You’re Not Extraordinary

It was a bright, slightly chilly October morning. I was five years old, maybe six. My illustrious soccer career had just taken off, and my brothers in arms, the Troopers, had a game against some other aptly named squad of energetic but clumsy wannabe World Cup caliber players.

Although I grew to be not totally inept at soccer, at this young age I remember only comical results from our attempts as a team to secure the win out on the pitch.

I remember my good friend Lee blasting a shot from midfield, into our own goal.

I remember tripping over my own feet and getting trampled by what felt like a plethora of mean-spirited opponents (and teammates).

I remember playing goalie, giving up goal after goal until my coach decided to never put me in that position again.

I remember happily running and sliding into a big mud puddle after a game (although I don’t remember if this was to celebrate a win or distract my broken heart from a crushing defeat).

At the end of the season, I got a trophy.

For what, I don’t know.

I just know it’s likely in my parents’ garage or at the dump.

I grew up hearing all the time that I was destined for greatness. Well, not just me. Everyone.

We were all destined to do great things in a world that was anxiously awaiting our arrival in the work force.

I was told regularly that if I could believe it, I could achieve it.

Maybe not in those exact words, but that mantra was all over my childhood.

This seeped into my church experience.

By the time I got to Oklahoma Baptist University, I had been told a plethora of times that I could change the world for Christ.

This came from well-meaning men and women who wanted to inspire the next generation of Christ-followers to leverage their gifts, talents, money, time, and passions for the cause of Christ.

Yet when you boil it down, the message being proclaimed from the Raley Chapel stage was the same falsehood from my soccer participation trophy days, just with a spiritual tint to it.

Here’s what I see in Scripture.

Here’s what I teach.

You aren’t extraordinary.

I’m not.

You’re not.

Part of what I hope to address through any and all blogs I write is the way that we mishandle or misunderstand Scripture. I believe that a deep understanding of Scripture leads to a deep understanding of who God is and what this life is all about.

One way we mishandle Scripture is when we read it in light of participation trophies, like it’s a motivational speaker’s keys to success and a thriving life. With this mindset, the Bible becomes all about who we are. I see it in myself all the time. I can so easily go to Scripture to feel better about myself, focused entirely on what the Bible says about my self-worth, identity, and value.

While the Bible certainly does address our identities, this is not what it is primarily about in the slightest.

The Bible is first and foremost about the good news of Jesus Christ. From it we can come to understand the character and heart of God. From it we can understand that the Bible is about the people of God, not me individually.

Here’s an easy example of where we get this wrong though.

Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this thrown on someone’s letter jacket, someone’s graduation announcement, someone’s life update on Facebook. In those uses, this verse has become about the individual.

This verse isn’t about the individual believer.

It’s a promise that God would rescue His people from Babylonian captivity. I’m not sure what it has to do with lettering in a couple different sports or graduating college.

Now, this verse is extremely encouraging when we understand it in its communal context. God doesn’t leave His people in bondage. He rescues them. This points us forward to the cross of Christ, where the act of Jesus’ sacrificial death sets us free from all bondage and captivity to sin.

But this verse isn’t about you.

Do you see what I’m getting at? We’ve taken the Bible and turned it into a motivational, self-help book. We’ve taken the Bible and used it to tell the next generation that they are going to be amazing.

Now, I’m all for encouraging and lifting up the next generation. I literally get paid to do just that. But our encouragement shouldn’t be in the form of well-intended lies of grandeur. It should be in the form of gospel-centered proclamations of who Christ is, and what He expects of us.

I tell my students that they will have ordinary lives, loving God and loving their neighbors in ordinary ways. Anything more than that is great, but anything more than that is not to be expected.

Please hear my heart in all this. I’m not trying to accuse or condemn. I’m just a man who grew up hearing these things, and I’ve seen the toll it has taken on my peers who didn’t reach their dreams. I’ve seen the toll it has taken on my peers who were told they could do anything. I’ve seen the toll it has taken on me.

To the watching world, I may not be great. But it’s here in Vernon, TX that I can love God and love my neighbor. I can disciple other young men, I can open up my home on a Thursday night to some Junior High boys to get roasted in Super Smash Brothers and other games. I can be invested in an ordinary church, with ordinary men and women, in an ordinary town. All for the glory of an extraordinary God. Wherever God takes me next, I can continue imperfectly striving after Him in ordinary ways.

