Cynical Christianity

If I had to choose one word to describe my default way of thinking, I would choose “cynical.”

Yikes.

I hate cynicism. I really do. I hate the way it feels, you know? It’s that slimy, gross feeling. If you’ve taken your dog for a walk and you forgot to bring a doggie bag, but your dog needed to go and you didn’t want to be that neighbor, then you know exactly what cynicism feels like.

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the pastor being interviewed said he was confronted by a mentor of his about this very thing. His mentor asked, “Why do you keep smearing crap on your blessings?”

My point is cynicism is disgusting.

But I also love it.

And I hate that.

I love being cynical. And I disguise my cynicism all the time. “Oh, I’m just pointing out what could be better.” “Man, I loved that movie…except the editing was weird sometimes.” “Well, that’s just how life is.” “You can’t be disappointed if you don’t have expectations.”

It’s just so easy to be a critic. We breathe cynicism. We carry around unlimited cynicism in our pockets. We pay $40 a month to have constant access to it. We drink it up. We share it. We pass it around. Cynicism is more common than the common cold.

But, as a follower of Jesus, I’ve never encountered a command from Jesus to be cynical.

Maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe I’m obeying someone besides Jesus. Maybe I’m believing some lies about deserving a perfect, comfortable, happy life. Maybe I need to repent.

I most certainly need to repent.

Sometimes, though, we don’t know what to turn to when we turn away from sin. I know I need to turn away from the sin of cynicism, of tearing down, of being selfishly critical. But what do I turn to instead? I think one of many answers can be found in Colossians 3.

And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:15-17

This passage is so rich. And I think there’s a significant emphasis of which I want to take note.

It’s the trifecta of commands to be thankful.

Instead of being cynical, I believe we’re commanded to be thankful.

Paul starts with the peace of Christ ruling your heart, bringing you into communion with fellow believers. And then, “Be thankful.” Be thankful for Christ ruling your heart! You don’t deserve that. But Christ rules your heart because he wants to, because he deserves to. Because that’s better for you. So you have peace with others because Jesus rules your heart. That’s amazing. That’s something to be thankful for. If you don’t know what to give thanks for, give thanks for Jesus ruling your heart. Give thanks for peace. Give thanks for friendships.

Paul moves on with a command to let the word of Christ live in you, and let the word and wisdom of Christ move you to encourage others and, get this, give thanks to God. If you know the words of Jesus, you will be able to share those with others. To know the words of Jesus is a gift. To be able to hear them and understand them is another. To be able to know, hear, understand, and share them is a third. To be able to do all those things and sing praises to God is a fourth gift–and a most remarkable one at that. We don’t deserve any of those gifts. Yet we have been given them and more. Thanks be to God!

Finally, Paul lands the plane. He says whatever you do, whenever, wherever, with whoever, do it for Jesus; and while you’re doing whatever you’re doing and doing that thing for Jesus, give thanks! Thank God for the morning coffee. Give thanks for that song on the radio. Give thanks for your boss. Give thanks for that paper that’s due. Give thanks for any ability you have, any skill you possess, any holy thought you have, any desire to do good, and any joy you might feel. Yes, this will take you all day.

I had another friend tell me he recently that he was looking at a list of people he was praying for, and while praying and thinking through that list, he thought, There are so many needs. So many people need prayer. And these are just the people on my list! There are so many more people and needs and prayers to pray. This will take me all day!

Then it hit him. When Paul says pray all day, it’s not a suggestion. When you realize how much you have to pray, you end up praying all day. The same thing goes for gratitude. When you realize how much you have for which to give thanks, you end up giving thanks all day.

Now, this isn’t something I’m a pro at by any means. In fact, you might be way ahead of me in this spiritual practice of thanking God throughout the day. I hope if you are, then you start to teach others; and if you’re a day behind, that’s OK. Read Colossians 3 and focus on verses 15-17. Memorize them if that helps. Pray for the Spirit of God to give you a spirit of obedience. Then practice. Practice right now, practice tomorrow, practice the next day after. And when you succeed, thank God. And when you fail, thank God. His mercies are new every morning.

– Matt Welborn

 

Far As The East Is From The West

After church on Easter Sunday many years ago, my parents put together an egg hunt for my two youngest sisters. Our backyard served as the hunting grounds and the prey stood no chance.

