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.)