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

 

Making The Bed

Throughout Christian history, the people of God have been formed, built up in, and strengthened by creeds and confessions of the faith. These were recited in families, church fellowships, and communities as a way to be catechized (taught) in the historic Christian faith.

We are also catechized by our world. Our culture is telling us all of the time how we are to behave, what we are to live for. There are daily habits that we all feel drawn towards and pulled into that are the result of subconscious daily formation via the world we live in. The biggest right now is easily the most obvious (I feel like a broken record saying this). We are taught to put everything on social media, to fight the silence by staring at our phones, and to put up a front whether that is our intention or not.

The most eye-opening event when it came to this was when I first got back from Phoenix. My fiancée Jamie and I went to dinner with one of my closest childhood friends and his wife. He asked me how my year in Phoenix was and when I opened up about the difficulties that I had at the church he was genuinely surprised saying that ‘everything you’ve put on Facebook made it seem like a great experience’. This wasn’t done intentionally by me at all, in fact via this blog I made a lot of my struggles at the church public. Yet my friends back home saw a picturesque experience where it was quite the opposite in many ways.

My generation does a poor job of handling this obsession with social media. However, the former generation doesn’t seem to fair too much better. I remember being at a men’s Bible study in Phoenix where every person around the table was on their phone at some point during the forty minute experience (except for me and my roommate Matt). The call of their individual business or family responsibilities was in that moment greater than the call of God’s Word. This is not a millennial problem. This is an everyone problem. We have all been formed, discipled, and catechized into thinking that to put our phones up for even a short period of time is to make ourselves unavailable to the world and thus perhaps less important.

I feel the weight of this at any family event. Is it enough to enjoy the treasured moments with siblings and parents, or am I obliged to post some picture of it so that everyone else can know just how much fun I had? I have been discipled into believing that without making my moment with family public I am not enjoying life to its fullest. When boiled down, that’s exactly what we are being taught. The fullness of life is found in making every private or intimate family or relationship moment public for other people to like, comment on, etc. This has caused people I know to literally Facebook Live their kitchen meal prep. I know others who make public their children’s tantrums, fits, problems. I know others who make their kids’ successes just as public. Previous generations had bumper stickers, we have Facebook posts. I myself struggle with making private moments of hilarity or doofusness public on social media. We have been discipled into believing that making a public spectacle of private moments is normal, necessary, and fulfilling.

In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren talks about how the start of our days are incredibly important when it comes to how we live and view our days.

Push as hard as the age that pushes against you. – Flannery O’Connor

Warren offers the making of one’s bed as a way to start our days, as opposed to incessant phone use. But it can be any number of liturgical and rhythmic routines that can orient our minds and hearts toward godliness rather than the lies of our age.

Evaluate what you do with your day, especially in the stillness and quiet moments. More often than not, where you go in the quiet is what you’re living for. You are being formed in ways that are beneficial to your spiritual growth, as well as ways that are not. Think through your routines and habits.

I know that when I conclude my day in prayer with Jamie, I am prone to wake up more spiritually aware, more focused on eternal matters in the day ahead. I know that when I spend two hours watching TV or playing Playstation, I am prone to head into the next day needing to be entertained, focused on the here and now. Our practices throughout our days establish us. It is thus incredibly important that we don’t drift through our days unaware of what we’re living for.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2 

My mind isn’t renewed if I give myself no time to sit with God and do just that.

Be aware of what you live for.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Bless The Lord

The following is simply a prayer of response to Psalm 103. This is no difficult feat, it is merely praying through the Psalm, applying it to my personal life, and meditating on the truths contained within it. I hope that you are encouraged to pray through Psalms on your own. I have found this practice to be the most transformative discipline in my life and I wish I did it more. 

Oh Lord, let my mind, heart, words, and actions bless your holy name. May my every thought, action, and intention be pleasing to you. Let me not forget the ways that you have so richly blessed me. Remind me each day that every good thing in my life is a gift from you, not something that I have obtained via my own strength.

You have forgiven my every sin, you have healed every wicked way in me. What a wonderful blessing. What a wonderful truth. There is no sin held against me any longer. You have redeemed my life from the darkness of my evil bent towards sin. Your steadfast love and mercy are the treasured possession of my life.

You have satisfied my soul with good things. Food, friends, family, and faith. You have blessed me with the opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest in You. My strength and energy is renewed when I meditate accordingly upon your gifts to me.

May the oppressed in my community experience your justice. May the unrighteous in my community see your righteousness. Use me as a conduit of your justice, help me to stand up for those in need. Lord, your ways and acts toward your people have been well documented through the ages. May I not forget the ways that you have blessed me in even the past week.

You are gracious and merciful. I deserve death. Yet you stay your anger and pour out your steadfast love upon my soul. You do chide and reprimand me out of your love, but you don’t always do this. Your anger is not everlasting. Your love is. Lord, YOU DO NOT DEAL WITH ME ACCORDING TO MY SIN, OR REPAY ME ACCORDING TO MY INIQUITIES. This promise makes me want to sing songs of praise to you O Lord. I deserve punishment for my sin, and yet your steadfast love covers over them.

Lord, I don’t fear you as I should. Evoke this godly fear in me. Lord, you have cast my sins as far as the east is from the west. This too is wonderful and worthy of praise. You have removed my transgressions from me. They are no longer held against me.

You are a compassionate God. You look on my frame with compassion. You are compassionate towards the things that grieve me, and it is towards this end that you work all things in my life. You are loving. I am dust. My role and call in life is to preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.

My days oh Lord are like grass. I am here one moment and gone the next. Because of my frailty, help me to better enjoy the moments you have given me here on earth with family, friends, food, and fun. It is because life is short that I should live life to the fullest in You.

Your steadfast love is upon me every moment of my life. There is discipline at times for sin, but even this is your love. Your love extends to countless generations of those who fear you. Thank you Lord for the way that you drew me into a saving relationship with you.

I don’t walk out your commands as well as I should. Where there is fleshly desires, replace these with the fruit of the Spirit. Where there is autonomy, replace this with a dependence upon you daily for grace and vitality. Help me to remember daily to live in such a way that honors you.

Lord, the world is broken and battered. There are rulers and leaders who oppress and enslave. Yet your throne is in the heavens. No one can usurp your throne. No one can remove you from your throne. This brings comfort that you are in control of all the nations on earth.

Angels of God, bless Him. All hosts of God, bless Him. In every community on earth, let God be praised.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

In His Name,

Nate Roach