Fighting God On #7

I was on hole #7. I had hit a fairly good drive (in actuality I sliced it hard, but it worked since the hole was a dogleg right), and I was now lining up my second shot with my fairway wood.

The breeze was nice and cool, and the course was gorgeous as Fall weather was finally descending upon North Texas.

I shanked my second shot. I mean I shanked it so bad into the rough that I had no idea where it was in the absence of GPS tracking. I was extremely frustrated at this point, as the six holes prior to this one were less than ideal.

I remember saying aloud “are you kidding me”. I was flustered and frustrated. It had been a long week and all I wanted was to get out on the golf course and escape for a little while. I no joke started venting right there to God. Me and Him came to mental blows right there in the rough. I wanted to see success in this hobby of mine. In ministry, most of what I do, all the hours I put into studying and preaching and teaching God’s Word, leads to few things I can visibly see. That’s part of the gig.

But, here on the golf course, I had the chance to work at a goal that I could tangibly see. It was an escape.

The problem was just that.

Instead of seeing a few hours on the golf course this past Friday afternoon as a gracious gift of God’s common grace to me, I instead abused said gift as a way to run away from the weightiness of this world. Instead of communing with God through my time golfing, I was more or less avoiding God if I’m being real honest with you today.

I don’t hear God audibly speak to me.

I instead feel His presence with me as themes and verses and ideas from Scripture flood my heart and mind throughout my day.

Right there, in the midst of my fuming at something silly and insignificant on hole #7, God reminded me that He must be my source of comfort, not any earthly thing.

Any earthly thing in our life can become an idol, a point of sin in our lives.

Golf is one of those gray areas in the Bible, obviously. There’s nothing in there about whether this sport is holy or profane. But I had to acknowledge on Friday, after the Spirit’s prompting, that I was running to this hobby as a source of comfort and escape, which certainly is sinful.

The Lord had to bring me to a place where I acknowledged that I had an unhealthy relationship with golf. That feels silly typing out, but it’s no less true. Here’s a small sampling of what Scripture has to say about our joy and our relationship with earthly things.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. – 1 Timothy 4:4

First off, my joy is to be found in the Lord. Secondly, my anxieties are to be removed from my mind and heart, not by hitting a little ball around (or by certain foods, or by an inundation of entertainment, or by mystery novels), but rather by bringing all of those things to the Father who cares for me.

The Bible is full of gray areas. One theme in Scripture is that God is our Good Father who gives us good gifts. The world is created for us to see our Father’s hand in. One way for us to approach the gray areas of Scripture and life on earth is by asking if these things can be received with thanksgiving, based in the Word and prayer.

For instance, can I give thanks for golf? Yes. Can it be spiritually beneficial to me, a way to respond to God’s Word and communing with Him in prayer? Yes, when utilized rightly.

Here’s an example from today.

Today, my dog Morty woke me up (as he does almost every single morning) by sniffing and licking my face. Once I put him outside, the pressures of upcoming children’s ministry and youth ministry events came careening into my mind. Today I was off of work, and so I certainly didn’t want to dwell on what I’ve got to do tomorrow all day today.

So I went to God’s Word. I reflected on His character.

I have spent the day reading through the book of Amos, and this jumped off the page.

Also it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, And led you forty years through the wilderness, To possess the land of the Amorite. – Amos 2:10 

Amos chapter two dictates and describes some of the most abhorrent sins of God’s people. Disgusting, vile, wicked stuff. I believe this runs hand in hand with their forgetfulness. They forgot what God had done. God uses Amos to remind them of His faithfulness. Boom. Just what I needed to read and meditate upon today. God is faithful. God has done great things for His people throughout history, and He has done great things for me.

I prayed that I would be reminded that He is God, and I’m just a little human. I don’t have to run from my problems, escaping into some worldly endeavor every chance I get. Instead, I can face them, not because I’m anything special, but rather because my God is.

I’ve been thinking about this all day long, and guess what.

I am going to go golfing with my wife Jamie here in a little while.

I am so excited.

Because my prayer is that, instead of fighting God on hole #7, I can commune with Him all along the way, receiving a night on the course with my wife as the wonderful gift that it is.

Yes, I’m likely going to splash one in the water on #5 and maybe even shank one on the highway on #2.

