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

I Can Only Imagine (movie): Review

I encourage you to go see it for the following reasons, followed by a word of caution:

Unlike some Christian-themed films, this one is in no way manipulative, coercive or sensationalized.

Not once will you feel “preached to.”

The director has done a masterful job of making this a film simply about the story of one boy’s painful childhood – and how God can use the pain and dysfunction in our lives on this messed up planet to create something extraordinary and, dare I say – joyful.

It’s not mentioned in the movie, but several times I reflected upon Joseph’s words to his brothers, “What you intended for evil against me, God intended for good.” (God transformed Joseph’s crippling pain into purpose and joy.)

In my opinion, Christianity wasn’t even the primary theme of the movie. Again, the director did a superb job of telling a story, allowing the audience to absorb the story at their own pace, and then, only if they want to, consider the spiritual implications.

What was the primary theme of the movie?


Bart Millard suffered deeply at the hands of his dad while growing up. When Bart was grown, his soul beaten and bruised, he had a choice to make – (1) live the rest of his life out suffering psychological bondage, driven by his hate for his dad, or (2) forgive his dad, regardless of how much pain he had endured.

And the director never once portrays forgiveness as easy. It’s a war in your mind and soul. The director gives complete respect to this truth.

All of that said, i offer this one caution:

If, like me, you suffered years of abuse as a child at the hands of a physically violent and verbally abusive father, the movie will most certainly be triggering. You will find yourself, like I did, weeping, gripping your chest and, at times, experiencing very real and traumatic flashbacks. You will want to have someone you love – and who loves you deeply (scars and all) – next to you.  My wife, Michelle, held my arm the entire movie.

As I left the theater (emotionally exhausted), I told Michelle, “I’m so glad I forgave my dad.”  (Read me story here.)

I can only imagine what my dad is doing now in heaven. Free from addiction. Free from anger. Free from his own pain.

And, because I’ve forgiven him, I’m free too.

“What (the stuff of life) intended for evil against me, God intended for good.” Christ wins.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Being on the Receiving End of Gossip

We’ve all been there.

And it hurts.

People love to gossip. It’s hard wired into fallen human nature.

Someone once said. “A lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on.” And we all know the joke (containing a great deal of truth): “Christians don’t gossip; they share ‘prayer requests.”

Years ago, I was on the receiving end of a “gossip mill”. It was demoralizing. None of it was true. But trying to address it was futile.

A friend told me that attempting to address every slanderous word said about you is like releasing a huge bag of feathers into a strong West Texas wind and hoping to catch each one. It simply can’t be done.

It brings us a degree of comfort knowing that King David, described in the New Testament as a “man after God’s own heart”, spent much of his adult life dealing with people who maliciously slandered him. David knew all too well the sting of betrayal. He laments, “It is not an enemy who taunts me— I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me— I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend.” (Psalm 55:12-13)

Understand this: gossip is, at its root, bullying. Except gossip is different than overt bullying in that it’s the “coward’s form of bullying.” They’re not even brave enough to bully you to your face. :)) The one and only hope a gossip has to hurt you is their malicious and hateful words, motivated by childish pettiness, immaturity and insecurity. In short, gossip is about them, not you.

Do not allow their words to have power over you. Do not take the bait to react. Consider the source: someone’s pathetic attempt to hurt you and bring you down to their level of personal misery. Misery really does love company.

In the Proverbs, Solomon listed consequence for those who are hell-bent on hurting others. And it’s not good. Paul reminded the believers in Rome that vengeance belongs to God alone. The risen Christ is fully capable of handling hateful, hurtful people.

Certainly, there are situations where we are able to track down the source of the lies and confront them. No doubt, we’ve all, at one time or another, been saddled with that awkward task. But, that is the exception; not the rule. Because, most often, the “source” from which the gossip originated is ghost-like and efforts to find them is a complete waste of time, not to mention emotionally exhausting.

Solomon, although far from a perfect man, was, at one time the Bible tells us, the wisest person on planet earth. Having authored most of a biblical book of poetry called Proverbs, he warns the reader over and over again to be careful about what words come out of our mouths. This particular topic is one of the meta-narratives of the book’s 31 chapters. For example, Proverbs 6:16-19 lists “seven things that are an abomination to the Lord.”Five of the seven are directly related to gossip.

But Solomon offers this sage advice in response to gossip: “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (26:20) When you stoke a fire it strengthens. When you ignore it – it dies out. The meaning here is clear. Don’t waste your physical and emotional energy trying to “set things straight.” Leave it alone.

And never forget: a person who gossips to you will gossip about you.

Below is a poem I heard a preacher recite a long time ago. It is powerful.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

“My Name is Gossip”

I have no respect for justice, I maim without killing;

I break hearts and I ruin lives; I am cunning and malicious and I gather strength with age;

The more I am quoted the more I am believed; My victims are helpless;
They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name or face;

Tracking me down is impossible; The harder you try the more elusive I become;

I am nobody’s friend; Once I tarnish a reputation it is never the same;

I wreck marriages and I topple governments; I ruin careers and I cause sleepless nights, heartaches, and indigestion; I make innocent people cry on their pillows;

I make headlines….and headaches;

Even my name hisses….my name is Gossip.

Suicide and the Bible – Part 2

After recently reading my  original blog, Suicide and the Bible,  a reader kindly asked a common question:

I was reading your “Suicide and the Bible”..and I just have a question. I’m genuinely curious to know what you think about this. So you’re saying nowhere in the Bible does it say suicide will send you to hell. You did call it murder (of yourself) however, which is sin. We are supposed to ask for forgiveness for all of our sins, so what if someone commits this “murder.” And dies instantly and didn’t get the chance to ask for forgiveness?

Their question actually concerns an entirely different doctrine of the Christian faith than the topic at hand. 

Before I jump in to this question, isn’t it curious that some people almost sound as if they are working as hard as they can to keep a certain demographic of people (those who die by suicide) out of heaven?  Even though the idea is contrary to scripture.  What if we decided gossip or lust or taking God’s name in vain were the sins that, if unconfessed, would prevent us from going to heaven?  Heaven would be a sparsely-populated place.

I addressed this at length in Part 1 of this blog, but allow me, once again, to address this question head-on by, hopefully, offering clarity from the testimony of scripture:

Fortunately, the Gospel makes it crystal clear that, at the moment we profess our faith in Christ, we are redeemed, purchased by Christ’s blood, and seen, in God’s eyes, as 100% righteous and holy (2 Cor 5:17, 21).  This means that, regardless of what manner we leave this life, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ i.e. a person who took their own life arrives in heaven just as someone who died of natural causes.  In short, as I stated in Part 1 of this blog,

…one’s eternal destiny, according to the Bible, doesn’t have a single thing to do with how we get there.  Rather, it has everything to do with the condition of our soul when we arrive.

Consider the dying thief.

Luke not once records the thief, after professing his faith in Christ, reciting a list of a lifetime sins.  As far as Jesus was concerned, the thief’s repentant heart was enough.  Jesus authenticated the thief being wiped clean of all sin (including un-confessed) by telling him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”


1 John 1:9

John, the eye-witness and disciple of Jesus, wrote,

If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 

There are those who would interpret this passage woodenly and legalistically, apart from the greater context of the New Testament, as John referring to a requirement for confessing every individual sin we’ve ever committed before we’re admitted into heaven.  Clearly, the account above of the thief on the cross, as well as the rest of the New Testament does not support that interpretation.

I agree with theologian, John MacArthur (and a host of others), who, commenting on this passage, writes,

“Rather than focusing on confession of every single sin as necessary [for our right standing in God’s sight], John has especially in mind here a [single] settled recognition and acknowledgement that one is a sinner in need of cleansing and forgiveness.”

