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.

Life Stinks, Then You Die

Out of all the classes that I took during my undergrad time at Oklahoma Baptist University, one of the most impactful was Basic Counseling Skills. I use what I learned in that class more than most of the others in my day to day life in vocational ministry.

One thing that was repeated over and over in that class was the fact that the counselor is supposed to listen intently and ask gentle questions that get deeper into the issue at hand. What you were not supposed to do was start projecting your beliefs onto the person you were counseling, much less berate them.

That seems like some pretty common sense in my opinion.

In the case of Job and his friends, Eliphaz did not have any common sense. Sure, he started well, by simply sitting with Job in his suffering. But then he had to go and open his mouth.

Today we’re talking about Job 4. If you want a crash course in how not to counsel someone in suffering, just read it. In the previous chapter, Job has poured out his heart to the Lord and within earshot of his friends. He bemoans his suffering and despairs of life itself. Then comes Eliphaz.

Eliphaz starts strong. He reminds Job of the ways that Job himself has been an encouragement and counselor to many, how he has strengthened the weak with his guidance (vv. 3-4).

Let’s jump down to verse seven. It’s Eliphaz’s crucial mistake in my opinion.

“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?
    Or where were the upright cut off? – Job 4:7

This is the central tenant of Eliphaz’s argument (condemnation against Job really).

In his mind, the innocent never perish. The upright, morally upstanding men and women of the world never get cut off from the blessings and prosperity of the Lord.

Eliphaz’s world is black and white. Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad.

If we are brutally honest with ourselves, many of us basically adhere to such a version of Christianity in our own lives. We convince ourselves that God is ready to bless us when we’re in his Word and when we’re actively seeking His face in prayer. It gets messy though when we believe the opposite as well. That if we snooze six times and barely make it to work, skipping personal time with Him altogether, then we are going to face curses from the Lord.

This is the world of Eliphaz.

He looks at the immense suffering of his friend Job and jumps to the immediate conclusion that Job is at fault. Some secret sin in Job’s life has led to his entire world imploding.

If I was Job,

I’d have punched Eliphaz in the face.

Eliphaz had a high view of God, this can be seen through much of what he says in this first speech. Consider these verses with me.

By the breath of God they perish,
    and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. – Job 4:9

‘Can mortal man be in the right before God?
    Can a man be pure before his Maker? – Job 4:17 

Eliphaz believed that God was powerful, that His anger consumed the wicked, that His purity and holiness was such that no one could stand before Him. I would agree with all of these assertions.

But Eliphaz got it wrong when He jumped to the conclusion that only the wicked suffer.

That’s where Eliphaz’s argument begins to break down for me. He simultaneously says that all are unable to stand before God in purity and that all who are not pure before God are punished accordingly on earth.

His view is quite depressing actually.

When I was a kid, one of my friends would say basically all the time: “Life sucks, then you die.” I think he was mostly joking, but there’s some who deep down believe that version of viewing the world.

Bad things happen perpetually and consistently, and then you die.

I feel like this was the belief system of Eliphaz.

Look at how he concludes his first counseling session with Job.

Even in his servants he puts no trust,
    and his angels he charges with error;
how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
    whose foundation is in the dust,
    who are crushed like the moth.
Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces;
    they perish forever without anyone regarding it.
Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them,
    do they not die, and that without wisdom?’ – Job 4:18-21

That’s one of the more depressing things I’ve ever seen.

Eliphaz says God trusts no one. We are crushed like moths. We are beaten to pieces. We perish and die without anyone caring. We die without wisdom.

No hope.

No grace.

If you believe in a black and white world, you are forgetting the cross.

You see, we get to view the world from the other side of the cross.

We don’t get what we deserve.

Yes, the wicked seem to thrive while the righteous suffer.

But at the end of the day, Eliphaz was right. We’re not pure. We can’t stand before our Maker. We deserve punishment.

But we don’t get it.

Not in the way that we deserve.

Truly.

Now, again, this is not the words you say in direct response to someone’s first venting against God in the midst of suffering. If someone came to me in the hospital bed that I was laying in after my surgery and told me “I know you’re hurting, but at least you’re not in hell”, I would have not been very happy.

But this is what you can do if you have a family member or friend in the midst of suffering.

Listen and pray.

Listen.

And pray.

Don’t give a speech.

I know that the Lord works in the midst of suffering. He did so in my life (Why The Long Face?). Let Him do it in his own timing.

The world isn’t black and white for the Christian.

For the Christian, there is the cross.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

Faithfully Waiting For Justice

I wish more people read the minor prophets. Besides Jonah, the easiest one.

I wish I read the minor prophets more.

Two conversations have happened in my life recently that have made me more desirous of these little nuggets of Scripture.

The first one was with one of my best friends. The two of us have a tradition of venting to each other about things that come up in our lives followed by offering up prayer and support for each other as we walk out our faith. He was bringing up how many churches seem to have made the book of Acts the entirety of the Bible. What he meant was so many churches have an “Acts-model” of church, small groups, etc. There is a borderline obsession on the part of countless churches and people I know to be EXACTLY like the early church in the book of Acts. I wholeheartedly agree that we could and should live out our faith with the trust, courage, and fervor of the early church. BUT, no one book of the Bible is more important than another. They all are canonized for a reason. Some may be easier to understand, may better articulate the gospel, etc, but Paul says that ALL Scripture is God-breathed and useful for the training up of the saints. (2 Timothy 3:16)

The other discussion was with a student who said that he was looking at his table of contents in his Bible and saw one of the minor prophets and wondered how long it had been there. We laughed about it but in reality I can assure you that not many of us grab our coffee in the morning and turn to the minor prophets. I don’t hear much about these in our churches and in our conversations about faith.

However, I have recently read through the book of Habakkuk, underlining, writing in the margins, and being awed by the truths that are found in this book with way too many consonants in the title.

Here are some truths to glean from the book. If this book confuses you like it did me, check out the Read Scripture video summary on it, it was incredibly insightful.

1. SOMETIMES GOD FEELS UNJUST

If you open your eyes to the world around you, nothing seems fair. The wicked and unrighteous appear to thrive in their kingdoms of sand, and the devoted followers of Jesus who reside in countries where persecution is rampant continue to be swallowed up by violence. When we take a look at our own lives, we may feel slighted by God as well (although when we look at this feeling through a gospel lens we are reminded that God has blessed us with much). Habakkuk shares these raw emotions with the Lord in both 1:2 and 1:13. He asks God why He is silent in the midst of violence, why He doesn’t come to the rescue when the wicked thrive.

2. PRIDE IS A SIGN OF SPIRITUAL BROKENNESS

The verse that caught me off guard and convicted me was 2:4. It says this:

Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith. – Habakkuk 2:4

Wowza. This made me squirm. I feel prideful often. I look at my own knowledge of the Scriptures (which is really not that impressive) and become proud. I become proud of the abilities and gifts that God has given me. I can start to think that my ministry will be successful or that I will survive the year ahead because of my own abilities and strengths. Yet the prophet Habakkuk compares this level of arrogance to a man whose very soul is not right within him. This goes back to the previous point. We have been blessed by God. All that we have is from him. I wrote in my Bible next to this verse, “Pride is proof of not getting the gospel.” If I am arrogant, I legitimately have missed the message of the gospel.

3. WE LIVE IN THE MIDST OF CORRUPTION

Well, this part of Habakkuk was hard to accept as well. Now let me be clear I am immensely grateful for the USA. I have been afforded so much freedom, freedom that my own father fought for, and I don’t take that for granted.

However, we are not God’s country. We are not the people of God. Americans are not the people of God.

The older I get, the more I come to realize that we live in a country that while better than most, is not aligned with Christian values. At least not currently.

Habakkuk pronounces many woes on the Babylonians (or Chaldeans) who would come and enslave the people of God. He calls them out for their unjust economics, their enslavement of other nations, their irresponsible leaders, and their idolatry. Every single nation ever has struggled with one or more of these indictments, including the very people of God.

I just am reminded through Habakkuk that my hope should not be in America (The American Flag or The Cross). It should be in Christ the King.

4. WHAT GOD HAS PROMISED WILL COME TO PASS

From the very first page of the Bible, this doctrine has exploded off each and every page as I read. God says certain things about the order of creation and the text tells us ‘and it was so’. I was reading in Jeremiah 1 this afternoon and noticed that in verse 12 God says that He is ‘watching over my word to perform it.’ So as He commissions Jeremiah, He promises to be with Jeremiah in order for His words to come to pass.

Now this truth may not be explicitly present in Habakkuk. However, the entire final chapter speaks of what God did in the exodus and what He will one day do in the ‘Day of the Lord’. Everything that God promises, especially when it comes to rescue and justice, will come to pass in fullness.

5. WE CAN LIVE BY FAITH

When you boil it down, the book of Habakkuk is a powerful reminder of what it means to live by faith. Habakkuk was overwhelmed by the presence of violence all around him. He cried out to God. God answers by saying He will bring Babylon down on the people of Israel (God can use wicked nations for His glory and our good). Habakkuk is fearful of this proposition and God promises to bring down the Babylonians one day as well.

Just notice the change in Habakkuk’s outlook.

Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. – Habakkuk 3:18

This was highlighted in my Bible as well.

We live amongst injustice and violence.

Sometimes that is all we can see.

Yet we can be like Habakkuk and faithfully wait on the justice of God, rejoicing in the God who saves.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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