It’s time we start being okay with just being ordinary.

For our God is extraordinary, and that’s what matters.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Jesus Isn’t On Your Team

We like to make the claim that Jesus is on our team.

For some of us, He’s a conservative, good ol’ boy American white man who bled red, white, and blue in the Garden of Gethsemane and wants nothing more than to see the United States prosper through Republican ideals.

For some of us, He’s a liberal, social justice warrior who wants nothing to do with organized religion and if He was here would vote purely Democratic on all ballots and bills.

Jesus is on one of these teams we believe.

And we know for a fact that He wouldn’t be on the other team.

Let’s take politics out of it for a second.

For some of us, Jesus is against movies, cards, and playing dice. He is all about commands, three-piece suits on Sunday mornings, and obedience, obedience, obedience. His yoke is heavy and we better earn our standing before Him.

For some of us, Jesus is all about grace. Go ahead and indulge at times, there is forgiveness and freedom. Come as you are. Be broken. Be authentic. Don’t be like the fake hypocrites who fill organized churches.

We know for a fact that Jesus is on one of these teams.

And we know for a fact that He wouldn’t be on the other team.

Here’s the thing. I have grown tired and pained by the rhetoric that fills our conversations these days. I’ve read and heard member after member of Christ’s body publicly call Democratic politicians idiots, monkeys, and fools. I’ve read and heard member after member of Christ’s body publicly call Republican politicians bigots, racists, and fools.

I’ve read and heard people attack organized churches for being full of hypocritical people. I’ve read and heard people attack those who aren’t committed to church by calling them licentious fools.

I’ve heard it and I’ve said it. .

Here’s what I read in Scripture though.

Countless times and in countless ways, God operates in ways that we cannot fathom, in ways that don’t fit into our preconceived notions about what He would be about.

God isn’t American.

God isn’t Republican or Democratic.

God calls His people into obedience but also extends grace.

He doesn’t fit into my box.

Let me show you one such way.

What we’ve popularized in our American churches is that God fights for the US of A. We proudly wave our flags in our churches and make the audacious claim that God is entitled to give our nation victory. I’ve written in length in other posts that this way of thinking is incorrect.

God fights for His people, the church, not the nation of the United States of America. Not only that, there are actually countless times throughout Scripture that He doesn’t fight for His people.

I’ve been reading through 2 Kings to start the year. Today I came to chapter five. In 2 Kings 5 we read a story of God using Elijah to heal a man named Naaman. Pretty cool. But let’s look at who Naaman was.

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. – 2 Kings 5:1

Wait.

What?

Naaman was a man who led the army of one of Israel’s enemies, and the Scriptures say that the Lord used him to give victory to the enemies of Israel. Wow. That doesn’t fit into our box. Or at least it doesn’t fit into mine.

As we read the rest of the story, we will see God heal this enemy of His people. For a purpose.

Naaman ends up boldly proclaiming that there is no God in all the world except for the God of Israel (v. 15); and that he will make no sacrifices to any other false deity, but rather to God and God alone (v. 17).

Let’s modernize this.

Do you believe that God can save and heal and work through the enemies of God’s people?

Time and time again God’s grace extends to those we would never fathom could receive it. Time and time again in Scripture we see that God is greater and higher than our petty fights. Time and time again in Scripture we see that God fights for His purposes on behalf of His glory and for our good.

In Joshua 5, Joshua asks if God fights for His people or against them and God responds by saying, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come (v. 14).”

The Scriptures show us that God doesn’t play on our teams.

Yet our traditions have tricked us into believing He does.

Jesus didn’t wear a three-piece suit.

Jesus showed his love for the Father by obeying the Father.

Jesus’ heart was grieved by the wickedness of man.

Jesus fought for the rights of ALL people.

Jesus wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat.

Jesus wasn’t an American.

So, in 2019, as followers of Jesus, let’s strive to follow His lead (through His Word) as we love, confront sin, call to holiness, and lay our misinformed traditions down.

I look forward to the day where I worship around the throne of King Jesus, a middle-eastern man, with Iraqi and Iranian (maybe some from ISIS itself), German and Japanese believers. I look forward to the day when I worship around the throne of King Jesus with Democrats and Republicans alike, and I pray my actions and words until then give glory to the Lord and grace to those who hear them.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach