The “New” Normal

When I was at OBU, I never sat in a lecture entitled How To Pastor During A Pandemic.

There were no nuggets of wisdom or examples shared with how to guide and lead a church or a ministry in the midst of all these things.

If you’re reading this, you probably haven’t found in the table of contents in your Bible a book on how to make much of Jesus during a pandemic either.

We, humans with finite knowledge and wisdom, are in uncharted territory.

The last nine or ten months have been hard vocationally. Decisions have been made that people don’t like. Striving to help students and adults make much of Jesus in a way that is safe for our community has been an ongoing task.

Throughout the seeming chaos, the Lord has been teaching me truth after truth. What I want to share this afternoon is not political, it is not a list of different conspiracy theories. It is my desire not to be flippant either, as I know people who have been through great despair and grief as a result of this year’s events. My prayer is that this would be a source of peace that drives you to Scripture and prayer.

Here’s my point. A phrase that I have heard a thousand times this year is “this is the new normal”. I bristled against that. I didn’t want that to be so. I fought against that in my heart. I’ve grumbled and given my opinions and been anything but gentle. As I’ve looked at the history of the church and more importantly Scripture, I’ve been struck with the reality that what we’re going through right now truly is normal, and it’s nothing new.

Pandemics and political upheaval are nothing new. They may be new to us, but they’re not new.

Much like I did when I wrote about the election, I want to ramble through my thoughts about this year in bullet point format:

  • God is not surprised by what is taking place. This should be a source of great security and peace in the life of a Christian.
  • The Biblical narrative is full of kingdoms rising and falling, political intrigue and drama. We must not be shaken by the events of human kingdoms and powers. We must strive to pray for our leaders and serve our neighbors.
  • The Biblical narrative is full of pestilence and disease, moments when the people of God faced great trials in the form of sickness.
  • Our nation is built upon the idea of individual freedom. This is not inherently sinful, but it is prone to be. The Bible does not teach individualism. It teaches submission and community. It doesn’t teach freedom to do whatever I want to do, but rather freedom to lovingly, by God’s grace, submit to leaders at every level of life knowing they are put in place by a sovereign Father. Go read Romans 13.
  • The vitriol, hatred, and conflict we are seeing is the result of our individualism being brought in check. We want to call the shots in our own lives. We want to do what we think is best. How Christlike, how Kingdom-expanding, how beautiful it would be if we were to start making decisions in line with what others think is best. If this rubs me the wrong way, I’ve allowed life to be all about me.
  • When the government asks us to do something, we should submit. In matters of personal preference, we should be charitable and understanding. Colossians 3 says that we are to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient. Are our conversations about these matters of personal preference characterized by such fruits of God’s work in our lives?
  • What are you filling your mind with? I’m 100% prone to seek darkness. Give me the bad news. I want it. This is a matter of what we cherish. I’ve been reminded by the Lord to look for light. May we be brothers and sisters in Christ who are informed, but not obsessively preoccupied with the latest Covid news.
  • What we are experiencing, many of us, is the reality of our frailty, our coming death. We won’t live forever. We should live in light of this fact. Every day when we wake up, our prayer should be that God uses us to extend the Kingdom of God, that we would live out Romans 15:2, striving to encourage and build up those around us. Every single day is a gift of God’s sustaining grace at work in our lives (Psalm 4).
  • Community is important. Loneliness is real, it’s present, it’s a pandemic of its own in our communities. May we seek to love well those who have had to be isolated for the majority of this year. May we as the church be a conduit of God’s love to those in need.
  • Share Christ. Seriously. If all we share on our social media profiles and in our conversations is our election hot take, our conspiracy theory, our opinions on masks, our anger and outrage over such and such decision or result, we are acting like this country is our home. It’s not. We are refugees. Foreigners. Passing through. Yes, be aware and sensitive to the hurt that is being experienced. But if all we do is add to the noise, we are failing to bring the Kingdom of God to bear on our communities.
  • Pray, pray, pray. There are people I know that are exhausted. Hospital workers. Teachers. Administrators. Parents. Neighbors. Friends. Family members. Prayer is powerful and this year should drive us to our knees.
  • Lastly, please be patient with us pastors. We strive to make much of Jesus and to love His people well. We are trying to make decisions that boost the physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, and relational health of our people. Very rarely will you 100% agree, but I ask that you pray for us.

That was an ol’ rambling mess, but it was my thoughts about this year. Whatever 2021 may hold, may we remember that Jesus is on the throne. In the span of history, this is normal, and this isn’t new. May we rest in the unchanging God we worship.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Who Do You Love?

I want to be involved in church, but I don’t want to be around that person.

I want to serve on this team, but not if that person is in charge.

I want to engage with God’s Word, but not if that person is preaching.

I want a community of people to grow into Christlikeness with, but not if they’re older than me or younger than me or they go to private school or go to public school or vaccinate their kids or don’t vaccinate their kids. They better be just like me if they want to be in community with me.

Have you ever felt or thought any of these things?

If we’re real honest with ourselves, the answer would certainly be yes.

I definitely have. More often than I care to admit.

Here’s the deal though.

That doesn’t sound like love to me.

It just doesn’t.

To refuse to listen to preaching, or serve, or be in a small group because there’s someone you don’t like is about one of the least loving mindsets you and I can have.

Today I want us to be reminded of one of the more misunderstood passages in the New Testament. I’m talking about the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.

Let’s read part of it together.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

One of the most important steps of studying the Bible is understanding the context of what you’re reading.

Where have you heard this passage taught?

Most likely at a wedding. This is one of the classic wedding messages.

This isn’t sinful or heretical or wrong, but it does skew our view of what this passage is about.

If you open up your Bible, you’ll see by looking around the immediate context of this passage that this is not primarily about romantic love. It’s about congregational love.

This is a description of what love should look like in the church. The last time marriage was mentioned is in chapter seven. A lot has come up since then. Just previous to this chapter is a long discussion by Paul about the role of spiritual gifts and diversity in the body.

The body of Christ.

This text is not about romantic love, it’s about congregational love.

How we doing?

How are our churches doing at this?

How are you doing at this?

I recently read a quote that was pretty abrasive.

God is looking for mature men and women to carry on His work, and sometimes all he can find are little children who cannot even get along with each other. – Warren Wiersbe

Talk about some convicting stuff.

Do we exemplify mature or childish behavior?

I’ll tell you, there’s much room for improvement in my life when it comes to loving the body like Paul teaches us to here in this passage.

I’ll be honest, my heart breaks when I hear of petty disagreements, turf wars, drama, disunity, cliques, and all the like. My heart breaks when I’m culpable in such matters.

We are called to be patient and kind. To all people. We are called not to be jealous of others. We are called to not be prideful.

We are called to not be self-seeking. The church isn’t about what any of us can gain from it. It is about what we can give to it. If anyone had the right to be self-seeking, it was Jesus. The whole universe was his. But instead of taking from the people of God, he gave his life for the people of God. Are you trying to create your kingdom of sand in your church, or are you giving your life for it?

We are called to not be easily angered. Let’s be honest with ourselves. What is at the root of the issues that fire us up? Is it about the glory of God and health of his church, or is it about  our own egos or preferences?

We are called to not be a keeper of wrongs.

This does NOT mean that you are to be a welcome mat, treated poorly over and over.

This does mean that you shouldn’t hold a grudge, but instead you should forgive them. This isn’t an easy process, it doesn’t happen in an instant, but it is what you’re called to do.

Regardless of what someone in the church has done to you, it is a far cry to all you’ve done in your rebellion towards God, which was forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Reconciliation is the desired end result here.

Divisions and disunity, cliques and squabbles, pettiness and immaturity. These grieve the heart of God.

Love protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

Before you think that this is an idealistic view of the church, let me remind you what the church in Corinth was like. This was a messed up place. Yes, more messed up than the church you left or the church you’re in. There was incest that wasn’t being addressed, and the people were suing one another in the church. I’d say that’s some pretty grotesque and intense stuff.

Yet, Paul doesn’t give them a way out here.

He doubles down and tells them to love one another. To be the body.

I’ll be honest, few things break my heart more than seeing the people of God full of hate for each other. Sure, there are people you will get along with better than others. There will be some that you never have a deep relationship with. There will be some that are not easy to get along with.

You know what?

You’re still called to love them.

Let us all set an example for the world around us of a people who aren’t petty, who aren’t angry, who aren’t envious or self-seeking. Let us be different. Let us be loving.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

 

 

 

They Will Know Us By Our Hate?

I was not able to attend the SBC annual convention this year, since I’m now only TEN days away from getting married (whoa, that’s crazy) and decided I’d rather have time with my fiancee. Thankfully living in a world of technology, I was able to watch snippets of the convention after the fact online.

I know there are thousands of pastors and church leaders more qualified to speak into the situation, but I have decided to share a little bit of my heart in the wake of some things that I personally have seen.

Obviously, leading up to this year’s convention there has been a plethora of disheartening and discouraging circumstances regarding Paige Patterson and the ways that people were taking sides. I got somewhat involved in this conversation via a blog post and some private conversations with friends, but for the most part I stayed out of getting my opinions out there.

Despite all that took place leading up to the convention, all that I have heard about it and from it has been encouraging. I’ve read articles and tweets, watched videos and an incredibly powerful sermon from JD Greear. All that I’ve seen and read has been about the unity, the missionaries being sent out, and the way that the SBC is striving to make the gospel central again.

Then today Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States, came and spoke to the SBC. What was thought by many to be a speech where he would share his support of the SBC turned into a speech about the Trump administration’s success in political affairs, and how with the help of the SBC the Trump administration can make America great again.

This understandably was incredibly divisive. What the speech appeared to do was to solidify the false belief that to be Southern Baptist is to be Republican, or at least to be a Southern Baptist is to be someone who puts their hope in the United States government. Regardless of what you believe about Trump, whether or not you voted for him, I pray that all who claim allegiance to Christ would acknowledge that their hope according to Scripture should not be in the governments and leaders of man, but rather that their hope should be in their risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I believe that Scripture is clear that God appoints and dictates the leaders and governments of our world. They can be used by Him in great ways to strengthen the faith of His people through persecution or to bless His people with seasons of peace. That being said, salvation is not found in a government. Salvation is not found in a mortal man. It is true that God used kings in Scripture. That being said, these kings were residing over God’s people, a people that today is not in any one country, a people that today is under the ultimate authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that we as followers of Jesus pray for our leaders, but we are not to be wholly allegiant to them.

Oops, I got a little carried away there.

Anyway, this speech led to divide. It led to yet again a fractured room where some stood and applauded and some sat dejected. What has been the most disheartening however is the conversations that I have seen on social media. I have seen some of the most hateful and un-Christlike speech from people in both camps so to speak, both generations.

I have personally read outspoken believers on Twitter chastising, criticizing, condemning, and villianizing those who were not overly elated at Pence’s speech. I have seen people on both sides of the classic Calvinism debate launch attacks at each other. That is something I’ve been caught in the middle of, accused before of not reading Scripture correctly if I’m not reformed (I am a three-point Roachest by the way, I believe in Pizza, Jesus, and the OKC Thunder). I have seen language unbecoming of a Christ follower being launched at another image bearer of God. There has been crass, vulgar, sexual (you read that right) language being spewed.

It is disheartening to see so much hate. It is also disheartening to see so much unintentional tear-downs. While the older generation appears to be way more in your face regarding how they feel about you, the younger generation’s disrespect of the older generation is much more subtle. In a world of social media, everyone wants to be the clown, everyone wants to be the man or woman with the wit and jokes (me, 80% of the time). I have seen grown men display their cynicism and jadedness for all to see. It is immensely discouraging because people are watching. The clap-backs, digs, jokes and the like even between friends on social media does ostracize those who believe differently even when not directed at them.

May we be men and women who think long and hard about what we say on social media. May we be men and women who think long and hard about what we say face to face. May we be men and women who do not allow secondary and tertiary matters of doctrine to drive a wedge between us. May we not be men and women known for our hate, but rather for our love. This is my desperate plea and prayer.

No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear… let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. – Ephesians 4:29,31-32 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Where’s The Love?

I walked up to the youth room to get ready for youth group and came to notice that all the chairs were messed up for another week. Instead of having them in neat, well-manicured rows, they were in piles in the corner of the room. I frustratingly put them all back. This transpired for several weeks and my ire grew. I finally wrote a note and left it for whomever was using the room to please put everything back. I tried my best to be respectful in the letter, yet I realize that I was annoyed. What took place after that has been convicting and encouraging.

It’s a bummer sometimes that I notice after the fact how God gives me a perfect opportunity to immediately apply what I’ve been learning in Scripture to my life and I just don’t capitalize. This scenario was one such opportunity missed.

The last few weeks I’ve been attending an early morning Bible study here in town with a handful of men from the church I work at. We’ve been slowly, and I mean slowly, walking through Romans. Since I’m new to the study we’re already in Romans 12. We were dialoging just the other week about Romans 12:9-18.

Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible on your part, live at peace with everyone. 

Wowza. That is a tough passage to measure up to for sure. Too many of our churches are full of infighting, disrespect, gossip, and slander. Too often my heart is prone to those things as well. Yet as Christians we should be fighting for one another, not against one another. We should be striving to love, bless, rejoice with, weep with, honor, respect, and be hospitable towards all who are in our faith community.

Instead, what tends to happen? When relational friction occurs, we go to other members of the church to talk all about it (seeking counsel and gossiping are decidedly different things, and we all know the difference). When someone else gets their way instead of us in something church-related or life-related we may put up a facade but are we actually rejoicing with them? For those who have any type of leadership in the church (elders, pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, etc.), are we loving our people or are we trying to control them?

Like I said, this passage is a lot to live up to.

And in this situation, I didn’t.

Instead of striving to respect, honor, and love those who were using the youth room, I instead got all bent out of shape for having to spend an extra seven minutes getting ready on Wednesday nights. Instead of trying to figure out who was using the room and approaching them in kindness, I hid behind a note and their anonymity.

They responded (I still don’t even know who was using the room) with love, respect, and kindness above and beyond that which I was hoping for. The day following my note they put the chairs back, put the cords to the Tv on the right inputs for my youth slides, put up all the Bibles on the shelf, vacuumed, wiped down the counters, and cleaned some downstairs as well.

I was amazed that they would go to that extent in showing love to me and our youth.

That love shines bright in the darkness of our societal and cultural norms. What I mean by this is that we live in a culture saturated with disrespect, disdain, and division. I can hardly stand to get on social media anymore as it breaks my heart that there is so much hatred in our world. One cannot disagree with another anymore without attacking them, slandering them, making fun of them, clapping back at them, or generally mocking them. It’s heartbreaking. Kids disrespecting leaders, those leaders disrespecting kids. Neighbors and ‘friends’ engaged in hateful speech towards each other, getting extra points if they’re particularly witty in their comebacks. This very week I read a comment thread where even politicians did just this.

In a world of hate and division, loving and honoring and respecting each other will go a super long way. Especially in the local church. We of all people should be the brightest example of love, even in the midst of not seeing eye to eye on all things.

Let’s all be more like this anonymous group of people that have been cleaning the youth room for our students.

Let’s love.

In His Name,

Nate Roach