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

 

What Grace Is For?

I was home from Oklahoma Baptist for the summer and I decided to go to a get together with some of my high school friends. We ended up being at a house with a few dozen people. I had a great time interacting with a lot of old friends. As the night went on and the numbers dwindled, Cards Against Humanity was pulled out and offered as an activity (think adult style Apples to Apples). While I’m not a fan of this game, my conscience cannot be thrust upon others, so the fact it was brought out is not what bothered me.

What bothered me is when a young woman a few years older than me looked at me and said, “I know this game is horrible, but hey, that’s what grace is for right?” She laughed and went back into the other room to continue playing.

Again, my conscience is different than yours. Cards Against Humanity is not the devil. So that’s not what my blog is about.

What my blog is about how that statement, although it was in jest, seems to be the way many people treat grace, treat the good news of Jesus Christ.

Grace has been abused. There is an incredible tension in the Christian faith where God’s grace does not run out, but we are not called to trivialize it by accepting sin in our lives. Now I’ll be the first to say that I struggle with giving myself grace, it’s hard for me to accept it when I turn from actions, words, and thoughts that I know are not honoring to God and thus are sinful.

Not only do we sometimes abuse grace with a cavalier attitude towards our sin and the call to holiness, we also desire to be welcoming and encouraging to others and so we tell them their sin is a okay in the eyes of God. I’ve done it. I may not have explicitly told anyone, hey, your sinful lifestyle is pleasing to God, but rather by not confronting it I am giving them this idea.

This comes from a desire to love others well. But in actuality, it is loving others poorly.

There is a big portion of people who are following Jesus who have done away with the commands of God, the call to holiness that is explicit in Scripture, in order to love others like Jesus would. I’ve heard the dialogue. I’ve taken part in the conversations. I’ve felt the temptation to do the same. We want to make up for the ‘sins’ of our forefathers by responding to the sinner on our block with love. I’m all for that. But we must also lovingly speak truth. Jesus did not come to do away with the call to holiness, in fact He calls us to be like Him in perfection (Matthew 5:48).

The abuse of grace is dangerous and grieves the heart of God. The reason I know this is because the Bible speaks clearly against it. The other day I was reading through 2 John while also preparing a lesson for my youth on John 14, and interestingly enough both of these passages speak up against the abuse of grace. Look at these verses with me please.

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. – 2 John 6

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. – 2 John 9

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. – John 14:15

Loving Jesus is shown in following His commandments as taught in Scripture. To love others in the context of the church is to walk in the commandments of Jesus as taught in Scripture. Verse nine of 2 John is a hard one. If we stray from the teachings and commandments of Jesus as taught in the Scriptures, we are in fact straying from God Himself. This verse is not saying that if I struggle with sin I will lose Jesus. Rather it is saying that I don’t get to call the shots. I don’t get to decide what Jesus says. Kind of like one of my recent posts, Scripture tells us what Jesus’ heart is and thus what the character of God is (The Light Of Jesus, John 14:7).

There are well-meaning men and women, including myself, who at times abandon what Scripture says in order to love people the way we feel Jesus would. Our hearts are in the right place, but we are in danger of becoming what Jude verse four describes as ungodly people who abuse grace and forget that Jesus is their Master.

What I’ve discovered to be more and more true is that Biblical illiteracy is the reason many of us live in sin. It’s been hard for me to figure out how people (including myself at times) can love Jesus and also accept and celebrate sin in their lives and in the lives of others. Then I realized it’s in part because we don’t read Scripture as much, or as closely, as we should.

You can’t avoid these verses.

You may be a Greek theologian and scholar who can explain to me how these verses (which is a small sampling on the topic) don’t actually teach us to follow the commands of Jesus that we receive from His teachings and the teaching of the apostles. If you can, I don’t think I’d agree with you.

You can’t be more merciful than God, and yet we try to. We try to apologize to others on behalf of God, trivializing His commands and extending grace to areas of sin that we shouldn’t celebrate.

I am always looking for feedback and loving discussion, so comment below if you want to. You can also follow my blog below.

Love you guys.

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

Conditional Surrender

Have you ever read the book of Genesis?

All the way through?

Not just the stories that are retold in VeggieTales or on felt-boards in a Sunday School classroom, but every chapter?

Not just the stories of creation, the fall, Noah, Abraham, and Joseph.

Every story. Every narrative.

I’ve been reading through the book of Genesis this past week in my time with the Lord. I have been blown away with how crazy the narratives are, how grace saturates the lives of the people of God, even way back at the beginning of the story.

It’s easy to get sucked into the mindset that the world is worse than it’s ever been. I honestly don’t really believe that the more I read Scripture. Yes, the darkness of sin and wickedness and war and evil are prominent at times in our world and in our country. That being said, this darkness is nothing new. It may be unsettling and off-putting for those of us who grew up in relative bliss and innocence, but it has been present since the dawn of creation.

Last night I was reading Genesis 31-34. I was blown away by the continued sins of God’s people. Let me tell you a portion of Jacob’s story. Mind you, this is a bird’s eye view of what is going on.

In Genesis 28, Jacob is on the run. He has stolen the birthright of his older brother and his older brother wants to kill him. So he flees. He flees for the land of his mother’s family. On the way, he stops for the night and has a dream of a ladder reaching up to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. After that visual, the Lord appears to him in a dream and promises the following.

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. – Genesis 28:15

What a promise. God appears and delivers that grandiose promise. Yet look how Jacob responds.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God.” – Genesis 28:20-21

IF.

What the what.

God appears to Jacob and promises safety and security, provision and protection. Instead of clinging to this, Jacob says that IF God remains with him and and keeps him safe and gives him food and clothes to wear and gets him home to his family safely, THEN He will be his God.

God appears, Jacob doubts.

Now, if I was God, I would have bailed on Jacob straight up.

But God is perfect.

He is gracious.

Over the next few chapters, God will provide for Jacob in amazing ways. He provides him with grace despite Jacob taking multiple wives, (addressing polygamy in the Bible is a blog post for another time. My Cliff Notes opinion is that this is sinful of Jacob. God makes clear in Scripture that marriage is between one man and one woman.), children, and tons of animals. Jacob leaves and heads back to his home, where Esau (his brother who wanted to kill him) welcomes him back with open arms.

In Genesis 32, Jacob encounters God yet again. This time he wrestles with God. If you have any questions about that story, please ask an actual theologian or Old Testament scholar, because I have no idea.

Either way, Jacob makes an awe-inspired realization that he survived by God’s grace alone (Genesis 32:30).

You would think that after seeing God, after having God fulfill all of His promises to you, that you would lead your family in godliness. You would lead your family in worship. Your life was full of sin (deception, scheming, polygamy), and God gave grace. This should make you want to lead your family in following God.

Instead, the wheels fall off.

Genesis 34 is a vile chapter. Jacob’s daughter is raped violently. In retaliation, Jacob’s sons (remember, these are the brothers of Joseph. I realized this for the first time last night.) murder an entire village of people. In the following chapter, God appears to Jacob and Jacob tells his household to hide the foreign gods in their midst.

I took you on this whirlwind tour of this section of Genesis to highlight something.

I tend to look back at these narratives from Scripture and think what a bunch of morons.

Then the Spirit comes and kicks my butt.

I’m all over these passages.

I, like Jacob, see God do amazing things in my life and respond with conditional surrender. I’ll follow you Jesus if you do all these things in my life.

I, like Jacob, can fail to lead my family in the gospel outside of the occasional bold proclamation that Jesus is my Lord. But my home is full of foreign gods. The gods of this culture. The gods of this world. Good things become God things. Idolatrous behaviors and actions seeping into my home. Into my life.

Yes, children are responsible for their own actions. But what kind of life are we living at home in front of them? Are we wholly surrendered to Jesus, or do we just say we are on Sunday mornings? Are we walking them through Scripture, or are we letting them play Fortnite and watch Netflix all evening? My daily prayer is that my actions and habits encourage my family in the faith. I fall so stinking short of this day after day, but it is my hope.

I, like Jacob, have lived a life full of imperfection, brokenness, and sin. I have failed countless times, and yet God gives me greater grace. What a wonderful God that we serve.

You probably have a whole lot of Jacob in you too.

Thankfully we have a God full of grace.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

I appreciate any and all feedback, and you can follow my blog below.

You May Be Religious

Much has been said about the classic parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), to the point where I’m not looking to add to the discussion today. Rather, I wanted to share with you all a series of questions that I heard in a sermon I was listening to yesterday that challenged my heart and could be of use to all of us if we explored them individually.

The pastor’s name is Josh Kouri and in his treatment of the story, he zeroed in on the older son, who’s unwillingness to join the feast for his brother that had returned is an example of how we too can behave towards the grace and mercy of God. Kouri proclaimed that the older son struggled with religion rather than irreligion, and was in just as much danger of missing out on God’s love than the prodigal son who had left was.

Kouri posed the following four questions. These were his litmus test for whether or not you are living in grace or living in devotion to religion (in the bad sense of the term, the type of mind-driven rote behavior that God has disdain for).

Do I obey God to be loved by God?

Why do you follow the commands of God? Are you trying to earn his love, his affirmation, his support? We all need to pause and remember that God already loves us, that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross confirms that, and we have no fear of condemnation any longer. You can miss out on the grace of God if you get so caught up in following the commands of God in order to feel affirmed by God. It is out of the overflow of our gratitude for God’s saving work in our lives that our desire for holiness and obedience should come.

Is my identity in myself or in Jesus?

Many of us have rollercoaster spiritual lives. When we’re in God’s Word, we’re on top of the world. When sin wins the day in our lives, we feel like we’re underground. Since our commitment to holiness is more often than not sporadic, we have emotional lives that are thrown for a loop. The answer to this is remembering what Christ has done, and that our identity is SECURELY ROOTED in Him. On my best day, I’m deserving of hell. Yet because of Christ, on my worst day I’m awarded heaven.

Do I try and control God through my works?

You can’t manipulate God. But we sure do try sometimes. When trials hit we remind God of all the things we’ve done for Him. If our works are done in a way of putting God in our debt, then we misunderstand grace. God’s grace when comprehended leads to a desire for good works, but God cannot be coerced into blessing us because of our flippant faithfulness to Him.

Do I look to ‘more sinful’ people for righteousness via comparison?

This one is classic. Feeling bad about your life? Then look at your neighbor and see how much better you are. Righteousness via comparison is pathetic. We all fall short of God’s glory, so excusing sin in our lives because we think someone else’s sin is worse is hilariously ineffective in the long run.

If you’ve answered yes to any of these, which we all do in different ways at different times, then you may be religious.

Rest in God’s grace.

Repent of where you’ve tried to earn it.

Come in and enjoy the party of God’s love for you.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Pillows and Promises?

In the following blog post, I will be confronting the teachings that have become prevalent at a popular church. This blog post is not an indictment against the church or the people who attend it. Nor is this an unjust attack in what can become at times a heretic witch hunt in Christian circles. I have friends who have worked for this church, and I myself have listened to, read, and learned from this church. I am confronting what I believe to be untrue teaching, not condemning the man or church that brought this teaching about. 

————————————————————————————————————————

“I have the ability to take a common situation, put some purpose on it, and if I say it’s a gate, it will be a gate. I can look at something that seems so ordinary, a job that I hate can become the gate, if I point at it and anoint it.”

I came across a conglomeration of clips of pastor Steven Furtick’s message to his church earlier this month. This quote is from that church-produced synopsis of the message he preached. I never want to refute something that’s out of context, so I went to the church website and listened to the section of the message in question.

In his sermon, A Pillow and A Promise, Pastor Furtick takes the story of Jacob in Genesis 28 and makes it about claiming good things from God in the ordinary moments of life. In a manner that is actually done quite often, Furtick preached allegorically through this passage, taking aspects and objects of the story and drawing out convoluted parallels to modern life. This take on Biblical narratives saturates his sermons. This was one sermon among dozens about taking control of your life and being blessed (go see for yourself).

For instance, in Genesis 28:11 it says that Jacob came to a certain place. Furtick pauses after this line and tells the church that God can bless you anywhere. It doesn’t matter the place. Jacob was in a certain place and God blessed him. The members of the congregation were in a certain place and God could bless them. This is not necessarily incorrect belief, but rather an allegoirical reading of the text.

In Genesis 28:13 he pauses to say that God is always above the affairs of men, because the text says that God was above the stairway Jacob envisioned. In Genesis 28:14 he pauses to say that what God is about to do cannot be contained geographically or otherwise, since the text says the descendants of Jacob will go to the north, south, east, and west.

After Genesis 28:17, Furtick claims that since God didn’t tell Jacob it was the Gate of Heaven, rather Jacob named it, then we have the power to anoint ordinary places in order for them to become places of God’s blessing. The kicker may be Furtick’s comments on Genesis 28:18, where he proclaims that Jacob’s pillow (the rock) became a pillar, and we must sleep on the promises of God and again anoint ordinary things to receive God’s blessings.

He then flies ahead to Mark 4, the story in which Jesus sleeps in a boat with a storm all around. Furtick says that Jesus is asleep, like Jacob, because Jesus had a promise of God and could sleep in the midst of storms. The parallel to modern life is then obvious, we can rest in the midst of storms because we have promises of God.

To illustrate his last point, Furtick lays down with a pillow on stage to conclude his sermon.

All of this is allegorical teaching, and it becomes dangerous when it culminates in the above quote.

There’s 3 things I want to address.

  1. WE CAN’T MANIPULATE GOD. This sermon wasn’t bad. There were parts of it I wholeheartedly agreed with. That being said, it is simply not true that you can look at an ordinary thing in your life and call down God’s blessing on it. At one point in the sermon, Furtick proclaims that the purpose behind any situation in our lives can be determined by us. It is true that I can take a bad circumstance in my life and allow it to be used in a way that draws me closer to God and grows me spiritually. It is not true that I can determine the purpose behind things in my life.
  2. THE STORY OF JACOB IN GENESIS 28 IS ABOUT GOD NOT NAME IT AND CLAIM IT THEOLOGY. The pastors and preachers who lean towards prosperity are able to do gymnastics to make texts say what they need them to say (although any bias we have approaching the Bible can lead us to do the exact same thing). The story of Jacob in Genesis 28 is about God’s covenant faithfulness, and how God reminded Jacob of His grace and faithful love, while simultaneously reminding Jacob of His awe and grandeur. This grandeur and grace of God culminates in Christ.
  3. HIP THEOLOGY IS DANGEROUS. Like I said at the outset of this blog, I have read much and listened to much of Furtick. He’s not evil. What’s become increasingly evident to me however is his descent into hip theology. When he first hit the evangelical scene, he was solid and just a bit energetic. At this point in the game however his church has become a hotbed for entertainment-driven proclamation of God’s Word. He literally laid down during the sermon I’m addressing, and this is the least of his antics (just look up his water-gun related craziness). When a church becomes about being hip and cool, normally the call to come and die gets watered down (no pun intended). When churches strive to push back into the center of our country’s culture, striving for the good old days, they are likely leveraging the scandalous nature of the gospel message and the weight of what it means to follow Christ. So the message to Elevation Church from Furtick becomes “pray, claim and anoint, and be blessed” rather than “pray, serve, and prepare to suffer”. Our churches should strive to be engaged with the culture from the margins, not force ourselves back into the center.

I am concerned that so many people I know are listening to these type of messages and expecting to be blessed by their faith. Please read the Bible for yourself and see that suffering and difficulty are to be expected. God is not someone we can manipulate into blessing us. He loves and provides for us, but being a Christian is neither cool or comfortable.

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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Giveaways, Grub, Games, or Grace?

Don’t drink. Abstain from sex outside of marriage. Be a morally good person who passes out food to the poor every once in a while. Pray sometimes when you remember to, read your Bible occasionally, memorize a couple verses a year, and be a good friend.

If we are not careful, Christianity can become nothing more than this in our youth groups, and in our personal lives. We can absent-mindedly take the greatest story, the story of Scripture, and make it about being a morally upright person.

Thankfully this was never a temptation or even an option in my heart and life. When I was a teenager I had a deep fascination and draw to studying the Scriptures, for understanding what the Bible was saying in its entire story. This oftentimes became an obsession that became more about knowledge than intimacy with God, but the reality was I always seemed to understand there was more to Christianity than I was hearing on Wednesday nights in youth group.

That being said, I still struggled with what I was taking in on Wednesday nights. I remember countless weeks of emotional worship sets with the altar open. I also remember countless trips to that altar to draw attention to myself. I remember games and giveaways and lessons about dating well and not having sex or partying. In this season of my life, there were for sure men who took me deeper in my faith, men who proclaimed the gospel’s life-changing power, but they were rare in comparison to the weekly morality lesson I was used to hearing.

That style of youth ministry is likely close to completion.

“Due to the volumes of research suggesting that the moralistic, emotional, entertaining approach to youth ministry has had little to no efficacy in creating lasting followers of Jesus, many youth pastors have put the dry ice machine in the church attic and toned down the underage drinking speeches.” – Cameron Cole

As I now sit in a position of leadership over a group of youth, I am aware of my faults and struggles, but I am glad that I have the opportunity to show teenagers that there is more to Christianity than they think or may have been led to believe. I do my best from week to week to teach students the 3 things they need to know.

The Source Of Truth

The indoctrination of media is astounding to me. This is something that even as a 24 year old male I am needing to fight in my own life and walk with Jesus. We are fed information incessantly. iPhones aren’t evil but they inundate our existence with a barrage of news and opinion. The truth of life is found in the Word of God.
Here’s where I differ with people however. I think we need to be proclaiming the authority and inerrancy of Scripture in the context of the grand narrative of Scripture. Stories are inherently powerful. We learn more from stories than we do from facts and figures. I know this to be true because my students remember more from The Last Jedi then they do my latest Wednesday night sermon.

It is certainly true that we need to search and meditate upon the Scriptures to find the truth about our world and matters that are in the public eye. However, we should do so without turning the Bible into a book of mere facts and prescriptive life lessons. the The Bible is a grand narrative that needs to be read, studied, and taught as such.

A Correct View Of Self. 

We absolutely need to paint a picture of our sin. This is true and necessary for a true understanding of the gospel. That being said, I think we need to do a better job of starting in Genesis 1 with our students rather than Genesis 3.

When we start in Genesis 3, we approach the gospel with the brokenness and terrible nature of our hearts that need to be healed. Acceptance of the gospel brings this healing and redemption. This is good news. Here’s where things get dicey for me. It becomes a story of God making bad things good, and I think this limits the gospel message.

I am in 100% support of the truth that we are all naturally wicked and evil outside of Jesus. We are born with a sin nature. No one has to tell us how to sin. But when we start with Genesis 1, we can show our students that at their core, their deepest identity, they are made in the image of God, they are a son or daughter of God. Yes, they sin and are wicked. But deep down they are an image-bearer of the King and through belief in the gospel they can be set free to live out their true identity.

A Correct View Of God

This goes hand in hand with a correct view of God. I pray before every Sunday school session and Wednesday night sermon that we would all leave the church with a deeper understanding of who God is.

We concoct views and ideas about God that are simply not true. This is not often on purpose, but rather when we take a text from Scripture outside of the grand story. This is how we get a view of God as a malicious sociopath, an uninvolved clock-maker god, a grace-giving genie who doesn’t call us to holiness. We need to teach our students (and our adults, and ourselves for that matter) who God truly is. What His character is truly like.

Giveaways, games, and grub are not sinful things. But if we aren’t proclaiming the gospel of God’s grace every single time we meet with our students, we are wasting our time. I can attest that an entertainment-based version of ministry to youth rarely produces long-term disciples of Jesus.

Let us proclaim the grace of God in our youth buildings.

Our kids are learning geometry and biology, they can learn some theology. Don’t sell them short.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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God’s Pursuit In Prayer

The strain on my mind and heart feels near-constant sometimes as I struggle and yearn to maintain my relationship with the Lord. There are days, weeks, entire seasons of my life where it’s a battle, a struggle, a fight to pursue the spiritual disciplines that I know will yield spiritual growth in my life. It can be exhausting to feel the pressure of pursuing God in my daily life. That’s weird to type out, but it’s no less true. 395H

In the quiet moments before sleep, my mind runs a recap of my day, and I feel the internal self- scrutinizing begin, as I question how well I pursued the things of God.

I wake up with the sun, strain to pursue God in the midst of earthly things, and run through the same self-scrutiny at the end of the day.

In the midst of these seasons, I wrestle with feeling like this shouldn’t be the case. Jesus proclaims that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Yet in every church service and small group setting, I’d be reminded of the importance of my relationship with God. I’d be reminded of the priority it should hold in my life, the priority the pursuit of spiritual disciplines should hold in my personal life. This would push me right back into the weight of feeling responsible for maintaining my relationship with God.

Maybe you’ve experienced the same feelings and struggles.

Maybe you feel an immense pressure and weight to make sure you do everything you can to maintain your relationship with God.

What shatters this weight, what sets us free to have renewed joy and energy for our days, free from the shackles of feeling wholly responsible for our own spiritual growth, is when we remind ourselves that God is a pursuing God.

Consider the following verses.

There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44

See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. – Revelation 3:20

I know that I’ve stripped all three of these verses from their contextual passages, but it is widely attested and widely circulated in theological circles that all of these have implications regarding God’s pursuing grace. Most often, these verses are used in the context of salvation, of people coming to know the Lord. In this context, we see that God does the first pursuing in the onset of our relationship with Him. It is His grace that draws us to Him.

Look next at the words of Paul to the church at Galatia:

You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? – Galatians 3:1-3

Paul was combating in Galatia the doctrine of false teachers who were saying that newly converted Christians had to follow all of the Jewish laws and regulations. In essence, new believers were being told they had to adapt to Jewish culture, and become culturally Jewish in order to be right before God.

So Paul is calling the Galatian churches foolish for straying into this false doctrine. The point he is making in these verses is that God draws us to Himself when we first enter into a relationship with Him, and our continued growth in spiritual things is dependent upon His grace as well. We didn’t start our walk with Him via grace, only to be dependent upon our own flesh for the rest of our walk with Him.

HOW FREEING THIS IS.

I am incapable of pursuing God in my own strength, in my own sinful flesh. No one seeks God without God first drawing them closer to Himself.

I forget this truth, and God graciously reminds me of it time and time again. When God brings renewed vigor and understanding of this truth, it changes how I view prayer.

Prayer is easily my least practiced spiritual discipline. This is a hard admittance to make, but it is true. I can go hours in studying the Word and memorizing Scripture, but it takes all of my effort to get into my prayer closet and have personal times of prayer with the Lord. I too often begrudgingly meet my quota of prayer time because it feels like my way of maintaining the relationship.

Yet when I meditate upon the fact that God is the one pursuing me, drawing me into communion with Him, this changes prayer 100%. It is not burdensome any longer (I don’t say this as if prayer should ever be burdensome, this is merely just a confession). It is a precious and wonderful gift of God’s grace, as He draws me into deeper intimacy with Him!

Hallelujah!

What a wonderful gift! Any time I feel prompted to pray, that is God present grace. God is not distant, He is here, drawing me into communication with Him.

There is so much here, so much of God’s character that is worthy of praise.

He knows that I need Him. He knows that prayer changes my outlook, attitude, heart, mindset, and passion for Him.

Because He knows I need Him, He draws me, calls me, prompts me to pray.

Since no human heart naturally seeks God or can come to God without his drawing, no one even thinks about praying unless God is prompting or leading us to pray by his Holy Spirit… – Timothy Keller

Be encouraged.

Whenever you feel led to pray, study God’s Word, or worship with other believers, God’s grace is drawing you into deeper intimacy with Him.

In His Name,
Nathan Roach

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Faithful But Flawed

The opening chapter of the book of Judges outlines the conquest of Canaan by the people of God. The first verse draws our attention to the book that immediately precedes this one, the book of Joshua. In that book we see God’s commands to Joshua and to His people as a whole, that they are to rely on Him for strength and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Read about this at https://nathanpatrickroachblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/israels-total-failure/

However, at the onset of the book of Judges we see the people of God begin to stray from relying on Him and Him alone for victory and strength. Instead, compromise and half-hearted obedience saturate almost every story and circumstance. Let’s take a look at Judges 1-1-2-5Judges 1:1-11.

After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?” The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, “Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.” So the Simeonites went with them. – Judges 1:1-3

The Israelites are off to a pretty rocky start. We see in these opening verses their half-way obedience. We see quickly that the Israelites were both faithful and flawed. The tribes of Israel inquire of the Lord, asking who is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites. Good start. They know that God is ultimately the One who brings victory so they ask for His guidance. However, after He answers that it should be the tribe of Judah, they don’t fully submit to the Lord. Instead the tribe of Judah immediately asks the tribe of Simeon to help. Instead of relying on God for victory, they rely on military might. The people of God choose to follow conventional wisdom instead of relying on God by faith.

Faith in God’s promises means not always following the expected, rational path. – Timothy Keller

When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem,and he died there. – Judges 1:4-7

Despite their half-way obedience, we see that God is graciously with them (His judgment will come when their faithlessness is present in everything they do). The tribes of Judah and Simeon obtain victory. They chase Adoni-Bezek (the Lord of Bezek), catching him and mutilating him. It was a violent cultural practice in that day to cut off the toes and thumbs of prisoners so that they couldn’t fight or wield a sword ever again.

There are two camps in regards to what happens here. Some theologians believe that the Israelites acted rightly in their treatment of this king. They believe that God vindicated their actions. The other camp believes that the Israelites were in the wrong, as they acted in accord with the pagan practice of the day. This second camp also uses the fact that Adoni-Bezek didn’t use the name of Yawheh, but rather just ‘god’ when talking in verse seven as affirmation of their beliefs.Judges 1-1-2-5 (3)

I fall into this second camp. I believe the mutilation of this king was another example of the Israelites acting like the other nations around them, instead of being set apart. However, this is just an opinion.

This is not to say that God never repays the wicked for what they have done. Look for instance at Psalm 64.

Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear. . . But God shoots his arrow at them; they are wounded suddenly. They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them; all who see them will wag their heads. – Psalm 64:2-4, 7-8

So yes, there is tension between God’s judgment and His people’s part to play in that judgment. However, mutilation does not in my opinion fall in with God’s judgment in this situation.

God has always intended for His people to be unlike the other nations. God has always intended for His people to be an example of what God is like.

You may immediately be questioning why then that God led them into war, as that seems to be how the nations outside of the worship of God behave. We will see later in this chapter that this war is not war for war’s sake. It is an issue of idolatry and worship.

The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.  After that, Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). – Judges 1:8-11

These final verses that we’re looking at today show that God continued to provide for His people, allowing them to for the time being achieve victory over their enemies.

God gives more grace, even when His people are undeserving.

God gives more grace to you and me, even when we too live according to what’s rational and live with a half-hearted obedience to Him.

Yet may we learn from the mistakes of God’s people in Judges and choose to rely on God in full obedience and faith.

He is worthy of our all.

He is gracious even when we’re both faithful and flawed.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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