But I’m going in a state of gratitude for God’s grace, and I may just not keep score.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Receiving Bad From God

It’s easy to praise God on good days, isn’t it? When things are stable vocationally, relationally, financially, and physically, our worship of God is pretty natural.

What about on difficult days though?

What about on the days when one thing after another seems to be falling apart in your life?

On those days, it doesn’t come nearly as natural to us to open up our mouths and hearts in praise to our Heavenly Father.

Yet, this is exactly what Job did in Job 1. He faced the most excruciatingly difficult day of his life, and he was able to praise God regardless.

The second chapter of Job takes us back to the throne room of God. The angels are again presenting themself before His splendor and majesty (v. 1), and Satan again comes into the room. God is quick to bring up Job again, showing Satan that Job’s integrity and righteousness remained intact (v. 3), despite the tremendous suffering that was thrust upon him.

Satan is prepared for this, and he quickly responds.

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” – Job 2:4-5 

Satan’s point is clear. Job’s family and finances were destroyed, sure. But his body was still intact. Satan’s argument is that if God would affect Job’s physical body, Job would respond in anger and cursing.

Let’s read together what happens next.

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”  – Job 2:6-8

I want you to see this first. Our good, glorious, gracious, and generous God allows this next test to be played out, just like He allowed the first. Beware any prosperity gospel that promises an easy life as a follower of Jesus. There is no such thing. It is a good life, absolutely, but it is not one devoid of suffering. Job’s life makes this abundantly clear to us.

Satan leaves the throne room of God and immediately goes after Job. Job is afflicted with a skin disease that isn’t exactly clear to us as the reader. It sounds like some sort of leprosy. Regardless of what it was, we see that Job is full of painful sores that go from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. There is no relief to be found anywhere.

Then Job’s wife enters the picture.

Now, I personally am blessed with a wonderful wife. When I face difficulties in my life, she is quick to encourage me and share wisdom with me. She’s done so in a couple instances just this week.

Job however had a less than great wife in this circumstance.

It’s interesting to note that there are some who actually believe that the wife was more or less on Satan’s team in this story, being used by him to encourage Job to fall into sin.

I personally don’t see her as a willing participant in the schemes of Satan. That’s a little extreme.

That being said, her faith is not grand. In the throes of pain (all this suffering surely affected her too, right?) she encourages Job to simply curse God in such a way that would cause God to strike him down in justice.

What happens next is another one of the most powerful sections of Scripture (well writing that sounded like a clickbait Facebook article. “We adopted a goldfish, what happened next will stun and amaze you!”).

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. – Job 2:9-10

Notice that Job doesn’t call her wicked, nor does he say that she is in fact foolish. Rather, he says that she is simply talking like someone who is a fool.

I’m not really sure what happens to Job’s wife after this, not gonna lie. She doesn’t ever show up again in the book, even after Job’s life is restored (chapter 42). He has more children, so maybe that’s proof she sticks around? I’m not sure. Consult someone smarter than me.

Let’s focus in on the second part of his statement though.

Dang.

That’s some A-level faith. We willingly accept good from God, we should be just as willing to accept evil (side-note. I was reading a commentary that mentioned that the Hebrew word here means ‘bad’. Don’t think that God is capable of doing something wicked or sinful).

“. . . for when the bad as well as the good is received at the hand of God, every experience of life becomes an occasion of blessing. But the cost is high. It is easier to lower your view of God than to raise your faith to such a height.” – Francis Andersen

Job’s faith is powerful, as is this quote.

Again, remember, Job is going to wrestle with God throughout this entire book. Yet, his faith here at the onset is secure. He doesn’t get it. He can’t fathom why this has happened to him. Yet he knows that it is from the Lord.

Again, the prosperity preachers and their thirty second clips getting shared on Facebook will tell you you’re an overcomer, a champion, a conqueror. They’ll tell you that you can overcome sickness if only your faith is strong enough. You can be blessed financially and spiritually and relationally and vocationally if you just have enough faith.

They must have cut this book out of their Bibles.

Job teaches us something powerful.

Following God is not about the level of your faith.

It’s about what your faith is in.

I’ll say that again. Following God is not about the level of your faith. It’s about what your faith is in.

Job is going to incessantly wrestle with God, but his faith is in God. That won’t waver.

The text goes so far as to say that Job didn’t sin in what he has said.

He hasn’t sinned, yet the affliction will remain for dozens of more chapters.

As followers of Jesus, we must have the faith to receive the bad as well as the good.

Job models that for us well.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

He Never Slumbers

This season of wedding and camp preparations is making me feel like I’m moving a billion miles per hour. I am beyond grateful for a family in our church who is letting me stay with them, but not being able to stay at my own home (Jamie is getting it ready and actually looking like a home) has made me feel like I’m on vacation but still having to work every day. It is a weird feeling.

My natural tendency in the moments where life feels out of control is to do my foolish best to bring life back under my control. No matter how hard I grit my teeth and try and push forward into some semblance of faux control, I end up coming back to the same spot of acknowledging that I’m tired and can’t keep going. When life is going a billion miles an hour, I also slip into a subtle but not so subtle spiritual malaise where even when I’m spending time in God’s Word, I’m not spending time with God.

The last couple weeks of crazy I’ve been in God’s Word each day, yet the intimacy of just shutting up and listening to God while truly meditating on His Word in His presence has been missing. So this morning I decided to do just that before hopping in the shower to start my day. I opened up my Bible to read and pray a Psalm and Psalm 121 came crashing into my heart at the exact time I needed it (God is pretty great).

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever. – Psalm 121:1-8

Boom. A shorter Psalm with a power punch. In seasons of hecticness, I can try and grip the wheel tighter and try and hold onto all the control, which is hilarious really and never works out. This Psalm is one that draws us as God’s people into worship. My help comes from the Lord, who lest I forget, made the heavens and the earth, the entire cosmos we reside in.

I hope that you are encouraged by this passage. I know that there are mental health circumstances that make battling anxiety not so black and white, but for many of us this Psalm is the soothing oil we need to calm our anxious nerves. I believe the cure to much of our anxiety is found in meditating upon this Psalm and taking it to heart.

While in Phoenix, my anxiety was through the roof and I did a horrible job of handling it. Since I’ve been back to Texas, the anxiety can still spike in the weirdest of ways. Small triggers.

– realizing that a job responsibility slipped past my to-do list, causing anxiousness about my job performance.

– hearing an expletive-laced rant in front of a gym next door to where Jamie works, causing anxiousness about her safety.

– a text message casting doubt on how someone views me, causing anxiousness about my identity.

None of these are really life and death situations, yet all of them are aspects of life that we should care about. Vocation, loved ones, self. That being said, if I don’t nip these fast-flowing anxious thoughts in the bud, they can spiral on me and I start playing the ‘what-if’ game.

Psalm 121 blows this up.

When I’m getting anxious, I can lift up my eyes to the heavens in a way to remind myself that my help comes from God above. He is creative, good, orderly, and perfect. Just read the creation account. God makes, and what He makes is good. God separates, bringing order to an otherwise orderless cosmos. Sin entered the picture and so we live in a fallen world, but God’s purposes and promises are secure. He says let there be light, and by the very power of His words light is made. This alone is a stunning reminder that all God says, all He proclaims, will come to pass. He made the heavens and earth.

Verse three is amazing. He who watches over us does not slumber. He does not sleep. Jamie will tell you that I hate sleeping too long or napping. I am prone to being a productivity slave (that’s a blog for another time) and thus refuse most times to take necessary rest (leading to me being late to a morning appointment and accidentally crashing into a two hour nap just yesterday). Resting or sleeping is hard, because in my foolish brain and heart my inaction is equivalent to my cosmos being out of order. Yet I am but a creature. I am an image-bearer of God who needs rest.

Juxtaposed to this need for daily rest is the God who never sleeps. In verse four it says that He watches over all of the people of God. He has us all securely in view, and He cares for us deeply.

Verse seven tells us that God will keep us from evil (not that bad things won’t happen to us as His followers, rather that the enemy of our souls will not win our souls).

Verse eight is such a pleasant piece of Scripture. The Lord will guard my going out and coming in forever. There is nowhere I can go where He is not watching over me. I am always in His hands.

This Psalm is a solvent that dissolves my anxiety.

My prayer is that it would do the same for you. He is worthy of our praise and our trust.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

DISCLAIMER: As stated in passing, I believe that there are chemical imbalances, mental health issues, etc. that make fighting anxiety much more difficult than I’ve written about here. I pray for those experiencing such things, and I am not intending to belittle those very real, very personal struggles.

