The Last Straw

Have you ever done something you believed was the “last straw” with God?  Have you ever felt like you’ve, finally – once and for all – ruined your life?

NOTE:  A follow-up to my message a couple of weeks ago about the Cross’s power over shame.

Tullian Tchividjian (last name is pronounced “shuh -VIJ-uhn) is the grandson of Billy Graham. (see pic of Tullian with his granddad)

Tullian pastored a large church in south Florida and was a rising star in the church world, reaching almost celebrity status. Handsome, a gifted speaker and author, and possessing an engaging personality, he forgot how quickly a man can stray off course and slowly fell into Satan’s trap. (“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12)

Over time, Tchividjian  grew more and more blind to the moral danger awaiting us all when pride tightens its grip, giving us a false sense of invincibility.  As a result, he, like so many before him, was easily lured by the enemy into moral failure.

In 2015, he was removed from his church after getting caught in an affair.

He lost his ministry and his marriage.

Below is something Tchividjian wrote not as the celebrity-status-pastor he once was, but as a broken man.  It is powerful.

*Tullian’s note begins here*:

In a season of sin and self-destruction back in 2015, I lost everything and hurt many people in the process. At 41 years old, I broke my life, I broke my family, and I broke the hearts of those who trusted me and looked to me for leadership.

Through heaving tears of sorrow and shame, regret and remorse, I sent this note to a friend of mine the night my granddad (Billy Graham) died two years ago today:

“Watching my grandfather’s life, it has hit me afresh just how selfish and arrogant I was, how much I squandered. And for what? FOR WHAT?? What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? Character matters. It does not gain us favor with God, but it does give us credibility with others so that we can deliver God’s favor to the world. I blew it. I’m undone.”

My friend responded with six words: “There was a man named David…”

I lost it.

My friend had the perfect words at just the right time. It was the powerful and comforting reminder I needed at that moment that God loves and uses people who fail because people who fail are all that there are. Maybe you need that reminder too.

Yes, “There was a man named David…” But even more powerful and comforting is the good news that there is a man named Jesus.

Unlike my grandfather, I soiled my record. Regardless of how I live my life from now until the day I die, my season of sinful self-destruction will always be remembered and talked about. The hurt I caused myself and countless others will linger in many hearts and cause some people to doubt me, disparage me, and distrust me for the rest of my days. I’ve accepted that my blemished reputation is here to stay. There is no going back.

But I believe that if Daddy Bill (Billy Graham) were still alive, he’d say something like this to me:

“Tullian, I may not be guilty externally of the same sins you are, but I assure you that my heart is no less sinful than yours. According to God’s standard of perfection, I’m a failure just like you. Your sin speak to what people saw. But the Gospel speaks to what only God sees. All of our records are stained with sin. But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus’ perfect record is ours by faith. When God looks at our account, He doesn’t see all of our nasty withdrawals. Rather, he sees all of Christ’s perfect deposits. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that because of Jesus, the sins we can’t forget, God chooses not to remember. So take heart failed one, before God the righteousness of Christ is all any of us need. Before God, the righteousness of Christ is all any of us have.”

That righteousness, that gift of God, speaks louder than any voice of accusation. I may have a blemished reputation, but not in the eyes of God. When my Father sees me—and when he sees you—he sees someone who looks just like Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God.


*Tullian’s note ends here*.

The idiom, “the last straw,” comes from the longer idiom, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Simply put, at some point the camel is going to break under a given amount of weight. It’s inevitable.

But, the sin of the entire world couldn’t break Jesus’ back. Not then. Not now.

Jesus is whispering to you, “I’ve got this. Trust me.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Do Prophets Still Exist? (The kind that can predict the future?)

FOX News recently published an article about pastor/author, Shawn Bolz, a self-proclaimed prophet as well as pastor of a church in Los Angeles, CA.

Bolz isn’t the first – nor will he be the last – modern day Christian to claim to have the spiritual gift of predictive prophecy.  I use the adjective predictive because the New Testament term for prophecy does not suggest modern day prophets function in this way of being able to predict the future.  (Read the FOX News article here.)

