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

 

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