In short, according to the testimony of scripture itself, we are, at the moment we profess our faith in Christ, forgiven of all sin that would keep us from heaven and spending eternity in the presence of Christ.

Then why are we taught to confess our sin even after we’ve professed our faith in Christ?

MacArthur again:

“Continual confession of sin is an indication of genuine salvation.  The word ‘confess’ means to say the same thing about sin as God does; to acknowledge his perspective about sin.”

So, when we rebel against God (not merely what we consider heinous crimes like murder, theft, assault, etc., but also sexually impure thoughts, profane language, unforgiveness, anger behind the wheel of our car, gossip, lying (which includes “white lies”), lust, laziness, etc., it is spiritually healthy to come before God to confess/agree that such sin grieves him and hurts us, allowing his love and conviction to renew our minds and, hopefully, help us to focus on God’s Word, removing whatever sin is preventing us from experiencing spiritual growth.


The Real Question Behind the Question

Can a child of God lose their salvation?

Clearly, the Scriptures state we cannot.

What a wretched existence that would be – always wondering if you’ve checked off all the boxes required to be right in God’s sight i.e. have I prayed enough?  Have I read my Bible enough?  Did I memorize enough scripture?  Do I sincerely love everyone I’ve ever met?  Have I forgiven everyone whose ever hurt me?  Do I genuinely love my enemies?  Have I cared enough for widows and orphans? Have I singled out every little negative or impure thought I’ve ever thought?  The list goes on and on.  You spend your entire life never knowing if you’re good enough.  This is called legalism, which is backbreaking spiritual bondage.  It’s what the entire New Testament, especially the gospels, Romans and Galatians address.

Here’s what’s true:  none of us are “good enough.”

This is the very reason for the gospel and why “gospel” means “good news.”

Paul put it this way:

Not a single person is righteous (meaning we are doomed to hell)… But, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Faith in Christ’s death and resurrection makes us “good enough.”  In other words, it’s Christ goodness – not ours – that makes peace between us and a holy Judge so that, when we stand before that Judge, the verdict he hands down is “not guilty.”  Paul, from prison, wrote:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Further, Paul describes our salvation as a gift:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  

A gift is something we receive, not earn (by checking off boxes of human morality.) And since we did nothing in our power to earn it (Christ, alone, earned it for us on the cross) there is nothing we can do to un-earn it, or lose it.

You will find no list of sins in the Bible that causes us to lose what was purchased for us by Christ’s blood on the cross.

This includes the sin of un-confessed daily sin.


The Unpardonable Sin

Jesus, in a debate with the religious leaders, warned,

And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

First of all – and I don’t know how much clearer Jesus can make it – murder is not the unpardonable sin.

Second, the only sin that can/will send a person to hell is one’s willful, deliberate, conscious rejection of God and his offer of redemption and salvation through his son, Christ Jesus.  That person is, in essence, saying,

“There is no God.  I don’t need saving.  God, if he even exists, is a liar.  The gospel is a joke, a fairy tale.”

This – and only this – , according to the Bible, dooms one to eternal punishment.


You Must be Born Again

To help drive home the doctrine of a Christian’s eternal security, Jesus uses the phrase, “born again”, to give us insight into this miracle called eternal life. It is significant that Jesus chooses to use this particular phrase.

Consider this:  regardless of how badly we may treat our parents, we can never not be their child. In other words, we can never be “un-born” as their children.  Likewise, we can never be “un-born again” as a child of God.  Our position in Christ is based on God, not us. And our heavenly Father’s grip on us is eternal; it can’t be undone. (An un-confessed sin at our death holds no power over our eternal security in Christ.)


A Weak View of the Cross of Christ

To assert that failing to confess a sin all of a sudden removes one’s imputed righteousness through Christ completely nullifies what Christ did on the cross.  Simply put, this idea is heresy.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross either saves us for eternity, or it doesn’t.  We can’t have it both ways.

Jesus spoke often of our security in Christ.  In John 10 where, speaking of “his sheep” (those who have, at some point in their life, professed their faith in him), he says,

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

Our eternity in heaven with God is as secure as God’s Word is sure.


The Logical Problem with Having to Confess Every Single Sin

Lastly, I am 100% confident that, when I breathe my last – whether it is by natural causes, or prematurely and unexpectedly – I will not have confessed every single sin I have ever committed in my screwed-up life.

And I’m fairly certain this applies to every other Christian on planet earth as well.

Consider yelling hatefully at your spouse or parent or child as you walk out the door one morning and shortly thereafter die in an auto accident – without confessing your hateful comments from a few minute earlier.  Would this send you to hell?  Of course, not.  The Cross is infinitely stronger than that.  (And aren’t you glad that it is?)

Thank God Almighty that, like Paul, we can confidently say,

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…”


The Disease of Mental Illness

Moving from the theological to the practical, a brief word:

There is another side of this issue that is not often enough addressed.  That’s the issue of a medically diagnosed Mental Illness (a genuine misfiring of the brain’s chemical make-up; a form of insanity.)  Information and data about the disease of Mental Illness is readily available from many reputable web sites such as the Mayo Clinic, the American Psychiatric Association, and  the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

When someone dies of cancer, we never question that as sinful i.e. it wasn’t their fault they contracted cancer.  Yet, there is a stigma attached to a person dying with a medically diagnosed Mental Illness. A person posted the following comment to one of my posts:

“From a mental health perspective, depression is an illness. There should be no stigma attached to death from any illness. “

The great majority of people who experience a mental illness do not die by suicide.  However, of those who die from suicide, more than 90 percent have a diagnosable mental disorder.

This would mean they ultimately died of a disease.  This can be debatable.  But it’s definitely worth mentioning and deserves serious discussion.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick


FYI – I included the following at the beginning of my original blog, Suicide and the Bible.  I include it here again.

NOTE:  If you have been, or are, suicidal, please do not misconstrue my intent here by interpreting this blog as it being ok to take your life since the Bible clearly says, if you’ve professed your faith in Christ, you will go to heaven. Suicide is never the answer to one’s problems.  I know from personal experience the devastation suicide has on a family and friends.  If you are depressed and/or suicidal, get help immediately. Talk to someone – anyone.  Help and hope are available in abundance. (Click here for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.) The sole purpose of this blog is to give peace to those of us who have been forced to live through this horrific tragedy.

Not Guilty (For those living under the crippling weight of guilt.)


We’ve all blown it in one way or another.

And when we do blow it, Satan dispatches a battalion of demons assigned to deceive us, relentlessly filling our mind with this lie:  your failures define you.

For those who succumb to that lie, what follows is a life lived under a crippling mentality of  oppressive guilt.  “How could God ever love or forgive you?”, the enemy whispers. “You certainly can’t go to God with the mess you’ve made of your life,” he hisses.  “He’ll only be angry with you, lecture you, and berate you. And, frankly, why shouldn’t he? You’re worthless.”

These whispered accusations of the enemy are, in today’s vernacular, what we would call “fake news.”

Never forget:  satan is a pathological liar.  And the God he describes above is found nowhere in Scripture.  For example…

The younger son in Jesus’ story in the latter half of Luke, chapter 15, had publicly insulted his father, humiliated his family, and wasted his entire inheritance on every vice one could think of. Further, it was only when he was broke, broken and starving that he finally “came to his senses.” (vs 17)

He knew the people in the village in which he once lived hated him for the humiliation and heartbreak he had caused his father and family.  In first century Jewish culture, when a son dishonored their father on the level that this son had it was not uncommon for a village to hold a “funeral”, of sorts, declaring that son “dead” to the family. (This is most likely why, in vs 24, the father shouts, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again…”)

To echo the lying thoughts Satan places in our minds, the young man thought to himself, “I can’t go to my father with the mess I’ve made of my life. He’ll only be angry with me and berate me. And, frankly, why shouldn’t he? I’m worthless. I’m no longer worthy to even be called his son.”

But Jesus shocked his listening audience with the rest of story.

Luke records that his father was anxiously waiting for news of his son. One can only imagine how many hours a day the father stood at the highest point of the village trying to see as far as he could see to try and catch a glimpse of a miracle: the return of his beloved child.

Jesus’ story is dramatic and pregnant with meaning. And it’s not difficult to imagine Jesus’ Jewish audience sitting on the edge of their seats as, one day, the father notices a figure on the horizon. The suspense mounts. What will the father do? Fold his arms and stare down the disrespectful child?  Publicly scold and punish him? Loudly announce to the village, “Here comes the scum who claims to be my son!”?

But nothing could prepare the listening audience for the scandal that was about to transpire – a scandal of love.

Luke records it this way: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The early 5th century theologian, Peter Chrysologus, commenting on this passage wrote, “This is how the father judges and corrects his wayward [children]: not with beatings, but kisses….The father redeemed the sins of the his son by his kiss, and covered them by his embrace, in order not to expose the crimes or humiliate the son (the father shielded the son from hate-filled accusations). The father so healed the son’s wounds as not to leave a scar or blemish upon him. ‘Blessed are they,’ Scripture says, ‘whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”

When the repentant son began his rehearsed apology in verse 21 (“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son”), the father, already knowing the brokenness of his son, seemingly ignores his son’s apology and orders his staff, “Quick!…Let’s celebrate!”

The legalist (portrayed in the older brother in Jesus’ story) demands justice in the story.  And, rightly so. We can’t expect to simply waltz back into our father’s presence hoping to get away with this level of rebellion.  Someone has to pay for the younger son’s sin! 

Someone did.  Twenty centuries ago.  On a hillside just outside of Jerusalem.  His name is Jesus Christ.

Are you weighed down with guilt?  Has the enemy convinced you you’re worthless?  Jesus is saying to you:  “Are you tired? Worn out?… Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me… Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” 

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

How I Forgave My Dad

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

“Write down the ten most traumatic memories from your childhood.”

That’s what my counselor, Dr. David Rosenthal, asked me to do at the conclusion of our first session together.

“Do I have to stop at ten?”  I thought.  What would I do with all the rest?  And does David possibly know what I’ll have to go through emotionally to retrieve those memories?

“I refuse to go back there,” I thought to myself.  “But I have to.  God, why are You forcing me to open that door – that door that leads to that dark, emotional corner of my life that I’d just as soon not revisit?”

It was a Saturday morning in early September, 1997, when David gave me this “assignment.”  I had never been in counseling before (like most men, I was certain I didn’t need any) and didn’t know what to expect.  To be quite honest, I was scared.

Only a month earlier, August 26th, I received a note during the morning worship service at my church that my youngest sister, Cindy, was in critical condition at University Medical Center in Lubbock.  I was not overly concerned.  Over the years, I’d received numerous phone calls regarding my, then 29 year old sister, that could be described as “urgent,” most of which were late at night.  She had been on her own since she was fourteen, and shortly thereafter developed addictions to alcohol and hard drugs.  And, on those rare occasions when I heard from her, she either needed to get out of jail or was stranded on a street corner somewhere and needed money.

But, this day would prove urgent in the genuine definition of the word.  The day before, Aug. 25th, after Cindy and a couple of her friends got off the night shift where they worked, they returned to her apartment to shoot heroin.  By the time Cindy regained consciousness, one of her friends was dead, and she and the other individual were dying.  I was later told by a Lubbock police officer that the heroin they got a hold of went by the street name of “white china,” sort of an “A+” heroin, which is lethal.

