A Better Story

And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thrityfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

Have you ever had a passage from Scripture take on new life? You’ve heard it. You’ve read it. You’ve studied it. But all of a sudden, it becomes the heartbeat of your walk with Jesus. It’s as if the words on the pages of your Bible have floated upward, saturating your mind and heart. It becomes all that you can think about. You read, you pray, you move on. But it continues to tug. 

That has been my experience with the parable of the sower from Mark 4. I’ve been slowly but surely meditating on the Gospel of Mark over the last couple of months. A couple weeks ago, the parable of the sower was up next. I read it. Then read it again. Soon, my colored pens were flying over the text, scribbling and writing, highlighting and circling.  

This passage lodged itself in my heart.

Particularly that last line from Jesus.

The seed that produced fruit. 

Thirtyfold.

Sixtyfold.

A hundredfold. 

Oh how I long to be that seed. Oh how I long to see the church I serve as a pastor become that seed. I long to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. 

Yet, Jesus obviously hit the nail on the head. Spiritual warfare, persecution, worldly cares, wealth, and fleshly desires can destroy any fruitfulness in our lives. Nothing has changed in humanity. It’s still the same obstacles. 

Spiritual warfare is far more real than our little Western minds think it is. I’m not the “there’s a demon behind every tree” guy. But I am the “we have an enemy who doesn’t want us to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God” guy. A couple weeks ago I had five days straight of oppression. No, it wasn’t a demonic presence in the form of some beast on fire in the corner of my bedroom. But it was a weight, a spiritual weight, that I couldn’t shake. I would wake up at 3:45 every morning and not be able to fall back asleep. Instead I just laid there and laid there and laid there. I felt off for days. I neglected to go to God in prayer and instead tried to shoulder it myself. That didn’t work. 

We can fail to be fruitful for the Kingdom because we’ve allowed the enemy of our souls to deceive and demoralize. 

We can also fail to be fruitful for the Kingdom because we’re way too impressed with earth. 

And that’s what I want us to think about. 

What story are we telling in our churches?

Are we telling a better, more fruitful story?

Or are we telling an earthly story? 

You see, what we communicate in our churches matters. 

When we communicate, whether explicitly or implicitly, that Jesus makes your life better, we are setting people up to no longer bear fruit once they face persecution of any kind. 

When we communicate, whether explicitly or implicitly, that this life is about success, accolades, accomplishments, wealth, brands, and followings, then we set people up to fall for the deceitfulness of riches. 

When we communicate, whether explicitly or implicitly, that this life is unbearably hard, and that all that we see is just death and destruction, then we set people up to get distracted by the anxieties and worries of this broken world. 

When we communicate, whether explicitly or implicitly, that this life is about vacations, sports, fun, food, drinks, and entertainment, then we set people up to pursue the desires of their flesh the 166 hours a week they aren’t sitting in the pews of our churches. 

I want to pastor my church in a way that tells a better story. 

A story about a King and His Kingdom.

A story about the repitition and affection-led aspects of discipleship.

A story about a King who creates a better world through His people. 

I don’t want to be the reason that those in my church don’t bear fruit. 

So I want to tell a better story. 

In the coming weeks and blog posts, I want to combat the false stories we tell in our churches by asking questions that help us to dig into Scripture, be honest about the modern church, and then look to and meditate on the hope of the King and His Kingdom. I hope to share anecdotes of how I’ve fallen short, narratives of where others haven’t, and Biblical principles to form our churches around. 

Here’s the next few to look forward to:

Do we delight to draw near to God?

Are we counter-culturally winsome?

Do we sit in church gatherings with greedy, lustful hearts?

Come, take a journey through the Scriptures. 

Let’s tell a better story together. 

– Nate Roach 

Put Away The Felt Boards

Murder. Sex. Betrayals. Deception. Intrigue. Death. Destruction. Wrath. Incest. Sexual Brokenness.

