Just Mercy

I saw the film Just Mercy a few weeks ago with my wife and some friends. The entire film, following the work of Bryan Stevenson, was a sobering and somber reminder of the injustice that often takes place in our midst. The whole film has been rattling around inside my mind, but one scene in particular has kept me enraptured mentally.

One of the men that Bryan Stevenson represented was a man named Herbert Richardson. Richardson survived an attack in Vietnam that killed his entire platoon, leaving him with major PTSD. This led to his bombing of a house, leading to the death of a young woman. While this was an action that he took, his PTSD was never considered and he was not given a just and fair trial.

As a member of the audience, we watch as Herbert Richardson was walked from death row into a waiting area, as the guards prepped him for death by electrocution. We watch as they shave his body, give him his last meal, and strap him in. All this takes place while the song “Old Rugged Cross” plays over the loud speakers, the song he chose to be his last listen.

Man, my heart was in my throat.

As I sat there watching this scene, I couldn’t help but think of the injustice and brokenness in my own community. I couldn’t help but think of my indifference to it. As a pastor, I’m at church every Sunday. I sing songs just like the Old Rugged Cross about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet at the same time I too often ignore the needs of those around me.

In the book of Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah about what is on His heart, about what He despises.

And here’s the message. God despises those of us whose lips claim allegiance to Jesus, but whose hearts are indifferent to the needs of others around us.

Convicting much?

That definitely convicts me.

I hate your New Moons and prescribed festivals. They have become a burden to me; I am tired of putting up with them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. 

Wash yourselves. Clean yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Please the widow’s cause. 

“Come, let us settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool.” – Isaiah 1:14-18

God despises when I attend Sunday school, pray, read my Bible, evangelize, tithe, sing hymns, and teach Scripture, but don’t care for those in need around me.

The church should unashamedly stand for the value and dignity of every human life, from the fetus to the foster child to the foreigner in our midst.

How many times have you sung the hymn “Jesus Paid It All”? I’ve probably sung that song a thousand times throughout my life. And only this weekend did I realize that the context of this passage, and thus that song, is not primarily about sin in general. It is about the stain and blemish on me when I dare to ignore the call of Christ to care for ALL people.

In the scene I opened this blog with, as Richardson is being executed, those on death row are banging against the cell doors and yelling “We’re right here! We are with you! We’re right here! You’re not alone!”

And honestly, again, as I was watching it I wondered what those in need in my community were hearing from me. Maybe they’re hearing “I don’t have the time for you” or “I don’t have any resources with which to help you”. Maybe worse yet they’re hearing “you put yourself in that position” or “I don’t trust you not to use and abuse the system”.

Am I proclaiming “We’re right here!” to those in need?

To be candid, they’re probably not hearing that from me. It’s easier for me to sit in my ivory tower studying and proclaiming the Word of God than it is for me to get my hands dirty in acts of service to meet very real needs in my community. God forgive me for that.

This final verse we looked at together is encouraging and full of the gospel. God will wash me white as snow. The beauty of that verse is not only that God will forgive my indifference which is despairingly sinful. God also promises to wash the crimson stain of my indifference away.

That means that as I ask God, He will give me a greater heart for those around me.

Church, we will close our collective doors if we keep standing above those in need.

Church, we will miss the heart of Christ if we don’t go to meet the needs of all people.

Church, we will push our communities away if all they see from us is the decrying of sin in a sinful culture, constant outrage and outcry, and no heart for the souls of men.

Church, our God despises our religious traditions devoid of a passion for justice.

Church, our mission is to rule and reign, dispensing the justice and MERCY of God.

Jesus did not come decrying the sins of Roman culture.

He came decrying the sins of the religious like me.

Jesus did not come to avoid service.

He came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

Jesus did not come trying to change a culture.

Jesus came to save the world.

My greatest witness is not my moral high ground (I don’t know about you but I’ve got some very wicked private sin in my heart). My greatest witness is humble service.

My community doesn’t need my religious outrage.

They just need mercy.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

 

I don’t own rights to the picture above, and no copyright infringement is intended.

Needy & Needed

I’m needy. It’s been a while since this has been shown me in such starkness as in my preparations for my youth group’s upcoming D-Now. I need people’s help, I need people’s prayers, I need friends and laughter and definitely the Lord.

Yet I’m also needed. Phone calls, e-mails, face-to-face conversations show me that my community of faith, my little circle, needs me.

Dwelling on my neediness alone leads to a misunderstanding of who I am in Christ, but dwelling on how I’m needed alone leads to arrogance and pride. Held in the tension and balance, we have what it means to be a Christian in community.

The same can be said about you. You are needy. You have struggles and difficulties and you weren’t meant to go through life alone. You are also needed. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says this, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” As a follower of Christ, you have been given specific gifts from the Spirit, not so you can be puffed up in them but rather so that you can serve your church community through them. You are an integral part of your local church, yet you’re also reliant upon your local church.

Opening up just a tad, as a young man I sometimes feel the pressure to remain composed, put-together, with all my ducks in a row. There’s then a hidden weight when I don’t share my neediness or struggle. A weight that bears on me because I didn’t share my sin, my sadness, my struggle with others in my life but instead carry it alone in an effort to again look perfectly put-together. In an Instagram filter world, I know I’m not alone in these feelings.

With that being said, one of the most freeing, encouraging things in the world is when an older man or woman opens up about just that: sins, sadnesses, or struggles.

There are two ways that we can open up about these things towards others, one is detrimental, and the other beneficial.

The first is sharing our ‘brokenness’ and leaving it at that, which I believe is done with a good heart but simply glorifies sin rather than God. It becomes opportunities to just air out sins but that doesn’t benefit the believer. It’s like a guy coming to small group and opening up about how he’s struggling with anger or consistent complaining or alcoholism and then everyone just saying God loves you and leaving for the night. So many use small groups to emphasize their own brokenness instead of the greatness of God. Yes, God does in fact use sinners, but sinners with no plans or purposes for growing in holiness are not actually repentant.

The second way to share your needs is in my opinion the beneficial way (I am not a perfect man, and I don’t share my sins or struggles in a perfect way). I don’t have like a key verse for this, but basically my sorrows and sins should be shared in order for me to be encouraged by the saints and grow in my holiness. Sorrows can be shared in order to be prayed for (like right there in the moment), not in order to have a who’s had the worst week competition. Sins can be shared in order to be confronted, in order to put legs on our repentance. John the Baptist was quite livid towards the religious leaders of Jesus’ day for they did not “produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8)”. There’s power in confession, but in my opinion only when there’s fruit.

Men and women in our churches are living isolated lives of private sin and sorrow because we don’t go to church with this tension of our neediness and our neededness (not actually a word, but whatever). We instead go to church doing our best to portray that we’re great parents, great friends, great workers, great Christians. We go to church just to be filled instead of to serve and support those around us (don’t get me started on how sick and twisted that is), and then we all go back to our lives without fully experiencing what the local church has to offer.

Young men and women, please remember that our lives are about God’s holiness, not our brokenness. In your efforts to share your need, please point to the Lord.

Older men and women, put down the facade. The next generation finds freedom in a way when you admit your sorrows and struggles.

Let’s be the church to one another.

You are needy. And you are needed.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach