A Prayer in the Face of Christ’s Return

The Bible is either true in it’s entirety, or it’s a lie in it’s entirety.

On doctrine taught by the Bible is the Second Coming of Christ. Three times in the final chapter of the Bible Jesus, in essence, says, “I’m on my way.” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20)

For those who have professed their faith in him that day will be what Paul describes as Christ’s “glorious appearing.”

For those who’ve chosen to reject faith in Christ that day will be the beginning of an eternal nightmare.

I’ve been reading centuries-old prayers of long-gone Christians. About that day when Christ returns, one Puritan preacher prayed:

“That day is no horror to me,
for your death has redeemed me,
your Spirit fills me,
your love animates me,
your Word governs me.”

“This corruptible will put on incorruption,
this mortal, immortality,
this natural body, a spiritual body,
this dishonored body, a glorious body,
this weak body, a body of power.”

If you are unable to pray these words with confidence, please consider honestly investigating the claims of Christ.  His love for you is overwhelming.

Maranatha, Nick

Tell Me About Your Jesus

I posted on social media recently a question to others who’ve professed their faith in Christ.

If someone said to you, “Tell me about your Jesus,” how would you respond?

There were some good online dialogue.

Then one friend commented, “Nick, how would you respond?”

Hopefully, the “nuts & bolts” below will help bring confidence to so many of us who are timid about sharing our faith.  It can be fairly terrifying.  (Satan will make certain of it.) But, nothing will more infuse your soul with supernatural adrenaline than telling someone about Jesus.

Below is my reply:

With a statement as powerful as “Tell me about your Jesus,” I, personally, would be careful to ask questions often to better understand if I am going in the right direction. The answers offered to my questions would help me understand the person’s present worldview (atheistic, agnostic, seeker, works-based religion, mysticism, etc.)

Understanding a person’s worldview helps tremendously.  Author and defender of the Christian faith, Gregory Koukl, in his book, The Story of Reality, proposes that every worldview attempts, at some point, to answer four basic questions: (1) Where did we come from? (2) What went wrong? i.e. why is the world a mess, (3) What is the solution to this mess?, and (4) How does it end for us?

By far, the Bible does the best job of answering all four of these questions.

1. I would most likely begin with making certain they understand that the Jesus of history truly existed and that the vast majority of historians (Christian & non-Christian) agree on four basic tenets about Christ: (1) Jesus certainly existed – even UNC New Testament professor, Bart Ehrman, who describes himself as “agnostic with atheistic leanings” states that Jesus “certainly existed”, (2) he was executed by crucifixion by the Romans, (3) he was buried in a borrowed grave, and (4) on Sunday the tomb was empty. Of course, it’s point No. 4 where the debate begins – “why was the tomb empty?”

2. Then, I would do my best to explain the simple gospel story (“gospel” means “good news”). I would let them know that God gifted us with not one – but four – perspectives of the life of Jesus: the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. Together, the four stories provide a rich and powerful story of love and hope through the man, Christ Jesus. I would then provide various scriptures from those stories about the love of God given to us in his Son.

3. It’s important to allow the person to stop us any time they desire and ask questions. Also, should the questions come across as dismissive about the Bible, try not to come across defensive. Jesus not only encountered the same responses, he seemed to welcomed them as it gave way to healthy dialogue.  Search the gospels and you will discover it is full of people who strongly questioned Jesus’ claims. Even Jesus’ own family, early on, thought he was a nut case. So, should your friend have objections simply reply with something like, “That’s actually a great point. And a lot of people feel that way. (Pilate looked at Jesus and asked, “What is truth?”) Could I try and bring some clarity to your question from the Bible?” Or, if you have no clue how to answer their question simply reply, “That’s a wonderful question. Would you mind if i do some research and get back to you on what i find?”  It is critical to always be kind and respectful. 

4. Most of all, our ability to share our faith depends on prayer and study of the scriptures as it defends on nothing else. One can have the New Testament memorized (Satan does), but if that person is not allowing the Holy Spirit to fill and control them they will be of little use to impact the kingdom. And the old saying is true: people don’t care how much we know until they know how much they care. Per that last statement, make certain they can tell you’re simply discussing the answer to their query and not attempting for force the Christian faith on them (Jesus never imposed himself or his message on a single person.)

5. Also, never worry about an initial conversation turning out to be “part one” of an ongoing conversation. I had a “part one” conversation just a couple of weeks ago with a person seeking truth. Only God can change a heart. We are merely the messenger.

Sometimes, people are more philosophical and have many great (and hard) questions. And, then there are times when the Holy Spirit will use the most simple of responses to the statement, “Tell me about your Jesus,” to convict a listener’s heart. Such an account is recorded in Acts 16 when the Philippian jailer asked Paul & Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It appears that was enough for the jailer – as well as his entire family.

6. Finally, I like to inform people with whom I’m visiting that the Christian faith is nothing close to the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx once described religion. Nor is it an emotional crutch or a fairy tale, as some derisively call it. Quite the contrary, it is a rational, intelligent faith – a faith God actually encourages people to test and examine. The Bible is based on actual history – history that can be fact-checked. The gospels, according to historians, seem to fit best in the category of ancient Greco-Roman biography and, when scrutinized and weighed against the same criteria as other ancient literature, prove to be overwhelmingly reliable. The Homeric Epics come nowhere close to manuscript evidence of the New Testament, and no one questions their validity. Further, scholars, scientists and academics from the likes of Yale, MIT, Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth, Stanford, UC-Irvine, Notre Dame, Cambridge and Oxford, just to name a few of the myriad of scholars, have placed their faith in the risen Christ.

The first verses I learned when being taught to share the gospel are commonly referred to as The Roman Road.  Simple and brief, I would encourage you to have them highlighted in your Bible and, even better, memorized. They are:

Romans 3:23 – If the Bible is indeed true, we have a serious, life-impacting problem: we are separated from God because of our sin.

Romans  6:23 – A bad news/good news verse.  There is a horrific consequence for this problem.  And there is also a solution: the “free” gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus. This “gift” had to be provided because of the first part of this verse: sin has a inviolable consequence: death.  Because of human sin, someone had to die.

Romans  5:8  –  The gift is free to us, but it was not truly “free” for it cost God the life of his Son.  Jesus died in our place, absorbing all the wrath of God on himself – for our sin. Why did Jesus do this?  Because of his boundless love for us.

Romans 10:9-10 – How do we accept this gift?  A gift can’t be earned by human effort; it is, by faith, accepted by a willing and believing heart.  So, when we agree with God that our sin has separated us from him and that he has provided for us a saving solution through the sacrifice and resurrection of his Son, the Bible says, “you will be saved.”  Saved from what?  The Bible calls it the second death (following physical death), or hell.  Further, those who profess faith in the risen Christ are made righteous in the sight of God – in right standing before God.  This means that a holy, terrifying Judge no longer sees us in our sin, but as he intended for us to be.  In short, he sees in us the righteousness, purity and holiness of his Son imputed to us through faith.

Hope this helps. Much love, Nick

This Is What’s On My Mind…

When I open my Facebook app there is a space at the top where I can post something. In that space is the question, “What’s on your mind?”

My friends, on my mind is my desire to visit with skeptics and non-believers about the Christian faith.

The musician who had the greatest life-impact on me growing up was a hippy piano-player named Keith Green. Raised in Southern California, he spent most of his younger days playing gigs on Sunset Strip before coming to faith in Christ as an adult.

In his biography he wrote,

[Before professing my faith in Christ], “The thing that kept me from Christ was Christians.” I couldn’t agree more. We often are horrible representations of Christ.

That’s why my conversation with anyone interested will center not around Christians, but on Christ. Who was this man? Is there solid evidence for his existence? His miracles? His death and resurrection?  Is there evidence to support his outlandish claims?

And what about the hard questions of life here on planet earth? The problem of pain, “How could a good and loving God possibly allow such evil and pain?”, is the No. 1 argument for atheism. And for good reason. I lost my dad to alcoholism, my sister to drug abuse, and my son to suicide. I know pain on this earth. And my heart breaks for those who are hurting. So I have no problem discussing this painfully difficult question.

And, then there’s the Bible. Didn’t the medieval church tamper with the text? Isn’t it full of contradictions and hokey stories? If you wish, we can talk about that as well.

Many people tend to think that professing faith in Christ means we have to somehow “measure up” and begin living a form of a perfect life. That’s a lie. It’s precisely because we can’t measure up or live a perfect life that God sent a Savior. We profess faith in *his* perfect life. And somehow Christ’s perfection and right standing before a holy, terrifying God is imputed to us putting us in right standing before God. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21) I love the phrase, “I love Jesus but I cuss a little.” Bottom line, we’re all a mess. But, in Christ, we’re a perfect mess.

My friends, the Bible – which I believe, after careful scrutiny and investigation, to be true – says a Day is coming when Christ busts the sky open and returns to this fallen, corrupt earth to turn everything right-side-up again.  (cf. Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).  What will matter at that moment is the condition of our soul. John, the disciple and eye-witness of Jesus, warned,

“And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

The former atheist, C.S. Lewis, said,

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance; if true, of infinite importance; but the one thing it can never be is of moderate importance.”

If you are interested in having friendly, intelligent dialogue about the Christian faith please look me up on Facebook and PM (private message) me. This allows us time and “peace and quiet” to talk as long as we want.

Oh, last thing – you will receive absolutely no pressure from me to change your mind, repent or “get saved.” That’s a very personal decision between you and Christ (should you come to believe in him.) Nor will you encounter any disrespect, or judgmental, pharisaical attitude. (Obviously, I expect the same in return.). Christ never treated people that way and neither will I. My role will simply be to, hopefully, provide some food-for-thought based on what I strongly believe to be true.

And…, we can end up agreeing to disagree. Jesus always allowed people to believe what they preferred to believe. I won’t be any different.

The most powerful force in existence is the life-changing, liberating love of Christ. (cf. Romans 8: 38-39)

Wanna talk? PM me. 🙂) – I may not be able to reply immediately. But, I promise, I will as soon as possible.

The Lord’s love for you is beyond comprehension.

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Love to you all, Nick

A Special Note from Lee Strobel (Author of “The Case for Christ”)

We are facing a crisis in America. Skepticism is rising. Too many young people are leaving the faith. Few Christians are able to effectively share Jesus with others. At many churches, reaching spiritually lost people falls to the bottom of their priorities.

This is a crisis we need to confront — urgently!

In my recent “Investigating Faith” newsletter, I said there was a big announcement coming. Well, here it is: we are forming the Center for American Evangelism at Houston Baptist University. Along with my long-time colleagues Mark Mittelberg and Garry Poole, and under the leadership of HBU President Dr. Robert B. Sloan, Jr., we’re launching an exciting new initiative to address these challenges.

Our mission is to bring leadership, vision, innovation, and training to students, pastors, church leaders, and congregations throughout our nation, to help us all regain our focus and passion for fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).

We will accomplish this through numerous strategic efforts: forums for pastors; classes for students; conferences and seminars for church leaders; simulcasts to churches; newsletters and social media; and new curricula that will bring fresh vision and training to Christians and churches all over America.

Said international evangelist Luis Palau:

“I am thrilled to hear about the Center for American Evangelism being launched at HBU, and I wholeheartedly support its leaders — Lee Strobel, Mark Mittelberg, and Garry Poole. They love the Lord, they’re passionate about reaching people for Him, and they are strategic in helping others do the same. I’m confident God will use this new venture in great ways!”

Thank you for your prayers. I’ll keep you posted as the Center develops!

Lee Strobel
Author of The Case for Christ and Professor of Christian Thought at HBU

P.S. Jesus said in Matthew 9, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Thanks for your help in launching this ministry and equipping more workers to reach people for Chris

God Isn’t Dead in Gotham

God Isn’t Dead in Gotham:  Thousands pack the services of the evangelical Redeemer Presbyterian Church, most of them single and under 35.

By Kate Bachelder, Wall Street Journal
New York
12.21.14

‘Cheer up, you’re worse than you think,” Rev. Timothy Keller says with a smile. He’s explaining that humans are more weak, more fallen, more warped than they “ever dare admit or even believe.”

Then comes the good news: At the same time people are “more loved in Christ and more accepted than they could ever imagine or hope.”

Do you know many New Yorkers who believe that? Perhaps not, but on Sundays some 5,500 city folk file into the church Mr. Keller founded 25 years ago, Redeemer Presbyterian, at eight packed services across three Manhattan locations, the Greenwich Village campus of which I attend on Sundays. The service is traditional, the congregation less so: Most who show up, if you can believe it, are single and under 35, whether bankers, lawyers, actors or artists.

Mr. Keller has a growing national following and is often described as a Christian intellectual who takes on the likes of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud in a sermon rooted in a specific Biblical text. He’ll sprinkle in references from popular culture—something about contentment he read in the Atlantic, a poignant passage from “Lord of the Rings.” His fruitful work has multiplied. Redeemer efforts have helped plant more than 300 churches in 45 cities, from Santiago to Dubai.

I met the 64-year-old Mr. Keller this week at the church’s offices in midtown Manhattan. He’s at least six-feet tall, bespectacled and I don’t have a chance to notice much else before I realize he’s asking me questions. We sit down in his office to discuss how he’s revived Christian orthodoxy in the naked city and how he sees religion changing in the modern world.

“Everyone has a God, everyone has a way of salvation, we just don’t use the term,” he says. “St. Augustine would say: What makes you what you really are is what you love the most.” Mr. Keller adds that he likes “to show secular people that they’re not quite as unreligious as they think. They’re putting their hopes in something, and they’re living for it.” For ambitious, driven New Yorkers, it’s often a career, he says. “I try to tell people: The only reason you’re laying yourself out like this is because you’re not really just working. This is very much your religion.”

If there’s no God, he says in sermons, then everything you do at work will be forgotten, and nothing you can do in your career will earn lasting significance. But if Christianity is true, then “every good endeavor,” he likes to say, no matter how small, “can matter forever.” One tough part for people, he says, is coming under “God’s authority,” because “you have to find your identity in Christ, and not in just fulling yourself,” That “completely collides with what the culture is telling people.”

The skeptics in his audience—about 15% of the people in the audience, he estimates, tell the church they aren’t sure what they believe about Christianity—are often “attracted to the idea of sacrificial love,” he says. But he says his preaching can also bother people, and Mr. Keller’s Dec. 7 sermon offers one example. He preached on a passage in Matthew, when Joseph learns that his wife-to-be Mary is pregnant with Jesus. Christianity, he says, will never be “a” good religion among many good religions, one that works for some and doesn’t work for others.

“Every other religion has a founder that says: ‘I’ll show you the way to God. Only Christianity of all the major world religions has a founder that says: ‘I’m God, come to find you.’ If that’s right, he has to be the superior way to find God.” If it’s wrong, he says, “then it’s an inferior religion.” Not a lot of wiggle room there, even on Christmas.

One of Mr. Keller’s golden rules is: Use plain English. “Evangelicalism has developed a very sentimental vocabulary,” he says, pointing to an overuse of the word “blessing” and other “tribe” lingo. He says of prayer: “When I pray, I think people who don’t believe say: If I did believe, I could pray like that.” That is important when converting people in New York City, where Mr. Keller says he hopes to break down stereotypes that highly religious people aren’t intellectuals.

Mr. Keller looks less like a pastor than a professor, and in an earlier life he was one. In the mid-1980s he taught theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pa., working part time for the church-planting arm of Presbyterian Church in America, a conservative presbyterian denomination.

The organization’s then-director asked Mr. Keller in 1986 if he would be interested in starting a church in Manhattan. He said no. He thought it too soon to leave his teaching job. He’d go to New York, he said, to do some networking and field work to help secure the right minister.

Every plausible candidate fell through, and so he packed up his young family—wife Kathy and three sons under 11—and moved to New York in 1989. Everyone from family to fellow ministers thought he was crazy. “Churches die in Manhattan,” he was told.

Often he was asked by fellow Christians: Are you sure you’re called to this? His answer: “I have no idea.” His uncertainty rattled people he knew, but it is part of what he teaches: God is “not under any obligation to make me succeed.”

By any standard he has succeeded. Redeemer held its first official morning worship service on Sept. 24, 1989 in a rented Seventh-Day Adventist church. It took off: 200 congregants after a year, 700 after two years and 1,200 after three. About a third of the early attendees, Mr. Keller says, did not attend church at all before finding Redeemer.

They wandered in with friends or heard through word-of-mouth. The church doesn’t advertise. Mr. Keller calls it “an impersonal way to bring someone to church.” With a friend, he says, “the person is processing what’s happening in the church in a relationship, rather than simply being a consumer who says: If I like this, and I like this, then I’ll come back.” He resisted getting a website until a former official at the Federal Communications Commission who attended the church convinced him to purchase the domain name “redeemer.com” before someone else snapped it up.

About 2,900 people attended Redeemer on the Sunday before Sept. 11, 2001. The Sunday after? 5,700. The church had begun to meet in an auditorium owned by Hunter College on the Upper East Side that seated about 2,000. The lobby was teeming with people, the place so overwhelmed that Mr. Keller announced on the spot that there would be a spontaneous second service for anyone who came back in two hours. About 800 people returned.

Churches all over Manhattan were packed then, he says, but “here’s what was interesting to me: Every other church I know—because I checked it out—over about another month, slowly the numbers went down to where they were before,” he says. “Redeemer never went back under 3,700 people.”

Then there was the 2008 financial crisis, when the urban professionals who make up Mr. Keller’s church learned through experience that wealth can be fleeting. Did the crash create a spiritual crisis? “If you’re trying to win people to Christ, if you’re trying to say this world is not enough and you need faith—I hate to say it, recessions are wonderful times for that message to fall on more open people.” He adds: “I wish the number of conversions and Christian growth would go along with prosperity and giving—but they usually don’t.”

Redeemer’s success puts a dent in the narrative that organized religion is on the way out. “Religion is not in decline so much as inherited religion is in decline—religion that you’re born into. So if you’re Swedish, you’re Lutheran, If you’re Polish, you’re Catholic. If you’re Scottish, you’re Presbyterian. If you’re American,” Mr. Keller adds, “You go to the church of your choice; that’s what it means to be an American.” He notes that “evangelicalism fits that quite nicely,” in part because it’s a religion of conversion—of choice.

Mr. Keller talks about a few problems for evangelicals, and one of them is politics. “A significant percentage of evangelical churches have been too aligned with certain political movements,” he says. He doesn’t go into detail, but it’s no secret that white evangelicals in the Bible Belt tend to vote with the GOP. Almost 50% of non-Hispanic evangelicals told Pew Research in 2012 that they’re Republicans, up from 43% as recently as 2009. In this sense Redeemer is unusual: The congregation splits about 50-50 for both parties in the straw polls the church has conducted, Mr. Keller says.

He can’t always avoid the intersection of religion and politics, however. A couple of Sundays ago a man stood up mid-sermon and asked Mr. Keller to address racial tensions amid recent grand-jury decisions not to indict police officers in Missouri and New York. He tried to defuse the situation by saying he doesn’t preach on political current events because you “can’t read out of the Bible a simple answer to these issues.” The man asked again.

Mr. Keller remembers how he replied: “Let me tell you what I think the Gospel does to people in power, to people with resources: It humbles them. It tells them to listen to people without. But here’s what the Gospel says to people who do not have resources and might be tempted to be bitter and angry: It tells them to forgive.” The man said thank you and sat back down.

He’s cheerful, but the way Mr. Keller describes his own efforts proves what he preaches about the emptiness of seemingly fulfilled ambitions. He admits readily that he can get discouraged, with more ideas and less time. “I very often feel like I’m barely getting a leaf out, in spite of the fact that Redeemer is vastly more successful than I ever thought it would be,” he says.

“Barely getting a leaf out” is a reference to a short story by J.R.R. Tolkien about a painter named Niggle who spent his whole life trying to paint “a tree, a beautiful tree, and behind it snowcapped mountains, and forest marching off,” Mr. Keller says. When Niggle dies, he’s only finished painting one leaf. “He’s going into the afterlife, and he sees something off in the distance and jumps off the train, runs to the top and there’s the tree, his tree, that he had always felt.”

What Tolkien is getting across, Mr. Keller says, “is that we have a vision for justice, a vision for beauty—and as artists, lawyers and city planners, in this life we can only ever get out as much as a leaf, but we are actually being inspired by some vision that God’s going to make it a reality.”

“What you’re working on, and what you’re hoping to get, in the resurrection, in Christ, you will get. But you need to be willing to live with the reality that in this life you’re probably only going to get a couple of leaves out.”

Ms. Bachelder is an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal.

All He Did Was Invite Me to Church

For 30 years, I’ve been sharing my story with teenagers of how “a boy who grew up in a violent, alcoholic home wound up serving the Lord in full-time, vocational ministry.” The story always includes the following:

1. A friend of mine invited me to go to church with him.
2. The people at his church were the most loving people I’d ever met. That church was the embodiment of love. I wanted to live there.
3. After watching how much hope, truth, and purpose Christ was giving to me and everyone around me, I told my Youth Pastor (Jim Hardwicke) I felt like God was calling me to surrender my life to Him in ministry – whatever that may look like.
4. On July 15, 1980, at Youth Camp, I surrendered my life to the gospel ministry. My Music Pastor (Bob Griffin) told me, “Nick, if you can be happy doing anything else, God’s not called you.”
5. I can honestly say, even after 30 years, I don’t believe I could be truly happy doing anything else.

That entire story began with an invitation from a friend who loved me enough to invite me to go to church with him. That friend, who lived directly across the street from me, was Curtis Simpson. I mention his name every single time I tell this story because Jesus started this story by using the simple, loving invitation of Curtis. I always finish my story by telling students, “You never know the impact a simple invitation to church may have on a person. For me – it set in motion a lifetime of adventure with the risen Christ.”

I haven’t seen Curtis since 2000. This afternoon, guess who dropped by to see me. The mountain of a man in the photo here is my friend & brother, Curtis Simpson. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for inviting me to go to church with him.  nw

curt & nick