This begs the common question:  Do prophets still exist?  (The kind of prophets that can actually predict the future?”)

Good question.  Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says…

NOTE:  The question of whether or not there are modern-day predictive prophets is a debatable one as this doctrine is clearly subject to interpretation, some firmly believing the “miracles & sign gifts” are as viable today as they were prior to the completion of the canon of scripture.  And, in Bolz’ defense, I have never met him and am certain he is a wonderful and loving man.  My purpose here in this blog is solely to provide biblical context for the reader so that they may prayerfully and carefully consider the scriptures where this doctrine is concerned.

To get started, I agree with John MacArthur on this doctrine:

Like its Hebrew equivalent (nābā), the Greek [New Testament] verb (prophēteuō) behind prophecy simply means “to speak forth, to proclaim.” It assumes the speaker is before an audience, and could mean “to speak publicly.” The connotation of prediction was added sometime in the Middle Ages…

A [modern-day] prophet of God, therefore, is simply one who speaks forth God’s Word, and prophecy is the proclaiming of that Word. The gift of prophecy is the Spirit-given and Spirit-empowered ability to proclaim the Word effectively. Since the completion of Scripture, prophecy has no longer been the means of new revelation, but has only proclaimed what has already been revealed in Scripture.

The simplest and clearest definition of this function is given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:3, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”

I, personally, tend to hold to the conviction that the “miracles & signs gifts” served the purpose of providing apostolic authenticity i.e. God authenticated a particular chosen servant by giving him/her authority to perform miracles & signs.  (I always wonder why people claiming to have the spiritual gift of healing aren’t walking the halls of hospitals and nursing homes healing those people.) However, these types of gifts gradually decreased as the canon of Scripture – the full revelation of God to man – increased and came to completion.  Paul wrote,

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  1 Corinthians 13:8-10

“The perfect” is the Word of God.  The Bible.

The author of Hebrews adds,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 1:1-2

In other words, with the miraculous revelation of God’s Word we no longer are in need of these gifts to help us know what God is saying to us.

Of course, and I believe this strongly, this does not mean God can’t employ these gifts in modern day any time he chooses.  Occasionally, I read of – and believe – stories of miracles & signs taking place around the world.  But, this would be the exception, not the norm.

In the FOX News article, Bolz confesses his prophecies are not always true:

[Boltz] “said most of his prophecies come true. But he’s quick to admit he’s been wrong at times.  ‘I told one family a diagnosis of a family member who had cancer and told them I thought God was going to bring healing, and she died a few months later. I took responsibility.”

No doubt, Bolz was forced to come to grips with a well-known passage from Deuteronomy:

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously…”  Deuteronomy 18:22

God doesn’t make mistakes.  Ever.  If the spiritual gift of predictive prophecy was still in play it wouldn’t be hit & miss.  Rather, prophecies given in God’s name would be fail-safe, never being wrong.

Even in New Testament times, words from prophets were to be evaluated by the congregation:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.  (1 Corinthians 14:29)

Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.  (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)

God’s warns believers to be wise, never gullible.  As such, we must be careful never to swallow whole someone’s claim to be able to, in the name of God, predict the future without giving said prophecy careful biblical consideration.  To do so places us on dangerous ground, making room for crushing disappointment when the prophecy fails.

Whatever your conviction always be careful to weigh every word and action of another against the infallible Word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

When & How Do I Talk to my Child About the topic of Suicide?

After speaking in public schools on this topic I am often asked by students and parents a number of  questions I don’t have time to address in my presentation.  I thought I would offer brief answers to one of those questions here in 2 parts:

When and How Should I Talk to my Child About the topic of Suicide?

My Child Has a Friend Who is Suicidal?  What Do I Tell My Child?

 

When and How Should I Talk to my Child About the topic of Suicide?

When: The topic of suicide normally doesn’t arise unless a family member, friend or celebrity takes their life.  When Netflix premiered their monster hit, 13 Reasons Why, in March 2017, much of the U.S. was talking about the show’s primary subject: teen suicide.  (You can read my blog on 13 Reasons Why here.)  While some choose to take advantage of such opportunities to talk about this difficult and uncomfortable topic, others choose to leave it alone – usually because they simply don’t know what to say.

In regard to our children, there are those things we like to call “teachable moments.”  Should an event prompt this particular topic, it would most definitely qualify as one of those moments.

The days of considering suicide a taboo topic are long gone.  Even the mainstream media has begun giving it quite a bit of press.  And for good reason.  From a 2016 article in the Houston Chronicle:

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for people ages 10 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control‘s data from 2014, and is the 10th leading cause of death overall.

And from the New York Times:

“Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found…”

How:  To borrow a slogan from Nike, just do it.  I tell students at every assembly, “We parents are deeply flawed.  We’re just ‘old teenagers.’  Just like you, we laugh and we cry; we have good days, and bad days.  Sometimes we mess up.  Sometimes we get things flat wrong.  But, no one on planet earth loves you more than your parents.” 

My point is this: as a parent, you don’t need a degree in psychology or counseling to talk to your child about suicide.  Just talk to them.  If they refuse to talk about it, this is a clear sign that they desperately need to talk about it.  (Refusing to talk is different than your child saying something to effect of, “I’m so hurt and confused.  I need a couple of days to process this.  Can we talk then?”Never force the conversation, but don’t sweep it under the proverbial rug either.

The suicide of a loved one or friend leaves us with endless questions.  A student approached me following one of my talks.  They said, “My friend took his life.  I was told if you commit suicide you go to hell.  Is that true?”  (I address that question at length here.)

Amidst all the questions regarding suicide, a cornerstone of truth I learned at one of the conferences I’ve attended on suicide intervention is this:

99% of those who attempt suicide don’t want to die – they just want the pain to stop.

No one enjoys talking about suicide (including me.)  But, should an event bring the topic into the public square, take advantage of it.

 

My Child Has a Friend Who is Suicidal?  What Do I Tell My Child?

Because my own son took his life, I counsel people to always err on the side of caution when suspicious of a friend or family member being suicidal.  In other words, intervene immediately.   If you intervene and you’re wrong, at least they will forever know you cared enough to check on them.  If you don’t intervene, and you were right, you might well be soon attending a funeral.

I tell students in no uncertain terms, “Should you suspect a friend of yours of being suicidal, talk to them immediately.  Then tell them, ‘We’re going right now to talk to an adult (if at school, the counselor who will, in turn, notify the parents; if off campus, the parents; if the relationship between the student-at-risk and their parent is estranged, take them to the nearest adult whether that be a school counselor, teacher, coach, youth pastor, etc.).

Mental health professionals agree that communication is a key to helping “talk a suicidal person off the edge of the cliff.”  The Houston Chronicle – written due to a cluster of teen suicides – asserts:

The key to managing grief, mental illness and suicidal thoughts is communication. Often times, those who are struggling tend to isolate instead of communicate… Through it all, communication is key to breaking out of the cycle of hopelessness and connecting to a support system. Sometimes, [the person at risk is] at a place where they can’t communicate.  It’s then we must be their voice.

Regarding the quote immediately above – rather than “sometimes,” I would offer that “most times” the person-at-risk can’t communicate what’s going on – at least this would apply to the vast majority.  Simply put, they are unable.  Since they’re brain is “broken”, unable to connect with logic, the ability to intelligently articulate their crippling pain is out of cognitive reach.  Gradually losing all sense of reality, the individual begins to believe lies common to those considering taking their own life i.e. “my family won’t have to worry about me anymore, ” “the world will be better without me/I don’t matter,” “I’m a burden to everyone,” “the pain is too much to bear,” “there is no hope, no help,” etc.

