacob came to a certain place. Furtick pauses after this line and tells the church that God can bless you anywhere. It doesn’t matter the place. Jacob was in a certain place and God blessed him. The members of the congregation were in a certain place and God could bless them. This is not necessarily incorrect belief, but rather an allegoirical reading of the text.

In Genesis 28:13 he pauses to say that God is always above the affairs of men, because the text says that God was above the stairway Jacob envisioned. In Genesis 28:14 he pauses to say that what God is about to do cannot be contained geographically or otherwise, since the text says the descendants of Jacob will go to the north, south, east, and west.

After Genesis 28:17, Furtick claims that since God didn’t tell Jacob it was the Gate of Heaven, rather Jacob named it, then we have the power to anoint ordinary places in order for them to become places of God’s blessing. The kicker may be Furtick’s comments on Genesis 28:18, where he proclaims that Jacob’s pillow (the rock) became a pillar, and we must sleep on the promises of God and again anoint ordinary things to receive God’s blessings.

He then flies ahead to Mark 4, the story in which Jesus sleeps in a boat with a storm all around. Furtick says that Jesus is asleep, like Jacob, because Jesus had a promise of God and could sleep in the midst of storms. The parallel to modern life is then obvious, we can rest in the midst of storms because we have promises of God.

To illustrate his last point, Furtick lays down with a pillow on stage to conclude his sermon.

All of this is allegorical teaching, and it becomes dangerous when it culminates in the above quote.

There’s 3 things I want to address.

  1. WE CAN’T MANIPULATE GOD. This sermon wasn’t bad. There were parts of it I wholeheartedly agreed with. That being said, it is simply not true that you can look at an ordinary thing in your life and call down God’s blessing on it. At one point in the sermon, Furtick proclaims that the purpose behind any situation in our lives can be determined by us. It is true that I can take a bad circumstance in my life and allow it to be used in a way that draws me closer to God and grows me spiritually. It is not true that I can determine the purpose behind things in my life.
  2. THE STORY OF JACOB IN GENESIS 28 IS ABOUT GOD NOT NAME IT AND CLAIM IT THEOLOGY. The pastors and preachers who lean towards prosperity are able to do gymnastics to make texts say what they need them to say (although any bias we have approaching the Bible can lead us to do the exact same thing). The story of Jacob in Genesis 28 is about God’s covenant faithfulness, and how God reminded Jacob of His grace and faithful love, while simultaneously reminding Jacob of His awe and grandeur. This grandeur and grace of God culminates in Christ.
  3. HIP THEOLOGY IS DANGEROUS. Like I said at the outset of this blog, I have read much and listened to much of Furtick. He’s not evil. What’s become increasingly evident to me however is his descent into hip theology. When he first hit the evangelical scene, he was solid and just a bit energetic. At this point in the game however his church has become a hotbed for entertainment-driven proclamation of God’s Word. He literally laid down during the sermon I’m addressing, and this is the least of his antics (just look up his water-gun related craziness). When a church becomes about being hip and cool, normally the call to come and die gets watered down (no pun intended). When churches strive to push back into the center of our country’s culture, striving for the good old days, they are likely leveraging the scandalous nature of the gospel message and the weight of what it means to follow Christ. So the message to Elevation Church from Furtick becomes “pray, claim and anoint, and be blessed” rather than “pray, serve, and prepare to suffer”. Our churches should strive to be engaged with the culture from the margins, not force ourselves back into the center.

I am concerned that so many people I know are listening to these type of messages and expecting to be blessed by their faith. Please read the Bible for yourself and see that suffering and difficulty are to be expected. God is not someone we can manipulate into blessing us. He loves and provides for us, but being a Christian is neither cool or comfortable.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Bless The Lord

The following is simply a prayer of response to Psalm 103. This is no difficult feat, it is merely praying through the Psalm, applying it to my personal life, and meditating on the truths contained within it. I hope that you are encouraged to pray through Psalms on your own. I have found this practice to be the most transformative discipline in my life and I wish I did it more. 

Oh Lord, let my mind, heart, words, and actions bless your holy name. May my every thought, action, and intention be pleasing to you. Let me not forget the ways that you have so richly blessed me. Remind me each day that every good thing in my life is a gift from you, not something that I have obtained via my own strength.

You have forgiven my every sin, you have healed every wicked way in me. What a wonderful blessing. What a wonderful truth. There is no sin held against me any longer. You have redeemed my life from the darkness of my evil bent towards sin. Your steadfast love and mercy are the treasured possession of my life.

You have satisfied my soul with good things. Food, friends, family, and faith. You have blessed me with the opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest in You. My strength and energy is renewed when I meditate accordingly upon your gifts to me.

May the oppressed in my community experience your justice. May the unrighteous in my community see your righteousness. Use me as a conduit of your justice, help me to stand up for those in need. Lord, your ways and acts toward your people have been well documented through the ages. May I not forget the ways that you have blessed me in even the past week.

You are gracious and merciful. I deserve death. Yet you stay your anger and pour out your steadfast love upon my soul. You do chide and reprimand me out of your love, but you don’t always do this. Your anger is not everlasting. Your love is. Lord, YOU DO NOT DEAL WITH ME ACCORDING TO MY SIN, OR REPAY ME ACCORDING TO MY INIQUITIES. This promise makes me want to sing songs of praise to you O Lord. I deserve punishment for my sin, and yet your steadfast love covers over them.

Lord, I don’t fear you as I should. Evoke this godly fear in me. Lord, you have cast my sins as far as the east is from the west. This too is wonderful and worthy of praise. You have removed my transgressions from me. They are no longer held against me.

You are a compassionate God. You look on my frame with compassion. You are compassionate towards the things that grieve me, and it is towards this end that you work all things in my life. You are loving. I am dust. My role and call in life is to preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.

My days oh Lord are like grass. I am here one moment and gone the next. Because of my frailty, help me to better enjoy the moments you have given me here on earth with family, friends, food, and fun. It is because life is short that I should live life to the fullest in You.

Your steadfast love is upon me every moment of my life. There is discipline at times for sin, but even this is your love. Your love extends to countless generations of those who fear you. Thank you Lord for the way that you drew me into a saving relationship with you.

I don’t walk out your commands as well as I should. Where there is fleshly desires, replace these with the fruit of the Spirit. Where there is autonomy, replace this with a dependence upon you daily for grace and vitality. Help me to remember daily to live in such a way that honors you.

Lord, the world is broken and battered. There are rulers and leaders who oppress and enslave. Yet your throne is in the heavens. No one can usurp your throne. No one can remove you from your throne. This brings comfort that you are in control of all the nations on earth.

Angels of God, bless Him. All hosts of God, bless Him. In every community on earth, let God be praised.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Just Google It

There is little mystery anymore. There is little wonder. We have answers for just about anything and everything. If we are perplexed by something, we pick up our smartphone and google the answer. I do this all the time. Maybe it’s wanting to know why I recognize an actor in a movie. Maybe it’s wanting to know the last time the Cowboys made the Super Bowl so that I can rub that in my friends faces. Maybe it’s checking when Black Panther showtimes are next weekend so I can see it as soon as possible. Sometimes it’s natural phenomena that I can’t explain. Regardless of what it is, the answer can almost always be found in just a handful of seconds via the seemingly limitless knowledge of the inter-webs.

This searching for knowledge and answers via social media, the ESPN app, or Covenant Eyes can steal the time of solitude and silence from our lives as well.

There was a time when it wasn’t this way however. I remember one specific night in my backyard. I was in Junior High and I was out by the pool with siblings and friends. We looked up in the sky and saw twelve incredibly blight lights. The sun was setting slowly, but these lights were not flickering and they were moving. Slowly more and more began to appear and at one point we counted twelve up in the dimly lit sky. Then they appeared to move rapidly away and disappeared. My mind went two different directions. The first was that aliens were coming. I laughed this off and then thought maybe Jesus was coming back, that each light signified one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

I didn’t have a phone, and so we just sat and watched the sky and laughed and conjectured and made up conspiracy stories. It was a moment of awe and wonder.

The other vivid memory that makes me miss my enchantment was Disney World. I’ve had the chance to go a few times in my life. When I went in fifth grade, I was enchanted. Disney World was bright and magical and I was in awe. From Splash Mountain to Space Mountain, I joyfully enjoyed all the attractions. I wasn’t worried about a thing. Pizza Planet was the greatest pizza I had ever tasted in my life.

Then I went back with my fam my Senior year of college. It wasn’t as magical. I had an app on my phone that showed you the amount of time you had to wait at each of the rides and I thus looked at it incessantly. Instead of enjoying the experience of patiently waiting for my turn on a ride with my bros, I was looking ahead at what we needed to do next. Then I realized in horror that Pizza Planet pizza was in fact Digiorno microwave pizzas, no different than what I stuffed my face with a couple times a week in college. The enchantment was shattered.

In a culture of answers and logic and apps, there is little enchantment and wonder and awe. In my opinion it is destroying our children in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Last night I had a considerable amount of fun playing hide-and-seek with my friends’ children. The laughter and smiles and wonder of the kids was refreshing. Sometimes it is good to just put the phones up and for the love of all things good simply enjoy life for a bit.

This disenchantment becomes dangerous when we bring it into our spiritual life (if you want a good book on this, read Recapturing The Wonder by Mike Cosper). We make faith something that we can google, something that we can understand in fullness. We boil theology and doctrine down to bite-size chunks and remove all wonder out of our faith. We make the Bible something to be dissected. As I write this, I see on my shelves a couple hundred commentaries and Bible studies that break down the text. While I’ve always had a fascination for these, it has removed the wonder from my personal time with the Lord at times. As of late, I’ve sought to use them for sermon prep alone and allow my time with Jesus to be just me and God’s Word.

I am praying today that God does something in my life and world that is unexplainable, an act of His power that has no answer. I want to be enchanted again. I desire to be in awe and wonder of the Lord I proclaim and worship. It is through this sense of wonder that I believe my relationship with Him will thrive. This is due to the fact that He is greater and so totally other. He is not comparable. He is not dissectible. He can do things that have no earthly explanation.

The call of this blog is two-fold. Try and put the phone up from time to time to be awed by the world you live in; maybe resist the tingling desire to google the answers to all of your questions. Secondly, enter into your time with the Lord in awe and wonder, remembering that the Scriptures say this about Him:

Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:33-36

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Jack Pearson Is No Fool

Last night was a doozy. Not because of anything Super Bowl related, but because of This Is Us.

If you watch the show, then you know that this episode was imminent. The episode where we get all the answers and find out just how Jack Pearson dies. After the very first episode of the show, I wanted answers. I wanted to know all the gritty details. Yet as yesterday progressed and this tumultuous episode quickly approached, I realized I didn’t want to see, I didn’t want to know. Yes, this is just a TV show, but hey the best stories are the ones that suck you in and make you feel like you’re part of it all. There’s power in stories.

Anyway, I sat at my friends’ house and watched in shock and awe as the details surrounding his death finally came to light. I hid my face between two pillows as some tears were shed. I sat in silence as the end credits came, amazed at the talent of the show’s writers.

Then my mind immediately started bouncing around, seeing all the gospel glimpses in this show. I’ve written other posts about themes in the show that I think speak into the Christian walk, but this episode by far had the greatest parallels.

If you’re reading this I hope you’ve seen the episode, otherwise I’m about to ruin your day.

Jack Pearson dies as a result of running back into his family’s burning home in efforts to save his daughter’s dog and other various treasured belongings, after rescuing his family and getting them safely outside. He doesn’t die in the house, but he dies later as a result of all the smoke that he had inhaled.

While I was obviously upset and bothered by these turn of events, I didn’t think it was a dramatic or questionable call by the writers. Throughout the series, we’ve seen Jack Pearson be a pretty tremendous father and husband. It was not out of character for him to run back into the house for his family. Out of the overflow of his love for his family, he ran back in. He was no fool. It would have been tremendously foolish if there was no dog inside and he just decided to prove his love by running back in for no reason. There were items and a pet that his family cherished and so he made the call.

When a doctor later questions his decision to run back into the burning building he says, “I love the girl that loves the dog.”

I recap all of this to say, Jesus was no fool either.

Jesus going through a gruesome death on the cross for us would have been foolish if there was any other way for us to receive salvation, to experience everlasting community with God, and to atone for our sins.

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:21

If righteousness in God’s eyes could be gained by our behavior, than Christ died for no purpose. If we can gain righteousness in any other way than simply God’s great grace, then Christ was a fool for dying on the cross for us.

Jesus was no fool. I make Him a fool through my lifestyle however if I rely on anything other than His grace for my right standing with Him.

It is crazy to me how fast I can get into the mindset that I can bring anything to the table. It is crazy to me how fast I can fall into believing I can earn what He has done through good moral behavior. When I fall into this mindset or worldview, the entire book of Galatians blasts like dynamite through this false belief system.

If righteousness could be gained by behavior, Christ died for no reason.

I think we need to be reminded of this daily. It’s cool how the Lord works because a TV show can bring this reminder to me. Jack Pearson died because of his love, not because he was a fool. Jesus, in a far greater way, died because of his love for us, not because he was a fool.

This is the most well-known verse ever, but it’s important:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

It was the love of God that led Jesus to the cross.

Rest in grace.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

If there’s any topic you want to hear me ramble about, just leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

 

 

Do What I Ask Of You

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

I was in my room reading this morning when my eyes fell on this verse (Mark 10:36). I was stunned and immediately started judging these two disciples. I mean, the audacity of these two men to approach Jesus and say such a statement is appalling. I mean, this is Jesus, the Son of God, who had been doing miracle after miracle throughout the region while teaching about repentance and the good news of the kingdom’s arrival. They had witnessed Him casting out demons, feeding multitudes with just a few fish and a couple loaves of bread, teaching about true religion, and healing tons of people. Yet despite having seen all of this power and glory, they chose to approach Him with their list of things He needed to do for them.

This seems so totally crazy, right? The acts of Jesus should have drawn these men into deep worship and adoration, but it instead led them to think selfishly about the ways that Jesus could bless their lives and bless their status.

Quickly, very quickly, my mind went to the ways that I have treated Jesus in exactly the same way. He has shown His power in my life in many ways. The way He saved me alone is enough of a sign of His power. Not to mention the daily gifts of grace that He provides for me. The daily ways that He protects me. The ways that He has done incredible things in the lives of my friends and family members for as long as I can remember.

The Scriptures show me His glory as well. The entire Bible paints a tremendous picture of His greatness, holiness, and majesty. Every story I read is a reminder of His greatness and His grace. It’s legitimately on each page, sometimes explicitly and other times implicitly.

Yet with all of this evidence of His character that should be pushing me into worship and adoration of Him, I still come to Him some days (or most days) with a list of things in my life that I want Him to bless. If I’m in a rush to get started in school and work responsibilities my time with Him becomes just a chance for me to quickly tell Him everything that I want from Him throughout the day.

I too approach Him and say:

I want you to do for me whatever I ask of you

When did we get it so backwards? Obviously as evidenced by Scripture, this is not a new struggle. We all have the tendency to approach the greatness of our God with our lists.

There is definitely a healthy way to ask for God’s providence in your life. In the Lord’s Prayer we are told to state, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our God is compassionate and loving, quick to extend mercy and help in our time of need. There is no sin in asking God for His help in a situation. Yet to come to the Lord as if He is obligated to meet our needs is preposterous. We serve a gracious and generous God, but we don’t serve a God who is entitled to give us a thing.

If you’re like me, it’s easy to subconsciously come to God with this type of mentality.

Don’t make this same mistake.

Go to the Lord in faith, asking Him to move. But don’t act like He’s required to.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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