You are a Saint (and you don’t even have to live in New Orleans)

I’ve sat and listened to some preachers drone on, “We are wicked. We are sinners. We are unworthy.”  The news never gets any better.  It’s usually at that point I stop listening. Why? I already know that. God pulls no punches: “the human heart is deceitfully wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23; emphasis mine)

But, that’s only half the story. (There’s a reason the gospel is called the “Good News.”)

Our sin is why we desperately needed a Savior.

It’s why “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, “I bring you Good News of great joy!” (John 1:14; Luke 2:10; emphasis mine)

It’s why Christ, on the cross, took upon himself our sin, absorbing ever last one of them, making it possible for sinful mankind to enjoy peace with a terrifyingly Holy & Righteous God. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:13; Romans 5:1)

And, by putting our faith in that saving work of Christ on the Cross, we become “children of God.” (John 1:12)

Or – another way Paul describes us – “saints” (cf. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1) – a word Paul uses to reference everyone who, by placing their faith in Christ, has been set apart from the eternal death sentence of sin. (1 Corinthians 1:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 6:23)

You are loved, valued, of infinite worth – worthy to the point of God willingly giving his only begotten Son. (John 3:16)

Someone once said, “If God had a refrigerator he would have your picture on it.”

You are one of his beloved saints.

Much love, Saint Nick

The Intolerable Intolerance of the Dallas Mayor

As a lead-in to the July 4th holiday season, First Baptist Church, Dallas, paid a company to display on a DFW billboard, “America is a Christian Nation.”

The response from the “offended” was akin to Wyatt Earp’s famous line from the movie, Tombstone,” “Tell’em I’m comin’.  And hell’s comin’ with me!”  (You can read about all the drama from Dallas’ own local newspaper here.)  In short, the hatefully biased editorial might as well have said, “How dare you proclaim a religious worldview different from mine!”

Let’s slow this down, think critically, and have some civil discourse, shall we?

There are two critical issues at play here.

First:  Is America a Christian nation?

This answer is tricky because of how the question is presented.

For instance, if the question were asked, “Is Christianity the state religion of the United States?”  The answer is an indisputable “no.”

I sat in an intriguing lecture given by sociologist, Tony Campolo, once.  He rightly stated,

“America is not a Christian nation – but it is most certainly ‘spiritual.”

But, if the question was presented, “Was the United States created based on the principles of the Christian faith?”  The answer is an indisputable “yes.”

Before those who are thinking, “How dare you question that America is a Christian nation??” google my address and remove the American flag that is proudly displayed outside my house, read on…

What, exactly, were the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers? 

They were diverse.

Some of our Founding Fathers were professed believers in Christ.

Historians tend to believe, based on what he wrote, that George Washington was a professed Christian, having strongly believed not merely in a Creator/God, but that salvation was found by putting one’s faith in Christ alone.

Some Founding Fathers were Deists. (Including some of the most famous.)

“Deism” can be described as strongly believing in a Creator/God without believing that said Creator can be personally known and experienced through God the Son, Jesus Christ.  This is why “Creator” was used in our Declaration of Independence rather than God or Christ.

For example, holding to deism, Thomas Jefferson fastidiously removed from his Bible all gospel accounts pertaining to miracles, including the resurrection of Christ because he didn’t believe in it.  (See photo below.  Read more about Thomas Jefferson and his religious beliefs here from the Smithsonian.)

Benjamin Franklin was asked point-blank about his religious beliefs.  His wrote,

“Here is my Creed, I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we render to him, is doing Good to his other Children.”

But Franklin’s religious convictions require a delicate dance of interpretation.  In the quote cited above, Franklin’s conviction is in perfect harmony with the gospel.  But, in reference to Jesus Christ, he goes on to write,

As for Jesus of Nazareth … I think the system of Morals and Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw … but I have … some Doubts to his Divinity.”

Translation:  Franklin had serious doubts as to whether Jesus was the Son of God.

My point?  As I stated earlier, the religious convictions of the Founding Fathers were diverse.

Now, before the Anti-Christian-Nation folks raise the “I told you so” banner, be aware that, despite the Founding Fathers’ diverse convictions regarding the person of Jesus Christ, the following axioms are well founded and documented:

1) They believed in a transcendent God – a Creator who was not created, outside of time and space, existing outside of nature.

2) They believed in an afterlife where both good and bad behavior was either rewarded or punished.  Ben Franklin affirmed,

“The soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this.”

3) They believed in objective morality as put forth in scripture (killing, stealing, lying, adultery, etc. is inherently wrong).

So, what you’re telling me is that, although the Founding Fathers differed on beliefs about the Bible, the United States was still created based on Christian principles like the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ “sermon on the mount”?  Yes.  This is precisely why, to the consternation of many, some city court houses still display the Ten Commandments.

While some may work feverishly to deny the Founding Fathers’ respect for and use of biblical truth, the fact is that the Bible was clearly the foundation for their worldview.  For example, John Adams professed to be Christian but did not believe in the divinity of Jesus (that Jesus is God – which is a central tenet of the Christian faith).  Nonetheless, conveying his conviction regarding the wisdom and authority of the Bible, he wrote,

“Those general principles of Christianity are as external and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”  He went on to write, “The Bible is the best book in the world.  It contains more of my… philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.”

Perhaps FBC, Dallas, wanted to employ “shock value” in their billboard to create interest (that certainly worked.)  But, regardless of their rationale for choosing the particular wording,  they have the constitutional right and freedom to convey their religious beliefs – regardless of how much the local mayor may not like it.

Which leads me to the second critical issue at play here…

The Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings, has demonstrated absolutely zero knowledge and/or understanding of the First Amendment to our Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson was passionate in his conviction for the ratification of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

According to our own Constitution, the Dallas Mayor is completely free to believe what he wants to believe.

And so is FBC, Dallas (and the rest of us, as well.) 

The billboard was paid for by private funds and can say whatever the client wants it to say.  (Obviously, nudity, profanity, etc., are legitimate grounds for an advertisement’s removal.  But not religious views.)

Clearly, the grandstanding by the Dallas Mayor is nothing but an attack on Christianity, free speech, and the freedom of religion.

The Mayor has employed his own, personal, subjective religious/political filter as to what ought – and ought not -to be displayed publicly, which is representative more of bigotry and hate than respect and tolerance.

Just last year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the American Atheist Organization purchased and displayed huge billboards claiming the biblical story of Christ’s birth is “Fake News”. 

Where were some of the billboards displayed?  Dallas.

Sure, some Christians hollered and complained.  Did the billboards result in a Dallas city government uproar?  Nope.

I have absolutely no problem with the American Atheists posting the billboards.  It’s their constitutional right.  And I am thankful for that right.   In fact, it offered wonderful opportunities to dialogue with people, allowing me to express why I personally believe the biblical Christian faith is logical, intelligent, and makes the best sense of the world around us.

In sum – and I can’t emphasize my conviction enough:  the American Atheist Organization has every right to display whatever worldview they want.  Although I don’t agree with their views, I celebrate their right to publicly share what they believe just as much as I celebrate mine.

Finally, not only does the Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings, demonstrate an embarrassing understanding of the First Amendment, but, referencing FBC, Dallas’ “America is a Christian Nation” billboard, he demonstrates an equally embarrassing understanding of the Bible, making the following claim:

“That is not the Christ I follow. It’s not the Dallas I want to be – to say things that do not unite us but divide us. I never heard those words – that voice come out of Christ. Just the opposite. I was brought up to believe: Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine.”

Dear.  God.  Come on, Mike.  Where did you find in the Bible, “Be proud of yours, but do not diminish mine?”  Can you quote me a chapter & verse for that one?

If Rawlings’ own comments weren’t so divisive, incendiary and biblically ignorant they would be laughable.  (The gospels are replete with Jesus warning his listeners that following him will offend others, divide their families, and potentially even cost them their lives.”)

In short: the sad irony is that the Mayor is doing the exact same thing he is accusing FBC, Dallas, of doing.  At its root, his words are nothing more than myopic bigotry.

So much for tolerance.

FBC, Dallas, could’ve done better in the original wording of their billboard.

AND THEY TRIED…

…by agreeing to change it to: “Is America a Christian Nation?”  But, by that time, the politics, bigotry and intolerance had done its desired damage, pressuring the billboard company to back out altogether.  No worries, though.  Another billboard company has offered to display FBC’s message on twenty billboards.  (Thank you, un-hateful billboard company, for possessing at least an elementary understanding of the U.S. Constitution.)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

The God Who Hurts Us

“Yet is was the Lord’s will to crush [his Son] and cause him to suffer…” (Isaiah 53:10)

I’ve studied the book of Job (the “o” in “Job” is long as in “stove”) numerous times. But, until recently, I haven’t had the courage to read it devotionally (daily readings) since 2013 when my 19 year old son, Jordan, took his own life.

Of all 66 books that comprise the Bible, no book is more perplexing and disturbing as Job when considering the age old mystery, “Why do seemingly good people suffer?”

I have screamed at the heavens standing next to my son’s grave.

Job stood next to ten graves.

It was after burying all ten of his children Job’s wife told him, “Curse God and die!” She sometimes gets a bad rap. But I have felt her rage and resolution. Consequently, she sounds quite normal to me.

The first two chapters of Job are hard to read. Even though I knew well the story, I still wept as I began daily readings. I can feel Job’s and his wife’s acute pain. What is even harder to accept is this:

Job’s suffering was God’s idea.

It was God who asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”

Of course, Satan was, as he incessantly does, attacking the character and faith of God’s children, accusing God of favoritism and special treatment. “Of course Job loves you – his life is good,” Satan hissed. “But let me have him for just a few minutes and he’ll curse you to your face.”

So God gave Satan permission (Satan can do only what God allows him to do) to hurt Job.

There’s no way I can dive into the deep end of what the Bible says about God and his relationship to human suffering here. It’s the No. 1 argument for atheism. And rightly so.  I have studied the topic at length since my son – who, at 14 years of age, committed his life to global missions – took his own life after suffering from debilitating depression.

Job begged God to let him die (cf. Job 6:8-9). So did I. Which is why I spent 10 days in a Psychiactric Ward.

I get it.

I have no cheap, hollow bumper-sticker cliches for you here.

Despite what some round-the-clock “Smile, Jesus Loves You” people may say, pain is very much a part of the Christian life. You need to search no further than what’s recorded in scripture and secular ancient – and modern – history to know this to be true. (For crying out loud, an entire Old Testament book is titled, “Lamentations.”)

In defense of God’s relationship to human suffering (I am well aware he doesn’t need me to defend him), he pulls no punches where this fallen, corrupt world is concerned.

David wrote, “The righteous person faces many troubles…”

Jesus, himself, on the night before his execution, said, “In this world you will have many trials and sorrows…”

But, don’t stop reading there. The other half of David’s and Jesus’s words are as follows:

“…but the Lord comes to the rescue each time”, and “But take heart – I have overcome the world.” (Psalm 34:19; John 16:33)

God not once answers Job’s deepest question, “Why?”

He hasn’t answered mine either.

Job was rightfully hurt and angry and demanded a face-to-face meeting with God. In chapter 38, God honors that request. And it scares the you-know-what out of Job.

Wanting to put God on trial, God shows up and a plot-twist ensues: Job is the one on trial.

There are explanations for human suffering sprinkled throughout scripture: the testing and strengthening of our faith; God may use pain to get our attention; judgment and natural consequences of sin, etc.

But these explanations don’t make the pain any less painful.

One theologian wrote about the overriding theme of the book of Job,

“When there is no rational or even theological explanations for disaster or suffering, trust God.”

Even as I now type that statement everything within me wants to mock and say with dripping sarcasm, “Sure – I’ll do that.”

But, what alternatives does the world or atheism give me?

None.

What i’ve discovered Christ gives us in our suffering is hope.

We’re told,

“…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,…” (12:1-2)

Translation: Jesus says to us, “I saw the eternal joy on the other side of my temporary pain. If you’ll let me, I’ll help you do the same.”

Indeed, we do not have a Savior who, from his safe ivory tower in heaven, offers empty cheers, “Come on! It’s not so bad!” Nothing could be further from what is true.  The Bible records:

“[Jesus] was a man of sorrows and pain, acquainted with grief… [therefore] we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,…” (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 4:15)

My son was merely 10 years old when, with tears in his eyes, he walked up to me and said, “Dad, God told me to paint this.”  It hangs in our home today.  Jordan titled it, “When we hurt, God hurts.”

Christ doesn’t “wait for us on the other side of our pain”.  He is with us in our pain – carrying us through it.

Jesus whispers to us in our pain, “I’ve got this.  Trust me.”

I began this post with the startling messianic prophecy written by Isaiah: “It was the Lord’s will to crush [his Son] and cause him to suffer…” (53:10)

The purpose of this post is to simply encourage those who are suffering.

I can’t offer satisfying reasons or answers to human suffering.  But, I can offer you hope that it will not always be this way.

The maddening pain of human suffering, for me, is only resolved by the truth given me in scripture:

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

No other worldview offers me that hope.

Paul, who suffered greatly, encourages his readers:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

According to God: I’ll see my son again; he’s more alive than he’s ever been; and he is in the presence of the risen Christ, forever free of debilitating depression.

And, because of what Christ gave twenty centuries ago on a cross just outside of Jerusalem – a reunion is coming.

Oh to hold my son in my arms once again – completely free from my own often crushing depression. To quote the popular song, “I can only imagine.”

Because of the suffering – and triumph – of Christ, I choose to stand with Job and say,

“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21)

Satan again loses his haughty, myopic bet with God.

I love you, my precious son.

For Jordan Watts.

#ForNarnia.

For Christ.

Love and hope to all who are suffering, Nick  (see Side Note immediately below)

(Side note: beginning with chapter 4, Job’s “friends” spend over 30 chapters attempting to explain Job’s suffering based on their mere human logic, intellect and reason. In the final chapter of the book God basically calls them all idiots, indicting them: “You have not spoken the truth about me.” Job’s prayer for them is the only thing that kept them from God’s severe judgment. Our well-meaning “friends”, feeling they must offer an explanation when suffering takes place, can easily fall into the same category as Job’s friends.)

How Jesus Found Me at Harvard

“Into [my atheistic state], God broke in.”

What a powerful story from Harvard professor, Mark Shepard.

Short article. Enjoy… nw

Harvard University is special for me because it is where I first came to know Jesus Christ. Perhaps this should not be surprising. Harvard is a place that reveres truth (Veritas), and Jesus says he is the truth. But most people when they hear this about me are surprised, since they see the university as a secular place. Let me share my story and a few of the surprises it has entailed.

I grew up in a Jewish home and was raised in Hebrew school and Jewish observance. But by the time I entered Harvard College as a freshman, I had rebelled and become an atheist. Like many atheists, I had strong beliefs. I believed that faith was the opposite of reason – and therefore to be avoided. I believed that science was the only real way of knowing truth. And I believed that life should be lived based on logical optimization and rationality, free from the softness of emotional thinking. (Perhaps you can see why I became an economist.)

Into this state, God broke in.

My first surprise was meeting Christians who actually believed their faith – and in a thoughtful, intelligent way. I got to know a resident tutor, who also happened to be a minister for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In long conversations in the dining halls, we explored the deep questions: Is there a God? Is there purpose behind the universe? Is there such thing as moral truth? And what does the Bible have to say about all this? Amazingly to me, my tutor had faith, but also welcomed questioning of that faith and consideration of evidence for and against Christianity. Here was a faith not opposed to reason, but deeply involved with it.

My second surprise was in the power of the Bible, and particularly Jesus, to make sense of the world, and to move and inspire me. As I read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for the first time, I was blown away. Here was the most beautiful, powerful expression of moral truth I had ever encountered. But who did this come from? Could this really be the work of a poor Jewish carpenter and his uneducated followers? And how could I deal with the fact that my worldview gave me little grounding even to believe in moral truth?

My third surprise – which still surprises and challenges me to this day – was finding out that I am a sinner. This merits explanation. Sin, in common usage, is a joke. It’s a word used for pleasurable things that prudish people label as bad. This is not what I mean by sin. Sin, in my experience, is rooted in an overwhelming pride. When I enter the world, I want to be better than people around me – to be more impressive and more accomplished, and to be recognized as such. When mixed with an academic environment like Harvard, this sinful tendency is toxic. Collectively, it leads to bottom-line thinking, with a culture of celebrity for people who succeed and worthlessness for those who do not. It turns Harvard’s greatest strength – its brilliant people – into a source of envy and anxiety. In my life, I have seen this way of thinking lead to depression, unfruitfulness, and a desire to quit academics and even life itself. Sin is self-destructive.

While my old worldview gave me few resources to understand or deal with sin, Christianity confronts it head on. God’s answer is the gospel: the good news that Jesus came into the world to live, die, and be raised for sinners. The gospel reminds me, first, that because God is central, life is not about me but about him. I don’t have to achieve, to impress, to justify myself. I am accepted in him. Second, the gospel frees me from the misdeeds of my past, since Jesus has paid for them. Finally, the gospel gives me – and the whole university – a new purpose. By learning, teaching, and relating to each other in humility and love, we participate in renewing the world. This is a purpose in which everyone in the university can participate, regardless of rank or status.

God’s vision for the university now animates my heart and gives me continual resources to renew my life and to beat back sin. I encourage you to consider this truth that has changed my life and promises to do the same for you.

Mark Shepard is an assistant professor at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. His main research studies health economics.

Wall Street Journal: How to Spot Teen Depression

This article from the Wall Street Journal appeared in their May 5, 2018, edition.  For your convenience, the entire article is included here.  Depression is the number one mental condition associated with suicide.  nw

How to Spot Teenage Depression

New guidelines focus on helping better identify teens who may be struggling with depression, as rates for the disorder climb

By Elizabeth Bernstein

Updated March 5, 2018 4:43 p.m. ET

Is your child’s moodiness a sign of typical teenage angst—or the beginning of a depression that needs professional attention?

Statistics show that teen depression is on the rise.

In 2016, around 13% of U.S. teenagers ages 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, compared to almost 8% in 2006, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which collects this information. Rates for teenagers ages 18 and 19, which are tracked separately, grew as well: More than 11% had a major depressive episode in 2016, compared with 9-10% in 2006.

The survey also found that almost 60% of adolescents with a major depressive disorder didn’t receive treatment. Parents don’t always identify the problem—or know what to do about it even when they do. And teens often resist treatment because of the stigma around mental-health issues. Yet adolescents whose depression goes untreated struggle in school, in their relationships, and to engage in activities they enjoy.

Many teens are moody. But to help better identify teens who may be struggling with depression, the American Academy of Pediatrics last month issued updated guidelines—the first in a decade—recommending that pediatricians screen all those ages 12 and older for depression annually and involve families in the assessment.

The diagnosis for depression is the same for teens as it is for adults. Psychiatrists and health-care professionals define major depressive disorder as five or more of the following symptoms present for two weeks: depressed mood most of the day, irritability, decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, significant change in weight or appetite, change in sleep, increased agitation or sluggishness, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, changes in concentration and recurrent thoughts of death.

Rising rates of adolescent depression are fueled by some unique stressors faced by this generation, the first to grow up with smartphones and social media, mental-health experts say. While teenagers have always felt pressure to be attractive and well-liked, social media amps up the anxiety with real-time measures of popularity such as “follows” and “likes.” Teens also can see immediately when they’ve been left out of an activity by classmates or friends.

Psychologists say this generation of teens also may feel more vulnerable than recent ones because of events such as school shootings, which they follow in real-time—and often via firsthand accounts—on sites such as Twitter or Facebook and through texts and calls.

Add to all of this the pressure to succeed, as colleges become even more competitive. “Teens worry: ‘Am I going to be successful? What do I need to do to get where I need to be? Am I doing enough, in academics, philanthropy and sports?’” says Jessica Feinberg, a licensed clinical social worker and program director of the Adolescent Acute Residential Treatment Program at McLean Hospital, a Harvard-affiliated psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Mass.

Adolescents—who aren’t always in touch with their feelings or mature enough to articulate them—often become more irritable or angry than adults do when depressed, therapists say. They sometimes complain of physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches that don’t have an identifiable cause.

Unlike most adults, they typically lack an awareness of the changes in their behavior.

“Most adults understand if they feel depressed or melancholic—and they’re aware of the effect it has on their work or life,” says Joseph Penn, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and chair of the American Psychiatric Association Council on Children, Adolescents and Their Families. “Adolescents don’t have insight.”

And girls and boys may behave differently. More girls become depressed. They tend to cry more or withdraw, yet they’re still more willing to talk about their feelings than boys, says McLean’sMs. Feinberg. “Boys act out more,” she says. “They may have conduct issues, destroy things in their room or throw things, get into drugs or alcohol.”

But the most significant signs to look for are an impairment in functioning often across several areas of the child’s life—school, social, extracurricular—and an inability to experience pleasure, which appears to have no cause. “It’s the hallmark that differentiates teenage moodiness from depression,” says John T. Walkup, chair of the department of psychiatry at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Corrections & Amplifications 
More than 11% of teenagers ages 18 and 19 had a major depressive episode in 2016, compared with 9-10% in 2006. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated more than 11% of teenagers ages 18 and 19 had a major depressive episode in 2006.

Steps to Take

What should you do if you think your teenager is depressed?

Be curious. Ask gentle questions and listen without being critical, says Jessica Feinberg, a licensed clinical social worker and program director of the Adolescent Acute Residential Treatment Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. “Validate your child’s feelings,” she says. “This does not mean you have to agree with them. It’s enough to say ‘I hear you. Let’s talk.’”

Ask others. A child who is depressed will often have impaired functioning in several areas of life. Check with the school, coaches, family and friends to see if they also notice a change.

Talk to the pediatrician. The doctor can rule out physical causes, such as a thyroid problem or a side-effect of medicine, and make a recommendation to a mental-health professional if needed. Share your family history: Depression, like other mental illnesses, tends to track in families, says John T. Walkup, chair of the department of psychiatry at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Find a therapist. Make sure the therapist is licensed and has experience with adolescents. Look for someone who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a short-term, evidence-based approach that helps identify inaccurate or negative thinking in order to respond to situations more effectively. Ask the school or your friends for recommendations, and let your teen have a part in the decision.

Consider a psychiatrist.. In the case of a mental-health disorder, research shows a mix of therapy and medication often works best, says Joseph Penn, a psychiatrist and chair of the American Psychiatric Association Council on Children, Adolescents and Their Families. “If you don’t treat depression, one of the major risk factors, while rare, is death from suicide,” he says.

Have a plan for college. If your teen suffers from depression, find a therapist near the school and ask your child to sign the college’s confidentiality waiver, so the school can legally contact you if your child has a health crisis.

Get your own therapist. This shouldn’t be the same person your child sees. Take care of your physical health, as well. “It’s the same idea as on an airplane, when you put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your child,” Ms. Feinberg says.

Act immediately if your child talks about self-harm. “A lot of times it is really hard to figure out if a kid is suicidal or crying wolf,” Dr. Penn says. “But it has to be taken seriously regardless.”

Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at elizabeth.bernstein@wsj.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at EbernsteinWSJ.

Wall Street Journal: Increase in Teen Suicidal Behavior

The Wall Street Journal article below appeared in their May 18, 2018, edition.  I have included the article in its entirety here for your convenience.  nw

LIFE

Youth Suicidal Behavior Is on the Rise, Especially Among Girls

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in 2016, up from third place in earlier years, according to the CDC

By  Jeanne Whalen

Updated May 15, 2018 2:21 p.m. ET

A new study finding a rise in suicidal thoughts and attempts among young people adds to the research pointing to a decline in mental health among U.S. children and adolescents.

The study showed the proportion of young people treated at 31 U.S. children’s hospitals for suicidal thoughts or attempts more than doubled between 2008 and 2015, from 0.66% of all visits to 1.82% of all visits. Rates were higher during the school year than in the summer, and nearly two-thirds of the visits involved girls, according to results published in the medical journal Pediatrics.

The research had limitations: It didn’t include data from all U.S. hospitals or suicidal behaviors that didn’t involve a hospital visit. Still, physicians said it fits a pattern of findings that show rates of depression and suicide-related behaviors and deaths are rising among young people.

Loss of Hope

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in 2016, up from third place in earlier years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s such a critical public-health crisis right now,” said Lisa Horowitz, a staff scientist and pediatric psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, which is attempting to boost suicide prevention in part by improving screening at emergency departments and pediatrician offices.

Researchers say they aren’t certain what is driving the growth in depression and suicidal behavior but theorize that decreasing stigma might be causing more children and their parents to seek help, leading to wider reporting of the problems.

Some early research has suggested children’s use of social media and smartphones may also be factors, fueling cyberbullying and feelings of inadequacy. “We need more data to say that’s a contributing cause,” said Ramin Mojtabai, a psychiatrist and professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Suicide deaths in the total U.S. population rose from 10.4 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 13.4 per 100,000 people in 2016, according to the CDC. Suicide deaths in 10- to 19-year-olds over the same period rose from 4.7 to 6.1 per 100,000 people.

In the new Pediatrics study, researchers analyzed billing data for patients ages 5 to 17 to identify emergency-room visits and hospitalizations for suicide attempts and suicidal ideation, the clinical term for persistent suicidal thoughts. They drew the details from a database managed by the Children’s Hospital Association, which includes billing and clinical data from children’s hospitals in most major metropolitan areas.

More than half of the suicide-related visits resulted in inpatient hospitalization. Of these, 13% were treated in intensive-care units. The researchers found the visits occurred at a higher rate during the school year, with October accounting for nearly twice as many visits as July.

“What our study made clear was school was a huge influence,” said one of the lead researchers, Gregory Plemmons, a physician and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. He said academic pressure and bullying could play a role, though the study didn’t delve into the causes.

The study found the rise in suicide-related hospital visits was higher for girls, who made up nearly two-thirds of such visits overall. The researchers called for further research on possible gender differences in youth mental health, noting that a previous study found larger increases in depression in teenage girls compared with boys over the decade up to 2014.

Dr. Plemmons said he became interested in conducting the study after noticing an increasing number of beds at his hospital being used for young people in need of psychiatric treatment, often after exhibiting suicidal behavior.

“What I’m noticing is kids seem to be less resilient and to have more pressure,” he said. “I think social media also fuels this Instagram life of everything is perfect and cool and you don’t see the other side of life.”

One study published last year found U.S. adolescents who spent more time using electronic devices and social media were more likely to report depressive symptoms or at least one instance of suicidal behavior.

“The increases in new media screen activities and the decreases in nonscreen activities may explain why depression and suicide increased among U.S. adolescents since 2010,” the study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, concluded.

The researchers based their findings on surveys in which adolescents reported their daily activities and symptoms of depression or of suicidal thinking or attempts.

That study found a particular uptick in mental-health issues beginning around 2011 and 2012 and noted that about half of U.S. teens were using smartphones by late 2012. The study also found the correlation between screen time and mental-health problems was stronger in girls.

Every Christian is a Theologian

“Theology” simply means “the study of God.”

That means all believers are theologians – or, at least, should be.  To be clear – and fair – this does not mean that everyone is an academic or scholar i.e. someone who has made a career out of studying the Bible.  But, nonetheless, we’re all biblically commanded to be theologians: a person who studies the Word of God.

I ran across a wonderful article on this topic this past week.  You can access the article here.

From the article:

“Laypeople have no biblical warrant (argument) to leave the duty of doctrine (a set of beliefs) up to pastors and professors alone.”

Besides, pastors being human and flawed, it is completely possible for a Bible teacher to actually misinterpret something and get it flat wrong.    Paul would end up writing a third of the New Testament.  But that hadn’t happened yet.  And the Bereans took no chances:

“…they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Finally, it’s simply what we’re commanded to do:

Study and do your best to present yourself to God…accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.”

By the way, it’s vital for us all to remember that Paul’s instruction to Timothy above was a command, not a suggestion. 🙂

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick