“Awakenings” (sermon excerpt)

From a Roman prison Paul wrote, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened [flooded with light] in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,…”  (Ephesians 1:18)

Below is the link to the final 9 minutes of the sermon I preached this past Sunday.  What you will not hear (because I spoke of it during my introduction) is my explanation of what C.S. Lewis calls “looking at” vs. “looking along.”  You can find Lewis’ explanation of this brilliant concept in his book, God in the Dock (a defense of Christianity), in the chapter titled, Meditation in a Tool Shed.

To illustrate the difference between “looking at vs. “looking along” go with me (in your imagination) to Studio B in Nashville, TN.  In July, 2013, my family was given a private tour of this historical address, located on Nashville’s “Music Row”.  Upon entering the main recording area, I immediately noticed the beautiful Steinway piano.  As i “looked at” the piano I saw that it definitely “had some mileage on it” (I had no idea how old it was), but was still in excellent condition,…a sight to behold for a piano man like me.  Then, the lady giving us the tour said, “Elvis played this piano often when he recorded in this very studio.” Being a huge Elvis fan, my heart skipped a beat as I stared at her trying to think of something to say in response. But, before I could speak she continued, “Floyd Cramer not only played this piano, as well; he recorded his monster hit, Last Date, in this studio, on that very piano.”

My entire perspective of that piano changed in a matter of seconds.  I had entered that studio seeing that piano one way, but was leaving seeing it completely differently, recognizing that this piano was merely part of a much grander story. I had gone from contemplating the piano to enjoying not simply the piano, but the history it represented.    I was not longer “looking at” the piano; I was now “looking along” the piano, enraptured by its history.  My imagination ran wild “seeing” Elvis and Floyd Cramer “doing their thing” in the very room in which I was standing. The eyes of my imagination were enlightened.  In short, at least for me, the piano came to life.  (Yes, they did give me permission to sit down and play Cramer’s “Last Date” on that piano.  It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”)

In the sermon I preached on Feb. 15th, using Ephesians 1:11-23 as my text, with verse 18 serving as my primary text, I described the difference between “looking at” the Word of Christ, the Body of Christ, and the Cross of Christ” vs. “looking along” the three.  The sermon excerpt here picks up with “the Cross of Christ“.

Although the excerpt is categorized as a video, there is no video of me – only audio – since I instructed the folks in our A/V booth to leave a logo I’d put together on our video screens.  However, a video clip from the 1998 hit, Patch Adams, begins at the 3:15 mark.  The scene encapsulates what I was trying to communicate and teach from Ephesians 1:18.  “Don’t focus on the problem – look at me,” rails the bitter old man to Adams (played flawlessly by Robin Williams).

Since my 19 year old son took his life, God has patiently and lovingly taught me how to “look along” that day of unspeakable pain, rather than “look at” it. “Don’t focus on Jordan’s death – look at Me,” Christ has taught me.  “[I am] not the God of the dead but of the living…I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”  (Matthew 22:32; John 11:25)

In sum, when we allow God to “open the eyes of our heart”, we quickly become acutely aware of the Hope we have in ChristAnd hope changes everything. 🙂

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

“How I Almost Lost the Bible”

 This brief story represents precisely why I am pursuing a Masters Degree in Apologetics.

Like Dr. Thornbury, the story’s author, “I [have] covenanted with God to help people like the 18-year-old version of [Dr. Thornbury] —people who are on the boundary of leaving the church, and are looking for just one good reason to stay.

I have highlighted various statements that stood out to me, personally.  For instance, it’s “after high school/beginning of college” that most Christian students are confronted with intelligent challenges to their faith, catapulting them into a philosophical and theological whirlwind.

Dr. Gregory Thornbury is President of The King’s College in NYC.

Below are two links.  The first a PDF file of the story, while the second is to the actual web address of the story.  Enjoy. 🙂

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

How I Almost Lost the Bible – CT – Jan 2015

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/januaryfebruary/how-i-almost-lost-bible.html

 

 

 

Homeless Demons

[Jesus said],“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”  Luke 11:24-26

There are dozens of sermons in this passage.  Allow me to briefly focus on just one: the security & authority one has in Christ.

First of all, this passage must not be taken out of the context of the canon of Scripture.  One who has professed their faith in the risen Christ cannot be demon-possessed (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20; Eph. 1:13-14)  A believer is already “possessed” – by the Holy Spirit.  John MacArthur rightly comments on this passage:  “When a demon is defeated by the power of Christ, the soul vacated by the power of darkness is taken over by Christ.”

It should be noted that the principles taught by Jesus in this passage apply without restriction to a non-believer.  This truth is sobering. The torment of evil spirits can be manifested in chronic anger, bitterness, a critical spirit, unforgiveness, pride, sexual addiction, lying, disrespect for authority, fear, etc.  For the non-believer, to try and “will” these self-destructive habits away can, indeed, lead to momentary improvement.  But, according to Jesus, the relief is merely temporalChrist, the Bible tells us, is the only “cure” for sin.  (cf. Romans 8:1)  A demon is not afraid of “a house swept and put in order.”  A demon, on the other hand, is terrified of a “house” possessed by the risen Christ.  (cf. James 2:19)

For the believer, as previously stated, the Bible is clear:  we cannot be demon-possessed.  However, the enemy is no fool.  As Billy Graham purports, satan is a strategic genius.  As such, demonic oppression is quite common and can be manifested in the very self-destructive habits mentioned above.  New Testament scholar, Dr. David Garland, comments, “Demons…do whatever they can to neutralize” and twist biblical truth in a believer’s life.  The difference between a believer and a non-believer, when in this state, is profound.  For the believer, all that is required is a conscious re-focusing on the truth: God’s Word.  Jesus said, the truth sets us free.  Paul wrote, “For we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”  In sum, satan has no hold on believers.  He only wants to make us think he does.  The enemy’s best and most used weapon, after all, is deception.

If you’ve never placed your faith in the risen Christ, please consider His claims.  Honestly investigate the historicity of Jesus and the reliability of the Gospels. 1  Consider the evidence.  Make your own decisions based on the evidence.  Consider Him who loves you so much that He died a horrific death on a wooden cross, then, three days later, authenticated His claims about Himself by rising again.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  The Apostle Paul  (1 Cor. 15:3-4)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

1 Two very good, very readable books on the topic of evidence for the Christian faith were written by former atheists:  More Than a Carpenter, by Josh & Sean McDowell;  The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel.   A third book, a little harder to read, but a classic, is Mere Christianity  by C.S. Lewis, also a former atheist.

The 23rd Psalm

“It has charmed more griefs to rest than all the philosophy of the world. It has remanded to their dungeon more felon thoughts, more black doubts, more thieving sorrows, than there are sands on the sea-shore. It has comforted the noble host of the poor. It has sung courage to the army of the disappointed. It has poured balm and consolation into the heart of the sick, of captives in dungeons, of widows in their griefs, of orphans in their loneliness. Dying soldiers have died easier as it was read to them; it has visited the prisoner, broken his chains and, like Peter’s angel, led him forth in imagination, and sung him back to his home again.” Charles Spurgeon; “The Treasury of David: Classic Reflections on the Wisdom of the Psalms”

***No other psalm has so saved me from going insane this past 21 months than this psalm. Reflect on it today, my friends. I love you all. Nick

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Atheism Failed Me

Allow me to begin by saying those who hold to an atheistic worldview are precious in the sight of God.  I have friends who are atheists.  And I love them deeply.  This is, in no way, a personal attack on those who hold to atheism. You won’t find any snide remarks or insults in this post. It is simply my story of why atheism didn’t work for me. nw

 

For some, atheism works. For me, it didn’t.

Believing that God exists, that He is good, and that He is trustworthy was as much an intellectual decision for me as it was a matter of faith. Faith and reason, at first glance, appear to be at odds with one another. While still an ardent atheist, C.S. Lewis wrote, “I was at this time living, like so many Atheists, in a world of contradictions.”

When, in 2013, my 19 year old son, Jordan, took his own life, my entire life became one single contradiction. As a result, with all my heart, mind & soul, I tried to resolve that contradiction with a worldview that included a world void of God. For, on the day I found my son’s body (and the days immediately following), believing in a God who would allow this tortuous nightmare made no logical sense.  Discovering that God certainly did not exist would have made it far easier for me to deal with my son’s suicide.

In way of introduction, I ended up choosing not to embrace atheism after my son died.  However, this was not for lack of trying.  Frankly, the reason I ended up not embracing atheism was because atheism provided for me no hope, no answers to my biggest questions i.e. “Why is there something instead of nothing?”, “What is human consciousness and cognition, and where did it come from?”, etc.  I found atheism had much to say about the origin of species, but little or nothing to say about the origin of life. So, although I deeply desired to be satisfied by atheistic philosophy, I was sorely disappointed.  And this is what I mean by the title, “Atheism Failed Me.”

When I finally returned to the Bible, I found, for me, a “better explanation.”  Alister McGrath holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics.  A former atheist, he explains, “I became a Christian at the age of 18 while studying chemistry at Oxford University. My conversion related to my perception that Christianity offered a more comprehensive, coherent and compelling account of reality than the atheism I had embraced in my earlier teenage years.”  Former atheist, C.S. Lewis, said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Then there’s the resurrection of Christ.  While lecturing at the University of Uruguay, former atheist, Josh McDowell, was asked by a student, “Sir, why don’t you refute Christianity?”  McDowell calmly answered, “I would except for one thing: I can’t explain away the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  As one theologian once said, “Prove the resurrection was a farce and Christianity comes tumbling down like a house of cards.”  But, just as I conclude the article below, “the tomb is still empty. And that changes everything.”

In early 2015, The Lubbock Metro Leader Magazine contacted me about writing an article. I submitted to them this one entitled, “Atheism Failed Me”:

I tried to disprove the existence of God, immediately after finding my 19-year-old son dead in his bedroom from suicide.

I looked at the most recent, most compelling evidence to make God sound like a ludicrous alternative. I looked at the best arguments from the best atheists, both in modern and historical times.

You must understand that I wanted desperately to know, in those first 48 hours after finding my son, that there was no God.  God’s non-existence would have made more sense to me than “a loving God who would allow my son to suffer so much from clinical depression that he would take his life.”

But atheism failed me. The words of the best, most intelligent atheists rang hollow. Their rebuttals and refutations against the existence of God were, in my opinion, incomplete, short-sighted, and at times, ludicrous. While the atheists scream loudly trying to speak for their evidence, the theists, in my opinion, simply step back and allow the evidence to speak for itself. For the arguments of theists were akin to the familiar statement: “You don’t need to defend a lion; you simply open the cage and allow him to defend himself.”

In the end of my investigation for a God-less universe, I found myself like Peter in John 6. (I tend to resonate with Peter – impetuous, speaks before he thinks, reckless at times, etc., but always passionate.) By chapter 6 of John’s gospel account, Jesus has fed the thousands, healed the sick, and cast out demons. But now, he’s teaching the crowd what following him really means. The response is heartbreaking. Most of them, it turns out, had no interest in following Jesus. They wanted the sizzle, but not the substance; the blessing, but not the commitment.  In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, they wanted grace that was “cheap” rather than “costly.” In short, they wanted an “A” in the course without doing the homework. And, in verse 66, John records, “It was at this time many of those who followed Jesus turned away and deserted him.” Jesus then turned to the twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave me too?”

After trying as hard as I could to prove God was a fairy-tale, I found myself repeating those exact words stated by Peter, 20 centuries ago.

Peter replied, “Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Can I prove the existence of God in a laboratory? No. Frankly, I don’t want a God I can explain – the Incarnation, the Trinity, etc., are all inexplicable. A God we can explain would be … well, more like a man than God; at best, a super-hero. On the flip side, I was reminded that God can’t be disproved in a laboratory either.  The metaphysical is simply beyond the grasp of scientific method.

Like so many others far more intelligent than myself, I eventually arrived at the following conclusion: The cumulative evidence (from cosmology, astronomy, biology, chemistry and the other hard sciences) for the existence of a transcendent, outside-the-laws-of-physics, “wholly other” (as Soren Kierkagaard described him) is startlingly compelling.

Add to this the evidence from history and archaeology, the historical reliability of the New Testament and the empty tomb, and the evidence is simply overwhelming.

Does faith in the God of the Bible still require faith?  Of course.  But so does atheism.  And, frankly, I have found I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.  As Yale Law School grad and former atheist, Lee Strobel, said,

“To continue in atheism, I’d need to believe nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. I just didn’t have that much faith.”

I considered at length the words of British philosopher, Antony Flew, a champion of 20th century atheism:  “One must go where the evidence leads.”  This led Flew to belief in God.  It led me back to Christ.

I cannot overstate how I felt in the moments immediately following finding my dead son: I. Hated. God. But, God – who we see in the person of Jesus Christ – held me.  Even as I fought to run away, he wouldn’t let go.The same love that drove Christ to the cross drove him to love me deeply, holding me tenderly in his arms. He was patient with me, allowing me time to scream at him, accuse him, and even hate him(all of these emotions, by the way, are found in the imprecatory psalms in our Bible).

Despite the best I could hurl at God, he never left me. Ever. He nursed me back to psychological and emotional health. And, in those early hours, when I began to investigate whether I had been wrong all my life about him, He didn’t punish me – he loved me. In the darkest moment of my life, Jesus whispered to me, “I. Am. Here. I’ve got this. Trust Me.”I do, my King. Where else would I go? You have the words of eternal life.

To those of you trying to figure out life’s pain, know this: God is faithful; his Word is true. “He is close to the broken-hearted, and he saves those who are crushed in spirit” — Ps. 34:18; Jesus did exist, lived a sinless life, and died on a Roman cross. The tomb is still empty. And, that changes everything.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick