Pass The Baton

As Jesus went along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother. They were passionate about the things of God, carried their copy of the Torah everywhere, and they were fully committed to the weekly synagogue meetings for nearly a decade now. Jesus saw them as worthy of His investment so He said to them “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people!” – Mark 1:16-17

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew with his copy of the Torah in tow. Matthew had new ideas and new vision, born out of his desire to grow the people of God. Jesus knew these ideas were against His preferences, and desiring to cling tightly to His leadership and authority in His Father’s kingdom, neglected to call Matthew to follow Him. – Matthew 9:9

If you know the Bible, you know that what you just read is not the actual verses.

That being said, I think our modern church reads them that way.

Discipleship, the raising up of new followers of Jesus, new leaders in the church, doesn’t happen often.

Here’s why it doesn’t happen often, at least in my sphere of ministry.

I wait for them to be ‘worthy’ of my discipleship, of my investment.

God have mercy on me for the number of times I have thought to myself, ‘yeah, they’re not ready (according to my standard). They’re not committed enough (to my preferences). They’re not faithful enough (to my preferences).

I have gone so far at times to not invest in younger men because I simply don’t want to pass the baton of my ministry to them. I want to stay in charge. It’s my ministry.

God have mercy on me when I do that. 

Thankfully, in my life, I have seen discipleship modeled. Over and over. 

At Olive Garden in 2010, Zack Randles (my youth pastor at the time) was having lunch with my family. He asked if he could disciple me. Weekly. One on one. There was nothing in me that was ‘worthy’ of that. He came to me. He called me. He didn’t wait for me to come and ask him. 

He changed my life as a result. 

At OBU in 2013, I was stirring the pot on campus. OBU was a small school, and I was a very loud and boisterous personality (surprise). I was vocal, very vocal, about the things that needed to change in the ministries on campus. Odus Compton, the Campus minister, came to me and sat down with me one on one. He lovingly confronted me in my methods, but supported me in my leadership. And over the course of the next four years he invested in me, passed the baton to me, and equipped me to lead. I made mistake after mistake after mistake. And he was right there by my side, guiding me, encouraging me, calling me out. 

With their leadership in mind, I was able to pass the baton to three younger men on campus. 

Because you know what? 

I graduated. 

The men’s ministry I was the leader of continued without me. 

Church, to be blunt, every one of us is going to ‘graduate’ this life. 

Who will carry on the ministry of the church when we’re gone? 

When I was in Phoenix in 2016, I attended a Christian Challenge event on the campus of GCC. There was a man there named Joshua Tompkins. He immediately reached out to me and became my mentor for the rest of the time I was in Phoenix. He allowed me to help him lead the CC club at GCC. I messed up and made mistakes. Again. Again. Again. Yet he continued to walk with me. 

Discipleship is scary. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward at first. But it’s oh so beautiful. 

Who are you raising up?

Who are you teaching?

Who are you inviting in? 

If you are a leader in an area of the church you attend, who are you giving ownership of that area to? Are you clinging to it? Or are you sharing it? 

Who are you passing the baton to? 

I will likely never take a youth pastor job again. I feel the Lord guiding me towards other things. Senior pastor. Teaching pastor. Discipleship pastor. Church planter. But probably not student ministry. 

That being said, one day I am going to leave this church I serve. When that happens, one of two things could take place. 

The youth group could utterly fall apart, back to square one, only to be built back up by the next youth pastor that comes in. That will happen if I don’t disciple and raise up leaders. 

That leads into the second possibility. I could leave, having already given ownership of the youth group to other leaders, adults and students alike. That way, the youth group continues to thrive. 

My desperate prayer and plea is that when I leave, the second possibility happens. But that will not happen if I wait to pass the baton until it’s my time to leave. That will not happen if  I don’t disciple students one on one in the Word of God. That will not happen if I don’t allow students and volunteers to make mistakes, just as I make many myself. 

If you’re reading this and there is not a younger man or woman in your life that you are meeting with weekly for the dual purpose of going through God’s Word and passing the ownership of leadership in the local church that you attend, I plead with you to prioritize this in your life. 

Without discipleship, our churches will close their doors. 

Without passing the baton, the next generation will not be reached with the good news of our Risen Savior. 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach 

 

 

 

Don’t Follow Your Heart

I am a selfish, narcissistic jerk.

Seriously though. Life for Nathan Roach is about Nathan Roach.

At least when I’m left to my own devices.

You know what’s cool though? I don’t have to live that way. I have a choice now. I can choose to spend time with God and have my heart and mind reoriented back to a Kingdom mindset.

Did you know that is one of the many implications of the gospel? Not that I will always choose the Kingdom, but that I now have the chance to choose the Kingdom.

Before I put my faith in Jesus as my Savior and gave my allegiance to Him as Lord, I had no choice. Everything I did was for Nathan Roach. Even my ‘religious’ actions. Even my morally good choices. Even my generous or loving or kind decisions. It was all ultimately still about me and my glory.

Here’s the way Ephesians 2:1-3 puts it.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. - Ephesians 2:1-3 

That’s where I was outside of Christ.

I was dead.

Not morally wrong, not a bad person.

Straight up dead.

Because of the sins that I was walking in, because my entire life was given in allegiance to the enemy of our souls (the prince of the power of the air). Because my flesh and mind were my guide.

I was dead and deserved God’s wrath.

This passage then bursts into glorious gospel truths about the wonderful grace of God given to those who follow Jesus as Lord. But that’s for next time.

What I want to get you to think about is the fact that our hearts and minds, even as followers of Jesus, will regularly lead us astray.

My heart breaks when I see so many churches, or so many followers of Jesus proclaiming some sort of “follow your heart” kind of worldview. Your heart is not a good guide. Your flesh and your mind are not aligned with Jesus.

Notice again what that passage said. When I was not a follower of Jesus, I was carrying out the desires of my body and mind. Those things don’t magically become worth following when you get saved. They will perpetually need to be wrestled against, they will perpetually need to be reoriented. It’s why the people of God in the Old Testament were to talk consistently about and meditate on the words of God. Left to our own devices, we are selfish, narcissistic jerks. Like myself.

The good news of the gospel is that we now have a choice to live differently. You and I can choose to follow Jesus instead of our wicked hearts.

But my natural state, even as a Christian, is to live in such a way that glorifies me and leads to my own blessings and success in this world. Every day where I do not begin my day in His word and in His presence, I live for me. I don’t think about others. I don’t think about the Kingdom of God. I think about my family and our needs.

Church, I plead with you to bring your heart and mind, dreams, aspirations, motivations, intentions, and plans under the word of God and into the presence of God. It’s only by this intentional action that we can live for the Kingdom of God rather than ourselves, even as followers of Jesus.

Left to my own devices, my heart leads me into sin.

Every time.

I need to teach my heart and mind how to live for the Kingdom.

I do this through time with God in word and prayer.

I plead with you to do the same.

Don’t follow your heart.

Let God teach it.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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.

Open Eyes, Open Hearts

It is possible to sit in a church pew for decades and never grasp the gospel.

Not truly.

It is possible to sit under gospel-centered, Christ-glorifying preaching for decades and never have a life that is transformed by what is heard.

In the case of my ministry, it’s possible for a student to hear me rant (in a good way) about Jesus and the message of Scripture for years and still not get it, still not trust in Jesus, still not claim allegiance to Him as King.

Why?

Because we can’t just hear the good news.

We have to believe it.

We have to, as Paul says, have the “eyes of our hearts” enlightened and illuminated to the beauty of Jesus and the power of the gospel message.

That’s about the weirdest phrase I’ve come across in the Bible (although the top spot goes to when Paul refers to the church of Jesus Christ as ‘the circumcision” in Philippians 3).

The eyes of our hearts.

Now, growing up in church, I’ve heard the song that revolves around this phrase. It’s a good one.

But still, weird.

I don’t entirely know what it means exactly (those of you reading this likely are smarter than me, so please tell me if you do know). But I do know it’s something we should be praying for on behalf of others. Last time I posted I shared how I am utter garbage at prayer, and how we as followers of Jesus can do better at it. We’re going to keep going in Ephesians. Check this out.

having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, - Ephesians 1:18-20

Now, remember, chapter and verse numbers were added way later than when this letter to the churches in Ephesus was actually written. And this section is kind of the worst (if you descended from one of those scribes who added these verse designations, I mean no offense).

This is part of Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the churches in Ephesus.

Look at what he’s praying for.

He prays that they would have the ‘eyes of their hearts’ enlightened. Why? So that they can know the hope of following Jesus, and the riches of His grace, and the greatness of His power (the same power that rose Jesus from the dead and set Him at the right hand of the Father).

Wowza.

That’s a powerful prayer that we have recorded.

And remember y’all, this letter was written to believers. So this prayer can apply to non-believers and followers of Jesus alike. Some of us need to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened for the first time. Others need that to happen so that we can encounter again the powerful presence of Jesus.

Fullness of hope.

Riches of grace.

Greatness of power.

I want to quickly trace for us where this phrase “eyes of our hearts” shows up in Scripture, and the implications of these other passages (REMEMBER, THE BIBLE IS ONE BIG STORY THAT IS INTERCONNECTED AND YOU COULD SPEND HOURS ON EVERY VERSE MAKING ALL THE CONNECTIONS. Sorry for yelling, the Bible is just the coolest).

WE MUST UNDERSTAND OUR TRUE NEEDINESS

Look at this passage out of the book of Revelation (calm down, I’m not here to give my opinions on end times timelines, namely because I have no earthly idea. Jesus wins and I’m glad I’m on His team. That’s all I know.)

God proclaims the following about the church in Laodicea.

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, SO THAT YOU MAY SEE (emphasis mine). - Revelation 3:17-18

God says, harshly I might add, that the church, the people of God in Laodicea, did not grasp the stark reality of their need.

Y’all, we need to continually pray that God would show us how much we need Him. As soon as I get cocky about my walk with God, God brings in a friend to show me how far short I’ve fallen in a certain area of my life.

GOD DOES THE ILLUMINATING

This is the hard part about this prayer.

I can (and will) preach Christ crucified every single time that I open up God’s Word for my students or on my blog or for ‘big church’. Every time.

But, even the most concise and clear presentations of the gospel (which mine are normally jumbled and messy) cannot produce illuminated hearts. God must do it.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, - Hebrews 6:4 

Again, not the greatest verse break-up.

This is in the middle of a warning about falling away from allegiance to Jesus as King. Notice the language. Those who have been enlightened, partaken of the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit. I could be wrong here, but the language sure makes it sound like someone outside the hearer of the gospel had to do the work of illumination. That’s the power of God at work.

And man this part of this Scriptural theme is low-key the absolute worst. I want tangible results. And I rarely ever know who in our youth group is growing spiritually because I don’t see their hearts.

I’m going to keep teaching.

I’m going to keep praying.

God will do the rest.

ILLUMINATED HEARTS LEAD TO SALVATION

When God does this work, people are brought from dark to light. Praise Jesus.

to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. - Acts 26:18

This is Paul’s testimony before Agrippa in Acts 26. He’s sharing what the risen Lord Jesus said to him when he was commissioned to the Gentiles. God sent him to open their eyes.

Before you come after me saying this contradicts my last statement, hear me out. Paul was the vessel, the Spirit actually illuminated hearts. Just read the book of Acts and you’ll see.

Anyway, Paul was to open their eyes so that what?

They would turn from darkness to light! So they would receive forgiveness of sins! So they would be sanctified!

When God opens the eyes of people’s hearts, they are saved. Praise Jesus.

But there’s one last thing to remember.

ILLUMINATED HEARTS LEAD TO SUFFERING

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, - Hebrews 10:32

Remember these passages were not written first to us, but rather to specific groups of people in specific situations. The Hebrews, who the writer of Hebrews is addressing, had their hearts enlightened to the beauty of King Jesus and then immediately suffering came.

This theme is so blatantly obvious in Scripture. Following Jesus leads to suffering. You can go to church and like Jesus. You can pray occasionally and read occasionally. But a committed life, where every facet of your life comes under the authority of King Jesus, that kind of life leads to suffering. Every time. That’s why Jesus used the symbol of the most excruciating and humiliating form of torture we’ve ever seen as the calling card. The cross.

We must take it up daily.

This is why I never tell students, not once, that if they pray a prayer they will be saved. It’s so much more complicated than that. I always tell them that they’ve got to be willing to commit to King Jesus as Lord. I tell them that their life will be full of difficulty but that Jesus is worth it and joy is found in Him.

Brothers and sisters, let us pray that our hearts would be continuously enlightened to the hope, grace, and power found in following Jesus.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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

Evan Hansen, Calvinism, and Holiness

I love musicals.

I love how musical themes that are present in songs at the beginning of musicals come to a head again and again throughout the entirety of the show (the Bible is much the same way. If you study Biblical theology you will see themes that repeat over and over in the one big story of Scripture). I love how powerfully you can tell a story via music.

I get hooked on a musical and listen to it lots.

On my way to an orthodontist appointment this week in Dallas, I discovered Dear Evan Hansen (now, there is a bit of language. So hearers discretion advised).

Dear Evan Hansen is a powerfully provocative dark comedy about teenage loneliness, suicide, broken families and the desire to be loved.

Evan Hansen is a loner, struggling to find community, wrestling with the lack of a father in his life. Another student named Connor takes his own life, and Evan finds himself propagating a big lie, that he and Connor were best friends. He back-logs e-mails, continuing to lie to Connor’s family for quite some time before the truth comes to the forefront. (That is a really poor synopsis, but oh well).

I found myself driving down 287 with tears filling my eyes. As a Family Discipleship pastor I see the pain and brokenness that teens are facing. I know how real this story the musical is telling is. There is great loneliness. There is pain. I see it. I counsel it. I cry over it. I pray over it.

All of these emotions came pouring out as soon as I got home. Jamie was my unsuspecting target. I half-yelled via excitement through the entire plot of the musical. I found it so powerful and so stirring that I didn’t even stop to take a breath when I shared it all with Jamie.

We tend to rant about things that excite us, that stir up emotions in is.

The apostle Paul was much the same way. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he is so stirred by the beauty of the gospel story that he doesn’t even stop to properly punctuate his sentence.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is in fact just one long sentence in the original Greek.

Paul is so pumped and stoked about the beauty of our salvation in Christ that he just lets it all out in what comma-infused rant that any modern English teacher would be frustrated by.

I’ve been giving this passage some thought.

Recently I’ve been absolutely blown away by the reality that our sanctification, not just our salvation, is brought about by God’s work in us (See Philippians 3:9 for instance. Or if you’re interested in books on the topic read Possessed by God or Rethinking Holiness or How Does Sanctification Work? – if you’re a Vernonite come to my office at the church). God does the work in us. We are passive participants in the work of the Spirit. We rely on Him wholly and completely for our growth in godliness.

The start of this long run-on by Paul is yet another example of this fact.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. - Ephesians 1:3-4a

Now, most people can’t read this passage (or the rest of it for that matter) without their first thought being about the ol’ classic Calvinism or Arminianism debate. Let me give you my two cents on that matter. This might be the first time I’ve blogged about this.

  1. God is higher than us. Romans 11 and 1 Corinthians 2 make this abundantly apparent. As finite humans, we can never fully comprehend God. Does that mean we don’t even try to comprehend Him or His Word? Absolutely not. I mean, you’re reading a blog from a guy who reads commentaries for fun at night. But we will never fully understand the acts of God. So I think it’s foolish of me to think that I can fully understand how God chooses to save. And I think we’re missing the point when we bicker over this matter. Do I believe that God is sovereign over every thing in the universe? Yes. Do I believe that God has given man free will? Also yes. Does that make sense? No. But maybe that’s where faith comes in. This is likely an unsatisfactory answer for many people, but it’s all I know for sure. The Christian faith is absolutely full of paradoxes that make no logical sense. I read a ton of reformed theology that touts the sovereignty of God but what I consider myself doesn’t fit the two-sided debate:
  2. Three point Roachist. Back when I was in college, the debate around Calvinism was raging. I was told by some that I wasn’t reading the Bible well if I wasn’t a Calvinist. I was told by others that Calvinists were arrogant jerks. I got so tired of all the needless debate that I said “I’m a three point Roachist. I love Jesus. I love pizza. I want to get married one day. That’s all I know for sure.” That always brought laughter and the end of arguments, even if people were annoyed with my answer. After years of reading and studying I still don’t have firm beliefs in every single secondary or tertiary matter.
  3. Missing the Heart for the Head. Lastly, I believe that maybe, just maybe, when we take this passage and rip it into theological debates about salvation, we’re drastically missing the point. Paul is pumped. Excited. Overflowing with joy and praise. Why? Because of all the spiritual blessings that we’ve received in Christ. If our response to this passage (or any passage in Scripture for that matter) is merely to get ready to defend our beliefs, we’ve missed the point. This passage should cause us to worship.

Praise God for choosing me. How? I don’t know. I just know it’s been done.

Praise God for making me blameless and holy. When He chose me, He made me blameless and holy. Did you see that? This passage doesn’t say that God chose me in Christ so that I could work hard to be holy and blameless. It says that God choosing me makes me holy and blameless.

How does that work?

Faith. Paradox. Belief.

I have sinned a lot today in thought, word, and deed. Yet God the Father sees me as holy and blameless because of my Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s worth worshipping about.

That’s worth sharing about.

Praise God.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

The Death of A King

He was arguably the greatest king in the history of God’s people, yet now he lay on his death bed. His servants had brought in a young woman for his pleasure and warmth, but he chose to not have sex with her.

As he reflected over his life, he couldn’t help but remember all the highs and lows. He was a man who was overlooked by prophets, but noticed by the Lord. He rose out of the shepherd’s fields into the throne room of Israel. He spent a large portion of his younger years on the run, before the demise of his predecessor.

He brought about stability in the kingdom, but that was not the end of the story.

While his loyal troops were at war, his cowardice and laziness led him to stay behind. His lust filled his heart and mind, he had his servants bring a woman into him that was not his to know intimately. She was no willing participant in what took place. His lust led to a child, which led to murder in an attempt to cover up his grievous sin.

He prayerfully asked God for forgiveness, but the consequences of what he had done were still present. He lost his son, and late in life had his other son strive to kill him and take the throne.

His life was full of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, this is the story of King David.

Recently I’ve been teaching through the book of 1-2 Kings with our students. We take it passage by passage, looking at how the people of God had a choice of who they would worship, what word they would listen to (God or man), and ultimately what weaknesses every human king had.

At the start of 1 Kings, David is dying. In the midst of political intrigue, his wife Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet approach David asking for David to make Solomon king.

What I want to draw your attention to is what David says. Remember, he’s been through so much in life. He’s seen his life in danger due to his faithfulness to God, and he’s seen his life in danger due to his sin.

Yet in summary, look what he says about his life.

And the king swore, saying, "As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my soul out of every adversity, - 1 Kings 1:29

The Lord lives.

The Lord has delivered David out of every adversity he has faced.

This is what David wholeheartedly believed, and with the perspective we have given the whole canon of Scripture, we know this to be true.

That’s the Lord that you and I serve.

Someone who redeems.

Rescues.

Delivers.

Out of every adversity.

But there’s something even more powerful that I want you to consider, and it shows up later on in the story. David dies in chapter two, Solomon rises up and builds the temple for God’s presence to reside in. Solomon then breaks every command of God about what a king should be like (Deuteronomy 17), showing that contrary to popular church belief he was the most knowledgable king of Israel, but he was not the wisest (but that is a blog for another day).

Solomon’s vile and wicked sin leads to his destruction and the destruction of the kingdom. The kingdom splits in two, with Jeroboam on the throne in the north and Rehoboam on the throne in the south.

Jeroboam leads the people of God into idolatry via worshipping golden calves (sound familiar? Exodus 32 has a similar story, showing that we are prone to repeat the sins of our fathers). The prophet Ahijah then tells Jeroboam’s wife that destruction is coming on their family due to their sin.

But nestled in this prophetic word of destruction is the following:

yet you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes – 1 Kings 14:8

Uh, what?

Murder. Adultery. Cowardice.

Those were the sins of David.

Yet the prophet proclaims that God sees David as a man who followed Him with all of his heart.

Why can he say that?

Because of David’s repentance.

Perfection is not the sign of someone who follows Jesus.

Repentance is.

David, unlike his foolish son Solomon, did not walk in his sin. When he had sin brought to light in his life, he turned from it, and walked in righteousness instead.

Church, the message of the Bible is not sanctification by works.

We don’t become like Jesus by trying really hard.

We become like Jesus through repentance.

Confession.

Acknowledging our need for a Savior.

When I die, I want to say with David that God brought me out of every adversity.

When I die, I want to be remembered as a man who was full of sin yet had a heart that was fully given over to God.

That’s my prayer.

That’s my hope.

David knew his need.

I want to close with a quote.

Because if that’s what you are (a righteous, Kingdom-seeking saint), you’ll probably feel more like a sinful, desperate cur who can get out of bed each day only because you’ve managed once again to believe that Christ’s mercy is made new every time the sun ascends. – Andrew Peterson

That may sound kind of defeatist, but that’s not my intention for sharing it.

My intention is to acknowledge that the more we grow in our faith, the more we should see the cross, the more we should depend on grace, the more wretched we see ourselves to be without Christ. We shouldn’t grow confident in our behaviors.

Church, let’s be like David.

Let’s worship the Lord who draws us out of every adversity and who gives us grace for every weakness and failure.

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

Just Mercy

I saw the film Just Mercy a few weeks ago with my wife and some friends. The entire film, following the work of Bryan Stevenson, was a sobering and somber reminder of the injustice that often takes place in our midst. The whole film has been rattling around inside my mind, but one scene in particular has kept me enraptured mentally.

One of the men that Bryan Stevenson represented was a man named Herbert Richardson. Richardson survived an attack in Vietnam that killed his entire platoon, leaving him with major PTSD. This led to his bombing of a house, leading to the death of a young woman. While this was an action that he took, his PTSD was never considered and he was not given a just and fair trial.

As a member of the audience, we watch as Herbert Richardson was walked from death row into a waiting area, as the guards prepped him for death by electrocution. We watch as they shave his body, give him his last meal, and strap him in. All this takes place while the song “Old Rugged Cross” plays over the loud speakers, the song he chose to be his last listen.

Man, my heart was in my throat.

As I sat there watching this scene, I couldn’t help but think of the injustice and brokenness in my own community. I couldn’t help but think of my indifference to it. As a pastor, I’m at church every Sunday. I sing songs just like the Old Rugged Cross about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet at the same time I too often ignore the needs of those around me.

In the book of Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah about what is on His heart, about what He despises.

And here’s the message. God despises those of us whose lips claim allegiance to Jesus, but whose hearts are indifferent to the needs of others around us.

Convicting much?

That definitely convicts me.

I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to me; I am tired of putting up with them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. 

Wash yourselves. Clean yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Please the widow’s cause. 

“Come, let us settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool.” – Isaiah 1:14-18

God despises when I attend Sunday school, pray, read my Bible, evangelize, tithe, sing hymns, and teach Scripture, but don’t care for those in need around me.

The church should unashamedly stand for the value and dignity of every human life, from the fetus to the foster child to the foreigner in our midst.

How many times have you sung the hymn “Jesus Paid It All”? I’ve probably sung that song a thousand times throughout my life. And only this weekend did I realize that the context of this passage, and thus that song, is not primarily about sin in general. It is about the stain and blemish on me when I dare to ignore the call of Christ to care for ALL people.

In the scene I opened this blog with, as Richardson is being executed, those on death row are banging against the cell doors and yelling “We’re right here! We are with you! We’re right here! You’re not alone!”

And honestly, again, as I was watching it I wondered what those in need in my community were hearing from me. Maybe they’re hearing “I don’t have the time for you” or “I don’t have any resources with which to help you”. Maybe worse yet they’re hearing “you put yourself in that position” or “I don’t trust you not to use and abuse the system”.

Am I proclaiming “We’re right here!” to those in need?

To be candid, they’re probably not hearing that from me. It’s easier for me to sit in my ivory tower studying and proclaiming the Word of God than it is for me to get my hands dirty in acts of service to meet very real needs in my community. God forgive me for that.

This final verse we looked at together is encouraging and full of the gospel. God will wash me white as snow. The beauty of that verse is not only that God will forgive my indifference which is despairingly sinful. God also promises to wash the crimson stain of my indifference away.

That means that as I ask God, He will give me a greater heart for those around me.

Church, we will close our collective doors if we keep standing above those in need.

Church, we will miss the heart of Christ if we don’t go to meet the needs of all people.

Church, we will push our communities away if all they see from us is the decrying of sin in a sinful culture, constant outrage and outcry, and no heart for the souls of men.

Church, our God despises our religious traditions devoid of a passion for justice.

Church, our mission is to rule and reign, dispensing the justice and MERCY of God.

Jesus did not come decrying the sins of Roman culture.

He came decrying the sins of the religious like me.

Jesus did not come to avoid service.

He came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

Jesus did not come trying to change a culture.

Jesus came to save the world.

My greatest witness is not my moral high ground (I don’t know about you but I’ve got some very wicked private sin in my heart). My greatest witness is humble service.

My community doesn’t need my religious outrage.

They just need mercy.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

I don’t own rights to the picture above, and no copyright infringement is intended.

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.

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In His Name,

Nate Roach