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

Judah, Not Joseph

I enjoy the Christmas season. I enjoy the lights, the music, the presents, my family and friends. I enjoy the hope and joy that saturate the season.

What gets me most excited and stoked for Christmas however is when I dig into Scripture and think about how the arrival of Jesus is the answer to so many promises that God made to His people throughout the Bible. I know I have written about that at length in several other blogs throughout December, so let me today focus us in on an aspect of the Christmas story you may have missed. I know that I missed it until this year.

God uses the line of Judah, not Joseph.

Alright, maybe you don’t see that as mind-blowing. Well let me show you how that above statement is one of the greatest acts of God’s grace I see in the Scriptures.

We have to start in the genealogy of Jesus, and then we will go back in time to the book of Genesis.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, – Matthew 1:2-3

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the first chapter of Matthew and just glossed over this powder keg of God’s mercy. Abraham has Isaac, Isaac has Jacob, and Jacob has twelve sons. The most prominent of these sons is Joseph. Ever heard of him? In Genesis 37, 39-50 we read all about him. He was an incredible man of faith who trusted in the sovereign plan of God in his life, despite being sold into slavery, accused of sexual sins, and forgotten in a jail. He rose to great fame in Egypt, being used by God to save the people of Egypt and the people of God from starvation during a famine. Although he was not a perfect man (just a reminder that the figures in the OT are not primarily moral examples to follow), he was a great one.

You would think that God would choose to use his line to one day bring the Savior. I mean, if it was up to me, that’s who I choose. I choose the man who followed me faithfully, not one of the brothers who sold their own brother into slavery. That’s not what God does however.

What God does is far more merciful, gracious, and beautiful than what I would do.

God uses Judah.

If you noticed before, I said Joseph’s story is in Genesis 37, 39-50. That’s because Genesis 38 is all about Judah. This seems confusing at first glance, as it detracts from the story that is happening with Joseph in Egypt. In Genesis 38, we are going to see the egregious sin of Judah. This is not PG-rated, and there’s no wonder we never talk about it in church (although we should).

Instead of typing out the entire chapter, let me give you the highlights of this man’s sins, and feel free to take a glance at this chapter yourself. It is dim and depressing, but there is light coming.

First off, we see real quick that Judah has left the fellowship of his brothers (v. 1). This isn’t explicitly sinful, but it sure sets him off in a dangerous direction, as he ends up living with Canaanites instead of the people of God (v. 2). Fast-forward a bit, and he has a daughter-in-law named Tamar. When Tamar’s husband passes away, we get an awkward fly on the wall account of Judah’s sons’ sins against her. After God kills Onan because of his wicked actions, Judah sends away Tamar (v. 11), essentially abandoning her in her time of financial and relational need.

Tamar concocts a plan to get back into the family, to have her right to a husband out of Judah’s family given to her. She plans to make herself appear as a prostitute and impregnate her own father-in-law. Wowza.

Not the typical Christmas story, no way.

Pause and think. Tamar had some understanding that this plan would work. That tells you a little bit about Judah. A prostitute would be a desire of his. This likely wasn’t the first time he had a sexual escapade with an unknown prostitute.

The plan works. Judah blatantly gives in to sexual sin, although he does not know that it’s with his own daughter-in-law.

Tamar would eventually give birth to two sons, twins, named Perez and Zerah. The same Perez that we saw back in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.

Let that sink in.

God would choose to send His Son through the line of Judah the sexually broken and vile (we can cut him a little slack however, since Judah was one of the more upstanding of the lot in their dealings with Joseph at the close of the book), rather than through the line of Joseph who faithfully followed God even in the midst of intense suffering.

Let that sink in y’all!

Matthew 1 and Genesis 38 are screaming at us the exact same thing!

It’s not about us!

It’s not about how good we are (or how good we think we are)!

God gives His amazing grace and mercy to the most unlikely of people!

This Christmas, do you feel unworthy of the gift of God’s grace that covers every single one of your sins? Do you feel unworthy of the fact that God has chosen to richly bless you this Christmas not just with physical and familial things but also spiritual things that we cannot even fathom?

If so, look to Judah.

See his sins, see his unworthiness.

And then look to the Lion of Judah.

Look to the one who took away ALL of your sins and who now resides with God the Father on high.

This Christmas, I’m most excited about celebrating the fact that God has poured out his unbelievable grace on a sinner like me.

That’s what Christmas is ultimately all about.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

The Present That Never Fades

Advent is a wonderful way to start the year.

In the liturgical church calendar, Advent begins the year. While I wasn’t raised following this church calendar, I’ve started to embrace it due to its richness and sublimity. It makes me stop and consider the history of our Christian faith, and feel a depth that’s lacking in general life.

It’s counter-cultural too. Instead of our year starting in January with “resolutions” to be the best we’ve ever been, our year starts with a realization that we can’t ever be better on our own. Our world is corrupt, fallen, sinful. Pain, sickness, and suffering abounds. Something’s not right.

We’re not ok.

But our year begins with the fulfillment of a promise. A promise that a savior would come and deliver us from sin and pain and death. A promise that a king would come to set things right. A promise that a gift would be given that keeps giving, giving, and giving.

Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises and more.

When we start our year off with a baby Jesus, we’re starting the year off with a fulfilled promise. We’re starting our year off with songs of joy. We’re starting our year off with hope and peace. These are wonderful ways to begin the year, I’d say.

We start the year with deep hurt, deep desires unfulfilled. But we start the year with a child who was born to meet our deep hurt and to fulfill our deepest desires for life, joy, peace, and love. Jesus is this child. And the church calendar follows his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It’s a wonderful way to live your ordinary life in an extraordinary way.

It also reminds us that Jesus lived an ordinary life for probably 30 years too. He worked with his hands as likely a carpenter. He didn’t have a lot of money. His family was pretty poor. He didn’t have running water. He didn’t even live in Jerusalem! That’s God’s own city! It’s where God’s presence was (more or less) since King David and King Solomon. But when Jesus, fully God and fully man, walked about on earth, he wasn’t even living in his own city. Why?

Because Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Because Jesus came to those who were far from God. Those who were literally, physically far from God — Gentiles, non-Jews, people like you and me.

Jesus offered a free gift through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. This gift is the beginning of our new life (for those who believe in Jesus). This gift starts our lives. This gift starts our years, year after year. It’s the beginning of something new and great.

Paul, in Romans, puts it this way:

And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. – Romans 5:16

I had to read this about fifty times before I had a glimmer of what he’s saying here. And pardon me for missing something. I’m sure I did.

But what I gathered here is so amazing.

The free gift from Jesus “following many trespasses brought justification.” It’s easy to get lost in all this language, to be honest. But right before this, Paul says, “the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin.” What’s that mean? It means the free gift is not exactly like how Adam’s one sin led to a fallen world. When we sin, even one time, we are condemned. Condemned means we’re guilty. So through one sin, we’re guilty.

One wrong thought or action in this life causes you to be guilty. That’s it.

We need this guilt removed somehow. But we can’t remove it ourselves through good works. John Stott explains why:

“So what can be done? If we are ever to be forgiven we must repay what we owe. Yet we are incapable of doing this, either for ourselves or for other people. Our present obedience and good works cannot make satisfaction for our sin, since these are required of us anyway. So we cannot save ourselves.” (emphasis mine)

We need a gift. Now, recall that one wrong thought or action in this life causes us to be guilty. If you’re anything like me, though, you’ve done a bit more wrong than just one. Let’s just say I sin once a day. Since being born, that’s over 9,000 days. That’s over 9,000 sins. Woh. First of all, that’s more than I expected for some reason. Second of all, that’s only with one sin a day!

Two sins a day makes 18,000. Three makes over 27,000. If one makes me guilty, then how much more am I in the gutter!

But here’s the great part. Even after thousands of sins (or trespasses) the free gift of God brings justification! Just one sin causes condemnation. Yet one free gift overcomes innumerable sins and causes justification.

This is a much better way to start your year.

Instead of ending your year with presents that will fade away with time, start your year with a present that will never fade. Start your year with Jesus. Start your year believing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Start your year with peace, hope, joy, and love.

– Matthew Welborn

 

Behind The Scenes Of Christmas

Aslan is on the move.

There are few phrases that draw out emotions deep in my soul like that one. Whether it was in the book form of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe or the movie adaptation, that phrase brings so much hope. In the case of the aforementioned book, Aslan is a depiction of God in a fantasy world designed by C.S. Lewis. In the book there is much hopelessness as an evil witch presides and reigns over the kingdom. Those loyal to Aslan are captured and condemned. Yet whispers still bounce about in private conversations.

Aslan is on the move.

Sure enough, the titular character ends up defeating the evil witch and bringing joy and hope to the kingdom once ravaged by perpetual winter.

When I sat in the theaters and watched this book come to life on the big screen, my heart was overwhelmed with emotions each time that phrase was proclaimed. Something deep down in my heart was being pricked each time, and I began to realize that the thought of God’s intimate involvement in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations brings so much joy and hope in my heart.

Enter the Christmas story.

Hundreds of years of quiet.

A messiah was promised by the prophets of God, and yet generation after generation passed from life to death and each subsequent generation still had not seen this promised messiah rise up.

Over the last couple weeks my wife and I have been trying to prioritize time in God’s Word together and we’ve been focusing on the Gospel of Luke. As we have been digging in together, I have been struck by the way that the Spirit is moving throughout the first two chapters leading up to the public ministry of Jesus. Just under the surface of the events that are taking place, we see that the Holy Spirit is leading the way.

The Spirit of God was something that only a chosen few received from God the Father in the Old Testament. After the resurrection of Jesus, this Spirit is poured out on all who have put their faith in what Jesus did through his life and sacrificial death. It is not shackled or limited to just a few people. It’s for everyone. It’s the agent of life that works in each of our individual lives as followers of Jesus.

Yet here in the beginning of Luke, it was not for everyone. Not yet.

In the darkness of centuries of silence, the Spirit of God began to move.

First, an angel appears to Zechariah and tells him the following about his soon to be son:

“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. ‘ – Luke 1:14-15

This soon to be child would be filled with the Spirit of God as a fetus. That’s pretty incredible. In his mother’s womb he would have a special outpouring of God’s Spirit upon his life, and he would eventually pave the way for the arrival of the promised Messiah (1:17). This proclamation of the angel comes during an average day, when it seemed like the Lord had forgotten His people.

After Jesus’ birth is proclaimed to Mary, the story continues with Mary going to visit her relative Elizabeth (the woman whom Zechariah was married to). When this happens, we see the Spirit move again.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” – Luke 1:41-42

Elizabeth is given the words to say to proclaim the praises of the Messiah through the presence of the Holy Spirit in her heart and life.

It only gets better though, as the Spirit of God continues to move.

Zechariah was made mute by the angel of the Lord due to his doubting of God’s promises, yet at the arrival of his promised son Zechariah begins to proclaim and sing the greatness of God, something that comes about via, you guessed it, the Spirit of God.

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. – Luke 1:67-68

The phrase Aslan is on the move does something in me, but this verse does even more. God visited and redeemed His people. That is the message of Christmas. Everything else is just noise. Sunday school parties and Christmas lights and gifts are great, truly. But what gets me most excited about this season is that we get to reflect on that promise. God visited and redeemed His people.

The actual birth of Jesus aside, there is one more figure in the proceedings leading up to the ministry of Jesus that is gifted with the presence of the Spirit.

Jesus is now the age where he is required to be purified in the temple (according to Leviticus 12) by his parents. So Mary and Joseph take Him there, and they there encounter a man by the name of Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, and he was waiting for the promised Messiah.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. . . and he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, . . . “for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” – Luke 2:25, 27-28, 30-31

This Spirit-filled man proclaimed the majesty of the infant Jesus. He proclaimed to all who heard him (much like Anna a few verses later) that this infant was the one who would bring salvation to all the nations.

In the bleakness of the perceived silence of God, God shows that He is present and involved in the world.

The story of Christmas is a story of God’s movement in the world.

Aslan is on the move.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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Confessions of a Perfectionist

Matthew 5:48 used to put me in chains.

Be perfect therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48

In college, this verse led to so much pain in my life. Instead of realizing this verse was to show us that we could never measure up to the perfection of God the Father, I made it my standard.

Now, yes, the Bible is replete with references to being holy because God is holy, of striving to live worthy of the call of God. That being said, the Bible never expects us to be perfect humans in our own strength. Let me say that again and make sure you see both sides of that statement.

The Bible never expects us to be perfect humans in our own strength.

Oh, how I missed this message in the Scriptures.

Instead of allowing my imperfections to drive me to the power of the Spirit, I allowed them to shame me of doing things that now embarrass me. Let me lay it out for you.

I put my faith in Jesus and what He did for me on the cross on December 24, 2000. I was seven years old.

What this means is that the vast majority of sins I have committed in my life have come after putting my faith in Jesus. So what began in college was a process of dealing with that sin in an unbiblical way.

I would live for Christ, having verses about being perfect always on my mind and heart. Yet over the course of weeks and months sin would pile up in my life. Instead of repenting of it and accepting grace, I would naively and foolishly simply restart my life with Christ. This would look like buying a new journal, buying a new Bible, buying a new Bible study or Christian book and simply beginning afresh (this often involved getting rid of those things that I had previously been using for my spiritual life).

My life was all about being perfect and shoving sin back down into my heart by simply pretending like I was starting afresh. To talk about it in Christianese terms, I made private rededications to God dozens of times. The first few days of a ‘rededication’ would be absolutely great. But then the weight of all of my sin would come crashing back down on me.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Two years ago, while in Phoenix, God spoke through my now wife and through His Word to tell me clearly the following: stop running, accept grace. All of my rededications didn’t have the power to change a stinking thing in my life. When faced with the reality of my sin, I was running away from the very One who had died in my place, the very One who I could find rest in.

Stop running, accept grace.

Maybe you are somewhat like me. Maybe you are constantly under the weight of the call to be perfect. Maybe you are trying to be that perfect man or woman under your own power. My encouragement to you is found in the following verses.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:4

Even typing this up in my office brings my heart to worship. Oh, how I wish I had searched the entirety of Scripture for what it says about being perfect.

Let’s meditate on 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 together.

In that passage, someone is doing the following:

  •      Sanctifying you completely
  •      Keeping your spirit blameless until Christ comes again
  •      Keeping your soul blameless until Christ comes again
  •      Keeping your body blameless until Christ comes again

Is it you?

NO.

The Scriptures make clear that it is God, the one who calls you, the Faithful One, who does this work in your heart and life.

HE. WILL. SURELY. DO. IT.

That gets me animated in preaching, teaching, and in this case blogging.

HE. WILL. SURELY. DO. IT.

That verse does not say, and you will surely do it. You will keep yourself blameless and holy. No! It says He will.

I just had the temptation to run down the hall of my church. This seriously gets me so excited.

The pressure is off my tiny little shoulders.

We are called in Scripture to be perfect and holy.

But this is not on our strength.

No, it is done by God, and according to James 1:4 it is often done through the difficulties of our lives. This is a small reminder that everything in our lives, including the rough parts, are used for His glory by making us more like Him.

I wish I could tell you that I have never felt the urge to run since God called me out of my rededication addiction in October 2016. I wish I could tell you I have perfectly embraced the reality that I will not ever be perfect under my own strength. That’s not the case. But looking at my shelf right now and seeing two years worth of journals is a reminder that I’m no longer running from the past.

Yes, you are called by God through Scripture to pursue holiness and Christlikeness. It is an active thing. That being said, it requires resting in the finished work of the Faithful One on your behalf.