Who am I kidding? They struggled to find these eggs. My, oh, my. Poor little ones.

The oldest three siblings, inluding me, ran around helping as vaguely as possible. We didn’t want to help too much. But at some point you can only be so patient.

It was like when Dora the Explorer or Steve from Blue’s Clues ask, “Do you see ____?” And c’mon, everybody sees ___ right? I mean, Dora is a child, so I get it. Steve? You’re a grown man. It’s really not that difficult to see a blue pawprint on THE ONE PAINTING in your entire house.

I suspect you get the picture now.

Eventually, though, they found the eggs. They needed some direction, but they succeeded. All was finally well on that Easter day.

Sometimes I think we’re like little children looking for Easter eggs. We want to find something that seems hidden, something that surprises us to find it. We don’t think our parents are cruel for making it a game. And it’s (mostly) fun for everyone involved. Even more is the delight when you find an egg!

But just as children need a nudge in the right direction, we too need some help.

I went through a couple weeks of wanting to find an egg. For me, this egg was a message from God. I really wanted God to speak to me. It seemed like God was distant and all I could do was send an email to Heaven and wait for a response.

But God wasn’t checking emails. Instead, he was waiting for me to call.

So, after a time of confessing these feelings and thoughts I had about God, I was guided by a brother in Christ toward prayer. I prayed a thankful prayer, and I prayed a prayer asking for God to speak. I called God.

God picked up.

And this is what God said,

“The LORD is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

That’s Psalm 130:8. A Psalm of David.

Let’s walk through the few verses that follow:

9 He will not always chide,

nor will he keep his anger forever.

10  He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

God will not “always chide.” The CSB says, “He will not always accuse us.” I think that’s a bit more clear. But take a second and think about what this line means.

God will not always accuse us. Think about what this implies. If I say, “I won’t always love ice cream,” that implies I love ice cream right now. This means at some point God accused us! God accuses anyone who does wrong–and we all do wrong. We all stand accused by God based on what we have done toward God and toward others.

Accusation is coupled with anger. The being who created the heavens and the earth, who threw angels down from heaven, who covered the world with waters, who spoke light into being sits on the throne of heaven with anger towards us. Why? Because we lie. We cheat. We steal. We hate. We lust. We rebel against the source of life itself, God Almighty.

These wrongs are called sin or iniquities. And when we sin, because God is not apathetic toward our wrongs, but is merciful and just, we stand accused by God.

But the gulf between heaven and earth collapsed in the God-man called Jesus. And Jesus stood in our place of being accused. By dying on the cross, Jesus took God’s accusation toward us upon himself. Since Jesus was fully man and fully God, he could take on this accusation. Jesus lived a perfect life, died the death we deserved, and then rose from the dead to prove he was God. He proved the accusation could no longer be made for those who are “in Christ.” That merely means whoever believes in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And suddenly, for those who believe in Jesus, things are different. God’s huge love can cherish us. God’s expansive love can reveal itself to us more clearly and completely. Because Jesus took on God’s accusation toward us, we no longer stand accused. We stand in the presence of God without being destroyed by God’s holy perfection. We boldly stand in the presence of God.

We can stand in God’s love because of God’s love.

God removes our sins from our record book and puts them in the grave. They are removed as far as the East is from the West. They are ineffably far away from us.

Sin was once close to us when we were far from God.

Now God came close to us in a manger. God came close to us as a man. God came close to us as a fellow sufferer in death when Jesus died on the cross.

God came close to us and now sin is far away.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul. Bless the Lord.

– Matthew Welborn

His Kingdom Comes Through Prayer

I want to see God’s kingdom break through in my community. I’m not alone in this. I hope and wait and strive and serve and lead and hope some more. I see moments where God does beautifully amazing things (just last night we had seventeen students in our home for a student Bible study), but my thirst for more of God’s wonderful works in our community is not yet quenched.

You might have noticed a word missing from my list.

Pray.

It’s frustrating to notice in my own life a lack of prayer when it comes to wanting to see revival take off. I pray quite a bit in popcorn-style, brief, one sentence moments throughout my day. However it’s harder to get alone and get on my knees in order to ask and plead for the Lord to do a great work in my community.

God continues to lovingly call me into a deeper personal and private prayer life.

For the summer I’ve been taking my students on Sunday mornings through the “I Am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John. This has been a refreshing and encouraging season for me, as I study these, and I’ve come to notice a lot of what the Bible says about praying for His Kingdom to come on earth.

There are some pretty unbelievable promises in Scripture when it comes to the prayers of those who follow Christ. Consider this small sampling.

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. – John 14:13-14

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. – John 15:7

Okay, let’s be real. If we were to truly take these promises to heart, we would never miss a day of prayerful pleading before the throne. These verses are astounding.

These verses are NOT saying that if I hit God up for a Ferrari and a million dollars in cash, it’ll be waiting for me when I get home today. That being said, unfortunately verses like these have been twisted to be about the prosperity of the believer. So you hear guys say that if we have enough faith, then God will give us whatever we ask. We will be healthy, rich, and wise. We won’t have any problems whatsoever, and if we do, we simply don’t have enough faith because these verses teach us that we can get whatever we want from God. This is a vile heresy that is founded on what to me is the greatest problem we face in our modern church, Biblical illiteracy. If we read our Bibles well and often, we would see how this prosperity gospel is so opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how the Bible refutes it in page after page (take for example the fact that the people of God, who had not abandoned God, were enslaved for 400 years by Egypt in the book of Exodus. I guess they just didn’t have enough faith).

Anyway, there’s a clear caveat on these promises of God. Jesus says that the Father will be glorified in the Son through the answering of our prayers which are said in the name of Jesus. For me to pray for a Ferrari and a million bucks is not really in the name of Jesus, nor would the answering of those selfish and audacious prayers bring glory to God.

So these verses teach us that God promises to answer those prayers of ours that ultimately glorify Him. He is sovereign, and He knows what is best for us. So sometimes He chooses to not answer our prayers the way we want or in the timetable we prefer. But if our prayers glorify Him, He will answer them. How beautiful is that.

With these verses fresh on my mind, I studied Acts chapter one last Friday with one of my best friends and fellow staff members here at the church. While I learned a whole lot through our conversation about the chapter, I found myself starkly reminded yet again of the necessity of prayer.

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers. – Acts 1:14 

Jesus had ascended at this point, and all He had left His followers with was a promise that He would send His Spirit to them. While they waited on this ambiguous and confusing promise, they prayed together. They devoted themselves to prayer. In the following chapter, the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, showed up and revival was born. Prayer was the prerequisite for revival. Now I do not know what exactly they were praying for while they waited, but they prayed all the same.

We have a great number of people who carer about our community and want to see God do immeasurably more than all we could imagine. But when we make it about our strength, our work, our service, our desires, our dreams, our glory, then maybe we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot.

What if our community is poised for the gospel to flow into every home, and it is our prayerlessness that is hindering it, because we’re not making our desires about God’s glory?

Now, God can move however He wills and desires, but this question plaques me regularly.

What if we got on our knees. Not for God to bow to our desires but rather for us to beg God to bring His desires for Vernon to fruition.

Wherever you may be reading this blog, what f you got on your knees daily for your community as well?

I am prone to make audacious commitments, but I am going to strive to make it a point to pray a few times a week for God’s Kingdom to spread in my home. If we pray for gospel growth, truly believing that God is able to answer our prayers, then we may just see more miraculous things come about in the place where we call home.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

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

 

Bless The Lord

The following is simply a prayer of response to Psalm 103. This is no difficult feat, it is merely praying through the Psalm, applying it to my personal life, and meditating on the truths contained within it. I hope that you are encouraged to pray through Psalms on your own. I have found this practice to be the most transformative discipline in my life and I wish I did it more. 

Oh Lord, let my mind, heart, words, and actions bless your holy name. May my every thought, action, and intention be pleasing to you. Let me not forget the ways that you have so richly blessed me. Remind me each day that every good thing in my life is a gift from you, not something that I have obtained via my own strength.

You have forgiven my every sin, you have healed every wicked way in me. What a wonderful blessing. What a wonderful truth. There is no sin held against me any longer. You have redeemed my life from the darkness of my evil bent towards sin. Your steadfast love and mercy are the treasured possession of my life.

You have satisfied my soul with good things. Food, friends, family, and faith. You have blessed me with the opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest in You. My strength and energy is renewed when I meditate accordingly upon your gifts to me.

May the oppressed in my community experience your justice. May the unrighteous in my community see your righteousness. Use me as a conduit of your justice, help me to stand up for those in need. Lord, your ways and acts toward your people have been well documented through the ages. May I not forget the ways that you have blessed me in even the past week.

You are gracious and merciful. I deserve death. Yet you stay your anger and pour out your steadfast love upon my soul. You do chide and reprimand me out of your love, but you don’t always do this. Your anger is not everlasting. Your love is. Lord, YOU DO NOT DEAL WITH ME ACCORDING TO MY SIN, OR REPAY ME ACCORDING TO MY INIQUITIES. This promise makes me want to sing songs of praise to you O Lord. I deserve punishment for my sin, and yet your steadfast love covers over them.

Lord, I don’t fear you as I should. Evoke this godly fear in me. Lord, you have cast my sins as far as the east is from the west. This too is wonderful and worthy of praise. You have removed my transgressions from me. They are no longer held against me.

You are a compassionate God. You look on my frame with compassion. You are compassionate towards the things that grieve me, and it is towards this end that you work all things in my life. You are loving. I am dust. My role and call in life is to preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.

My days oh Lord are like grass. I am here one moment and gone the next. Because of my frailty, help me to better enjoy the moments you have given me here on earth with family, friends, food, and fun. It is because life is short that I should live life to the fullest in You.

Your steadfast love is upon me every moment of my life. There is discipline at times for sin, but even this is your love. Your love extends to countless generations of those who fear you. Thank you Lord for the way that you drew me into a saving relationship with you.

I don’t walk out your commands as well as I should. Where there is fleshly desires, replace these with the fruit of the Spirit. Where there is autonomy, replace this with a dependence upon you daily for grace and vitality. Help me to remember daily to live in such a way that honors you.

Lord, the world is broken and battered. There are rulers and leaders who oppress and enslave. Yet your throne is in the heavens. No one can usurp your throne. No one can remove you from your throne. This brings comfort that you are in control of all the nations on earth.

Angels of God, bless Him. All hosts of God, bless Him. In every community on earth, let God be praised.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Do What I Ask Of You

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

I was in my room reading this morning when my eyes fell on this verse (Mark 10:36). I was stunned and immediately started judging these two disciples. I mean, the audacity of these two men to approach Jesus and say such a statement is appalling. I mean, this is Jesus, the Son of God, who had been doing miracle after miracle throughout the region while teaching about repentance and the good news of the kingdom’s arrival. They had witnessed Him casting out demons, feeding multitudes with just a few fish and a couple loaves of bread, teaching about true religion, and healing tons of people. Yet despite having seen all of this power and glory, they chose to approach Him with their list of things He needed to do for them.

This seems so totally crazy, right? The acts of Jesus should have drawn these men into deep worship and adoration, but it instead led them to think selfishly about the ways that Jesus could bless their lives and bless their status.

Quickly, very quickly, my mind went to the ways that I have treated Jesus in exactly the same way. He has shown His power in my life in many ways. The way He saved me alone is enough of a sign of His power. Not to mention the daily gifts of grace that He provides for me. The daily ways that He protects me. The ways that He has done incredible things in the lives of my friends and family members for as long as I can remember.

The Scriptures show me His glory as well. The entire Bible paints a tremendous picture of His greatness, holiness, and majesty. Every story I read is a reminder of His greatness and His grace. It’s legitimately on each page, sometimes explicitly and other times implicitly.

Yet with all of this evidence of His character that should be pushing me into worship and adoration of Him, I still come to Him some days (or most days) with a list of things in my life that I want Him to bless. If I’m in a rush to get started in school and work responsibilities my time with Him becomes just a chance for me to quickly tell Him everything that I want from Him throughout the day.

I too approach Him and say:

I want you to do for me whatever I ask of you

When did we get it so backwards? Obviously as evidenced by Scripture, this is not a new struggle. We all have the tendency to approach the greatness of our God with our lists.

There is definitely a healthy way to ask for God’s providence in your life. In the Lord’s Prayer we are told to state, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our God is compassionate and loving, quick to extend mercy and help in our time of need. There is no sin in asking God for His help in a situation. Yet to come to the Lord as if He is obligated to meet our needs is preposterous. We serve a gracious and generous God, but we don’t serve a God who is entitled to give us a thing.

If you’re like me, it’s easy to subconsciously come to God with this type of mentality.

Don’t make this same mistake.

Go to the Lord in faith, asking Him to move. But don’t act like He’s required to.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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Non-Christian Prayers

PRAYER LIST

  • Susie has pneumonia
  • Youth group fundraiser night is coming up
  • Bob broke his leg
  • Jim is having surgery on his knee
  • Roseann has the flu
  • Kyle needs a job
  • Frank is fighting for our freedom overseas
  • Adam has been having bad migraines
  • Emily’s dog is in need of medical care

If you are part of a local church, you likely see some sort of list like this frequently, whether in the church bulletin or via an e-mail blast to all the church members. These lists are good, and useful for the church to become aware of the ailments and needs of the members.

That being said, I believe that as followers of Christ, the prayers we engage in both privately and corporately should go beyond the sicknesses, ailments, and trials of the congregation.

Here’s why: I believe the church should pray the things that we see in Scripture. the Bible for sure commands us, exhorts us, and encourages us to pray for healing from sickness.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. – James 5:14

Yet to limit our private and congregational prayers to just healing is to take a theme of prayer in the Scriptures that honestly is not super prevalent and make it the onus and center of our whole prayer life.

I’ve written in the past that to pray for healing is Biblical and necessary.

That being said, our prayer lists in our churches are often filled with prayers that nonbelievers wouldn’t find weird. They’re filled with prayers that nonbelievers who don’t understand the gospel could pray. They’re filled with prayers that nonbelievers would affirm. While this isn’t explicitly wrong, I don’t think it sets the church apart.

The church should sing, proclaim, share, and pray God’s Word.

As the people of God, we should be praying deeper prayers than just the health of our members.

In his book Word-Centered Church, Jonathan Leeman gives the following list of Paul’s prayers as examples of deep, gospel-centered prayers:

  • He (Paul) prays that the Ephesians would be given the spiritual sight to see the glorious inheritance awaiting God’s saints (Ephesians 1:16-19)
  • He prays that the Philippians love would become more discerning and knowledgeable so that they might pursue only good things and live holy lives (Philippians 1:9-11)
  • He prays that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so that they might live pleasing lives of good works and growth in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10)

Now those are some prayers that would perturb the nonbeliever. Those are prayers that would seem weird, that wouldn’t be prayed around the dinner table of a nonbelievers’ home.

These are the type of prayers that I believe we as Christians are called to pray for one another. These prayers are gospel-centered, God-centered, and produce eternal fruit rather than our measly “I want this” type prayers. We do our congregations a disservice if we limit our private and corporate prayers to praying for the sick.

I’m thankful to be currently serving under a pastor who prays genuine and bold prayers for God to be glorified amongst our congregation. During our Sunday morning gatherings, I look forward to his prayers. As he prays, I can see that his public prayer for God to be glorified is the overflow of his private prayers for God to be glorified.

Here are some other types of prayers that the church should pray, setting themselves apart:

  1. FOR OUR ENEMIES. Praying for our congregants is admirable, but not all that surprising. Praying for our neighbors, and even those most adamantly opposed to all that we stand for is most definitely surprising. Too often, my prayers against the wicked are all judgment-based. I should seek instead to pray that the wicked are redeemed from their wicked state by placing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. FOR AWARENESS OF SIN. This one is a doozy. We live in a culture where sin is downplayed, even in our churches. Yet as Christians we miss out on experiencing in our core the forgiveness and mercy of God if we don’t acknowledge our needs for His forgiveness and mercy. The puritans of old would pray for the ‘gift of tears’, meaning they would ask God to bring them to tears over their sins. While I think this is somewhat extreme, I do believe it’s important for us to pray that God would make us aware of our offenses against Him so that we can in turn confess and experience the forgiveness already extended us via the cross.
  3. GOD’S WILL. Most nonbelievers would not be surprised or caught off guard by a man or woman praying that God would bless their individual will for their life. That’s often how we treat God, as if His role is to bless us and prepare the way for us to achieve all that we desire and dream up. That’s not how that’s supposed to work. We should as followers of Christ (looking in the mirror like crazy on this one) be praying that God’s will would be done in our lives. This is a prayer that would be weird to a nonbeliever.
  4. NO MORE UNSPOKENS. I understand that people have been burned by church members in the past, if not ministers. Unspoken prayer requests are likely a symptom or result of these heartbreaking situations. That being said, if a church is healthy, if a church is doing what it is called to do via praying for one another in love and grace, then there should be no need for unspoken prayer requests. Yes, be wise and don’t air dirty laundry publicly before the congregation. But be in a community of faith at some level of the church where you can reveal your sin, your struggle, or your doubt in fullness.

Please keep your prayer sheets and prayer request lists. They are good, and they do good.

I pray that you and your congregation go deeper than that though. Don’t just pray in ways that nonbelievers would. Pray in ways that shows that we are the people of God, set apart by God, praying the Word of God.

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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The Timehop Trap

What were you doing one year ago today?timehop

This has been one of the consistent marketing taglines that the app Timehop has used to reel people in. The app is super awesome. Every day you can check into the app and see all that you’ve posted on social media on that day in years past, whether that was on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

In recent months however, I have seen how dangerous of an app this can be for me personally (I’m not using this blog post to boycott the app, say that it’s sinful for followers of Christ to use, or anything disproportionately crazy like that). One of my biggest struggles is looking backwards. I don’t blame myself for that, it’s easy to do. It’s easy and natural for me (as well as many others I’m sure) to think about the what used to be, and how life was different back in the day. Nostalgia distorts. Nostalgia is not regret. Nostalgia focuses on the good that used to be and glosses over the difficult. It’s like looking at the past with rose-colored glasses on.

I have wrestled with a sin that I hadn’t been able to put into words but knew was present in my life. This struggle was put to words by the author Jen Wilkin. Jamie and I are reading through her book None Like Him, and as we read through a chapter of it this past Saturday morning, Jen spoke on the idea of ‘sinful nostalgia’:

Sinful nostalgia causes us to idolize a time when life was “better” or “simpler,” resulting in perpetual discontentment with our present circumstance. We may long for a time before bad news of some kind arrived, for a time when our health was better, when our kids were still young, or when a loved one was still alive. Life’s changing seasons can cause a natural longing for the way things used to be, and though it is not necessarily sinful, it can become so. We are allowed to grieve the loss of happy seasons, but we are not allowed to resent their loss. There is a difference between missing the past and coveting the past. The antidote for covetousness is always gratitude: We can combat a sinful love of the past by counting the gifts we have been given in the present. 

Wow. As I was reading this section aloud to Jamie on Saturday, I had to stop at the end of this paragraph. This struggle I’ve battled in my heart, especially with post-graduation blues, was called into the light. It’s easy for me to allow my acceptable grief to turn into sinful covetousness of the past.

It’s laughable how I set myself up for falling into this sinful covetousness. For close to a month, the first thing I would do in the morning when I woke up would be to lay in bed and check my Timehop. I would scroll through posts and pictures of previous years, and immediately my current state would feel insignificant or less than ideal. Immediately my heart would yearn for the ‘better’ time in my life, disregarding all the gifts that God has granted to me daily in the present. As far as the rose-colored glasses are concerned, Timehop does nostalgia’s job for it. Considering I never post on social media about anything negative, all I see from past years is the good.

Not to mention the fact that I might as well be the Israelites in the book of Exodus. God had delivered them from slavery and they responded by grumbling and proclaiming that they’d rather be back in slavery. God has delivered me from ‘slavery’ to different idols and difficult circumstances, and when I long sinfully for the past, that’s me wanting to assert myself right back into the slavery He has rescued me from.

Pay careful attention, then, to how you live – not as unwise people but as wise – making the most of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16

The days we have are numbered. They are passing. We are called by God to live wisely in our days, making much of His Name through all that we say and do. Yet I waste my days when I’m living in an attitude of sinful nostalgia.

Jen has it right when she says that the greatest way to combat this is via gratitude and thankfulness. On the extremely rare occasion, I will begin my day by writing in my journal ten things from the previous day that I’m thankful for. This is a wonderful way to begin my day, and it leaves me in awe of God’s generosity as I consider and meditate upon the fact that I deserve absolutely none of the gifts that God so generously pours into my life.

Is everything in my life just the way I want it? By no means (and that is absolutely a good thing). But everything in my life is exactly the way it is for a reason, as God uses each and every day of my existence to bring about my good and His glory.

Don’t fall into the Timehop trap (again, disclaimer: I’m not saying that Timehop is evil or wrong. When used rightly, it can be a wonderful way to reflect on God’s goodness) of wanting the past.

Be grateful for God’s gifts in the present.

In His Name,
Nathan Roach

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God’s Pursuit In Prayer

The strain on my mind and heart feels near-constant sometimes as I struggle and yearn to maintain my relationship with the Lord. There are days, weeks, entire seasons of my life where it’s a battle, a struggle, a fight to pursue the spiritual disciplines that I know will yield spiritual growth in my life. It can be exhausting to feel the pressure of pursuing God in my daily life. That’s weird to type out, but it’s no less true. 395H

In the quiet moments before sleep, my mind runs a recap of my day, and I feel the internal self- scrutinizing begin, as I question how well I pursued the things of God.

I wake up with the sun, strain to pursue God in the midst of earthly things, and run through the same self-scrutiny at the end of the day.

In the midst of these seasons, I wrestle with feeling like this shouldn’t be the case. Jesus proclaims that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Yet in every church service and small group setting, I’d be reminded of the importance of my relationship with God. I’d be reminded of the priority it should hold in my life, the priority the pursuit of spiritual disciplines should hold in my personal life. This would push me right back into the weight of feeling responsible for maintaining my relationship with God.

Maybe you’ve experienced the same feelings and struggles.

Maybe you feel an immense pressure and weight to make sure you do everything you can to maintain your relationship with God.

What shatters this weight, what sets us free to have renewed joy and energy for our days, free from the shackles of feeling wholly responsible for our own spiritual growth, is when we remind ourselves that God is a pursuing God.

Consider the following verses.

There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44

See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. – Revelation 3:20

I know that I’ve stripped all three of these verses from their contextual passages, but it is widely attested and widely circulated in theological circles that all of these have implications regarding God’s pursuing grace. Most often, these verses are used in the context of salvation, of people coming to know the Lord. In this context, we see that God does the first pursuing in the onset of our relationship with Him. It is His grace that draws us to Him.

Look next at the words of Paul to the church at Galatia:

You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? – Galatians 3:1-3

Paul was combating in Galatia the doctrine of false teachers who were saying that newly converted Christians had to follow all of the Jewish laws and regulations. In essence, new believers were being told they had to adapt to Jewish culture, and become culturally Jewish in order to be right before God.

So Paul is calling the Galatian churches foolish for straying into this false doctrine. The point he is making in these verses is that God draws us to Himself when we first enter into a relationship with Him, and our continued growth in spiritual things is dependent upon His grace as well. We didn’t start our walk with Him via grace, only to be dependent upon our own flesh for the rest of our walk with Him.

HOW FREEING THIS IS.

I am incapable of pursuing God in my own strength, in my own sinful flesh. No one seeks God without God first drawing them closer to Himself.

I forget this truth, and God graciously reminds me of it time and time again. When God brings renewed vigor and understanding of this truth, it changes how I view prayer.

Prayer is easily my least practiced spiritual discipline. This is a hard admittance to make, but it is true. I can go hours in studying the Word and memorizing Scripture, but it takes all of my effort to get into my prayer closet and have personal times of prayer with the Lord. I too often begrudgingly meet my quota of prayer time because it feels like my way of maintaining the relationship.

Yet when I meditate upon the fact that God is the one pursuing me, drawing me into communion with Him, this changes prayer 100%. It is not burdensome any longer (I don’t say this as if prayer should ever be burdensome, this is merely just a confession). It is a precious and wonderful gift of God’s grace, as He draws me into deeper intimacy with Him!

Hallelujah!

What a wonderful gift! Any time I feel prompted to pray, that is God present grace. God is not distant, He is here, drawing me into communication with Him.

There is so much here, so much of God’s character that is worthy of praise.

He knows that I need Him. He knows that prayer changes my outlook, attitude, heart, mindset, and passion for Him.

Because He knows I need Him, He draws me, calls me, prompts me to pray.

Since no human heart naturally seeks God or can come to God without his drawing, no one even thinks about praying unless God is prompting or leading us to pray by his Holy Spirit… – Timothy Keller

Be encouraged.

Whenever you feel led to pray, study God’s Word, or worship with other believers, God’s grace is drawing you into deeper intimacy with Him.

In His Name,
Nathan Roach

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