The Mover of Hearts

Have you ever talked to a brick wall?

This past week my wife and I coached our first basketball game. A team of Kindergarten boys. Yes, you read that right. Kindergarten. Boys. We were in over our heads from the start. We got ready for tip-off and promptly took the L in our first game.

It was fun, but in other ways not so fun. We have great little dudes on our team, but they listen about 0% of the time to our coaching. They get so amped up and excited to be playing basketball, so they shut their ears off and go to work. My favorite part of the game was when I yelled at one of our players (everyone in the gym is yelling so I gotta yell too) to pass the ball to an open teammate. He looked at me, dribbled up the court, and launched a granny shot at the basket.

Like I said previously, we’ve got great kids on our team. This post isn’t about my coaching woes. Our Thursday night game however quickly illustrated for me how I sometimes feel in ministry, and how I sometimes feel about my own walk with the Lord.

Way too many times I feel like I’m preaching, teaching, and talking to a brick wall. We all feel this way in certain ways, right?

Sometimes it’s when I’m desperately trying to light a fire in my students to put the Lord first in their lives.

Sometimes it’s when I’m desperately trying to light a fire in my own life to prioritize private prayer, time in His Word, and serving and loving those in my community.

Sometimes it’s when I hear of yet another attack or shooting or act of senseless violence and I wonder what the heck is going on in our society.

Brick walls.

On Thursday night after our game I opened up the book of Ezra and found some great encouragement. Not for my coaching strategy, but for my life and ministry.

The book of Ezra is not a book I’m tremendously familiar with. That can be seen by the fact I have no resources to help me study it and I’ve literally never blogged about it. So this is a first.

In the first chapter of Ezra, we see a historical account of a pagan king allowing the people of God to rebuild a temple to their God in Jerusalem. It’s not the most enthralling account, and it’s not the most popular devotional place to land, but there is a profound truth on display that you’ve got to see.

God moves hearts.

Hear that again. Let it seep down into your spirit.

God moves hearts.

Let me show you what I mean. This is coming straight from Scripture.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: – Ezra 1:1

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart God had moved – prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. – Ezra 1:5

All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings. – Ezra 1:6

Wow. Look at that. God’s movement, His intimate involvement in the affairs of His people, is all over this passage. The people had been exiled by King Nebuchadnezzar, their temple destroyed and in tatters, their faith in God shaken as they became captive to the Babylonians. The prophets rose up and spoke up, the people turned, and here in the book of Ezra, God makes plans to rebuild His temple. The people did not act alone of their own will, desire, and strength.

Instead, God first moved in the heart of a pagan king! That alone is worthy of our awe and adoration. The Lord moved in Cyrus’ heart in order to fulfill His promises given to His people through the prophet Jeremiah.

But the Lord’s movement and involvement does not stop there. No, He then moves in the hearts of His people, encouraging them to get up and rebuild the temple. Their desire came not from within themselves but rather straight from the Lord.

It doesn’t stop there either. Although not explicitly stated in verse six, I make the argument that God moved in the hearts of their neighbors as well. I mean, seriously, they’re giving them gold and silver and all these precious goods.

I don’t know where you find yourself today. Maybe you have a wayward child who you are tempted to give up on. Maybe you wake up at the start of every new month and wonder why you spent little time with the Lord in the month prior. Maybe you work in a church or non-profit and the fire you have for the Lord is close to being quenched because you haven’t seen much fruit. Maybe you have been praying for a loved one to come to the Lord and after decades you see the light starting to fade.

Wherever you are, God is in the habit of moving hearts.

This takes faith.

I pray that you are encouraged in your current situation, I pray that you would go to your knees and remember that God moves hearts.

If He’s bigger than Babylon and Persia, bigger than destroyed temples and His people’s captivity, then He’s surely bigger than whatever you’re facing today.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Grace Isn’t For Me

Yesterday, I forgot the gospel.

The day before, I forgot the gospel.

Tuesday, I forgot the gospel.

Now, I obviously don’t have a memory loss problem. (I mean not that I know of.) What I do have is a heart that is fleshly, a heart that is sinful, a heart that is forgetful.

As a pastor, I preach and teach the good news of Jesus multiple times a week. I do so in large groups, I do so in small groups, I do so one on one. Constantly the message of the gospel is being spoken by me. I hope and pray and hope some more that it is bearing fruit in the hearts of those I proclaim it to.

What has become frustrating to me though is the fact that I could speak all day about the gospel and believe that it applies to others, but in my heart and mindset at home, I don’t allow it to be applied to me.

Here’s a clear example of what I mean. I distinctly remember one day in May 2016, not long after I graduated, when my inability to accept the gospel was probably the most stark. It was a Sunday morning and I was sitting with my church community as we partook of the Lord’s Supper together.  

I remember it clear as day. We were passing out the elements, and as I sat there, I told myself “grace doesn’t apply to you.”

The Lord’s Supper, in my church tradition, is simply a pointing back to the work of Christ on the cross. We don’t receive grace when we take it each time, rather it is a reminder of the total and complete grace we received by putting our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross.

My heart and mind refused to allow me to rest in grace.

Even though I took the bread and the cup, my mind kept saying, “You can’t accept this grace. You’re a pastor who sins. You’re garbage. This grace isn’t for you. You are supposed to lead people but you yourself are trash.” This went through my head on repeat.

This was only a few weeks after being ordained to be a pastor. To me, the fact that people saw God’s call on my life to be a pastor and my own inability to overcome all sinful desires in my heart didn’t compute. I was a fraud.

On that immensely painful day, I had forgotten the message of the gospel.

I wish I could say that was the last time I forgot the message of the gospel. To be transparent, that’s one of the harder parts of my job as a pastor. I absolutely know and believe that Scripture says I’m held to a higher standard. But way too often I hold myself to a higher standard than the message of the gospel. I refuse to accept grace and walk in forgiveness. Instead, I try and punish myself emotionally and mentally in penance.

Maybe, you’re like me.

Maybe, you doubt grace.

Maybe, your sin seems greater than God’s love for you.

God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-7

That’s the message of the gospel. God is rich in mercy. He loves us. He loved us. Even when we were dead as a result of our sins against Him. He made us alive with Christ, He saved us BY GRACE. Now we are seated with Him in glory (even if we’ve still got work to do here on earth). This is the gospel.

What we modern Christians forget sometimes is that Paul wrote Ephesians to followers of Jesus. This book (like many if not all of Paul’s letters) was not an evangelistic piece. Rather, it was a letter written to those who were already following Jesus. Yet, Paul reminds the people of the message of the gospel. Why?

Because we’re all prone to forget what the gospel tells us about ourselves. We all forget how we’re viewed by God. We all forget that we’ve already been made perfect in the eyes of God. Just look at the books of Galatians and Hebrews. These were people who were forgetting that they were perfect in God’s eyes, and so they fell back into legalistic and religious tendencies in order to give themselves assurance of their salvation.

Brothers and sisters, the gospel is not something you move on from. The gospel is the beauty of the Biblical story, it is the message of our freedom.

I’ll be honest, I still forget what the gospel says about me. I still allow myself to be defined by my sins and shortcomings. That’s why I need to remind myself of the gospel every single day. That’s why I need people in my life reminding myself of the gospel every single day.

But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. – Hebrews 3:13

We fall into sin, we fall into the lies of the enemy when we are not being encouraged by one another daily. The individualism of our day and age in churches drives me insane. How arrogant of us to think we can do it alone.

I need to preach the gospel to myself every single day.

I need you to remind me of it too.

If you see in me a falling back towards earning the grace of God, call me lovingly into repentance and back under the never-ending, unceasing grace and mercy of God.

Preaching the gospel to yourself daily means saturating your heart and mind in the truths of the good news of Jesus found in Scripture.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

Spirit-Powered Ministry

I wake up on Wednesday morning, eat a couple waffles and a banana, take my vitamin, jam to worship music while I get ready, and then head off to work. I put the finishing touches on my sermon for youth group, and then head to lunch. After lunch a nervousness clutches my gut and squeezes tight. I rest in the afternoon and then head up to youth. At youth I watch as the students interact, eat, and play games. Then I walk up the stairs while looking and re-looking at the notes I’ve taken over a half a dozen hours of studying the passage. Then I preach. Then I go get Sonic and go home to read.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

There are times as a minister where it feels like something is missing. I put in work and effort and try to be engaging, all to go home and do it again the next week.

As we’ve been studying 1-2 Thessalonians together as a youth group, certain verses jump out at me as I read it in different settings. Yesterday I was reading it and 1 Thessalonians 1:5 jumped off the screen (I prefer an actual paper Bible but the app can be useful occasionally).

because our gospel came to you not only in words, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. – 1 Thessalonians 1:5

Nestled in Paul’s chapter of thankfulness for the faith of the Thessalonian believers is this statement about how the gospel came to the people of Thessalonica. It came to them from Paul and his missionary team not only in mere words, but also with power from the Holy Spirit that lead to conviction.

Meditating on this verse (saying it over and over, thinking about the words and phrases) caused me to realize that there is definitely oftentimes a lack of power and conviction from my sharing the gospel, and maybe that has to do with me sometimes trying to preach and work under my own strength.

Regardless of what your profession or vocation is, we are all in ministry. We are all called to minister like Jesus to our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family. So I think this verse has implications for all of us. When we do ministry in our specific contexts, we should be reliant upon the Spirit’s power.

Thinking about this made me go searching through old journals to find a quote from last February. Last February I was able to attend a NAMB Conference in Los Angeles, California. A pastor by the name of Vance Pittman was talking about this very thing. He said a couple things from the stage that have come to mind time and again.

More can happen in five minutes of God’s manifest presence than in fifty years of human effort. 

What happened at my church on Sunday that can only be explained by God showing up?

Man, these are good. These are powerful quotes that prompt a whole lot of thought in me. I’m reminded that truly God can do so much in an instant. More than I could do in decades of ministry. That first quote brings to mind a passage out of Acts that was my absolute favorite during one semester at OBU.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made my man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. – Acts 17:24-25

There are few passages in Scripture that draw out awe and amazement in me like this one. In just two verses of one of Paul’s sermons we see just how mighty God is.

God:

  • made this world and everything we see
  • is the Lord of heaven
  • is the Lord of earth
  • does not live in temples made by man
  • is not dependent upon the works of men
  • needs nothing
  • gives all mankind life
  • gives all mankind breath
  • gives all mankind everything

Boom. That’s powerful stuff. This verse should take down any thoughts about God needing us to move, God needing us to spread the gospel. He graciously chooses to use us, but He does not need us.

As far as the second quote, this is definitely convicting. I rarely show up to church expecting big things from the Lord. Now, I am a consistent advocate of the Lord moving in the ordinary, via our spiritual disciplines. That being said, we serve a God that is capable of more than we could ask or imagine. There’s something to be said for expecting Him to do just that.

For instance, I pray for revival in our country regularly. I want to see God do something in my generation that cannot be explained by human logic or human strength. I want Him to draw an entire generation to Himself.

Now back to the monotony.

Work for the Lord in ministry (again, whatever your vocation might be, you’re to share the gospel), be faithful in the times where it feels like drudgery. But don’t try and move without the Spirit of God. Paul spoke the gospel to the people of Thessalonica, but he didn’t ignite revival. The Spirit of God brought power which led to conviction in the hearts of men.

If I’m not praying for God to move, then it will be a waste of my time. No one will come to know the Lord through our words alone. We need God moving. We need the Spirit of God to empower our words, leading to full conviction in the hearts of men and women.

What if we as a church began praying like this. What if we realized that God doesn’t need us, but graciously used us. What if we prayed that God would move through our words. Without Him, the gospel will not expand in our midst.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

On My Shelf: December 28, 2017

Over my Christmas break, I had the pleasure of finishing a book that has filled my heart and mind with dreams for what I want the youth I’m charged with shepherding to experience. Throughout the time I’ve been reading it, it has challenged, affirmed, and even equipped me for the year ahead in ministry to youth.

The book is Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry. It is edited by Cameron Cole & Jon Nielson, and it has ten other contributors. The book is a call to gospel-centered youth ministries, instead of entertainment-centered youth ministries.

This passion for gospel-centeredness has been on my heart and in my life for quite some time, but this book kicked it up a notch for me. I grew up in a youth ministry that had great godly men with hearts for the gospel ride the wave of entertainment and giveaway based ministries. I watched in sadness in college as many of my peers who grew up in such ministries drifted away from the church, because they were ill-equipped to stand for Jesus and were not consistently taught the beauty of Christ and the wonders of the gospel.

This book will lovingly confront the entertainment-based youth ministry industry that in some ways is still roaring along today. It paints a picture instead of youth ministries that are wholly focused on the good news of the gospel and the centrality of Christ in every facet from worship music and small groups, to discipleship and short-term mission trips, to developing adult and student leaders to retreats and events. Each chapter picks a different aspect of the generic youth ministry and teaches you the Biblical foundation for why it should be gospel-centered and then provides you with applications and ways to implement this gospel-centered approach into your own ministry over time.

My two favorite chapters were:

  1. Gathering God’s People: Generational Integration in Youth Ministry
  2. The Impact of Expounding God’s Word: Expositional Teaching in Youth Ministry

The chapter on generational integration was the most convicting for me. We do a pretty terrible job of making youth feel like they’re not a real part of the church. The chapter encouraged churches to allow students to be a part of the ‘big church’ programs through announcements, being greeters, being ushers, or the like. It put forward the belief that countless students leave church in college because they never really felt like part of the church to begin with.

The chapter on expositional preaching was the most affirming. It has always been my heart and desire to teach through books of the Bible. It laid out the fact that Biblical illiteracy leads to a lot of sin, and that the best thing we can do for our students is to show them the Bible’s overarching story and how to study God’s Word for themselves. I do not remember ever walking through a book of the Bible in my youth days. As a result, my understanding of my faith was a hodgepodge of devotional appetizers with no doctrinal depth and I was clueless as to the grand narrative of Scripture.

Overall, I agreed with just about everything this book laid out. I was convicted in many ways, and my passion for gospel-centered ministry was stoked.

If you are a student, a parent of a student, a youth minister, or just someone who wants to see the next generation drawn to Jesus, pick up this book and give it a read.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach