It’s Okay to be Afraid

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

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

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

And God can handle everything we throw at him. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

The Last Straw

Have you ever done something you believed was the “last straw” with God?  Have you ever felt like you’ve, finally – once and for all – ruined your life?

NOTE:  A follow-up to my message a couple of weeks ago about the Cross’s power over shame.

Tullian Tchividjian (last name is pronounced “shuh -VIJ-uhn) is the grandson of Billy Graham. (see pic of Tullian with his granddad)

Tullian pastored a large church in south Florida and was a rising star in the church world, reaching almost celebrity status. Handsome, a gifted speaker and author, and possessing an engaging personality, he forgot how quickly a man can stray off course and slowly fell into Satan’s trap. (“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12)

Over time, Tchividjian  grew more and more blind to the moral danger awaiting us all when pride tightens its grip, giving us a false sense of invincibility.  As a result, he, like so many before him, was easily lured by the enemy into moral failure.

In 2015, he was removed from his church after getting caught in an affair.

He lost his ministry and his marriage.

Below is something Tchividjian wrote not as the celebrity-status-pastor he once was, but as a broken man.  It is powerful.

*Tullian’s note begins here*:

In a season of sin and self-destruction back in 2015, I lost everything and hurt many people in the process. At 41 years old, I broke my life, I broke my family, and I broke the hearts of those who trusted me and looked to me for leadership.

Through heaving tears of sorrow and shame, regret and remorse, I sent this note to a friend of mine the night my granddad (Billy Graham) died two years ago today:

“Watching my grandfather’s life, it has hit me afresh just how selfish and arrogant I was, how much I squandered. And for what? FOR WHAT?? What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? Character matters. It does not gain us favor with God, but it does give us credibility with others so that we can deliver God’s favor to the world. I blew it. I’m undone.”

My friend responded with six words: “There was a man named David…”

I lost it.

My friend had the perfect words at just the right time. It was the powerful and comforting reminder I needed at that moment that God loves and uses people who fail because people who fail are all that there are. Maybe you need that reminder too.

Yes, “There was a man named David…” But even more powerful and comforting is the good news that there is a man named Jesus.

Unlike my grandfather, I soiled my record. Regardless of how I live my life from now until the day I die, my season of sinful self-destruction will always be remembered and talked about. The hurt I caused myself and countless others will linger in many hearts and cause some people to doubt me, disparage me, and distrust me for the rest of my days. I’ve accepted that my blemished reputation is here to stay. There is no going back.

But I believe that if Daddy Bill (Billy Graham) were still alive, he’d say something like this to me:

“Tullian, I may not be guilty externally of the same sins you are, but I assure you that my heart is no less sinful than yours. According to God’s standard of perfection, I’m a failure just like you. Your sin speak to what people saw. But the Gospel speaks to what only God sees. All of our records are stained with sin. But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus’ perfect record is ours by faith. When God looks at our account, He doesn’t see all of our nasty withdrawals. Rather, he sees all of Christ’s perfect deposits. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that because of Jesus, the sins we can’t forget, God chooses not to remember. So take heart failed one, before God the righteousness of Christ is all any of us need. Before God, the righteousness of Christ is all any of us have.”

That righteousness, that gift of God, speaks louder than any voice of accusation. I may have a blemished reputation, but not in the eyes of God. When my Father sees me—and when he sees you—he sees someone who looks just like Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God.


*Tullian’s note ends here*.

The idiom, “the last straw,” comes from the longer idiom, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Simply put, at some point the camel is going to break under a given amount of weight. It’s inevitable.

But, the sin of the entire world couldn’t break Jesus’ back. Not then. Not now.

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

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Do Prophets Still Exist? (The kind that can predict the future?)

FOX News recently published an article about pastor/author, Shawn Bolz, a self-proclaimed prophet as well as pastor of a church in Los Angeles, CA.