The pressure is off your shoulders.

The pressure of perfection was placed on Jesus Christ and He accomplished what we could not.

You are called to be blameless and perfect.

HE. WILL. SURELY. DO. IT.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

He Holds It All Together

It’s been a draining couple of days in Vernon, TX. My days have been chock full of ministry-related activities, and the busyness (albeit really exciting busyness) of moving Jamie into our duplex. Last night I wrestled with whether or not to wake up early and head to Wichita Falls for the youth pastor (and worship leader) breakfast I am a part of on Thursday mornings. I felt so tired (having been going from 6 AM to 9 PM) and didn’t feel like getting up. That being said, I felt the call of God for me to not abandon community just because I may be tired. So I set my alarm and headed into Wichita Falls. The breakfast was refreshing, I found myself encouraged and grateful for the community that I was a part of.

Just as we were wrapping up, I received a text. Tragedy had struck in Vernon. It is not my place to say what it was, but I was confronted yet again with the brokenness of the world that we reside in. The whole day has been solemn and somber, and tears have not been far from my eyes when I’ve had moments of quiet and isolation. As a young youth pastor, I’m walking through the brokenness of this world more days than I would like to, as I see the pain that so many congregants and students have to walk through some days.

I went about my usual Thursday routine before pausing just a little while ago to spend some time in Scripture. I read through the first chapter of Mark and when journaling about it I remembered what Scripture says to be true, what I believe the whole first chapter of Mark is all about:

Jesus is the Son of God, full of all the compassion and power of God.

The first chapter of Mark is a whirlwind of activity and snapshots of Jesus’ early ministry. In just one chapter we see John the Baptist prepare the way, Jesus get baptized, Jesus call his first disciples, and Jesus preaching and healing throughout Galilee, whether that be casting out demons or healing leprosy. In the midst of all this, there are key points that illustrate what I mean.

First off, verses seven and eight show the majesty of Jesus before He even arrives on the scene so to speak.

And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. – Mark 1:7-8

John the Baptist says that he isn’t even worthy of untying Jesus’ shoes. That’s humility and that’s awe in the face of majesty. Jesus is fully God and John understood this. Shortly after this we see Jesus baptized and the very Spirit of God descending upon Him (vv. 9-11). Jesus is full of all the power of God, and the rest of the chapter proves this. He preaches the gospel (v. 15), drives out demons (vv. 23-27), and heals a leper (vv. 40-45).

It’s His healing of the leper that showcases in my opinion the compassion of Jesus and the heart of God. Lepers were outcast, contagious, treated as almost less than human. A leper approached Jesus and asked for healing, bowing before Him. Jesus responded in verses 41-42.

Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. – Mark 1:41-42

I’m aware that verse forty-one is also translated at times as ‘moved with pity’ or ‘moved with indignation’, and I’m not a Greek scholar, but I am amazed by the fact that Jesus touched him to heal him. All throughout the gospels we see Jesus move with power in many ways, often healing people just via his words. Yet he chooses to reach out and touch this man that so many found unclean and disgusting. I believe that shows His compassion.

Here’s what I want you to know. There are dark days. There are days where the darkness seems overwhelming and the grief is heavy. Yet on these days, we can remember that the King Jesus we submit to and follow is full of amazing compassion and amazing power.

As a follower of Jesus, I can KNOW that God is all-powerful and TRUST in His compassionate heart. That is hard on days like today, but it is no less true.

Be encouraged by this verse as well (one of my all-time faves):

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all thing hold together. – Colossians 1:16-17

What was at one time no more than a pleasant reminder of God’s control has become over time a stake in the ground of my mind and heart to remember and cling to. God is still God and Jesus still holds the cosmos together. The sin of this world is raging and at times it’s all I can physically see. Yet I can cling to the fact that Jesus still reigns.

“By the Son, for the Son, and through the Son, all things exist and hold together.”

Jesus shows us the character and heart of God. Cry out to Him. Acknowledge His power and trust in His compassion.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach