A Man Named Job

The book of Job teaches us a whole lot about God, the world, our enemy, suffering, sin, friendship, and humility. If you didn’t get the chance to read my post from yesterday, I would encourage you to do so. It will give you some guidance on how to approach the book of Job, and it will provide you with some brief background information (Suffering And Sin).

Let’s dive in.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. – Job 1:1-5

That is all that we’re going to cover today. This narrative introduction in the book of Job sets the stage for all that is to follow. In these five verses, we see some things about Job that will come in handy down the road. I would encourage you to leave any preconceived notions about Job behind as we dig in together.

I know that for me, I had a cookie cutter version of Job in mind growing up. I thought that he was a near perfect man who was given a bad hand. I thought that all he did was righteous and right. That’s not the case necessarily. So, deconstruct any image of Job that you have, and let’s build him back up together as we look at the text.

Who Was Job?

We don’t know a ton of stuff about Job from a historical point of view. While some doubt that Job was even a real person, I hold to the belief that he was. In Ezekiel 14, the prophet Ezekiel is speaking about how Jerusalem would not be spared. In verses 14 and 20 of that chapter, he mentions that even if Job were there in Jerusalem, his righteousness (and that of Noah and Daniel) would not be enough to spare the city. While this isn’t an airtight argument for the literal existence of Job, I believe it is a reminder that people knew his story.

Biblical scholars who are far smarter than me have deduced that Job lived in the time of the patriarchs (Think Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). He was an extremely wealthy man, as seen by the great number of livestock that he had. I personally would be confused, rather than impressed, by a man with thousands of camels. Back in the day though, that was some serious wealth. I can’t really think of a modern equivalent, so just think, super rich.

Not only was Job wealthy, he was divinely blessed by God. When the text says that he had seven sons and three daughters, the original readers of this book would have seen those numbers to be signs of completion and divine blessing. Basically, Job is presented with the divinely given perfect family and perfect life.

Lastly, we are told that Job was righteous, blameless even. This is not to say that he was perfect. Instead, it is to say that he was a man who turned away from evil. He didn’t allow sin to fester in his life. He removed it, he repented of it, he turned from it.

Where Did Job Live?

Job lived in Uz, which was in ‘the east’. When you read ‘the east’, think the Wild Wild West. One commentator I read likened it to the edge of civilization, a romantic, often wild place. It wasn’t an empty desert, but it certainly wasn’t the center of civilization, much less Israelite civilization, in the time of the Patriarchs. This isn’t the place to go into a detailed study of exactly where this location was, but some see it as to the northeast of the Sea of Galilee.

Job was a God-fearer. He was a man who feared the God of the Israelites, even though he was not living with the Israelites. Anytime I read in Scripture that there are people worshipping God outside of the geographical residence of the people of God, I’m reminded that God’s Kingdom is not limited to borders, to a country. Those at the edge of civilization today are just as capable to love and fear and serve God as those of us with access to all that Western civilization has to offer.

What Did Job Do?

Lastly, we see what Job did. Now, this is where things just about immediately descend into tension and gray area.

We see that Job’s children had parties at their individual houses, something that we should NOT read as an indictment against their character. Job’s children were simply celebrating and utilizing the lavish wealth that God had blessed their family with. There is nothing in the text to assume that these were wild parties of drunkenness and licentiousness. That being said, Job made sure that they were purified. That’s why verse four tells us he would have them consecrated after their feasts.

Job would also make sacrifices to God in order to atone for the possible sins of his children. He didn’t know for sure that they had committed the grievous sin of cursing God, yet out of his love for them, he made sure to offer the Lord sacrifices on their behalf.

This is not yet explicit in the text, but there is a hint of a reciprocal view of service and blessing here. We find out later a little bit more about Job’s regular offerings, but we see already that he had what could be construed as an unhealthy view of God’s justice upon his children.

I’ll close with a quote from Craig Bartholomew.

“His greatest fear appears to be that their (his children) behavior would bring God’s judgment rather than His ongoing blessing. Therefore, part of Job’s religion was motivated by an unhealthy anxiety and fear.”

Can you relate?

Is your religious activity sometimes motivated by a fear that if you don’t offer up your prayer, time in His Word, Sunday morning attendance, or service, that you will be cursed, or at least certainly not blessed by God?