Bolz isn’t the first – nor will he be the last – modern day Christian to claim to have the spiritual gift of predictive prophecy.  I use the adjective predictive because the New Testament term for prophecy does not suggest modern day prophets function in this way of being able to predict the future.  (Read the FOX News article here.)

This begs the common question:  Do prophets still exist?  (The kind of prophets that can actually predict the future?”)

Good question.  Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says…

NOTE:  The question of whether or not there are modern-day predictive prophets is a debatable one as this doctrine is clearly subject to interpretation, some firmly believing the “miracles & sign gifts” are as viable today as they were prior to the completion of the canon of scripture.  And, in Bolz’ defense, I have never met him and am certain he is a wonderful and loving man.  My purpose here in this blog is solely to provide biblical context for the reader so that they may prayerfully and carefully consider the scriptures where this doctrine is concerned.

To get started, I agree with John MacArthur on this doctrine:

Like its Hebrew equivalent (nābā), the Greek [New Testament] verb (prophēteuō) behind prophecy simply means “to speak forth, to proclaim.” It assumes the speaker is before an audience, and could mean “to speak publicly.” The connotation of prediction was added sometime in the Middle Ages…

A [modern-day] prophet of God, therefore, is simply one who speaks forth God’s Word, and prophecy is the proclaiming of that Word. The gift of prophecy is the Spirit-given and Spirit-empowered ability to proclaim the Word effectively. Since the completion of Scripture, prophecy has no longer been the means of new revelation, but has only proclaimed what has already been revealed in Scripture.

The simplest and clearest definition of this function is given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:3, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”

I, personally, tend to hold to the conviction that the “miracles & signs gifts” served the purpose of providing apostolic authenticity i.e. God authenticated a particular chosen servant by giving him/her authority to perform miracles & signs.  (I always wonder why people claiming to have the spiritual gift of healing aren’t walking the halls of hospitals and nursing homes healing those people.) However, these types of gifts gradually decreased as the canon of Scripture – the full revelation of God to man – increased and came to completion.  Paul wrote,

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  1 Corinthians 13:8-10

“The perfect” is the Word of God.  The Bible.

The author of Hebrews adds,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 1:1-2

In other words, with the miraculous revelation of God’s Word we no longer are in need of these gifts to help us know what God is saying to us.

Of course, and I believe this strongly, this does not mean God can’t employ these gifts in modern day any time he chooses.  Occasionally, I read of – and believe – stories of miracles & signs taking place around the world.  But, this would be the exception, not the norm.

In the FOX News article, Bolz confesses his prophecies are not always true:

[Boltz] “said most of his prophecies come true. But he’s quick to admit he’s been wrong at times.  ‘I told one family a diagnosis of a family member who had cancer and told them I thought God was going to bring healing, and she died a few months later. I took responsibility.”

No doubt, Bolz was forced to come to grips with a well-known passage from Deuteronomy:

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously…”  Deuteronomy 18:22

God doesn’t make mistakes.  Ever.  If the spiritual gift of predictive prophecy was still in play it wouldn’t be hit & miss.  Rather, prophecies given in God’s name would be fail-safe, never being wrong.

Even in New Testament times, words from prophets were to be evaluated by the congregation:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.  (1 Corinthians 14:29)

Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.  (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)

God’s warns believers to be wise, never gullible.  As such, we must be careful never to swallow whole someone’s claim to be able to, in the name of God, predict the future without giving said prophecy careful biblical consideration.  To do so places us on dangerous ground, making room for crushing disappointment when the prophecy fails.

Whatever your conviction always be careful to weigh every word and action of another against the infallible Word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

His Mercies Are New Every Morning – however…

“His mercies (tender compassions) never fail – they are new (infinite; inexhaustible) every morning…”

Let this promise from God sink into your weary soul. Drink it in.

But know this important principle: as my family learned from a dear friend after my son walked into Paradise, we have to “pick up/claim” those mercies every morning. Every afternoon. Every evening.

I heard a preacher decades ago teach of how we, as Christians, possess all of Christ, meaning every bit of his mercy, power, love, peace and strength dwells within us this very moment, and is available for us to draw from.

The problem, he continued, is that we commonly forget to “possess our possessions.” In other words, although we possess the power of Christ, most of the time His power within us, due to fear or discouragement, goes unused simply because we forget to apply it to our lives.  (And Satan would love to keep it that way.)

The Lord’s mercies are new every morning. Pick those mercies up. Possess your possessions.

Love you, nw

Learning to Pray

Even Jesus’ own disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

For years in working with students I would find myself listening to a teen yearn to learn to pray. We would pray together but I would also encourage them to read the prayers recorded for us by others over the centuries.

I would encourage them to read the prayers of scripture – Jesus’ prayer in John 17, the prayer of Nehemiah in chapter 9 (which is the longest prayer recorded in scripture), Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9, and, of course, the biblical book of Psalms which is a collection of 150 raw, honest prayers.

Excerpts from yet another wonderful collection of raw, celebratory and desperate prayers are below.

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers, and a well-worn book in my library.

The Puritan Movement was mostly during the 16th & 17th centuries. As with any “religiosity” the corrupt heart of mankind can twist God’s Word to mean what they want it to mean – hence, the Salem Witch Trials that took place during the Puritan era.

However, although the wicked events claim most of the press, many Puritans were just like us: broken people trying to navigate this sometimes painful and confusing thing we call life.

The prayers in the book mentioned above, and cited below, represent those broken people.

Enjoy and be inspired. Much love, Nick

“O incomprehensible but prayer-hearing God,

I thank you for the riches to me in Jesus – for the unclouded revelation of him in your Word where I behold his person, character, grace, glory, humiliation, sufferings, death and resurrection.

I come to you with nothing of my own to offer – no works, nothing of worth, no promises. Just me.

Deliver me from the natural darkness of my own mind, from the corruptions of my heart, from the temptations to which I am exposed, from the daily snares that attend me.

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference between what I receive and what I deserve – the heaven I am bound for, the hell I deserve.

O God, it is amazing that we can talk so much about our mere human power and goodness when, if you did not hold us back at every moment, we would be devils incarnate.

Nothing exceeds your power. Your might is infinite, your grace limitless, your name glorious.

Let angels sing for sinners repenting, for prodigals restored, for Satan’s captives released, for blind eyes opened, for broken hearts healed, for giving us hope in a sometimes hopeless world.

Destroy in me every lofty thought. Break my pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds.

Let my words and actions be firmly rooted in your Word.

I ask great things of a great God.

Amen”

The 23rd Psalm

46814-lord-shepherd.500w.tn

Commenting on the 23rd Psalm, the famed 19th century British pastor, Charles Spurgeon, wrote:

“It has charmed more griefs to rest than all the philosophy of the world. It has remanded to their dungeon more felon thoughts, more black doubts, more thieving sorrows, than there are sands on the sea-shore. It has comforted the noble host of the poor. It has sung courage to the army of the disappointed. It has poured balm and consolation into the heart of the sick, of captives in dungeons, of widows in their griefs, of orphans in their loneliness. Dying soldiers have died easier as it was read to them; it has visited the prisoner, broken his chains and, like Peter’s angel, led him forth in imagination, and sung him back to his home again.” – The Treasury of David: Classic Reflections on the Wisdom of the Psalms

***Reflect on it today, my friends. I love you all. Nick

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

To My Fellow Pastors (and fellow believers)

NOTE: I’ve read MacDonald’s book at least twice. But, presently, I am reading the other two books referenced in this blog. And the collective wisdom – and warning – dictated I share it with you, my friends. If Satan wants to take out the sheep, he’ll begin with us – the shepherds, Love to you, all. nw

Pastor/author, Gordon MacDonald, had finally reached what he describes as “the bottomless pit of my soul.”

In his best-selling book, Ordering Your Private World, he recounts the steps he consciously took to reach that pit.

By nature I was an idea man, a visionary of sorts, and I possessed an ability to persuade people to follow me.  You call of these things, at least I do, natural gifts or talents.  And they lead to what I call fast starts.

By fast start, I am referring to those things that might (but shouldn’t) dazzle people.  Fast start fits with the vocabulary of perceived success: large numbers, big bucks, sudden victories, quick recognition, and meeting ‘important’ people.

Natural gifts such as personal charisma, mental brightness, emotional strength, and organized ability can impress and motivate people for a long time.  Sometimes, though, they can be mistaken for spiritual vitality and depth.  [This type of leader] often projects a bravado of confidence as they forge ahead with their achievement-oriented life plan. And, sadly, we do not have a Christian culture today that easily recognizes a person of spiritual depth vs. a person of natural talent.

The result is that more than a few people can be fooled into thinking they are being influenced by a spiritual giant when, in fact, they are being manipulated by a dwarf.

We must always be aware that there are leaders who can build great organizations (including churches) on natural gifts Say the right words, be smart enough to do the right things, be insightful enough to connect with the right people, and one can go a long time before anyone discovers their inner life is close to empty.

Later in life, and broken, MacDonald continues,

This ultimately led me to the bottomless pit of my soul.  I had a choice to make.  I knew I had to forget the gadgets and start with the interior, my private world.  The order in my life I was now seeking had to begin with a thorough scouring of the inside of my life.

I once was told about a pastor who commonly used the phrase “constructive manipulation” to describe his strategy to further his agendas. This phrase is an oxymoron and should send chills down the spine of every pastor as there is nothing ‘constructive’ about manipulation. Rather, manipulation is nothing but ‘destructive’ since it has nothing to do with reliance on Sovereign God, but on one’s deceptive human efforts.

Further, manipulation usually contains a half-truth. And a half-truth is still a whole lie. Even a cursory reading of the scriptures reveals God’s certain judgment on these types of leaders. Moses warned, “Your sins will find you out.” The Hebrew imagery behind this statement is that of prey being hunted by the inevitable consequences of their sin (God’s judgment).

Henry & Richard Blackaby address this same pride/self-driven trap in their book on the Old Testament character, Joshua:

Some aspiring leaders constantly seek ‘the big break.’ They distribute resumes, applying for important, prestigious positions.  They use political tactics to gain friends and forge alliances.  People scheme and plan to improve their positions.

They may achieve prominent positions, but these come through their own efforts.

Contrary to this pattern, humble faithfulness was fundamental to Joshua’s success.  He never set out to climb the ladder of success, nor did he pursue a career path in leadership.  He served Moses humbly and faithfully because that was God’s assignment on him.  The plan for Joshua to be Moses’ successor was due to God’s initiative, not Joshua’s.

A leadership position without corresponding character based on a humble devotion to Christ inevitably leads to failure.

For the rest of his life, Joshua pursued not becoming a religious leader, but rather an intimate relationship with God.  And this is why God could use him mightily.

To round out this trilogy of sage, biblical wisdom, I offer the following from Leonard Ravenhill’s brilliant, Why Revival Tarries:

Pastors, we could well manage to be half as intellectual (of the modern pseudo kind) if we were twice as spiritually mature.  Preaching is a spiritual task.  A sermon born in the head reaches the head; a sermon born in the heart reaches the heart.

‘Busy-ness’ is the ‘religion’ of our time.  Where are our pulpit crusaders driven by fervent prayer?  Preachers who should be ‘fishing for men’ are too often fishing for compliments from men.

Preaching is not won in the pulpit by status, or firing off intellectual bullets or humorous anecdotes, but in intimate times of prayer.  The messages we preach are won or lost before the preacher’s foot enters the pulpit. 

Away with the palsied, powerless preaching which is unmoving because it was born in human effort rather than in the heart of God, and nourished in a fireless, prayerless soul.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick