How Jesus Found Me at Harvard

“Into [my atheistic state], God broke in.”

What a powerful story from Harvard professor, Mark Shepard.

Short article. Enjoy… nw

Harvard University is special for me because it is where I first came to know Jesus Christ. Perhaps this should not be surprising. Harvard is a place that reveres truth (Veritas), and Jesus says he is the truth. But most people when they hear this about me are surprised, since they see the university as a secular place. Let me share my story and a few of the surprises it has entailed.

I grew up in a Jewish home and was raised in Hebrew school and Jewish observance. But by the time I entered Harvard College as a freshman, I had rebelled and become an atheist. Like many atheists, I had strong beliefs. I believed that faith was the opposite of reason – and therefore to be avoided. I believed that science was the only real way of knowing truth. And I believed that life should be lived based on logical optimization and rationality, free from the softness of emotional thinking. (Perhaps you can see why I became an economist.)

Into this state, God broke in.

My first surprise was meeting Christians who actually believed their faith – and in a thoughtful, intelligent way. I got to know a resident tutor, who also happened to be a minister for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In long conversations in the dining halls, we explored the deep questions: Is there a God? Is there purpose behind the universe? Is there such thing as moral truth? And what does the Bible have to say about all this? Amazingly to me, my tutor had faith, but also welcomed questioning of that faith and consideration of evidence for and against Christianity. Here was a faith not opposed to reason, but deeply involved with it.

My second surprise was in the power of the Bible, and particularly Jesus, to make sense of the world, and to move and inspire me. As I read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for the first time, I was blown away. Here was the most beautiful, powerful expression of moral truth I had ever encountered. But who did this come from? Could this really be the work of a poor Jewish carpenter and his uneducated followers? And how could I deal with the fact that my worldview gave me little grounding even to believe in moral truth?

My third surprise – which still surprises and challenges me to this day – was finding out that I am a sinner. This merits explanation. Sin, in common usage, is a joke. It’s a word used for pleasurable things that prudish people label as bad. This is not what I mean by sin. Sin, in my experience, is rooted in an overwhelming pride. When I enter the world, I want to be better than people around me – to be more impressive and more accomplished, and to be recognized as such. When mixed with an academic environment like Harvard, this sinful tendency is toxic. Collectively, it leads to bottom-line thinking, with a culture of celebrity for people who succeed and worthlessness for those who do not. It turns Harvard’s greatest strength – its brilliant people – into a source of envy and anxiety. In my life, I have seen this way of thinking lead to depression, unfruitfulness, and a desire to quit academics and even life itself. Sin is self-destructive.

While my old worldview gave me few resources to understand or deal with sin, Christianity confronts it head on. God’s answer is the gospel: the good news that Jesus came into the world to live, die, and be raised for sinners. The gospel reminds me, first, that because God is central, life is not about me but about him. I don’t have to achieve, to impress, to justify myself. I am accepted in him. Second, the gospel frees me from the misdeeds of my past, since Jesus has paid for them. Finally, the gospel gives me – and the whole university – a new purpose. By learning, teaching, and relating to each other in humility and love, we participate in renewing the world. This is a purpose in which everyone in the university can participate, regardless of rank or status.

God’s vision for the university now animates my heart and gives me continual resources to renew my life and to beat back sin. I encourage you to consider this truth that has changed my life and promises to do the same for you.

Mark Shepard is an assistant professor at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. His main research studies health economics.

Every Christian is a Theologian

“Theology” simply means “the study of God.”

That means all believers are theologians – or, at least, should be.  To be clear – and fair – this does not mean that everyone is an academic or scholar i.e. someone who has made a career out of studying the Bible.  But, nonetheless, we’re all biblically commanded to be theologians: a person who studies the Word of God.

I ran across a wonderful article on this topic this past week.  You can access the article here.

From the article:

“Laypeople have no biblical warrant (argument) to leave the duty of doctrine (a set of beliefs) up to pastors and professors alone.”

Besides, pastors being human and flawed, it is completely possible for a Bible teacher to actually misinterpret something and get it flat wrong.    Paul would end up writing a third of the New Testament.  But that hadn’t happened yet.  And the Bereans took no chances:

“…they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Finally, it’s simply what we’re commanded to do:

Study and do your best to present yourself to God…accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.”

By the way, it’s vital for us all to remember that Paul’s instruction to Timothy above was a command, not a suggestion. 🙂

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

A Psalm of Nick Watts

Reading through the Psalms you commonly see the following subheadings: a psalm of David, or a psalm of Asaph,…

I’ll never forget what I once heard one of my professors say:

“A psalm is simply a person’s response to God’s activity in their life.”

That’s why, in the Psalms, we see the full gamut of human emotion – everything from rage and despair to joy and praise. And everything in between. It’s my favorite book in the Bible.

So today, on this May 13th, I offer this psalm…

O Lord, please hear my cry.

I was once told that the loss of a child will change a parent forever.  And, having discovered my 19 year old son’s body five years ago today, I am finding that to be quite true.

I’ve read the loss of a child being compared to an amputation. For a man who’s lost an arm feels as though his arm is still there. But it isn’t. And he’s reminded of that fact every single day.

The memory of that hellish moment when I found my son is burnt indelibly into my brain.  The memory of what happened in the next few seconds is, at the same time, a blur and crystal clear.

O God, help me; a part of me has never recovered.

You know, Lord, the stubborn darkness with which I wrestle. And having become, myself, suicidal in the summer of 2015, I spent 10 days in the Psychiatric Ward at Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock. (Michelle still has one of my art projects I had made on “craft day.” 🙂) We laugh about it now.)  God, I thank you for those physicians and nurses.  They were kind and compassionate.

But, O Lord, I still suffer nightmarish, high-definition flashbacks.  Unexpected television scenes of hangings have plunged me into immediate madness.

Your word comforts me.  And helps restore and renew my mind.

Often, O God, when I walk through Jordan’s bedroom, I quote Jesus’ laser-like, compassionate words to a grieving Martha:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.”

I am reminded, Lord, of the lyrics you gave to the song-writer:

“When you’re up against a struggle that shatters all your dreams,
And your hopes have been cruelly crushed by Satan’s manifested schemes,
And you feel the urge within you to submit to earthly fears,
Don’t let the faith you’re standing in seem to disappear,

Praise the Lord, He can work through those who praise Him,
Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise,
Praise the Lord, for the chains that seems to bind you
Serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you
When you praise Him.”

Lord, I don’t praise you for my pain today. But I do praise you in it.

You know, Lord, I found Jordan in the corner of his bedroom that afternoon.

During months of counseling, you prompted my counselor to suggest I place crosses in that corner. Through that counselor, you – our Wonderful Counselor -lovingly said, “The mighty cross of Christ, even in your worst conceivable pain, will provide for you hope and peace by helping remind you of what is true.”

You are wise, O Lord. For it has been true: those crosses remind me that Jordan’s pain is gone, he’s more alive and joyful than he’s ever been – and that a reunion is coming.

Father, you prompted me to snap this photo (below) last night to post with this note. Before I took the photo i thought to myself, “The light from that lamp is going ruin the photo.” But when I looked at it my heart constricted and leapt. I couldn’t help but imagine the light from the lamp representing the angel you dispatched to Jordan’s bedroom to embrace him and carry him into Paradise. Where he is now safely in your arms.

O Lord, i don’t understand fully how prayer works. But would you please tell my son today how much I love him? And that his mom, sisters and I are making it? Please, O Prince of Peace, fill my family’s minds with your peace today? And would you help us to help others who are hurting to rediscover hope and truth again?

I humbly ask this in the mighty name of Christ, and on the authority of his shed blood. Amen

I love you, Jordan.

I love you all, Nick

For Narnia

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

Hell Under Fire

In their 2004 book, Hell Under Fire, general editors, Christopher Moran and Robert Peterson write,

A business was opening a new store, and a friend of the owner sent flowers for the occasion. The flowers arrived at the new business site, and the owner read the card, inscribed “Rest in Peace.” The angry owner called the florist to complain. After he told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist said, “Sir, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry, you should imagine this: Somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note that reads, “Congratulations on your new location.”

They then add,

Hell is under fire. In one sense that is nothing new. It has been the case ever since the Enlightenment, but the past fifty years have seen a noteworthy turn of affairs. Attacks on the historic doctrine of hell that used to come from without the church are now coming from within.

If we believe the message sent by the contemporary media, the “new location” of everyone who dies is heaven. At first glance, popular polls seem to disagree with that conclusion, for they reveal that a large majority of Americans believe in the existence of hell. However, the same polls show that almost no one thinks that he or she is going there. Everyone hopes for heaven.

Most remember how celebrity preacher, Joel Osteen, side-stepped Larry King’s straight-forward question:  “What if you’re Jew or Muslim and you don’t accept Christ at all?”  (Begin watching at 1:16)

Like Osteen, I do not enjoy talking about what the Bible calls hell.  I wish it wasn’t in there.

But it is.

Further, it’s not my call to address a clear teaching of the Bible based on how I feel about it.  To quote Luther – “I am bound by the Scriptures…and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

Finally, and most importantly, there’s the testimony and example of Jesus, himself, who not only talked about hell,  he talked about it a lot.  (cf. Matthew  23:33; 25:41; Mark 9:48; Luke 12:5)  Search the gospels and you’ll discover Christ talked about hell more often than heavenno doubt as a dire warning to those who would reject him.

If Jesus fails to get our attention in the gospels, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, clearly describes the final destination of those who choose to reject Christ as the lake of fire.

Based on the clear testimony of scripture itself, even a cursory reading of the New Testament presents the existence of hell as fact in crystal clear fashion.

There is simply no getting around it.

Certainly, one may try to explain it away or ignore it.  But choosing to twist a clear, biblical doctrine into something that better suits our mere human logic, reason and intellect doesn’t remove  or lessen what Jesus says about it.

Recently, I ran across an article written as a warning to church leaders titled, Question the doctrine of hell at your peril. It could tear your church apart.

The author, Sam Hailes, cites the demise of celebrity pastors, Carlton Pearson, Steve Chalke and Rob Bell, as well as alleged recent statements by the Pope.  He rightly asserts,

For many Christians, questioning the existence (or nature) of hell is tantamount to denying the gospel. “If everyone goes to heaven, then what was the point of Jesus dying on the cross?”

I will confess to you: there are things in the Bible I do not understand and, as such, I wish were not in there.  But, I’m not God.  My logic is fallen and corrupt while he is perfect, holy and righteous.

Hailes also does a wonderful job of helping the reader to have compassion on, and pray for, those who would attempt to rewrite scripture – including church leaders.  No one in their right mind loves the biblical doctrine of hell.  Nonetheless, as Hailes bluntly writes,

Some things are true whether we like them or not.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Pause – And Think About That…

The Hebrew word, “selah,” found repeatedly in the Psalms is thought by scholars to be an ancient musical term used in the Hebrew psalter meaning, in essence, “pause and think about that.”

The following is worth  pausing and thinking about.

In the first century, the church had no spot-lights, smoke machines, electric instruments or sound systems. Not once is it remotely suggested the leaders were concerned with fashion or creating an “atmosphere of worship” by dimming the lights. I could go on.

But, somehow – void of all modern-day trappings of Christian worship – and under horrifically intense persecution – the church exploded in growth and influence.

No soapbox here. Just an observation. nw

God or the Multiverse?

God or the Multiverse?  Which one requires more faith?

To all students having the multiverse presented to you as truth (or as the best option for the origination of life) I encourage you to watch this brief, 5 minute presentation by Brian Keating, Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego.

He poignantly quotes the sharp-witted, British apologist, G.K. Chesterton, who once quipped,

“When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.

Mankind will go to extraordinary leaps of faith to embrace philosophical and/or scientific alternatives just to avoid the possibility of the Bible being true.

Former atheist, Lee Strobel, stated in a tweet:

Watch Dr. Keating’s presentation below.  Think deeply, Nick