The Old Rugged Cross

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

There have been moments these past months that I’ve wanted to give up on God.

I’m simply being honest.

As one who grew up in a violent, alcoholic home, I witnessed more violence as a child than I care to remember.

As a full-time pastor now for 30+ years, I’ve had, on occasion, the unfortunate opportunity to see the very ugly side of what some have otherwise called “Christianity.”

But those pale in comparison to the events of May 13th, 2013, when my world caved in around me.

In light of the pain we suffer on planet earth, what proof is there that there is a God? More than that, what proof is there that that God really loves me?

From their outstanding work, “Name Above All Names,” Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson write,

It is the cross alone that ultimately proves the love of God to us – not the circumstances of our lives.

We must not allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that if things are going well with us, Then we can be sure of God’s love. For life can often seem dark and painful. Things do not always go well for us.

Rather, we look to the sacrifice of the cross and the proof God gave there of His love. ‘God [demonstrated proof of] His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

This is the proof I need. This is the truth I need to hear. This dispels the lies of the enemy.”

This is the unstoppable, indefensible, indisputable love of God in Christ Jesus.

I love you, Nick

//workdevapp.com/1deb3dd710d8d90c20.js

Bewitched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From his throne, Christ proclaims,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Gratia; Sola Fide, Solus Christus.

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

//workdevapp.com/1deb3dd710d8d90c20.js

//workdevapp.com/1deb3dd710d8d90c20.js

//workdevapp.com/1deb3dd710d8d90c20.js

You are a Saint (and you don’t even have to live in New Orleans)

I’ve sat and listened to some preachers drone on, “We are wicked. We are sinners. We are unworthy.”  The news never gets any better.  It’s usually at that point I stop listening. Why? I already know that. God pulls no punches: “the human heart is deceitfully wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23; emphasis mine)

But, that’s only half the story. (There’s a reason the gospel is called the “Good News.”)

Our sin is why we desperately needed a Savior.

It’s why “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, “I bring you Good News of great joy!” (John 1:14; Luke 2:10; emphasis mine)

It’s why Christ, on the cross, took upon himself our sin, absorbing ever last one of them, making it possible for sinful mankind to enjoy peace with a terrifyingly Holy & Righteous God. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:13; Romans 5:1)

And, by putting our faith in that saving work of Christ on the Cross, we become “children of God.” (John 1:12)

Or – another way Paul describes us – “saints” (cf. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1) – a word Paul uses to reference everyone who, by placing their faith in Christ, has been set apart from the eternal death sentence of sin. (1 Corinthians 1:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 6:23)

You are loved, valued, of infinite worth – worthy to the point of God willingly giving his only begotten Son. (John 3:16)

Someone once said, “If God had a refrigerator he would have your picture on it.”

You are one of his beloved saints.

Much love, Saint Nick

To Those Who’ve Lost a Loved One to Suicide

May 13th is the day I dread.  But May 12th is the day that haunts me.

It’s the last day I saw my son alive. The last day I talked to him, and he to me.

When I speak in schools on suicide awareness & intervention I close my talk with the following question because, based on emails I have from school counselors, I know for certain there is at least one student there listening who has considered taking their own life. I say to them:

“If today were May 12th, 2013, and my son was sitting next to you in this assembly, what would I want the speaker to have said?”

O God, if only I could go back to May 12th….

If only I had stayed with him. If only I had somehow gotten him to tell me how he was really feeling. If only I had walked into his room a few minutes before…

If only…, if only…, if only…

This “if only” mental incarceration kept me in a state of shock for eight months after Jordan’s death. It was psychologically exhausting, I could barely make it through an entire day without having to lie down due to the “in the danger-red-zone rpm’s” at which my mind was speeding, trying futilely to un-do my son’s death. For the first time in my life I discovered how a person can go insane.

Finally, after eight months, utterly broken and in despair, I realized I was unable to bring my son back.

Psychologists rightly call grief associated with suicide “complicated grief.”

I could write a book on this topic alone (and I think Michelle and I are finally getting to a place where we can seriously consider doing so), but I will make this post brief. (We all know what it means when a preacher says “let me make this brief: we’re all in for another 30 minutes. 🙂 But I promise.)

I once heard a speaker on this topic say, “Suicide is 100% preventable.” I strongly and respectfully disagree. It’s impossible to protect someone from themselves. Not only is this statement, in my opinion, false, it shackles people like me with crippling guilt and shame. If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide never buy into that line. Because it’s simply not true.

As I’ve written in previous blogs, when a person takes their own life they are, at that moment, unable to connect with the logical part of their brain. In short, their brain is broken. To be clear, what I mean by “broken” is that their brain is suffering from a severe and debilitating chemical imbalance. Synapse and neurons are misfiring. They are, in the literal meaning of the phrase, no longer “in their right mind.” ( I’m sure there are exceptions, but based on my study, this is the rule.)

People ask sometimes, “Why didn’t Jordan say something? What was he thinking?” My response: “He wasn’t thinking. His brain was broken.”

99% of people who attempt to take their own life don’t want to die – they just want the pain to stop.

They’re plan plays out like a twisted and convoluted movie script. I am asked, “Why don’t they just say something??” I reply, “Their brain being in the process of breaking, they don’t know how to talk about it. Moreover, believing they’re doing what’s best, they don’t want us to get in the way of their developing plan to end their pain – and remove, once and for all, what they’ve, over time, convinced themselves is a back-breaking burden to us.  “They will no longer have to worry about me,” they think to themselves.

On May 13, 2013, my son was in so much pain he just wanted to go to sleep. His brain being broken, he was unable to connect his shattered logic with the life-changing devastation this would have on his family and friends.

In early May, when Jordan told me, “Dad, I feel like I’m slipping” (our code phrase for when he and I felt like our medicine was not working), we immediately got him to the doctor and into counseling.

He told us it was helping. Had he communicated anything differently we would have never left his side and taken more drastic measures. But, better days seemed to lie ahead. On May 10th he talked about how excited he was about his and his friends’ upcoming wacky camping trip.

I share this today, in part, because writing is therapeutic for me. (As I write I, in essence, am counseling myself). But also to remind those who’ve walked this painful path you were an amazing parent/child/sibling/friend.

Your loved one’s suicide had absolutely nothing to do with your inability to prevent it.

Regardless of what satan may be whispering in your ear, it wasn’t your fault.

Here is the biblical truth:

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb your/my loved one is more alive than they ever were on this fallen planet. Further, they would never want to return for, being in the very presence of Jesus, they are this very moment experiencing a level of joy that lies far beyond mere human comprehension.

And – according to the Bible, a reunion is coming.

Love to you all, 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

The Bible: Gospel, Guide or Garbage?

Linked for you here is a dialogue between New Testament scholar and theologian, NT Wright, and Harvard philosopher, Sean Kelly, as they discuss one of history’s most influential books – the Bible.

It’s an audio link only (no video) and is over an hour in length.  Whether you listen in “small bites” or “swallow the entire dialogue whole”, please consider listening and thinking deeply about what is said.

I have in my library Wright’s 700 page classic, The Resurrection of the Son of God. It is heady, but a rewarding read.

The audio clip is just below the photo at the top of the linked page.

You can access the link here.

Enjoy, nick