Jesus Isn’t Your BFF

I truly believe I could have 100 students in my youth group.

It would take a while, but I think we could get there. The formula is fairly simple. Have live music that’s cutting edge, play a lot of fun games, and have crazy giveaways week in and week out. At the end, have some sort of message that’s loosely based on a verse of Scripture but functions more as a motivational talk about Jesus helping you overcome difficulty in your life rather than a call to come and die with Jesus.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I’m not trying to knock that version of ministry. There are great men and women of God involved in that philosophy and style of ministry and God is saving young men and women through those ministries with that mentality.

That’s just not me.

Instead of 100+ coming to a cutting edge service, we have a little less than forty who come to a honestly pretty boring service from a worldly sense. We don’t play music (although I’d like to I just don’t have the talent), we don’t play that many games and we very rarely have some sort of a giveaway.

What we do have is God’s Word.

We walk through it, week after week, often focusing on chunks of the Bible (I don’t know if that’s an acceptable term for a portion of Scripture or not, but I’m running with it) that are not even all that entertaining to read. What’s been phenomenal to me is that we’ve seen growth come in the midst of it.

I’m not talking breadth.

Last Fall we did a semester-long study through the book of Deuteronomy, and that certainly did cause our numbers to explode.

I’m talking depth.

It’s not been anything crazy. At times I face discouragement because it doesn’t seem like it’s clicking with some students. But for some, their depth in their faith is obvious and powerful.

Yet if you look at the modern evangelical church as a whole, you likely see a trend, especially in the Baptist tradition, to make church about being entertained or feeling good and that’s simply not the call of the follower of Jesus.

Here’s what I mean.

We have emphasized a personal relationship with Jesus.

Now, that is obviously a phenomenal aspect of our faith. Christianity certainly encompasses the opportunity that we have to commune with God through union with Christ and fellowship with the Spirit. What a wonderful thing.

What we’ve done by emphasizing this time and time again however is unintentionally taught people, I think, that they have a private relationship with Jesus. One where they see Him as their best friend forever, but not the Head of the universal church and certainly not the Lord telling them to come and die to their own desires each day.

Jesus isn’t my best friend forever. Sure, He calls me friend. What a marvelous truth. But He is also the Lord of all the universe, worthy of awe and worship, adoration and healthy fear. Jesus is fully man. Yet He is also fully God.

Look around our churches though and you again see that many are hesitant to present a Jesus that is worthy of our fear and worship. Instead of liturgy and church history, we have a modernized Christianity that forgets the 2000 years of faithful men and women who have gone before us and set the foundation for what it looks like to follow God. All of that legacy is tossed aside for the hip new trends that gets the most people in the door.

What we’ve created is a version of following Jesus that is about one’s own comfort and self-worth. I can’t tell you how many posts on social media I have seen recently that say something like “I’m committed to working on myself right now. If you aren’t helpful, if you’re toxic, I’m tossing you to the curb.”

Now, that’s not completely bad.

That mindset creeps into the church though, doesn’t it?

Getting up and getting to church on Sunday mornings is hard. And I say that having zero children and as someone who gets paid to be there.

It’s hard to get there. So, if one is expecting to get a self-help sermon about Jesus’ power to make them overcome any difficulty in their life, (complete with hilarious jokes and illustrations from modern entertainment, oh and music that is right up their alley) when those things are lacking their commitment to church falters.

They’re working on the betterment of themselves. If the church doesn’t help their self-image, and if the people in their church are ‘toxic’ (or in my opinion ‘human’, because we all battle sinful thoughts, words, and actions), then they bail on it.

Church is a declaration that we are allegiant to King Jesus. Church, if done right, should absolutely encourage and train us in righteousness. But it should also convict us, challenge us, and get us outside our comfort zones. It should call us each and every week to die to ourselves in the week ahead. That’s not a fun message in the world of self-help motivational speakers.

Jesus isn’t my BFF or a self-help guru. 

He’s Lord. 

Daniel Darling puts it this way:

I wonder if average worshiping evangelicals feel the weight of what they say they believe. I wonder if they grasp that Jesus is more than a fun bumper sticker or billboard, that he is the Head of the church, the Lord of creation, and the sovereign King of the universe. . . our homogenized evangelicalism can at times make weekly worship more like a divinely inspired TED talk than an act of worship, offering a Jesus who desperately wants to be your BFF but is totally chill if you’re, like, not that into him. – Daniel Darling 

Actually guys, if you would like to read a spectacular book on this subject, get The Original Jesus by Daniel Darling. This post is basically me thinking through what he talks about in his book.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Chasing Seagulls

I’m back! I took a break from the blog to enjoy vacation and get ready for the Fall in my church! But now after this hiatus I’m ready to jump back in! 

Earlier this month, Jamie and I went to Emerald Isle in North Carolina for a family reunion. It was a restful week with family, lots and lots of reading, and sleeping in!

One day, I was out on the beach reading and my nephew Samuel was playing in the sand right in front of me.

Now, here’s a little background on my boy Samuel. He is stinking adorable. I mean seriously, he is the cutest. He steals the show. Every time. But he can’t say a whole lot right now (which is understandable since he is 18 months old). One thing he loved to say though was “hav”. He would stick out his arms toward something that he wanted and say that. “Hav, hav, hav”. Adorable.

Back to the sand. There we are hanging out. Then a handful of seagulls flew overhead and landed not far from where the Roach clan had staked their claim on the shore. Samuel’s curiosity was immediately piqued. He got up and starting moving toward them.

Then the hilarity ensued. Samuel kept shouting “hav, hav, hav, hav” while moving as quick as his little legs could take him toward these seagulls. My older brother Jon and sister-in-law Whitney tried to get him to understand that no, he could not have a seagull.

I’ve been thinking about prayer lately. The youth group I help shepherd is going through the book of 1 Samuel this Fall. Last night we started our journey through the book, looking at the birth of Samuel. I was struck by the ferocity and rawness of Hannah’s prayers to the Lord. She was dealing with infertility. This was something that would have made her a social pariah in her culture. To be infertile was to be cursed by God, something that many assumed was the result of sin in the life of the woman who was infertile.

Think about that.

Think about the depths of that pain.

Anyway, Hannah goes all out with the Lord.

Look at what the Bible says about her prayers.

She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. – 1 Samuel 1:10

When’s the last time you prayed like that? When’s the last time you let it all out? When’s the last time you were totally open before God?

In the ensuing verses we see that Eli the priest actually believes that Hannah is drunk because her prayers are just that fervent, raw, emotional.

There is definitely a place for awe and wonder before God. We must treat Him with the worshipful posture that he deserves. That being said, we don’t need to sterilize our prayers. We can be real with Him regarding our emotions (just read the Psalms if you don’t believe me), understanding that He already knows our emotions.

Pray fervently and ferociously.

But what about when the prayer isn’t answered?

What then?

Here’s where the story of my nephew Samuel (not the Biblical Samuel. Confusing.) comes into play.

My nephew wanted a seagull. He wanted one bad. He actually spent many a cool minute chasing these birds around the sand.

Now here’s the reality. It would have been super duper tough, but it’s likely that my older brother, Samuel’s father, could have gotten a seagull for him.

Here’s why he didn’t. Seagulls are riddled with disease and simply just aren’t the ideal companion for an eighteen-month old. My brother Jon knew better than Samuel what was best for Samuel.

I’m not as wise as King Jesus.

Neither are you.

Let’s just be honest. Even if you have been on the earth for decades, you still pale in comparison to God when it comes to wisdom and knowledge.

I believe that sometimes God does not give us what we’re asking Him for simply because He knows it’s not what’s best for us.

My nephew Samuel wanted a seagull. His father knew that wasn’t best for him.

If you aren’t getting from God something that you want, maybe it’s because Your Father knows that that thing is not what’s best for you.

Let me go back to Hannah for a second.

There’s a powerful aspect of her prayer. She asked God for a son, and promised to return her son back to the Lord. Talk about sacrifice. Talk about dedication. Talk about faithfulness.

The birth of Samuel likely restored Hannah’s joy and vigor and life in ways that I cannot even begin to comprehend. She went from infertile to fertile, from barren woman to nursing mother. Yet in the midst of that incredible joy she chose to give back the answer to her prayer to the Lord.

This causes me to ask myself the question:

Is the focus of my prayers that which would benefit me alone or that which would benefit the Kingdom?

What is the motivation behind the prayers I pray? Are they purely about me? Or are they about extending the Kingdom of God in the place that God has me today?

Am I praying for that which would help me love God and love neighbor? Or am I just chasing seagulls?

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Practice Vulnerability. Pursue Community.

Vulnerability. 

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

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

Friends, this doesn’t work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Mackenzie Knox 

 

Painful Correction

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at it together.

This Life Is Troublesome 

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

Can I get an amen?

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

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

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

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

Being called by God leads to suffering and difficulty.

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

God Disciplines His Children

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

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

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

Do you believe that?

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

It didn’t seem fair or right.

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

Consider the following verse out of the book of Hebrews.

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

We don’t like discipline.

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

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

I had to be willing to receive correction.

God Does Unseen, Marvelous Things

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

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

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

I just reminded us that life is hard.

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

In your life, today, God is at work.

Do you believe that?

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

God is at work.

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

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

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

I’ll say it again.

God is at work.

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

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

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

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

The Weeds Of Life

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

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

Well, he is probably thinking the same thing.

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

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

Funny thing about weeds: they never go away.

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

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

Holiness has been on my mind a lot recently.

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

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

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

They should.

We cannot pursue only partial holiness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Mackenzie Knox

Choosing Vomit or Jesus

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

You want to know something?

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

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

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

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

Look at this passage with me.

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

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

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

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

So where are you at?

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

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

I return again and again to the same vomit.

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

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

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

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

So how do we choose Jesus rather than the vomit?

The answer I’ve found is this.

We must be taking small and intentional steps toward Jesus.

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

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

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

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

Every other decision is small, ordinary, boring even.

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

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

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

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

Take a step.

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

Take a step.

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

So what step can you take this week?

In His Name,

Nathan Roach