If so, as we keep going through Job, my prayer is that you will see that God is faithful. I pray that you will see He is not a God to be anxiously feared, but rather a God to be humbly trusted.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Suffering And Sin

Some books of the Bible are easier to read and to understand than others.

Finding the point of a passage from Philippians, for instance, is not too difficult.

But what about all the craziness of Ezekiel, Daniel, or Revelation? Those aren’t so simple. Those are way more complicated, scaring off even the most impassioned students of God’s Word.

Another difficult book of the Bible is the book of Job. It’s a complicated book that falls under the ‘Wisdom Literature’ of the Bible. It’s a book that I want us to explore together throughout the summer. Not every blog will be about this book, but it will remain the dominant topic. So, grab your Bible or pull up your Bible app, and let’s check it out together.

As I said, Job falls under the banner of wisdom literature. But what kind?

The rest of the wisdom literature have their own niches. Psalms is essentially an old hymnal. Proverbs is a collection of sayings about wisdom and folly, and the importance of pursuing the former. Ecclesiastes is about the wisdom to know that all of life is meaningless outside of God. Song of Solomon is about the wisdom of marriage, or our relationship with God, or maybe both?

Job is different though. Job is poetry bookended by narrative. We are told a story about Job (chapters 1-2) that leads to dozens of chapters of Job speaking with four of his friends, who are quite foolish (but we’ll see that later). Then God comes in and says the last word, humbling Job and hopefully us in the process. We then get a final chapter where we see the culmination of the story.

The Wrong Way To Read Job

There’s a couple ways to read Job incorrectly.

  1. We have the proclivity to unintentionally strip verses out of their context, trying to jam them into the puzzle that is our theological beliefs about God and man. This happens quite regularly with wisdom literature. Here’s where this is especially dangerous when it comes to the book of Job. Whenever any character other than God is speaking about the nature of God, you could have some falsehoods. There are innumerable times in Scripture when a character makes a false statement about the nature of God and the world (Pharaoh, the wicked prophets, the servant from the parable of the talents). So, as we sift through the dozens of chapters of dialogue in the book of Job, we should be careful not to take what Elihu, Eliphaz, Job, Bildad, and Zophar say about God at any moment as necessarily true about God. Make sense?
  2. The other way to read Job incorrectly is to make Job the hero of this story. Yes, there are aspects of Job’s character and faith that are worthy of emulation. But ultimately this story is not a fable that teaches us some moral lesson as we try and make our lives more like Job’s. Instead, it has something much deeper and richer to teach us, and you’ll see that below.

The Right Way To Read Job

I personally have found that reading through entire books of the Bible (this doesn’t have to take place in one sitting) to be the most beneficial to me. I would attest that this best equips us to observe and grasp the book of the Bible we are wanting to glean from. So, to best read Job, you should do just that. Just as I’ve been methodically walking through Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire, we should methodically work through the book of Job.

Secondly, don’t go to the book of Job looking for black and white answers about the world we live in and what it means to be human. If you’re looking for a clear-cut answer to why suffering happens, you’ll be left wanting. There’s a whole lot of tension, gray area, and paradox in what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The book of Job will take us deeper into that tension, rather than alleviate it.

The Theme of Job

As a matter of fact, the purpose of the book of Job is to highlight the incorrect black and white understanding of sin and suffering that so many people then and now hold to.

You will see that all of Job’s friends believe that Job’s suffering is a result of some hidden sin that is just below the surface. They attest again and again and again that Job is going through such powerful suffering and pain because of his unrighteousness and sin.

We still fall into this. Christian Karma is alive and well. We can claim faith in Christ and belief in the God of the Bible and yet still fall into the “do good, get good; do bad, get bad” mentality. This is so antithetical to Christian doctrine. The book of Job will show us that suffering happens in a Genesis 3 world. Suffering can have purposes for us, and sometimes it may just not. There have been tremendously painful moments in the life of my family that don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to them. It’s in that space that the book of Job can remind us that God is faithful, even when our sufferings don’t fit into our black and white, systematic beliefs about life.

Craig G. Bartholomew wrote a book on Job called When You Want To Yell At God. That name is so good.