If you’re reading this – and are presently suicidal – understand that the statements cited immediately above are complete and total lies.  You are loved.  You do matter.  Your family and friends love you and would be devastated at your loss.  The familiar axiom is: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  While your pain may seem to you beyond help, know that there is most certainly help and hope.  Should you not want to speak with a family member or friend, please call the Suicide Hotline at: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Lastly, a child who has a friend they suspect of being suicidal may feel like they will be betraying their friend’s trust should they tell an adult; or, that it’s their responsibility to carry their friend through this crisis.  This is nonsense.  As a parent, tell them, “It is not your job or responsibility to carry a burden of this nature and weight on your own.  There are professionals who’ve gone to school and worked all their life for the sole purpose of helping hurting people just like your friend.”  Again, always err on the side of caution.

I encourage students, “Your friend may at first be very upset, even angry, with you for telling an adult.  Let them be angry.  You may well be saving their life, and saving their family from unspeakable grief.”

 

His Mercies Are New Every Morning – however…

“His mercies (tender compassions) never fail – they are new (infinite; inexhaustible) every morning…”

Let this promise from God sink into your weary soul. Drink it in.

But know this important principle: as my family learned from a dear friend after my son walked into Paradise, we have to “pick up/claim” those mercies every morning. Every afternoon. Every evening.

I heard a preacher decades ago teach of how we, as Christians, possess all of Christ, meaning every bit of his mercy, power, love, peace and strength dwells within us this very moment, and is available for us to draw from.

The problem, he continued, is that we commonly forget to “possess our possessions.” In other words, although we possess the power of Christ, most of the time His power within us, due to fear or discouragement, goes unused simply because we forget to apply it to our lives.  (And Satan would love to keep it that way.)

The Lord’s mercies are new every morning. Pick those mercies up. Possess your possessions.

Love you, nw

Learning to Pray

Even Jesus’ own disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

For years in working with students I would find myself listening to a teen yearn to learn to pray. We would pray together but I would also encourage them to read the prayers recorded for us by others over the centuries.

I would encourage them to read the prayers of scripture – Jesus’ prayer in John 17, the prayer of Nehemiah in chapter 9 (which is the longest prayer recorded in scripture), Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9, and, of course, the biblical book of Psalms which is a collection of 150 raw, honest prayers.

Excerpts from yet another wonderful collection of raw, celebratory and desperate prayers are below.

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers, and a well-worn book in my library.

The Puritan Movement was mostly during the 16th & 17th centuries. As with any “religiosity” the corrupt heart of mankind can twist God’s Word to mean what they want it to mean – hence, the Salem Witch Trials that took place during the Puritan era.

However, although the wicked events claim most of the press, many Puritans were just like us: broken people trying to navigate this sometimes painful and confusing thing we call life.

The prayers in the book mentioned above, and cited below, represent those broken people.

Enjoy and be inspired. Much love, Nick

“O incomprehensible but prayer-hearing God,

I thank you for the riches to me in Jesus – for the unclouded revelation of him in your Word where I behold his person, character, grace, glory, humiliation, sufferings, death and resurrection.

I come to you with nothing of my own to offer – no works, nothing of worth, no promises. Just me.

Deliver me from the natural darkness of my own mind, from the corruptions of my heart, from the temptations to which I am exposed, from the daily snares that attend me.

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference between what I receive and what I deserve – the heaven I am bound for, the hell I deserve.

O God, it is amazing that we can talk so much about our mere human power and goodness when, if you did not hold us back at every moment, we would be devils incarnate.

Nothing exceeds your power. Your might is infinite, your grace limitless, your name glorious.

Let angels sing for sinners repenting, for prodigals restored, for Satan’s captives released, for blind eyes opened, for broken hearts healed, for giving us hope in a sometimes hopeless world.

Destroy in me every lofty thought. Break my pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds.

Let my words and actions be firmly rooted in your Word.

I ask great things of a great God.

Amen”

What to Say to a Person Considering Suicide

Here’s the scenario…

You have good reason to believe (or, at least, strongly suspect) a friend or loved one is considering taking their own life.

First of all, should you say anything?  YES.  Always err on the side of caution.  If you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing.  But, if you’re right – you’ve just might have saved a life.

So, what can I say that may help them choose to live?

Finding my own son’s body on May 13, 2013, after he’d taken his own life, changed everything, as you can imagine.  He was 19.

When I finally began recovering psychologically I had a decision to make.  I could choose to live in despair the rest of my life, or I could muster the mental and emotional strength I had left and choose to help others choose to live.

My family and I chose the latter.

One of the workshops I attended to begin equipping myself to help suicidal people was sponsored by ASIST, an acronym for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills & Training.

The following questions were taught to us to ask a person we suspect is in immediate risk of harming themselves.

NOTE:  These questions must be asked gently, tenderly, free of any tone of guilt, shame or condemnation.  A condescending tone, alone, could serve as the final “poke in the chest” sending someone over the proverbial edge of the cliff.  A person considering suicide is operating with a brain that is, in some part, broken.  The last thing they need is to be looked upon pitifully or judgmentally.

Question No. 1:

“Are you considering taking your life?”

At first glance, this question may seem odd to ask.  But, chances are high that the person considering suicide has never admitted this out loud.  To actually hear themselves admit they are considering taking their own life may well serve as a warning siren going off in their head helping jolt them back into some sense of reality.

Should they shrug their shoulders, or say “I don’t know,” you simply reply with, “I’m not comfortable with that answer.  I’m not leaving until I know you’re ok.”

Question No. 2:

“Why do you want to die?”

NOTE: Ninety-nine percent of those who attempt to take their life don’t want to die; they just want the pain to stop.

Again, by asking this question, you are gently and tenderly validating their pain which is so crushingly severe it has brought them to a place dark enough to prompt them to the point of considering taking their own life.

This is huge:  while they are sharing reasons for which they want to die, you are listening to reasons for why they want to live.

For example:  often, a person experiencing this level of pain will reply with something like, “I am tired of being a burden to my family.”  This tells us they deeply love their family.  Or, “I am a failure at work, or school.”  This tells us they are suffering from crushingly low self-worth, or feeling void of purpose in life.

Question No. 3:

“What I’m hearing you say is that part of you wants to die.  But I’m also hearing you say part of you wants to live.  Could I be right? So we need to protect the part of you that wants to live.”

Note the latter part of this question: “So we need to protect the part of you that wants to live.”

By saying “we” you are making certain they know they are not alone.  By helping them come to grips with that part of them “wanting to live” you are giving them hope by helping them reconnect with the logical part of their brain.

More food-for-thought:

We commonly say to people who are hurting:

“If you need anything, just let me know.”

A better response: 

“I can see you’re struggling.  I’m here for you.  Can we get through this together?”

One last thing…

I am attaching here a short clip (less than 3 minutes) that I show at the close of my public talks.  It’s from the 1998 film, Patch Adams, based on the true story of physician, Hunter “Patch” Adams.  Patch, played by Robin Williams, has checked himself into a Psychiatric Ward.  During the day, everyone is free to roam around the Day Room where there is a television and opportunities to play games and visit with one another.  One patient, Arthur, angrily approaches one person after another putting his hand in their face with four fingers showing, and asks, “How many fingers do you see?”  Of course, they all reply “four”.  He retorts, “No!” and storms off.  Finally one night, Patch (Williams) visits Arthur’s room to attempt to find the answer to Arthur’s question.  Watch the clip here and I will offer insight I draw from the clip.

When a person is considering taking their life all they can see is despair, depression, shame and hopelessness.  Our goal is to help them “see beyond the fingers” and see what is true:  they are a treasure of infinite worth & value; there is hope; there is help available in abundance; their loss would be devastating; and they are loved beyond comprehension.

For Narnia, Nick

 

 

The 23rd Psalm

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Commenting on the 23rd Psalm, the famed 19th century British pastor, Charles Spurgeon, wrote:

“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.” – The Treasury of David: Classic Reflections on the Wisdom of the Psalms

***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.”