The Least Of These

As I sit here writing these words, it is Easter Sunday morning. For the first time in my life I attended Easter worship in my pajamas, watching a livestream from my couch. It was easy, comfortable, and convenient for me and others viewing the service via my church’s Facebook page. My father gave an excellent sermon as he always does, and as the live video came to an end, all viewers were able to quickly continue with our days and whatever plans we have with our families.

Despite this apparent ease of our new routine, I feel a strong conviction from the Lord this morning. A verse that has continually worked itself into my mind this morning and in recent days is Matthew 25:40, which reads “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” the least of these being the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. This verse puts on full display to me how ease and convenience are antithetical to our collective calling as followers of Christ. As the church, we like helping the poor, the needy, those who need our help, and it is a beautiful thing when we are able to meet the needs of our community. However, too often our participation in service to others only extends as far as it is convenient for us to do so. We will serve at a food bank on our saturday off, or serve the homeless during a regularly scheduled church meeting, or go on a mission trip during a free week in the summer. This brings the question: Would we only serve within our comfort zone if it was Christ himself we were serving?

My guess is no. We would go above and beyond, sacrificing time, money, and energy in our dedication to the Savior. This would be a show of reciprocity that is rightfully earned by His sacrifice on the cross. But when it comes to other people, we are hesitant to give beyond our bare minimum time, money, and effort because, let’s face it, what have they done for us? They haven’t made the ultimate sacrifice, they aren’t Jesus, so we don’t have an incentive to go above and beyond for them. In rationalizing this, we fail to remember that the reason Jesus came in the first place was because WE are “the least of these.” We are the ones that are so desperately in need of saving, and Jesus made a painful, inconvenient sacrifice on the cross, not because we were worth saving, but because of an overwhelming, all-encompassing love for His people.

It is that same love that we should aspire to give our fellow sinners, not because they deserve it, but because it is what we are called to. Mark 12:31 says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That does not mean love your neighbor according to what they have done for you, or treat them as you would like to be treated, but love them to the same extent that Jesus loved you, to the point of bloodshed, torture and death. This kind of love is self-sacrificial and requires faith to the point of reckless abandon of ourselves for the benefit of others. Our love is not a calculation of debts owed, but an extension of Christ. Our culture tells us that the condition of our lives is somehow earned, that the comfortable deserve their comfort and those who struggle haven’t been good enough to be in better circumstances, but I can personally say that that is not true. I have been blessed with comfort, a loving family, the good fortune to attend my dream college, and countless other things that I was lucky to receive, but did not earn.

The reality is that all any of us has earned in our lives is condemnation, but God has given us a way out because of love. When we accept that, it becomes easier to relinquish what we have been given on earth. Any earthly privilege we have is given from God so that we may use it to help His people. That means that if we are lucky enough to live lives without poverty, without oppression, without abuse, we should do everything in our power to assist those that have. It is our calling as Christians, not to mention just as human beings. I acknowledge that I often fail in this. I am selfish with my money, time, and privilege. I am consumed with my worldly image, striving to meet earthly measures of success.But just because we fail does not mean we cease to try. We cannot just stop loving the poor, the homeless, the incarcerated, and the abused simply because it is difficult. The cross was difficult too, but it gives us hope and life, and that outpouring of love is what we ought to emulate with our words and our efforts as we go forward.

Thank you and God bless

Tanner Knox

Was It The Spirit?

I often ask in prayer that God would open my eyes to the powerful works He is doing in my community. I often ask that I would be able to discern where the Spirit of God is moving. I often ask that God would allow me to see the power of the Spirit at work through me.

These are prayers I believe God loves to answer.

There are things in my life that have happened that can’t be explained without the Lord’s involvement. The moments when I’ve been lonely and have been reminded through a song on the radio that God is with me. The moments when I’ve been fighting to move forward in my faith and a friend on the other side of the country has called me at just the right time. The moments when the same theme has exploded off the page in times of personal devotion and study of God’s Word. The moments when I have counseled a fellow believer and knew what to say to encourage and strengthen their soul.

These may seem like ordinary moments in ordinary days, mere coincidences; but to me, they are clear experiences of the Spirit of God at work in my life.

This very topic has come up in my life a lot this past week. Through conversations at Pizza Hut with a friend and personal study at home, I have thought a lot about the work of the Spirit. When it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit in our communities, I’ve come to be reminded of this truth:

What God does, lasts.

For, “all people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. – 1 Peter 1:24-25

Anything less than a true movement of God in an individual, family, or community will ultimately be shown for what it is, a fraud.

Now let me just be transparent. I’m a skeptic. I’m a doubter. When we see the perceived movements of God at youth camps or my church’s Disciple Nows, I get pumped, but there’s also a nagging doubt. Was this really the Lord, or was it just the emotional pull of that dope bass line? I mean, we’ve all been there. We have responded to the emotions of a moment and we have all made audacious goals. I can’t tell you how many times at Super Summer I made audacious goals to read the Bible in a month or pray an hour every morning. I was moved in the moment. It didn’t last though.

Now I’m not saying that those desires to get into God’s Word and prayer were not from God. The Scriptures make clear that He draws us deeper into relationship with Him. What I’m saying is that my heartfelt proclamations of change most oftentimes boiled down to one thing:

Boredom.

That’s it.

I was bored by my average, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, Christian walk. I was bored and pained by fighting the battle against the same sins day after day, month after month. So summer camps and other mountaintop experiences gave me the chance to try and start out on a new path, one not beset with the harsh realities of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

And I believe that if we were to take down our walls for a moment of brutal honesty, most “movements of God” were nothing more than us trying to manufacture change in an instant.

So, by all means, I pray for revival. I pray that God shows up in amazing and mighty ways in Vernon, TX. I pray that He shows up in amazing and mighty ways all over the world. When a movement of God seems to be hitting a community though, I tend to wait. I wait to see if it lasts.

Consider Gamaliel in the book of Acts. In Chapter five, he tells people to leave the Christians alone. For if it is a man-made movement, it will not last. If it is from God, then there is nothing they can do to stop it.

Or consider how In 2 Kings, we see some of the craziest examples of God’s Spirit at work in the world. Like in the first chapter there is fire falling from heaven to show that the Lord is living. I’ve been reading 2 Kings as part of my personal devotion time, and I have been praying that God would remind me that His Spirit is in me, and that God would do great things in and through me. As I came to chapter two though, I was reminded again of the truth.

Check this out.

The people of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” “Bring me a new bowl, he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring and threw salt into it, saying, “This is what the LORD says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make this land unproductive.’ And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken. – 2 Kings 2:19-22

Think about this. Elisha, a prophet of God, comes to a town that had bad water. Elisha says with boldness, “This is what the Lord says: I have healed this water.” Now that’s an audacious claim. Elisha is speaking on behalf of God! A man speaking on behalf of God! Now, I get nervous when people claim to speak on God’s behalf. There is a difference in our modern era between re-proclaiming what God has said in His Word, and actually claiming to be a conduit from God. Yet Elisha says that the Lord said He wouldheal the water.

Do you want to know how I know that the Lord truly did move?

Look at that bold part of the passage.

At the time 2 Kings was written, the water was pure. What God did, lasted. That’s how you can tell when God moves. Did the fruit last? Is the water still pure?

It breaks my heart to acknowledge that through the years many students who I have seen make bold audacious claims of allegiance to God have no desire to follow Him anymore. I believe that seeds were planted. But like the parable, thorns came and choked the sprouts.

So when I hear lots of emotional excitement about some supposed movement of the Lord, I wait to see the fruit. I wait to see it in my own life, and in our communities.

Let me again be clear. I pray, I plead, I beg for God to move. I just have a different opinion than most on how that will happen. For me, there’s no bells and whistles. We combat sin, speak the truth of God’s Word, and invest relationally. There’s often no hype associated with it. Sometimes I wish there were. Yet when I see a student, over time grow increasingly more and more in love with Jesus and less and less captive to besetting sins, it’s in those moments that my eyes are opened to seeing God move. Yes, He can save my entire community in an instant if He so wished, but it’s in the day to day ‘coincidences’ that I see Him at work.

I see the fruit.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Behind The Scenes Of Christmas

Aslan is on the move.

There are few phrases that draw out emotions deep in my soul like that one. Whether it was in the book form of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe or the movie adaptation, that phrase brings so much hope. In the case of the aforementioned book, Aslan is a depiction of God in a fantasy world designed by C.S. Lewis. In the book there is much hopelessness as an evil witch presides and reigns over the kingdom. Those loyal to Aslan are captured and condemned. Yet whispers still bounce about in private conversations.

Aslan is on the move.

Sure enough, the titular character ends up defeating the evil witch and bringing joy and hope to the kingdom once ravaged by perpetual winter.

When I sat in the theaters and watched this book come to life on the big screen, my heart was overwhelmed with emotions each time that phrase was proclaimed. Something deep down in my heart was being pricked each time, and I began to realize that the thought of God’s intimate involvement in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations brings so much joy and hope in my heart.

Enter the Christmas story.

Hundreds of years of quiet.

A messiah was promised by the prophets of God, and yet generation after generation passed from life to death and each subsequent generation still had not seen this promised messiah rise up.

Over the last couple weeks my wife and I have been trying to prioritize time in God’s Word together and we’ve been focusing on the Gospel of Luke. As we have been digging in together, I have been struck by the way that the Spirit is moving throughout the first two chapters leading up to the public ministry of Jesus. Just under the surface of the events that are taking place, we see that the Holy Spirit is leading the way.

The Spirit of God was something that only a chosen few received from God the Father in the Old Testament. After the resurrection of Jesus, this Spirit is poured out on all who have put their faith in what Jesus did through his life and sacrificial death. It is not shackled or limited to just a few people. It’s for everyone. It’s the agent of life that works in each of our individual lives as followers of Jesus.

Yet here in the beginning of Luke, it was not for everyone. Not yet.

In the darkness of centuries of silence, the Spirit of God began to move.

First, an angel appears to Zechariah and tells him the following about his soon to be son:

“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. ‘ – Luke 1:14-15

This soon to be child would be filled with the Spirit of God as a fetus. That’s pretty incredible. In his mother’s womb he would have a special outpouring of God’s Spirit upon his life, and he would eventually pave the way for the arrival of the promised Messiah (1:17). This proclamation of the angel comes during an average day, when it seemed like the Lord had forgotten His people.

After Jesus’ birth is proclaimed to Mary, the story continues with Mary going to visit her relative Elizabeth (the woman whom Zechariah was married to). When this happens, we see the Spirit move again.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” – Luke 1:41-42

Elizabeth is given the words to say to proclaim the praises of the Messiah through the presence of the Holy Spirit in her heart and life.

It only gets better though, as the Spirit of God continues to move.

Zechariah was made mute by the angel of the Lord due to his doubting of God’s promises, yet at the arrival of his promised son Zechariah begins to proclaim and sing the greatness of God, something that comes about via, you guessed it, the Spirit of God.

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. – Luke 1:67-68

The phrase Aslan is on the move does something in me, but this verse does even more. God visited and redeemed His people. That is the message of Christmas. Everything else is just noise. Sunday school parties and Christmas lights and gifts are great, truly. But what gets me most excited about this season is that we get to reflect on that promise. God visited and redeemed His people.

The actual birth of Jesus aside, there is one more figure in the proceedings leading up to the ministry of Jesus that is gifted with the presence of the Spirit.

Jesus is now the age where he is required to be purified in the temple (according to Leviticus 12) by his parents. So Mary and Joseph take Him there, and they there encounter a man by the name of Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, and he was waiting for the promised Messiah.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. . . and he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, . . . “for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” – Luke 2:25, 27-28, 30-31

This Spirit-filled man proclaimed the majesty of the infant Jesus. He proclaimed to all who heard him (much like Anna a few verses later) that this infant was the one who would bring salvation to all the nations.

In the bleakness of the perceived silence of God, God shows that He is present and involved in the world.

The story of Christmas is a story of God’s movement in the world.

Aslan is on the move.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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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

 

Move Toward Someone

Monday afternoon I was in Mardel bookstore searching for some material for the children’s ministry at our church. As I walked through the kids section, I saw a book I had given my prodigal younger brother for Christmas in a previous year and tears filled my eyes. Two years after his departure and I still get caught off guard with the pain of that reality.

Monday night I was at FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and heard something about a great event being put on by another church in town, and for a moment envy and jealousy crept into my heart, threatening to briefly harden my heart towards this other church instead of rejoicing with those who rejoice.

In the span of just a few hours, I was confronted with my suffering and my sin. My external pain and internal temptations.

Some of you may be thinking what I think from time to time, “Nathan, shut up, you’re constantly talking about these things on this blog.” My fear is our churches are full of people thinking the same thing about each other, “Can you just stop talking about the same things all the time? We get it. Sin, sin, sin. Suffering, suffering, suffering.” And while there are a plethora of commands of how we’re supposed to treat each other, we appear sometimes to not really want to obey these commands at all. Let’s look at some below.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2

What I am not advocating for is all of us sitting around together in our Sunday School classes, going in a circle and sharing our deepest current sins and struggles with absolutely no follow up (This happened to me at a D-Now when I was in Junior High. It wasn’t helpful.)

What I am advocating for is for us to be willing to have those type of conversations with some of our fellow believers.

Talking about these things is not always done in a beneficial way. Opening up about sins for the sake of tearing down facades of perfectionism and walls of great lives is not enough. I once sat in a Men’s Group in college where all we did was rate our temptation towards certain sins on a scale of 1 to 10. After that we prayed together, acknowledged we’re all battling temptation, and then never talked about it again. This does basically nothing. It’s borderline enabling, because it tells people that everyone fights sin so don’t beat yourself up too much. 

Confession without daily walking in wisdom and love through sin is dangerous and incomplete.

We need to be people who daily fight for each other. Yes, daily. To get there, we have to acknowledge that all of us fight sin and fight suffering. Every one of us. Every day.

I have yet to meet someone who is physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally 100% every day. So even on my most joyous and hopeful days, I’m struggling in a sin-ravaged world.

Now that I’ve rambled, let me get to the part of the blog I really want to focus on.

To get to what I’ve described above, we have to move toward each other.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, someone is not going to randomly start opening up about their sins and struggles at church out of nowhere (if they do, that’s likely a cry for help that we must follow up on and be a source of hope and freedom for that person).

Why do we need to move toward one another?

Because we’re human. And we’d rather not open up about these things.

But Christ came to us.

John 1:14 says that the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us. He set up shop on our block. We in our flesh would never go to God, so He came to us in grace and love.

We can model this in this way. Move towards someone today. Move past the mega-annoying ‘how are you doing’ question that only leads to a ‘good’ response. Push past that into real questions about their lives. Seek to humbly listen, learn, and love. Don’t come with answers, come with questions. Don’t come with selfish motives, come with a desire to love someone in your church as Christ would.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger – James 1:19

This will inevitably be insanely awkward at first. Last year I met with two great young men every week for lunch, and for months it seemed to be all conversations about Fortnite and sports. It took a while for us all to collectively push past those surface conversations into deep intentional ones. In some of my discipleship relationships today I’m still in the awkward stage. To be vulnerable and open about these matters in our lives, we need to trust that the other person cares enough to pray, call out, convict, and follow up.

Guess what. Doing this, this moving towards someone else thing, is uncomfortable. It takes effort because it’s not what we’re naturally prone to do. Yet Christ stepped out of glory to meet us here on earth. You and I can get out of our comfort zone in order to become covenant communities of believers who are actually for each other in the grimy and gritty days we live in.

I would challenge you to not simply like and share this post, but rather to implement it. Pick one person this semester or season to have this type of relationship with (outside your spouse). Pick one person that you weekly, if not daily, reach out to in the midst of our own personal sins and struggles. Don’t just confess. Walk through sin. When it comes to walking through sin with another, I mean that when someone confesses sin to me, I’m going to text and call and message and make sure that they are aware of my prayers and of my Scripture-based encouragement as they go through the fight. Don’t just break down in tears about difficulties in your life, pray through it.

If we as the Church would do this, we would see our churches come alive.

Move towards another person today.