The Old Rugged Cross

NOTE: I wrote this four months after finding my 19 year old son after he’d taken his own life…

The-Old-Rugged-Cross-By-MidoriEyes-On-DeviantArt

There have been moments these past months that I’ve wanted to give up on God.

I’m simply being honest.

As one who grew up in a violent, alcoholic home, I witnessed more violence as a child than I care to remember.

As a full-time pastor now for 30+ years, I’ve had, on occasion, the unfortunate opportunity to see the very ugly side of what some have otherwise called “Christianity.”

But those pale in comparison to the events of May 13th, 2013, when my world caved in around me.

In light of the pain we suffer on planet earth, what proof is there that there is a God? More than that, what proof is there that that God really loves me?

From their outstanding work, “Name Above All Names,” Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson write,

It is the cross alone that ultimately proves the love of God to us – not the circumstances of our lives.

We must not allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that if things are going well with us, Then we can be sure of God’s love. For life can often seem dark and painful. Things do not always go well for us.

Rather, we look to the sacrifice of the cross and the proof God gave there of His love. ‘God [demonstrated proof of] His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

This is the proof I need. This is the truth I need to hear. This dispels the lies of the enemy.”

This is the unstoppable, indefensible, indisputable love of God in Christ Jesus.

I love you, Nick

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.

The Dark Night of the Soul

54288

I thought this blog was excellent….

Whether you’ve been diagnosed as Clinically Depressed, or you simply wrestle from time to time with “normal” depression, you will find this article from Christianity Today to offer an encouraging perspective.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2015/february-online-only/3-truths-of-dark-night-of-soul.html?share=u9xFwK%2b5YSsaiQH%2bQlhPrc8Q3Vzxkokc

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

“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

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.

Robin Williams, Laughter, Depression & Suicide

I had no sooner posted some comments a few minutes ago on Facebook about “getting to know laughter again” following the suicide of my son a year ago, than social media began blowing up about the depression-prompted suicide of comedic giant/genius, Robin Williams.

I don’t have lengthy commentary to offer here. Only this: if you are like me (and my son), and you suffer from depression – GET HELP. See your doctor. See your counselor. Now. Help is readily available from people who have made it their life’s goal to help people like you and me and Robin Williams.

Finally, remember this: Medicine can “fix the brain,” but only the Holy Spirit can “renew the mind.” Find a church, a pastor, a Christian friend, who can help you focus on biblical truth (e.g. Christ loves you; your family & friends love you; suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem; etc.) THERE. IS. HOPE.

http://insidemovies.ew.com/2014/08/11/robin-williams-dead-at-63/

nw

How I Survived the Worst Day of My Life

I was approached a few weeks back and asked if I would write an article for the June edition of the Lubbock Metro Leader Newspaper. I went back and read the article after the magazine came in our mail. Honestly, there’s a part of me that still doesn’t believe any of it happened. Perhaps, that’s the Holy Spirit telling me just how alive Jordan is….I don’t know. It’s surreal. Anyway, everything I wrote, where the healing process is concerned, is, I’m finding, a lifetime of learning.

You can read the article here.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick