Just Mercy

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

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

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

Man, my heart was in my throat.

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

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

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

Convicting much?

That definitely convicts me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus did not come decrying the sins of Roman culture.

He came decrying the sins of the religious like me.

Jesus did not come to avoid service.

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

Jesus did not come trying to change a culture.

Jesus came to save the world.

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

My community doesn’t need my religious outrage.

They just need mercy.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

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

Negative Nathan

When I consider upcoming events in my life, I am prone to think of the worst-case scenario (that’s plausible and possible at least). I tend to have a negative approach to new relationships, job circumstances, etc. If there’s even a chance of something bad happening, I’m there mentally.

Recently, my wife Jamie called me on it. She called me out on the way that I had a negative outlook on life. I don’t blame her for calling me out. There had been a lot of grumbling and complaining coming from me recently.

That being said, I’ve noticed that my heart and mind have not been full of that grumbling and complaining spirit as of late. And I think I know why. 

I’ve been saturating my brain with the Word and with prayer.

Last week, I talked with one of my best friends over the phone, and we prayed together (for each other, our families, our ministries, our futures). We were both in a disgruntled place and had allowed the world to get us down. That prayer time together lifted us up immediately. To the point where I said “You know, it’s almost like the Bible knows what it’s talking about when it tells us to go to the Lord in prayer”.

We grow up hearing about the spiritual disciplines, and that’s not horrible language, but it sounds rigid and harsh. Really, prayer, Word, silence and solitude, memorization, etc. are the way to commune with the giver of life!

Anyway, I share that because it’s hard for me to pursue certain disciplines that deeply impact my soul.

Studying Scripture is easy for me though (applying, not so much). I’ve been listening to Philippians nearly every day. I have subconsciously memorized parts of it. And I’ve seen it changing my life.

Here’s what I mean. Look at this passage.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:14-16

I’ve heard this and read this so many times the last month or two. And slowly, oh so slowly, I’m seeing it change my outlook and mindset.

Unfortunately, we live in an extremely cynical and critical age. And church culture is not immune to this. If the worship style isn’t right up our alley, we grumble. If a committee makes a decision we don’t like, we grumble. If a pastor teaches on something that steps on our toes, we grumble. If a ministry isn’t running at it’s total potential, we grumble. I’m saying we for a reason. I’ve been there.

This passage should destroy that critical and cynical spirit in our hearts.

Let’s look at the command first.

Do all things without grumbling and complaining. – Philippians 2:14 

Period.

There’s no caveat here.

Paul is commanding the church at Philippi to live in a way that is devoid of grumbling and complaining. That is all-encompassing.

Let’s look at the why and how.

WHY ARE WE COMMANDED TO LIVE A LIFE FREE OF GRUMBLING AND COMPLAINING?

The why immediately follows the command. When we live in a way that is not critical or complainy (is that a word?), we show ourselves to be distinct from the world around us. The culture around the Philippian church was crooked and twistedI don’t believe it’s a stretch to consider our culture to be similar.

I’ll tell you, if you were to cut that mentality, that mindset, out of your life, you would truly shine as (a light) in the worldThere is clearly something counter-cultural about this attitude and behavior.

We are to live this way to shine bright for Christ. We are to live this way to show ourselves to be ‘saints’ in the midst of a dark world.

So, yeah, maybe you agree that this is good reasoning.

But HOW are we able to do this?

HOW ARE WE ABLE TO LIVE A LIFE FREE OF GRUMBLING AND COMPLAINING?

The key is the context. If you back up to earlier in this chapter you see the passage of where Christ modeled perfect humility and others-first love (vv. 3-8).

We are able to do this by reflecting on and imitating the humility of Christ, and by pursuing unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

If I’m being honest with myself, 99% of the things that cause me to grumble and complain find their genesis in my own self-centeredness. I grumble because things aren’t my way. I complain and dispute because my life isn’t the center of others’ universes.

I can’t sit here and say that the reasons I complain are that God’s glory isn’t being pursued or that Jesus isn’t being followed as Lord. Nope, I complain about what doesn’t align with my version of the perfect cosmos.

