Don’t Come As You Are

Once you clean up your act, you can come in.

Once you stop falling into the same cycles and patterns of sin, then you’re welcome here.

Once you cover up those tattoos, take your hat off, and purge your social media, then you can find community in this place.

I look around at my generation, I listen intently to the stories they’re telling. Many of them are saying that these phrases above, these litmus tests for church community, were imposed against them.

If they were pretty, pristine, clean, and family-friendly, they could find the support of a faith community and of pastors. But if they were rough around the edges, broken, struggling, and sinful, they were judged and condemned. Subtly and not so subtly communicated with to clean up their act before they come back.

Sure, Jesus explicitly stated that He came to seek and to save the lost. Sure, Paul stated that Jesus’ reason for coming was to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). But that was Jesus. We’re just His people. We’re here for the nuclear families, the morally acceptable, those that know what to say and how to say it in church settings. That’s who we’re here for. That’s our calling.

God forgive us.

Jesus reinvigorate us.

Spirit guide us.

We were made for the mess. The dirty, broken, mess of life that is raw and real. Broken families. Egregious sin. Nasty rumors. Mental health struggles. We as the church are to sit, listen, encourage, and point to Jesus. But so many people in our communities won’t come in our doors. They’ve heard our gossip and slander. They’ve heard what we think about people like them.

I believe the role of the church community is to equip and empower the people of God to live in such a way that draws others into the community.

So in a sense, our Sunday morning worship services are for Christians. But they are for profoundly broken Christians. Those weekly services are to push us back into the world to reach others for Jesus.

But we sit on the sidelines.

Instead of leveraging our relationships for mission, we become codependent (this happens to me all of the time y’all).

People of God, you’re made for more. Let me show you one of the most insane examples of God’s heart for the broken.

Turn to 2 Kings chapter 5.

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. – 2 Kings 5:1

My passion is to take our G-rated glasses off when we read Scripture. I want you to read that again. What stands out?

An enemy of God’s people being given victory by God.

What in the world?

Remember, at this time the people of God were the nation of Israel. The people of God transcend nations and boundary lines today. Back then it was national. But yet you still see in this story God’s heart for those who were literally His enemies.

Naaman has leprosy and God heals him through the work of the prophet Elisha.

Things get even crazier in chapter six.

You may think, okay, sure God healed this man. But maybe it was so the Aram people stop their violence against Israel.

Nope. That doesn’t happen.

2 Kings 6:8 says that the Aram people are still moving against Israel.

Elisha hears of all their plans, before God uses Elisha to blind the people of Aram. This is an extremely popular story, for it is the moment where Elisha shows his servant the innumerable chariots of fire around them, protecting them. But people stop there (again, G-rated glasses).

The blinded army come before the king of Israel. Let me show you what happens next.

When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?” “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those who you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. – 2 Kings 6:21-23 (verse twenty-four tells us the Aram army comes to attack again)

Hold on.

What?

The people of God capture their enemies and then throw a feast for them?

Yes.

That’s exactly what happened.

God loves His enemies as well as His own people. They are given opportunities to repent, as Naaman showed. The book of Romans says that we are all God’s enemies. Not that we’re not close with Him. Rather that we are straight up His enemies. And yet God still sent His Son to die for us.

It seems like a Jesus juke but it’s Scripturally faithful.

God’s grace is for all people.

He extended grace to His enemies, both historically and spiritually.

What roadblocks do we put in the way of those who want to experience the love of God? Naaman did nothing that was worthy of being healed. The Aram army certainly didn’t deserve to be celebrated as they were.

I am stingy and self-righteous if I believe that the grace God has given to me was because of my actions and only goes to morally good people.

I am failing to live out the heart of God if any of my preaching, teaching, or day to day life is communicating to the Christian and non-Christian alike that they shouldn’t come into community as they are.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s be the type of people who celebrate with our ‘enemies’. Let’s be the type of people who know we’re no better than the non-believer. We have no high ground. We’ve simply been rescued.

Christ Jesus came into the world to SAVE SINNERS. – 1 Timothy 1:15b

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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Christian, There’s Nothing More You Need

Something must be missing.