Butterflies In The Stomach

I know very little about marriage. This makes perfect sense since I’m not indeed married.  Thus you could throw this whole blog out. But, don’t. Give it a chance.

I may know absolutely nothing functionally speaking about being married, but I can say pretty definitively that the picture of marriage or relationships that we see in movies and tv shows is ridiculous and far-fetched and is ultimately setting up a generation to fail in marriage because it’s all about emotion.

I have been stuck at home for the last 48 hours due to my respiratory system being ravaged by the flu (this stuff does not mess around). This has given me ample time to read, and one such book I’ve been digging into is Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. This book was given to me by a dear friend shortly after I got engaged to my beautiful fiancee Jamie. I had every intention of putting it at the bottom of my to-read list but the tagline got me interested fast.

“What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

That sucked me in fast. Now I’m only a handful of chapters in, but this book has provoked a lot of thought in me about my upcoming wedding and lifelong marriage to Jamie. There’s one such aspect of the book that I want to devote this blog to, and that’s the false idea that our relationships should be built upon emotional highs or that we should value the feeling of chemistry more than anything else.

Thomas will devote an entire chapter to this ploy that media has thrown our way, saying “the concept that marriage should involve passion and fulfillment and excitement is a relatively recent development on the scale of human history, making its popular entry towards the end of the eleventh century.” It’s fascinating to me that romance or an obsession with feelings and emotion has not been a constant in conversations about love and marriage but has slowly entered the equation to eventually take over and dominate our thoughts about love in our modern age.

I grew up pretty obsessed with finding love, with finding this spark of chemistry and electricity and excitement with a girl. I was so wrapped up in this that I declared a girl my girlfriend at the ripe old age of seven. The more I watched the Disney Channel, read books, and watched movies, the more I wanted to have this cute happenstance meeting with a girl and then overcome insecurities to find a forever love. Real life wasn’t that simple. I’ve heard (although I haven’t researched this, but it sounds about right) that infatuation lasts 18 months at the most. I went through elementary school, junior high, high school, and college, being infatuated with different girls but never finding lasting stability with one because I would question the relationship as soon as the feeling wore off.

Then I met Jamie, and it wasn’t love at first sight. But then after a D-Now weekend in Weatherford, we hit it off and were infatuated with one another. This helped us to get through a stint of long distance in Portland and then me taking off to the West to go to Phoenix. But then something happened at the start of 2017. It was inevitable, but I was no less prepared for it. The emotional high we got from speaking or seeing each other began to wane. The long distance lengthened the timeline for these feelings we had for one another, but sooner or later they were gone and we were faced with questions of why we should keep going.

IS THIS NOT INSANITY. In all honesty it is crazy to think that I was conditioned to put so much stock in my feelings. It’s hilarious to think that we should base the most intimate of human relationships on the least reliable thing in the world. I think that Scripture shows us that God made marriage for so much more than getting butterflies in the stomach.

I think Genesis 2:18 is about holiness not happiness.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

 

I genuinely believe that all human relationships are designed to make us grow more like Christ. This applies to friendships, co-workers, neighbors, etc. That being said, a marriage relationship has got to give you the greatest opportunity for growth in Christlikeness since you spend so much time with your spouse. In every other type of relationship, you can distance yourself (or at least try to) from situations that challenge your character or provoke you to change. There’s no such option in marriage (well I guess you can try to avoid it here too).

That’s what makes Gary Thomas’ tagline for his book so intriguing to me. Because I want to believe that marriage truly was made for something greater than our feelings, than companionship, than sex or happiness. I want to believe that my relationship with Jamie in the coming decades will make me more like Jesus. Right now I am able to do pretty much whatever I want outside of my work obligations. That’s going to change in 149 days. That’s going to force me to become more like Jesus in laying down my desires and wants for the sake of my spouse.

Jamie and I got through last Spring by realizing that a relationship built upon the feelings we have when we’re around each other is like building a house on the sand. We’re striving to build our relationship upon Jesus, upon spiritual growth, and I can tell you that has bonded us together much more than butterflies in the stomach (which I still get around her periodically).

I’m not anti-romance. I’m actually a schmuck when it comes to it.

But I know that a relationship built upon the lies of modern movies and television is not a stable one.

Build your marriage upon Jesus.

Build your life upon Jesus.

In His Name,

Nate Roach