Jesus Isn’t Your BFF

I truly believe I could have 100 students in my youth group.

It would take a while, but I think we could get there. The formula is fairly simple. Have live music that’s cutting edge, play a lot of fun games, and have crazy giveaways week in and week out. At the end, have some sort of message that’s loosely based on a verse of Scripture but functions more as a motivational talk about Jesus helping you overcome difficulty in your life rather than a call to come and die with Jesus.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I’m not trying to knock that version of ministry. There are great men and women of God involved in that philosophy and style of ministry and God is saving young men and women through those ministries with that mentality.

That’s just not me.

Instead of 100+ coming to a cutting edge service, we have a little less than forty who come to a honestly pretty boring service from a worldly sense. We don’t play music (although I’d like to I just don’t have the talent), we don’t play that many games and we very rarely have some sort of a giveaway.

What we do have is God’s Word.

We walk through it, week after week, often focusing on chunks of the Bible (I don’t know if that’s an acceptable term for a portion of Scripture or not, but I’m running with it) that are not even all that entertaining to read. What’s been phenomenal to me is that we’ve seen growth come in the midst of it.

I’m not talking breadth.

Last Fall we did a semester-long study through the book of Deuteronomy, and that certainly did cause our numbers to explode.

I’m talking depth.

It’s not been anything crazy. At times I face discouragement because it doesn’t seem like it’s clicking with some students. But for some, their depth in their faith is obvious and powerful.

Yet if you look at the modern evangelical church as a whole, you likely see a trend, especially in the Baptist tradition, to make church about being entertained or feeling good and that’s simply not the call of the follower of Jesus.

Here’s what I mean.

We have emphasized a personal relationship with Jesus.

Now, that is obviously a phenomenal aspect of our faith. Christianity certainly encompasses the opportunity that we have to commune with God through union with Christ and fellowship with the Spirit. What a wonderful thing.

What we’ve done by emphasizing this time and time again however is unintentionally taught people, I think, that they have a private relationship with Jesus. One where they see Him as their best friend forever, but not the Head of the universal church and certainly not the Lord telling them to come and die to their own desires each day.

Jesus isn’t my best friend forever. Sure, He calls me friend. What a marvelous truth. But He is also the Lord of all the universe, worthy of awe and worship, adoration and healthy fear. Jesus is fully man. Yet He is also fully God.

Look around our churches though and you again see that many are hesitant to present a Jesus that is worthy of our fear and worship. Instead of liturgy and church history, we have a modernized Christianity that forgets the 2000 years of faithful men and women who have gone before us and set the foundation for what it looks like to follow God. All of that legacy is tossed aside for the hip new trends that gets the most people in the door.

What we’ve created is a version of following Jesus that is about one’s own comfort and self-worth. I can’t tell you how many posts on social media I have seen recently that say something like “I’m committed to working on myself right now. If you aren’t helpful, if you’re toxic, I’m tossing you to the curb.”

Now, that’s not completely bad.

That mindset creeps into the church though, doesn’t it?

Getting up and getting to church on Sunday mornings is hard. And I say that having zero children and as someone who gets paid to be there.

It’s hard to get there. So, if one is expecting to get a self-help sermon about Jesus’ power to make them overcome any difficulty in their life, (complete with hilarious jokes and illustrations from modern entertainment, oh and music that is right up their alley) when those things are lacking their commitment to church falters.

They’re working on the betterment of themselves. If the church doesn’t help their self-image, and if the people in their church are ‘toxic’ (or in my opinion ‘human’, because we all battle sinful thoughts, words, and actions), then they bail on it.

Church is a declaration that we are allegiant to King Jesus. Church, if done right, should absolutely encourage and train us in righteousness. But it should also convict us, challenge us, and get us outside our comfort zones. It should call us each and every week to die to ourselves in the week ahead. That’s not a fun message in the world of self-help motivational speakers.

Jesus isn’t my BFF or a self-help guru. 

He’s Lord. 

Daniel Darling puts it this way:

I wonder if average worshiping evangelicals feel the weight of what they say they believe. I wonder if they grasp that Jesus is more than a fun bumper sticker or billboard, that he is the Head of the church, the Lord of creation, and the sovereign King of the universe. . . our homogenized evangelicalism can at times make weekly worship more like a divinely inspired TED talk than an act of worship, offering a Jesus who desperately wants to be your BFF but is totally chill if you’re, like, not that into him. – Daniel Darling 

Actually guys, if you would like to read a spectacular book on this subject, get The Original Jesus by Daniel Darling. This post is basically me thinking through what he talks about in his book.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Jesus Isn’t On Your Team

We like to make the claim that Jesus is on our team.

For some of us, He’s a conservative, good ol’ boy American white man who bled red, white, and blue in the Garden of Gethsemane and wants nothing more than to see the United States prosper through Republican ideals.

For some of us, He’s a liberal, social justice warrior who wants nothing to do with organized religion and if He was here would vote purely Democratic on all ballots and bills.

Jesus is on one of these teams we believe.

And we know for a fact that He wouldn’t be on the other team.

Let’s take politics out of it for a second.

For some of us, Jesus is against movies, cards, and playing dice. He is all about commands, three-piece suits on Sunday mornings, and obedience, obedience, obedience. His yoke is heavy and we better earn our standing before Him.

For some of us, Jesus is all about grace. Go ahead and indulge at times, there is forgiveness and freedom. Come as you are. Be broken. Be authentic. Don’t be like the fake hypocrites who fill organized churches.

We know for a fact that Jesus is on one of these teams.

And we know for a fact that He wouldn’t be on the other team.

Here’s the thing. I have grown tired and pained by the rhetoric that fills our conversations these days. I’ve read and heard member after member of Christ’s body publicly call Democratic politicians idiots, monkeys, and fools. I’ve read and heard member after member of Christ’s body publicly call Republican politicians bigots, racists, and fools.

I’ve read and heard people attack organized churches for being full of hypocritical people. I’ve read and heard people attack those who aren’t committed to church by calling them licentious fools.

I’ve heard it and I’ve said it. .

Here’s what I read in Scripture though.

Countless times and in countless ways, God operates in ways that we cannot fathom, in ways that don’t fit into our preconceived notions about what He would be about.

God isn’t American.

God isn’t Republican or Democratic.

God calls His people into obedience but also extends grace.

He doesn’t fit into my box.

Let me show you one such way.

What we’ve popularized in our American churches is that God fights for the US of A. We proudly wave our flags in our churches and make the audacious claim that God is entitled to give our nation victory. I’ve written in length in other posts that this way of thinking is incorrect.

God fights for His people, the church, not the nation of the United States of America. Not only that, there are actually countless times throughout Scripture that He doesn’t fight for His people.

I’ve been reading through 2 Kings to start the year. Today I came to chapter five. In 2 Kings 5 we read a story of God using Elijah to heal a man named Naaman. Pretty cool. But let’s look at who Naaman was.

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. – 2 Kings 5:1

Wait.

What?

Naaman was a man who led the army of one of Israel’s enemies, and the Scriptures say that the Lord used him to give victory to the enemies of Israel. Wow. That doesn’t fit into our box. Or at least it doesn’t fit into mine.

As we read the rest of the story, we will see God heal this enemy of His people. For a purpose.

Naaman ends up boldly proclaiming that there is no God in all the world except for the God of Israel (v. 15); and that he will make no sacrifices to any other false deity, but rather to God and God alone (v. 17).

Let’s modernize this.

Do you believe that God can save and heal and work through the enemies of God’s people?

Time and time again God’s grace extends to those we would never fathom could receive it. Time and time again in Scripture we see that God is greater and higher than our petty fights. Time and time again in Scripture we see that God fights for His purposes on behalf of His glory and for our good.

In Joshua 5, Joshua asks if God fights for His people or against them and God responds by saying, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come (v. 14).”

The Scriptures show us that God doesn’t play on our teams.

Yet our traditions have tricked us into believing He does.

Jesus didn’t wear a three-piece suit.

Jesus showed his love for the Father by obeying the Father.

Jesus’ heart was grieved by the wickedness of man.

Jesus fought for the rights of ALL people.

Jesus wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat.

Jesus wasn’t an American.

So, in 2019, as followers of Jesus, let’s strive to follow His lead (through His Word) as we love, confront sin, call to holiness, and lay our misinformed traditions down.

I look forward to the day where I worship around the throne of King Jesus, a middle-eastern man, with Iraqi and Iranian (maybe some from ISIS itself), German and Japanese believers. I look forward to the day when I worship around the throne of King Jesus with Democrats and Republicans alike, and I pray my actions and words until then give glory to the Lord and grace to those who hear them.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Far As The East Is From The West

After church on Easter Sunday many years ago, my parents put together an egg hunt for my two youngest sisters. Our backyard served as the hunting grounds and the prey stood no chance.

Who am I kidding? They struggled to find these eggs. My, oh, my. Poor little ones.

The oldest three siblings, inluding me, ran around helping as vaguely as possible. We didn’t want to help too much. But at some point you can only be so patient.

It was like when Dora the Explorer or Steve from Blue’s Clues ask, “Do you see ____?” And c’mon, everybody sees ___ right? I mean, Dora is a child, so I get it. Steve? You’re a grown man. It’s really not that difficult to see a blue pawprint on THE ONE PAINTING in your entire house.

I suspect you get the picture now.

Eventually, though, they found the eggs. They needed some direction, but they succeeded. All was finally well on that Easter day.

Sometimes I think we’re like little children looking for Easter eggs. We want to find something that seems hidden, something that surprises us to find it. We don’t think our parents are cruel for making it a game. And it’s (mostly) fun for everyone involved. Even more is the delight when you find an egg!

But just as children need a nudge in the right direction, we too need some help.

I went through a couple weeks of wanting to find an egg. For me, this egg was a message from God. I really wanted God to speak to me. It seemed like God was distant and all I could do was send an email to Heaven and wait for a response.

But God wasn’t checking emails. Instead, he was waiting for me to call.

So, after a time of confessing these feelings and thoughts I had about God, I was guided by a brother in Christ toward prayer. I prayed a thankful prayer, and I prayed a prayer asking for God to speak. I called God.

God picked up.

And this is what God said,

“The LORD is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

That’s Psalm 130:8. A Psalm of David.

Let’s walk through the few verses that follow:

9 He will not always chide,

nor will he keep his anger forever.

10  He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

God will not “always chide.” The CSB says, “He will not always accuse us.” I think that’s a bit more clear. But take a second and think about what this line means.

God will not always accuse us. Think about what this implies. If I say, “I won’t always love ice cream,” that implies I love ice cream right now. This means at some point God accused us! God accuses anyone who does wrong–and we all do wrong. We all stand accused by God based on what we have done toward God and toward others.

Accusation is coupled with anger. The being who created the heavens and the earth, who threw angels down from heaven, who covered the world with waters, who spoke light into being sits on the throne of heaven with anger towards us. Why? Because we lie. We cheat. We steal. We hate. We lust. We rebel against the source of life itself, God Almighty.

These wrongs are called sin or iniquities. And when we sin, because God is not apathetic toward our wrongs, but is merciful and just, we stand accused by God.

But the gulf between heaven and earth collapsed in the God-man called Jesus. And Jesus stood in our place of being accused. By dying on the cross, Jesus took God’s accusation toward us upon himself. Since Jesus was fully man and fully God, he could take on this accusation. Jesus lived a perfect life, died the death we deserved, and then rose from the dead to prove he was God. He proved the accusation could no longer be made for those who are “in Christ.” That merely means whoever believes in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And suddenly, for those who believe in Jesus, things are different. God’s huge love can cherish us. God’s expansive love can reveal itself to us more clearly and completely. Because Jesus took on God’s accusation toward us, we no longer stand accused. We stand in the presence of God without being destroyed by God’s holy perfection. We boldly stand in the presence of God.

We can stand in God’s love because of God’s love.

God removes our sins from our record book and puts them in the grave. They are removed as far as the East is from the West. They are ineffably far away from us.

Sin was once close to us when we were far from God.

Now God came close to us in a manger. God came close to us as a man. God came close to us as a fellow sufferer in death when Jesus died on the cross.

God came close to us and now sin is far away.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul. Bless the Lord.

– Matthew Welborn

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