Once we humble ourselves, we must strive to put the unity of the body of Christ above ourselves. Philippians has an inescapable message of joy being found in Christian unity. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve seen it to be true. When I view everyone, even those who may not be easy to be around (Toxic Relationships), as my brothers and sisters in Christ, joy is quick to follow.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO INSTEAD OF GRUMBLING AND COMPLAINING? 

  1. Hold Fast To The Word Of Life 

Verse sixteen teaches us to hold fast to the word of life. Pray. Get into God’s Word. Meditate on His promises. When I am actively and intentionally doing these things, my spirit of frustration and disunity disappears.

2. Do Something

God convicted me in Phoenix that if there was something I was complaining about that I was able to effectually impact, I needed to do my part (Love The Church).

Do something. If you are frustrated with someone, confront them. If you are nervous about the outcome of a future event, prepare. If a decision bothers you, go to the decision maker and have a gentle conversation. If a ministry needs help in your opinion, get involved. Do something. If a family member or friend is on your nerves, say something.

Before you grumble or complain, act.

Be the change.

3. Pray 

These aren’t necessarily in any particular order. But prayer is obviously the key response to that which causes us to grumble and complain. Take what you are frustrated about straight to the Lord. Let me tell you, this doesn’t typically fix circumstances (although our God is obviously big enough to do so), but it does change attitudes. Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi at the start of the letter is my favorite.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment – Philippians 1:9

He prays that their love will grow. He prays that their knowledge of God and discernment will grow. Pray the same things for yourself and others!

It’s easy to be critical.

But the way of Christ is service, action, humility, and prayer.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Toxic Relationships

I just need to work on myself right now. I need to care for myself. If you are ‘toxic’, or negative, then I’m done with ya. If you aren’t on board with helping me care for myself, then I’m done with ya. Forget the nay-sayers. I’m doing me. 

I have seen a ton of these types of posts on social media as of late. Like at least one each week.

Our culture, and unfortunately our Christian sub-culture, is all about individualism and living one’s best life. So the fact that these type of posts show up from Christians and non-Christians alike is not all that surprising.

But church, it is concerning.

As of late, I’ve been diving knee-deep into the book of Philippians. I try and listen to it every day in the car, read it a couple times a week, and memorize different portions of it. I want to know it inside and out, letting it permeate my mind and heart. One undeniable theme that runs throughout the entire book is the way that Jesus primarily, and Paul secondarily, model humble, others-first love.

Let’s start with the well-known passage about the descent of Christ, and then let’s look at how Paul modeled the same type of ‘stepping down’ love.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though, he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:3-7

You’ve likely heard this passage before.

You can see the steps down that Jesus takes (for more on this, read J-Curve by Paul Miller. I’m only halfway through it right now and it has blown up my view of walking with God. In a good way). Jesus forsook the throne for a season, stepping down into the likeness of men, loving the people of this world to the point of death (as the rest of this passage describes). Jesus was a man who put others before Himself.

However, Jesus is not the only example of this in the book of Philippians. Paul also lived an others-first life. Look at what I mean.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. – Philippians 1:7

But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, – Philippians 1:24-25

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. – Philippians 2:17

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Philippians 4:1

Honestly, this is just a sampling. But I figured I didn’t need to type out the entire book. Paul held the Philippians in his heart. We see all throughout the letter that they financially supported him and that they cared for him. This obviously is not the ‘toxic’ relationships many of us try to avoid. But it is still a reminder of our need to have affection for one another.

Paul wanted to be with Jesus. He desired to be with Him. But he knew that it was likely that he would stay on earth. Why? So that he could help them progress in the faith.

Paul was willing to be literally offered up for the people of this church.

Paul loved and longed for this church.

Jesus is the ultimate example of humility leading to selfless love. Paul followed suit.

So, what does this have to do with toxic relationships and working on ourselves?

Let me boil it down for us.

0. If You Are In An Abusive Relationship, Seek Help and Get Out 

Let me start by introducing this huge caveat. If you are in an abusive relationship, Scripture does not teach you to suck it up and take it. Seek help. Get out. Go to a friend or pastor.

With that very important truth out of the way, let’s look at how we should treat others.

1. If Someone Is ‘Toxic’, Love Them 

I put the word toxic in quotes here, because oftentimes we use hyperbole and exaggeration to state the simple fact that someone is hard for us to be around. Yes, a lot of times it’s deeper than that, but in my experience, we like to call people toxic or negative simply because their world doesn’t revolve around us. 

Love them! In Miller’s book, he talks about how we have taken a therapeutic view on most of our relationships. If we don’t feel loved or appreciated by others, or valued or served, we see the friendship as pointless, or in this case, ‘toxic’. But the call of Scripture, the call of Christ, is to love those who may make our lives more difficult.

2. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Serve Them 

One way to show love for someone is to serve them. Have you done that? Have you sought to serve the person you’re thinking of right now that is difficult for you to be around? Have you modeled the humility of Christ, stooping low, giving up your rights, to serve them? Guess what. Service and love may not result in restoration or perfect relationships. You may get nothing out of it. We’ve made relationships transactional, and that is not the way of Christ either. Serve.

3. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Pray For Them

Have you prayed for them? I’m not talking a “God help them” kind of flippant or sarcastic prayer. I’m talking an intentional, genuine, Christ-centered prayer for them. Again, the book of Philippians is not a model of dealing with ‘toxic’ people (although chapter four sheds light on some tension in the church), but what is cool is how Paul’s prayers for them are about gospel growth, not circumstantial changes (1:9-10 for instance). Do you pray for those ‘toxic’ people in your life?

4. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Confront Them

My biggest pet peeve in the church (or one of my biggest), is how we just drop people that we’re frustrated with or annoyed by. If someone bothers you, you drop them, because it’s too much work.

But.

Have you confronted them? I’m talking about a real honest talk where you tell them why there’s tension or frustration. Now, we don’t like to do this, because we’ve misunderstood the implications of the gospel in our communities. We think that to believe the gospel is to forgive to the point of not acknowledging wrongdoing.

It’s not pleasant to confront. But brother or sister, if you have dropped a friendship or relationship without telling the other party why the distance occurred, you are not absolved of guilt (so to speak). To do your part is to go to the source and confront.

5. If All Else Fails, Love Them Some More 

And if all else fails, keep loving, keep engaging, keep relating. In Miller’s book, he quasi-addresses the whole “Don’t be a welcome mat for people” mentality. He says that life itself is a fellowship in the sufferings of Christ. To be a follower of God is to intentionally take on difficult relationships. To be a follower of God is to focus on others, not ‘working on myself right now’.

Church, let us be men and women who live for others. Not ourselves.

That has been my anthem as of late. I’m a son, saint, and slave of Christ. I’m only still here to live for others. Yes, I’m going to enjoy my life and do things that I enjoy (like going to play golf once a week). But I’m not called to ‘work on myself’. I’m called to engage all people, even the ‘toxic’ ones, for the sake of Christ.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

The Vice of Ambition

Make a name for yourself.

This is the driving force behind so many of our lives. It’s been the driving force behind mine.

We are told to strive to do great things, to achieve great things, to become great in the eyes of others.

We hear this in the world, and we hear this in our churches.

In other words, we are encouraged to have ambition.

The dictionary definition of ambition is a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.

I have grown up believing at times that I would be great, that I would make a name for myself if I try hard enough and never give up. Occasionally, people would say this type of thing to me, encouraging me to be the best I can be. They fanned into flame the ambition in my heart. Their intentions were pure and heartfelt, I’m not implying anything different.

That being said, ambition, namely selfish ambition, has negatively affected my life in a whole lot of ways.

Real talk.

I had to delete Twitter and Instagram earlier in 2019 because they became a place of great envy and jealousy over how many likes I was receiving. This is as preposterously stupid as it sounds, and so I got rid of the issue (side-note, purging social media has been the most freeing thing).

My ambition lead to jealousy and envy.

My ambition also leads to pride, as I reflect upon how great I am.

My ambition leads to discouragement when the days are long and hard, and my easy life of grand success seems far out of reach.

My ambition leads to selfishness, as I prioritize the things that build up my dreams.

My ambition is the root of countless sin struggles that I fight.

All of this to say, why is it that we have made ambition something to be prized in our church culture? Did you know that it was only recently that we made it something of value? In fact, according to church history, ambition was a vice.

What I am not talking about is the drive and desire to work, and to work hard. God wired that into our beings. The pre-fall creation was a place where Adam and Eve worked.

Instead, I am talking about a desire to make a name for ourselves. The truth is, it’s incredibly hard to have ambition without it becoming a place in our hearts where we want glory instead of giving said glory to the Lord. That’s why the church considered it a dangerous vice for so long.

In his book Upside Down Spirituality, Chad Bird talks about ambition in this way:

Ambition, in other words, is self-seeking. It is not directed outwardly, in service to others, but inwardly, in service to ourselves. It’s the passion to rise above others for the sake of our egos, to accomplish goals so as to polish our image, to view ourselves as more important than others, to crave the limelight, to be the star of the show. The ambitious person will work long hours, sacrifice much, and strive for excellence, all so that he or she will appear extraordinary in the eyes of others.

That’s why ambition is dangerous. Look at the motivations that Bird unpacks. I see myself in all of them. My ambition is most often all about me: my ego, my image, my value, my limelight. It’s why I used to post photos of my burgeoning youth group. It’s why I used social media in the first place. My drive to achieve is so that people remember my name, not God’s.

How wicked is that?

Bird goes on to say this:

We don’t want our narcissistic labor to be sin; we want it to be righteousness. So we rename it ambition. A socially acceptable, even socially applaudable, quality.

Ouch.

Now again, what he is condemning is selfish ambition. He is condemning how prone we are to renaming our pride ambition. Not all of us struggle with this. Some of us are able to chase after big dreams all for God’s glory. I’m not there yet. God is still bringing about sanctification in that part of my heart. I still want people to know me, instead of Jesus.

If however this post has put up a mirror before you and you now clearly see your sinful ambitions, let me encourage you with the gospel.

You and I fall short.

Woefully short.

Some of us will battle our selfish ambition for the rest of our days.

Yet we worship a Savior who was the antithesis of selfishly ambitious. He came in humility. He came willing to die. He wasn’t lazy or lethargic. Rather, He pursued the inauguration of the Kingdom of God with all that He had. To the point of death.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 

He made himself nothing on our behalf.

It makes me ask myself if I’m willing to make myself nothing on His behalf.

Am I okay if no one knows my name?

Am I okay if I’m seen as an average man in an average town doing average things for the glory of my God?

Do some soul searching.

Ask yourself why you have the dreams and desires that you have.

Repent of sinful motivations and find rest in the grace of our Savior.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

 

 

 

The Overflow Of The Heart

Last week I was able to listen to a seasoned pastor speak about various topics that were all related to his experience of being in full-time, paid ministry. He stepped down from his lead pastoral role, giving that position to his son, and then submitted himself to his own son’s authority by taking the associate pastor role at that very same church.

This man bled humility.

When he spoke, it reminded me of this verse in Luke:

A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. – Luke 6:45 (CSB)

When this man spoke, he wasn’t speaking about ministry or following Jesus or the various things of life from a surface level understanding of these things. Rather, he just humbly shared his experience. It wasn’t something I’ve personally seen very often from a man of his age.

Instead of allowing bitterness or hardness or pride to take over in his 60s, he submitted his life to God once more by submitting himself to his own son. Decades of experience could lead a man to end up with an overblown view of oneself. Instead, he demonstrated the “good stored up in his heart.”

Then he shared something that I need to take to heart. And I bet you need to take to heart, too.

He said the first thing you need to do in order to do well in life and in ministry is to maintain consistent, daily devotional times.

That’s what filled this man’s heart: time spent with Jesus in the Word and in prayer. After decades of spending time with Jesus, you could easily tell what his heart was filled with–Jesus. He spoke out of the “overflow of his heart.”

I feel like the only time I can speak words of life and encouragement are when I spend time with Jesus. Maybe my heart stores much more evil than I thought. Maybe I need a lot more good to fill my heart than I’d expect from my own self-examination.

I speak a lot of evil. I want to speak a lot of good.

I need more good stored up in my heart.

I need more time with Jesus.

Pray for me.

– Matt Welborn

 

Nothing To Brag About

Do you brag a lot?

I do.

Do you brag about your accomplishments, your accolades, your abilities?

I do.

Going through my high school and college years at the same time that social media exploded, I lived in a time where bragging was normal, even encouraged.

Only recently, through conversations with men who care about me, and through time in God’s Word, I’ve learned just how foolish that is.

But it sure is hard not to sometimes.

It’s how many of us are wired. Our wicked hearts want glory. Our wicked hearts want praise.

A couple moments last year illustrated just how hungry for human praise I am. One happened over the summer.

Our student ministry had home groups over the summer in lieu of normal youth group. This was done to build community and camaraderie amongst all of our students. It was a great time.

Well, Jamie and I live in a duplex (Until March 9th! We just bought a house!), and so we outgrew that space. We had to start having our Sunday night home group at the church instead of in our home.

This was purely the work of God.

But I wanted to let people know about the 0% of it that was my doing.

So I snapped a couple photos and then posted them on our Facebook with a caption of “Look what God is doing! We outgrew our space! #Blessed” or something like that. The classic humble brag. Drawing attention to growth in our youth group. I’m not saying that my heart or intentions were to manipulate or to draw attention to myself. But if I’m being honest, that was probably part of it.

We all do it.

We all pride ourselves on our abilities, our accomplishments, our accolades.

Last week, I was reading in Jeremiah. And a passage leaped off the page and punched me in the gut. Metaphorically speaking.

This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,”

declares the Lord.

– Jeremiah 9:23-24

Wow. What a powerful word.

The wise aren’t to boast in their wisdom. The rich aren’t to boast in their riches. The strong aren’t to boast in their strength.

The only thing the people of God have to boast in?

That they have the understanding (from God) to know God. The God who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness (all of which He delights in). That’s it! That’s the only thing they have to boast in.

Man, I wish we read the prophets more. I understand why most people don’t. There are some hard indictments against the people of God in these passages. Some tough love. Some parts of Scripture that we want to avoid. We want the God who loves, but we don’t want the love of God that leads to rebuke. We want to feel happy any time we read Scripture, we don’t want to be corrected.

When I put my social media posts up against this passage, I am quickly shown just how prone to prideful boasting I am.

Now, I’m not saying that we can never show other people our accomplishments. It’s how we show them. It’s how we present them. It’s why we’re presenting them.

What’s our motivation?

For instance, a great young man I’ve been meeting and hanging out with over the last year was in a stock show in San Antonio this weekend. Now, although I live in a country town, I know literally nothing about stock shows. So, I’m not sure what it all means but he won a big award this weekend. His mom shared about it on Facebook, praising God, praising her son, and praising the tribe that was in his corner throughout this whole process. There was nothing wrong with that in my mind at all.

However, recently, I preached on a Sunday morning at my church. I quickly went to Facebook and posted about it, hoping to rake in heart emojis and praise for my preaching abilities.

My motivation was askew.

My motivation was to obtain glory and praise for myself, not the Lord.

So, what about you?

What’s your motivation?

What is your motivation for the things you share on Facebook? What is the motivation for the things you bring up in conversation? If you’re pointing to yourself a lot, like I do, you’re likely operating in a place of pride that the Bible confronts here in this passage.

However, if you’re striving to point to others and to point to Jesus, then you’re in the right place.

The only thing we have in life to brag about is the fact that God allows us to have a relationship with Him by His grace.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

Fading Like Grass

One day, I will be called home by God. One day, my physical presence on earth will fade away. I’m not going to live forever. I’m mortal. I’m going to die.

To many, this is probably not encouraging or joyful news. For many, this is just another cause of depression or discouragement. Staring our own mortality in the face can be disheartening. But if we grasp a Biblical view of ourselves and of God, the fact that we are minute, mortal creatures can be a freeing experience.

When I lived in Phoenix, I lived with a brother in Christ who was particularly in tune with his mortality. We could be eating dinner, laughing up a storm, and then the topic of our mortality would broached. While this didn’t always make me happy and pleased, it was inherently Biblical. My friend didn’t broach this subject regularly in order to stifle our joy, rather, it was done to remind us of just how precious these moments of togetherness were.

Today, I was laying in my bed digging into a Bible study on James that I recently started. While doing so, I made a connection in Scripture that I can honestly say I’d never noticed before. Look with me at James 1:9-11.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. – James 1:9-11

In this verse, the man of wealth is compared to grass and flowers that quickly fade away when the scorching heat comes upon them. I looked at cross-references and came across Isaiah 40:7-8, verses that I’m familiar with but had never seen the connection to James 1 before.

The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. – Isaiah 40:7-8

Notice that proclamation of the Scriptures. Surely the people are grass. You likely won’t hear that at a commencement address or from a coach speaking to his team. Surprisingly, I rarely hear this type of imagery from the pulpit either, even though it is a true statement.

Growing up, when I would hear this passage, I would normally just hear verse eight. “The grass withers. . . . but the word of our God will stand forever.” To me, it was nothing more than a bold proclamation that God, His Word, and His promises would stand the test of time, even after the earth as we know it has gone away. It was only about the eternal nature of God and of His Word. I had never noticed the pretty confronting implications of the previous verse.

I’m grass.

You’re grass.

We’re all grass.

The sun scorches us, and we die.

Contrasted to an eternal God, we are nothing.

Again, this can lead to a despondent, disheartened, discouraged mindset on life, on the beauties of life and the gifts that God has so graciously blessed each of us with. But there’s another, more valid response. There’s the response of humility and trust in God that leads to freedom.

The passage from James is wedged in a passage explaining that you and I are going to face a heck of a lot of stuff in our lives. We are going to face trials of ‘various kinds’ (v. 2). Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ will face persecution, others of us will face life in a sin-affected broken cosmos. All of us face something. And when these things come, they can shake our confidence. They can leave us reeling, grasping for answers.

When our world shakes, many of us make the mistake of righting ourselves with a facade of control. We pretend that there’s nothing to worry about because we’re on top of things. We rely on our savings account, our job stability, our life experience.

James is giving a word of warning to those who would do just that. He reminds his readers that the rich man will ultimately pass away one day, even while pursuing that which he strives to obtain.

We must humbly come before the Lord, remembering our place before Him. When tragedy and trials strike in our lives, we must remember our God is both wise and generous with said wisdom (v. 5). This humility, this humble view of ourselves, can lead us to the wisdom that God has for us, the wisdom to live our lives well, even in trials.

Consider the following quote from Greg Gilbert’s study on James.

“Our physical lives do not last forever. Just as the grass withers and the flower fades, so we are here one moment and gone the next. That reality powerfully underlines James’s main point – that our faith should be not in our own wavering, unstable selves, but in the unchanging and immortal God.”

You and I are but grass.

Have you ever seen grass? Of course, you have. But have you ever seen how easy it sways, or how easily North Texas heat obliterates it in the summer? That’s us. In the passages we looked at today, we see this truth clearly (James 1:10, ‘like a flower of the grass’ and Isaiah 40:7, ‘surely men are grass’).

Friends,this is the most freeing truth on earth.

I’m not going to be around much longer. I don’t have to worry about legacy, about my kingdom of sand. I can trust in the One who is wise and generous with His wisdom. I can seek to love others and persevere in trials.

I’m not going to be great. I’m not going to be a world-changer. I don’t have to feel the pressure to achieve great things.

I am grass.

Guess what? You are too.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach