The Face Of Comfort

God has strengthened and comforted me lately. In the midst of tragedy and dark days, He has carried me like a father carries His son. He has shown me that when I am dependent upon Him, deliverance will come, in one way or another (The God Of All Comfort).

God is a comforter.

It’s not just something He does, it’s part of the essence of who He is.

But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus – 2 Corinthians 7:6

God comforts the downcast.

God comforts me.

This comfort is not something that leads me into complacency. In fact, the comfort of God on my life is the very thing that drives me forward as a follower of Jesus. Or, according to 2 Corinthians, it should be.

Let’s look at the basis for this assertion real quick.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

God comforts me and you in our affliction. That’s beautiful.

But there’s a call in this. We are comforted in affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction

In my 2 Corinthians journal (if you don’t have any of the ESV Scripture Journals, you’re missing out), I wrote to the side “God’s comfort of me should lead me to comfort others.” Now I’m probably not winning any awards for deep and poetic rhetoric, but that’s the unavoidable truth of this passage. It’s what has been in the back of my mind all week.

I live in a city that is full of people who are in need of comfort and strength, both inside and outside our churches.

The same is true for where you live.

If I’m receiving comfort of God while refusing to extend that same comfort to those around me, I’m missing the point.

When you look at 2 Corinthians 7:6, it’s cool to see that Titus got to be the face of comfort in the lives of Paul and Timothy. God comforted them via Titus.

God is the source of comfort, but you and I can be the face of it.

So, what types of people can we comfort?

Those Inside The Family of God Who Are In Trials 

I pull out my phone, start to type out a message, but then quickly put it away. This happens again and again. Circumstances are weighing heavy on my heart, but taking the plunge to ask for prayer is decidedly difficult, even with trusted friends in my faith community.

We live in a church culture that sometimes makes it difficult to simply say “I’m in need.” As followers of Jesus who have been comforted by God however, we should strive to make our faith community one where people can be real honest about the battles they are facing. One of the enemy’s greatest tricks is convincing our brothers and sisters in Christ that the church is where you should pretend to have it all together.

I have a friend who texts me every once in a while with a simple “How can I be praying for you and your family?”. That simple text reminds me that there are men and women praying for me and my family. The more we can do that for others, the better.

What can you do to extend comfort and strength to those in your church who need it?

And remember, Paul and Timothy felt at the point of death itself (1:8), so it’s not weakness to admit you need help too.

Those Inside The Family of God Who Are In Sin

This is probably the group of people where I struggle with this the most. I see things in black and white, not much grey. But there are innumerable people in our churches who need strength and comfort in the midst of battling sorrow for their sin.

For the unrepentant habitual lifestyle of sin, there are hard words that need to be spoken.

But for the struggling mother, father, husband, wife, worker, friend, or neighbor who acknowledges their sin and desires to change, what they need is not a reprimand, but a word of comfort and strength.

so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. – 2 Corinthians 2:7

Paul is here addressing someone in the church at Corinth who had sinned, causing pain to many. Although I don’t know all the details of this situation (I love that there’s always more to study in the Bible), I find it interesting that Paul commands them to comfort him.

Our churches are full of sinners.

Sinners who see their sin but don’t see grace need to be strengthened and comforted.

Those Outside The Family of God Who Need Hope 

Lastly, we should be comforters of those outside our walls that need hope to keep moving forward. Our world offers innumerable distractions and false gods to occupy the hopeless mind, but ultimately what every person needs is Jesus.

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing – 2 Corinthians 2:15

What a weird term.

I am the aroma of Christ among those who are perishing (without hope).

So the extremely weird question we gotta ask is do people smell Christ when they’re around us?

I’ve sat in so many budget meetings and committee meetings and staff meetings in my short life, and while there is a place for them, arguments about money and preferences and plans fall short when it comes to spreading hope.

Side note: this verse doesn’t say that your pastor or your church or your men’s ministry is the aroma of Christ for your lost neighbors.

Nope.

It’s supposed to be you!

In the wake of so many tragic situations in my city, I can’t help but ask myself regularly how I can continue imperfectly bringing hope to a world that needs it.

