Were You There When?

Where were you when the twin towers fell?

I distinctly remember where I was. I was in second grade at the Episcopal School in Wichita Falls, Texas. I don’t remember what subject I was in at the time, but I remember getting interrupted as the teachers wheeled in a tv for us to watch live this act of terror (maybe not the best choice by the teachers at the time).

What is crazy to me is that I regularly interact with students now that weren’t even alive on that fateful day.

Yet, they could still tell me most of the details surrounding the attack.

Why? Because through YouTube videos, documentaries, museums, and reflection, they have been discipled in the knowledge of that event. They know what it reflects, proclaims, and means for our country. Through these remembrances, they become part of a people that have been formed by that event.

On a lighter note, I think of Texas Rangers fans. I am not really a huge baseball fan anymore, but I grew up in a Rangers household. So although it happened long before I was born, I can tell you the details surrounding the Nolan Ryan beatdown of Robin Ventura.

Why? Because for quite some time before every Rangers home game, they played a hype video giving glimpses of all of these great moments in Rangers history, and that was included in it. Every game I went to with my family, I was being discipled in the knowledge of Rangers lore.

Church, we are being discipled. At all times. We are constantly being indoctrinated through reflection and collective memories.

The church was made for doing the same. When we come together as followers of Jesus on Sunday mornings, everything we do should be helping us collectively look back at the history of God’s people. Not only that, we should find our place in their midst.

The book of Deuteronomy is avoided by many. It appears dry, rote, religious in all the wrong ways. But if you actually look closely, there is so much beauty in it. There is a really short, easy to read, great book on the subject called Invited To Know God if you’re in to reading. I’m really only merely regurgitating what it talks about.

But anyway, in chapter six of Deuteronomy we see the following passage, one that drives so much of my vision for the ministries I serve in at my church.

“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. – Deuteronomy 6:20-24

I mean, that’s beautiful.

Don’t forget that Moses is addressing the children of the Exodus generation. The generation that was brought out of Egypt died away in the wilderness due to their disobedience and unfaithfulness. These are their children Moses is speaking to. And yet, he encourages them to say ‘we were Pharaoh’s slaves’. Why? Because they were to find themselves in the story.

Church, we are to find ourselves in the story of God’s people.

It is popular in our current day and age to make Christianity nothing more than a private relationship with Jesus. And yet, that is not even remotely Biblical. The anti-religion version of Christianity causes us to miss out on the beauty of finding ourselves in the story of God’s people, from the time of Abraham to the time of Martin Luther to today. What a rich heritage we have.

This passage out of Deuteronomy is an invitation.

It is an invitation to be with God.

It is an invitation to be with God by focusing on what God has done, both individually and in our families.

If we as families are truly allegiant to Jesus as Lord over all in our lives, we are going to look distinct, different, even weird to the world around us. When kids, friends, neighbors, co-workers question why it is that we live the way that we do, we can tell them the story.

God drew the people of God out of Egypt, to draw them in to relationship with Him.

In the same way, God drew us out of our bondage to sin, in order to draw us into relationship with Him.

That’s our story.

And as we reflect on our story, we are drawn into obedience. Did you notice that?

Verse twenty-four described the fact that God gave them as a people commandments and statutes to follow. But that obedience was to always come after remembering the story!

That gets me pumped. Seriously, that’s powerful.

The call to holiness that the Bible lays before me is in the context of what God has done for me. If we don’t place ourselves in the story, the beauty of that call fades.

We must teach and preach the story.

That’s what I’m becoming passionate about. I want those I serve to know the story. Telling them how they are to live does nothing. Telling them the story of all that God has done leads to a desire for obedience.

Yahweh’s call upon their (our) lives is not random or arbitrary but born of his past goodness… By telling the redemption story, therefore, each new generation joins the story and learns to love the Lord in this way. – A.J. Culp 

You’re being discipled, brought into a story.

Make it the story of the Bible.

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In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Care Before Commands

God’s love for us is not dependent upon how well we follow His commands for us.

I’ll say it again.

God’s love for us is not dependent upon how well we follow His commands for us.

This seems like the most basic principle of living in light of the good news of the gospel, and yet we as followers of Jesus can forget this time and time again.

The best way to combat forgetting or neglecting this truth is by diving into the story of Scripture. I don’t mean simply reading your Bible to check off a box (like I do way too often), but rather I mean immersing yourself into the whole cohesive story of Scripture. I believe that God’s Word is inerrant, that God’s Word is put together in a specific way by the Spirit’s leading over mankind. So when we look at the entire story of Scripture, we see gospel themes all over the place.

The unfortunate truth is that many of us (yours truly included at times) fail to really understand what the Bible story really is. We like to read devotionally, follow a Sunday School reading plan, and never really get the point of most passages because we don’t read in context. All of this leads to mishandled beliefs about the Bible, God, and the good news of the gospel. Lastly, a disjointed approach to the Bible leads to a litany of verses taken way, way, way out of context (Philippians 4:13, Jeremiah 29:11, etc.).

But let’s get back to the topic at hand. God’s care and God’s commands.

If you asked the average Joe or Jane meandering the sidewalks of our cities to describe what the Old Testament was about, there’s likely one theme that comes to the forefront of their response: God’s commands. They may talk about his anger and wrath, but they will likely have some component of the law of God as part of their answer.

Now let’s say you asked the average pew-sitting Paul or Phyllis, regular members of our churches, the same thing. They would likely answer the same way! Again, this includes rapidly rambling me.

It’s easy to think that the Old Testament is all about God’s commands for us to follow, with the New Testament being all about God’s care for us through Jesus.

This is well-meaning, but off.

If you look closely at Scripture, you’ll see that God is extending grace and showing His loving kindness long before He imposes commands on His people (which are also His loving kindness, btdubs).

For instance, if you look at the book of Genesis, you see that it is fundamentally about God’s love for His chosen people, namely the family of Abraham. While commands for right living are interlaced throughout this narrative, the main theme is clearly (in my opinion) God’s covenant relationship with Abraham’s family, in the midst of Abraham’s stupidity (as well as the stupidity of his descendants).

The book of Genesis is NOT primarily about the origin of God or the origin of the cosmos (Whether you bleed Answers in Genesis or believe God used evolution to create the world we currently live in, there’s not going to be a clear and concise answer found in Genesis). It’s not a conglomeration of classic Bible stories and their quirky VeggieTales adaptations (I’m not knocking VeggieTales, I grew up on that stuff. I certainly do like to waltz with tomatoes).

The book of Genesis is about God’s care for His people. A care for His people that not only comes before the commands of Exodus-Deuteronomy, but also a care for His people that is not dependent upon His people’s ability or willingness to follow such commands.

Still don’t believe me?

Open your Bible.

Yes, as far as timelines go, the command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (I am tempted to start naming the trees in my yard, such as the Tree Full of Leaves I Will Pay our Students To Rake and The Tree That Hopefully Won’t Cause Foundation Damage) comes at the same time more or less as the introduction of Adam into the perfect garden.

Yet after Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God immediately clothes them via a sacrifice, and promises to send the Messiah. I would say that’s a solid example of God’s care for them even after their disobedience.

Immediately after their displacement from the garden, the wheels fall off. Murder, deception, rage and malice, wickedness, pride. God gives the people 120 years to repent and turn to Him, but they refuse, and the flood happens. Let’s not forget that the fact God left a remnant via Noah and his family is also unbelievable grace.

After God’s grace given to Noah, there is a covenant made. But right after it comes more horrible stuff. More pride and arrogance (Tower of Babel). Clear incest (Judah and Tamar).

As generation after generation progresses in Abraham’s family, God’s care for them continues to be extended.

I would encourage you to dive in to the book of Genesis. Without the PG-tint glasses that our Sunday School backgrounds give us. It is dirty, grimy, dark, and nasty. But in the midst of humanity’s horribleness, God’s grace explodes off of every page.

If you need help reading the Bible in such a way, I can recommend two resources. Number one. The LifeChange Bible Study Series. These are great resources and they’re affordable. Number two. Anything by Jen Wilkin. She’s a phenomenal teacher of the Bible.

As we wrap up, fast forward to today. March 29, 2019.

How well are you doing at believing the truth we started with?

Do you evaluate your spiritual actions each day and hope you’ve done enough for God to be pleased with you?

Do you face incessant and unceasing guilt for your inability to follow His commands (been there, done that)?

Remember this truth. Before God imposes commands in our lives, He shows us His care for us. And when we fail to follow those commands in our lives, He continues to show His care for us.

I’ll close with the following quote.

God loves you as much as he loves Jesus! Think of that! God knows all about our weaknesses, doubts, fears, and sins. Yet, he loves us no less than he does his own child. – Bryan Chappell

He loves you.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach