Nate, The Saint

Nathan Roach is. . . .

A saint.

Not gonna lie, typing that out is uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to me because I know that I’ve had thoughts, actions, and attitudes today that weren’t all that saintly.

Yet, that’s my identity. That’s who I am.

I am a saint in Christ Jesus.

Last week, I went on a highly-anticipated vacation to Nashville with Jamie. We spent a few days at Student Ministry Essentials, a youth ministry conference that Lifeway puts on at their national headquarters. I learned a whole lot, took a lot of notes, and dreamed a lot of dreams with Jamie about what our youth group could look like in the future. But then we got to stay a couple extra days and see the sights and sounds of Nashville. And I even got to take a nap! Pretty dope.

The whole time I was there, I was reflecting on my life. I had been going at a rapid pace. I was doing a lot for God (which is laughable when in reality He doesn’t need me) while doing very little communing with God.

I wanted to get to the bottom of my frenetic pace and restlessness.

A book I finished while on vacation encouraged me to write out my name at the top of a piece of paper and start listing out my identity. Much of our lack of rest and most of our stress come from a misunderstood identity.

Let me show you what I mean.

Sitting in the Gaylord Opryland Resort (we didn’t stay there, simply pretended like we belonged their while waiting for our flight), I did that exercise.

I wrote in my journal:

Nathan Roach is. . . 

I wrote a whole lot. And sadly, most of what I said about myself revolved around my vocation and my personality, not my position in Christ.

Here’s a few examples of the things I thought about and wrote about.

A family pastor. Tired. Fun. Funny. Different. An outsider. A Christian. An imperfect husband. A man of God. Angry. Prideful. Selfish. An FCA Ambassador. A writer. A reader. An open book.

Obviously I had some much more raw responses to that question, but those are for face to face conversations, not the blogosphere.

Here’s what I came to realize.

When my primary identity is in my vocation, my work becomes supreme in my life. I am not able to leave it at work. I take it home, thinking and planning while with my wife Jamie, not enjoying the grace of God to me in so many good gifts He has given me. Work consumes my mind and heart. To make matters worse, when I fail at my job, making mistakes, then I’m rocked to my core.

Nathan Roach is a family pastor. So when Nathan Roach makes mistakes as a family pastor, my entire view of self is negatively affected. This is unhealthy for sure.

When my primary identity is in my sin, then my guilt and shame become supreme in my life. When I view myself as an angry, prideful, and selfish man, those sins continue to trip me up, reinforcing that false view of myself. When my primary identity is in my sins, then I start to again work really hard for God to atone for my sins. That is also clearly out of line with the message of the gospel.

God rocked me with these realities.

No wonder I was tired when I became primarily a pastor and a sinner, rather than a child of God and a saint.

Recently I’ve been all over Philippians. I try and read through it every couple of days, I listen to it in the car, I am memorizing part of it. There is a whole litany of reasons I’m doing this, but it has certainly served to remind me of who I am.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:1-2 

Just in the very beginning of the letter, there is so much beauty. I’m a saint. God is my Father.

Those two truths should be my primary view of myself. If anything else supersedes those things in my life, then my life will fall apart. I will begin to run at a pace that I can’t even begin to sustain. I’m grateful that God removed me from the grind and got me alone with Him to consider how I viewed myself.

So my question for you is. . .

Who are you?

I would encourage you to do the same exercise with yourself that I did. Be honest. Be real. Be raw. Let what’s percolating in your heart come out onto the page. Share the things you’ve written with a trusted brother and sister in Christ. Then ask God to reorient your heart and your mind around who you are in Him.

Now, let’s be honest, it’s not a switch you can flip in your brain that magically fixes all of our self-doubts and self-perceptions. It’s a journey. Yesterday was absolutely great for me. Today, not so much. But I’m continuing to stay in the Word and I’m continuing to ask God day after day to show me who I am.

Pro-tip: Leave your phone out of your bedroom. When I start my day in God’s Word, my entire day is affected. When I start my day checking my blog stats, checking my e-mail, checking Facebook, my day is already based off of my vocation and and my performance.

And if you need your phone for an alarm, invest in an alarm clock instead. Thankfully I have a dog that wakes me up every morning like clockwork.

Who are you?

My prayer is that you seek Scripture for the answer.

And if you need any help in your journey, feel free to hit me up.

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

 

Me, Myself, and I

I wonder what they think of me.

I wish I had some time for myself, some self-care, maybe some pizza and a good movie. 

I’m so sick of the same sins that I battle all the time. I can’t seem to just fully get free of my struggles. 

If I could only eat better, be organized, be more fit, then I could really make a difference. I just need to improve my life. 

My upbringing was the worst, the job I recently left was so hard on me, none of the circumstances of my life have been fair at all. 

Have you ever had any of these thoughts? If we’re being honest, some of these go through our minds, right? In our day-to-day lives, we are focused on ourselves. That first one is the worst for me. I over-analyze every conversation, text message, or e-mail to make sure that I was perfectly articulate and kind in all that I said. I’m so introspective. To a fault. My wife regularly has to remind me to shut up and let things go.

Some of us live our lives focused entirely on self-indulgence and self-care. We focus so much on making it to the weekend, getting away from responsibilities, filling our own souls up with what we need to keep going. As naturally selfish people, we can consistently put ourselves before others.

Self-improvement Christianity runs rampant in our current church culture. Sermons, books, articles, blogs, and podcasts all fill our minds with the idea that we can go to Jesus and His Word with a focus on improving ourselves. We learn of habits to help us overcome anger, pride, fear, anxiety, lust, doubt. We learn of habits to help us be better servants, friends, church members, neighbors, parents, spouses.

We listen to messages that tell us that God wants to help us achieve our dreams, God wants us to loosen up and accept grace, God wants to help us be better versions of ourselves. At first glance, this seems all good and right. The gospel and the Bible both impact how we live. We are called to get rid of that which hinders our faith and replace it with that which cultivates our love for God and neighbor.

But, the gospel is not about self-improvement. The gospel is not about God sprinkling a little bit of magic pixie dust on our problems and difficulties. The gospel is not a supplement we can take to help us be better. The gospel, the good news of Jesus, is about God taking us from death to life.

One vein of self-improvement Christianity that has become supremely popular is the brokenness obsession. You can read and listen to a lot of Christian media that encourages the reader or listener to lighten up, to accept the sins you struggle with, to be your ‘authentic’ self.

All of what I’ve written about so far is focused entirely inward.

There’s a better way for me to live.

There’s a better way for you to live.

When we take our eyes off of ourselves, we can find the freedom that Jesus intended for us.

In her book, Flourish: How the Love of Christ Frees Us from Self Focus, Lydia Brownback unpacks in detail much of what I just described. It was such a good book, I devoured it in two days. I would encourage you to get it and give it a read.

There are a litany of quotes I would love to share from this book, I’ll focus on just one though.

Christ is our identity too, if we’ve been united to him by faith. Sometimes we forget that. Some of us have never understood it. And it gets obscured by our naturally self-oriented hearts. 

That’s some good stuff right there.

That’s some good stuff based off of Galatians 2.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

When we fully grasp the message of the gospel, we look outside of ourselves, and we are set free to flourish in good works towards others.

If I spent as much time out in our community as I did inwardly over-analyzing how people perceived me, I bet you I could see a lot more done for the Kingdom in my life. If I spent as much time serving others as I did striving to create a better version of myself through self-improvement, I bet you I could see a lot more done for the Kingdom in my life. If I spent as much time diving into God’s Word and prayer as I did unwinding through entertainment, I guarantee you that I could see a lot more done for the Kingdom in my life.

If I took my eyes off myself, believing that the truth of Galatians 2:20 applies to every facet of my life, I guarantee you that I would become more aware of how God is at work in the community around me.

So my encouragement for you is to immerse yourself in Scripture. Not self-help books that tell you to accept yourself and be your best self. Not podcasts that teach you that God can help you achieve all of your dreams. Get into Scripture. Remind yourself of what the overarching story of the Bible teaches us about who we are. We have been hidden with Christ. Our identity is in Him.

That means I don’t have to devote time to wondering what people think of me.

That means you don’t have to endlessly pursue the next self-improvement plan.

That means we don’t have to endlessly pursue the next activity that will help us feel better about ourselves.

That means we don’t have to parade our accomplishments before others in order to be praised by men.

It means we can focus on others.

It means we can live out the gospel.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Self-Help and Gimmicks

“If you go all in and all out for the cause of Christ, there will be setbacks along the way. But remember this: Without a crucifixion there can be no resurrection! And when you have a setback, you do not take a step back, because God is already preparing your comeback.”

This afternoon, I was hanging out at my house, striving to finish a popular Christian book that has come out in recent years. When I read this quote I couldn’t help but pause and be taken aback. Here we have the ultimate moment of human history, the defining moment of our faith, used to talk about how I shouldn’t give up in pursuing my dreams.

This is what inundates the evangelical world these days, and I honestly cannot help but feel a whole lot older than 25.

The above quote is not heretical, it is not sinful, it is not vile or vehement. But the above quote does stir up frustration in me, it does make me feel like an old soul.

The reason being is that I see a plethora of these types of takes on Scripture all over the place in evangelical circles these days. When I see what’s getting shared on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram; when I see what is getting preached at churches, when I see what fad gains all the hype, they all seem to come back to this style of the faith.

Here’s what I see Christianity to be about. The Christian faith is about using the Bible (often incorrectly or inappropriately) in order to achieve your dreams, in order to grow your self-image, in order to be okay with the fact that you’re not okay, in order to fit in more with the culture at large. The Christian faith for a lot of people these days is about clawing and crawling and fighting our way back into the center of society instead of assuming our rightful place in the margins.

It’s about using Snapchat and Instagram and other pop culture references like TV shows and movies to make following Jesus seem legit, seem relevant, seem worth a student or adult’s time. It’s about wearing t-shirts that say “I’m a Christian, but I cuss a little”. Now to me, cursing is not the unforgivable sin. That being said, why in the world should we be parading around acknowledging sinfulness in order to be relevant and relatable?

When I look around me at churches and sermons and podcasts and videos, etc., what I see is that we’ve lost a vision for what it is that we are to offer the culture around us.

What we have to offer the culture is the incredible gift of God’s grace poured out on anyone who puts their faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross through His death and resurrection. That’s it. That’s what we offer. Now I’m all about striving to make our churches and our Christian culture places where people feel loved and welcomed, that’s why I speak out adamantly against hatred based on politics and other frivolous stuff. But at the end of the day, what I have to offer someone down the street from me is the love of God, not how cool or relevant it is to be a Christian.

I’m supposed to be on the margin, and I’m supposed to be a fool, not cool.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

We know the cross has power, but to the outsider looking in on my life, if I look like a fool instead of being relevant, that’s what is to be expected.

Here’s what I plead for our churches to do, our people to do:

PREACH GOD’S WORD, NOT SELF-HELP

Let’s be honest. This is hard. It’s hard to not slip into morality, into ‘be better’ sermons and speeches. The best way I know how is by preaching through books of the Bible. Immersing our people in the flow of the book. David and Goliath is not about overcoming obstacles. Jonah is not about overcoming fear. Samson is not about strength to fight the enemy. Philippians 4:13 is not about sports. We fall into all of these assumptions about Scripture because we never get a full story. If you’re reading this and you’re not in vocational ministry, model this in your home or your area of spiritual influence. Dig deep. Don’t settle for less.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. – 2 Timothy 4:2-4

PREACH GOD’S WORD, NOT GIMMICKS

I have fought the pressure countless times to be relevant. I’ve come to learn that our society is so fickle, and fads are so quick. Nothing lasts. Well, except the Bible of course. Right now we are preaching through Deuteronomy in our youth group, and we’re growing. Not because the preaching is amazing, but because relationships are being built. The students have been taking notes, and although many I find in the trash, growth is happening through God’s Word. I’m an old soul and love liturgy and the simplicity of the Bible. What I know about my faith didn’t come from gimmicks in youth group, it came from God’s Word being taught.

FIND COMMON GROUND IN HOLINESS, NOT SIN

Here’s the reality. To a culture that is pushing us to the margins, our calls to holiness are not popular. If we read Scripture, we are reminded that they were never meant to be. It is a travesty, a heart-breaking one for me, that we have tried to fight our way back into the center of society by illuminating and emphasizing our sins instead of our Savior. Let us be people who acknowledge our faults no doubt, but find joy in speaking about our Savior and the way He has redeemed us. In Christian circles specifically, may we never find camaraderie in our porn, alcoholism, selfishness, anger, greed, envy, cursing, or any other sin. Let us find camaraderie around the cross of Christ.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE SCRIPTURES, NOT CHRISTIAN FADS

Brothers and sisters, those who know my heart know that I don’t intend to berate or reprimand. Instead, I seek to inspire and encourage and remind. I pray that you and I would be people who dive deeply into Scripture. Not those two minute sermon clips on Facebook or the latest book by a popular Christian author. Rather, get into God’s Word. You’ll find that even books like Deuteronomy are full of amazing reminders of God’s grace for us.

The church is on the margins.

That’s where we’re supposed to be.

Enough with the gimmicks and self-help style Christianity.

Let us be men and women who proclaim the true message of Scripture and parade around God’s holiness rather than our sin.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

You’re Not Great, But God Is

I remember being on a third grade Little League baseball team. It was the first year that kids were allowed to pitch, and I was terrified every time I stepped up to the plate. I made contact with the ball only two times that entire season. The rest of the time I got walked, or struck out looking. I played left field, and one time I had a ball go through my legs. In the outfield. At the end of this atrocious season, I received a trophy and was told I was great.

That was a common theme in my life. The parenting and social culture that I grew up in told me and my peers that we were great, that we could accomplish anything, that we were going to change the world. That we were above average. The reality is, that’s not the case.

This self-image obsession snuck into the church, and what was birthed out of this misconception is the “Self-Image Gospel”, a false gospel that makes the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ about making you and I feel better about ourselves as people.   I am thankful for men like Matt Chandler and others who have called out this insidious misbelief about the gospel.

There are tremendous gospel promises, promises that state all kinds of amazing things about us as children of God. That being said however, when we make the onus of the gospel about our self-image, we make the gospel about us instead of about God. This lie is insidious and not easy to catch, but we can see it creeping into our walk with Christ, when we start letting the litmus test of our faith be about how we feel at the time.

The self-image gospel can lead to two dangerous and concerning practices in our churches:

1) Acting Like We’re Perfect 

This is probably beating a broken drum, but it still continues to eat away at true community in the body of Christ. Because we were fed lies that we are great, amazing, and extraordinary people, we carry that facade into our small groups, our relationships with fellow members of our churches.

Women are supposed to be perfect. They are supposed to look perfect, act perfect, have the perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect life. Men are supposed to be strong, able to overcome and tackle any struggle or difficulty in their life without help. These are standards that the Scriptures never ask of us. But because of our culture, we forfeit deep relationships. We make our lives out to be perfect, we don’t ask for help, we don’t admit that sometimes we’re simply not great.

Here’s something that’s freeing to me. In Scripture, when one of God’s servants proclaims their inability or their weakness, God never corrects them. God never tells them how great they are. He only ever tells them how great He is.

While praying in Genesis 18, Abraham says that he is but dust and ashes, and God doesn’t correct him.

In Exodus 3, Moses will come up with countless excuses as to why he can’t lead the Israelites out of Egypt, whether because of his lowliness, his speech, or the like. God doesn’t correct him. When Moses says “who am I?” to lead the people out, God simply reminds him of who God is.

In Jeremiah 1, Jeremiah says he’s too young and too inexperienced and unable to speak and thus he can’t be a prophet for the Lord. God doesn’t correct him and tell him how great a speaker he is. Instead, God reminds him of who made the mouth, of how great He was.

This is absolutely freeing. The reality is, you and I aren’t perfect. We can take down the facade. We are not great.

2) Obsession With Our Brokenness

People who tend to realize that the Scriptures never tell us to put up a facade take things to the complete opposite extreme. With hearts459488127_640 in the right place, they end up taking their eyes off of the character and greatness of God and spend too much time obsessing over their own broken lives.

This sounds like the gospel, when men and women are open about their brokenness. However, it becomes decidedly not the gospel when it becomes an obsession, the central focus of their walk with Christ. They preface every facet of their ministry in the context of their own brokenness. This is a twisted form of self-worship, which shows just how insidious the traps of Satan can be in our lives.

It is one thing to humbly admit that we don’t have it all together. It is another thing entirely to fixate on ourselves, taking our eyes off of Christ and who we are in Him.

In the Exodus story, Moses won’t take his eyes off of himself. He keeps remaining fixated on his own brokenness, and won’t put his eyes on God. In chapters four and seven, Moses continues to cry out to God, saying he’s unable to do what he’s been called to do. God is patient with him, but says time and again “I will go before you and with you”. Moses was so obsessed with his own shortcomings and ‘brokenness’ that he forgot the character and greatness of God.

Here’s where this struggle is tough for me. The men and women in the ‘brokenness’ subset of Christian community are some of the most genuine and well-meaning people that I know. Their hearts are in the right place. It is my prayer that this blog is not a form of condemnation upon them, but rather that it would remind them to acknowledge that they aren’t great, but God is.

The perfection facade club forgets that they aren’t great. The brokenness club forgets that God is. I have found myself in both camps in my life. And it’s a constant struggle.

Let us remember that the gospel is not about our self-image.

Let us remember that we are not great, but God truly is.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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