Strength Amidst Difficulty

It’s early evening on a Tuesday and I’m already feeling like getting ready for bed. I stand up from my couch to go make dinner and my right knee aches. I’ve gone for a post-work run and the lingering discomfort of a dislocated patella suffered in my Senior year of college still plagues me after running on the hard cement. My mind runs through the stories and hurts that my students, friends, and neighbors are battling through. I make my sandwich and take my vitamin, taking a seat at my dining room table. My mind goes forward to the following day as I think and pray about the upcoming youth group night. We’ve had an incredible weekend where God has shown up, however the pressure of maintaining the camaraderie of my students in the midst of the normal status quo weighs on me a little bit too.

It’s a normal day, and the hard circumstances of my own body, my relationships, and my work are here with me.

Here’s the wonderful beauty of the gospel though. I can take these things to the Lord. In prayer, I laid out all of these before my God and Father, and the God-who-hears quieted my heart and mind with His love.

My prayer life is not anything special, exciting, or amazing. It’s simply me telling God what He already knows. In the case of last night, it was me sharing with Him the hardships I felt around me in my body, my relationships, and my work. We all face these to some degree each and every day.

In my prayers, this verse finds fulfillment:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

The act of simply praying my difficult circumstances to the Lord brings me peace and rest. The majority of the time, my circumstances don’t change as a result of my prayers. Instead, my perspective is what changes after I present my requests to God.

In the case of last night, I journaled and prayed through a Psalm. Slowly but surely as the night went on I found myself encouraged and lifted up by reflecting on the ways that God was blessing my body, my relationships, and my work.

Due to changes in my diet, my body feels better than it has in a while. Due to modern technology, last night I was able to spend time with and have fun with my friends. God showed up in marvelous ways at the Disciple Now we put on, bringing 3 students to salvation as well as a litany of other spiritual decisions. Prayer reminded me that yes, life is hard sometimes, but God also blesses me in great ways each day.

 

The omnipresence of God brings the courage and strength necessary to wade through the gritty brokenness of our world and its impact on our bodies, relationships, and vocations. That’s why prayer is becoming more and more beautiful to me, since it reminds me of that reality of God’s presence.

This morning I read Joshua 1:1-9 in my time of study and the familiar verses of God’s promises to and commissioning of Joshua was a needed encouragement that He is present and we have no need to be afraid.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9

Now, this statement of God recorded in Scripture is not to us, it is to Joshua. But the truth of God’s presence is shown throughout Scripture and so we should respond to it the same way that God calls Joshua to respond to it: by being strong and courageous.

What Joshua faced is incredible. The first leader of the nation (Moses) of Israel has been God’s instrument of rescue from Egypt, and led the people through the wilderness and the Law of God. Moses dies and now Joshua is tasked with leading the nation into the promised land and into war. I can’t imagine the pressure, anxiousness, or weight of this endeavor. To follow a charismatic leader had to have been hard. To lead a perpetually fearful people into war had to have been even harder.

With all of this looming, God reminded His servant that He would be present.

This day, you will face physical, relational, and vocational difficulties.

This day, God is present.

This day, you can be strong and courageous.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Missing Out

The College Football National Championship. The Greatest Showman. This Is Us or The Crown. The latest blog post, the Dosh app, essential oils, Plexus, or some other social media business scheme. All of these things are talked about by passionate people who commonly use the phrase “don’t miss out”. We can be encouraged by friends to not miss out on the latest movie, TV show, or social media fad. If we weren’t tuned into the big sporting event, our friends tell us we missed out on an incredible game. When this happens, I believe a small part of us, or of me at least, feels that in my bones.

For instance, I don’t really care all that much about the NFL. Yet I woke up this morning to a lot of notifications on social media outlets regarding the Vikings-Saints game last night. Apparently the Vikings won the game in thrilling fashion on a last-second deep touchdown pass involving some fancy footwork and poor defensive decisions. I saw comments by people about it being the best game they’d ever seen (which is almost always an exaggeration), and a part of me felt like I missed out a little. I felt this when I didn’t watch the Alabama-Georgia game either.

I’m not immune to speaking about movies and sporting events in this way to others however. Just yesterday I was raving to a fellow member of my church about the latest This Is Us episode and how intense I was. I’ve raved about The Greatest Showman. I’ve raved about the $10 Dinner Box that Pizza Hut has that’s a regular purchase of mine.

Why however do we feel impassioned to share about these things that are ultimately so trivial and insignificant, yet we struggle to share about the one thing that if people don’t know about, they will truly miss out for all eternity? I’ve been inundated with Plexus conversations and sports conversations, but even amongst Christian friends I’ve struggled to be engaged in many gospel-centered conversations of any depth.