I’m still fighting sin. I’m still fighting loneliness, worry, and anxiety. I’m still feeling like I can’t truly show my church family what I’m going through. I look around and I see others who seem so in tune with the Lord. I listen and hear testimonies of the miraculous at work in others, and I’m not seeing that same power in my life.

Something must be missing.

Something must be wrong.

I used to be so on fire for the Lord. I mean, not recently. But for real, back when I first got saved, I had a big desire for Him. I would go to church excited, expectant. I would be so overwhelmed during the worship. I would feel His presence in prayer, or during the preaching.

But now, now is different.

I’ve been betrayed by friends, I’ve been rejected. I don’t wake up excited for church. I mean, there are some weeks when I don’t even want to go. Where’d the fire go?

Something must be missing.

Something must be wrong.

Maybe you have felt some of the above. We all have to some degree if we’re being honest. Any Christian could find themselves in these examples. Maybe right this moment you have a nagging feeling in your gut that something’s off.

So what do you do?

My brother or sister in Christ, let the following passage seep into your bones.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. – Colossians 2:6-10

My brother and sister in Christ, according to God’s Word, you have been brought to fullness. If you have placed your faith in Christ, you have been filled up with all you need.

According to this passage, there are some dangers present when we start to feel incomplete: “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Here’s what they look like in our lives.

Legalism

When I start to feel this off-ness, I turn to my good friend legalism. I start to look at the spiritual disciplines as a checklist that I better live up to fully.

Legalism is me saying “Christ isn’t enough, I need to do good.”

So traditions we grew up in, even though they aren’t founded in the Scriptures, become the missing piece of our walks with Christ.

So you best believe I’m never going to miss Sunday School. I’m going to always wear a suit to church. You won’t see me at movies and you definitely won’t see me engaging with the lost world around me.

Sunday School isn’t a Biblical mandate. It is a gift when utilized properly, but it’s not a mandate.

Wearing suits to church isn’t a Biblical mandate. As a matter of fact, in some ways we can become a place where people don’t feel welcome if they don’t dress right. God deserves our respect, but if our personal beliefs about dress are determines our opinions about others, we are out of line with Scripture.

When we refuse to be with those who aren’t following Christ, we hunker down into bunkers full of Christians that will eventually die out because we’re not reaching others in our communities with the love of God.

Legalism is insidious and we’re all guilty of it in varying degrees.

God’s Word and prayer are amazing things, but if we turn to them in order to ‘do good’ rather than respond to the grace of God, we’ve got things wrong.

Many of us will turn from feeling off and empty towards legalism in order to soothe our souls.

Christ isn’t enough, we must do good.

Emotionalism

The other thing I turn to when things feel off in my life is emotionalism.

Deep down in our hearts, we all want to feel loved, cared for, wanted. That’s a perfectly normal desire.

But what about when I don’t feel that?

When I don’t feel loved by God or by others, something must be wrong.

So I turn to emotionalism.

Emotionalism is me saying “Christ isn’t enough, I need to feel good.”

Emotionalism is me pursuing spiritual highs, for lack of a better term. If a new church, or experience, or program promises me a feeling of God’s presence or love for me, I chase after that. As a young man in ministry, I’ve catered to this and pitched opportunities accordingly. Come feel God’s presence, come feel His love.

Now, let me say, Jesus’ ministry was full of moments when He did just that. Where He poured out His love on those who needed to experience His love. But emotional spirituality can be dangerous.

Just as only ever catering to the mind creates legalists, only ever catering to the emotions creates emotionalists. The former is what I fall into now, and the latter is what I grew up in. I grew up in a youth ministry that created an atmosphere to play to the emotions of myself and others. When I look around today, having emotional encounters with God wasn’t enough for many of my peers. They were led astray.

Emotionalism in our hearts shows itself as spiritual FOMO. We bounce around from experience to experience, maybe even church to church, in order to find a weekly or daily moment that helps us to feel good or feel God’s presence.

The problem with emotionalism is that feelings are fickle.

If I based everything off my feelings, there would be days I wouldn’t come to work, wouldn’t love my spouse, wouldn’t pursue Christ.

So what then is the answer?

This passage gives it to us.

We have received Christ as Lord. We are to continue to live our lives in Him, rooted in Him, built up in Him, because in Christ WE HAVE ALL BEEN BROUGHT TO FULLNESS.

Christ is enough.

I don’t have to do good, or feel good (obviously this statement is in the context of this blog).

We are immature and foolish. We lean towards legalism or emotionalism. In these moments, we aren’t believing Scripture.

On ordinary days, and in ordinary ways, let us remain rooted in Christ.

Your life may look more like the book of Ruth, than the book of Exodus. There may be moments you feel like something is missing. I would encourage you strongly to pursue Christ in His Word and in prayer.

This week has been a doozie for me. I woke up this morning agitated and exhausted. Yet when I intentionally opened His Word today, something I neglected to do all week, I was strengthened to keep going.

Christ is enough.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

He Holds It All Together

It’s been a draining couple of days in Vernon, TX. My days have been chock full of ministry-related activities, and the busyness (albeit really exciting busyness) of moving Jamie into our duplex. Last night I wrestled with whether or not to wake up early and head to Wichita Falls for the youth pastor (and worship leader) breakfast I am a part of on Thursday mornings. I felt so tired (having been going from 6 AM to 9 PM) and didn’t feel like getting up. That being said, I felt the call of God for me to not abandon community just because I may be tired. So I set my alarm and headed into Wichita Falls. The breakfast was refreshing, I found myself encouraged and grateful for the community that I was a part of.

Just as we were wrapping up, I received a text. Tragedy had struck in Vernon. It is not my place to say what it was, but I was confronted yet again with the brokenness of the world that we reside in. The whole day has been solemn and somber, and tears have not been far from my eyes when I’ve had moments of quiet and isolation. As a young youth pastor, I’m walking through the brokenness of this world more days than I would like to, as I see the pain that so many congregants and students have to walk through some days.

I went about my usual Thursday routine before pausing just a little while ago to spend some time in Scripture. I read through the first chapter of Mark and when journaling about it I remembered what Scripture says to be true, what I believe the whole first chapter of Mark is all about:

Jesus is the Son of God, full of all the compassion and power of God.

The first chapter of Mark is a whirlwind of activity and snapshots of Jesus’ early ministry. In just one chapter we see John the Baptist prepare the way, Jesus get baptized, Jesus call his first disciples, and Jesus preaching and healing throughout Galilee, whether that be casting out demons or healing leprosy. In the midst of all this, there are key points that illustrate what I mean.

First off, verses seven and eight show the majesty of Jesus before He even arrives on the scene so to speak.

And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. – Mark 1:7-8

John the Baptist says that he isn’t even worthy of untying Jesus’ shoes. That’s humility and that’s awe in the face of majesty. Jesus is fully God and John understood this. Shortly after this we see Jesus baptized and the very Spirit of God descending upon Him (vv. 9-11). Jesus is full of all the power of God, and the rest of the chapter proves this. He preaches the gospel (v. 15), drives out demons (vv. 23-27), and heals a leper (vv. 40-45).

It’s His healing of the leper that showcases in my opinion the compassion of Jesus and the heart of God. Lepers were outcast, contagious, treated as almost less than human. A leper approached Jesus and asked for healing, bowing before Him. Jesus responded in verses 41-42.

Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. – Mark 1:41-42

I’m aware that verse forty-one is also translated at times as ‘moved with pity’ or ‘moved with indignation’, and I’m not a Greek scholar, but I am amazed by the fact that Jesus touched him to heal him. All throughout the gospels we see Jesus move with power in many ways, often healing people just via his words. Yet he chooses to reach out and touch this man that so many found unclean and disgusting. I believe that shows His compassion.

Here’s what I want you to know. There are dark days. There are days where the darkness seems overwhelming and the grief is heavy. Yet on these days, we can remember that the King Jesus we submit to and follow is full of amazing compassion and amazing power.

As a follower of Jesus, I can KNOW that God is all-powerful and TRUST in His compassionate heart. That is hard on days like today, but it is no less true.

