It’s Okay to be Afraid

There’s a reason the Psalms are my favorite book in all the Bible: they help me to know the “heroes of the faith” were no different than I am/we are because what they run the gamut of human emotion.

You’ll find both praise of God as well as anger at him. Faith and doubt. Joy and pain. Thanksgiving and loneliness. Loving prayer for others as well as a desire to see them dead.

The psalms are raw and real. More importantly, they are prayers. As such, they give us “permission” as Christians to tell God exactly how we feel.

And God can handle everything we throw at him. 

Moreover, he wants us to tell him how we feel.  He wants us to bring our darkest doubts and fears to him so he can help us receive wisdom, courage and peace.

David, who wrote at least 73 of the 150 psalms, was a fierce warrior, but also as ‘human’ as you and me. In Psalm 56 he is terrified.

Vss 3 & 8 of this psalm are familiar to the general mainstream:

Vs 3: When I am afraid I will trust in you.

Vs 8: You have kept record of all of my tears – every last one.

The meta-narrative of the psalm is this:  Jesus is whispering, “I’ve got this.  Trust me.”

It’s easy to focus on how big our fears are.  What can be hard to remember is that God is infinitely bigger.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Knowing Why You Believe What You Believe

When I began honestly investigating reasons for the Christian faith it changed everything.

My faith, over time, became my own.

No longer was my answer for being a Christian, “The preacher said it’s true,” or “Grandma said it’s true.”

It’s ok – very ok – to doubt your faith. John the Baptist, according to Jesus’ own words, was the greatest prophet to ever live. Yet, John, in prison and about to be beheaded for his faith, doubted if Jesus was really the Christ.

Thomas, the eye-witness and close disciple of Jesus, wanted hard proof before he was going to believe something so outlandish as Jesus rising from the dead.

Finally, even as people were watching Jesus ascend to heaven after his resurrection, Mathew records, “some of them doubted.”

Doubt is a parasite of faith.

What’s critical is that we address our doubt rather than accommodate it.

Should someone ask us why we believe what we believe, we are biblically obligated to “give a reasoned, logical defense for our faith.”

I am a pathetically flawed teacher and pastor – one I would encourage no one to emulate.

That said, apparently every now and then I make some sort of sense. Case in point, below are a few comments I received from teens after I led a series of sessions on why the Christian faith is an intelligent, defensible, rational faith.

Here’s what they said:

“Thanks for showing me a way to help my doubting friend.”

“This helped me understand all the possible ways to prove to somebody that God exists.”

“This strengthened my faith in God.”

“This made a huge impact on my own faith.”

“This explains truth.”

“I have learned so much and that Christianity is really true.”

“I’m not sure how to describe it, but my confidence and motivation to share my faith got a shot in the arm this weekend.”

When I think about those teens, and their thirst for understanding their Christian faith, I think of one of my professors during my grad work in Chrisitan Apologetics. Brilliant, articulate, and highly educated – Nancy Pearcey describes herself as a “leaver” of the Christian faith as a teenager.

In a 2010 editorial, Pearcey wrote,

“I became a leaver myself at age sixteen. I was not rebellious. Nor was I trying to construct a moral smokescreen for bad choices. I was simply asking, ‘How do I know Christianity is true?’ None of the adults I consulted offered any answers.”

Ouch.

Young Christians are counting on us to be able to engage in intelligent dialogue where the Christian faith is concerned.

Let’s not fail them.

Let’s fall in love with our Bibles again. Let’s take the time to work through the hard questions of our faith. Let’s teach Christians to be thinkers, and thinkers to be Christians.

Love to you all, Nick

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”