Evan Hansen, Calvinism, and Holiness

I love musicals.

I love how musical themes that are present in songs at the beginning of musicals come to a head again and again throughout the entirety of the show (the Bible is much the same way. If you study Biblical theology you will see themes that repeat over and over in the one big story of Scripture). I love how powerfully you can tell a story via music.

I get hooked on a musical and listen to it lots.

On my way to an orthodontist appointment this week in Dallas, I discovered Dear Evan Hansen (now, there is a bit of language. So hearers discretion advised).

Dear Evan Hansen is a powerfully provocative dark comedy about teenage loneliness, suicide, broken families and the desire to be loved.

Evan Hansen is a loner, struggling to find community, wrestling with the lack of a father in his life. Another student named Connor takes his own life, and Evan finds himself propagating a big lie, that he and Connor were best friends. He back-logs e-mails, continuing to lie to Connor’s family for quite some time before the truth comes to the forefront. (That is a really poor synopsis, but oh well).

I found myself driving down 287 with tears filling my eyes. As a Family Discipleship pastor I see the pain and brokenness that teens are facing. I know how real this story the musical is telling is. There is great loneliness. There is pain. I see it. I counsel it. I cry over it. I pray over it.

All of these emotions came pouring out as soon as I got home. Jamie was my unsuspecting target. I half-yelled via excitement through the entire plot of the musical. I found it so powerful and so stirring that I didn’t even stop to take a breath when I shared it all with Jamie.

We tend to rant about things that excite us, that stir up emotions in is.

The apostle Paul was much the same way. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he is so stirred by the beauty of the gospel story that he doesn’t even stop to properly punctuate his sentence.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is in fact just one long sentence in the original Greek.

Paul is so pumped and stoked about the beauty of our salvation in Christ that he just lets it all out in what comma-infused rant that any modern English teacher would be frustrated by.

I’ve been giving this passage some thought.

Recently I’ve been absolutely blown away by the reality that our sanctification, not just our salvation, is brought about by God’s work in us (See Philippians 3:9 for instance. Or if you’re interested in books on the topic read Possessed by God or Rethinking Holiness or How Does Sanctification Work? – if you’re a Vernonite come to my office at the church). God does the work in us. We are passive participants in the work of the Spirit. We rely on Him wholly and completely for our growth in godliness.

The start of this long run-on by Paul is yet another example of this fact.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. - Ephesians 1:3-4a

Now, most people can’t read this passage (or the rest of it for that matter) without their first thought being about the ol’ classic Calvinism or Arminianism debate. Let me give you my two cents on that matter. This might be the first time I’ve blogged about this.

  1. God is higher than us. Romans 11 and 1 Corinthians 2 make this abundantly apparent. As finite humans, we can never fully comprehend God. Does that mean we don’t even try to comprehend Him or His Word? Absolutely not. I mean, you’re reading a blog from a guy who reads commentaries for fun at night. But we will never fully understand the acts of God. So I think it’s foolish of me to think that I can fully understand how God chooses to save. And I think we’re missing the point when we bicker over this matter. Do I believe that God is sovereign over every thing in the universe? Yes. Do I believe that God has given man free will? Also yes. Does that make sense? No. But maybe that’s where faith comes in. This is likely an unsatisfactory answer for many people, but it’s all I know for sure. The Christian faith is absolutely full of paradoxes that make no logical sense. I read a ton of reformed theology that touts the sovereignty of God but what I consider myself doesn’t fit the two-sided debate:
  2. Three point Roachist. Back when I was in college, the debate around Calvinism was raging. I was told by some that I wasn’t reading the Bible well if I wasn’t a Calvinist. I was told by others that Calvinists were arrogant jerks. I got so tired of all the needless debate that I said “I’m a three point Roachist. I love Jesus. I love pizza. I want to get married one day. That’s all I know for sure.” That always brought laughter and the end of arguments, even if people were annoyed with my answer. After years of reading and studying I still don’t have firm beliefs in every single secondary or tertiary matter.
  3. Missing the Heart for the Head. Lastly, I believe that maybe, just maybe, when we take this passage and rip it into theological debates about salvation, we’re drastically missing the point. Paul is pumped. Excited. Overflowing with joy and praise. Why? Because of all the spiritual blessings that we’ve received in Christ. If our response to this passage (or any passage in Scripture for that matter) is merely to get ready to defend our beliefs, we’ve missed the point. This passage should cause us to worship.

Praise God for choosing me. How? I don’t know. I just know it’s been done.

Praise God for making me blameless and holy. When He chose me, He made me blameless and holy. Did you see that? This passage doesn’t say that God chose me in Christ so that I could work hard to be holy and blameless. It says that God choosing me makes me holy and blameless.

How does that work?

Faith. Paradox. Belief.

I have sinned a lot today in thought, word, and deed. Yet God the Father sees me as holy and blameless because of my Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s worth worshipping about.

That’s worth sharing about.

Praise God.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Winter Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. – Philippians 2:5-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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3 Reasons To Read Scripture

I woke up this morning, turned on the lights, and started my day with something that I have struggled to put first in my day: time in God’s Word. I felt the cool morning air seeping in from my window, and I enjoyed refreshing time in the Scriptures. I was looking at Psalm 119, and it was a convicting reminder of where God’s Word should be held in my heart and mind. It is easy to quickly turn from prioritizing time with God in His Word, allowing distractions like social media, television, and even good things like being a fiancee and minister keep me from Scripture. read me

Look with me at Psalm 119:1-3.

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart – they do no wrong but follow his ways. – Psalm 119:1-3

Blessings. Fullness of joy. Perfect peace. True contentment. These things come to us when we are walking according to God’s Word.

Even though I know this is the case, my sinful desires often keep me from God’s Word. Good things in my life keep me from God’s Word. I’ll go too long without really diving deep into studying God’s Word, and the affects of such decision-making shows itself in each facet of my life. When I begin my day in God’s Word, it changes my whole day. Not because God rains down physical and earthly blessings as a result of my obedience and devotion to His Word. Rather because I enter my day with an eternal perspective, instead of an earthly one.

The Word of God is going to do 3 things for me when I spend time in it.

1. It shows me how to live a life that is pleasing to God. 

As a follower of Christ, I desire to please God with my life. I know that I will not be perfect in my endeavors, but I desire to be the man described in Psalm 119:1-3. A man who walks according to God’s Word, keeping his commands, and seeking Him with all my ways.

Because of Scripture, I don’t have to question or second guess what is or is not pleasing to God. In Scripture, I see what it is that God desires of me. Take this very passage for example. The Lord wants to draw me into maturity, draw me into ever-increasing obedience to His Word. God knows that we won’t be perfect. So even when we see in Matthew 5:48 the call to be perfect as God is, we read that in light of God’s grace. It’s something to pursue, but not something to bash over our own heads. God desires for me to keep his commands.

The Scriptures would be a treasure if this was the only thing they did. But the Scriptures do so much more than this for me.

2. It shows me to be set apart by God amongst the nations (when I follow it), bringing glory to God. 

So, when I follow God’s Word, when I live as He desires me to live, the world begins to see me as a man who is set apart. This was the purpose of the Old Testament law that was given to the people of God. This is one purpose of the entire magnum opus of Scripture as well. When I live as the Bible calls me to live, I will look different from the world. This is a reality. Our Christian witness will become more noticeable as our culture continues to drift away (or run away) from the commands of God. This drift is no need for fear, for it gives us as followers of Christ a greater opportunity to show ourselves as set apart, as men and women who live for something other than ourselves. We can show ourselves to be set apart, not in an elitist sense, but in a way that emphasizes the love and grace of God, thus giving glory to God.

3. It shows me the character of God.

This is probably my favorite aspect of the Bible. It shows me what God is like. It shows me His character. I don’t have to question what is He like. I get to see through Scripture the love, mercy, grace, holiness, justice, judgment, and heart of God. I get to be reminded of His power and presence and provision and protection. It erases my fear, doubt, and anxiousness.

For instance, when I read Genesis and the way that God has created the cosmos, it brings peace to my mind that He is powerful and purposeful and in control. There is no need to doubt His power or His control over the stressful things of my life (like wedding planning).

So God’s Word shows us how to live a life pleasing to God, following God’s Word sets us apart from the world, and God’s Word shows us the character of God.

The reality is, I’m foolish when I don’t search and study the Scriptures each day.

I would encourage you to dive deep into Scripture.

You will experience joy as you follow God’s Word.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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Modern Milcoms

Jesus Christ is either Lord of all my life or He is not Lord at all in my life.

Jesus either dictates every aspect of my life here on earth, or He doesn’t. In regards to lordship, there is no middle ground. I can’t give God my mornings in the Word and then refuse to seek His counsel in regards to finances, health, work, and play. I can’t claim that my life is a blank check on which God can call me to sacrifice in whatever way He sees fit and then respond with complaining and grumbling when what He’s calling me to doesn’t fit with my preconceived notions and plans.

Jesus Christ is either Lord of all my life or He is not Lord at all in my life.

The last couple days I’ve been super fascinated with the book of Zephaniah. This book paints a picture of God’s majesty and power that does truly produce a fear of God in me. God proclaims His ability to destroy everything on earth, but instead of enacting His just wrath, He extends mercy to those who humbly seek Him. As I was simply studying some of the details surrounding this short book, a passage in the first chapter struck me.

“I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests, those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom, those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” – Zephaniah 1:4-6

Wow. God’s anger was burning against His people. His people were deserving of wrath. What they were doing was submitting to the Lord by bowing down to Him. Yet they didn’t just bow down to Him and Him alone. Instead they chose to worship and bow down to the stars and to Milcom.

In the time of Zephaniah’s prophecy, Milcom was the national god of the Ammonites. This god was often worshiped via the practice of infant sacrifices. It was a deplorable practice and it was apparently being at least permitted by these people of God who chose to bow down to not just the Lord alone but also to the deities of the surrounding nations. It was as if God’s people were hedging their bets. It was as if God’s people were making sure that if God truly wasn’t in complete control then at least they will have appeased these other ‘gods’ that might in fact be real.

Reading this elicits in me a quick reaction of judgment. I look at the inhabitants of Jerusalem at the time of Zephaniah’s writing and think how in the world can you guys be so stupid. God has spoken to you countless times, proven His miraculous power left and right, and yet you all struggle with making Him Lord over all in your lives.

Then I take a real hard look in the mirror.

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There are modern-day idols all around us.

There are modern-day Milcoms. There are cultural idols that I can worship too. I’ve heard countless people say that usually what you’re thinking about at the very start of the day and the very end of the day is what you worship. Ouch. There are so many things that I worship besides just the Lord. To use the terminology of the passage here in Zephaniah, I ‘bow down’ to countless cultural idols.

I bow down to the need to be right in arguments. I bow down to the need to have complete comfort. I bow down to my finances as the dictators of how I give and how I live. I bow down to the obsession of having a relationship that is admired by others. I bow down to loving my neighbor without sharing with them the offensive truths of the gospel. I bow down to my wants. I bow down to wanting to make a name for myself that people will remember. I bow down to social media. I bow down to how social media says that I should live. I bow down to family. I bow down to friends. I bow down to the status quo.

The list could go on and on. We struggle to truly submit to Jesus’ lordship over our lives. Instead we allow countless other things to dictate how we live.

Jesus Christ is either Lord of all my life or He is not Lord at all in my life.

I pray that this blog post doesn’t drive anyone into feelings of condemnation. I pray instead that this blog post drives all of us into a convicting understanding of how we can better submit to Jesus as Lord in all aspects of our lives.

There is hope. Gospel hope. Hope in Christ.

Zephaniah chapter three shows us the hope.

On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord. – Zephaniah 3:11-12

The book of Zephaniah is filled with the promise that if we humble ourselves before God, He will show mercy.

Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all of our sins, even the sin of not submitting to Jesus as Lord. So if you’re struggling with submitting all of your life to God, know that God is waiting with open arms to receive you and cleanse you of your pride (the worship of idols is ultimately a pride issue because we create gods that submit to us).

In the coming year, allow Jesus to be the Lord of all in your life.

He is worthy of your worship.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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