Social Justice Or Preaching The Gospel?

What should be the driving goal for the life of a follower of Jesus?

Social justice or preaching the gospel?

This is the raging debate both explicitly and implicitly in our midst today. Some think that our primary purpose as the church is to be involved in social justice efforts. Others think that we should simply preach the gospel and trust that the Kingdom of God at work in our churches will bring change.

There are a plethora of men much smarter and wiser than me that have preached, written, and taught on this topic. But I’ve had this on my heart for almost two months now, and I feel it’s time to wade into the conversation myself.

So what do I believe?

Is our primary goal social justice or preaching the gospel?

My prayerful, hard-fought answer is both.

Both.

As a Christian, as a pastor, I should be an advocate for social justice, inasmuch as it adheres with the Kingdom of God and Biblical mandates. As a Christian, as a pastor, I should be proclaiming the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at every opportunity.

I want to share my opinions, my experiences, and my studies that have brought me to this position. I want to share first the dangers of pursuing one of these things without the other, before showing how they come together beautifully in our lives.

Social Justice without the gospel. 

If you look around, most in my generation have a heart for social justice. They see it as a clear next step after receiving the good news of Jesus. I admire and affirm this.

Where I see danger is when advocating for social justice is completely separated from a local body of believers. When we separate ourselves from a church community, striving to be the hands and feet of Jesus while detached from the bride of Jesus, that’s where things can get wonky.

Praise God for my peers who are boldly stepping out and saying that in Christ, all are created equal.

But what are we drawing people into?

Say we met every barrier in society for every person in need. What a glorious goal. But if we are not drawing them into a church community, we are only doing half the work. The greatest barrier any person faces is the one that separates them from the Father.

May God help us to pursue His church, His messy, hypocritical, judgmental, broken church (often referred to in horrifically explicit terms by God in Scripture). It is only through the body of Christ that real community is found.

My heart mourns over the myriads upon myriads from my generation that left the church to be Jesus. I want to listen and hear why. But I also want to advocate for us to love Jesus AND His broken bride.

The gospel without social justice.

If you want to know what side of the pendulum I fall on, it’s right here. I talk and preach often about the importance of being engaged in society as the people of God (Just Mercy) but struggle to live it out.

I’m a nerd.

A Bible nerd specifically.

Across from my laptop are thirty books on theology and commentaries that I’m wading through currently.

I love to read and write and think.

Action is hard for me. It doesn’t come easy.

This has led me at times to preach the gospel without even an iota of concern for the men and women made in the image of God that are sinfully, unBiblically treated in our world.

Father forgive me.

In the blog I linked above, I share how I came to a stark realization in Isaiah 1 that God hates me when I offer up praise to Him with blood on my hands. That stung. But it also empowered. I want to be a man who stands up for what is Biblical in society. Most importantly in terms of all being made in the image of God.

Yes, the gospel is the best thing I have to offer a hurting world.

The message of a Savior who came to deliver them.

But how many can’t hear that message because I sit in my fancy office in a Baptist church instead of engaging them?

I put zero hope in politics.

I don’t believe that legislation and law are the way that the country will change.

I believe the world will change as the people of God obey the two key commands of God: love Him and love others.

I believe the local church is the agent of change God has given to the world. I stand on that.

But here’s the thing.

If my advocacy for Biblical treatment of others is the avenue through which some enter into the Kingdom community I’m a part of in Vernon, then so be it.

If my proclaiming of the gospel is written off because I don’t seem to actually get in the midst of the hurt people are experiencing in my community, then I’m in the wrong.

I believe the Kingdom communities in our cities are where we should strive for the Biblical treatment of all. That’s my priority. My heart, my church, then my community.

I’m young. I’m learning. I’m trying to grow.

Here’s where I’ve landed however.

Social justice is an extension of the gospel.

Social justice as an extension of the gospel. 

I’ve not put a whole lot of Scripture in this post. I’ve merely wanted to share my experiences and mindsets. I have done this in part because while I study Scripture deeply, I don’t have clear-cut interpretations of every verse I reference. So as I now share the verses the Lord has used to work in my heart, I share them with the caveat that I am not a Biblical scholar that fully grasps the message of each of them.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clear; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. – Isaiah 1:16-17

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? – James 2:15-16

These are just a few that I’ve thought a lot about.

The prophets of the Old Testament are teachers I wish the modern church would read and study regularly. The difference between the world then and now is that the ‘nation’ of God was Israel. Now the people of God are transcendent beyond national boundaries. The Christian nation in our world is one composed of people from every earthly nation.

The prophets said that sacrifice without mercy was detestable.

James stated that offering spiritual health without meeting physical health needs was no good.

So in summary, I’m still thinking about all of this.

My hope isn’t in the public forum. My hope is in Jesus. But my hope in Jesus should lead me to change my heart, to advocate for the Biblical treatment of all in my church, and when necessary, in my culture as well.

I’m listening.

I’m learning.

But I know that social justice and the preaching of the gospel must go hand in hand.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Go Down The Street

I live in a city full of people in need.

You do too.

I live in a city where houses are crumbling, students go to school hungry, violence persists, hundreds of kids need mentorship, and kids walk to and from school and down our streets in the middle of the night.

You do too.

These issues are nuanced and specific to certain contexts and communities. But there are needs that need to be met by God’s people in every single place where people reside.

Here’s the heartbreaking issue.

We too often forsake the local needs of our community for the national or international needs we come across.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? – James 2:15-16

That one puts some tears in my eyes. How often is that me? How often do I proclaim the good news of the gospel but don’t care enough to meet physical needs as well?

Well, I guess I have met some needs.

They’ve just been overseas or across the country.

Surely that counts right?

That’s a pretty good combination at least.

Preaching the gospel locally and meeting the needs of people internationally.

My brothers and sisters, I don’t believe this is how the church is supposed to be.

My brothers and sisters, I don’t believe this is how my life is supposed to be.

To use the context of the verse, you could say:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed. I would help you, but I’ve expended all my energies and resources on overseas missions,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? – Nathan’s Opinions 2:15-16

What I do nationally or internationally should be out of the overflow of what I do locally. This is what I imperfectly practice and strive to be about. For me and my wife, we choose to focus on local missions first, and then if there is anything left over, we extend out from there.

Think of it as circles that are expanding.

Local, regional, national, and international.

My desire and prayer is that I will focus on doing things in my local circle, but our churches have become places at times where we focus on national or international and forsake the local. We go on short-term mission trips, but fail to evangelize our neighborhoods. We collect goods to send overseas, but we ignore the kids walking to school hungry in our own community. My heart breaks at this.

International Efforts Are Great, Local Efforts Are Too 

I want to start by making this abundantly clear: Gospel-centered, Jesus-proclaiming international efforts of sharing Jesus and meeting needs are great things. Let us pray and support them financially. I have nothing against them. That being said, I want to lovingly push back and remind us that local efforts are great too.

International Efforts Are Easy, Local Efforts Are Hard

Please hear my heart again. My sister is literally a missionary overseas sharing the gospel right now, and nothing about her situation is easy.

But, for me in North Texas, to get involved in international efforts is easy.

It’s easier for me to send money per month to help some child overseas whose picture is on my refrigerator, then it is for me to open up my home to a child here who is in need. Why? Because it’s hard.

It’s easier to go take part in a VBS on a short term mission trip than it is to build relationships with students in town all year long. Tonight my wife and I are having a couple students over, whom we love. But opening up our home to a couple Junior High boys takes some effort.

It’s easier for me to send a gospel tract to a missionary overseas than it is for me to meet weekly with young men in our community and guide them closer to Jesus.

It’s easier for me to take a trip to Washington D.C. for a focused week of service, than it is for me to volunteer at the local food bank or local Boys and Girls Club.

International Efforts Make Discipleship Uncertain, Local Efforts Put Discipleship On Us 

If you’ve been on a national or international mission trip, the discipleship, the follow-up, is often uncertain. I served on teams three consecutive summers with the North American Mission Board, and each year when we left we were unsure if those we had conversations about the gospel with were being discipled or followed up with. We had faith churches we partnered with would do so, but we just didn’t really know for sure.

But sharing the gospel in a local capacity puts the discipleship on us. That’s hard. That’s messy. That’s difficult. That’s time-consuming. This is how it should be.

I recently was part of a regional youth weekend at a camp near where I live and work. I taught a breakout session on Discipleship. I asked the room of students who had ever been discipled, led in their faith, by an older follower of Jesus. 5% of the students raised their hands.

Wow, how that rips me up inside.

That’s the purpose of the church.

It is not a matter of time, but of priority.

If we are not actively discipling those younger than us in the faith, our priorities are way out of whack.

International Efforts Should Be The Overflow Of Our Local Efforts 

Here’s what all this boils down to for me. International efforts should be the overflow of our local efforts. I’m all for raising money and goods for kids overseas, but only if we are matching that in our local community. I personally don’t feel at peace about kids walking to school hungry in my community while we send all we have to other countries. I’m all for short-term mission trips, but only if we are evangelizing and discipling our own community as well, opening up our homes to any and all.

The community of faith is to be one that is irresistible, one that draws people in. One reason I think that our churches are fighting to even stay afloat is because those who don’t claim Christ see communities full of need filled with churches doing nothing.

Let me say that again.

One reason our churches aren’t drawing people in is because we preach the good news of Jesus to communities full of needs while often doing nothing to meet those needs.

Let me be clear. I’m imperfect. While my wife and I strive to focus locally, we fall short. I’ve missed the last two weeks of meeting with a couple High School boys I’m mentoring. We are opening up our home for just the first time in 2019 tonight. But we’re striving to meet the needs of Vernon, TX first and foremost.

Pray for international missionaries like my sister. Give to international organizations doing great work. Go on short term trips throughout the nation, partnering with churches.

But do this out of the overflow of what you are doing locally.

Before you get on a plane or write a check,

Go down the street.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Grace Isn’t For Me

Yesterday, I forgot the gospel.

The day before, I forgot the gospel.

Tuesday, I forgot the gospel.

Now, I obviously don’t have a memory loss problem. (I mean not that I know of.) What I do have is a heart that is fleshly, a heart that is sinful, a heart that is forgetful.

As a pastor, I preach and teach the good news of Jesus multiple times a week. I do so in large groups, I do so in small groups, I do so one on one. Constantly the message of the gospel is being spoken by me. I hope and pray and hope some more that it is bearing fruit in the hearts of those I proclaim it to.

What has become frustrating to me though is the fact that I could speak all day about the gospel and believe that it applies to others, but in my heart and mindset at home, I don’t allow it to be applied to me.

Here’s a clear example of what I mean. I distinctly remember one day in May 2016, not long after I graduated, when my inability to accept the gospel was probably the most stark. It was a Sunday morning and I was sitting with my church community as we partook of the Lord’s Supper together.  

I remember it clear as day. We were passing out the elements, and as I sat there, I told myself “grace doesn’t apply to you.”

The Lord’s Supper, in my church tradition, is simply a pointing back to the work of Christ on the cross. We don’t receive grace when we take it each time, rather it is a reminder of the total and complete grace we received by putting our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross.

My heart and mind refused to allow me to rest in grace.

Even though I took the bread and the cup, my mind kept saying, “You can’t accept this grace. You’re a pastor who sins. You’re garbage. This grace isn’t for you. You are supposed to lead people but you yourself are trash.” This went through my head on repeat.

This was only a few weeks after being ordained to be a pastor. To me, the fact that people saw God’s call on my life to be a pastor and my own inability to overcome all sinful desires in my heart didn’t compute. I was a fraud.

On that immensely painful day, I had forgotten the message of the gospel.

I wish I could say that was the last time I forgot the message of the gospel. To be transparent, that’s one of the harder parts of my job as a pastor. I absolutely know and believe that Scripture says I’m held to a higher standard. But way too often I hold myself to a higher standard than the message of the gospel. I refuse to accept grace and walk in forgiveness. Instead, I try and punish myself emotionally and mentally in penance.

Maybe, you’re like me.

Maybe, you doubt grace.

Maybe, your sin seems greater than God’s love for you.

God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-7

That’s the message of the gospel. God is rich in mercy. He loves us. He loved us. Even when we were dead as a result of our sins against Him. He made us alive with Christ, He saved us BY GRACE. Now we are seated with Him in glory (even if we’ve still got work to do here on earth). This is the gospel.

What we modern Christians forget sometimes is that Paul wrote Ephesians to followers of Jesus. This book (like many if not all of Paul’s letters) was not an evangelistic piece. Rather, it was a letter written to those who were already following Jesus. Yet, Paul reminds the people of the message of the gospel. Why?

Because we’re all prone to forget what the gospel tells us about ourselves. We all forget how we’re viewed by God. We all forget that we’ve already been made perfect in the eyes of God. Just look at the books of Galatians and Hebrews. These were people who were forgetting that they were perfect in God’s eyes, and so they fell back into legalistic and religious tendencies in order to give themselves assurance of their salvation.

Brothers and sisters, the gospel is not something you move on from. The gospel is the beauty of the Biblical story, it is the message of our freedom.

I’ll be honest, I still forget what the gospel says about me. I still allow myself to be defined by my sins and shortcomings. That’s why I need to remind myself of the gospel every single day. That’s why I need people in my life reminding myself of the gospel every single day.

But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. – Hebrews 3:13

We fall into sin, we fall into the lies of the enemy when we are not being encouraged by one another daily. The individualism of our day and age in churches drives me insane. How arrogant of us to think we can do it alone.

I need to preach the gospel to myself every single day.

I need you to remind me of it too.

If you see in me a falling back towards earning the grace of God, call me lovingly into repentance and back under the never-ending, unceasing grace and mercy of God.

Preaching the gospel to yourself daily means saturating your heart and mind in the truths of the good news of Jesus found in Scripture.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

Murder & Envy

Mankind is basically good. Yes, sure, we make mistakes, sometimes big ones, but deep down we’re all good people trying our best to live good lives. We have men who truly want to be good fathers, husbands, and neighbors. The women want to be good mothers, wives, and neighbors. We just happen to slip up from time to time.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this type of mentality about life (even in church settings) and sadly how many times I’ve believed it.

Man is inherently good.

While this is easy to affirm without thinking, it is an incredibly dangerous lie that ends up affecting a whole lot of our theology and doctrine.

Claiming that man is inherently good seems like a statement made from optimism and positivity. If we try hard enough to convince ourselves that that is true, then maybe we will begin to see the world around us with rose-colored glasses and not get so discouraged.

It works for a little bit. We look at the news and think oh that man was a ‘good’ guy, he just happened to make a mistake. We drive down the street in our community and interact with others and assume they are deep down good people. When I’ve felt this way towards others it has always come from a place of wanting to love them well. It seems hateful and mean to assume less than the best in people. What I’m trying to say in this blog is not that we should always assume the worst of others. Instead I’m trying to say that we should have a Biblically-centered view of mankind, not because we’re hateful pessimists, but instead because we are hopeful lovers of Jesus. So I plead with you to keep reading even if you disagree with me thus far.

It has been almost a month since I ventured back into the book of Romans, at least an in-depth study of it. This afternoon I had some down time and decided to get back into it. The next passage in my studies was Romans 1:28-31.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; – Romans 1:28-31

This passage is situated in Romans 1 following Paul’s statement that the people had abandoned God, exchanging worship of Him with their own idolatry. So we see that God gives them up to those things which are not proper (this is a complicated and hard truth that you can find my opinions on at Given Up), and then Paul lists those things which are not proper.

So what can we conclude from Romans chapter one? Mankind is not inherently good. Rather, they choose apart from Christ to worship created things rather than the Creator. Because they choose allegiance to this world rather than King Jesus, God gives them over to the sins they desire to commit.

According to the Bible, mankind is not inherently good.

Rather, mankind is inherently sinful and wants to commit the sins we see in the above list.

Now, if you happen to be a theologian in the making like myself, you may have bells going off that I’m teaching total depravity right here and you may be trying to peg me as a Calvinist. If that happens to be you, I gotta say, I’m not. I’m not a five-pointer, the only tulips I’m super familiar with are in the garden down my street. There are three things I know for sure: I love Jesus, I love stuffed crust pizza from Pizza Hut, and God’s ways (including salvation) are above my own (Romans 11:33-34). Just felt I should be clear about what I believe.

Anywho, mankind is sinful, through and through.

Let’s talk about the list. Let’s talk clearly about the list. I have known those who will look at this list and others like it in the Bible and say ‘well, my sin struggle isn’t named here, so it must not be that bad, it must not be sin’. This is preposterous thinking and it’s missing the point. This list in this passage is not designed to be an exhaustive list of sins we could commit. What Paul is trying hard to emphasize in a thesaurus way is that our inherent sinfulness runs from the most abhorrent sins to even the smallest we can imagine. From murder to disobeying our parents.

The point of this passage in Romans 1 is to illustrate a few things I think I miss and forget:

  1. Mankind is sinful, saturated with unrighteousness
  2. Condemning sin may be old-fashioned, but it is necessary
  3. Sin MUST lead to remorse in the life of a Christian. We should never get to a point where we accept sinful lifestyles in our churches.

Now let me wrap it up by hopefully encouraging you or convincing you that for me to see man as sinful is not me being hateful and mean. I want to quickly and hopefully show that to do so is the most loving thing I could do.

I know the message of Scripture. I know that those who die apart from believing in Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins will spend eternity separated from Him, that is, hell. So when I say that I acknowledge that my community is full of inherently sinful people, it is not me seeking to believe the worst about people. God gives grace to the non-believer, some non-believers are amazing people in our community, but even the morally sound, servant-hearted non-believer is still apart from the saving love of God.

Believing that all of mankind is inherently good makes me passive.

Believing that all of mankind is inherently sinful makes me active, it makes me desire to share my faith.

I welcome dialogue and you can follow my blog below.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Given Up

When you really dig deep into Scripture, you can’t avoid the hard stuff.

There has been a phrase in the Bible, in one singular verse, that has caused me a whole lot of problems. It’s the phrase that I circled when I read it last month, and put question marks all above it.

It’s in the following verse.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. – Romans 1:24

God gave them over.

This phrase had been giving me fits. How does a good and loving God give mankind over to the most vile desires and passions that they have? It’s easy for me to do what I did, circle and question it, but never come back to it. Thankfully, I came back to this verse.

I want to share a blog that honestly might make some of you stop following my writing (although I hope this isn’t the case, cause I love y’all). I want to share with you this afternoon an unpopular but no less integral and important aspect of doctrine.

God’s mercy isn’t infinite.

I recently read this in a commentary on Romans and wrote in the margins that I’ve never heard this taught and my gut reaction is to write it off as hearsay and maybe even heresy.

Then I thought about it for a little while. And I must admit, it’s true.

God is infinite, and thus his character can be described as such. But to say His mercy is infinite is to say that there is ultimately no punishment for sin. Infinite mercy is thus an extremely popular belief in our present day in age, even in many churches. The doctrine of hell, of separation from God, is glossed over and removed, replaced instead with the doctrine of his grace and mercy which never cease.

This is why Biblical literacy, or the preaching of the whole of Scripture, is such a passion of mine. It is only when we take certain passages and make them the centrality of our entire beliefs about God that we fall into gross misunderstandings of His character and the reality of the world we live in.

In this passage in Romans 1, we are clearly told and taught by God through Paul that God’s wrath is poured out on all mankind apart from Christ, since all mankind has at some point suppressed the truth of God and have chosen instead to follow their own wisdom (aka foolishness, Romans 1:22) instead (You Deserve Wrath, Not Love) . Romans 1:23 goes on to say that all of mankind has chosen to exchange the glory of God for their own images.

With all of this in the background of our reading of this verse and this difficult phrase, we begin to see what God is doing.

What God does here in that phrase “God gave them over” is the term ‘judicial abandonment’. God is choosing to give mankind up and over to its own desires, its own sin, its own ‘wisdom’.

This judicial abandonment by God ultimately leads to horrific darkness. It is to be totally and completely devoid of God. It becomes intriguing to me the more I think about it to realize that what our culture is begging for, what sinful mankind is begging for, is exactly what God grants in this passage and ultimately what they will receive when they face Him after they die.

Mankind apart from Christ wants life apart from God. Mankind wants to call the shots. God’s wisdom is too overbearing and too narrow, so mankind fights back and exchanges Scriptural truth for personal conviction and opinion. God’s call to suffer and die to one’s self is too insane a calling, so mankind says that to follow one’s heart and live for one’s own desires is the way to go. Jesus saying He is the way, the truth, and the life is too narrow-minded and bigoted, so mankind opens it up to all systems of belief.

What breaks my heart each day is to see so many who have grown up in the knowledge of Scripture doing what verse twenty-two proclaims. They cling to new wisdom, because God is old-fashioned, and thus become foolish in His eyes.

Judicial abandonment by God is horrifically dark. Judicial abandonment by God is Him giving us what we desire in our hearts apart from Christ.

I’m a sinner apart from Christ. I’m prone even as a follower of Jesus to want sinful things. Just look at this list later in this chapter: homosexuality, unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, hate, arrogance, boasting, disobedience, being unloving, being unmerciful, and celebrating all of the above sins. We are all prone apart from Christ to desire and strive towards these sins. So for God to ‘give me over’ is to give me what I want.

The Bible actually closes this way.

Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. – Revelation 22:11

So no, God is not infinite in mercy.

One day, God will give us what we want. Whether it be our sin, or the righteousness of His Son. One day, after we die, God will either give us eternity with Him because of faith in His Son, or we will go through eternity separated from Him in a real place called hell.

This is an immensely difficult truth. But it must be read in conjunction with the other truths of Scripture. Here’s an encouraging one:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

God desires for all to come to repentance. He desires for all to receive the righteousness of Jesus. But His mercy is not infinite. If we reject Him here, He will reject us for eternity.

Thank God that He sent His Son to live the perfect life I could not and to die the death I deserve. Thank God that Jesus rose from the grave and set me free from sin.

Thank God for those who told me the gospel.

Notice how this passage says that all of mankind has been judicially abandoned by God apart from the gospel. Apart from Christ, that is our lot, our end game. This is the message we must share.

Let’s get on the ball and share with those who need to hear.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

The Good News of Nathan?

The gospel is all about Jesus.

As people of God we should be all about the gospel.

These seem like total no-brainer statements, yet if we’re honest, we all subtly move away from these truths.

I know that I have countless times in my life in the past and in the present. First, when it comes to that first statement, here’s what would happen. When I first got to OBU, I wanted everyone to know my story. You can see the problem that arose just by how I phrased that last sentence. I wanted people to know MY story, not the story of Jesus, not the story where I was simply an extra with a teeny tiny part to play.

So what happened is that I regularly, I mean probably a couple times a month, would share my testimony with anyone who wanted to hear it. Each time I shared it I would emphasize all of my nasty, gritty, and grimy sin struggles. Anger, sexual sin, dishonesty, rebellion. Then at the very end I would tack on a quick here’s how God redeemed me from all of that (the other stupid thing I would do was act like none of those sin struggles were still in my life, maybe to will myself into getting rid of them, who knows). It also got so bad that I would embellish my story like crazy, dramatizing it, making it seem unfathomable. This snowballed and soon my story was full of scenarios and situations that never actually happened. Imagine that, being dishonest when sharing my own testimony. Man thank God for grace.

The gospel that saturates the Scriptures was suddenly about me. I never said that in those words, but it was clear in the way that I shared my life story.

Life progressed and as I entered vocational ministry, the temptation to make the gospel the means by which I would build my own kingdom and legacy was hot and heavy. In hopes of not making the same mistake silly old 18 year old Nate made, I confess that this continues to be an ongoing battle for me. Ministry is rough and rugged and not at all what I expected it to be when I first submitted to God’s call on my life as a teenager. Yet despite the brutality of it at times, it’s easy to treat it as any other job and make it about achieving my own goals and aspirations. I don’t particularly believe that everything is explicitly black and white, that having dreams and desires is sinful. That being said, it is sinful to take from God’s glory (or hilariously attempt to).

The proclamation of the gospel is not to be used to build our own kingdoms of sand. I’ve seen evangelists and preachers make the gospel their avenue to glory. I’ve fought and at times given into that same desire in my own heart. May we be men and women of God who do no such thing. May we understand the futility of trying to make the gospel about us.

For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son – Romans 1:9a

The gospel of His Son.

The gospel is all about Jesus.

Let us transition to the second statement.

As people of God we should be all about the gospel.

Sometimes the gospel seems mundane. Sometimes the gospel of Jesus Christ seems like VBS style theology to the pew-hardened follower of Jesus. Here’s where Paul in the book of Romans blows that false feeling out of the water.

So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. – Romans 1:15

There was already a gospel presence in Rome when Paul wrote the Roman church this letter. This is easily proven in verse seven. For there to be church community in Rome, people needed to have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. For them to have done that, they would have needed to have heard the gospel. Thus we can say that the gospel had been preached in Rome. Yet, Paul is eagerly anticipating the opportunity to preach the gospel in the very place there was already a gospel presence. Why? Because as people of God we should be all about the gospel.

It may seem repetitive to our hearts, but if it is, it is more than likely because its beauty has not cascaded into every dark crevice. A right understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ leads to a yearning to hear it and preach it and share it and soak it in. We should be all about the gospel. That word can get watered down, so here is what R.C. Sproul gives as a mini-synopsis of this good news:

  • Jesus’ life of perfect obedience
  • Jesus’ atoning death on the cross
  • Jesus’ resurrection from the dead
  • Jesus’ ascension into heaven
  • Jesus’ outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church

What a surprise, the gospel is all about Jesus.

We live in a society where we are supposed to tickle the ears of our congregations with pep-talks that use Scripture as support instead of actually preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To preach the gospel every week does not require preaching from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) every week. Every story in Scripture points to Jesus in some way. Any sermon can be a gospel-saturated sermon.

Let us not grow weary of proclaiming the gospel to our families and friends.

Let us be men and women of the gospel.

 

 

Stormtroopers On Sunday

I opened up my Bible this morning, spending a little time in God’s Word and prayer before I started my day. Honestly it felt dry and monotonous. I was not struck by some amazing nugget of Biblical truth, I didn’t hear the voice of God crash into my bedroom, and I wasn’t moved to tears by the music I was listening to as I got ready to start my day.

When mornings like this happen, I am caught off guard by how prone I am to feeling like something is wrong since it was an uneventful morning in God’s Word. It causes me to question why in the world I would feel disappointed after a morning in intimacy with the Lord.

It all comes back in my opinion to the sensationalism that is blowing up in the Southern Baptist world.

I have seen firsthand a church that did a series through the sermon on the mount entitled “That’s What He Said”. I was aghast only to discover that they had just concluded a series through the life of David entitled “Game of Thrones” with the very graphics used to advertise the show being used to advertise the sermon series. Separate the fact that GOT is horrendously pornographic (just check out VidAngel filters for how much this is shown in seemingly every episode), and this is still an attempt to make the Scriptures exciting for people.

I have seen a church that had a Star Wars themed Christmas series, complete with dancing stormtroopers on stage on Christmas Day. I have seen a churches with announcements that say literally nothing about Jesus, God, Scripture, or discipleship when advertising for Sunday morning activities. I have seen a church that sought to draw people in with a big Super Bowl Sunday service complete with crotch-grabs and obscene jokes.

Again, I totally understand that we should make our church programming appealing to those who don’t have a walk with Christ, but I think there’s a completely different way to do that.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16 

It is not via our advertisements or our hip cultural connections that people are going to find lasting faith. They will find it in churches that live out their commitment to God, each other, and the community they find themselves in. We are woefully bad at this in some ways, and due to this, churches are having to sensationalize their activities every week in order to make up for the fact that the church isn’t committed to holiness or service.

Right now I’ve been taking the youth group I shepherd through the book of 1 Thessalonians, verse by verse. One thing that has become clear to me in my studies and that I’ve desired to communicate to my students is that the Thessalonian church was known everywhere throughout that region for their faith, hope, and love. They were known not for their hip cultural references, but for their faith. They were known not for having the fanciest church service in town that keeps you on the edge of your seat, but for their hope. They were known not for amazing emotional services, but instead for their love.

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 

The church was known for its commitment to the gospel message and for turning from idols. Man that gets my heart racing.

There is a better way. My heart hurts when I come to this realization that because we as the church aren’t being the church that we instead have to sensationalize everything because we think that’s the only way people will come.

Here’s what is dangerous about this. People come to our churches and experience sensationalized services, but then their devotional experiences are dry. They doubt their faith and then as adults even leave their faith because in our entertainment-saturated world they can’t find a church community that does just that. If they remain in church, they have church backwards. They go to be served and entertained instead of to serve. You know what is generally missing in this case, confession and repentance. There is not room for these historic Christian practices because there’s nothing less entertaining then admitting our sin to our small group, etc.

We’ve got to be pushing for something deeper than the sensationalism that characterizes the Southern Baptist church.

I see a generation rising up now that is abandoning the historic beliefs of the Christian faith. Instead they are wanting to do Christianity without any of the dying to yourself, church without the commitment, relationship with God without the call to holiness. The sensationalism of their youth has led them to want to be ‘authentic’ Christians who play around with sin instead of killing it. We need changes in the Southern Baptist church.

I am passionate about this because I’ve seen its affects in me. There is nothing sinful about being hip and relevant, I just caution us against it and question its ability to make lasting disciples of Jesus.

Thank you for hearing my ramblings.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Surprise The World

I have been around some incredible evangelists in my life. I served with a guy named Joel in Salt Lake City who could make a seemingly innocuous conversation with a clerk at a gas station into a presentation of gospel truths. I have served with a young woman named Molly who was able to relate to seemingly all people from any walk of life and get them to understand the message of the gospel. I have been around men and women who are able to sit on a plane, a bus, or an Uber and have gospel-centered conversations with strangers. It’s impressive and cool, but sometimes discouraging.

In his book, Surprise The World, Michael Frost shares how many people in our churches feel discouraged by the evangelists in our midst because God hasn’t wired all people to be like the Billy Grahams of our age. Frost goes on to say in the book that God has a two-fold design for evangelism. God has called all to be evangelistic, but only some to fulfill the role of evangelists.

In my life, I’ve felt the pressure to be more evangelistic than I am prone to be. I led trips to Portland and Phoenix, spending a total of around 20 months in urban church-planting environments. Yet if I’m honest, I never felt like an evangelist. I did not find myself comfortable in that setting, equipped to function in such a role. I had many nights in those cities plagued with the questions of why I hadn’t done more. When in Phoenix, I lived with a friend named Marcus who made it a point to have conversations with neighbors, while I floundered in such conversations. I knew the Scriptures, loved teaching them, but actually opening up and talking about the gospel with strangers was exceedingly difficult.

Was my faith not strong enough? Why was I so bad at evangelism? These types of questions haunted me.

In his book, Frost looks to Colossians 4:2-6 as a picture of the twofold ministry of evangelism:

“For evangelists, Paul asks for opportunities to proclaim the gospel clearly (verses 3-4). But he doesn’t suggest the Colossians pray as much for themselves. Rather, evangelistic believers are to pray for the evangelists’ ministry, to be wise in their conduct toward outsiders, and to look for opportunities to answer outsiders’ questions when they arise (verses 2, 5-6).”

So in the mind of Frost, God uses those called to an evangelism role in the church to be vocal, traveling ministers of the gospel. The rest are to be wise in their conduct and ready to answer the questions of those around them who are not walking with Christ. That is where Frost comes up with the name of the book: Surprise the World. The actions of first-century Christ-followers was genuinely surprising to all who encountered them. It was their actions, rhythms, and habits that led into conversations.

Some of us are gifted orators and apologists, whom God can use to have on the spot conversations with non-believers about the good news of His Son.

The majority of us however, are to surprise the world around us with the rhythms, habits, and actions that we take. When this happens, we can vocalize why we do what we do. Here’s where we as Christians get it wrong. If we’re honest, few of our habits are affected by our belief in the gospel.

Frost puts it like this:

“If we’re trying to live questionable lives, then cutting the lawn, saying hi to the neighbors, washing our car, walking the dog, and driving to the office every day is hardly an intriguing lifestyle.”

Living the American dream with a bi-weekly church attendance and occasional Bible reading is not living in such a way that surprises the world. We’re no different than our neighbors who believe in morality if that’s the case.

That being said, in the ‘radical Christian’ age that we live in, where crazy acts of sensationalized missions brought about by guilt seem to be the rave, we need to step back and remember that ordinary acts of kindness, love, and Christlikeness is likely more appealing to the non-believer than our profile pictures from Africa or Asia. God alone deserves glory and honor and praise, and I believe that many of us are using and abusing the message of Christianity to make a name for ourselves, to be ‘world-changers’, and to leave a legacy. That is living for your own glory and it is a travesty in our current church climate. My life on earth is NOT about my desire to be remembered. It should be about Christ and God’s ultimate glorification in me.

Here are some examples from lives of those around me that are the middle ground between living a life of suburban bliss that doesn’t awaken neighbors to their need for the gospel and a life of radicalized missions that makes life about our own glory:

My father’s friend Michael who in the face of impending death due to cancer was able to live a life of joy, hope, and trust despite what was an unfair diagnosis and circumstance that ultimately led to his passing.

My friend who lives with a faith in God that is greater and stronger than any earthly circumstance that she has had to walk through in her life, including poverty, and how she has opened up her home to foster and yet remains trusting the promises of God in this season as well.

My friend Donovan who has nine children. He lives with a joy that is tremendous and he lives with a commitment to Christ and family. His devotions with children as opposed to aimless media consumption each night shows in the lives of his children and it is definitely surprising in this day and age.

My friend Sarah who manages the local Boys and Girls Club. It is a humongous task that she undertakes, dealing with the pains of seeing kids struggle with sin and being in the midst of suffering and yet at the end of the day she is able to say that Jesus is still on the throne and in control.

These are just a handful of friends who have surprised the world with the way that they live for Christ here in Vernon, Texas.

You may not be a gifted evangelist. That’s okay. Because you have been called to be evangelistic. Surprise the world with the love you have for Christ.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Non-Christian Prayers

PRAYER LIST

  • Susie has pneumonia
  • Youth group fundraiser night is coming up
  • Bob broke his leg
  • Jim is having surgery on his knee
  • Roseann has the flu
  • Kyle needs a job
  • Frank is fighting for our freedom overseas
  • Adam has been having bad migraines
  • Emily’s dog is in need of medical care

If you are part of a local church, you likely see some sort of list like this frequently, whether in the church bulletin or via an e-mail blast to all the church members. These lists are good, and useful for the church to become aware of the ailments and needs of the members.

That being said, I believe that as followers of Christ, the prayers we engage in both privately and corporately should go beyond the sicknesses, ailments, and trials of the congregation.

Here’s why: I believe the church should pray the things that we see in Scripture. the Bible for sure commands us, exhorts us, and encourages us to pray for healing from sickness.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. – James 5:14

Yet to limit our private and congregational prayers to just healing is to take a theme of prayer in the Scriptures that honestly is not super prevalent and make it the onus and center of our whole prayer life.

I’ve written in the past that to pray for healing is Biblical and necessary.

That being said, our prayer lists in our churches are often filled with prayers that nonbelievers wouldn’t find weird. They’re filled with prayers that nonbelievers who don’t understand the gospel could pray. They’re filled with prayers that nonbelievers would affirm. While this isn’t explicitly wrong, I don’t think it sets the church apart.

The church should sing, proclaim, share, and pray God’s Word.

As the people of God, we should be praying deeper prayers than just the health of our members.

In his book Word-Centered Church, Jonathan Leeman gives the following list of Paul’s prayers as examples of deep, gospel-centered prayers:

  • He (Paul) prays that the Ephesians would be given the spiritual sight to see the glorious inheritance awaiting God’s saints (Ephesians 1:16-19)
  • He prays that the Philippians love would become more discerning and knowledgeable so that they might pursue only good things and live holy lives (Philippians 1:9-11)
  • He prays that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that they might live pleasing lives of good works and growth in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10)

Now those are some prayers that would perturb the nonbeliever. Those are prayers that would seem weird, that wouldn’t be prayed around the dinner table of a nonbelievers’ home.

These are the type of prayers that I believe we as Christians are called to pray for one another. These prayers are gospel-centered, God-centered, and produce eternal fruit rather than our measly “I want this” type prayers. We do our congregations a disservice if we limit our private and corporate prayers to praying for the sick.

I’m thankful to be currently serving under a pastor who prays genuine and bold prayers for God to be glorified amongst our congregation. During our Sunday morning gatherings, I look forward to his prayers. As he prays, I can see that his public prayer for God to be glorified is the overflow of his private prayers for God to be glorified.

Here are some other types of prayers that the church should pray, setting themselves apart:

  1. FOR OUR ENEMIES. Praying for our congregants is admirable, but not all that surprising. Praying for our neighbors, and even those most adamantly opposed to all that we stand for is most definitely surprising. Too often, my prayers against the wicked are all judgment-based. I should seek instead to pray that the wicked are redeemed from their wicked state by placing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. FOR AWARENESS OF SIN. This one is a doozy. We live in a culture where sin is downplayed, even in our churches. Yet as Christians we miss out on experiencing in our core the forgiveness and mercy of God if we don’t acknowledge our needs for His forgiveness and mercy. The puritans of old would pray for the ‘gift of tears’, meaning they would ask God to bring them to tears over their sins. While I think this is somewhat extreme, I do believe it’s important for us to pray that God would make us aware of our offenses against Him so that we can in turn confess and experience the forgiveness already extended us via the cross.
  3. GOD’S WILL. Most nonbelievers would not be surprised or caught off guard by a man or woman praying that God would bless their individual will for their life. That’s often how we treat God, as if His role is to bless us and prepare the way for us to achieve all that we desire and dream up. That’s not how that’s supposed to work. We should as followers of Christ (looking in the mirror like crazy on this one) be praying that God’s will would be done in our lives. This is a prayer that would be weird to a nonbeliever.
  4. NO MORE UNSPOKENS. I understand that people have been burned by church members in the past, if not ministers. Unspoken prayer requests are likely a symptom or result of these heartbreaking situations. That being said, if a church is healthy, if a church is doing what it is called to do via praying for one another in love and grace, then there should be no need for unspoken prayer requests. Yes, be wise and don’t air dirty laundry publicly before the congregation. But be in a community of faith at some level of the church where you can reveal your sin, your struggle, or your doubt in fullness.

Please keep your prayer sheets and prayer request lists. They are good, and they do good.

I pray that you and your congregation go deeper than that though. Don’t just pray in ways that nonbelievers would. Pray in ways that shows that we are the people of God, set apart by God, praying the Word of God.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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Randalling Faith

This Is Us continues to be one of my favorite shows. Randall, one of the main characters, struggles with anxiety, perfectionism, over-thinking, obsessive worry, and moments of freaking out. He is a smart dude, and a genuinely compassionate man. His consistent vice throughout the series however continues to be this life-consuming worry and over-thinking. To the point that in one episode, his wife asks him if he’s ‘randalling’. She turns his name into a verb to mean over-thinking and anxiously stressing out. It’s a humorous moment for sure. I have caught myself randalling in more than one area of my life throughout the years, but one consistent point of over-thinking is often my faith.

In his book, Perfect Sinners, Matt Fuller paints a picture of a young woman who does the same thing:

“Wendy” is obsessed with how well she’s living the Christian life. She assesses her obedience daily. She is always looking to repent of anything that doesn’t please the Lord. She daily confesses all she’s done wrong and seeks to express her love for God by obeying him. This is great! The downside is that she’s anxious and introspective. She seems happier reciting a confession than singing a hymn of praise. 

This is obviously an over the top caricature, but it is relatable. Maybe you’re like this woman. Maybe you are constantly looking at your life, evaluating your faith, evaluating your thoughts and words and actions to make sure they are honoring God. Introspection is your norm.

If this is the case, I feel you.

Since I was an early teen, much of my alone time has been spent thinking about my life, thinking about my faith. Wondering if I was doing enough, pleasing God with my life. In the early teen years, it was questioning if my faith was strong enough to make me right with God (more on that later). In college, it was wondering if I was worthy or deserving of the positions of leadership I had been granted in spiritual circles, despite my ongoing struggles with sin.

For those who struggle with randalling their faith, I totally believe it comes from sincere hearts. Hearts of men and women who have seen countless professing Christians who don’t seem to look at the fruit of their faith in any way and want to instead make sure their life is worthy of the gospel.

Here’s where randalling our faith is ridiculously stupid.

We make our faith in Jesus about US.

We turn our eyes off of Christ, the object of our faith, and instead navel-gaze and introspectively stare at ourselves, questioning the level of our faith. Been there, done that. Too many times to count.

Look at this wonderful passage with me.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2

What’s ironic is this is one of the passages that would normally precede much of my navel-gazing. In my desire to lay aside weight and sin, I would write, pray, and rack my brain trying to see if there was stuff to confess, change, or get rid of. Stupid Nathan, missing the point of this passage.

Yes, we are to put sin to death in our lives (Colossians 3:5-8), but that is not to consume our minds and vision to the point of missing the grace of Jesus. Just like you can be so focused on grace that you don’t put sin to death in your life, you can be so focused on putting sin to death that you forget grace that covers over your sin.

This passage pleads with us to run with endurance, looking to Jesus, who founded and will perfect our faith. He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, and Colossians 3 will remind us that we too are seated with Him there.

Here are a few quick ways to take our eyes off of ourselves, how to stop randalling our faith:

  1. Community. I’ll be honest, most of my randalling happened when I was alone in my room or not in a deep, intimate community of fellow Christians who I could share my difficulties, worries, and over-thinking tendencies with. For this type of Christ-follower to be caricatured in a book on our identity is proof that you’re not alone in this type of behavior. Don’t isolate yourself with your thoughts, share them in a gospel-centered community in order to be reminding of Jesus and the good news of the gospel.
  2. Sing. Way too many worship services were quasi-wasted by me in high school and college because I couldn’t sing the promises of God while simultaneously worrying if I’d earned the promises of God. In Psalm 51:15, we see David opening up his mouth in praise, not soon after being confronted by Nathan regarding his adultery and murder. SING. Even if you’re not a good singer, give God praise for the grace he has lavished upon you.
  3. Reflect. There is a healthy way to reflect if you’re like Wendy. Reflect on Christ. What he has done, the victory of the cross that frees you to confess and carry on. Don’t focus on sin that via confession is not held against you any longer.

Don’t be a Randall when it comes to your faith. Don’t freak out. Live in freedom. Don’t live in anxiety, live with joy in grace.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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