Have you been there?

I have.

In fact, I’ve not only wanted to yell at God, I have.

Many times.

In his book, Bartholomew teaches that suffering is not always the result of wrong behavior, and right behavior does not always guarantee blessing – but God is always faithful.

I encourage you to read the book of Job. Again, not for trite answers to share in moments of grief, but rather for powerful proclamations from the Word about the faithful God we serve in the midst of our own abject sufferings.

In His Name,

Nate 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

 

Getting Into God’s Word

There are many days when I feel old, when I feel like I should have grown up in a different generation. Especially in Evangelical Christian circles. Especially when it comes to Scripture.

For me, I’ve always had a love for Scripture. Whether it was stealing away into my backyard as a teenager in order to study in quiet, or spending too much on books or Bible studies, I have always enjoyed studying God’s Word. That’s just the way I was made. I acknowledge that.

That being said, I feel more and more lonely in my view and approach to Scripture.

Here’s what I mean.

These days, I see three prevalent approaches to Scripture in the greater evangelical Christian community. And, to be frank, they make me feel isolated when I don’t adhere to them.

Approach 1: Brain Power

The first approach to Scripture is the intellectual approach. I have just finished my first year of Seminary, and I have come face to face with how countless men and women in academic circles have put Scripture on the cutting block. As a result, the supernatural is traded away for myth and legend. In conjunction with this view of Scripture is the intellectual pride that saturates so many men and women who are my age (including myself). What I mean is that we bicker and argue about things that are unnecessary. We make mountains out of molehills. We argue on Facebook and Twitter and clap back at one another. The intellectual approach to Scripture is one where the Bible is studied deeply and genuinely, but it is mostly a textbook to be dissected instead of the Word of God to be followed. The following passage has pushed me out of this approach.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. – John 5:39-40

Approach 2: Pixar-ism

The second approach to Scripture is the emotional approach. It could also be called the self-help approach. This is the demographic in Christian circles that wants to have some emotionally-dripping experience every time that they get into God’s Word. Feelings are king. So if you are in worship or prayer or Bible study but don’t have some heaven-opening, emotionally powerful experience, doubt creeps in and you are shaken. This leads to churches programming their services in order to manipulate emotions and produce a revival-like experience each and every week.

Even worse, when emotionalism and intellectualism combine, Scripture’s authority over the life of a Christian starts to crack. If the Bible can’t surely be the very words of God, and parts of the Bible make me feel bad, then it is no longer authoritative to me. What I’ve come to realize is that the Bible is often going to make me feel ‘bad’.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

According to Scripture itself, it’s going to rebuke and correct me. My feelings cannot be king. They can’t decide what parts of Scripture are authoritative or not.

I’ve been married for close to six months, and I’ve quickly learned that I am a selfish turd. I’m horrible at serving around the house without being asked. So when I read in Scripture that we are to put others’ interests above our own (Philippians 2:4), I’m confronted with this truth. And I feel ‘bad’ and have a choice to make. I can either change my behavior accordingly, or I can claim that this part of Scripture is no longer authoritative over me.

Approach 3: Forget-About-It!

The last approach to Scripture is by far the most frustrating, disheartening, and draining to combat. This final approach to Scripture is to simply ignore it. I’m not talking about the world at large, I’m talking about in the lives of followers of Jesus.

I have been in ministry for just a few years, and I have seen the stark reality that a significant portion of our faith communities has no desire to read, study, or adhere to Scripture.

I see this when 10% of my students bring their Bible to church. I see this when I hear complaints about Bible study programs at our church that require homework. My heart breaks at this. We have become so busy and so preoccupied with the things of earth that the thought of taking time to study God’s Word is now a burden instead of a joy. Even as I write this, my heart feels overwhelmed. This subject is something I could write about for hours and hours.

I am an imperfect man who falls short in so many ways all the time.

That being said, I cannot wrap my mind around how our churches are full of people who don’t even open their Bibles during the week (or even on Sundays!). Those in our faith community that are younger than us are looking up to us to see how we walk out our faith. The responsibility is on us to lead the next generation. If they see us with no desire to grow in our knowledge of Scripture, they will follow suit.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also the honey and drippings of the honeycomb. – Psalm 19:10

My prayer is that more and more followers of Jesus would say this about God’s Word. That it is sweeter and more valuable than anything else in their lives. Not because it is ultimate in our faith, but rather because through studying it we learn to love God and love others more and more. It is supremely sad to me that countless people could arrive in heaven one day, meeting a stranger in Christ rather than a friend. No, Bible immersion is not what saves you.

Approach 4: Grace-Powered Saturation

I never want to criticize and condemn, rather I seek to convict and empower. While I see these above three options as prevalent, there is another way.

We can be men and women who, by God’s grace, saturate ourselves in the Word of God. Scripture is extremely clear that the desire to be with God is brought about by God Himself (Romans 3:10). What that means for us is that if we don’t have a yearning for God’s Word, we should pray and ask God for the grace and strength to get into the Word. Then, after relying on God’s grace for strength, we simply start. Start small.

For instance, this next week, read one chapter each morning, or five mornings of the week. Don’t stress yourself out with some elaborate reading plan. Instead, just simply begin. Even when you don’t feel like it. I can assure you, if you put in the effort, God will bring the illumination and the continued desire to keep getting in God’s Word.

For the rest of my life, my desire is to see people view God’s Word rightly and to fall in love with the One who wrote it.

In His Name,

 

Still Throwing Stones

In a world of social media, Christian culture can become discouraging and harmful. Here’s what I mean.

There is an up and coming, incredibly talented singer by the name of Lauren Daigle.

She is a professing follower of Jesus. My wife loves her music, and I gotta say, I can get down to it too. She sounds a lot like Adele, so you can’t really go wrong with listening to her. Recently she appeared on the Ellen Show, sparking a whole lot of Christian outrage, and she then followed that up with a radio interview in which she stated she wasn’t sure about whether or not homosexuality is a sin.

This has caused quite the divide in Christian circles, as people bang on their keyboards empassioned responses to what has taken place. On one side are those who see no wrong in what she has done by not calling homosexuality sin, and on the other side are those screaming the word heretic while getting ready to burn her at the stake. As is the case in most polarizing situations these days, there is animosity and anger and pride on display in these responses.

As a blogger, thinker, and pastor, I strive to find the Christian middle ground in most debates, and so I will try and do so again here.

Through this blog, let me walk you through my personal opinion. You have no responsibility to agree with me, I just ask that if you disagree with me that you would be charitable and kind.

I believe I need to be clear about this first. What I am advocating in this blog is a more loving, fair, and considerate approach to Lauren Daigle, not a more liberal approach to viewing homosexuality. I believe that the Bible makes clear that homosexuality is a sin. That being said, we are to lovingly call people out of that sin, not condemn them with hatred. I struggle with deception, pride, anger, envy, jealousy, and no one is condemning me with hatred. We must lovingly tell the truth about sexuality, instead of berating and hating those who struggle with such a sin.

With that being said, I want to address how we as followers of Jesus should respond to this situation.

Lauren Daigle doesn’t go to my church.

I serve in a church here in Vernon, Texas, and Lauren Daigle has never stepped foot in my church. This is an important fact.

When it comes to the Christian faith, I like to think of circles that are expanding. You have local, state-wide, national, and, finally, international circles. I think about this when it comes to generosity, missions, and in the case of Lauren Daigle, speaking the truth in love. So for me, I don’t want to give to an international charitable organization if I have been totally devoid of generosity in my community. I don’t want to go on an overseas mission trip if I haven’t knocked on my neighbor’s door. And lastly, I don’t want to condemn someone for a sinful action when I haven’t had the courage to speak up to someone in my local church.

This philosophy or mindset has come as a result of realizing that doing things nationally or internationally is far more easier than doing that same thing locally. It takes less effort to send an Operation Christmas Child box than it does to give to someone in need just down the street from me. It takes less effort to share my faith with a stranger in South America that I’ll never see again than to sit down with the neighbor I see every day. It is less awkward to speak the truth in love on Facebook than it is to sit down at a lunch table and confront my brother in Christ’s sin.

In a social media world, we condemn those we don’t even know.

Here’s the reality. My heart is grieved. It truly is. My beliefs on sexuality are not popular, but they are the Biblical truths according to Scripture. I do not hate or despise those who don’t agree with me, but the grief is still there. Whether it is Jen and Brandon Hatmaker or now Lauren Daigle, my heart is grieved when the truth of Scripture is downplayed or ignored, or even flat-out rejected.

To have an emotional response to these things is not sinful. Just today I was reading in Galatians, remembering just how upset Paul was with that church for abandoning the message of the gospel, and how he would eventually oppose Peter to his face for doing the same. But to have a hateful response to these things, that certainly is.

I feel like these verses pop up all the time in my blogs, but here they are again.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:2

Lauren may not repent of her actions, of her words. That doesn’t mean we are to condemn her. I can wholeheartedly disagree with her stance (as I do) and not rake her name through the mud.

Love is not passivity. It is not ignoring the truth, the Scriptural truth. Love is speaking up, but it is speaking up personally in our own community. So for me, I have no hateful rhetoric to spew at Lauren Daigle. I am, however, preparing my heart for conversations with students who may bring this matter up, and I will be prepared to lovingly share the truth with them.

But shame on me or you if we’re ready to throw stones at this woman who we know not personally. Yes, be grieved, but don’t condemn and chastise a woman you don’t know. Before you take to social media, take into account the last time you took sin seriously in your own church or maybe even in your own life.

If you have enjoyed this post and if you have agreed with me, please give it a share. In a world of hateful rhetoric, even in Christian circles, we can remind people that we are still able to love in the midst of speaking truth.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

The Mover of Hearts

Have you ever talked to a brick wall?

This past week my wife and I coached our first basketball game. A team of Kindergarten boys. Yes, you read that right. Kindergarten. Boys. We were in over our heads from the start. We got ready for tip-off and promptly took the L in our first game.

It was fun, but in other ways not so fun. We have great little dudes on our team, but they listen about 0% of the time to our coaching. They get so amped up and excited to be playing basketball, so they shut their ears off and go to work. My favorite part of the game was when I yelled at one of our players (everyone in the gym is yelling so I gotta yell too) to pass the ball to an open teammate. He looked at me, dribbled up the court, and launched a granny shot at the basket.

Like I said previously, we’ve got great kids on our team. This post isn’t about my coaching woes. Our Thursday night game however quickly illustrated for me how I sometimes feel in ministry, and how I sometimes feel about my own walk with the Lord.

Way too many times I feel like I’m preaching, teaching, and talking to a brick wall. We all feel this way in certain ways, right?

Sometimes it’s when I’m desperately trying to light a fire in my students to put the Lord first in their lives.

Sometimes it’s when I’m desperately trying to light a fire in my own life to prioritize private prayer, time in His Word, and serving and loving those in my community.

Sometimes it’s when I hear of yet another attack or shooting or act of senseless violence and I wonder what the heck is going on in our society.

Brick walls.

On Thursday night after our game I opened up the book of Ezra and found some great encouragement. Not for my coaching strategy, but for my life and ministry.

The book of Ezra is not a book I’m tremendously familiar with. That can be seen by the fact I have no resources to help me study it and I’ve literally never blogged about it. So this is a first.

In the first chapter of Ezra, we see a historical account of a pagan king allowing the people of God to rebuild a temple to their God in Jerusalem. It’s not the most enthralling account, and it’s not the most popular devotional place to land, but there is a profound truth on display that you’ve got to see.

God moves hearts.

Hear that again. Let it seep down into your spirit.

God moves hearts.

Let me show you what I mean. This is coming straight from Scripture.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: – Ezra 1:1

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart God had moved – prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. – Ezra 1:5

All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings. – Ezra 1:6

Wow. Look at that. God’s movement, His intimate involvement in the affairs of His people, is all over this passage. The people had been exiled by King Nebuchadnezzar, their temple destroyed and in tatters, their faith in God shaken as they became captive to the Babylonians. The prophets rose up and spoke up, the people turned, and here in the book of Ezra, God makes plans to rebuild His temple. The people did not act alone of their own will, desire, and strength.

Instead, God first moved in the heart of a pagan king! That alone is worthy of our awe and adoration. The Lord moved in Cyrus’ heart in order to fulfill His promises given to His people through the prophet Jeremiah.

But the Lord’s movement and involvement does not stop there. No, He then moves in the hearts of His people, encouraging them to get up and rebuild the temple. Their desire came not from within themselves but rather straight from the Lord.

It doesn’t stop there either. Although not explicitly stated in verse six, I make the argument that God moved in the hearts of their neighbors as well. I mean, seriously, they’re giving them gold and silver and all these precious goods.

I don’t know where you find yourself today. Maybe you have a wayward child who you are tempted to give up on. Maybe you wake up at the start of every new month and wonder why you spent little time with the Lord in the month prior. Maybe you work in a church or non-profit and the fire you have for the Lord is close to being quenched because you haven’t seen much fruit. Maybe you have been praying for a loved one to come to the Lord and after decades you see the light starting to fade.

Wherever you are, God is in the habit of moving hearts.

This takes faith.

I pray that you are encouraged in your current situation, I pray that you would go to your knees and remember that God moves hearts.

If He’s bigger than Babylon and Persia, bigger than destroyed temples and His people’s captivity, then He’s surely bigger than whatever you’re facing today.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

The Righteousness Of Jesus

(Tonight, we add Matt Welborn (one of my closest friends from OBU) into the mix of writers. Our blog has almost 250 followers and I’m excited to see it continue to grow with your help!)

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sin and righteousness. The more I read about God’s righteousness, the more I realize the depth of my own sin.

I was reading in Mark 7 recently, and I came across the passage in which Jesus and His disciples go about eating without washing their hands. The Pharisees were upset. Jesus wasn’t following the rules! How can someone be righteous if they don’t obey their elders? At first glance, maybe Jesus is in a bind here.

Yet Jesus responds to the upset Pharisees:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ – Mark 7:6-7

Their hearts were far from God, thus their worship was in vain.

The Pharisees were supposed to be the most righteous of all of God’s people. If I was sitting around, observing this conversation nearly two-thousand years ago, I’d be worried. The people I saw as most righteous were the same people Jesus was saying were far away from God.

I don’t want to be far away from God. At the same time, I’m not very righteous. I’m terribly unrighteous. Jesus spits a list of sins shortly thereafter:

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” – Mark 7:20-23

Yikes. I’ve definitely had evil thoughts. Sexual immorality — yeah. Theft? Well, I envy often. And I’ve stolen for sure. Murder? I’ve hated another person. Jesus says that counts. Adultery? I’ve lusted after another person. Jesus says that counts too.

I don’t really want to keep going in this list. It’s hard to look inside and see how evil my heart is and has been.

The beautiful thing, though, is Jesus knows already. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I want that. I want a clean heart. I want a right spirit.

When Jesus came to earth and lived among us, He knew our unrighteousness. He knows it more deeply and intimately than we probably will ever know. We are born into sin, far away from God. But God came to us.

Jesus came to us when we were far away.

By dying on the cross and raising from the grave, Jesus conquered sin and death and all unrighteousness. He came to exchange our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. He desires for each and every one of us to be alive in Him. To be actually, fully, completely human. Jesus wants us to walk with Him in the same way Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden. Jesus invites us into relationship — even in our state of unrighteousness.

Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

In our state of unrighteousness, Jesus died for us. He defeated death and is now offering the free gift of righteousness to all who believe. What does that righteousness look like? Phillipians 4:8 tells us. This is what we get to think about and be about:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9

The God of peace will be with us. Jesus gives us the Spirit of God to practice the very things above. This is a list I’d much rather embody.

Whatever is true — seeking the truth in all things. Whatever is honorable — thinking about the words that lift people up and serve the Kingdom of God. Whatever is just — the Bible is pretty clear about God’s desire for justice (and our place as seekers of justice). Whatever is pure — Jesus says during the sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” To see God!

The list continues. Whatever is lovely — is it not pleasant to see beauty? The loveliness of the Grand Canyon, the wonder of wildflowers, the patience of your parents, the face of God. Whatever is commendable — the great acts of service: loving God, loving others, and laying aside your selfishness to serve another person. Anything excellent and worthy of praise — anything!

This is a much better list of things to think about and be about. I pray that the Spirit of God would reveal the depth of your sin, the great need you have for a Savior, and the wonderful reality of your new life in Christ. Think about the loveliness of Jesus Christ. Think about these things. Practice these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

The peace of Christ be with you,

Matt Welborn

Afraid Of Giants

Do you ever wish God would audibly speak to you? That He would tell you what to do, where to go, and that He would be with you? Or if not you, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone so in tune with God that they could communicate His promises to you? Honestly, I wish I had that setup sometimes. In my naïve and innocent mind, I convince myself I would never doubt God’s promises or commands if I could just hear them out loud from a person of God.

At one point in time, the people of God had that luxury. They had men and women who heard from God and relayed God’s message to the people. The intro to the book of Deuteronomy teaches us, however, that despite these clear verbal messages, the people still rebelled. They rebelled big time. They quivered in fear, doubted God, whined and complained, and even begged to be thrown back in slavery. True story.

The book of Deuteronomy is more or less Moses’ last will and testament. He is standing between his people and the promised land. This is his final sermon. He begins (what is the first three chapters of Deuteronomy) by reminding the people of God all of what had occurred so far between God and this present generation’s ancestors. So, be aware, what is being described in these chapters has already happened; the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers tell these stories. Moses is merely reminding them of what has gone on before.

Moses reminds them first of God’s promise to their parents to give them victory over their enemies. Look at the passage with me.

See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and their descendants after them. – Deuteronomy 1:6

Moses then recounts what he told their parents:

I said to you. . . See, the Lord your God has given the land to you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you; do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 1:20, 21

Let’s zero in on this past event. The stage is set. The people of God know without a doubt what God had promised them: a land for their possession, a God who would never leave them, and a Lord who would fight for them. You would think they’d jump right up and run right in to battle.

Sadly, that’s not what happened.

Instead we see that the people of God disobeyed the commands of God. As Deuteronomy 1 continues, we hear Moses speaking, reminding the people of how things went south. Moses reminds them it was their idea to send spies into the land (vv. 22-25). At first glance you might see things look hopeful. At first glance it looks like they’re preparing for war. But then you read verse 26.

But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; you grumbled in your tents and said, “It is because the Lord hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us. – Deuteronomy 1:26-27

Wow.

We know from the book of Numbers it was the presence of thirteen-foot giants in the land that prevented the people of God from having the courage to fight for what was theirs.

Fear of giants kept the people of God out of the land of promise.

This might be where some would stop and bring up the cliché ‘what giants are you facing’ stuff. In my opinion, the book of Deuteronomy needs to be read somewhere between literalism and allegory. Meaning, this is a historical book with historical facts. It’s not purely an allegory, where each character in Deuteronomy is some aspect of our spiritual lives. Deuteronomy is not Pilgrim’s Progress. We must be careful not to over-spiritualize things. That being said, this book is not just a book. Rightly read and applied, it should correct us, rebuke us, teach us, and train us in righteousness.

I want us to think about this in a deeper way than pure allegory.

The people of God were rescued out of slavery in Egypt. Four hundred years of brutal, oppressive slavery in an evil empire’s back-breaking regime. They cried out to the Lord generation after generation. Finally, God rescues them in miraculous fashion with plagues and the parting of the Red Sea.

IT WAS THESE VERY MEN AND WOMEN WHO NOW REFUSED TO ENTER THE PROMISED LAND DUE TO FEAR.

They had seen God lay waste to the dynastic empire of that day. Egypt was it. They were the big dogs. And yet God laid utter waste to their land and their army in order to rescue His people.

Now you’re on the edge of the land promised to you by God. And some 13-foot giants scare you? What?

So my question for us is not what allegorical giants are in our lives.

No, my question is: Are we remembering what God has done for us?

The question is not what’s in our way.

The question is whether or not we obey.

You see, we have something much better than the people of God in Deuteronomy. We don’t have a prophet. Rather, we have the combination of God’s Word spoken to us in Scripture and the Spirit of God illuminating it for us. God does speak to us in His Word, in Scripture.

Are we obeying it?

Are you obeying it?

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Just Do It

Believe in something, even it means sacrificing everything.

In a world of social media, stories get blown up in minutes. One such story that has broken is the deal that Nike has made with Colin Kaepernick, to make him one of the faces of their 30 year anniversary of their slogan. Now, hostility seems to be high on both ends of people’s responses to this, with hateful rhetoric spewed on both sides, as well as a laughable burning of Nike gear. This post is not an attempt to add to the proliferation of op-ed pieces that have already raged about this, but I do want to talk about what it brings to mind when it comes to spiritual things.

In short, I’ve still got my Nikes on today. What a corporation does with their advertising doesn’t really affect my calling nor my relationship with God, so I try not to get bent out of shape about it. The reality is, I don’t see the heart of Kaepernick, I don’t know what he has gone through as a minority in our country. It may very well have taken tremendous courage to speak up about what he believes to be injustice in our country. To say he’s sacrificing everything may be some heavy hyperbole, and others have definitely done this literally (consider the story of Pat Tillman), but again, I am not in his shoes. I tell my students, and adults I know, and myself, that it is not my responsibility as a Christian to agree with those who scream injustice. Rather, it is my responsibility and calling to listen, to consider, to be slow to anger, to be slow to speak.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. – James 1:19-20 

And people say the Bible is not applicable today.

The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

What makes me even more considered for the state of believers in our country is that we have become a people who get far more outraged over the decisions of others when it comes to patriotism and legislation than we do over the way people are choosing not to follow Jesus.

Maybe that didn’t make sense. Basically, we get up in arms about earthly things rather than spiritual things. I’ve seen some of the most hateful rhetoric shared and spewed on social media at those who believe differently than the poster on political matters or even matters of standing for the flag at a football game. We become more concerned about whether or not people kneel for the flag than we do whether or not people bow before the King.

I know I basically just blogged about this verse a week ago, but this passage continues to fill my heart and mind as of late.

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? – Proverbs 24:10-12

We as followers of Jesus are called to rescue those who are being unjustly killed, we are to rescue those who are being oppressed. Why? Because the entire narrative of Scripture it about God rescuing His people out of literal oppression and spiritual slavery. From Exodus to what Ephesians says about how we’re enslaved to our sin outside of Christ. It’s all about being rescued from oppression.

One day, we will stand before God, He who knows our hearts. We won’t be able to say we didn’t see the oppression happening. We won’t be able to lay forth any valid excuses.

Social justice is not the gospel. It is not the good news of the Scriptures. If we merely meet physical needs, we are doing people a disservice, and we are not saving them from death. Notice how the above passage can be applied to those who are headed towards eternal separation from God. There are spiritual needs far more dire than physical ones.

But.

The gospel leads to social justice. If we believe that God died for us, then we are willing to leverage our lives for His cause.

Guys, I’m not team Kaepernick or team Tillman.

I’m team Jesus.

And while that may be the most nauseatingly cliche thing you’ve ever read, it’s no less true. Christ calls me to listen, to really listen.

Consider a story from Mark 10:46-51. In it, a blind beggar cries out to Jesus for help. The crowd tells him to shut up. Yet Jesus has compassion on him and heals him.

Consider with me for a second.

What if the cries of injustice and oppression are false. What if truly men like Kaepernick have nothing to really complain about? Now, I don’t believe that to be the case. But, what if? Even if it’s not genuine oppression, when we say we don’t care, when we say stand up and shut up, we might very well be the deterrent that prevents them from seeking Christ.

Yes, God is a God of justice. But He’s also full of mercy and compassion.

If we tell those in our community to just shut up when they cry out, that literally does nothing but drive them away from Christ. Again, please understand, as Christians we do not have to agree with those who cry out. For instance, I don’t agree with everything that the Black Lives Matter movement stands for and does, but, I am called to listen.

Guys, people are dying without Christ!!

I don’t want the vitriol of the church to keep them from experiencing Jesus.

What if we listened? You know agreeing and listening aren’t the same thing?

What if we listened?

What if we cared enough about the souls of people to hear about their deepest hurts and point them to the Healer.

Guys, read my heart. I’m not pro-kneeling or pro-standing. Really I don’t care. What I care about is that the church needs to be willing to listen to those who say they’re being oppressed. To not at least listen is to grieve the heart of God (just read all the indictments against the people of God in the Old Testament).

What if we listened?

Just do it.

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.)