Spirit-Led Leaders In A Broken Church

The world is broken and so is the church. We live in a day where the people of God do what is evil in the eyes of God. We worship the gods of this fallen world, all while claiming to be allegiant to Jesus. Our prayers before meals or occasional generosity seem to be the only things that separate us from the culture around us. We’ve forgotten the ways of God, instead living in the ways of this world. Church involvement is limited to when we’re free. Our leaders in the church fall into the trap of leading in ways that don’t honor God.

The church in America is broken, through and through.

But that isn’t new.

You know that right?

When people draw my attention to the great sins and hypocrisies of Christians, I smile and nod, and seek to listen respectfully. And then, given the opportunity, I tell them to read the book of Judges.

You see, the book of Judges teaches that the people of God have ALWAYS been broken.

That brokenness is real. It has adverse affects on us. It affects people’s willingness to enter into our church communities (and the last thing we need to do by the way is mock them, tell them they’re making excuses, condemn them).

Brokenness is real in the church.

So what do we do?

For me, I am begging and pleading for God to draw our attention to His Son and then that He would raise up men and women like Him.

Look with me at Judges 3.

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them. Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. – Judges 3:7-11

All throughout the book of Judges, God raises up judges to deliver the people of God out of the hand of the enemy. Look though at how it described God’s people! They did evil. They forgot or neglected God. They worshipped other idols.

Sound familiar?

Again, it’s nothing new.

What did they do though?

They eventually came to their senses and pleaded with God for deliverance.

When I look at a church community that looks no different than the world, I start to pray and beg God to bring deliverance. We’re not enslaved to some bro that’s got a wild name. We’re enslaved to sin, and it’s far more insidious. We as the people of God have fallen consistently for every lie in the world.

So I pray. I cry out like this passage said the people of God did.

And I trust that God will move.

We, on the other side of the cross, know that the judges pointed forward to the Great Deliverer, Jesus Christ.

So we know that God has intervened firmly and finally in history.

But I regularly pray that we as the people of God would look to Him, and see innumerable men and women lead like Him.

You see, the judges were the symbolization or minor imitation of the presence of God. The Spirit was on Othniel (3:10). The Spirit was fully on Jesus. He is the perfect embodiment of the presence of God for He is God.

What about here and now?

Are there concrete examples of God’s presence?

I think so.

I believe by God’s grace He gives us examples around us of His ways.

Three things stand out from this passage. Three things that I believe show when God has put His presence in our midst.

  1. Look for those who exhibit His Spirit. In verse ten, we see that the Spirit of God was at work in Othniel. I can’t really put this one into clear words. But I think we all have experienced people in our lives who just exude the fruit of the Spirit. They’re a joy to be around. They are faithful. They are generous. They are distinctly different from the world around them. It’s not that they hate the world, they just love Jesus more, and it shows in their time, money, and conversations.
  2. Look for those who bring victory. Now, obviously, just like with the judges, we know that it is ultimately God who brings the victory for God’s people. Here in Othniel’s life, God used him to accomplish victory over Cushan-rishathaim. When I want to be reminded of God’s presence in our midst, I look for stories of people accomplishing Kingdom victory and bearing fruit when it comes to drawing people to Jesus and making disciples of those who choose to walk with Him.
  3. Look for those who bring peace. The final verse of this passage shows us that Othniel’s leadership brought peace. This is honestly the one that I am most encouraged by. When I see people who aren’t interested in stirring the pot, aren’t willing to talk poorly about anyone else, aren’t interested in drawing attention to themselves, my heart soars. Those are wonderful people to be around and spend time with. They want to love Jesus and love others. That’s it.

When I see people like this, I know the church isn’t lost in this broken world. I am reminded that Christ still reigns over His people. Those who are filled with the Spirit, those who are effective for Jesus, and those who are seeking peace are the types of people that I am strengthened in my faith by. They’re reminders that we aren’t left alone in this wild and broken world.

That’s the type of person I’d like to be as well. Fruitful and peaceful, all while living under the guidance of direction of the Spirit.

Our church is broken.

But it’s not lost.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

I Don’t Want To Be In Charge

“Why won’t people listen to me? Why won’t they follow my lead?”

Three years ago, I sat in the office of Craig Lyle, the pastor at Faith Baptist in Wichita Falls. Those two questions came flying out of my heart as I tried to share with him what I was feeling and thinking about my ministry here at FBC Vernon.

We were a few months into what became a fifteen month pastor search, and I felt overlooked and ignored as a leader in the church.

So in great frustration I asked my mentor and friend why he thought that was happening.

Our relationship had begun due to my need for marital counseling. I was one year into marriage, and I was ruining it. My anger and frustration was boiling over into unkind and abrasive words towards my wife. I needed help. I needed someone to point me to Jesus.

So there I sat on the couch.

I felt ignored at church and ignored at home.

I mean, seriously. I was twenty-five years of age! Why didn’t my church and my family submit to my vast knowledge and wisdom? Why didn’t they follow my great expertise?

Yes, that’s laughable now.

But that’s exactly how I felt.

I don’t remember exactly what Craig said in response, but the gist was clear.

It was something along the lines of “do you love them?”.

He went on to say “Nate, you’re not called by Jesus to be a cowboy driving cattle. You’re called to be a shepherd leading sheep”.

Man.

That was a challenging and convicting word.

All of that came to mind today due to a verse that jumped off the page in my quiet time. I was reading Colossians chapter two.

and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. – Colossians 2:10, NIV

Christ is the head over every power and authority.

That has so many implications in regards to governments and organizations, kings and kingdoms.

But what hit me was the fact that Christ is head over every authority, meaning he is head over mine.

I’ve been given responsibilities in my church. As I walk out these responsibilities, the fleshly desire to be followed, listened to, trusted, and affirmed can be high in me.

But here’s what this verse teaches me.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal after reading this verse.

I’m first and foremost a man under authority. Before I think about leading others, I have to remember I’m being led. I report to Jesus, my LORD. He is the authority that I am to submit to. This isn’t my youth group. It’s the LORD’s.”

That changes everything about leadership, doesn’t it?

If life is about me being in charge, I may guide people down a path, but they likely won’t feel loved along the way.

If life is about Someone being in charge of me, I’m going to seek to lead others the same way that I’m being led.

As I reflect on this, I worship.

The One in charge of me loves me. The One in charge of me is gentle, humble, patient, compassionate, merciful, kind, persistent, relational, intimate, and personal.

Wow.

That’s the type of leader I want to be.

The older I get, the less I want authority and power if I’m being honest with you. At times, the idea of me having authority feels dirty to me. Now I know from Scripture that godly men need to lead the people of God. So I keep going. But there are moments I just don’t want any part of the power structures of man.

The older I get, the less the desire to be in charge appeals to me.

The older I get, the more I want to love people like Jesus.

I’m asking God to bring that about in me.

I want those who are around me to see me as gentle, humble, patient, compassionate, merciful, kind, persistent, relational, intimate, and personal.

That truly brings a tear to my eye.

God, please let it be so.

At home, I want my wife and daughter to see Jesus in me.

At work, I want men and women to see Jesus in me.

If I’m given authority, I’ll use it.

But I want to use it in one way.

To love like Jesus.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Seek The Lord

Lately I have been trying to get into God’s word and grow in wisdom. I’m twenty-eight years old, and in a lot of areas of my life, I still need to grow up. I need the Spirit’s help through the study of the word and prayer.

A couple weeks ago, I was reading in Zephaniah, looking for Biblical wisdom.

This verse jumped off the page:

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord. – Zephaniah 2:3

What do I seek?

When I look at the year or month or week ahead of me, what is it that I’m pursuing with my time and energy?

Sometimes I look at the week ahead and simply think about the responsibilities I have. I’m striving to lead my family as a husband and father. That takes intentionality. I’ve got seminary assignments. I’ve got work assignments. I am now an umpire for the local Boys & Girls Club softball league. I’ve got students that I’m meeting with for discipleship. I’ve got upcoming D-Now speaking engagements.

I’m seeking a lot of earthly things.

Many of those things are good things.

Obviously being a God-honoring spouse and father is important.

Doing my school work and work work for the glory of God is important.

But what is it that I’m chasing?

Without intentionality, a week can go by with no real growth in my walk with God.

To avoid this, I need to apply that verse from Zephaniah to my life.

Seek the Lord.

How can I commune with God this week? That’s the most important question, the most important part of my schedule.

I occasionally struggle with staying asleep. For instance, I’ve been up since 2:30 AM, and I’m writing this post at 5:15 AM. I would love to be sleeping right now. Especially with a busy day of preaching and hosting students for dinner ahead of me. But here I am.

And you know what?

It’s been beautiful. Sure, I watched a couple YouTube videos. But for the most part I’ve been reading some and praying some and journaling a whole lot. I feel God’s presence close, intimately close.

I wrote in one of my journals that I would take this feeling of intimacy with God over sleep every time.

I wish I could say this was a daily reality. It’s not.

Again, this verse is kicking my butt.

I need to seek the Lord, seek righteousness, seek humility.

How can I become more righteous, more like Christ, this week?

How can I grow in humility (something that is central to my identity as a follower of Jesus, something I don’t have to work to have but rather seek to implement: see Philippians 2:5) this week?

Zephaniah tells me.

By doing just commands.

God’s commands that is.

If I seek to live in step with the commands of God in Scripture, I will over time, through the work of the Spirit, become more like Him and grow in humility and righteous living.

Humble, righteous men and women change communities because humble, righteous men and women give God all of the glory instead of seeking to hoard it for themselves.

Oh goodness I’ve got a long laundry list of times where I sought to get a little bit of God’s glory for myself.

It never pans out.

Brother or sister in Christ, seek the Lord this week.

He will be found!

May our communities be overflowing with men and women who seek the Lord and imitate His humility and righteousness to a watching world.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

The Game Of Life

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:  – 2 Corinthians 1:1

         One Sunday night, a group of families from our church were gathering together for dinner. After I had my fill of the adult table, I turned my attention to what some of my students were doing in the other room. They were playing the board game Life. With each spin of the wheel, paper money was distributed, lifeless pegs were added to plastic cars, and laughter was had. 

         There are plenty of moments when I feel like I’m a participant in a divine game of Life. God spins the wheel, and I take my assigned path. Life feels aimless at times and out of my control (this is not the time nor the place to dive into the tension between God’s sovereignty and the free will of man). I simply feel at times like I’m just along for the ride in my own pink plastic car. 

         Here at the start of 2 Corinthians, the phrase will of God jumps off the page. You see, God has a desired plan for the cosmos, a plan that will come to fruition. He doesn’t spin a wheel and guide our lives accordingly on a whim. He guides nations and families into His plan for human history. In the case of Paul, God’s will lead him to become an apostle of the Son. Everything that follows in 2 Corinthians has authority because of Paul’s apostolic role. This apostolic role was God’s plan for His life. 

         You may feel uncertainty right now about what God’s will is for you. Be encouraged. You can trust His plans for you and your family. Every “action card” you come across in life is deepening your understanding of the grace and peace that is available in God (v. 2).  

         I want to be content as the blue peg in this game of Life. I want to lead my pink pegs well. And I want to remember that God is guiding me down a path that has far more than Countryside Acres waiting for me on the other side. 

Tell Me How Great I Am

It was a Thursday morning in the Spring of 2019. Two packs of the delicious Burger King cini-minis were on the table in front of me. Across from me sat my Dad, with his sausage biscuit and orange juice, ready to drop some Biblical wisdom on me.

You see, I love to preach.

But what I love in my sinful flesh more than preaching is the words of affirmation that often follow it.

Four days prior to this Burger King breakfast with my Dad, I had preached in big church. And much to my surprise and dismay, not many people came up to me to tell me how my sermon was incredible, my wit next-level, my illustrations relatable, and my applications on the money. No, it was mostly crickets.

So, what did past me do to get my words of affirmation quota met?

I went fishing on Facebook.

I posted something along the lines of “Thank you church family for letting a young guy like me get the pulpit on the Sunday morning”. And boy it worked. It worked perfectly (insert chef’s kiss).

My Dad knew that’s a dangerous game to play. Wanting words of affirmation is not inherently wrong. Intentionally leading in a way that you know will get you the most words of affirmation, at the expense of the message of the gospel and the truths contained therein? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

My Dad encouraged me with this Proverb:

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips. – Proverbs 27:2

In my foolishness at the time, I was like, welllll I didn’t say I was great, so I didn’t actually live foolishly. But the point was the same. I was trying to lead in such a way that made people like me.

When Paul and his missionary team came to Thessalonica, they came without much concern as to how they were viewed by those they brought the gospel to.

but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4

They spoke, not to please man, but to please God.

What is at the heart of your interactions with others, the conversations you have, the statements you make? Are you seeking to please the people you’re speaking to, or are you seeking to please God?

Back in the day, I knew a girl who would match her style and interests to the person she was interested in. From skateboarding to soccer to artsy movies, her personality would transform. It was distinct in her life, and it honestly helped me to see where it was happening in mine as well.

Do you do the same?

When it comes to church work, I’ve had to realize that it’s literally impossible to please everyone. We can love and respect everyone, but when it comes to decisions, not everyone will be pleased.

And I. Hate. That.

I want to be the guy absolutely everyone loves.

In earlier years of my ministry, I would play the field, subconsciously mind you, but play it I would. Oh, you think we should do this in music or in missions or in this particular ministry? Right on! Oh, you have the complete opposite view point? I’m with you.

Flattery. Flattery. Flattery.

It’s gross to me now.

I’m not above this, but I make a conscious effort not to do it.

I know that God has a plan for me that is greater than the here and now. One day I pray by God’s grace that after he’s done molding my character, I’ll be a senior pastor. And my prayer is that I will have security in who I am in Christ so as not to play the flattery game.

Now, if you know me, you know I’m tremendously passionate about relationships. We can disagree charitably. There are way too many Christians who are jerks when it comes to their beliefs vs. the beliefs of another. But if ministry is about pleasing those around me, I’m failing.

If your life is first and foremost about pleasing those around you, you’re likely not living in a way that honors God.

There are aspects of what I believe as a follower of Jesus that make me pitied by some of my peers and hated by others.

If I’m on this earth to please people, I’m going to cave on core Christian doctrines.

But if I’m on this earth to please God, I am going to charitably and gently hold the line.

If I’m on this earth to be affirmed, I’m going to ask you to tell me often how great I am.

But if I’m on this earth to please God, I am going to live for an audience of One, the One who knows my heart.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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Not Man’s Gospel

I was unconscious when they found me, blood on my forehead. They got me responsive and took me to the emergency room as I went into shock.

What had happened you ask?

I was on a jog with Gracie in her stroller when a pack of vicious street dogs attacked. I fought them off bare-handed as best I could, as I protected my precious baby girl. I pulled hair, punched snouts, kicked, and screamed for help. I eventually succumbed to their attack, but Gracie was saved.

What a story that would be.

Unfortunately, that is not the truth.

Seven years ago now, when I was a student at Oklahoma Baptist University, we had a snow day. Me, being the buffoon that I was, neglected to wear a jacket. Instead I decided to take DayQuil. After hours of snowball fights, makeshift sledding, and other shenanigans, I had approximately zero water in my body. That night, when getting ready for bed, my brain stopped working was a result.

I went tumbling into the shower, knocking down the shower curtain with a crash before drilling my face on the spigot.

And that, my friends, is where they found me.

Good stuff.

Hilariously embarrassing stuff.

So why do I share a lie and then the true story?

I’m glad you asked.

First, read these verses.

Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – Galatians 1:1

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. – Galatians 1:11-12

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul makes extra sure to emphasize a couple of things right off the bat. First, he is an apostle. He has authority to speak into the life of the church. But this authority comes from Christ’s call on his life. Secondly, the gospel message that Paul proclaimed in Galatia didn’t arise from his own deep thoughts about life. Rather, this was a message from God above.

Now, Paul likely didn’t have in mind the content of the gospel message when he made these statements. He was defending his apostleship and telling his testimony about experiencing the Risen Christ.

But, it has got me thinking.

I think that one of the greatest proofs for me personally regarding the truthfulness of the Biblical story is how bad humanity is in it.

If I’m going to make up a story revolving around me being found unconscious and bloodied, I’m going to tell you a story about me being the victor. I certainly am not going to tell you a story of me passing out getting ready for bed.

If humans were going to make up a story about our universe, and the meaning of life in it, they certainly wouldn’t make up a story where our righteous deeds are filthy rags, we deserve hell due to our natural inclinations toward sin, and we are in desperate need of a Savior.

The gospel message that Paul came to Galatia to proclaim, the message that he will tease out in all of its beautiful, grace-saturated truths, the message that we today get to continue proclaiming in our communities is not man’s gospel. It is the gospel of God.

Again, man’s gospel would not be what we find in Scripture. It would likely be quite Disneyesque, all about following your heart and achieving your dreams. Go your own way. Blaze your own trail. Be morally good.

But that is not the message of Scripture. The message of Scripture is I’m dead and need to be brought to life. I am a sinner in need of a Savior.

Brothers and sisters, be encouraged.

What we have is good news.

What we have is the best of news.

We should proclaim it from the rooftops, not as our beliefs, but as the gospel of our great God and Savior.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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Is He Worth It?

I was lined up at running back and the play that was called had a strong chance of coming to me. I was to run a bubble screen, and I often found myself open as a result of that route.

Sure enough, my high school six-man quarterback threw me a pass. It was slightly behind me, and I reached back and caught it with one hand. My 2 seconds of glory were quickly ended, as the middle linebacker lit me up. I was hit so hard that my chinstrap broke. You read that right. It broke. It hurt. The equipment manager told me that I would have to wait some time to get back in. I told him I was more than happy with that.

The rest of the season, the fear I had revolving around football in general was that much more pronounced. I didn’t want to play and I was thankful I wasn’t good enough to. I would turn away from the coach when he scanned the sideline to find replacements for the starters so they could get a breather.

The pain of that one play prevented me from doing anything that would put me back into that position.

My love for football wasn’t great enough for me to willingly face physical pain again.

Paul faced more than a broken chinstrap on account of Christ when he was in Philippi.

Instead, he and his fellow gospel workers were seized by a rioting crowd, stripped of their clothes, beaten, and imprisoned. You can read all about it in Acts 16. After they leave Philippi, they make it to Thessalonica and preach the gospel there.

For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our visit with you was not without result. On the contrary, after we had previously suffered and were treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, we were emboldened by our God to speak the gospel of God to you in spite of great opposition. – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Wait, what?!

Paul and his fellow missionaries didn’t let the horrifying treatment they endured in Philippi prevent them to preach the gospel again.

Their love for Jesus was great enough for them to put themselves in potentially the same position again. Their love for Jesus was great enough for them to willingly face more horrifying persecution.

Stripped naked.

Beaten.

Imprisoned.

They would do it all again for their Lord and Savior.

What about you?

What about me?

I wouldn’t allow myself to step back onto a football field without being forced to.

There’s few things I would face physical pain and persecution over. That list might actually be empty on some days.

Then I read a passage like this.

My prayer is that I would count Jesus as worth it.

I don’t live in a context or culture where being stripped naked, beaten, and imprisoned is something I’ll face for Christ.

It’s a lot less violent.

But it’s still hard some days to put Jesus first.

But he’s worth it.

He’s worth it when we’re ostracized for our faith.

He’s worth it when we’re vilified or accused.

He’s worth it when we’re mocked and seen as either naive idiots or foolish.

He’s worth it.

Paul and company were willing to go through the ringer again and again.

All for the glory of their King.

May the same be said of us.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

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A Committed Church

Paul gave thanks always for the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2). They were a joy of his. We can see in 1 Thessalonians 1 why they so profoundly impacted his heart. Chuck Swindoll, in his commentary on 1 Thessalonians, highlights how the people of God in Thessalonica had committed to three things: each other, non-believers, and Christ. We would do well to look at what their commitments entailed.

1. Commit To Stir Each Other On

If I am to live a life of faith, love, and hope like the believers in Thessalonica, I need help. I’m prone to discouragement. That is something that is engrained in me due to circumstances and sin and I’m constantly needing to work on that part of my heart. I don’t naturally live with vibrant hope. That’s where friends and fellow church members come in. In my years here in Vernon, I have been the recipient of words of affirmation that have helped me to keep going and to keep ministering. It’s likely that you need others too. It’s not weakness to need to be lifted up from time to time. Living life as a follower of Jesus is difficult in a fallen world. We need to encourage each other more than we do.

We need to be deeply committed to one another. We live in a culture of isolated nuclear families. That culture effects how we read the Scriptures and how we apply them. We are designed to be together. I’ve sought to break through some of this milieu by telling people that my home is open to anyone and everyone. I try and live a life of deep openness. In doing this my prayer is that people come to realize that one, pastors are normal men, and two, life is better when we’re walking through it together.

The church in Thessalonica was known for its works of faith, labors of love, and steadfastness of hope. If we want our churches to be known for the same things, we need to equip and empower one another to pursue those things.

2. Commit To Live In A Way That Draws Non-Christians In

The church in Thessalonica was known for its powerful response to the gospel.

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

The surrounding regions knew about the faith of these Thessalonian believers. That’s a powerful testimony.

It gets me thinking. Do my actions and way of life match up with what I claim to believe about Jesus? Are non-believers drawn into the community of faith I’m a part of because they see a man who is wholly different than them?

Or, do they see a man who claims to worship the King but fails to live for the King in certain areas of my life, either public or private.

My prayer is that I would be different.

Whenever I feel at home in our country, our culture, our community, it gives me pause. Yes, God has a purpose for me in any place I find myself. But I should never be too comfortable here. This isn’t my home. And if I never feel different or distinct or placeless, then I likely am not living in a way that is too different from those around me.

We as God’s people need to commit to live in such a way that draws others in.

3. Commit to Pursue Christ Rather Than Idols

The church in Thessalonica was also known for their turning from idolatry.

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we have among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, – 1 Thessalonians 1:9

What are your idols?

It’s highly unlikely you have statues to other gods in your living room.

Idolatry in our modern church is much more insidious and subtle and dangerous.

A good diagnostic question to help you discover your idols is “what makes you the most angry?”

What posts on social media or news stories or conversations or circumstances get you riled up the quickest? At the heart of whatever it is is something you value. We get angry when that which we value or that which we love is threatened.

So what gets you angry?

I know for me it is typically revolving around respect. I’m an insecure man and when I feel like I’m not getting the respect I think I deserve, I get angry. This caused problems in my marriage early on, and still threatens to impact many of my relationships. I’ve had to realize that I idolize being respected and affirmed. So when I’m not, which is often, I can get heated. It doesn’t often come out in words, but it certainly fills my mind and heart and spirit. This is an idol I have to actively rid myself of.

The church in Thessalonica moved to the living and true God. They moved away from idolatry. They were committed to this endeavor.

Paul’s words urge us to be free from any and all entanglements that pull us away from the Savior. – Chuck Swindoll

This is easier said than done.

It’s painful.

It’s painful for me when I come face to face with the idols I’ve placed above God.

But on the other side of that pain is the joy of finding my security and identity in Christ.

The church in Thessalonica was committed to each other, the non-believers around them, and Christ.

May we do the same.

Hope In The Darkness

November 17th. On this evening a dark weight fell on my shoulders. Anxiety gripped my mind. Despair gripped my heart. It was unexplainable. I chalk it up to spiritual warfare. For weeks after that night, I felt like my life was emptied of joy. I was going through the motions at work and in my family, but light was hard for me to see. I had no appetite and no energy. For a stretch it was painful to eat. When the enemy has me weakened, he brings his A-game. This year it was being stuck at home for Thanksgiving, stuck at home for my birthday. Nothing but days on end of me and my thoughts. I kept circling deeper and deeper into the spiritual darkness. I needed help. I told Jamie just that after I couldn’t control my breathing in the kitchen on one particularly difficult afternoon.

This has happened one other time in my life. Spring of 2017. I was living in Phoenix and a darkness came attacking. I did nothing to fight it. I didn’t get into the Word often, nor did I pray often. I laid in bed. I avoided people. I neglected responsibilities.

This time I purposed to do things differently (I was by no means perfect, and sin wasn’t absent in my processing of this pain).

I journaled like crazy (that thing needs to be burned, but I’ll hold onto it for the next spiritual attack). I did my best to get into the Word every single day. I prayed. I kept going to work. I talked to a pastor friend. I talked to a counselor. I kept staying near Gracie and Jamie. I brought in trusted friends into the depths of what I was feeling. One drove forty-five minutes just to sit with me in my living room. I felt like God was destroying me. Taking me down. Stealing from me. Hurting me. (It’s okay to be this honest. Read the Psalms if you don’t believe me).

Doing all of those things didn’t lessen the blows I felt from the enemy.

Spiritual warfare is real.

I still felt like I was going through the ringer.

I still broke down in tears at church when a friend asked how I was doing at the conclusion of the service.

I still woke up each day struggling to find the joy of the Lord, feeling empty instead.

Food didn’t taste good still.

Laughter was far from me.

But I kept hoping.

Hoping God would show me what He was doing.

Hoping God would take away my pain.

Hoping God would defend me from the attacks of the enemy.

Hoping God would provide clarity.

Hoping God would provide direction.

Hope is powerful. Hope is what keeps people moving forward. Hope in Christ is what kept me moving forward. Now, I may not have been able to articulate it in a way that is clear, but the only thing helping me pursue the spiritual disciplines was the hope that Christ would speak and move through them.

We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:3

The church in Thessalonica was facing persecution for their faith. Spiritual warfare had spread from the mental and ethereal to the physical and dangerous. And yet, the people of God in Thessalonica persevered. They endured. Because they hoped in Christ. No matter what happened to them on earth, their future was secured. So they kept loving others in their labor, kept working out their faith. Hope is a quality that is considered to be something unseen. But hope shows itself in endurance.

The greatest encouragement to me outside of Scripture during the weeks of darkness was the pastor mentor of mine who is decades older than me. He told me over the phone that he had been through similar seasons. And now he was on the other side of them. He endured. He persevered. Because he hoped in Jesus.

So I kept trying to do just that. Some days I would see the light start to break through. Other days I felt like my life was devoid of all good. It was a war. But I kept moving forward.

Last Saturday morning, December 11th, Jamie’s parents were in town. While they made breakfast, I took some time to pray and journal in my room. As suddenly as it had come, the darkness left. No circumstances changed. No insane act of God took place in the physical realm. But God was no less at work. For the first time in four weeks, I laughed and loved and didn’t dread. He answered my prayers.

Although I’m above the darkness now, I can still sense the powers of evil near, trying to draw me back down into the pit of anxiety and despair. I want to win against them and I want to endure. Today I read Romans 5 in my quiet time.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

I suffered this past month.

But it produced a little more endurance in me.

And that endurance brought a little more character.

And that character brought a little more hope.

And that hope is what will move me forward the next time the waves hit.

Where is my hope?

In the One who loved me so much He died for me.

Where is my proof of His love?

The cross in the past and the Spirit in the present.

I don’t know where you find yourself today. Maybe what I described is something you can’t conceptualize. Or maybe you’re in such a season right now.

My prayer is that you would stay tethered to your anchor in the storm.

My prayer is that you would have hope.

It’s a beautiful thing.

In His Name,

Nate Roach