Jesus Isn’t On Your Team

We like to make the claim that Jesus is on our team.

For some of us, He’s a conservative, good ol’ boy American white man who bled red, white, and blue in the Garden of Gethsemane and wants nothing more than to see the United States prosper through Republican ideals.

For some of us, He’s a liberal, social justice warrior who wants nothing to do with organized religion and if He was here would vote purely Democratic on all ballots and bills.

Jesus is on one of these teams we believe.

And we know for a fact that He wouldn’t be on the other team.

Let’s take politics out of it for a second.

For some of us, Jesus is against movies, cards, and playing dice. He is all about commands, three-piece suits on Sunday mornings, and obedience, obedience, obedience. His yoke is heavy and we better earn our standing before Him.

For some of us, Jesus is all about grace. Go ahead and indulge at times, there is forgiveness and freedom. Come as you are. Be broken. Be authentic. Don’t be like the fake hypocrites who fill organized churches.

We know for a fact that Jesus is on one of these teams.

And we know for a fact that He wouldn’t be on the other team.

Here’s the thing. I have grown tired and pained by the rhetoric that fills our conversations these days. I’ve read and heard member after member of Christ’s body publicly call Democratic politicians idiots, monkeys, and fools. I’ve read and heard member after member of Christ’s body publicly call Republican politicians bigots, racists, and fools.

I’ve read and heard people attack organized churches for being full of hypocritical people. I’ve read and heard people attack those who aren’t committed to church by calling them licentious fools.

I’ve heard it and I’ve said it. .

Here’s what I read in Scripture though.

Countless times and in countless ways, God operates in ways that we cannot fathom, in ways that don’t fit into our preconceived notions about what He would be about.

God isn’t American.

God isn’t Republican or Democratic.

God calls His people into obedience but also extends grace.

He doesn’t fit into my box.

Let me show you one such way.

What we’ve popularized in our American churches is that God fights for the US of A. We proudly wave our flags in our churches and make the audacious claim that God is entitled to give our nation victory. I’ve written in length in other posts that this way of thinking is incorrect.

God fights for His people, the church, not the nation of the United States of America. Not only that, there are actually countless times throughout Scripture that He doesn’t fight for His people.

I’ve been reading through 2 Kings to start the year. Today I came to chapter five. In 2 Kings 5 we read a story of God using Elijah to heal a man named Naaman. Pretty cool. But let’s look at who Naaman was.

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

Wait.

What?

Naaman was a man who led the army of one of Israel’s enemies, and the Scriptures say that the Lord used him to give victory to the enemies of Israel. Wow. That doesn’t fit into our box. Or at least it doesn’t fit into mine.

As we read the rest of the story, we will see God heal this enemy of His people. For a purpose.

Naaman ends up boldly proclaiming that there is no God in all the world except for the God of Israel (v. 15); and that he will make no sacrifices to any other false deity, but rather to God and God alone (v. 17).

Let’s modernize this.

Do you believe that God can save and heal and work through the enemies of God’s people?

Time and time again God’s grace extends to those we would never fathom could receive it. Time and time again in Scripture we see that God is greater and higher than our petty fights. Time and time again in Scripture we see that God fights for His purposes on behalf of His glory and for our good.

In Joshua 5, Joshua asks if God fights for His people or against them and God responds by saying, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come (v. 14).”

The Scriptures show us that God doesn’t play on our teams.

Yet our traditions have tricked us into believing He does.

Jesus didn’t wear a three-piece suit.

Jesus showed his love for the Father by obeying the Father.

Jesus’ heart was grieved by the wickedness of man.

Jesus fought for the rights of ALL people.

Jesus wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat.

Jesus wasn’t an American.

So, in 2019, as followers of Jesus, let’s strive to follow His lead (through His Word) as we love, confront sin, call to holiness, and lay our misinformed traditions down.

I look forward to the day where I worship around the throne of King Jesus, a middle-eastern man, with Iraqi and Iranian (maybe some from ISIS itself), German and Japanese believers. I look forward to the day when I worship around the throne of King Jesus with Democrats and Republicans alike, and I pray my actions and words until then give glory to the Lord and grace to those who hear them.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

He Never Slumbers

This season of wedding and camp preparations is making me feel like I’m moving a billion miles per hour. I am beyond grateful for a family in our church who is letting me stay with them, but not being able to stay at my own home (Jamie is getting it ready and actually looking like a home) has made me feel like I’m on vacation but still having to work every day. It is a weird feeling.

My natural tendency in the moments where life feels out of control is to do my foolish best to bring life back under my control. No matter how hard I grit my teeth and try and push forward into some semblance of faux control, I end up coming back to the same spot of acknowledging that I’m tired and can’t keep going. When life is going a billion miles an hour, I also slip into a subtle but not so subtle spiritual malaise where even when I’m spending time in God’s Word, I’m not spending time with God.

The last couple weeks of crazy I’ve been in God’s Word each day, yet the intimacy of just shutting up and listening to God while truly meditating on His Word in His presence has been missing. So this morning I decided to do just that before hopping in the shower to start my day. I opened up my Bible to read and pray a Psalm and Psalm 121 came crashing into my heart at the exact time I needed it (God is pretty great).

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever. – Psalm 121:1-8

Boom. A shorter Psalm with a power punch. In seasons of hecticness, I can try and grip the wheel tighter and try and hold onto all the control, which is hilarious really and never works out. This Psalm is one that draws us as God’s people into worship. My help comes from the Lord, who lest I forget, made the heavens and the earth, the entire cosmos we reside in.

I hope that you are encouraged by this passage. I know that there are mental health circumstances that make battling anxiety not so black and white, but for many of us this Psalm is the soothing oil we need to calm our anxious nerves. I believe the cure to much of our anxiety is found in meditating upon this Psalm and taking it to heart.

While in Phoenix, my anxiety was through the roof and I did a horrible job of handling it. Since I’ve been back to Texas, the anxiety can still spike in the weirdest of ways. Small triggers.

– realizing that a job responsibility slipped past my to-do list, causing anxiousness about my job performance.

– hearing an expletive-laced rant in front of a gym next door to where Jamie works, causing anxiousness about her safety.

– a text message casting doubt on how someone views me, causing anxiousness about my identity.

None of these are really life and death situations, yet all of them are aspects of life that we should care about. Vocation, loved ones, self. That being said, if I don’t nip these fast-flowing anxious thoughts in the bud, they can spiral on me and I start playing the ‘what-if’ game.

Psalm 121 blows this up.

When I’m getting anxious, I can lift up my eyes to the heavens in a way to remind myself that my help comes from God above. He is creative, good, orderly, and perfect. Just read the creation account. God makes, and what He makes is good. God separates, bringing order to an otherwise orderless cosmos. Sin entered the picture and so we live in a fallen world, but God’s purposes and promises are secure. He says let there be light, and by the very power of His words light is made. This alone is a stunning reminder that all God says, all He proclaims, will come to pass. He made the heavens and earth.

Verse three is amazing. He who watches over us does not slumber. He does not sleep. Jamie will tell you that I hate sleeping too long or napping. I am prone to being a productivity slave (that’s a blog for another time) and thus refuse most times to take necessary rest (leading to me being late to a morning appointment and accidentally crashing into a two hour nap just yesterday). Resting or sleeping is hard, because in my foolish brain and heart my inaction is equivalent to my cosmos being out of order. Yet I am but a creature. I am an image-bearer of God who needs rest.

Juxtaposed to this need for daily rest is the God who never sleeps. In verse four it says that He watches over all of the people of God. He has us all securely in view, and He cares for us deeply.

Verse seven tells us that God will keep us from evil (not that bad things won’t happen to us as His followers, rather that the enemy of our souls will not win our souls).

Verse eight is such a pleasant piece of Scripture. The Lord will guard my going out and coming in forever. There is nowhere I can go where He is not watching over me. I am always in His hands.

This Psalm is a solvent that dissolves my anxiety.

My prayer is that it would do the same for you. He is worthy of our praise and our trust.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

DISCLAIMER: As stated in passing, I believe that there are chemical imbalances, mental health issues, etc. that make fighting anxiety much more difficult than I’ve written about here. I pray for those experiencing such things, and I am not intending to belittle those very real, very personal struggles.

The Lonely Southern Baptist

When I got to OBU, I honestly had a pretty strong disdain for all things theological and doctrinal. To me, my faith was about loving Jesus and others and nothing else mattered. Over the course of my years of study at OBU, I came to realize that theology and doctrine, when studied rightly, lead to loving God and loving others better. With this newfound fervor I began to study, but I started to find myself in an increasingly lonely position.

I grew up in a strongly conservative Southern Baptist church. My beliefs about sexuality, Scripture, sacraments, service, and soteriology are thus all firmly conservative and Southern Baptist. This was a heritage I entered into OBU with, something I was proud of. I was proud to have been raised in a conservative Christian home. My peers and friends around me at ‘The Walk’ at OBU when we started our collegiate journey stood by me in said beliefs.

Then the ‘deconstruction’ began. Countless people I knew, who I sat by in class, began this process of deconstructing their faith, a process that in my belief is the result of the tremendous lack of family discipleship. Many members of my generation grew up in homes where church was mandatory, but the gospel was not lived out at home. This is a tremendous travesty, akin to that of Judges 2:10 – “That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works he had done for Israel.” The book of Judges is full of disheartening and disgusting acts done by the people of God, and this is the backdrop. A generation arose that did not know the Lord or what He had done. This means implicitly that the parents of this generation did not show their kids who God was and didn’t tell their kids about what God had done.

In response to growing up in homes where there was a lack of genuine gospel conversation or Christlike character despite religious practices, many of my peers were driven to process their faith for themselves via the deconstruction of it. Soteriology, Scripture, service, sexuality, and the sacraments. All of these facets of theology were on the table now, ready to be studied and made new in the lives of my peers.

As this deconstruction revolution went up like a powder keg all around me, I found myself ostracized, villianized, and condemned by those who had stood by me as conservatives only four years before.

I remember the day. My Senior year we had Rosaria Butterfield come and speak in chapel at OBU. A group of students who had put sexuality on the cutting block and reassembled their beliefs about it were adamantly opposed to her presence. They stood up and silently left the auditorium in defense of said beliefs. This was the day where I felt the loneliness really start to kick in.

I am all for the right to protest. Yet in the aftermath of this protest, I felt myself smack dab in the middle of a divide with no place to call my own ‘theological home’.

On one side was the ‘deconstructionists’, a group that had pushed deeper into what they were taught and told to believe (an admirable endeavor) and had come out on the other side with opposing views to what I believed about sexuality, service, soteriology, and Scripture. Those who came before me at OBU were militantly and rudely attacking the college on social media in what was honestly a cowardly way of action. Instead of face-to-face conversations, there were social media clap-backs that were not at all showing the love of Jesus that this ‘camp’ was so desirous of. I felt (please know that I’m aware that feelings can be wrong) like I was looked down upon by this group for being one of two things. For holding tightly to my conservative Southern Baptist beliefs I was either 1) foolish and naive or 2) unloving and devoid of compassion. I was either a man who had not thought long and hard about what I believed, or if I had, I was a man who had no love or compassion for the broken and battered in our world.

On the other side were those who I felt like adhered to my beliefs about theology and doctrine. That being said, I felt myself alone in these circles due to my desire and emphasis on holiness. The ‘conservatives’ were now wearing shirts that said “I love Jesus but I cuss a little”. Cards Against Humanity, obscene talk about sex, and an outcry against our legalistic ancestors were the talk of the town. I could never find myself able to fully embrace this camp of ‘authenticity’ and ‘brokenness’ because I can’t escape the call of 1 Peter 1:16 to be holy as God is holy. This camp decried me as being either old-fashioned or legalistic for my belief about this. I became a weirdo in the denominational family that I called home.

When I left OBU I felt quite alone. I had a group of friends that stood with me in this middle ground, but we were few and far between. Two experiences at two different churches solidified me in this lonely middle ground.

On one hand, in Portland I was at a church event where we attended a Portland Timbers soccer game. I left discouraged and frustrated as members of this church chanted “We are the Timbers, we are the best. We are the Timbers, so F*&% all the rest. F&%$ them all! F#$% them all! F%#$ them all! Being authentic believers meant being no different than the world.

On the other hand, I served at a church in Phoenix where jokes were consistently made about SBC life (which in fact funded said church), and how we should not be so concerned with theology and doctrine (which led to an unhealthy meddling of Pentecostal, Baptist, Anglican, and Catholic beliefs). “Let the theologians argue about theology, we are going to love like Jesus”.

In a world of acceptance and charity, I found myself ostracized by those who had deconstructed their faith and outed by those in my own denominational camp because my desire for holiness and Scripture-driven sermons was not in agreement with the cussing Christians.

Where was I to go?

The answer is still not clear.

That being said, I am grateful for God’s grace given to me in two ways. One, I’ve been grafted into a community of youth pastors in my region who seem to be in the same position I’ve found myself in with this middle ground. Second, I’m incredibly honored and grateful that I have been asked to join the conversation at Misfits Theology. Go give that blog a follow!

In His Name,

Nate Roach