God can comfort and strengthen you.

He does that so that you can comfort and strengthen others.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

The Table

When you think about a symbol for evangelism and discipleship, what comes to mind?

Some of us might think of the cross, for it is central to the message of the gospel.

Some of us might think of the pulpit, where faithful preachers exposit the Word of God week in and week out.

Some of us might think of a Bible or Bible study, since the study of its truths is crucial to the growth of the believer.

I would argue however that the table is a symbol for sharing our faith and deepening our faith.

I believe that sharing a table with others is the most effective conduit to discipleship.

I would argue that this was Jesus’ methodology as well. While He surely taught in public via parables and sermons, sharing a meal with others was a large part of His ministry. Consider the following verse in the Gospel of Luke:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ – Luke 7:34

In the passage where this verse is found, Jesus is calling the Pharisees and religious leaders out for their lack of faith in and allegiance to Jesus. Then he proceeds to tell them what He came doing: eating and drinking.

Again, I am not trying to detract from His preaching and His miracles. These are profound and show us that Jesus was the most unique man to walk the face of the earth, the very Son of God.

Yet, sharing a table with tax collectors and sinners was a clear part of His ministry. The Lord’s Supper, the ordinance that we use in our churches to reflect upon the sacrifice of Christ together, obviously happened around a table as well.

What does this have to do with us?

How can we live like Jesus in our communities, specifically when it comes to eating and drinking?

In His book, Surprise The World (Get it. Its call to simplicity when it comes to sharing our faith is refreshing. This blog is more or less his teaching in my words and experiences), Michael Frost calls every follower of Jesus to share three meals a week with someone in their community.

When I reflect on my life in just this past week, almost every conversation about faith has come around a table, while eating good food with others.

  • At Burger King in Wichita Falls, I talked with my dad about marriage and ministry while chowing down on some Cini-Minis.
  • At Braums in Vernon, I met with a student who is about to graduate and head off to DBU. We laughed together, talked about Avengers, and read a book about how the gospel should dictate our thoughts and actions.
  • While eating Pizza Hut (I’m not sponsored, but I wish I was) with some members of my local church, we talked about the Lord’s Supper and how to build stronger community together.
  • While eating a burger at a local restaurant, I spoke with a friend about how we can better serve one another in love, and rejoiced together about the professions of faith his children were making.

The table can serve as a bridge between people who might not otherwise spend time together. There is something intimate about sharing a meal. Jesus ate with those who were seen in their society to be the worst of people, and because of this He was accused by the pharisaical religious leaders of the day of being a friend of sinners.

Share a table with someone who looks different than you. Someone who has a different background. Someone who votes different than you. Someone who doesn’t walk with Jesus.

There is so much hate in our world, much of it propagated by well-meaning church-goers who don’t have the humility to just listen.

Just a reminder: in heaven there will be Republicans and Democrats, Cowboys and Redskins fans, Texans and Oklahomans, those who vaccinate their kids and those who don’t, homeschoolers and public schoolers, prostitutes and church secretaries, murderers and church choir members, heroin addicts and weekly Sunday school attenders, Baptists and Charismatics, Americans and former members of ISIS.

Your political party, choice of education for your children, race, wealth, or even country do not give you favored status in the eyes of God.

What conversations are you having?

What type of rhetoric are you putting on Facebook?

Don’t be a man or woman of hate.

Instead, share a table.

Eating with someone is not agreeing with 100% of their lives.

Somewhere along the way we have thought that distancing ourselves from any sign of unholiness is the best witness. We would condemn Jesus super fast, just like the Pharisees, for associating with sinners, wouldn’t we?

But association is not condoning sin. We must allow the holiness given us by Christ to shine through. When we’re like everyone around us though, we have gone too far the other way (as I blog about often).

I believe with all of my heart that long before we invite people to church on a Sunday morning, we should invite them into our homes to share a meal with us. Relationships draw people into the community of faith, not Sunday morning services. How could they? We are told in Scripture that we will be known by our love, not our dynamic preaching or bass lines or hymns.

Before you invite to church, share a table.

You may not be the most hospitable person. The thought of opening up your home may terrify you. Well, then, do what I do. Go out to eat.

If you can though, have people in your own home. You don’t have to have an immaculate home. Acknowledging an imperfect, sometimes messy home can be just as refreshing to a guest as acknowledging our imperfect, sometimes messy minds and hearts and lives.

If you want to have a life and heart transformed by a missional mindset, start sharing a table.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

Belief On My Terms

We’re entering a season of the church calendar when we reflect on the final days of Jesus leading up to his death and resurrection. In light of this time of the year, I’ve been reading a little in the Gospel of Matthew. And while reading the portion prior to Jesus’ death, I was struck by the audacity of the crowds. I was struck with conviction in my own heart too.

Imagine you’ve followed this man around, a philosophy and theology teacher who seemingly came out of nowhere. You’re pretty certain he’s something special, but you just can’t put your finger on it. You also know you’re looking for a rebellion to start to remove the oppressive Roman government from ruling over you. Maybe this Jesus guy is that guy.

But all of a sudden he starts talking a little crazy. He’s saying things about tearing down the temple where everyone worships, including you and your family. The major religious teachers you respect and follow on Twitter are saying he’s blasphemous. He calls himself the Son of God, which might mean he’s actually God somehow? You’re not really sure what to do, or think, or say.

You just want to follow God.

Then everyone around you gets riled up. Let’s kill this crazy man. He’s making bold claims, but he’s not delivering on a political revolution. So you get swept up in the frenzy. You’re sold, this man is a blasphemer. He’s distracting people from God. He might be the Adversary himself!

Everyone gathers around Pilate, who is going to give you a choice of who you want to be freed from prison on behalf of your annual festival. And this happens (Matthew 27):

15 At the festival the governor’s custom was to release to the crowd a prisoner they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Who is it you want me to release for you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

You listen. You consider the options. The religious authorities speak up.

20 The chief priests and the elders, however, persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to execute Jesus. 21 The governor asked them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”

“Barabbas!” they answered.

This is your preference as well. It’s the first of three preferences you will get to make this day. Pilate speaks up again.

22 Pilate asked them, “What should I do then with Jesus, who is called Christ?”

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23 Then he said, “Why? What has he done wrong?”

But they kept shouting all the more, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!”

25 All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas to them and, after having Jesus flogged, handed him over to be crucified.

Another preference. Let’s crucify Jesus. You’re fired up, you’re certain this is what God would like. Let the one who deceives be judged and condemned.

A little while later you finally see Jesus led to Golgatha, the mount where criminals are crucified. And you look up and see Jesus and two others hanging there. You join in the festivities, mocking Jesus, who is getting what he seemingly deserves.

38 Then two criminals were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him and said, 42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God rescue him now—if he takes pleasure in him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with him taunted him.

Everyone was taunting and mocking Jesus. You and I would have done the same if we were there. How do I know that? Because we still taunt and mock Jesus with our words and actions. If you’ve mocked another human, an image of God, then you’ve mocked God. If you’ve cursed yourself, an image of God, then you’ve cursed God.

Some of us are bold enough to have even mocked and cursed God in the midst of prayer–whether we believe in God or not.

And we’ve wanted our preferences all along the way.

Our first preference as part of the crowd was for Barabbas to be freed. Our second preference was for Jesus to be crucified. Our final preference was for God to save himself instead of us.

We are so foolish.

Our preferences are twisted and corrupt because we are sinful. Our default is sin.

And we are so deceived by sin that we think we can dictate how God should show up in our lives and in our world to save it. We think highly of our own plans and our own wisdom, a wisdom that is mere foolishness to God.

I don’t even know what to do with this. I’m still processing what it means to be so foolish. I’m still processing my own preferences, even for what following God is supposed to look like. I’m processing my own preferences for what makes a good life.

But I’m praying for wisdom. I need eyes to see the mystery of God’s work in this world.

I don’t want to be foolish enough to claim Jesus as my savior but my own self as lord.

I don’t want belief on my own terms.

Please pray for me.

– Matt Welborn

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

The Reason For The Season

Yesterday, my good friend Marco and I went to the High School for lunch. In a forty minute lunch period, there were two fights. The saddest part of this is that both were widely encouraged by the other students. There was cheering, screaming, applauding, and the obligatory phone recordings of the festivities.

That more or less affected my entire day. I was supremely saddened by the fact that there is so much violence in our world, so much hatred. It seeps down into the upcoming generations.

After being present at these events, Marco and I had a conversation about sin and it’s global nature. He made a statement that I will forever steal.

Our sin is the reason for the season. 

When we approach the Christmas season, we like to say that “Jesus is the reason for the season”. To an extent this is true, and I’m not intending to split hairs. But we must acknowledge that the reason Jesus had to come in the first place is because of our sin which separates us from God. None of us come away clean, innocent, or pure in the eyes of God.

Although it’s generally not read in any Advent moments, the following passage is worth remembering:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one to come. – Romans 5:12-14

There you have it. According to Scripture, the real reason for this Christmas season is the sin that is prevalent in me.

Our sin is the reason for the season.

Adam’s sin has been imputed to all of mankind. Each of us is born into sin. There are many different worldviews present today that teach that mankind is inherently good. The Christian worldview is not one of them. According to Scripture, all have been born into sin. Instead of being inherently good, we are inherently sinful.

We don’t offer courses at our church to teach people to sin against God. Toddlers don’t go through “Deception 101” and “Advanced Selfishness”. It’s wired into them. They are innately broken.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. – Psalm 51:5

David sang about his innate sinfulness. He knew that he was birthed in sin.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. – Matthew 22:37-38

When I put my life up against this statement of Jesus, I realize just how sinful I am. I don’t love the Lord my God with all that is in me. So if we’re being real, we are way more sinful than we think that we are.

Yes, this is bad news.

That’s also why the good news of the gospel, the good news of Christmas, is good.

You see, the passage out of Romans 5 does not end there on the global nature of sin. It bursts into the glorious light of the gospel.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:15-17

The sin of Adam was imputed to all of mankind. The sin of Adam spread to all of mankind. This is the background of the Christmas story. The shadow of the cross of Christ is on the cradle. The birth of Jesus is ultimately about His eventual death, His sacrifice for our sins.

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we see two beautiful things happen.

Our sins are put on Christ, and the perfect righteousness of Christ is put on us. Just as all of us are born into sin because of the sin of Adam, so we in Christ are righteous before God the Father because of Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf.

Y’all, this is beautiful news.

I’ll be honest. Even when I write out this passage from Romans 5, my logical sensibilities are challenged by that final verse. The righteousness of Christ is a free gift. I cannot earn it. Neither can you.

We make our standing before God dependent upon our own actions and abilities, our personal holiness and righteousness. Yet the Bible makes it abundantly clear time and time again that there’s literally nothing I can do to earn what God did for me in sending His Son to die for me. Even my most noble attempts at righteousness are nowhere close to the perfect righteousness and holiness of God.

The world we live in is broken, ravaged by sin. There are wars, there are natural disasters, there is family violence and screaming matches in cafeterias. There doesn’t seem to be much peace anywhere. It is in this space that the message of the gospel can be transformative and tremendously impactful. The light of the gospel shines brightest in darkness.

This Christmas season, reflect. This Christmas season, in the midst of Sunday School parties and family, gifts and egg nog and decorating the house, reflect upon the message of the gospel.

Our sin is the reason for the season. But God the Father sent His Son Jesus to take our place. 

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

 

Serving God in Cancer and Infertility

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. – Luke 1:5-7

Elizabeth and Zechariah faithfully served the Lord. The Bible describes them as righteous, walking blamelessly in all of the commands and statutes of the Lord This at first glance doesn’t seem all that extraordinary, until you reflect on two key parts of this story that the text shows us. 

First off, Elizabeth is barren and they are both in their old age. Elizabeth lived in a world where there was tremendous shame associated with barrenness, to the point of people assuming God had something against the woman who was barren. Yet despite being in such a culture and struggling with infertility, Elizabeth’s barrenness didn’t prevent her from wholeheartedly serving the Lord. That alone is astounding. Here in Elizabeth we have an example of a woman who faithfully submitted herself to God even in the midst of what many would perceive to be God’s indignation with her. 

I can’t speak for you my reader but I find it difficult to serve the Lord when I feel like the Lord has slighted me in some way. It’s hard for us to sing out his praises on Sunday morning when in the previous week tragedy has struck, whether major or minor. Yet day after day she faithfully served the Lord alongside her husband Zechariah, putting up with innumerable chide remarks regarding her barrenness from those around her no doubt. We see this because later she will proclaim that her disgrace has been taken away by God (v. 25). 

As I am typing this, memories come to mind of my dad’s former colleague and best friend, Michael O’Brien. Although the Lord has brought him home to glory, his legacy lives on in countless ways. One such way is in my memories, and one such memory stands out in my mind as I reflect on submissive worship in the midst of tragedy. 

You see, Michael had a long bout with cancer, which he eventually succumbed to. Yet in the midst of this fight, he worshiped. Day after day he worshiped while leading his family through the darkness of his own disease and when gathered publicly with other followers of Jesus his praises rang out from battered lungs. I watched him one time in a service sing out “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.” This while his own cancer-battered lungs fought against him. I cannot write these paragraphs about him without fighting tears. Although I did not know him well myself, his worship and devotion to God in the midst of his own pain was worthy of emulating and worthy of admiration. 

These stories are amazing. 

When I look at Elizabeth and Zechariah, I see glimpses of Michael O’Brien. 

Let’s get back into Luke chapter one. 

Zechariah is going about his duties as a priest when it becomes his opportunity to enter the temple of the Lord. When at the altar, an angel of the Lord appears to him. . . 

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, – Luke 1:13-14

Silence. For hundreds of years the voices of the prophets have echoed away into silence. The people of God waited, hoped, and waited some more. God was seemingly far away, distant, unwilling to reside with His people. Little did anyone know that on this day, this mundane and ordinary day of service to the Lord, God would prepare the way for the greatest moment in human history. A Messiah would soon be arriving on earth, and the angel of the Lord was shining upon the darkness of one couple’s barrenness to signal the impending arrival. 

Their child was to do the following. . . 

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. – Luke 1:16-17

This child was to prepare the way for Jesus. 

Zechariah would end up doubting the angel’s message and end up being mute until the birth of his son as a result. 

That aside though, we serve a God who faithfully visits His people in their brokenness and sin. He is not far away. Whether it is the book of Ruth or the book of Exodus, God’s timing is perfect and His purposes are great. 

Although we are not quite at Advent, my wife and I have been studying this chapter and have been in awe of God. As you head towards the holiday season, I know there are struggles you are facing. The holidays can be wonderful and beautiful, but the enemy can make them dark, brooding, and a constant reminder of what you’ve lost. 

Maybe the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah hits incredibly close to home for you, you long for a child. Maybe you are facing cancer like Michael. Maybe you have a wayward child or a tense relationship in your family. Whatever you are facing this season, meditate on the beauty of this passage. Follow the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and ultimately Jesus. Be a man or woman of God who faithfully serves God regardless of personal pain or darkness. Submit to Him.

He comes close. He brings healing and hope. Maybe it’s a child in the midst of infertility. Maybe it’s being taken home to glory. 

I long for the day when I will be in glory with Michael O’Brian. Until then, I pray that his example and the example of the Biblical characters we looked at today will spur me on to good works for God’s glory until the day my race is done. 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach 

 

When You Want To Give More

We’re entering the end of the calendar year. 2018 is almost over, beckoning us to contemplate on the next year and beyond. 

Maybe you’re not there yet. I understand.

Going backward in time from January 1st of next year, we have:

  • New Years Eve
  • Post-Christmas (Does anyone know what you’re supposed to do during these last few days? I’m still not sure.)
  • Christmas
  • Christmas Eve
  • (My sister’s birthday!)
  • Advent
  • Cyber Monday
  • Black Friday
  • Thanksgiving

That’s a lengthy list.

And holidays are nothing but costly. They cost time, money, attentiveness, and emotions.

So even if you’re not thinking about 2019 and beyond, you’re most certainly thinking about the coming holiday season(s). And as a result, you’re most likely considering the cost of them too.

But I don’t want to talk about money here the way you might be expecting. I want to talk about what I’ve been learning in my own heart about giving. And I specifically mean giving money.

Here’s a story I want us to consider in our discussion:

‘Sitting across from the temple treasury, [Jesus] watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.’ – Mark 12:41-42

Read that again if that helps you capture the image of what’s going on here.

What’s happening is something like this:

Jesus was sitting around with his disciples, probably chatting about who would be first in the kingdom or something like that. At some point, Jesus zoned out of the conversation and zoned into observing some obviously rich people walking up to give money to the temple.

Now, this is a really, really good thing to do. What they’re doing is praiseworthy. They’re rocking the Lottie Moon offering here. That church goal of $10,000 for missions–surpassed in one check! Boom, chaka laka.

They walk away, but Jesus isn’t watching them anymore. Meanwhile, the disciples notice Jesus checked out a while ago, and they start watching what he’s watching: an old, poor widow.

She drops in two quarters. Yes, 50 cents. That’s not making a dent in the thankfully-now-surpassed $10,000 missions fundraising goal. The rich people noticed her gift. How precious, they think. The disciples noticed too. That’s good, but not much really. We left our jobs and financial securities for Jesus.

But thankfully for everyone involved, and most importantly, Jesus noticed. And this is what he did and said:

‘Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had —all she had to live on.”’ – Mark 12:43-44

She did what?! Jesus says she “put more into the treasury than all the others.”

I remember from 1st grade that 10,000 is greater than 0.50. Right? (Maybe it was 2nd grade.)

(Google even says it’s 10,000. I checked.)

So what is Jesus talking about? What does he mean 50 cents is more than $10,000?

He explains with a little more detail, “For they gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had–all she had to live on.”

The rich people gave out of their surplus. They had a surplus of at least $10,000! I’m not kidding here when I say I wish I had a surplus of half that.

This is why I mentioned thinking about 2019 and beyond before. This is why I mentioned the holidays and money and giving. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about wanting a job that pays well. I mean, really well. I want to make money. I want to have a surplus out of which to give. I really do. I want to be able to take care of a family, provide for tangible needs in my church and community, buy a decent house, stock my library, have a reliable car, and meet those $10,000 goals with ease. I would love that. And I don’t think any of that desire is inherently wrong.

I used to think having a lot of money was evil. Now I realize it’s the love of money that’s the problem.

So I’ve been thinking about trying to get a better paying job. Or thinking about going back to school to get a master’s degree that could result in a high paying job and career. I’ve thought about it a lot recently. I want to love others and love God with my money. And I’ve thought I needed a lot of money to do that effectively.

And I realized I was wrong.

I realized when I read what Jesus said about the poor widow could be true of me. I could give more than the wealthiest people I know. By living paycheck to paycheck (yeah, really), I could give even more than people with thousands invested and in assets. I could even give more now than in the future (if I end up making more money in the future, which is more likely than not).

In God’s economy, which is wonky to our limited perspective, my giving can be more in God’s eyes than I think it is. And I don’t need a lot to give a lot.

You don’t need a lot to give a lot.

And people who make a lot less money than I do around the world are giving way more than I do to the Church. What a humbling realization!

God’s economy doesn’t compute. The bottom line seems written in by pen regardless of the numbers above. It’s a mystery. But we get to participate in it. By giving money you are participating in the coming of the kingdom. By giving money you are demonstrating your citizenship in the economy of heaven. By giving money you are showing the world that money isn’t worth what it’s worth to the world.

Giving out of surplus is commendable. Giving out of a generous and cheerful heart is amazing.

But giving out of lack is worth the attention and commendation of Jesus.

Think about this story as the holidays approach. Think about what Jesus notices in the widow.

Pray for the heart of a poor, old widow.

– Matt Welborn