A Prayer in the Face of Christ’s Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranatha, Nick

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I often tell people that, within the context of Christian music, the words of most beloved hymns & carols boil down to this:  those lyrics are someone’s story put to music.

As with the heart-breaking story behind Horatio Spafford’s It is Well, we would do well to familiarize ourselves with the drama that gives life to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

Below, you will find a concise telling of the story behind Wadsworth’s poem as he searches desperately for peace and hope during a time of great pain.

Below the story is a beautiful arrangement of the song originally made popular by Casting Crowns.  However, the one I’ve linked for you here is sung by a precious couple in my church, Zach & Melissa Walker.  I much prefer their version.  It’s absolutely beautiful.

Peace on earth, Nick

From the Gospel Coalition:

In March of 1863, 18-year-old Charles Appleton Longfellow walked out of his family’s house on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and—unbeknownst to his family—boarded a train bound for Washington, D.C., traveling over 400 miles across the eastern seaboard in order to join President Lincoln’s Union army to fight in the Civil War.

Charles (b. June 9, 1844) was the oldest of six children born to Fannie Elizabeth Appleton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the celebrated literary critic and poet. Charles had five younger siblings: a brother (aged 17) and three sisters (ages 13, 10, 8—another one had died as an infant).

Less than two years earlier, Charles’s mother Fannie had tragically died after her dress caught on fire. Her husband, awoken from a nap, tried to extinguish the flames as best he could, first with a rug and then his own body, but she had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning (July 10, 1861), and Henry Longfellow’s facial burns were severe enough that he was unable even to attend his own wife’s funeral. He would grow a beard to hide his burned face and at times feared that he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.

When Charley (as he was called) arrived in Washington D.C., he sought to enlist as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. Captain W. H. McCartney, commander of Battery A, wrote to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for written permission for Charley to become a soldier. HWL (as his son referred to him) granted the permission.

Longfellow later wrote to his friends Charles Sumner (senator from Massachusetts), John Andrew (governor of Massachusetts), and Edward Dalton (medical inspector of the Sixth Army Corps) to lobby for his son to become an officer. But Charley had already impressed his fellow soldiers and superiors with his skills, and on March 27, 1863, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, assigned to Company “G.”

After participating on the fringe of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia (April 30-May 6, 1863), Charley fell ill with typhoid fever and was sent home to recover. He rejoined his unit on August 15, 1863, having missed the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863).

1868
1868

While dining at home on December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram that his son had been severely wounded four days earlier. On November 27, 1863, while involved in a skirmish during a battle of of the Mine Run Campaign, Charley was shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade. It had traveled across his back and skimmed his spine. Charley avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch.

He was carried into New Hope Church (Orange County, Virginia) and then transported to the Rapidan River. Charley’s father and younger brother, Ernest, immediately set out for Washington, D.C., arriving on December 3. Charley arrived by train on December 5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was alarmed when informed by the army surgeon that his son’s wound “was very serious” and that “paralysis might ensue.” Three surgeons gave a more favorable report that evening, suggesting a recovery that would require him to be “long in healing,” at least six months.

On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He heard the Christmas bells that December day and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook. The theme of listening recurred throughout the poem, eventually leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair.

 

Tell Me About Your Jesus

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

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

There were some good online dialogue.

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

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

Below is my reply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope this helps. Much love, Nick

Chosen But Free – The Biblical Doctrine of Election

NOTE: The issue of “election vs. free will” will forever be debated.  What is critical, though, is that a believer leans fully on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, without adding to, or taking away.  Conjecture, speculation and theory are good for earthly debate.  But, when all the dust settles, there is only one authority: the Word of God.  “Your word is truth,” Jesus said to the Father.[1]   Even the most intelligent of biblical scholars will never fully understand all the mysteries of the Bible.   But, that’s why it’s “by faith we are saved,”[2] and not by mere human intellect, logic & reason.  Volumes have been written on this topic.  I am merely sharing a few thoughts in this blog.  It would be impossible to write all I would like.

 Here’s the question I was asked recently:

If God, being fully sovereign, has already pre-ordained all past, present & future events how can I believe that I can choose anything of my own free will?  And, if God is fully sovereign, what about the atrocities of the Crusades, the Dark Ages, the Holocaust, crimes again children, etc?  Did God preordain these events?  If you say He didn’t, then are you telling me He was “caught off guard”[3] by them?  Tell me, is God totally in charge or partially in charge?  It can’t be both.

Oh, the tangled and exhausting mess we find ourselves in when we begin to assign to God what He can and cannot do, or what He can and cannot be.  Not to mention that it angers God:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.[4]

God continued….

The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer- twice, but I will say no more.” Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.[5]

Clearly, the Bible says that we – not God – will be the ones answering the questions, not him. (Unless he chooses to do so.)

 

That said, how would you have answered the question posed above?

 

Here’s how I responded:

Chosen But Free [6] – that’s the title of theologian/apologist, Norman Geisler’s, book on this white-hot topic among evangelicals.   Geisler, as well as Spurgeon, Packer, MacArthur, and other respected biblical scholars, affirms what simply doesn’t make sense to us. He affirms both the sovereignty and foreknowledge of God and the human responsibility to either receive or reject Him.

Why should we even want to sort through this controversial of a topic?  I like the way A.W. Tozer answers this question:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[7]

So, which is it?  Are we all robots that God has wound up, setting us on our way to live a pre-programmed set of life-long thoughts and actions?  Or, are we free to make our own choices?

Again, are we, as human beings, merely following a program, of sorts, that’s been downloaded into our psyche by God before we existed?  Are we mindless slaves who, unbeknownst to us, have no real choice in anything we say or do?   If that’s so, why would Jesus say things like, “Whosoever will…?[8]

Because by saying, “whosoever” it sounds a whole lot like Jesus is saying, “you have a choice: accept me or reject me.”  The first Bible verse almost everyone on planet earth learns is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him…”  (John 3:16)

On the other hand, what is God talking about when the Bible over and over again speaks of His “elect” i.e. “chosen ones?”[9]  Has He already made up His mind as to who will go to heaven and who will go to hell? i.e. “who’s in, and who’s out?”   Wayne Grudem asserts,

“Several passages in the New Testament seem to affirm quite clearly that God ordained beforehand those who would be saved.”[10]  In John 17, verses 2, 6, and 24, Jesus seems to be praying for only those the Father “has given Him” and, in verse 12, acknowledges that one has already been “doomed for destruction so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”?

Biblical passages like the following appear to make it clear it doesn’t matter what we think or do:

  • It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.[11]
  • But [God] stands alone, and who can oppose Him?  He does whatever He pleases.[12]

 

Again, which is it?  Robots?  Or, free to choose?

 

Simply put, this is one of those doctrines that will forever cause our human intellect to short-circuit.  Consider the following humorous illustration:

“There was a group of theologians discussing the doctrines of predestination and free will. When the argument became heated, the dissidents split into two groups. One man, unable to make up his mind which group to join, slipped into the predestination crowd.  Challenged as to why he was there, he replied, ‘I came of my own free will.’ The group retorted, ‘Free will! You don’t belong here!’ So he retreated to the opposing group and, when asked why he switched, responded, ‘I was sent here.’ ‘Get out,’ they stormed.  ‘You can’t join us unless you come of your own free will!” The confused man was left out in the cold.”[13]

 

A little History:  Calvinism

  • The debate regarding “Predestination (God’s already predestined every human thought and action) and Free Will (we have the freedom to make our own choices)” is nothing new.  It’s been a source of major theological difference since Augustine and Pelagius argued about it in the early fifth century.  In Erwin Lutzer’s, Doctrines That Divide, this topic, alone, occupies a third of its pages.  Healthy debate is actually a very good thing, though.  It teaches us to think deeply.  And having our convictions challenged only makes us stronger in knowing why we belive what we believe.  Problems develop as a result of the reckless, uneducated comments that fly out of the mouths of “self-appointed authorities” on both sides.
  • In 1538, the reformer/theologian, John Calvin, wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which, for centuries, served as the basic textbook of theology for most Protestants.  Later, in 1618-1619, the Synod of Dort convened in the Netherlands to defend Calvin’s “Institutes” against contrary teachings and came up with what is today commonly known as “Five Point Calvinism,” often identified by the acrostic: “TULIP”: Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Limited Atonement; Irresistible Grace; and Perseverance of the Saints.  “Limited Atonement” is the point that conveys the message that Christ died for “the elect” only. (Or, more pointedly, that God has predestined some for heaven and some for hell. This ideal is commonly known as “double predestination.”)
  • As stated earlier, history proves that godly men have fiercely debated this doctrine.  The great 18th century preacher, George Whitefield, agreed with this doctrine and taught that any contrary teaching was blasphemy.  But,… the great preacher and hymn-writer, John Wesley, argued that limited atonement “made God a devil.”  For 17 centuries, the debate has raged on.  Today, we have very godly, educated scholars still disagreeing…still debating…and they always will.

 

Familiarize Yourself with the Word “Antimony.”

  • “Antimony,” by definition, is: “an apparent contradiction between valid principles or conclusions that seem equally necessary and reasonable.”
  • The first chapter of Ephesians, Paul addresses our being predestined for salvation.  Pastor/Teacher, John MacArthur, does a masterful job of explaining this element in his commentary on Ephesians:
  • “God’s sovereign election and man’s exercise of responsibility in choosing Jesus Christ seem opposite and irreconcilable truths – and from our limited human perspective they are opposite and irreconcilable. That is why so many earnest, well-meaning Christians throughout the history of the church have floundered trying to reconcile them. Since the problem cannot be resolved by our finite minds, the result is always to compromise one truth in favor of the other or to weaken both by trying to take a position somewhere between them. We should let the antimony remain, believing both truths completely and leaving the harmonizing of them to God…..It is not that God’s sovereign election, or predestination, eliminates man’s choice in faith. Divine sovereignty and human response are integral and inseparable parts of salvation – though exactly how they operate together only the infinite mind of God knows.”[14]

  • A perfect example of antimony is: “Was Judas ‘predestined’ to betray Jesus Christ? If so, what kind of God would do such a thing?!”  True: Judas was predestined.  Also true: Judas had choice in the matter.[15]  So, which was it?  Both.  But it contradicts human logic, reason and intellect.  I agree with former Houston Baptist University professor, Robert Creech, Ph.d, who said, “Anything that undermines the love of God is rightly suspect.”[16]  The problem of Judas is simply antimony.
  • In Romans 9:15, God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  What part of that verse is hard to understand?  Bottom line: God has the last word.  And He basis His will on His wisdom, not ours.  Archbishop, William Temple, once said, “One of the things believers are most fond of doing is thinking they’re more spiritual than God.”   In Romans 11:33-34, Paul wrote: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
  • Finally, God said through the prophet, Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)

 

“Which is right? ‘Predestination’ or ‘Free Will?” The answer is: “Yes.”

  • As one friend once told me, “We were predestined to have free will.”
  • John MacArthur writes, The Bible is clear that “no person receives Jesus Christ as Savior who has not been chosen by God:”[17] John 6:44; Romans 8:29-30; Romans 9:11, 14-15; Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:4; 1 Peter 1:2.
  • But,.. equally clear in Scripture, MacArthur continues: “The frequent commands to the unsaved to respond to the Lord clearly indicate the responsibility of man to exercise his own will.”[18]  Matt. 3:1-2; Matt. 4:17; Matt. 11:28-30; John 3:16; John 5:40; John 6:37; John 7:37-39; John 11:26; Rev. 22:17. Interestingly, Luke 2:10, records the angel, Gabriel, proclaiming, “I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people.”….not “some” people.
  • Again – and I can’t emphasize this enough – the Bible clearly teaches that God is 100% sovereign.  But, the Bible also teaches that of mankind’s responsibility, or freedom to choose.  The New Testament is replete with Jesus’ invitation to all mankind, the dozens of “whosoever will’s”.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”  Then Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  (Hyper-Calvinists will jump through all kinds of theological hoops trying desperately to dismiss these passages as in support of the free will of man.)
  • One of my college professors, paraphrasing Charles Spurgeon, explained it to me this way: Throughout Scripture two abiding truths are told time and again: 1) God is in absolute and complete control (He is sovereign), and 2) people are responsible for their choices (humans have free will).  In high level human logic, those two truths are incompatible – sort of like a “married bachelor” – it is completely contradictory.  But, in God’s economy, it works.  As Spurgeon stated, those truths are like the two rails on a railroad track. They are parallel and never touch, but you have to have both for the train to go anywhere.[19]

 

Accept the Fact That Some People Just Enjoy Arguing.

  • Know that this conclusion will only frustrate some.  But, typically, these are folks who, for whatever reason, just enjoy arguing.  It frustrates them that they can’t wrap their mind around God. They are foolish to ever think they could. They can’t stand it when things like this don’t “add up.”  But, neither do talking donkeys, huge bodies of water parting, or virgin births, all of which are in our Bible.  You can’t cherry-pick which miracles you’re going to allow to be inexplicable.
  • Author & theologian, J.I. Packer:  There is among Christians “the reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men.” He goes onto write that some people simply “are not content to let [predestination and free will] live side by side, as they do in the Scriptures…..The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it..”[20] 
  • Unfortunately, people still enjoy throwing the body of Christ “into confusion”[21] with rhetoric that is just plain irresponsible. God’s already told us that He’s “not a God of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33)  So avoid combative, argumentative dialogue on this topic.  If you find someone that refuses to validate your position simply leave or talk about something else. Because whether they want to admit it or not, this issue will not be settled in this life.
  • And, speaking of arguing…

 

A Warning:  Hyper-Calvinists

  • A person would be categorized as a hyper-calvinist if the following applies:  they are not satisfied with simply holding to a strict argument for the Five Points of Calvinism.  They want you to believe it too.  All of it.  They argue their case self-righteously, almost angrily, giving little or no respect for opposing arguments and opinions.
  • Jesus never imposed his convictions on anyone.  But this person has absolutely no interest in civil discourse.  Rather, they want to bully their interlocutor into aligning their conviction with theirs.
  • As a result, the hyper-calvinist, like the ancient Pharisees, foolishly believes they’re on a level with the mind of God as they laughably attempt to mold God into their own little theological box created by their mere human logic, reason and intellect.
  • Should you ever encounter a person who fits this profile, simply smile and walk away.  This person loves to argue.  Any attempt to have an adult conversation with them will suck the very life out of you while their rambling, arrogant logic takes you with them down the proverbial rabbit hole. 🙂

 

 Final Thoughts:

  • Holding to the Bible teaching that God is 100% sovereign (I do believe this) means God is responsible for all the blessings in my life.  But he’s also responsible for my son taking his life.  (He could’ve stopped it.)  It’s either all on God, or it isn’t.  You can’t have it both ways.  But, like Job’s terrifying experience meeting God that day beginning in Job 38, I’ve also made a choice not to question God’s fathomless wisdom.  In my cognitive dissonance – rather than futilely attempt to spend my life trying to figure God out, I’ve chosen to focus on the cross.  Why? Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb my son is more alive than he’s ever been.  And a reunion is coming. There are simply some mysteries that won’t be revealed until we reach heaven.  Paul told the Corinthians: “Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.”[22]
  • Let me finish with a quote from the great 19th century, British preacher/ theologian, Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

“The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once…..I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free will. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once into antimonianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory, but they are not. The fault is in our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other…..They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”[23]

 

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 End Notes

[1] John 17:17, NIV; See also Isaiah 40:8

[2] Ephesians 2:8, NIV

[3] The term used to describe God as One who can be “caught off guard” or not completely certain of what happens next is:  “Open Theism.”

[4] Job 38:1-4, NIV

[5] Job 40:1-7, NIV

[6] Norman Geisler.  Chosen But Free, 2001.

[7] A.W. Tozer.  The Knowledge of the Holy, 1978.  Quoted by Norman Geisler in Chosen But Free.

[8] Matthew 10:32; 12:50; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:24; John 3:16

[9] Matthew 24:22, 24; Romans 8:33; In Colossians 3:12, the Amplified describes “chosen ones” as “His own picked representatives.”

[10] Wayne Grudem, Ph.D.  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1994.

[11] Romans 9:16-18, NIV

[12] Job 23:13, NIV

[13] Edwin Lutzer. Doctrines That Divide. 1998.

[14] John MacArthur.  MacArthur Commentary on Ephesians, 1986.

[15] For an excellent commentary on Judas, see John MacArthur’s, Twelve Ordinary Men, 2002.

[16] Robert Creech, Ph.D.  Quote included in a personal e-mail from Dr. Creech.  2000

[17] MacArthur.  Ephesians.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Larry McGraw, Ph.D. Professor of Theology. Hardin-Simmons University. Abilene, TX.

[20] J.I. Packer. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. 1991

[21] Galatians 1:7, NIV

[22] 1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT

[23] Charles Spurgeon.  A Defense of Calvinism, 1897.  Included in “A Heritage of Great Evangelical Teaching,” 1996.

Why Pray? (Does it really make any difference?)

I want to thank everyone for your kind and encouraging words regarding the message I preached on June 16th about the mystery of prayer and why God, through human eyes, seems so capricious i.e. why does he answer some prayers and not others?

My daughter, Macy Watts, listened to it yesterday and told me should couldn’t stop crying. (Most of the time that’s what happens when they find out I’m that day’s preacher. )

Why pray? Because Jesus did.

Why flood heaven with requests? Because Jesus did.

I shared the following with Macy. Perhaps, for those who are wrestling with this spiritual disciple called prayer, my response to Macy may be of some encouragement. love to you all. nw

“Macy, the topic (of why God answers some prayers and not others) has always been problematic for me. Way before Jordan died I would hear testimonies of people talking about how their loved one had stopped drinking or using drugs. I begged God to heal my dad and sister. They died anyway. Or about someone who had been reconciled with their dad or mom. And I would ask God, “Why them and not me??” But, at some point, you just have to strip away the veneer and ask the question behind it all: “can I trust God, or not?” It’s a hard question sometimes. In Daniel 9:23 the angel, Gabriel, came in “swift flight” to tell Daniel, “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given.” If I am going to believe John 3:16 I have to believe Dan. 9:23 right? I can’t cherry-pick which scriptures I’m going to believe and which ones I’m not. At some point in one’s life you have to drive a stake in the ground and, with your Bible in your hand, say to God, “Life is hard. I don’t understand most of it. But I’m going to believe this book, by faith alone, in Christ alone.” And then walk away with the issue once and for all settled. As my brother/friend, Joe Price, told me after Jordan Blake Watts took his life, “If faith was easy, it wouldn’t be called faith.”

When Macy texted me after listening to the message she included my closing quote:

“It appears to me that God has decided that he can use me better in my pain than with my son still here. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. I don’t have the answers that I need. But I’ve chosen to believe that God is still God. And that God is still good.”

For Narnia, nw

Satan’s Relentless Pursuit to Take Us Out

I had been in full-time, vocational ministry for just over 30 years when, for the first time in my life, I gained new insight into the depth of the evil Satan possesses.

After my son, Jordan, took his life I was crippled in every way, en route to being hospitalized for suicidal thoughts myself.

As you can imagine, during that first year, I, numerous times, broke down into screaming madness on the floor.

Later, as I reflected back on those moments of unspeakable pain, I recalled how intense the battle was for my mind. I remember distinctly a voice in my head telling me to “finish the job. Go see your son. Your family will be much better off without your broken mind. Finish the job.”

Logic says that, at that point in my life, being 100% useless to the kingdom of heaven here on planet earth, Satan would’ve moved on to someone else.

But he didn’t.

Satan didn’t care that I was beat down.

His goal? Finish the job. Take me out. Hurt my family deeper.

I learned from a counselor once, “You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.”

According to the Bible, the devil exists. And he hates everything about you.

If you’ve placed your faith in Christ, you are an active threat to his plans.

If you’ve never placed your faith in Christ, you potentially could do that one day. That makes you a potential threat.

He. Hates. You. And won’t stop attempting to take you out.

Marriage in shambles? Just lost a loved one? Just diagnosed with cancer? Suffering from crippling depression? Facing unanticipated financial crisis? Been recently betrayed. Wrestling with addiction? Lost your job? (Insert here your most recent crushing life event.) The list goes on…

Satan doesn’t care how hard life is for you. He’s coming after you to finish the job.

Two gospel writers, Matthew & Luke, record the temptation narratives (the “showdown in the desert” between Christ and Satan), recorded in chapter 4 of each gospel.

There are a dozen sermons in those passages. Mine here is just one:

After failing to get Jesus to sin the first time, Matthew records, “Then the devil..” (4:5)

Satan wasn’t going to give up.

After failing yet a second time, Matthew records in verse 8, “Again, the devil…”

He still wasn’t going to give up.

**While the Cross offers us mercy, the devils offers us none.**

Finally, Jesus ordered Satan, “Away from me, Satan!” And Satan had no choice but to leave.

But Luke adds this ominous warning: the devil “departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” (4:13)

Paul reminds believers that, because of Christ, “we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) The disciple, John, put it this way: “Greater is he who is in us, than he who is in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:4)

This biblical truth is catastrophic to the work of Satan.  So, naturally, he works tirelessly to get us to forget it.

This way he can continue his relentless, systematic, and methodical strategy to take out families and individuals. Once and for all.

You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.

My objective here is to remind you we have an enemy.

But, he is no match for the risen King, Jesus Christ, at whose presence the devil cowers in terror.

“Put on the whole armor of God,” an imprisoned Paul wrote, “that you may be able to take your stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Soli Deo Gloria.

For Narnia, Nick

Stop Trying to be Good Enough

freedom

Good works are not required for salvation. Rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

Whether it’s being faithful to our spouse, honest in our business/academic dealings, keeping our thought-life pure, being patient behind a slow-as-Christmas driver, or even attending church…

These “good works,” albeit moral, don’t “get us into heaven.” Further, by God’s standards, there’s no one on planet earth who is “good.” (cf. Romans 3:10-12)

The “older brother” in Jesus’ story of the two sons in Luke 15:11-31 did everything “right” i.e. checked off all his “good works” boxes – and he still was just as lost as his prodigal bother had been.

The Bible is crystal clear: placing our faith in the death of Christ on the cross and in his resurrection “gets us into heaven.”  Paul wrote,

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

If even the tiniest “good work” saved us, Christ died for nothing. But, not only did his death mean something, it meant everything. This is what Jesus meant when, from the cross, he cried, “It is finished.”

Paul wrote,

“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)

Free from what? Free from tirelessly trying to “check off a list of ‘good works’”, thinking our human effort will make us good enough for God to love us.

Stop trying to be “good enough” for God to love you. This is known as legalism And it is a crippling form of spiritual bondage.

In the words of author, Philip Yancey,

“There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you any less.

God’s love for us is fixed, inexorably, because of Christ’s excruciating death and resurrection.

Again, “good works” are not required for salvation. But rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

This is precisely why Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll do what I’ve told you to do.” (Jn. 14:15) It all begins with our love for, and devotion to, him.

Anyone can fake their love for someone by going through the motions of kindness and goodness using calculated pretense and deception.

We can fool some people some of the time.

But we can never fool God.

Place your faith in the risen Christ. Be free.

The “good works” will supernaturally follow. )

Love to you all, Nick