It’s Religion AND Relationship

It’s not religion, it’s a relationship.

This has become one of the most popular of what I call “fortune-cookie theology” statements about following Jesus.

It’s cute.

It’s catchy.

But as I’ve grown in my walk with Jesus (slowly but surely) and my understanding of the story of Scripture, the more I see that statement as partly false, incomplete.

And that false story has led to so many errors in how I’ve viewed the church, spiritual disciplines, or even my own identity.

Let’s walk through a couple falsehoods together and then let’s use the story of Scripture to correct them.

Who We Are 

The relationship focused view of Christianity would certainly emphasize our sonship and sainthood. Praise God for that. But that is incomplete.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 2:4-5

We are a holy priesthood. And Peter is not the first to describe us as such.

As I look at the book of Genesis more and more, the more I see that it was God’s design for Adam was to function in a priestly role as well. He was to mediate God’s grace to the world. When you pay attention, you see that the garden is described like the tabernacle of God (Genesis 1:31-2:3 and Exodus 39:32-40:33), and that the roles and responsibilities of Adam and Eve includes the same language as the roles and responsibilities of the priests (Genesis 2:15 and Numbers 3:8). Remember the book of Genesis was not written with any intention of teaching how God created the world, it was written to teach who God is and who we are.

Come on y’all. I will never get tired of sharing how the Bible is one massive story.

Look at that passage above again. We are a community of living stones that God is using to build a house. The older I get the more I doubt that I really have a personal relationship with Jesus in the manner that most think. Yes I can commune with God privately with His Spirit residing in me. I can speak with Him just as Moses, Jacob, and countless others did. But the Scriptures are full of we language. The passage above is a perfect case in point.

We’ve allowed our culture’s utter obsession with individualism to lead us to think that our relationships with Jesus are private. They’re not. My walk with Him is 100% the business of those in my church.

Back to the story.

Adam and Eve failed at their duties. So God chose a line of priests. They failed again and again. They failed to be perfect mediators. So then, God sent His Son. 

What Jesus Did 

Many like to focus on Jesus as the example of someone who was not concerned about religion, as someone who came to abolish it. Fascinatingly enough, He says the complete opposite regarding the Old Testament Scriptures.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. – Matthew 5:17

Jesus does not abolish the religious nature of the Christian faith. He fulfills it. What befuddles me about the whole “Jesus just wants you to love others” niche of Christianity is this entire Sermon on the Mount section of Jesus’ teachings. As you read the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is making the law so much harder, not the other way around.

What used to be about external actions, Jesus makes about internal motivations.

What used to be the command of not murdering becomes a command of not holding in hatred in your heart.

What used to be the command of not committing adultery becomes a command of not holding any lust in one’s heart.

Jesus didn’t do away with religion. He fulfilled it. He deepened it.

Now, here’s where it gets confusing. Here’s where I reiterate that the phrase “it’s not religion, it’s a relationship” is partly true.

Because of the work of Jesus, we have been set free from the burden of the law (what most equate with the term ‘religion’). We no longer have to adhere to kosher dietary restrictions and strict Sabbath observances. The Law has been satisfied in Christ. Read the book of Hebrews. It’s all about how Jesus satisfied the demands of religion.

But let us not forget that Jesus was a Jew, even considered a Pharisee by many religious scholars. That means that Jesus grew up adhering to habits and actions that formed Him.

And that’s where we’re headed next.

What We Do

People despise legalism. Myself included. Just read my last blog.

But the anti-legalism mentality can fly to far the other direction where we never ingrain any formative habits in our lives. This mentality leads to renegade and rouge Christians who don’t submit to a local church (something the Bible gives literally zero room for, see above).

This mentality has led to a tremendous Biblical literacy problem in our churches. People don’t know Scripture. They don’t read it because they don’t want to become legalists. This mentality has led to prayerlessness, and to honestly thousands upon thousands of dollars being wasted by churches on study resources that often aren’t opened between weeks of Sunday School.

And I’m here to tell you that if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a member of a religion.

Complete with holy days on the calendar, habits and practices that you should be adhering to and using to form yourself into the image of Jesus, and holy Scriptures.

Do you shower?

I do.

Almost every single day.

Do I love to shower?

Do I get just absolutely pumped when the time comes to shower?

No.

It’s a habit.

A boring, rote, ordinary habit.

But it’s a habit that produces a result.

I get to sleep in bed next to my wife.

I’m clean.

Brothers and sisters, Christianity has seemingly boring, rote, ordinary practices that you are called to adhere to. Reading the Old Testament (although, if you read closely, it’s super amazing. I’m about to start a series through 1-2 Kings with my students). Praying. Attending a church that isn’t exactly the way you want it to be (although if we applied the same covenant vow from marriage to our commitment to our churches [like Ephesians 5 does], we’d remember that it’s not about us) after a long weekend. Memorizing Scripture.

Following Jesus is religion AND relationship.

I tell my students all the time that is incredibly foolish to have no habits revolving around Jesus in our lives and yet expect to grow. I tell my students that to come to church twice a month when they feel like it and expecting to be more like Jesus is foolish.

Brothers and sisters, it’s time we stop listening to an entertainment-driven culture and instead remember that there are so much ordinary habits in our faith.

It’s about religion AND relationship.

If you enjoyed this, please consider sharing it! You can follow my blog down below or via the menu on the right side of the page! Also, I appreciate any and all feedback, so comment below as well! 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

The Vice of Ambition

Make a name for yourself.

This is the driving force behind so many of our lives. It’s been the driving force behind mine.

We are told to strive to do great things, to achieve great things, to become great in the eyes of others.

We hear this in the world, and we hear this in our churches.

In other words, we are encouraged to have ambition.

The dictionary definition of ambition is a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.

I have grown up believing at times that I would be great, that I would make a name for myself if I try hard enough and never give up. Occasionally, people would say this type of thing to me, encouraging me to be the best I can be. They fanned into flame the ambition in my heart. Their intentions were pure and heartfelt, I’m not implying anything different.

That being said, ambition, namely selfish ambition, has negatively affected my life in a whole lot of ways.

Real talk.

I had to delete Twitter and Instagram earlier in 2019 because they became a place of great envy and jealousy over how many likes I was receiving. This is as preposterously stupid as it sounds, and so I got rid of the issue (side-note, purging social media has been the most freeing thing).

My ambition lead to jealousy and envy.

My ambition also leads to pride, as I reflect upon how great I am.

My ambition leads to discouragement when the days are long and hard, and my easy life of grand success seems far out of reach.

My ambition leads to selfishness, as I prioritize the things that build up my dreams.

My ambition is the root of countless sin struggles that I fight.

All of this to say, why is it that we have made ambition something to be prized in our church culture? Did you know that it was only recently that we made it something of value? In fact, according to church history, ambition was a vice.

What I am not talking about is the drive and desire to work, and to work hard. God wired that into our beings. The pre-fall creation was a place where Adam and Eve worked.

Instead, I am talking about a desire to make a name for ourselves. The truth is, it’s incredibly hard to have ambition without it becoming a place in our hearts where we want glory instead of giving said glory to the Lord. That’s why the church considered it a dangerous vice for so long.

In his book Upside Down Spirituality, Chad Bird talks about ambition in this way:

Ambition, in other words, is self-seeking. It is not directed outwardly, in service to others, but inwardly, in service to ourselves. It’s the passion to rise above others for the sake of our egos, to accomplish goals so as to polish our image, to view ourselves as more important than others, to crave the limelight, to be the star of the show. The ambitious person will work long hours, sacrifice much, and strive for excellence, all so that he or she will appear extraordinary in the eyes of others.

That’s why ambition is dangerous. Look at the motivations that Bird unpacks. I see myself in all of them. My ambition is most often all about me: my ego, my image, my value, my limelight. It’s why I used to post photos of my burgeoning youth group. It’s why I used social media in the first place. My drive to achieve is so that people remember my name, not God’s.

How wicked is that?

Bird goes on to say this:

We don’t want our narcissistic labor to be sin; we want it to be righteousness. So we rename it ambition. A socially acceptable, even socially applaudable, quality.

Ouch.

Now again, what he is condemning is selfish ambition. He is condemning how prone we are to renaming our pride ambition. Not all of us struggle with this. Some of us are able to chase after big dreams all for God’s glory. I’m not there yet. God is still bringing about sanctification in that part of my heart. I still want people to know me, instead of Jesus.

If however this post has put up a mirror before you and you now clearly see your sinful ambitions, let me encourage you with the gospel.

You and I fall short.

Woefully short.

Some of us will battle our selfish ambition for the rest of our days.

Yet we worship a Savior who was the antithesis of selfishly ambitious. He came in humility. He came willing to die. He wasn’t lazy or lethargic. Rather, He pursued the inauguration of the Kingdom of God with all that He had. To the point of death.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 

He made himself nothing on our behalf.

It makes me ask myself if I’m willing to make myself nothing on His behalf.

Am I okay if no one knows my name?

Am I okay if I’m seen as an average man in an average town doing average things for the glory of my God?

Do some soul searching.

Ask yourself why you have the dreams and desires that you have.

Repent of sinful motivations and find rest in the grace of our Savior.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Not Extraordinary

It was a bright, slightly chilly October morning. I was five years old, maybe six. My illustrious soccer career had just taken off, and my brothers in arms, the Troopers, had a game against some other aptly named squad of energetic but clumsy wannabe World Cup caliber players.

Although I grew to be not totally inept at soccer, at this young age I remember only comical results from our attempts as a team to secure the win out on the pitch.

I remember my good friend Lee blasting a shot from midfield, into our own goal.

I remember tripping over my own feet and getting trampled by what felt like a plethora of mean-spirited opponents (and teammates).

I remember playing goalie, giving up goal after goal until my coach decided to never put me in that position again.

I remember happily running and sliding into a big mud puddle after a game (although I don’t remember if this was to celebrate a win or distract my broken heart from a crushing defeat).

At the end of the season, I got a trophy.

For what, I don’t know.

I just know it’s likely in my parents’ garage or at the dump.

I grew up hearing all the time that I was destined for greatness. Well, not just me. Everyone.

We were all destined to do great things in a world that was anxiously awaiting our arrival in the work force.

I was told regularly that if I could believe it, I could achieve it.

Maybe not in those exact words, but that mantra was all over my childhood.

This seeped into my church experience.

By the time I got to Oklahoma Baptist University, I had been told a plethora of times that I could change the world for Christ.

This came from well-meaning men and women who wanted to inspire the next generation of Christ-followers to leverage their gifts, talents, money, time, and passions for the cause of Christ.

Yet when you boil it down, the message being proclaimed from the Raley Chapel stage was the same falsehood from my soccer participation trophy days, just with a spiritual tint to it.

Here’s what I see in Scripture.

Here’s what I teach.

You aren’t extraordinary.

I’m not.

You’re not.

Part of what I hope to address through any and all blogs I write is the way that we mishandle or misunderstand Scripture. I believe that a deep understanding of Scripture leads to a deep understanding of who God is and what this life is all about.

One way we mishandle Scripture is when we read it in light of participation trophies, like it’s a motivational speaker’s keys to success and a thriving life. With this mindset, the Bible becomes all about who we are. I see it in myself all the time. I can so easily go to Scripture to feel better about myself, focused entirely on what the Bible says about my self-worth, identity, and value.

While the Bible certainly does address our identities, this is not what it is primarily about in the slightest.

The Bible is first and foremost about the good news of Jesus Christ. From it we can come to understand the character and heart of God. From it we can understand that the Bible is about the people of God, not me individually.

Here’s an easy example of where we get this wrong though.

Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this thrown on someone’s letter jacket, someone’s graduation announcement, someone’s life update on Facebook. In those uses, this verse has become about the individual.

This verse isn’t about the individual believer.

It’s a promise that God would rescue His people from Babylonian captivity. I’m not sure what it has to do with lettering in a couple different sports or graduating college.

Now, this verse is extremely encouraging when we understand it in its communal context. God doesn’t leave His people in bondage. He rescues them. This points us forward to the cross of Christ, where the act of Jesus’ sacrificial death sets us free from all bondage and captivity to sin.

But this verse isn’t about you.

Do you see what I’m getting at? We’ve taken the Bible and turned it into a motivational, self-help book. We’ve taken the Bible and used it to tell the next generation that they are going to be amazing.

Now, I’m all for encouraging and lifting up the next generation. I literally get paid to do just that. But our encouragement shouldn’t be in the form of well-intended lies of grandeur. It should be in the form of gospel-centered proclamations of who Christ is, and what He expects of us.

I tell my students that they will have ordinary lives, loving God and loving their neighbors in ordinary ways. Anything more than that is great, but anything more than that is not to be expected.

Please hear my heart in all this. I’m not trying to accuse or condemn. I’m just a man who grew up hearing these things, and I’ve seen the toll it has taken on my peers who didn’t reach their dreams. I’ve seen the toll it has taken on my peers who were told they could do anything. I’ve seen the toll it has taken on me.

To the watching world, I may not be great. But it’s here in Vernon, TX that I can love God and love my neighbor. I can disciple other young men, I can open up my home on a Thursday night to some Junior High boys to get roasted in Super Smash Brothers and other games. I can be invested in an ordinary church, with ordinary men and women, in an ordinary town. All for the glory of an extraordinary God. Wherever God takes me next, I can continue imperfectly striving after Him in ordinary ways.

It’s time we start being okay with just being ordinary.

For our God is extraordinary, and that’s what matters.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Making The Bed

Throughout Christian history, the people of God have been formed, built up in, and strengthened by creeds and confessions of the faith. These were recited in families, church fellowships, and communities as a way to be catechized (taught) in the historic Christian faith.

We are also catechized by our world. Our culture is telling us all of the time how we are to behave, what we are to live for. There are daily habits that we all feel drawn towards and pulled into that are the result of subconscious daily formation via the world we live in. The biggest right now is easily the most obvious (I feel like a broken record saying this). We are taught to put everything on social media, to fight the silence by staring at our phones, and to put up a front whether that is our intention or not.

The most eye-opening event when it came to this was when I first got back from Phoenix. My fiancée Jamie and I went to dinner with one of my closest childhood friends and his wife. He asked me how my year in Phoenix was and when I opened up about the difficulties that I had at the church he was genuinely surprised saying that ‘everything you’ve put on Facebook made it seem like a great experience’. This wasn’t done intentionally by me at all, in fact via this blog I made a lot of my struggles at the church public. Yet my friends back home saw a picturesque experience where it was quite the opposite in many ways.

My generation does a poor job of handling this obsession with social media. However, the former generation doesn’t seem to fair too much better. I remember being at a men’s Bible study in Phoenix where every person around the table was on their phone at some point during the forty minute experience (except for me and my roommate Matt). The call of their individual business or family responsibilities was in that moment greater than the call of God’s Word. This is not a millennial problem. This is an everyone problem. We have all been formed, discipled, and catechized into thinking that to put our phones up for even a short period of time is to make ourselves unavailable to the world and thus perhaps less important.

I feel the weight of this at any family event. Is it enough to enjoy the treasured moments with siblings and parents, or am I obliged to post some picture of it so that everyone else can know just how much fun I had? I have been discipled into believing that without making my moment with family public I am not enjoying life to its fullest. When boiled down, that’s exactly what we are being taught. The fullness of life is found in making every private or intimate family or relationship moment public for other people to like, comment on, etc. This has caused people I know to literally Facebook Live their kitchen meal prep. I know others who make public their children’s tantrums, fits, problems. I know others who make their kids’ successes just as public. Previous generations had bumper stickers, we have Facebook posts. I myself struggle with making private moments of hilarity or doofusness public on social media. We have been discipled into believing that making a public spectacle of private moments is normal, necessary, and fulfilling.

In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren talks about how the start of our days are incredibly important when it comes to how we live and view our days.

Push as hard as the age that pushes against you. – Flannery O’Connor

Warren offers the making of one’s bed as a way to start our days, as opposed to incessant phone use. But it can be any number of liturgical and rhythmic routines that can orient our minds and hearts toward godliness rather than the lies of our age.

Evaluate what you do with your day, especially in the stillness and quiet moments. More often than not, where you go in the quiet is what you’re living for. You are being formed in ways that are beneficial to your spiritual growth, as well as ways that are not. Think through your routines and habits.

I know that when I conclude my day in prayer with Jamie, I am prone to wake up more spiritually aware, more focused on eternal matters in the day ahead. I know that when I spend two hours watching TV or playing Playstation, I am prone to head into the next day needing to be entertained, focused on the here and now. Our practices throughout our days establish us. It is thus incredibly important that we don’t drift through our days unaware of what we’re living for.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2 

My mind isn’t renewed if I give myself no time to sit with God and do just that.

Be aware of what you live for.

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