Be encouraged by this verse as well (one of my all-time faves):

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all thing hold together. – Colossians 1:16-17

What was at one time no more than a pleasant reminder of God’s control has become over time a stake in the ground of my mind and heart to remember and cling to. God is still God and Jesus still holds the cosmos together. The sin of this world is raging and at times it’s all I can physically see. Yet I can cling to the fact that Jesus still reigns.

“By the Son, for the Son, and through the Son, all things exist and hold together.”

Jesus shows us the character and heart of God. Cry out to Him. Acknowledge His power and trust in His compassion.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Needy & Needed

I’m needy. It’s been a while since this has been shown me in such starkness as in my preparations for my youth group’s upcoming D-Now. I need people’s help, I need people’s prayers, I need friends and laughter and definitely the Lord.

Yet I’m also needed. Phone calls, e-mails, face-to-face conversations show me that my community of faith, my little circle, needs me.

Dwelling on my neediness alone leads to a misunderstanding of who I am in Christ, but dwelling on how I’m needed alone leads to arrogance and pride. Held in the tension and balance, we have what it means to be a Christian in community.

The same can be said about you. You are needy. You have struggles and difficulties and you weren’t meant to go through life alone. You are also needed. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says this, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” As a follower of Christ, you have been given specific gifts from the Spirit, not so you can be puffed up in them but rather so that you can serve your church community through them. You are an integral part of your local church, yet you’re also reliant upon your local church.

Opening up just a tad, as a young man I sometimes feel the pressure to remain composed, put-together, with all my ducks in a row. There’s then a hidden weight when I don’t share my neediness or struggle. A weight that bears on me because I didn’t share my sin, my sadness, my struggle with others in my life but instead carry it alone in an effort to again look perfectly put-together. In an Instagram filter world, I know I’m not alone in these feelings.

With that being said, one of the most freeing, encouraging things in the world is when an older man or woman opens up about just that: sins, sadnesses, or struggles.

There are two ways that we can open up about these things towards others, one is detrimental, and the other beneficial.

The first is sharing our ‘brokenness’ and leaving it at that, which I believe is done with a good heart but simply glorifies sin rather than God. It becomes opportunities to just air out sins but that doesn’t benefit the believer. It’s like a guy coming to small group and opening up about how he’s struggling with anger or consistent complaining or alcoholism and then everyone just saying God loves you and leaving for the night. So many use small groups to emphasize their own brokenness instead of the greatness of God. Yes, God does in fact use sinners, but sinners with no plans or purposes for growing in holiness are not actually repentant.

The second way to share your needs is in my opinion the beneficial way (I am not a perfect man, and I don’t share my sins or struggles in a perfect way). I don’t have like a key verse for this, but basically my sorrows and sins should be shared in order for me to be encouraged by the saints and grow in my holiness. Sorrows can be shared in order to be prayed for (like right there in the moment), not in order to have a who’s had the worst week competition. Sins can be shared in order to be confronted, in order to put legs on our repentance. John the Baptist was quite livid towards the religious leaders of Jesus’ day for they did not “produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8)”. There’s power in confession, but in my opinion only when there’s fruit.

Men and women in our churches are living isolated lives of private sin and sorrow because we don’t go to church with this tension of our neediness and our neededness (not actually a word, but whatever). We instead go to church doing our best to portray that we’re great parents, great friends, great workers, great Christians. We go to church just to be filled instead of to serve and support those around us (don’t get me started on how sick and twisted that is), and then we all go back to our lives without fully experiencing what the local church has to offer.

Young men and women, please remember that our lives are about God’s holiness, not our brokenness. In your efforts to share your need, please point to the Lord.

Older men and women, put down the facade. The next generation finds freedom in a way when you admit your sorrows and struggles.

Let’s be the church to one another.

You are needy. And you are needed.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

You’re Not Great, But God Is

I remember being on a third grade Little League baseball team. It was the first year that kids were allowed to pitch, and I was terrified every time I stepped up to the plate. I made contact with the ball only two times that entire season. The rest of the time I got walked, or struck out looking. I played left field, and one time I had a ball go through my legs. In the outfield. At the end of this atrocious season, I received a trophy and was told I was great.

That was a common theme in my life. The parenting and social culture that I grew up in told me and my peers that we were great, that we could accomplish anything, that we were going to change the world. That we were above average. The reality is, that’s not the case.

This self-image obsession snuck into the church, and what was birthed out of this misconception is the “Self-Image Gospel”, a false gospel that makes the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ about making you and I feel better about ourselves as people.   I am thankful for men like Matt Chandler and others who have called out this insidious misbelief about the gospel.

There are tremendous gospel promises, promises that state all kinds of amazing things about us as children of God. That being said however, when we make the onus of the gospel about our self-image, we make the gospel about us instead of about God. This lie is insidious and not easy to catch, but we can see it creeping into our walk with Christ, when we start letting the litmus test of our faith be about how we feel at the time.

The self-image gospel can lead to two dangerous and concerning practices in our churches:

1) Acting Like We’re Perfect 

This is probably beating a broken drum, but it still continues to eat away at true community in the body of Christ. Because we were fed lies that we are great, amazing, and extraordinary people, we carry that facade into our small groups, our relationships with fellow members of our churches.

Women are supposed to be perfect. They are supposed to look perfect, act perfect, have the perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect life. Men are supposed to be strong, able to overcome and tackle any struggle or difficulty in their life without help. These are standards that the Scriptures never ask of us. But because of our culture, we forfeit deep relationships. We make our lives out to be perfect, we don’t ask for help, we don’t admit that sometimes we’re simply not great.

Here’s something that’s freeing to me. In Scripture, when one of God’s servants proclaims their inability or their weakness, God never corrects them. God never tells them how great they are. He only ever tells them how great He is.

While praying in Genesis 18, Abraham says that he is but dust and ashes, and God doesn’t correct him.

In Exodus 3, Moses will come up with countless excuses as to why he can’t lead the Israelites out of Egypt, whether because of his lowliness, his speech, or the like. God doesn’t correct him. When Moses says “who am I?” to lead the people out, God simply reminds him of who God is.

In Jeremiah 1, Jeremiah says he’s too young and too inexperienced and unable to speak and thus he can’t be a prophet for the Lord. God doesn’t correct him and tell him how great a speaker he is. Instead, God reminds him of who made the mouth, of how great He was.

This is absolutely freeing. The reality is, you and I aren’t perfect. We can take down the facade. We are not great.

2) Obsession With Our Brokenness

People who tend to realize that the Scriptures never tell us to put up a facade take things to the complete opposite extreme. With hearts459488127_640 in the right place, they end up taking their eyes off of the character and greatness of God and spend too much time obsessing over their own broken lives.

This sounds like the gospel, when men and women are open about their brokenness. However, it becomes decidedly not the gospel when it becomes an obsession, the central focus of their walk with Christ. They preface every facet of their ministry in the context of their own brokenness. This is a twisted form of self-worship, which shows just how insidious the traps of Satan can be in our lives.

It is one thing to humbly admit that we don’t have it all together. It is another thing entirely to fixate on ourselves, taking our eyes off of Christ and who we are in Him.

In the Exodus story, Moses won’t take his eyes off of himself. He keeps remaining fixated on his own brokenness, and won’t put his eyes on God. In chapters four and seven, Moses continues to cry out to God, saying he’s unable to do what he’s been called to do. God is patient with him, but says time and again “I will go before you and with you”. Moses was so obsessed with his own shortcomings and ‘brokenness’ that he forgot the character and greatness of God.

Here’s where this struggle is tough for me. The men and women in the ‘brokenness’ subset of Christian community are some of the most genuine and well-meaning people that I know. Their hearts are in the right place. It is my prayer that this blog is not a form of condemnation upon them, but rather that it would remind them to acknowledge that they aren’t great, but God is.

The perfection facade club forgets that they aren’t great. The brokenness club forgets that God is. I have found myself in both camps in my life. And it’s a constant struggle.

Let us remember that the gospel is not about our self-image.

Let us remember that we are not great, but God truly is.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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