Not So Courageous

When I was a kid, I avoided anything that had the possibility of inflicting pain. When playing paintball I would hide in the back of the field to avoid getting shot.

I played six-man football growing up and did the same thing. I was not a talented football player so I spent most of my time on the sideline. They would ask for someone to fill a spot to give one of the starters a breather and I would often pretend like my ears didn’t work. When I was on the field, I wouldn’t seek out contact. I remember one game getting chewed out for not attempting to tackle the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage. Me and pain didn’t mix. Things that required courage didn’t come easy to me.

That’s fine in football. I may have missed out on the NFL, but oh well.

It’s a lot more serious when you’re an adult with adult responsibilities and adult consequences.

In college, I didn’t have the courage to pursue Jamie romantically while being six months away from moving to Phoenix. So I bounced back and forth between communicating with her a lot and ghosting her (to use a young and hip modern term). Thank God Almighty that He is greater than my commitment issues. Jame and I are married and now raising our daughter!

I still wrestle with courage. My job requires an inner strength that is often lacking in me. I have to have hard conversations, I regularly share a message about Christ that is becoming less and less popular, and I am put in positions where I’m stepping into messy and difficult situations.

As I’ve been praying for courage and thinking about courage, the Lord has reminded me that courage is not up to me. It’s not dependent upon me. Strength is given from the Spirit. It’s not something that I can manufacture by putting on a brave face and charging into the gap.

In his prayer for the church in Colossae, Paul says that he wants them to be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might (Colossians 1:11). Later on in his letter Paul says this: For this (the desire to make all mature in Christ) I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (Colossians 1:29).

That has leapt off the page for me recently. They are such simple statements but they contain a timeless truth. The church is strengthened and made powerful by God. It is His might, not their own, that is the source of such strength. For me to lead my family and my ministries well, I need the glorious might of God working through me. Every single day. Left on my own, I would cave. I would hide. I would do easy and comfortable things. But through the might of God above, I can do hard things.

As I look back on my life, I can see how that simple truth has been on display over and over again. When I worked for the North American Mission Board, I led a team of OBU students on trips to Portland two Summers in a row. These were ten week trips for me that always began with me sitting in the PDX airport alone, feeling immensely overwhelmed. The second Summer, I remember pulling out my journal and asking God if I could just go home. Being in charge of a team in a city that was so spiritually dark was too much for me I claimed. When I came to terms quickly with the reality that there was no way out, I asked God to give me the strength to move forward and lead my team well. He blessed me with courage and strength.

If you’re lacking strength and courage right now, I want to invite you to stop trying. Stop gritting your teeth and clinching your fists. Rest in the power that is in you as a follower of Jesus. Ask Him for strength and then trust Him to provide it.

As you ask God for strength, I would encourage you to ask your friends to pray for that in your life. Often our prayer requests are all circumstantial.

“Pray the covid test comes back negative. Pray the house gets sold. Pray for my kid to excel or get through a difficult circumstance.”

These aren’t inappropriate prayers (my prayer requests can be like this often), but man they’re shallow compared to these prayers we read in the Bible. Paul prays for the church to have strength in God. I quite often ask friends, youth volunteers, or family to pray that God would give me courage. I would encourage you to invite others to do the same for you. We’re called to carry one another’s burdens, to uplift one another for the sake of the church’s effectiveness and the glory of the God we worship.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

The Weeds Of Life

A few weeks ago, my dad had shoulder surgery. Since then, what he has been able to do has been pretty limited. That means all of his yard work projects have been put on hold.

You’re probably thinking “sweet, I wish I had an excuse not to do yard work,” right?

Well, he is probably thinking the same thing.

Me, on the other hand, not so much. You see, dad not being able to do yard work means his tasks and projects get delegated. To me. Not so fun now, huh?

If you know me, you probably know that yard work is absolutely not my thing and pulling weeds is one of my least favorite activities. But, pulling weeds is my delegated task. The first time my dad asked me to pull the weeds, I did it. I thought it would be a one time thing.

Funny thing about weeds: they never go away.

The next time, he asked me to pull weeds in the back corner of our property, behind the barn. After I begrudgingly put it off for almost two weeks, I finally went out to pull the weeds. And if I’m being honest, my heart was a little bitter at this point. Why did I need to pull weeds BEHIND the barn, where no one could see?

But, I started to realize that this sounds a lot like our walk with the Lord.

Holiness has been on my mind a lot recently.

We should all be pursuing holiness, but, in reality, most of us are not.

Most of us just want to look holy without actually doing the work of pursuing holiness.

I didn’t want to pull the weeds behind the barn, in the shadows, lurking in the back corners, because I thought they didn’t matter. But what about the weeds of life? Our deep-rooted sin that we don’t want to uncover? Those sinful habits we have that we are hoping no one will notice because we try to hide them in the dark corners of ourselves? Do those matter?

They should.

We cannot pursue only partial holiness.

As Christians, the Lord is our firm foundation, providing us good soil in which we can grow beautiful, healthy, and holy relationships, ministries, practices, habits, etc.

Imagine how many more godly relationships we could plant if our soil wasn’t filled with weeds. Imagine how we could serve His kingdom more fully if we would actively work to pull the weeds. I am just as guilty as the next person, putting off repentance and confession of my sins even more than I put off my task of pulling weeds.

If you know anything about weeds, you know that despite the hours you put into pulling them, trying to make your yard or garden look and be healthy, the weeds always come back. Pulling them is not a one time task. Pursuing holiness is not a one time effort. It is not a one time confession. It is not a one time act of repentance.

It is a continuous work, a continuous pursuit, a continuous fight against our deep rooted sin. It’s easy to convince ourselves that the sins no one sees don’t matter, that the weeds in the back corner don’t matter, that the things we do behind closed doors don’t matter. But holiness cannot exist only partially.

Holiness doesn’t stand in front of the barn so that it won’t see the weeds hiding in the back. Holiness does not wait outside the door so that we can hide our sinfulness on the other side. It is all or nothing. We must diligently pursue it, carefully examining our lives and what the Lord is teaching us, actively working to confess and repent of the weeds of our lives.

When I went out to pull the weeds, I didn’t understand why I had to pull the ones hiding in the back, but now I know that weeds corrupt good soil and that holiness cannot live where the weeds of our lives are rooted. 

– Mackenzie Knox

Running From A God You Know

The first chapter of the book of Jonah simultaneously shows us how prone we are to sin and running from God. Yet, it also shows us in stark clarity how gracious and great God is.

If you look at every time Jonah is mentioned in this first chapter (this is not an exhaustive list), you get a portrait of a despondent runaway who knows how big God is yet continues to run:

The word of the Lord came to him, telling him to go to Nineveh and preach the gospel (v. 1)
He fled to Tarshish instead, which if you look at a map of this time period, was in the completely opposite direction (v. 2)
In the midst of a huge storm that was the result of his sin, Jonah slept in the hull of the ship (v. 5)
Despite all the stupidity that he exemplified, he was able to articulate to the other sailors that God was both the maker of all land and all the seas (v. 9)
Jonah knew that he was in the wrong. He knew that he was clearly disobeying the orders of God, yet he was more willing to face death than to face Nineveh (v. 12)

All of this paints a picture of a man who knew God yet wanted nothing to do with God’s salvation of a people that he himself hated (see Jonah 4:2). It’s easy for me to look at this story and say wow what an idiot, if I had a word from the Lord to go share the gospel with a specific person, I would NEVER run from that, subconsciously or otherwise. Yet, if we’re super honest with ourselves, this happens more than we’d like to admit.

You see, God has called us to our community. The one we’re in right now. The one you’re in right now. It’s easy to push aside our calling to share the love of God with our community by just saying that command is for a later date.

What I mean by that is it’s easy to say “okay, once I graduate high school, then I’ll live missionally.” That leads into ‘after college’, ‘when I’m more rooted with a family and job that I enjoy’, ‘when I’m not as busy with my family and my job’. There is always an excuse to be like Jonah and not be faithful to what God has called us to.

If we’re being honest, it’s easy to know a whole lot about God, just like Jonah, and still not live into the mission that God has called us to.

So I am encouraged that we see the story of Jonah in Scripture. Maybe one reason it’s in the Bible is to encourage us that sometimes we’re stupid and yet God is still good, great, and gracious.

Let’s look at how God shows up in this first chapter of Jonah:

He desired Nineveh (a wicked place full of wicked people) to be saved (v.1)
He’s aware of the wicked rulers and nations in our midst, so don’t lose heart (v. 2)
He controls the seas, powerful enough to bring a storm that scared seasoned sailors (v. 4)
He made all the cosmos, as testified about by Jonah (v. 9)
He is faithful to those who call on His Name. The sailors, though pagans, were saved from the storm because they put their faith in the Lord (v. 14)
He appoints everything in our lives (this may be a stretch to say from this one verse, but it was definitely intimately involved in Jonah’s life since he brought a big fish to this exact spot at this exact time (v. 17)

I am encouraged by the greatness and graciousness of God on display in this chapter.

His greatness. God heard the cries of the nations rising up to Him regarding the vile wickedness of Nineveh. This is encouraging to note given the fact that we live in a world saturated with evil leaders and governments. God hears the cries of the oppressed, and as followers of Jesus we are called to uphold those who are being oppressed as well, regardless of political leanings (I know current issues are complicated, but let us not become complicit in wickedness, our devotion is first and foremost to our God and King not whatever country you are reading this from).

God also shows His greatness via the storm that He sends to grab Jonah’s attention. Now, side-note here. I don’t believe that every storm and trial in our lives is a result of disobedience to the commands of God in our lives. Life is not black and white like that. That being said, sometimes that is the case. Let us be mindful of where we have run from God’s call, and let us be repentant (something we don’t see Jonah do in this chapter)

His graciousness. The grace-giving nature of God is all over this text. First, He doesn’t obliterate Nineveh off the face of the earth. Instead he sends a prophet to warn them of His coming wrath if they do not repent. God is slow to anger, abounding in love. What a wonderful picture of His mercy, just below the surface of this text.

Secondly, God saves the sailors. Sure, they all came into this encounter with the storm with their own gods. That being said, they respond in what I believe to be reverent, right fear of God after Jonah proclaims who he serves (again, hilarious since he’s blatantly running from Him). In verse fourteen they offer up what I believe to be a heartfelt and legitimate prayer to God, and then in verse sixteen they put their complete faith in the Lord.

Lastly, God saves Jonah. Now there’s far more to the story of Jonah then just what we see in chapter one, but it is clear to see that God was kind, patient, and gracious to Jonah by appointing (v. 17, NASB) a big fish to swallow him up.

When I look at the story of Jonah, I see myself. When I look at the story of Jonah, I see a great and gracious God.

In His Name,

Nate Roach