Because she lay unconscious for eight hours before calling 911, the left side of her body was one solid, black bruise caused by the heroin shutting down her respiratory system.  The bruise abscessed and caused permanent nerve damage in her left foot.  My wife, Michelle, and I arrived at the hospital shortly after we received the note on Sunday morning.  I will never forget what I saw and the way I felt when I walked into the hospital room that day.  Cindy’s small frame was bloated up 50 lbs. over her normal weight.  She was suffering from renal failure, congestive heart failure, and respiratory failure.  Unconscious and breathing heavily, she hung on by a thread.  The doctors gave us little hope.

I simply walked over by her bed, sat down, held her hand, and wept bitterly.  This is not the way I wanted to say “good-bye” to my sister.

After a few moments at Cindy’s bedside, a darkness began to grip my heart.  That darkness, fueled by rage, was unlike anything I had ever felt before in my life.  The hidden hate that had been boiling in my soul for so long finally erupted – not for Cindy – but for my father.

What I share next is in no way intended to bring shame on my father.  It simply must be shared so you can better understand the magnitude of what I finally forgave.

My father had been an alcoholic for literally as long as I could remember.  But, unlike the “funny drunks” on television shows, Dad, when he was drunk, was extremely cruel, hateful and physically abusive.

As a young child, I watched him strangle my mother, pull her by the hair across the floor, and throw furniture across the room.  He embarrassed me throughout my high school athletic career, being thrown out of stadiums for public intoxication and out-of-control profanity.  I’ve watched him wield both a knife and a gun in front of me during my teenage years wondering, “Is this going to be the time he doesn’t stop himself?  Do I die today?”

We lived in perpetual fear because that’s all we knew. 

Finally, in August of 1979, when I was a sophomore in high school, he beat my mother repeatedly with the buckle end of a belt leaving large, black, swollen whelps all over her back.  Mom took my sisters and me the next day and we hid out in a friend’s home through the night.  Mom filed for divorce shortly thereafter.

Probably my most traumatic memory took place only days after I’d turned seventeen years of age, in July, 1980.  It was Sunday night and I had just returned home from church only to find that familiar look of terror in the eyes of my mom and Susan and Cindy, my two younger sisters.  I knew Dad had called.  “He’s really mad,” they told me as they were crying.  The next thing I knew, there was what sounded like someone hitting our front door with a sledge hammer.  I hurried Susan and Cindy (14 and 12 at the time) to the hallway and put my arms around them.  I was the only protection my family had.  With the door still chained, my mom opened the door and asked Dad what he wanted.  He said, “Give me the kids.”  She told him no.

What happened next is, to this day, somewhat of a blur.  From where I stood in the hallway, I saw my mom fly backwards across the living room.  My dad had kicked our front door so hard the frame came out of the sheet rock pinning my mother underneath it.  Instinctively, I ran toward my dad and hit him as hard as I could.  He flew backward and we fought on the front porch as neighbors began to come out of their homes to see what was going on.  It was pure pandemonium.  I can still distinctly remember having the chance to kill him by splitting his skull against a square post holding up our front porch.  For whatever reason, I didn’t. My mom ran to the phone to call the Abilene Police Dept., but Dad left before the police arrived.  We spent the night in different friends’ homes because we didn’t have a front door.  I still believe had I not been home that night my Dad would have killed my mom.

Back to Aug. 26th, 1997…

Walking out of Cindy’s hospital room, as a then 34 year old man with a wife and three children of my own, all of the rage came rushing back like a flood.  All I knew is that I wanted to hurt my father.  He deserved to hurt the way he had made us hurt.  I thought to myself, “Cindy is dying and it’s his fault.  He’s hurt us.  I’m going to hurt him.”

I quickly fell into deep depression and my life began unraveling.  My friend and pastor at the time lovingly encouraged me to get counseling as soon as possible.

That’s where my dear friend, David Rosenthal, comes in.

During our initial session, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  David then took me through a relatively new type of therapy called EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, the same therapy used on Military Combat Veterans and rape victims.  The first thing David told me, in beginning the therapy, was “Write down the ten most traumatic memories from your childhood.”

I was upset for having to do so, but little did I know what God was about to do.

As a vocational minister going on, at that time, sixteen years of full-time ministry, I had always told people that I had forgiven my dad and that I loved him.  But the Holy Spirit confronted me during that first counseling session with this question:  “How can you say you’ve forgiven someone for whom you have so much hate?”  For the first time in my life I was asking myself, “Could it be that I’ve never forgiven Dad?”  More than that, could it be that I’ve never understood forgiveness as the Bible defines forgiveness?  God, knowing how vulnerable I was at that moment, began to gently open my eyes to the fact that the hate I had for my dad was neither hurting him nor protecting me.  It was, instead, eating me alive – slowly destroying me.

The lie satan spins is that hate will make you strong and protected.  All it does, though, is hurt you and those you love most.

“Why do you continue to hate your dad?”  David asked.

“I guess it’s because hate is my armor.  It protects me from being hurt all over again.”  I replied.

“What will happen, Nick, if you give God your hate and forgive your Dad?”

“Then, I’ll have no armor.  I’ll become weak.”

Then the Holy Spirit lowered the boom.

David asked, “What did Paul say?”

By this time I was sobbing so heavily I couldn’t even answer.  So David quoted 2 Corinthians 12:10, “….when I am weak, then am I strong.”

“Nick,” David asked gently, “what do you think you need to do?”

I answered, “I need to forgive my dad.”

The session ended.  It was Saturday, September 20th, 1997.  I wrestled with it all week.  I had never been able to trust my earthly father with my weakness.  Could I really trust my heavenly Father with it?

Wednesday, September 24th, I was getting ready to teach our mid-week, youth Bible study, when the Holy Spirit convicted my heart and, in essence, said, “I’m not going to let this go away.  You can’t encourage teenagers to trust me if you refuse to trust me.”  I said, “God, what if I forgive him and he doesn’t change?”  God replied, “My child, this is not about changing your dad.  This is about changing you.”

So, as best as I knew how, I prayed, “God, I choose to trust you with my heart.  Today I choose to become weak.  Today, I forgive my dad.”

There were no fireworks, no angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus, no tingling feeling down my spine.  But, this I know:  I was transformed that day.

After I prayed that prayer, I walked into my house, fell into my wife’s arms and cried like a baby.  For the first time in my life my heart was now unprotected by the layers of callouses the years of hate had created.  With one breath of a prayer the grace of Jesus Christ gave me the strength to forgive my dad.  All the hate in my life had never given me that kind of strength, only bondage.

Author and professor, Lewis Smedes, writes, “When we forgive someone, it’s as though a prisoner has been set free.  And then we realize that the prisoner was us.”

It’s taken time – and more counseling – but, much of my life has changed as a result of that encounter with the grace of God that day.  I came to realize that, through the years, because I had focused my entire life on not becoming like my dad, I had in many ways become just like him.  God’s grace broke the cycle.

Cindy lived.  Forty days following her overdose we were finally given hope by the doctors that she was going to make it.  She was released from UMC 45 days after she had been admitted and spent another 45 days in in-patient drug rehabilitation.  (Cindy passed away in 2016.  She was 47.)

But what about my relationship with my dad?

I had never in my life had much of a relationship with him. More than that, I had neither seen nor heard from him the past ten years.  He’d never even met ,or seen for that matter, any of my three children.  Do I recklessly jump back into a relationship with him?  No.  Forgiveness and trust are two completely things.  But, I did begin to pray about what to do.  Frustration now filled my heart because, by that time, Dad suffered from alcohol-induced dementia.  I didn’t know if he could understand the magnitude of what God had done for me.  But, I desperately wanted to tell him I loved him and had forgiven him.  I just didn’t know if that day would ever come.

That day came.

My granddad (my father’s dad) passed away on November 20th, 1998.  On Nov. 22nd, the day of the funeral, my dad was the first one we saw.  Although only 55 years old, the alcohol had taken its toll on his face, body and mind.  He was penniless and had no permanent residence.  I learned that, over the past several years, he had lived both in a car and at the Salvation Army.

The grace of God was so strong that day.  Michelle told me, “Your dad is coherent.”  So I took the opportunity to tell him what God had done.

I said, “Dad, all my life I believed you hated me.”

“Why?” he asked incredulously.

What would normally have been easy in bringing up the past – all that he put us through – was now difficult to do.  By “deleting” the hate in my soul, the traumatic memories of my childhood were not as easy to remember anymore.  But, I didn’t want to focus on the past anyway.  Because today I was there not to condemn, but to forgive.

“Dad, for all the things you did to Mom, Susan and Cindy, and myself, I forgive you – I really forgive you.  It’s a done deal.  I no longer hold any of it against you.”  His head was lowered the whole time I spoke so I said, “Dad, look at me.”  He slowly lifted his head.  I continued, “I love you.  And I want you to know something else.  I’m proud of you.”  Never in my life had I told him I was proud of him.  Obviously, I wasn’t proud of what he’d done.  But, I wasn’t referring to that.    Author, Philip Yancey, writes, “Grace helps us see others not as they are, but as God intended for them to be.”

Hate never gave me the strength to do that.  Only God’s grace could.

We embraced and Michelle took the first picture of me and my dad together since the day I graduated college 11 and a half years earlier.  The picture we took that day of me, my dad, and his three grandchildren stands proudly in my office and in my home.(See picture below.) Not so much because it’s a picture of me and my dad.  But, because it is a picture of the power of God.

I once read, “Forgiveness, we discover, is harder than the sermons make it out to be….because behind every act of forgiveness lies a wound of betrayal, and the pain of being betrayed does not easily fade away.”

Holocaust survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, said, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

To once again quote Philip Yancey, when I forgave my dad “the hurt did not disappear, but the burden of being his judge fell away.”  God has been true to His promise to protect my heart.  I am so glad I chose to trust Him.

Since Sept. of ’97, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a project produced and sponsored by HealthNet, a part of the Texas Tech Health Science Center, on the topic of EMDR.  I was interviewed in a video that was sent to over a hundred hospitals and military bases around the world.

I used to share a testimony of abuse.  Today, I share a testimony of God’s grace.  To quote the 18th century hymn writer, John Newton, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me….”

Epilogue:  Dad is free, now, from alcoholism.  On November 8, 2000, I received a call and was told that he’d been found dead.  He was 57. The pain of losing him was tremendous.  But, not near as painful as it would have been had I not made the decision to forgive him, allowing God to set me free, as well.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

forgiving dad

The Day I Forgave My Dad

Next to my profession of faith in Christ, no decision has so changed my life than when I forgave my dad.

My younger sisters and I grew up in an extremely violent alcoholic home. We saw and experienced things I’d prefer not to share here.

When sober, my dad was amazing. But, when he was drunk he became a monster. And he was drunk a lot.

Over time – especially into my adult years – i developed a seething hatred for my dad for what he had done to my mom, and to my sisters and myself. That part of my life – those memories – had drifted into the shadow.

But, in 1997 – after my youngest sister overdosed on heroin – I unraveled. I was 34 years old. Having been forced to get counseling (I thought counseling was for wimps), I quickly discovered what hate for my dad had done to my life. Eventually, in a moment I can remember as though it was yesterday,…. I forgave my dad. Completely.

I learned that forgiveness wasn’t about changing my dad – it was about changing me.

A little over a year later, on 11/22/98, I had the joy of sharing this with my dad. The photo here is significant not only because of the grace and forgiveness it represents – but for the fact that this was the first time my dad had ever seen my children.

It was an awesome day.

My dad died of alcoholism two years later, 11/10/2000. He was 57.

One day, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, I’ll see my dad and son again – completely whole. No more alcoholism. No more depression.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

forgiving dad