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. – Psalm 89:1

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:36

The Psalmist in Psalm 89 can’t help but sing of the steadfast love of God, using his mouth to make known to others the faithfulness of God extended to all generations. This is a wonderful thing. Regardless of your favorite type of Christian music, or general worship style, you can still use any hymn, contemporary worship song, or even rap in a way to proclaim God’s love and faithfulness to others. I have in my past been too quick to shut off during a time of worship at church if the worship music style isn’t too my liking. Then I realized that I was an entitled little turd that had the complete wrong idea about worship music. Singing songs of praise in a congregation is about giving God praise, not about listening to music I like. Singing songs of praise in a congregation is about telling the world about God’s love and faithfulness to us his people. Man, I got that wrong for so long in my life.

This little snippet out of the gospel of John is a reminder of what happens when a man or woman dies without a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. They won’t see life after death, instead the wrath of God will remain on them for eternity. That’s what is at stake.

If a man or woman misses a sporting event, a movie, or a TV show, nothing happens. If a man or woman misses out on a new app, Plexus, or essential oils, nothing really happens there either. If a man or woman misses out on Jesus Christ and the good news of the gospel, they spend their eternity separated from God. That’s huge.

We’ve got to do a better job of opening our eyes and hearts to those who are currently walking through life without Jesus.

My enthusiasm for sports has waned over the years because I’ve begun to see them in their proper place, and I’ve begun to see the millions of people in our country that worship them. It’s saddening to see people lay down their spiritual lives for the sake of athletics, parents trading in the discipleship of their kids in church for the shot at a traveling sports team that promises their kids a chance at the pros.

Sports are not bad. They are evil when they take the god role in our lives however. I’ve seen men in so many contexts, including myself, talking about sports with abandon to everyone they can, but having their lips glued shut when it comes to speaking about their Lord and Savior.

I’m fairly bad at personal evangelism. The best I do on some weeks is to simply post on this blog and share it as a way to tell people about Jesus. I’m praying that God will continue to grow me in evangelism. I’m praying that God will lead me to speak about Jesus more than I do about trivial matters. I’m praying that God will implant in my heart a deep and growing desire to see men and women in my community connect with their Savior and thus not miss out on all that God has for them. This is my continual prayer.

Join me in praying for courage and strength to share, just as Paul had in Thessalonica.

But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel in the midst of much conflict. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

 

Focus On A Family

The story of the Israelites’ partial obedience to God is interrupted here in the first chapter with a short five verse vignette about the generosity, bravery, and boldness of one specific family.

Caleb said, “Whoever attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher, I will give my daughter Achsah to him as a wife.” So Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s youngest brother, captured it, and Caleb gave his daughter Achsah to him as his wife. When she arrived, she persuaded Othniel to ask her father for a field. As she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What do you want?” She answered him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me springs also.” So Caleb gave her both the upper and lower springs. The descendants of the Kenite, Moses’s father-in-law, had gone up with the men of Judah from the City of Palms to the Wilderness of Judah, which was in the Negev of Arad. They went to live among the people. – Judges 1:12-16

This is a seemingly random story about Caleb’s family. Yet when we focus in on each of the three main characters in this story, we see qualities worth emulating.

Caleb

This is not the first mention of Caleb in the Bible. In Numbers 13, he was among the men who went up to spy upon the land that God had promised His people. The spies encountered giant men of renown and then returned to the people. Every spy except for Caleb and Joshua were afraid and told the people that the task was impossible. Only Joshua and Caleb stood up with courageous and radical faith, proclaiming the promises of God and insisting that with His strength they would be victorious. rod

What is all the more intriguing is the fact that Caleb was not a descendant of any tribe in Judah. He and his family came from the Kenizzites. Yet because they were such devout followers of the Lord, they were grafted into and assimilated into the tribe of Judah.

All this being said, we know that he was a man of courageous and radical faith in the Lord. He was a man who wanted his daughter to marry a man of courageous and radical faith as well. This culture had customs we may seem strange. Arranged marriages made perfect sense to this culture, and so Caleb was not devaluing his daughter when he offered her up to a willing and courageous husband.

What is worth focusing on is the fact that Caleb was kind and generous. When his daughter came to him asking for springs of water because of how barren the land was, he graciously and generously gave her more than she needed. This is evidenced by the sweeping gift of the upper and lower springs.

Othniel

Othniel was clearly a man of bravery and courage. He went up to capture Kiraith-sepher, and with the Lord’s help he did just that. It is important to note that this city and the surrounding land was land God had promised to Caleb through the lips of Joshua (Joshua 14:6-15) and not just the land-grabbing of a greedy man.

We will see in just a couple chapters that Othniel was the first judge raised up for Israel. He would lead his people into forty years of peace (spoiler alert: it doesn’t last). His bravery and courage will be on display in that passage as well.

Achsah

Achsah is seen in this story as a bold woman, a woman who was analytical and astute. She surveyed the land and realized that without springs, her family would not be able to survive for long in the desert landscape. Her character reminds me of Proverbs 31:15-16.

She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and portions for her female servants. She evaluates a field and buys it; she plants a vineyard with her earnings. – Proverbs 31:15-16

She had a desire right off the bat to provide for her family and her estate. She asked Othniel to ask his father in law for the springs and for some reason not explicitly stated in Scripture, he didn’t. With respect balanced with boldness, Achsah takes matters into her own hands and asks Caleb for the springs herself.

Courage. Kindness. Generosity. Boldness. Faith.

In this family we see what the entire people of God should have been characterized by.

Caleb’s family is, in miniature, what all Israel should be like. – Timothy Keller

I would close by reminding you that whenever we look at characters in the Old Testament, we shouldn’t be using them as moral figures to follow. Yes, the heroes of faith in the Old Testament have some great qualities, but more often than not they have some incredible flaws as well. That will be on vibrant display in the book of Judges.

So when we see Caleb, Othniel, and Achsah in this vignette as worthy models of character, let us look beyond them, ahead of them, to the life of Christ.

 

The kindness, boldness, and generosity of Jesus can be seen, remembered, and meditated on via the lens of the kindness, boldness, and generosity of this family.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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We Are One

The strangest thing happened to me just the other day. In the middle of a hard day I was just chilling in my room listening to old school Disney movie soundtracks. Random I know, but it’s pretty fun to do. It was while listening to the music from the underrated but fantastic Lion King 2 that I got hit with some gospel truths.

Since the start of the new year God has been making it incredibly clear that I can’t live the Christian life outside of a strong prayer life and strong community in which to find courage and strength. These two truths have come at me from countless different directions. I’ve been reminded of them through my time in the Word, through the encouragement of a friend, through the quiet thoughts before sleep each night. And surprisingly enough, I found the encouragement and reminder to pursuelion-kin Biblical community through a song out of Lion King 2.

Before you exit out of the blog, just bear with me. This all might make sense in the end.

Here’s the gist of the scenario. Two lions in play here. Simba & Kiara. Kiara is struggling to find her purpose for her life. She doesn’t know where she fits in with the rest of the pride. Her father Simba comes along and sings to her this short song about the community that is the pride they’re in, and I truly believe that it speaks volumes about how the church functions. Here’s the full song:

As you go through life you'll see
There is so much that we
Don't understand

And the only thing we know
Is things don't always go
The way we planned

But you'll see every day
That we'll never turn away
When it seems all your dreams come undone

We will stand by your side
Filled with hope and filled with pride
We are more than we are
We are one

Kiara: If there's so much I must be
Can I still just be me
The way I am?

Kiara: Can I trust in my own heart
Or am I just one part
Of some big plan?

Even those who are gone
Are with us as we go on
Your journey has only begun

Tears of pain, tears of joy
One thing nothing can destroy
Is our pride, deep inside
We are one

We are one, you and I
We are like the earth and sky
One family under the sun

All the wisdom to lead
All the courage that you need
You will find when you see
We are one

There’s so much here that has implications on the church body although that’s obviously not the intended purpose of this song.

Simba encourages Kiara that although things might not go as she would like or she had planned, she would have a community that would never turn away from her in those hardships and failures. The encouragement that he gave to her was that they would all stand by her side in hope and pride, they as a pride are more than just individuals, they are ‘one’.

Being in Phoenix has showed me so quickly and so explicitly that I can’t keep going in the Christian walk apart from community. Evil is real, times get hard, and without the support of a church body we can easily get picked off by the enemy. I’ve been tremendously blessed by the generosity and kindness of my church body here in Phoenix. Without them it would have been far too hard to walk through death in my family and assimilating to a new place.

That’s one of the coolest blessings of following Christ. When we enter into salvation through faith, we become a part of something so much bigger than any one of us.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, – Ephesians 2:19

so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. – Romans 12:5

That verse from Ephesians is in a passage describing what Christ did for us on the cross, all the benefits of salvation. We were saved by grace. We were affirmed as His workmanship. We have been brought near to God through the blood of Christ. We are no longer far off, instead we have been reconciled to God and are at peace with Him. We have access to the Father. Yet we also have been given the blessed hope of living in community with all believers across the globe. We are no longer strangers and aliens, we are fellow citizens in the household of God. We are, according to Paul, one body in Christ.

We are one.

The second verse of the song is even cooler in my opinion. As a younger follower of Christ, in a sense my journey has only begun, but I do not journey alone. I’m being equipped and encouraged by those who have gone before, Christ-followers from previous generations.

Simba tells Kiara that in the midst of tears of joy and tears of pain, nothing will destroy the fact that the pride is one. The pride is one big family under the sun. Simba promises Kiara that all the wisdom and courage she needs is found inside the pride, inside the community that she was born into.

Members of my generation (including myself at times) have bought the lie that we don’t need the organized church to pursue Christ. Oh that we would come to realize what a blessing the organized church is. As followers of Christ we are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We will find all the wisdom and courage that we need to stand for Christ in the context of the church community.

I still struggle with how to do this well. But Satan loves nothing more than isolating Christians and figuring out how to tear them down outside of community. Don’t let him.

Acknowledge the church community as the blessing that it is. Embrace it. Find courage, wisdom, support, purpose, hope, joy, and so much more in the bride of Christ.

We weren’t made to be alone.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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