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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Nate Roach’s Church

There are times when Scripture just punches me in the face.

Today was one of those days.

I’ve been looking at the book of Ephesians lately here on my blog, and the passage I came to today shined a big ol’ light on some dark parts of my heart that I’ve been content to just ignore or gloss over.

Let’s look at the passage together.

when he raised (Christ) from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. - Ephesians 1:20b-23

This is an abrupt break due to the fact that I covered the previous parts of this chapter in prior blogs.

Here’s the gist of what we’re looking at though. We’re looking at a phenomenal, magnificent, amazing description of what God the Father gave to Christ the Son.

I mean, that list is engrossing.

Look at all that it says about Jesus:

  • He was raised from the dead (what we’re about to celebrate this weekend)
  • He is seated at the right hand of the Father
  • He is over every rule
  • He is over every authority
  • He is over every power
  • He is over every dominion
  • His Name is greater than all others
  • All things are under His feet
  • He is the head of the church

Wow. Now, I generally enjoy looking at least at all the cross-references for a passage before teaching on it. I didn’t do that today because there is honestly just so much here. There are dozens of other passages in the Bible that allude to these different realities regarding the magnificence of Jesus.

In this Covid-19 season of quarantine, this is the type of stuff that we should be meditating on. We shouldn’t be meditating on the news. We shouldn’t be looking up the word ‘plague’ in a concordance and trying to make verses speak into this direct situation. We should be looking to Jesus. We should be rejoicing in all that the Father has given Him.

Did you see all of that? He’s in charge. He resides over every nation, leading every ruler of every nation (even the ones you don’t like). There is nothing more powerful than Him. The entire world is under His feet. This passage brings me so much joy and hope. He’s got me. He’s got you. He’s got us.

But this passage also, like I said, punches me square in the face.

Because do you see who is in control here?

Is it Nate Roach?

Nope, and we should all be abundantly grateful that it’s not.

I’ve shared before that this quarantine scenario has served to take away any facade of my control over literally anything in my life. We like to think that we ourselves are in charge. But we’re not.

For me personally, as of late, that second to last verse is the one that really hits too close to home.

I had my ministry before Covid-19 struck. We were zooming through Philippians, gaining traction, seeing a little fruit, about to start a brand new High School only service. All was well.

Then bam.

Gone.

In an instant y’all.

I’ll be honest, these past few weeks of this quarantine stuff has been tough on me. As it has been tough on all of us. I’ve had to wrestle with doubt, fear, worry, feelings of purposelessness. All the while I wanted to wrestle back control of my life, my ministry, our church.

I mean, seriously, how will any student or child grow spiritually if we’re not gathered and I’m not leading?

Okay y’all, I hope you see what God showed me about the stupidity of that there statement.

Here’s where the fist drilled the face.

This church isn’t dependent on me. Not even remotely.

This church isn’t dependent upon any other staff member.

This church is dependent upon Christ.

He is the head.

Not Nate Roach.

And He is still in control.

Not Nate Roach.

Go back to that passage above. Read it again and again. Look at all that it says about Jesus. Look deeply, closely, intentionally. Be encouraged. Don’t fret or be afraid. God is in control. Jesus is still on the throne.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

I’ve used this quarantine season to get started on a couple other avenues for sharing God’s Word. The first is a YouTube channel. You can find the latest video here: https://youtu.be/f1OnESBOAok.

The second is a podcast! This is what I’m super stoked about! I know reading a long rambling blog is not always the best. Sometimes, having something to listen to while doing other activities is a better way to soak up God’s Word. My prayer is that this new podcast (which will be up and running soon) will be a way for you to grow in your love for Jesus.

He Dwells In Us, Not Our Sanctuaries

“There’s nothing magical about these steps. But we can come up here and take the humble posture of prayer by kneeling.”

I got into the habit during the invitation component of my sermons of saying something like this. I point to the altar in our sanctuary and downplay its significance. The posture of prayer is significant, but not the carpeted steps leading up to our stage. There’s nothing significant about them, in terms of holiness.

We are living in unprecedented times. Unprecedented times that are affecting the way that we gather together as the church.

I do not envy one bit those who have had to prayerfully make decisions for the coming weeks for their churches.

I don’t know what the right answer is.

Our church leadership has chosen to gather together over the radio or over livestreaming as opposed to in person. We believe this is what is best for the time being.

So right now, our sanctuary will be empty for the foreseeable future.

There has been a proliferation of posts that fit the following mantra: “the church isn’t the building. we are.”

And as much as this language makes me cringe a tiny bit, it’s true.

But I want to talk about it from a slightly different perspective.

I want to talk about where God dwells.

God doesn’t dwell in the sanctuary at First Baptist Church of Vernon, Texas. He dwells with His people. Somewhere along the way (and I’ve studied zero minutes about this) we began to believe that God dwelled in a building like the temple that Solomon built for Him. So we started making sanctuaries these holy places where God dwelled with man. And yet God doesn’t dwell there.

He dwells in us.

I’ve been studying the book of Ephesians (my last two blogs have been out of this marvelous book of the Bible) and I’m reminded again and again that the message of the entire scope of Scripture is not God coming to dwell in a building, but rather God coming to dwell with a people.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. - Ephesians 2:19-22

I mean, come on y’all.

The second chapter of Ephesians details the amazing work of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It tells us how utterly broken we were in our sin, in the kingdom of darkness. Then we see the work of God. We see how we were SAVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. The implications of this wonderful news continues on into this passage.

We are fellow citizens with one another.

We are saints and fellow members of the family of God.

Even those who go to other churches in town.

The implications and applications of that reality alone is far-reaching.

But look at the conclusion. We have been brought together, built up into a dwelling place for the Lord.

Let that sink in.

It’s always been about the people.

In Genesis, we see the framework of this, as God promises to bless all the nations through the line of Abraham.

In Revelation, we see the culmination of this, as every tribe and tongue and nation bows before King Jesus.

All throughout the way, in tabernacles, temples, and Jesus, God has dwelled with His people. Paul tells explicitly in Acts 17 that God doesn’t dwell in buildings made by human hands.

So what does that mean for today?

It means that maybe, just maybe, we come to know this truth of Scripture like never before.

Maybe, just maybe, we will remember that we have always been called to primarily live in the world, not in judgment, but in hopes of bringing the good news of the gospel to bear on the lives of our friends neighbors (just read 1 Corinthians 5, 8, and 9).

Maybe, just maybe, we can live out the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives (joy and kindness) when we interact with others (Had to repent just today for some judgmental responses to others. This isn’t easy).

Maybe, just maybe, families will wake up and realize that the job of the church is to merely supplement their discipleship practices at home, not the other way around.

Yes, church community is going to look different for a while. I absolutely dread how awkward it is going to be for me to teach to an empty room this Sunday. But the community has never been about the building in the first place.

Y’all. This gets me pumped. When my church family gathers on Sunday mornings, it should be an opportunity to celebrate what God is doing in our community as well as to remind ourselves of the task ahead.

We should be doing far more outside the walls of our sanctuaries than we do in them. More people should be encountering Jesus outside than inside. We should be studying Scripture together far more outside than inside. We should be singing praise to God far more outside than inside.

Y’all.

God has chosen us as His people to dwell with. Every single believer who follows Jesus as Lord is part of this.

The sanctuary may be empty, but His presence is in us.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

A Church Full of . . . .

What do you hold most dear? What is central to your heart? What do you think about the most? What does your media consumption revolve around? What do your conversations revolve around?

These questions can help you discern what you worship. What you love.

All of us are worshipping and pursuing something. More often than not, we are committing idolatry.

The Scriptures have a really sobering word for those of us (like me) who pursue other things above the Lord.

Recently I’ve been listening to and reading Hosea. This is a minor prophet that is relatively well-known, but it’s imagery and stark illustrations should catch our modern sensibilities off guard. Consider this verse for instance:

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord. - Hosea 1:2

Okay. Seriously. Let that sink in.

Hosea is a prophet, a spiritual leader who would speak the very words of God to the people of God. And God calls for him to go take a whore as a wife. This should be shocking language for us to read, but it should also be shocking imagery. We have made this too cute, but we need to really sit in this.

Hosea was to take a whore (or prostitute) for a wife to illustrate God’s covenant relationship with His people.

Come on now. Is that sinking in?

God had a covenant relationship with His people.

Two parties involved.

God.

His people.

One of them (God) is a faithful husband.

One of them (His people) is a whore of a wife.

That make you uncomfortable?

It certainly bothers me!

What God is clearly stating through the words and actions of the prophet Hosea is that when I worship other things, I am committing spiritual adultery. I am breaking the covenant between me and God. The reality is, this theme runs throughout the grand storyline of Scripture. This runs through most of the prophetic books. The church, the people of God, are God’s unfaithful wife (there’s a really good book on this subject with the same name). And yet God never forsakes us. He never breaks the covenant. Rather, he continues to love us. He ultimately sent His Son for us.

But the reality is, I am a whore (spiritually speaking). I pursue things other than the Lord Jesus. I hold things in my heart above Him. And this is reprehensible and obscene.

I hear people regularly say that the church is full of hypocrites. I have never felt led to disagree with that assessment. Rather, I’ve honestly wanted to tell them just how bad the church is. How, spiritually speaking, to use Biblical language, the church is full of whores.

Yikes.

That’s unsettling.

But despite what our modern sensibilities may want to tell us, it is inherently Biblical. This is the Bible’s view of our sin. It is nothing more than adultery against God.

Do we view sin that way?

I don’t. I trivialize sin. I ignore sin. I excuse sin. I push sin under the rug. I keep it in the dark. I treat it as normal.

Oh that we would have a Biblical view of our sin. Oh that we would take sin seriously in our lives, that we would rip it into the light, that we would no longer treat it flippant but rather treat it for the horrifying and disgusting offense against God that it is.

Church, for us to avoid spiritual whoredom, we must take the following proverb to heart.

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. - Proverbs 4:23

This verse is not about dating. This verse is not about guarding your heart from a perspective lover. This verse is about guarding your heart against spiritual adultery. Let the author or proclaimer of this proverb (King Solomon) be your warning. Despite proclaiming this proverb, Solomon didn’t guard his heart against the allures of this world, and his spiritual idolatry was ultimately his undoing (1 Kings 11:1-9 tells us the sobering tale).

Church, admit your sins. Take them seriously. Confess them. Drag them into the light. Don’t hide them any longer. Don’t be a whore. Have a heart wholly devoted to the Lord your God.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

It’s Religion AND Relationship

It’s not religion, it’s a relationship.

This has become one of the most popular of what I call “fortune-cookie theology” statements about following Jesus.

It’s cute.

It’s catchy.

But as I’ve grown in my walk with Jesus (slowly but surely) and my understanding of the story of Scripture, the more I see that statement as partly false, incomplete.

And that false story has led to so many errors in how I’ve viewed the church, spiritual disciplines, or even my own identity.

Let’s walk through a couple falsehoods together and then let’s use the story of Scripture to correct them.

Who We Are 

The relationship focused view of Christianity would certainly emphasize our sonship and sainthood. Praise God for that. But that is incomplete.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 2:4-5

We are a holy priesthood. And Peter is not the first to describe us as such.

As I look at the book of Genesis more and more, the more I see that it was God’s design for Adam was to function in a priestly role as well. He was to mediate God’s grace to the world. When you pay attention, you see that the garden is described like the tabernacle of God (Genesis 1:31-2:3 and Exodus 39:32-40:33), and that the roles and responsibilities of Adam and Eve includes the same language as the roles and responsibilities of the priests (Genesis 2:15 and Numbers 3:8). Remember the book of Genesis was not written with any intention of teaching how God created the world, it was written to teach who God is and who we are.

Come on y’all. I will never get tired of sharing how the Bible is one massive story.

Look at that passage above again. We are a community of living stones that God is using to build a house. The older I get the more I doubt that I really have a personal relationship with Jesus in the manner that most think. Yes I can commune with God privately with His Spirit residing in me. I can speak with Him just as Moses, Jacob, and countless others did. But the Scriptures are full of we language. The passage above is a perfect case in point.

We’ve allowed our culture’s utter obsession with individualism to lead us to think that our relationships with Jesus are private. They’re not. My walk with Him is 100% the business of those in my church.

Back to the story.

Adam and Eve failed at their duties. So God chose a line of priests. They failed again and again. They failed to be perfect mediators. So then, God sent His Son. 

What Jesus Did 

Many like to focus on Jesus as the example of someone who was not concerned about religion, as someone who came to abolish it. Fascinatingly enough, He says the complete opposite regarding the Old Testament Scriptures.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. – Matthew 5:17

Jesus does not abolish the religious nature of the Christian faith. He fulfills it. What befuddles me about the whole “Jesus just wants you to love others” niche of Christianity is this entire Sermon on the Mount section of Jesus’ teachings. As you read the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is making the law so much harder, not the other way around.

What used to be about external actions, Jesus makes about internal motivations.

What used to be the command of not murdering becomes a command of not holding in hatred in your heart.

What used to be the command of not committing adultery becomes a command of not holding any lust in one’s heart.

Jesus didn’t do away with religion. He fulfilled it. He deepened it.

Now, here’s where it gets confusing. Here’s where I reiterate that the phrase “it’s not religion, it’s a relationship” is partly true.

Because of the work of Jesus, we have been set free from the burden of the law (what most equate with the term ‘religion’). We no longer have to adhere to kosher dietary restrictions and strict Sabbath observances. The Law has been satisfied in Christ. Read the book of Hebrews. It’s all about how Jesus satisfied the demands of religion.

But let us not forget that Jesus was a Jew, even considered a Pharisee by many religious scholars. That means that Jesus grew up adhering to habits and actions that formed Him.

And that’s where we’re headed next.

What We Do

People despise legalism. Myself included. Just read my last blog.

But the anti-legalism mentality can fly to far the other direction where we never ingrain any formative habits in our lives. This mentality leads to renegade and rouge Christians who don’t submit to a local church (something the Bible gives literally zero room for, see above).

This mentality has led to a tremendous Biblical literacy problem in our churches. People don’t know Scripture. They don’t read it because they don’t want to become legalists. This mentality has led to prayerlessness, and to honestly thousands upon thousands of dollars being wasted by churches on study resources that often aren’t opened between weeks of Sunday School.

And I’m here to tell you that if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a member of a religion.

Complete with holy days on the calendar, habits and practices that you should be adhering to and using to form yourself into the image of Jesus, and holy Scriptures.

Do you shower?

I do.

Almost every single day.

Do I love to shower?

Do I get just absolutely pumped when the time comes to shower?

No.

It’s a habit.

A boring, rote, ordinary habit.

But it’s a habit that produces a result.

I get to sleep in bed next to my wife.

I’m clean.

Brothers and sisters, Christianity has seemingly boring, rote, ordinary practices that you are called to adhere to. Reading the Old Testament (although, if you read closely, it’s super amazing. I’m about to start a series through 1-2 Kings with my students). Praying. Attending a church that isn’t exactly the way you want it to be (although if we applied the same covenant vow from marriage to our commitment to our churches [like Ephesians 5 does], we’d remember that it’s not about us) after a long weekend. Memorizing Scripture.

Following Jesus is religion AND relationship.

I tell my students all the time that is incredibly foolish to have no habits revolving around Jesus in our lives and yet expect to grow. I tell my students that to come to church twice a month when they feel like it and expecting to be more like Jesus is foolish.

Brothers and sisters, it’s time we stop listening to an entertainment-driven culture and instead remember that there are so much ordinary habits in our faith.

It’s about religion AND relationship.

If you enjoyed this, please consider sharing it! You can follow my blog down below or via the menu on the right side of the page! Also, I appreciate any and all feedback, so comment below as well! 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Legalism And Living Water

I was sitting in my room reading when I heard my wife exclaim from the kitchen. I made my way to her (after yelling back and forth for a sec) and found that the garbage disposal was leaking all over the place. It was pooling up in the dishwasher and it was pouring onto the floor. Nasty, chunky, yellowy (not sure if that’s a word, but I’m running with it) water. My dog was having a field day, but my wife and I were utterly disgusted.

As I unsuccessfully tried to fix it (I am woefully incompetent in the world of being a handyman), I couldn’t help but think about idolatry. I had just been reading in preparation for teaching the youth Sunday school class and we were discussing this verse.

God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, said this:

For my people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves – cracked cisterns that cannot hold water. – Jeremiah 2:3

Whew.

That’s a good word.

God is declaring His people guilty, for they not only abandoned Him but also pursued idols instead. And God doesn’t mince words through Jeremiah’s proclamation. He proclaims it to be evil.

Idolatry is evil.

So which idols are in your life? Where do you turn to for satisfaction or purpose? Where do you turn to for comfort and hope?

Sometimes mine are trivial in nature. I have spent a little too much time golfing during certain seasons of life. I can find a new show on TV and just go crazy with it. I can read until I drop the book on my face as a way of escaping the difficulty of my life.

Sometimes my idols are a little more insidious and dangerous. I crave being in control. I hate not being in control. That’s an idol that affects a lot in me.

The most dangerous idol in my life is legalism.

Yes, legalism.

I’ve only recently began to understand that legalism is idolatrous. It’s the belief that I can live in such a way so as to earn God’s favor, or to remain in his love. I’ve been reading a book by Trillia Newbell, and she summed up legalism in the local church in a phenomenal way. So I’ll just let you read her words.

The problem came when, at a certain point, some of the members twisted the gospel, equating some specific practices with godliness and placing matters of personal preference on the same level as the Word of God. . . It doesn’t seem to matter what’s going on in the hearts of those who live a certain way; they are automatically considered godly as long as they follow the accepted practices. – Trillia Newbell, Sacred Endurance 

What a profound description of one of my deepest struggles.

Legalism has affected my marriage in the past, my relationships with church members, my relationship with the Lord.

As soon as we start judging the faith of another based on our habits, we are walking in legalism.

The second half of that quote rocked me the most.

It doesn’t seem to matter what’s going on in the hearts of those who live a certain way (doing the accepted practices). 

I’m all about God’s Word. I love to teach it, study it, and read it. I love to sit under good preaching and listen to podcasts of sermons. So in my legalism I have been prone to see those who are more committed to gathering together under the Word as more solid in their faith.

But, one can sit under the Word for decades and still have a heart that is dead, cold, and unaffected by the glory of Christ.

One can not drink, not cuss, not watch certain movies, not dress a certain way, and still have a heart that is dead, cold, and unaffected by the glory of Christ.

I go to counseling/mentorship with a pastor in my area twice a month. And when I sit down in his office, he never asks me “How many hours have you prayed this week? You on track in your Bible reading plan? Have you done your Sunday School homework? Did you wear a t shirt to church?”

No, he asks me questions about my heart.

He gets me to acknowledge where I’m really at. Am I in love with Jesus or not. If not, why. And then we talk. A lot. For hours. And we discuss life, marriage, ministry, and Jesus.

When’s the last time you’ve asked that to a friend?

Again, external actions devoid of genuine love of Jesus mean nothing to God and should mean nothing to us.

Legalism is often unseen. It is insidious. We don’t always notice it at work in our lives. But then, the cracked cistern breaks and the impure water flows all over the place, affecting our relationships and churches and communities and families.

If you are realizing legalism in you, let me encourage you.

You MUST behave a certain way for God to love you.

No, that ain’t it. That’s more legalism.

If you are realizing legalism is at work in you, I want you to stop drinking leaky garbage disposal water and instead drink from a Dasani bottle (or whatever your favorite water is, I don’t care).

In that verse from Jeremiah above, God says that He is the fountain of living water (John 4 anyone? I mean, come on! The Bible is one big story, and I love the connections!)!

Legalism is a disgusting trade for genuine communion with God.

You have been set free! Read all through Galatians! Highlight all the grace and freedom! Underline the gospel!

Walk with Jesus!

Stop judging others and slandering others based on practices that you think are exactly equated with godliness (and if you’re even a little like me, those practices are normally practices I just so happen to be good at).

Let’s walk in freedom together. Pursuing holiness.

Let’s drink from communion with Jesus.

As a man who has been a legalist and a lover of Jesus, let me tell you the latter is so much greater.

If you enjoyed this, please consider sharing it! You can follow my blog down below or via the menu on the right side of the page! Also, I appreciate any and all feedback, so comment below as well! 

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Weak Leaders

I have a little bit of leadership experience in my life. Not much, but some.

And I wrestle with it. I wrestle with what my role should look like, how I should speak, act, behave, and think.

I write about it quite a bit too. This post may sound similar to previous posts on my blog.

I think our churches need weak leaders.

I think our families need weak leaders.

I think our communities need weak leaders.

Let me clarify what I mean when I say that.

I think that right now in our present day and age, leaders are supposed to be strong, stoic, emotionless men and women who are put on pedestals.

I experienced that big time in college. I had the opportunity to lead ministries on and off campus, speak in chapels, lead mission teams, etc. And there was almost always a weight (often self-imposed) to be strong, to be perfect, to uphold the image of whatever ministry I found myself leading.

As a matter of fact, what drew me to my now wife Jamie was that she never accepted that version of me. From the beginning of our relationship she would tell me that she knew there was more to me than my public image. She gave me the freedom to step down off the pedestal I had been put on.

I still feel that weight at times. I still have felt the expectation to not crack under the pressure of leadership.

Yet, when I look at Scripture, I see only one strong Man. His Name is Jesus. Every other character was broken. Every other person in the story had flaws and failures. Every other person was weak.

I just recently started looking closely at the book of Genesis. It’s a beautiful book. It’s not its own set apart story. It is the beginning of a much larger story that spans all of Scripture: the story of God’s redemptive work on behalf of and through His chosen, covenant people.

We quickly see just how insignificant we are. How weak we are. It’s counter-cultural. It’s certainly not going to be featured in any self-image, self-help blogs. But it’s the reality of our lives.

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 

I am of dust.

Meaning, I am insignificant.

It also means that I am reliant upon God in everything.

Acts 17 echoes this.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. – Acts 17:24-25

One of my favorite prayers is “Thank You Lord for this day, thank You for giving me life and breath and everything else.”

It keeps going in Scripture though.

Look at 1 Corinthians 15.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. – 1 Corinthians 15:53

One day our dusty, broken bodies will be replaced with spiritual, heavenly bodies that will not fade.

Until then, I believe that we need weak leaders. Not in the terms of timidity, cowardice, and the like, but rather in terms of confession, emotion, prayer, and admitting weakness.

1. Confess Sin

One of the worst misunderstandings in Christian culture is that pastors are supposed to be perfect. Yes, they are clearly held to a higher standard in the Scriptures, but there is only one holy man, and again, His Name is Jesus.

In my pedestal days at OBU, there was so much sin in my heart that I felt like I couldn’t take to anyone about (again, until Jamie). Which was again likely self-imposed. I bought the press of being different and unique in regards to sin.

I look around and literally bi-weekly, some famous pastor in our country falls into moral failure of some degree.

I combat that path by consistently and constantly bringing my sin into the light. I meet with a counselor/mentor a couple times a month, and I do my best to drag sin into the light.

When wise and applicable, I speak about sin struggles from the pulpit.

When wise and applicable, I speak about sin struggles to my students as well.

My hope and prayer is that no one in the church I attend ever sees me as perfect.

2. Admit Weakness

Until pretty recently, I thought I had to have all the answers and had to excel at every area of my job. Thankfully God has taught me that a true leader admits weakness. And honestly, it’s freeing. It’s freeing to acknowledge that I have a great team of volunteers around me that are way better at certain things than I am.

But think about how counter-cultural that is.

Our culture flocks to leaders that exude confidence and bravado, who act the part.

Saying “I’m weak in this area” is one way for me to acknowledge my dustiness.

3. Pray. Pray. Pray. 

Lord help me for all the times I’ve acted like I don’t need You.

Prayer is the clearest proof of acknowledging weakness. It’s the clearest way to say “God, I need you for life, breath, and everything else.” This season of my life without a pastor has given me a new appreciation for how much I need Jesus. Every hour I need Him.

If you aren’t prayerful, you likely have bought the lie that you’re strong.

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Share Your Emotions

One part of American leadership that I’ve always wrestled with is the idea of stoicism. This is even more imposed on masculine leadership.

I acknowledge fully that I’m wired differently. I am an emotive person. But when I look at Scripture, I see more than enough room for emotions being displayed, even by those in positions of leadership.

Yes, wisdom and maturity are important. But acknowledging sadness, discouragement, fear, and the like is a practice that I have started to do with the team around me (I literally talked last night at youth about how I wrestle sometimes with my identity in Christ, how I get discouraged). And so far, none of them have told me that they no longer want to follow me. Maybe, just maybe, it’s refreshing to people.

I am imperfect at being weak.

But I do think that our churches, homes, and communities need more weak leaders.

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In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Pursuing Victimhood

I’m no sociologist or anthropologist, but it’s easy to see that we live in a day and age where everyone pursues victimhood.

Those who have Republican leanings cry out as victims of a Democratic attempt to take over and destroy everything they hold dear.

Those who have Democratic leanings cry out as victims of an oppressive and tyrannical regime.

Obviously these are exaggerated to prove a point, that we are all prone to holding a victim mentality.

It is not just in politics. It happens in the sports world. Clemson football’s head coach spoke out about how the College Football Playoff Committee didn’t want them in it, how they were against them. In essence, how they were victims of an SEC-bias. You best believe that fired up his team.

It happens in even smaller things too.

This very morning at church I jokingly tried to present myself as the victim in my wife’s decision to not let us open Christmas presents a few days early.

Coming across as a victim has power in our day and age. People side with the victim.

Now, duh, there are very real victims of very real evil and wicked acts. Don’t get me wrong. But there are also innumerable moments where victimhood is claimed inappropriately and incorrectly.

I think it happens all of the time in the church.

We live in an age in the United States where Christians are crying out as victims just about daily. Petitions are floating around social media, boycotts are taking place, what isn’t persecution is decried as persecution. Everywhere I look, Christians are taking the role of the victim.

Toy Story 4 is liberal propaganda designed to subtly destroy the Christian view of sexuality. 

Starbucks is persecuting Christians because they didn’t put Merry Christmas on their cups. 

Netflix is persecuting Christians due to the abhorrent nature of some of their films and shows. 

Our schools are persecuting Christians by removing certain Christian practices (prayer before sporting events, etc.). 

These are all things I’ve seen (some less recent than others).

Is this inherently wrong?

Not necessarily. Although I would argue that most believers in countries that are actually physically persecuted for their faith would see our outcries of victimhood as interesting to say the least.

Is it forgetting some of the themes we see in Scripture?

Probably.

You see, as followers of Jesus, in my opinion, we should never play the victim card. Meaning, we shouldn’t really be loud about the ways that we may or may not be ‘persecuted’.

It’s expected that we should be ostracized for our faith.

Look with me at what Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthian church.

When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we respond graciously. Even now, we are like the scum of the earth, like everyone’s garbage. – 1 Corinthians 4:12b-13

Honestly, and I guess weirdly, this is one of my favorite passages. Because it first reminds me that the entire story of Scripture says that we are never going to be popular for following God. What our country has experienced the last few decades is unique. It’s almost unheard of in Scripture. It certainly wasn’t normative.

Now, the church is finding itself headed back towards its rightful place. The bottom of society. Considered by at least some as scum and garbage.

Again, the ‘persecution’ I outlined above is not really persecution in the slightest. I personally have never gotten wrapped up in the fact that a non-Christian culture doesn’t put Christian values at the forefront of all that it does. Why would it? And why is the church so overly concerned with the fact that it doesn’t?

Look at what Paul said.

When they were reviled (I’ve never been hated for what I believe. At least not to my face. The closest thing to that is a lady who was cutting my hair giving me a half second weird look when I said I was a pastor), they BLESSED. They didn’t scream for their rights.

When they were persecuted (real, physical persecution), they ENDURED it. They didn’t put their hope in petitions to the government.

When they were slandered, they responded GRACIOUSLY, not enraged and ready to fire back.

When they were treated like SCUM OF THE EARTH AND GARBAGE, they accepted their role.

Church, it’s time we accept our role. Jesus was mocked, spat upon, beaten, tortured, and put on trial. He never once cried out as a victim. He never once petitioned the powers that be. He never once fired back in rage. He just went lower and lower unto death. It’s time that we become willing to ‘share in his sufferings’ (Philippians 3:10).

Does that mean we become a quiet partaker in unfair treatment? Maybe. Maybe that is what Jesus modeled for us.

When he was on trial and asked if he was king, he said this. And it’s fire.

“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” – John 18:36

MY. KINGDOM. IS. NOT. OF. THIS. WORLD.

If it was, His servants would fight.

Since it isn’t, His servants will give their lives in love.

Church, let us love our community. Let us engage our culture. Let us seek to be the hands and feet of Christ. Let us give up our rights (just as Jesus did in Philippians 2:5-8). Let us be more concerned with whether or communities know that we love them than we are whether or not our communities value all that we value.

Let me end with this quote from Mike Cosper, one of my fave authors.

We don’t love our cities well by withdrawing and doing nothing. We also don’t love them well if we waste our lives with political arguments about who has victimized whom. No doubt there is a need for legal battles, a need to fight for religious liberty and freedom of expression. But just as important – perhaps far more important  – there is a need for the faithful witness and faithful work of Christians in culture, putting themselves at risk for the sake of others and working in ways both great and small to make their cities more peaceful, flourishing places. – Mike Cosper

That’s gold.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

 

 

 

Manhood & Mister Rogers

I obviously did not know Mister Rogers personally. But by all accounts, it seems like he was a meek, kind, compassionate, and humble man.

I wonder if men’s ministries in our churches would accept him as a leader.

Over Thanksgiving break, I went to see A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood with Jamie and her family. Personally, I loved it.

Back at OBU, I had the opportunity to be a part of leading the men’s ministry on campus for several years. While in Phoenix, I sat in on a men’s ministry. I’ve read many books on the topic. It’s something I’m passionate about.

And with all of these experiences and lessons learned, I think that we need more men in our churches like Mister Rogers.

There’s a passage in Colossians that I came across that has me thinking more and more along those lines. At this point in the letter, Paul is encouraging the followers of Jesus at Colosse to put their sin to death, replacing those sinful behaviors with that which is in accordance with Christlikeness. He says this:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:12-14

So, in summary, according to Paul a follower of Jesus (men included) should be:

  • compassionate
  • kind
  • humble
  • meek
  • patient
  • forgiving
  • loving

Somewhere along the way, in American churches, strength and courage, bravado and bravery have taken the lead when it comes to what men should be like. I wrestle with that a lot, because those things wouldn’t exactly be on my epitaph.

I know a ton of godly men, in my church, in my community, and in my past. Men who have and are pouring into me. This is obviously not an indictment against all men everywhere.

I just want to push back against the idea that a godly man must be aggressive, strong, boisterous, etc. I would in fact make the argument that the godly man should look more like the list above. And I will tell you from firsthand experience that the men who have been the most impactful in my life have some or all of those characteristics.

I have nothing at all against hunting or home improvement. But if I’m being real candid I have felt some (possibly self-induced) feelings of being ‘less than’ at different times in my life for not enjoying the prototypical male activities. I have wrestled with the way that God designed me to be, the gifts He’s given me.

I used to be an extremely loud, obnoxious, flirtatious, annoying, braggadocios, vulgar turd. As I’ve grown closer to the Lord, He has been pulling me away from those things. Well, maybe not the obnoxious part (as I wear a sequin-infested, dinosaur Christmas sweater while typing this).

I want to invest in younger men (something that both my full-time job as a pastor and part-time job with FCA allows me to do, praise God), and show them that manhood isn’t obscene and vulgar and loud. Manhood is service, meekness (the characteristic some say is ‘wussifying’ masculinity in our country), and humility. I want them to get that a lot earlier than I did.

I’ve read, listened to, and heard from men that masculinity is mostly strength and courage. But I’ve also seen many of these same men fall from grace. Hard. Private sexual sins and vulgarities and obscenities are ripped into the light. Anger and misogyny and domineering behaviors uncovered.

Why is it that so many men who have talked about manhood have had great public charisma and strength but little Christlikeness in private? Could it be because we’ve been teaching men the wrong things?

Have we focused so much on the man’s role in leading the family that we have forgot to talk about serving the family? Have we focused so much on outward strength that we’ve missed inward fruits of the Spirit?

Have we allowed Braveheart, Gladiator, and Saving Private Ryan to outshine Christ?

This past semester at the church I work at, we walked through the book of 1 Samuel with our youth and children. Jonathan leaps off the page.

Here you have a man who singlehandedly wins a battle for the people of God. Talk about strength and courage. These are not bad things. But he also was willing to relinquish his genetic right to the throne, giving it to David instead. Not only that, he wept over David, cherished his relationship with David, and saved him again and again. Here’s a man who had strength and courage, but that wasn’t all. He also was an empathetic, compassionate, humble, and kind man.

What a great example of what I personally believe manhood should look like.

I have another great example.

My dad.

My dad is strong. My dad is brave. My dad is courageous.

But my dad is also humble. My dad is kind. My dad is a servant.

And all the time, I mean all the time, he tells me one simple phrase. It’s not “be loud and proud”. It’s not “be rude and crude”. It’s not even “work hard and go hunt”.

It’s this.

“Be God’s man.”

And I want to tell younger men the same thing.

Be God’s man. 

Be a servant. Be someone who helps others in need. I’m not good at this one, but I’m working on it.

Be compassionate. When I see men tear up, I don’t think “what a pansy”. I think, “what a Christlike heart”.

Be kind. Sexism, sarcasm, rudeness and crudeness are not the way of Jesus. Be kind.

Be humble. You’re not all that and a bag of chips.

Be meek. Again, our culture doesn’t really like men like this. But Jesus was meek and gentle. Strength is not violent and aggressive. Strength is gentle.

Be patient. This world doesn’t revolve around you.

Be forgiving.

Be loving. Are you known for your jump shot, your wit, your looks, your intelligence, or your loving nature? Are you known more for the power of the Spirit (public life) or the fruit of the Spirit (private life)?

I think the world needs more men like Mr. Rogers.

I think the world needs more men like Jesus.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

No copyright infringement is intended in using this picture of Mister Rogers

 

 

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