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

Wounded By The Church

Since I’ve become a pastor on staff at a great church, I’ve found myself in the midst of many conversations about the church and about faith. Heartbreakingly I’ve heard many stories from those who have been hurt by and hindered by their local body of believers. The wounds brought about by the people of God can cut deep and leave long-lasting wounds on the hearts and psyches of many.

We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? There are church splits, church politics, church cliques, and  ungodly church leadership. All of us to some extent have been hurt by the church, hurt by the people of God.

One thing that baffles me at times is that God allows such horrible behavior in the lives of his servants and followers. If God is all-powerful, and loves the church so deeply (Ephesians 5), then why do such acts of ungodliness perpetrated by the people of God exist?

Why do I hear of men and women who are jaded towards the church, refusing to step into our buildings because they “love Jesus, but don’t love the church”?

Why do I see people turned off to religion because of the sins of prominent church leaders who allow greed, sexual desire, pride, hatred, or the lack of gentleness to take root and bloom in their lives, destroying their ministries?

Why does God allow ungodly men and women to be in positions of leadership in His church?

These are questions I have asked time and again, especially that last one.

My honest answer is that I don’t know.

I don’t know why this stuff happens.

That being said, through my reading of a couple chapters of Genesis last night, I discovered some light that I want to shed on the darkness of these travesties.

Now, if you haven’t read Genesis I would encourage you to. If you haven’t read it in a long while, dive back into it. It truly is a book of beginnings, of answers to our deep questions, a foundation upon which the rest of the Bible sits. Regardless of what you believe about creation, etc. there is still much for you to glean from this book.

One scholar I was reading said it like this,

The first part of the Bible (Genesis) has rare blessings for every person who will study it in seeking to understand the gracious ways of God’s dealing with mankind. 

That in my opinion is a wonderful quote. Many think that the gospel, or grace, shows up simply in the New Testament. That there may be allusions to it in the Old, but it doesn’t really burst onto the scene until the time of the nativity. That’s false. God’s grace to wicked men and women is woven throughout all of Scripture, even this very first book of the Bible.

That being said, here’s what I believe to be Biblical truth.

God can right the wrongs of His people. 

I get this belief out of the story in Genesis 20.

In this chapter, Abraham is moving with his wife Sarah throughout the land. They come into a place called Gerar, which was a region that was overseen by the king Abimelech. Abraham, out of a desire to keep himself safe (v. 11) lies to Abimelech and says that Sarah is in fact his sister, not his wife. One, weird. Two, how very sinful.

Abraham was a man who had seen God, who had heard from God, who had watched God do the miraculous in his life. Yet here he is, lying, walking in sin, to save his own skin. How disdainful. How honestly wretched.

You may be telling me to hold up, that lying is not all that bad.

Well, look at the consequences of Abraham’s actions.

In Genesis 20:18 it says that the wombs of of the household of Abimelech were all closed due to the fact that Sarah was in their midst as a single woman and potential suitor. Abimelech brings Sarah into his court, thinking that Sarah is Abraham’s sister. This leads God to close off the wombs of his family.

Deep consequences inflicted Abimelech’s family due to Abraham’s sin.

Now trust me, I know. These are much different circumstances than what most of us would think about when it comes to sins perpetrated against non-believers by the people of God.

I don’t think there is a family in Vernon, TX that is unable to have children because of the sins of our church members. At least not that I know of. I’m not intending to make light of infertility struggles, I’m merely saying this story in Genesis 20 is quite unique.

Here’s the kicker for me though.

Here’s why I (not an Old Testament scholar) believe the above truth.

God can right the wrongs of His people. 

Because God appears to Abimelech.

In verses 3 through 7, God appears to Abimelech and basically tells him that he’s a dead man for taking a married woman into his household. Abimelech cries out and says that he didn’t know, that his nation didn’t deserve to be punished due to the lie of God’s servant Abraham.

Verse six is cool.

Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. – Genesis 20:6

If Abimelech touches Sarah, the just wrath of God comes upon his family because of the sins of Abraham.

But God intervenes.

He prevents Abimelech from sinning.

Now, there are intricacies to this story and plenty of other questions. But in my humble opinion, the truth still stands. God is able to right the wrongs of His people.

If you have been hurt by the church, hurt by followers of Jesus, I sincerely apologize.

I pray that God will do for you what He did for Abimelech.

I pray that God will right the wrongs that have been done towards you by those who bear His name.

I pray that you would find healing.

I pray that you would find the trust to join a church community.

I’m grateful to serve a God who is bigger than my foolish mistakes.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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