Welcome to the book of Genesis.

When I have read Genesis up close and personal, I’ve seen how dark and dreary much of the story of God’s people really is, from page one.

We tend to stay above the mess when we discuss this book. We talk about (and bicker about) the creation narrative, we discuss the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Abraham, and Joseph.

There is a place for that. Absolutely. I don’t believe young children need to be immersed in the chaos.

That being said, there is a place for slowing down and sitting in the darkness of these narratives.

Have you ever read through the book of Genesis slowly? Have you ever studied it with the help of a commentary or Bible study guide? Or is your familiarity with Genesis limited to the Sunday school stories you heard growing up?

I want to encourage you and invite you to look closely at this beginning book of the Bible.

The first thing you need to grasp when you read the book of Genesis is that this is not a history textbook. If you read the book of Genesis like a history textbook, you will be confused and asking a thousand questions about the text. The book of Genesis leads to a whole litany of questions that it doesn’t answer.

The book of Genesis is not primarily telling history in regards to facts and figures, dates and locations.

Rather the book of Genesis is inviting you to encounter God.

Genesis is inviting you the modern Christian to find yourself in the story of God’s people and to encounter the God who made everything, who gave grace in the midst of disgusting sin, who called and chose a family to be His own.

Genesis is inviting you the modern Christian to find yourself in the story of God’s people and to encounter the God who made everything, who gave grace in the midst of disgusting sin, who called and chose a family to be His own.

The book of Genesis is not to be read like a modern novel either. Genesis is full of drastically different genres. There are genealogical lists, prayers and petitions, poems, and copious amounts of stories focused on particular people in specific circumstances (see Basic Bible Commentary: Genesis).

We also have to remember that the contents of Genesis were likely passed down from generation to generation orally before they ever came to be written down.

That being said, we see in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) itself acknowledgments that Moses wrote down certain laws, as well as the existence of historical accounts (again, Genesis is not one):

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.” – Exodus 17:14

That is why the Book of the Wars of the Lord says: “. . . Zahab in Suphah and the ravines, the Arnon – Numbers 21:14

I would love to read the Book of the Wars of the Lord. That would be such an interesting history book.

We don’t have that though.

What we do have is a theology book, a family history, a story of God and His people.

The book of Genesis is all about God’s relationship with His people. See more on this below:

My blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page and podcast will all have material out of the book of Genesis in the coming months (with more personal lessons and thoughts interspersed).

I encourage you again to put away the felt board Sunday school stories and instead dive deep into the dark narrative that is the book of Genesis, the story of God and His people.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Were You There When?

Where were you when the twin towers fell?

I distinctly remember where I was. I was in second grade at the Episcopal School in Wichita Falls, Texas. I don’t remember what subject I was in at the time, but I remember getting interrupted as the teachers wheeled in a tv for us to watch live this act of terror (maybe not the best choice by the teachers at the time).

What is crazy to me is that I regularly interact with students now that weren’t even alive on that fateful day.

Yet, they could still tell me most of the details surrounding the attack.

Why? Because through YouTube videos, documentaries, museums, and reflection, they have been discipled in the knowledge of that event. They know what it reflects, proclaims, and means for our country. Through these remembrances, they become part of a people that have been formed by that event.

On a lighter note, I think of Texas Rangers fans. I am not really a huge baseball fan anymore, but I grew up in a Rangers household. So although it happened long before I was born, I can tell you the details surrounding the Nolan Ryan beatdown of Robin Ventura.

Why? Because for quite some time before every Rangers home game, they played a hype video giving glimpses of all of these great moments in Rangers history, and that was included in it. Every game I went to with my family, I was being discipled in the knowledge of Rangers lore.

Church, we are being discipled. At all times. We are constantly being indoctrinated through reflection and collective memories.

The church was made for doing the same. When we come together as followers of Jesus on Sunday mornings, everything we do should be helping us collectively look back at the history of God’s people. Not only that, we should find our place in their midst.

The book of Deuteronomy is avoided by many. It appears dry, rote, religious in all the wrong ways. But if you actually look closely, there is so much beauty in it. There is a really short, easy to read, great book on the subject called Invited To Know God if you’re in to reading. I’m really only merely regurgitating what it talks about.

But anyway, in chapter six of Deuteronomy we see the following passage, one that drives so much of my vision for the ministries I serve in at my church.

“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. – Deuteronomy 6:20-24

I mean, that’s beautiful.

Don’t forget that Moses is addressing the children of the Exodus generation. The generation that was brought out of Egypt died away in the wilderness due to their disobedience and unfaithfulness. These are their children Moses is speaking to. And yet, he encourages them to say ‘we were Pharaoh’s slaves’. Why? Because they were to find themselves in the story.

Church, we are to find ourselves in the story of God’s people.

It is popular in our current day and age to make Christianity nothing more than a private relationship with Jesus. And yet, that is not even remotely Biblical. The anti-religion version of Christianity causes us to miss out on the beauty of finding ourselves in the story of God’s people, from the time of Abraham to the time of Martin Luther to today. What a rich heritage we have.

This passage out of Deuteronomy is an invitation.

It is an invitation to be with God.

It is an invitation to be with God by focusing on what God has done, both individually and in our families.

If we as families are truly allegiant to Jesus as Lord over all in our lives, we are going to look distinct, different, even weird to the world around us. When kids, friends, neighbors, co-workers question why it is that we live the way that we do, we can tell them the story.

God drew the people of God out of Egypt, to draw them in to relationship with Him.

In the same way, God drew us out of our bondage to sin, in order to draw us into relationship with Him.

That’s our story.

And as we reflect on our story, we are drawn into obedience. Did you notice that?

Verse twenty-four described the fact that God gave them as a people commandments and statutes to follow. But that obedience was to always come after remembering the story!

That gets me pumped. Seriously, that’s powerful.

The call to holiness that the Bible lays before me is in the context of what God has done for me. If we don’t place ourselves in the story, the beauty of that call fades.

We must teach and preach the story.

That’s what I’m becoming passionate about. I want those I serve to know the story. Telling them how they are to live does nothing. Telling them the story of all that God has done leads to a desire for obedience.

Yahweh’s call upon their (our) lives is not random or arbitrary but born of his past goodness… By telling the redemption story, therefore, each new generation joins the story and learns to love the Lord in this way. – A.J. Culp 

You’re being discipled, brought into a story.

Make it the story of the Bible.

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

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks

“On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
and cast a wishful eye
to Canaan’s fair and happy land,
where my possessions lie.”

Whether or not you know this hymn probably says a little something about your age. Throughout the twentieth century this was an incredibly popular hymn, but to be honest, I had not heard it before. Or if I had, it’s somewhere in the hidden recesses of my mind like all the knowledge of Power Rangers and college football stats that I once had.

Those who sing this hymn likely are not saying that their hope and happiness are found in the literal, geographical location of Canaan. Instead, they are likely thinking of heaven when they sing this song.

Either way, it is this hymn that describes the scene that Deuteronomy paints for us. The entire book is documenting the scene described in the hymn.

The entire narrative of Scripture to this point pushing forward to this moment.

Genesis. Creation. Fall. The gospel promise. The origins of humanity. The origins of the cosmos. The promised one to come. The promised nation to come. The promised blessing to come. The grace of God on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The sovereignty of God over the life of Joseph. Power in a new world. All seems well.

Exodus. A new power rises. Slavery. Oppression. Pain. Moses. The plagues. The promised one to come. The Passover. The rescue from Egypt. The Red Sea. Mount Sinai. Testing in the wilderness. The promised land to come. The Ten Commandments. The way the people were to live.

Leviticus. The laws of God. The worship of God. The relationship of God to His people. The Tabernacle. The presence of God. The sacrificial system. The holiness of God.

Numbers. The march towards the promised land. The fear. The rebellion. The punishment. The death of the old, the life of the new. The forty years in the wilderness. Moses’ inability to enter the land of promise. The justice of God upon the disobedience of His people.

What now?

This is the most brief synopsis of the Pentateuch I could possibly write. There is so much more to each and every book. So much more.

But I write it so that I can say what I believe to be true.

If the book of Deuteronomy bores you, it’s because you don’t know the story.

When you know the story, the Biblical narrative, this moment in the story is immensely important. God has promised His people Canaan, and it’s right in front of them. Sure, reading through all the laws isn’t the most exciting Bible experience, nor is it the most immediately applicable. Especially when we understand that we are not held to the minutiae of the Old Testament Law. But with all those caveats, the book of Deuteronomy can still be a deep dive into the beauty of Scripture, the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of grace, the beauty of our part in the story.

Moses is speaking to a new generation of God’s people. The previous generation had died in their disobedience. Now this new generation was poised to enter the Promised Land. Moses was not allowed to enter. So here we have his final sermon, his final guidance given to his people. The book of Deuteronomy is two of his speeches to the people with a re-statement of the law sandwiched between them. Yes, it’s not the most popular book in our churches, but it is immensely important.

In fact, Deuteronomy has been used a lot in American history. Did you know that John Winthrop, the leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, used it to conclude a sermon he preached to his people right before they made it to New England? While I definitely don’t agree with early patriotic readings of the Old Testament where the ‘New World’ was equated to the ‘Promised Land’, you can see from history how Deuteronomy was used to encourage and admonish when people felt themselves on the edge of a new beginning.

Deuteronomy was also utilized in the spiritual songs of African-American slaves, as they longed for freedom in a promised land, whether that be spiritual or historical (like the Underground Railroad). This reading of the book of Deuteronomy is one I am far more sympathetic to.

Either way, we all can glean from it like those before us.

2 Timothy 3:16 will tell us that Deuteronomy teaches us, corrects us, rebukes us, and trains us in righteousness. With that in mind you mustn’t ignore it.

It is because of all this that I want to encourage you to read it. Imagine yourself in the story, immerse yourself in the story. Your parents were rescued out of Egypt by God, and they told you about it. Then they cowered in the face of difficulty and opposition, despite having their miracle-producing God on their side. This led to them dying in the wilderness. But here you are, you look across the Jordan river and see the land of promise. They had told you stories. It was a land of great fruitfulness, a land flowing with milk and honey. A land where you would be free. A land where you would be able to make themselves a home. A land where you could commune with God in prosperity and blessing. You look up and your leader Moses, who looks old and aged, weak and dying, is about to speak.

Now dive.

Dive deep into Deuteronomy.

You won’t regret it.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

(This upcoming semester, I will be preaching through the book of Deuteronomy {at high altitude} for the student ministry I shepherd. When I study a book, there is so much more that I glean than I have time to share on any given Wednesday night, so I will be posting some blogs like this one of what I’ve been learning. The book I’ve relied the most on is Thomas Mann’s commentary on Deuteronomy, and that will likely show in my posts.)

 

Currahee

The summer after my freshmen year of college, my dad and I watched the Band of Brothers HBO mini-series. It was a sort of coming of age moment for me, and to watch it alongside my dad was a great experience. This blog is not the space to address thoughts on entertainment, war, etc. I will say however that if you choose to watch this, skip the start of Episode 9.

Anyways, the first episode is entitled “Currahee” and it documents the training of Easy Company, which the mini-series will follow throughout the entirety of WW2. In this episode we see two leaders. One is a horrible example and the other is worthy of emulation. The entire series is big on leadership, but this opening episode teaches us a lot on what makes a good leader.

You see, our churches are full of broken and imperfect leaders. Broken and imperfect men and women. Broken and flawed leaders who hurt people in their congregation. There is obviously a wide range of leadership deficiencies resulting in a wide range of damage done.

Just today a humongous network of priests in Pennsylvania I believe got busted in a sexual sin cover-up that had over 1000 victims involved. That is an extreme example of the way that those in spiritual leadership have abused their power and shown their flaws.

Again, that is an extreme example. But misogyny, deception, abrasiveness, anger, pride, and the like could describe way too many ministers and leaders in our churches. I’ve sadly heard many stories from those I love who have been burned by the church, particularly those who are in positions of authority in the church.

Even people raised in churches have been let down, bruised, and abused by those who claimed to be Christ’s shepherds. – Jonathan Leeman 

To be in leadership in a church is to be serving a flock under the Lordship of Christ. Yet many men and women, including yours truly at times, make it about their own kingdoms of sand. That is why I deeply desire men and women to be praying for me daily. I know that left to my own selfish and sinful devices, I will harm those in my congregation and make ministry about my name instead of His.

Anyway, all that to say, let’s look at Band of Brothers and Scripture to teach us about what anyone in ministry should look like (whether that is vocational ministry, volunteer ministry, teaching a Sunday school class or organizing a meal for those in your church who can’t get out).

Herbert Sobel

Captain Sobel is best described as a turd. He is power-hungry, leads with fear, antagonizes his troops, deceives them, manipulates them, and altogether makes them hate him. Now while there is a component of his leadership style that actually lended itself to good results (they all banded together in their mutual hatred of him), he ultimately was removed from his position of leadership over Easy Company. In part because he was ill-equipped to lead in combat drills and in part because he did not have the respect of his men.

I find it intriguing that Scripture has its fair share of Sobels. Scripture has plenty of examples of poor leadership. Now I would for sure caution us against approaching Scripture as primarily a leadership manual or handbook, treating it as if producing godly leaders is its purpose. That being said, there are sections of Scripture that can teach us quite a great deal on the subject.

For instance look with me at 3 John.

I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. – 3 John 9-10

Diotrephes. Dio-stinking-trephes. John was writing to a house church, encouraging them in their hospitality towards those who were carrying the good news of Jesus. Yet we have this man in a role of leadership, who loves to be first, loves the praise. He not only loves being the center of attention, he also kicks out of the church any who are choosing to be hospitable because it goes against his opinion on the matter. What a turd.

Major Winters 

Here we see a man of courage, humility, quiet strength, meekness, and integrity. Throughout the entire mini-series, he leads with dedication first and foremost to his men. He braves the scene of battle with them, and is incredibly frustrated when he is not able to be with them. He is full of integrity, and although he has the right to be abrasive and lead with as much meanness as Sobel, he decides to lead instead with meekness and quiet strength.

Again, the Bible is not about leadership primarily.

Nor is Paul a perfect leader.

However, in the small book of Philemon he exhibits an aspect of leadership that I pray I and every pastor I know would model.

Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you – since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus – Philemon 8-9

Paul was an apostle. This made him a big deal in the early church. Again I don’t think he was perfect, and Scripture makes it pretty clear to me that he was far from it. But this apostleship gave him incredible authority. Authority that meant what he spoke to a church should be followed because he had seen the risen Christ. But here in this letter, he chooses to appeal to them out of his love, not his authority.

Man, that’s a good example of leadership.

Loving those under your leadership, not simply commanding them. I am grateful to be in a season where I am under such loving leadership. It gives those who are under this type of leader the opportunity to thrive outside of fear.

My prayer is that every follower of Jesus would be more like Christ. Yes, Dick Winters was an amazing man. But even he is simply a shadow of Christ.

My prayer is that every follower of Jesus would lead in whatever area they find themselves in with humility and love.

I always appreciate feedback and discussion. You can follow my blog below.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

The Good News of Nathan?

The gospel is all about Jesus.

As people of God we should be all about the gospel.

These seem like total no-brainer statements, yet if we’re honest, we all subtly move away from these truths.

I know that I have countless times in my life in the past and in the present. First, when it comes to that first statement, here’s what would happen. When I first got to OBU, I wanted everyone to know my story. You can see the problem that arose just by how I phrased that last sentence. I wanted people to know MY story, not the story of Jesus, not the story where I was simply an extra with a teeny tiny part to play.

So what happened is that I regularly, I mean probably a couple times a month, would share my testimony with anyone who wanted to hear it. Each time I shared it I would emphasize all of my nasty, gritty, and grimy sin struggles. Anger, sexual sin, dishonesty, rebellion. Then at the very end I would tack on a quick here’s how God redeemed me from all of that (the other stupid thing I would do was act like none of those sin struggles were still in my life, maybe to will myself into getting rid of them, who knows). It also got so bad that I would embellish my story like crazy, dramatizing it, making it seem unfathomable. This snowballed and soon my story was full of scenarios and situations that never actually happened. Imagine that, being dishonest when sharing my own testimony. Man thank God for grace.

The gospel that saturates the Scriptures was suddenly about me. I never said that in those words, but it was clear in the way that I shared my life story.

Life progressed and as I entered vocational ministry, the temptation to make the gospel the means by which I would build my own kingdom and legacy was hot and heavy. In hopes of not making the same mistake silly old 18 year old Nate made, I confess that this continues to be an ongoing battle for me. Ministry is rough and rugged and not at all what I expected it to be when I first submitted to God’s call on my life as a teenager. Yet despite the brutality of it at times, it’s easy to treat it as any other job and make it about achieving my own goals and aspirations. I don’t particularly believe that everything is explicitly black and white, that having dreams and desires is sinful. That being said, it is sinful to take from God’s glory (or hilariously attempt to).

The proclamation of the gospel is not to be used to build our own kingdoms of sand. I’ve seen evangelists and preachers make the gospel their avenue to glory. I’ve fought and at times given into that same desire in my own heart. May we be men and women of God who do no such thing. May we understand the futility of trying to make the gospel about us.

For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son – Romans 1:9a

The gospel of His Son.

The gospel is all about Jesus.

Let us transition to the second statement.

As people of God we should be all about the gospel.

Sometimes the gospel seems mundane. Sometimes the gospel of Jesus Christ seems like VBS style theology to the pew-hardened follower of Jesus. Here’s where Paul in the book of Romans blows that false feeling out of the water.

So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. – Romans 1:15

There was already a gospel presence in Rome when Paul wrote the Roman church this letter. This is easily proven in verse seven. For there to be church community in Rome, people needed to have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. For them to have done that, they would have needed to have heard the gospel. Thus we can say that the gospel had been preached in Rome. Yet, Paul is eagerly anticipating the opportunity to preach the gospel in the very place there was already a gospel presence. Why? Because as people of God we should be all about the gospel.

It may seem repetitive to our hearts, but if it is, it is more than likely because its beauty has not cascaded into every dark crevice. A right understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ leads to a yearning to hear it and preach it and share it and soak it in. We should be all about the gospel. That word can get watered down, so here is what R.C. Sproul gives as a mini-synopsis of this good news:

  • Jesus’ life of perfect obedience
  • Jesus’ atoning death on the cross
  • Jesus’ resurrection from the dead
  • Jesus’ ascension into heaven
  • Jesus’ outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church

What a surprise, the gospel is all about Jesus.

We live in a society where we are supposed to tickle the ears of our congregations with pep-talks that use Scripture as support instead of actually preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To preach the gospel every week does not require preaching from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) every week. Every story in Scripture points to Jesus in some way. Any sermon can be a gospel-saturated sermon.

Let us not grow weary of proclaiming the gospel to our families and friends.

Let us be men and women of the gospel.