No Country

As followers of Christ, we are just passing through. As followers of Christ, we are sojourners and exiles on earth. We are in a sense men and women of the future, purchased by the blood of Christ for a present kingdom which will come to full fruition in the future.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. – 1 Peter 2:11

I never felt out of place growing up. Sometimes I felt a little different due to my belief in Jesus, but I never felt like I was a sojourner or exile here on earth. This still felt like my country, my place, my home.

This wall of confidence in this world being my place, my comfort zone, and my home slowly began to show signs of weakness and unsoundness my latter years at OBU. This was because my world expanded with trips to Salt Lake City and Portland. All of a sudden the United States didn’t feel quite as homey for me. The hostility to Christianity here in the states is still not even in the same league as other parts of the world, but it was definitely growing and my little world was getting rocked as I got to see it and experience it via these NAMB trips.

This wall of confidence in this world being my place, my comfort zone, and my home came crashing down around me in Phoenix. In a city that was 93% full of people who don’t submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, I felt the spiritual darkness, the spiritual warfare, like never before. It slowly began picking away at my defenses, my incorrect beliefs of this being my place. Over the course of many months this kept happening, until one day I lay defenseless in my bed listening to a song come under my door from the other room.

My roommate was listening to John Mark McMillan’s song No Country. In the song, McMillan will describe his feelings of being an exile and sojourner on earth. This lead to the lyrics that were reverberating throughout our apartment, “I’ve got no place to call my country, no place to call my country, no place to call my country anymore.”

My heart and soul put up all their defenses. I hated what I was hearing. I didn’t want to believe the words of the song, I didn’t want to believe that truth of Scripture. Sure, it’s not popular to be a Christian in the USA, but this, this was my place. This was my home. This was where I felt comfortable and at peace.

I fought this sojourner identity with all of my strength. I made sure I kept myself distracted, I made sure that I didn’t pay too much attention on Twitter at how ungodliness and wickedness and injustice fill our earth. I made sure I went and saw Dunkirk and ignored the gnawing realities that surrounded my heart. When Jamie arrived for the summer, I ignored them some more. This was my home. This was my place to start a family with Jamie and to live happily ever after. The culmination of all my joys and deeds would be me making a home here on earth.

In the moments of being alone in the car or at my apartment, the nature of my place here on earth came cascading in with every minute of silence. So I’d turn on the TV and fight. On and on this dance went, and then I got my ticket out. I got back to Texas.

I had somehow convinced myself that being back in Texas would quell the attack, and that I would again feel at home here on earth. Four months of seeing family, friends, Jamie, working in a place I’m familiar with, and having my own home on a quiet little street in Vernon, Texas.

Then it came again. In the quiet. And when you live alone, there are plenty of those quiet moments.

It came again. Feelings of not quite being home. Feelings of being out of place.

Now I’m starting to get it. This isn’t home. This isn’t my country. This world is not my place. The culmination of all my joy is somewhere else.

If you’re struggling with this too, surrender. There are amazing promises of God in the Scriptures that tell us who we are in Christ. Don’t miss this one. In Christ, we are exiles. In Christ, we are sojourners. In Christ, this is not our home.

This scared the snot out of me before, but now it doesn’t. Now it invigorates me. Or at least it’s starting to. Because each time I don’t feel at home here is a glorious reminder that I was made for more. Each time I feel weird, restless, like a wanderer, it’s because God is reminding me that I was made for heaven. I was made for communion with God not earthly trinkets.

This should not drive us to hide in our houses and wait for the end. Rather, this should motivate us out into mission. The verse I shared earlier in the blog is about as explicit you can get about our nature. We are sojourners and exiles, yes.

Because of this, we should deny our fleshly desires, the desires that tell us to partake of this world in ways that don’t honor God. The following verse teaches us more.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2:12 

We should live in such a way that the people around us glorify God because of us.

I’ll close with these two quotes.

As Christians, we can trust in God’s guidance even while we are in exile here on earth. – Daniel Akin

We can walk in the faithful footsteps of those who have gone before us, knowing that God will sustain us – like them – all the way home. – Eric Landry 

So go ahead, accept that this place isn’t your home. It never will be.

You’re a sojourner.

You’re an exile.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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The Voice Of God

There are seasons of my life in which I feel like God is not speaking to me. I pray, read, study, go to church, and there’s just something missing. He’ll ‘go quiet’ so to speak for a time, but then He’ll open up my ears to the ways that He was speaking to me all along. These seasons of quiet have the potential to strengthen my faith if I let them. Or I can allow myself to go the opposite way and depart from Christ in the quiet seasons.

There was a season in the history of God’s people where they faced this choice. The prophets had grown quiet, the Roman Empire was rising and making all peoples subjugated to its will, including the Jews. No genuine prophet had risen up for centuries, and yet the prophets of old had told of a Messiah that would come and make all things new. In a sense, the Lord hadn’t spoken for centuries.

I can’t imagine what it was like to be in the people of God in that time. It would have been tempting to lose hope, to jump on the bandwagon when any number of men claimed to be the promised Messiah. In this moment however, no one was expecting an infant babe in a manger. Man, this Christmas season so far has been great. I’ve had the opportunity to stop and reflect and remember what makes the Christmas story so magnificent. There’s an aspect of the Christmas story I pray that we all remember, one that sometimes gets lost on me. And to get this aspect of the story, look with me at the book of Hebrews.

The book of Hebrews is an ongoing reminder that this infant babe we remember during the Christmas season is more marvelous and more amazing than anything that this world has to offer. Page after page, chapter after chapter extols the rich wonders of His majesty. If you have a hard time glimpsing the greatness of our gracious King, then take a gander at the book of Hebrews. Better_background slide

What I want us to think about comes from the opening passage of this book. I’m not intending to unpack this whole passage in this post, I just want us to have our minds and hearts formed by one part of it. Read with me Hebrews 1:1-4.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. – Hebrews 1:1-4 

The truth I want us to grasp is found in the first two verses, but this whole chunk of Scripture is too great to not share.

Long ago, God spoke to His people via the prophets. Now he speaks to us by the Son.

Those two sentences should floor us.

But they don’t.

We are a disenchanted people, things don’t inspire awe in us because we have the answer or supposed answer for every phenomenon whether it be natural or manmade.

There are great and epic stories in our culture that get such an enchanted and wondrous response from us. For me it’s This Is Us and the new Star Wars. I’m reading tweets and news articles, trying to find out all I can about these two stories. The trailer for the new Star Wars movie drew me into wonder. Enchantment. Amazement.

Now that’s probably a lame reality of my life, but it’s also a convicting one.

There is a story that is far greater, far more worthy of our excitement, anticipation, and proclamation. The story of Jesus.

Seriously.

Pause with me. Think.

 

The people of God were used to having a conduit so to speak to God, they had men and women of renown who spoke on behalf of God as prophets. Then, silence. Now Jesus steps onto the scene and throughout the entire narrative of His life we come to realize that God now speaks to us through this personal and intimate relationship made available to us through the Resurrected Son.

Here are three quick ways to apply this wonderful gift to our lives this Christmas season:

1. Read the Gospels. God speaks to us now via His Son. Look at the Biblical accounts of Jesus. See the way that he interacts with sinners, religious leaders, His disciples. Hear the teachings of the Kingdom. Immerse yourself in the life of Jesus. Don’t let this amazing gift go to waste.

2. Prayer. Man, now I’m going the cliche Sunday School route. But it’s true. God speaks to us via His Son. The Son whom Hebrews tells us is still on the throne of glory. The Son who holds the cosmos together. He is willing and able to commune with you through prayer.

3. Be Still. I am horrendous at meditation. Literally the worst. My mind goes crazy running all over the place. But this Christmas season, stop. This Christmas season, be still. Be quiet. Don’t talk. Be still and silent. Imagine the 400 years of silence. Feel the anticipation well up inside of you. Then when you’ve lost your ability to stay still, go out and proclaim the wondrous news we have that Jesus is alive and He is the voice of God.

Jesus is the better prophet.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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Winter Snow

It’s hard to get into the Christmas season when it’s over seventy degrees outside, but I’ve still kept trying. Last night after church I cleaned around my home and then put up the small amount of Christmas decorations that I have. I’ve got a four foot tree, some garland, one wreath, and one string of lights. I’m incredibly grateful for these decorations that honestly some anonymous Christmas elf left at my door yesterday afternoon. 24302092_1519994381451567_5764404658296458904_o.jpg

I enjoyed several hours of Christmas music and reading and reflecting on the Christmas story. Later in the evening I went outside, and just down the road from me is a house that is stunning in its decorations. Thousands and thousands of lights pepper their lawn and home and shed. Their lawn is full of incredible life-size decorations and nativity scenes. To make this even more impressive, the lights are set to music you can listen to via car radio. It is an amazing feat of patience and ingenuity considering my twenty minutes of decorating had me ready to be done.

As I reflect on the amazing light show down the street compared to my modest living room decorations, it reminds me of the beauty and enchantment of the Christmas story.

God became a man. The God who is right now being praised on his throne by the angelic hosts and saints of old (including family members and friends who have gone before me) stepped down off his throne and became a man. He left glory and entered the muck and mire of our world. The King of the Cosmos becomes an infant babe born to a poor teenage woman in a manger. He didn’t show up with fanfare, He showed up unnoticed. What in the world.

Earlier today during my lunch break I was reading Revelation 19:1-10 and while I certainly do not fully understand what in the world is going on in this passage, I do understand that what this passage says about God is oh so true.

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, – Revelation 19:1

Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. – Revelation 19:6b

The God from whom comes salvation, glory, and power. The God who reigns. The Almighty God. The Lord God. God became a man.

Now if you’re like me, you’ve heard the Christmas story many, many times. But have you paused to consider the wonder of it? God became a man. And he didn’t show up in great hoopla and power. He didn’t show up in awe-inspiring glory that made the whole world fall to its knees in fear and trembling. He could have showed up in a way that got everyone’s attention like a light show that you can see from blocks away. He could have. He didn’t.

Instead, he came as a little child. He came as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Instead he came like a handful of lights in a living room. He came in such a way that the nations didn’t notice. Shepherds noticed only because the heavenly hosts drew their attention to Him. To the world He created, He was just another baby born to a young couple.

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. – Philippians 2:5-7

Jesus is God. But He made Himself nothing by taking on the form of a servant in the likeness of man. Paul David Tripp unpacks this reality much more beautifully than I could:

God would take on human flesh and invade his sin-broken world with his wisdom, power, glory, and grace. But he wouldn’t descend to a palace. Instead, the Lord Almighty, the Creator, the sovereign King over all things would humble himself and take on the form of servant; he would live on our behalf the life we could have never lived, he would willingly die the death that you and I deserve to die, and he would rise from his tomb as the conquerer of sin and death. – Paul David Tripp 

He didn’t come like a hurricane, a fire, a tidal wave, or an earthquake. He came like a winter snow, gently and quietly.

Here’s three quick ways to cherish this reality and apply this to your own life this Christmas season:

  1. Look inI’ve written about this at length last week, but our minds and hearts are being formed by what we feed our eyes and ears. In this Christmas season, put away the media and technology for at least an hour before bed, giving yourself the time to reflect upon and meditate on the wondrous story of the birth of Jesus. Read the Scriptures, listen to music, put on a fire, and let your heart and mind be formed by Jesus and not the hubbub of our consumeristic culture. Acknowledge where you need to grow spiritually. It will pay off big time for you in the end.
  2. Look out. There is a world in need right outside your door, and it is my belief that God is at work in the nations in ways that we are too distracted to see. God is at work here in Vernon, Texas, and I simply don’t notice at times. So look out and see Him at work. We can also look out by remembering Christ came in humility, to serve. He could have come in justice, to reign (one day He will). Because of that, we can look out for people who are in need, and strive to serve them with the love of Christ.
  3. Look up. Gaze up at the stars sometime during this Christmas season. Absolutely go and look at Christmas lights, but also look further up. Nothing humbles me faster than looking way up in the sky and remembering just how teeny tiny I am and how magnificent and mighty God is. Revelation 19:4 tells us that Jesus is seated on the throne. Right now heavenly hosts and saints of old are giving him the praise that he deserves. Look up and join their magnificent chorus.

Make this Christmas about more than just gifts. Make it about Christ.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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