Joy vs. Happiness

Happiness is rooted in circumstances.  Joy, on the other hand, is rooted in biblical truth – regardless of our circumstances.

This is precisely why, incarcerated for his faith, Paul, while still languishing in prison, could write, Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

Make no mistake: the type of joy Paul writes of here is not a paper-thin, over-the-top, emotional celebration.

Biblical joy runs deep.  Deeper than our most acute pain.

Germany.  Christmas, 1942…

During the Christmas season of 1942, the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote the statement below while under severe persecution for his Christian faith. Two and a half years after this quote was penned, Bonhoeffer was executed by Hitler’s Secret Service.  He was 39:

“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye but finds life precisely within it.” Dietrich Bonheoffer (Christmas, 1942)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Finding Our Way

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There are many biblical passages teaching us why we must “walk in the light.” (This would include avoiding friends who would influence us to “walk in the dark.”) Read on…

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while walking in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” (1 John 1:5-7)

And…

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light… [that you me be able to] discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8, 10)

It’s clear why God chose to so often use the metaphor of light:  it’s hard to find our way in the dark physically.  It’s impossible to find our way in the dark spiritually.

Further, and significantly, there is added blessing to walking in the light of Christ: as believers walk in the light of the truth, the knowledge of the Lord’s will becomes clear.

We obey: God blesses.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

 

Turning the Tables on the Devil

We all have awful days i.e. our car breaks down, the hot water heater goes out, something frustrating happens at work or school, someone hurts us, the list seems endless.

Pastor/author, Charles Stanley, writing about Joseph (the one with “the coat of many colors” in the book of Genesis), pointed out,

“we are all dealt, in essence, a hand of cards. Some hands are awful. The key is not focusing on the cards, but rather on our response to them.”

In Acts 16, Paul was thrown into the “inner prison and shackled” for simply sharing his faith in Christ.

He was dealt an awful hand. And, like Joseph, had every earthly reason to curse God, remain bitter, and even throw in the towel – which is what Satan was desperately hoping for.

But, Paul turned the tables on the devil in a surprising plot twist.

Verse 25 records, “About midnight Paul and (his friend) Silas were praying and singing hymns (while shackled in prison.)”

The next phrase grips me as much as the one we just read: “and the (other) prisoners were listening to them.”

A friend told me once, “It’s completely ok – and normal – to have a pity party. But make sure and put a time limit on it.”

Translation: when we are dealt an awful hand, pain and anger and frustration will naturally follow. And that’s where Satan wants us to remain – but don’t.

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

And, who knows, just like the other prisoners in the story, it could be that others who’ve been dealt an awful hand are looking for someone – anyone – to remind them that there his hope in the Cross and the Empty Tomb.

Love to you all, Nick

 

The Old Rugged Cross

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

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

Bewitched

“O foolish Galatians,” Paul lamented. “Who has bewitched you?”

Through Christ, all 613 Levitcal laws given to Israel were fulfilled. Yet Satan – and our human nature – still tell us, “The only way to please God is through human effort.” i.e. living a “good” life, making sure that – at the end of the day – my “good” deeds outweigh my “bad” deeds so that the proverbial scale tips in my favor.

There’s only one problem with this school of thought: it’s completely unbiblical and diametrically opposite of the gospel.

The whole reason Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians was to counter the lies of the false teachers who had slithered into the Galatians’ midst and began filling their heads with works-based righteousness. In other words, the false teachers were preaching, “To be loved and accepted by God, you must keep a list of good deeds and check it off as you go. If you finish the list, you’re good to go – until tomorrow; and then you get to start over. If you fail, just keep on trying. For all your life.” (By the way, righteousness = right standing before a holy God).

Paul’s frustration was that the Galatian believers so quickly bought into the lies of the false teachers. But modern culture isn’t any different. Our default is to swallow the same lies the Galatians entertained 20 centuries ago. (Satan is consistent in his strategies – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.)

As usual, Paul pulls no punches. He writes, “If righteousness could be obtained by the law (human effort), Christ died for no purpose.” (cf. Galatians 2:21; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10)

Wow. Put it in park and think about that for a minute.

“Wait,” you counter. “You’re telling me that Jesus loves me regardless of how much I fail and mess up? I don’t have to keep score of my good vs. bad actions or thoughts??”

If you’ve placed your faith in what Christ has done for you on the cross, the Bible’s answer to that question is an emphatic: “yes.”

From his throne, Christ proclaims,

“I have purchased you with an everlasting love, with my very own blood. I have washed you clean! You are 100% holy and righteous! When you stand before God for judgment, you will receive the verdict: Not guilty! This has absolutely nothing to do with your good deeds and human effort. You have zero capacity to be good enough to stand innocent of sin in my Father’s presence.  I was good enough on your behalf. I absorbed God’s wrath – the wrath you deserved – when I was brutally and publicly executed outside of Jerusalem. Your salvation has nothing to do with your feeble attempts to earn salvation. Rather, it has everything to do with my accomplishing that for you, culminating with the Cross and the Empty Tomb, my resurrection.”

“If this is true, Jesus, why would you do such a thing?”

And the King tenderly replies, “Because I love you.”

Are you, as Paul describes, “held captive” and “imprisoned” by the lie that you must somehow be “good enough” for God to love and accept you?

Lay down your burden. Put your faith in Christ today. And come home. Peace awaits.

In the Roman Catholic medieval church, Satan had spread this same lie (if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.) People we’re spending their whole lives trying to be good enough for God to love and accept them, all the while never knowing if what they had done was good enough. This is an exhausting and frightening existence i.e. “What if I die and I haven’t finished checking off the list??”

In response, the Reformers (Martin Luther, John Knox, etc.), on a mission (a “mission from God” – Blues Brothers 🙂) to counter this false teaching, began proclaiming and circulating phrases that summed up the true and eternal gospel. Among those phrases (the Five Solas) were:

Sola Gratia; Sola Fide, Solus Christus.

“By grace alone; through faith alone; in Christ alone.”

As my friend, Micah Wilder, says, “Jesus is enough.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

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When Jesus Worked at McDonald’s

This past week, on a Tuesday morning, I swung through the drive-though at a local McDonald’s for a warm, robust beverage on my way to work.

After placing my order I promptly pulled up to the first window to pay for said beverage where I was warmly greeted by a woman at the window who said, “Hello darlin’.”

I almost began weeping (while, at the same time, strangely thinking of Roy Orbison).

A little context…

My family is hurting deeply. The weight of the approaching anniversary of when I walked into my son’s room and temporarily went insane is, at times, so heavy we simply can’t bear it.

My daughter, Kelsie, flew in the previous weekend to go with us to watch our youngest daughter, Macy, in “9 to 5” where she attends college. It is always awesome when we’re all together.

But that joy is always closely accompanied by a dark, suffocating shadow. For it’s when we’re all together that we’re all acutely aware of who’s missing – the gaping, painful hole left by Jordan’s  death on May 13, 2013.

After Macy’s performance we all embraced and wept.

The Monday before my visit to McDonald’s I was numb. I couldn ‘t focus or concentrate. I felt nothing. I had nothing to say. I was empty and bone-dry.

Back to Tuesday morning at McDonald’s…

I was in such a fragile state emotionally, the McDonald’s employee’s kindness caught me off guard. I could hear the sound of a key unlocking my psychological prison door. I could, all of a sudden, hear Jesus whispering to me, “I’ve got this. I’ve got Jordan. Trust me.”

I came very close to asking her seriously, “Are you an angel?”

But the story doesn’t end there.

Then came today (Wednesday)…

I again found myself in the very same McDonald’s drive-through to grab a sandwich for lunch (clearly, I have no concern for my health )

Guess who was at the same window? She looked at me, recognizing me from the day before, and said, “Hello sweetheart!”

This time, I did something I’ve never done in my entire life.

I asked this angelic stranger, “Ma’am, do you pray?”

She looked back at me intently, smiled, and said softly, “Every day.”

I said, “Almost 5 years ago my 19 year old son took his life. My family is suffering. Would you pray for us?”

She said, “I will pray for you every day.”

I began to tear up and said, “My name is Nick.”

I paid her for my sandwich and began to drive to the second pick-up window when I heard her say, “I will pray for you, Nick!”

The New Testament records that Jesus prayed for people often. I know he’s interceding for the Watts family.

He told me so today at McDonald’s.

Nick

No. 1 Reason Many Reject Christianity? Christians

NOTE:  It’s easy – and valid – to attribute one’s refusal to profess faith in Christ to the hypocrisy and faithlessness of those who actually profess that faith.  But, that excuse won’t hold up in Final Court.  Please stay with me to the end of this blog.

The 18th century German philosopher and atheist, Friedrich Nietzsche, once offered this stinging statement about believers:

“I would believe in their Savior if they acted more like they had been saved.”

Beloved pastor/author, Chuck Swindoll, a number of years ago, offered a similar statement:

“I am a Christian. But if I were not, the one thing that would keep me from becoming one is the words and actions of Christians toward one another.”

Modern-day prophet, singer/songwriter, Keith Green (died in a plane crash in 1982), bluntly wrote in his biography, “Before coming to Christ (as an adult), the thing that kept me from becoming a Christian was Christians.”

The late Brennan Manning once summed it up for us:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.  This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Sure, the seeming endless hypocrisy of Christians can serve as a major roadblock to a non-believer. “If my Christian friend cares so little about taking his/her faith seriously,” they think to themselves, “why on earth would I want what they have?”

But this conundrum involving the tension between professed faith and applied faith is nothing new – it’s existed since Genesis.

Adam & Eve walked with God daily. And they still told him, in essence, to shove off.

Further, consider the Palestinian people in the early 1st century: they knew personally who Jesus was, and saw with their own eyes  what he did, and heard him teach (this includes Jesus’ own family for crying out loud!).  While we’re removed 20 centuries, they had a front-row seat and still rejected him.

I think of biblical “heroes of the faith” who, fully knowing (as much as humanly possible) who God was, still balked.  Moses offered God 5 different excuses to pass on God’s command to lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage and into the Promised Land.  Jonah… well you know how that turned out. David, a “man after God’s own heart” chose adultery and conspiracy to murder. Paul, author of most of the New Testament did his best to describe his relentless “spirit vs. flesh” battle in Romans 7.

One of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey, writes in an uncomfortably honest style. In his award-winning book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Yancey confesses,

“Jesus’ most devoted followers usually come off as scratching their heads in wonderment, i.e. Who is this guy??, more baffled than anything else… I have placed myself on the edges of the crowd in Jesus’ day as a sincere seeker captivated by the Rabbi but reluctant to follow him…. Would Jesus have won me over? Much as I wish, I cannot easily answer that question.”

All of this said, we’re no different today than we’ve been since the beginning of human existence.

It is entirely possible that some people “talking the talk but not walking the walk” never truly professed their faith in Christ. However, as evidenced by the examples above, it’s entirely possible that they did. 

Can a person make the choice to reject faith in Christ because of the inconsistent way some believers are living their lives?  Of course.

But make no mistake – when I (we) stand before Christ I will not be on trial for what others have done with him.  Just me.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick