The Gospel According to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

“I wear the chain I forged in life…. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Jacob Marley

The quote cited above, of course, is from Charles Dickens’ beloved story, A Christmas Carol – a story reassuring us that, regardless of how much we’ve messed up here on planet earth, there is hope still.  Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner in life, now “dead these seven years,” returns to show the hateful, miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge the judgment that awaits him should he not change his ways.  The “chains” of bitterness Marley “forged in life” now imprison him for all eternity.

But, as the fates would have it, Scrooge was given a final chance to change his ways.  The opportunity given to Scrooge, offered via three benevolent spirits, to avoid altogether the judgment that had fallen upon his friend was completely unsolicited, unwanted and undeserved.

Yet it came.

We all know how the story ends.  Scrooge is changed.  The bitterness that filled his heart, like the heart of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, was transformed, filled with love, kindness and graciousness.

Through Jeremiah the prophet (not the bullfrog), God warns mankind, “The heart (of mankind) is deceitful, and desperately sick…”     In other words, we, like Scrooge, have a fatal flaw (sin), and are in desperate need of help and hope.

That help and hope has come through Christ Jesus. 

In his powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, wrote,

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.

Were the right man not on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.

You ask who that may be – Christ Jesus, it is he!

Like Scrooge, we have a chance for redemption.  Unlike Scrooge, that redemption is in no way dependent on our own human effort.  In short, the Bible says, regardless of how many “prize turkeys in the window we purchase for the Cratchit family,” we can never be “good enough” to merit redemption in Christ.  And this is why Christ came to earth to die by Roman execution and rise from the dead three days later.  It is faith in his life & death & resurrection that makes us “good/righteous enough” to stand blameless before a holy God.

Paul, author of most of the New Testament, knew a thing or two about feeling hopelessly lost.  “What a wretched man I am!” he wrote.  He continued,

Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Oh, the love of God in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere, Paul wrote,

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins... [but] even though we were dead because of our sins, [God] gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning a brand new man.  A man redeemed.  A man saved from eternal judgment.

According to God, we have that same opportunity.  Except for real…

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

For those who may mistakenly think they are beyond redemption, or for those who’ve already professed faith in Christ but, because of some life error(s), feel as though God could never again love, restore & use them:

No matter where you are in life – there is no mistake God can’t correct, no mess God can’t clean up, no knot God can’t untie, no sin God can’t forgive.  The power of our mistakes pale in comparison to the redemptive power of the Cross.

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself.  “I haven’t missed it.  The Spirits have done it all in one night.  They can do anything they like.  Of course they can.  Of course they can!”

Christ came the first time as a humble Servant.  He’ll come next time as a righteous Judge.  For now, if you’ve never honestly investigated the claims of Christ, you haven’t “missed it.”  Christ settled our account before a Holy God not “all in one night,” but all in a single moment.

This is what Christ meant when, on the cross – just before his final breath, he said, “It is finished.”

What Christ finished – is our new beginning.

Soli Deo Gloria & Merry Christmas, Nick

 

Hope on the Rock(s)

My spirit is crushed,….Where then is my hope?” Job 17:1, 15

“My spirit is crushed,….Where then is my hope?”  Honest statement.  Honest question.

It’s one of the reasons I love reading the Bible.  It’s unsanitized, unedited, raw, and brutally honest. When Job made his statement, and asked his question, he had recently buried all ten of his children.   With ten fresh graves most likely within sight, Job was “at the end of his rope.”

I was beginning my sophomore year in high school when my parents divorced.   In the months that followed, my dad, on occasion, would take me with him to bars.  I was only 15 years old at the time, but I can remember watching my dad, and folks around us.  Some laughed with friends, while others sat with blank stares on their faces like… well, like my dad.

Country music superstar, Toby Keith, offers spot-on insight from his hit, Hope on the Rocks:

Where do they go? They come here – to drown in their sorrow and cry in their beer.  They’re in need of a mindbender – I’m a bartender. At the end of the day, I’m all they’ve got.  Hope on the rocks.

 This blog isn’t about getting drunk.  It’s about what (Who) we reach for when we’ve lost hope.

Some revert to eating, or shopping, or busy-ness, or (fill in the blank.) But here’s what satan doesn’t tell you in the scripted music videos: The stories you hear in hit songs rarely, if ever, end up with a happy ending with a pretty bow on top.  (The home in which I grew up is a testimony to this.) Furthermore, after one’s mind “un-bends” from the alcohol and they find none of their circumstances have changed, what’s next?  Another mindbender?  The emotional & physical effort to forget, over time, simply becomes a mental treadmill that leads nowhere.

“Where, then, is my hope!”, (cries Job…and us)

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” says the old hymn.  Job may have lived in antiquity, but he was a human being just like you and me.  When hopelessness visited his house he had a choice to make.  Against the advice of friends and family he made his choice:  I will hope in [God];…For I know that my Redeemer lives, (13:15; 19:25)

 And there it is – the pivotal truth that sets biblical Hope apart from all others.

I like bartenders.  They’re kind and compassionate people.  (And I like Toby Keith, by the way.  A lot.)  A bartender can pour your favorite drink and help you forget about your problems.  But (1) when we sober up our problems haven’t gone anywhere, and (2) most importantly, a bartender can’t die our our sins.  Only one Person could – and did – do that.  Driven by unfathomable love for us, Christ died on a bloody cross, and then conquered hopelessness by rising from the dead three days later.

Scholars believe the book of Job may be the oldest book in our Bible.  Yet God gave Job the supernatural ability to see millennia ahead to the cross of Christ and testify to the words yet to be written by Paul:  We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

For Narnia.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Suicide and the Bible – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the dying thief.

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

 

1 John 1:9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur again:

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

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

 

The Real Question Behind the Question

Can a child of God lose their salvation?

Clearly, the Scriptures state we cannot.

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

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

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

Paul put it this way:

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

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

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

Further, Paul describes our salvation as a gift:

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

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

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

This includes the sin of un-confessed daily sin.

 

The Unpardonable Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

You Must be Born Again

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

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

 

A Weak View of the Cross of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Logical Problem with Having to Confess Every Single Sin

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Disease of Mental Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

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

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

The Frightening Thought of Being Used by God

Have you ever believed in something so strongly, so passionately, you wanted the entire world to know about it?

I told my wife, Michelle, “You know – when you have a cause you strongly believe in, you want to get the word out to the masses. But, when it does begin to get out to the masses it is somewhat terrifying.”

I recently wrote a blog about suicide and the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Apparently, it struck a chord with the public because, in a week’s time, it was viewed just under 200,000 times in over 150 countries.   In addition, two local TV stations ran stories on it.  You can view those stories here, and here.

As the blog I wrote spread I have been forced to continually fight off fear and insecurity.  I’ve lost count of how many people from all over the U.S. – and close to home – have contacted me to talk about their own painful journeys.  The more people who contacted me, the more I thought to myself, “Am I really equipped to help these people??  I don’t even have my own screwed-up life figured out – how in the world am I supposed to help them?”  The responsibility of “owning the mission” God assigns to a person is sobering – even discouraging, because we tend to feel so inadequate – just like a man in the Bible named Moses.

I’ve thought a lot about Moses – a deeply flawed “failure” who, after a royal and privileged upbringing, had been consigned to herding goats. For 40 years. In relative isolation.

Then, one day God shows up and gives Moses an assignment that Moses clearly believes is beyond his skill set.  As God informs Moses he is to return to Egypt and face Pharaoh, Moses is, like I have been recently, somewhat terrified. Five times Moses tells God, in essence, “You’ve got the wrong guy!”   (You can read the story in the biblical book of Exodus, chapters 3-4.)

As I consider my own insecurities and inadequacies, I return to Moses and his own “burning bush experience.” And I remember what God, in essence, told him: “This is not your mission – it’s mine. And, because it’s mine, I will see it through. I will give you courage. I will speak through you. I will protect you. I’ve got you. Will it, at times, be scary? Of course. But, never forget: the battle is the Lord’s. And I’ve never lost a battle. Now go.”

Last thing: when I think about Moses, my mind is always drawn to a quote by author/pastor, Chuck Swindoll, who wrote,

“For his first 40 years, Moses thought he was somebody. For his next 40 years, Moses thought he was nobody. And for his final 40 years, Moses discovered what God can do with a nobody.”

Use me, Lord.  Please.

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Christ, Christmas & the Loss of a Child

Christmas, 2012, was the last time I helped decorate our tree. Since our 19 year old son, Jordan, died the following May, decorating the tree is something I/we have simply been unable to do.

Our tree is not a “decorative showpiece” like you see so beautifully decorated in some homes. Almost every ornament on our tree is something made by our three kids when they were in preschool or elementary, or else purchased by them over the past 20+ years. (We had a tradition of going to Holland Gardens here in Lubbock every December and each child would pick out an ornament to put on the tree.) So, as you can imagine, Jordan’s picture and “fingerprints” are everywhere. (See pic below)

The first Christmas without Jordan we had to call friends and ask them if they would decorate the tree for us. The following year, the same. Last year, we put up the tree at the beginning of December – and it simply sat there undecorated for two weeks. Then  our daughter, Macy, came home from college and surprised us by decorating it herself. (I’ll never forget walking into the house, seeing the tree, and just weeping.)

Yesterday morning (12/2/16), I walked into our living room and there stood our tree. Once again, it had been up for a week. No decorations. I immediately was overcome with a crushing sense of sadness and wanted to leave the house and go anywhere else. But then, I felt a Presence. And something came to mind: “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” This one phrase from Nehemiah kept reverberating in my mind – like a Christmas miracle, the Holy Spirit was, right then and there, “renewing/strengthening my mind.” I felt like Rocky, somehow mustering the inner strength to get back up off the bloodied mat, after Apollo Creed beat his face in. 🙂) Christ was whispering to me, “I. Am. Here. I’ve got this.”

My wife, Michelle, was traveling home from a conference in Dallas. When she arrived home yesterday evening and walked into our house…..well, you’re getting ahead of me, aren’t you? 🙂 There stood our tree. Fully decorated.  (See pic below)

When Michelle shared all of this with our daughter, Macy, she just wept and said, “Dad, it’s so good to have you back.” Joy has been is short supply since 2013. But, slowly, it is returning. Merry Christmas.

“The joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Soli Deo Gloria, St. Nick

jordan

christmas-tree-2016

He’s All You Need: The Sufficiency of Christ

So sufficient and complete is Christ that there is no other God besides him (Isa. 45:5); he is the only begotten Son (John 1:14, 18); all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in him (Col. 2:3); the fullness of deity dwells bodily in him (Col. 2:9); he is heir of all things (Heb. 1:2); he created all things and all things were made by him, through him, and for him (Col. 1:15); he is the exact imprint of God (Heb. 1:3).

He is the only Mediator between God and man; he is the Sun that enlightens; the Physician that heals; the Wall of Fire that defends; the Friend that comforts; the Pearl that enriches; the Ark that supports; and the Rock to sustain under the heaviest of pressures.

He has no beginning and no end (Rev. 1:17-18); he is the spotless Lamb of God; he is our Peace (Eph. 2:14); he is our Hope (1 Tim. 1:1); he is our life (Col. 3:4); he is the living and true Way (John 14:6); he is Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11); he is the Founder and Perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2).

He is the Lord of Hosts, the Redeemer – the Holy One of Israel, the God of the whole earth (Is. 54:5); he is the Man of Sorrows (Is. 53:3); he is the Light; he is the Son of Man (Matt. 20:28); he is the Vine; he is the Bread of Life; he is the Door; he is the Lord (Phil. 2:10-13); he is Prophet, Priest and King (Heb. 1:1-3).

He is our Sabbath rest (Heb. 4:9); he is our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6); he is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6); he is the Lord of the nations; he is the Lion of Judah; the Living Word; the Rock of Salvation, the Eternal Spirit; he is the Ancient of Days; Creator and Comforter; Messiah; and the Great I Am (John 8:58).

The above passage is from author/pastor, John MacArthur.  Below is Steve Camp’s beautiful, “He’s All You Need.”  Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Lean On Me

Only hours remained until Jesus would endure a level of stress so severe he sweat blood, be forced to endure an illegal kangaroo-court, falsely accused (and convicted) of crimes he did not commit, beaten within an inch of his life, executed by crucifixion, taking upon Himself the sins of the entire world, thereby incurring the very wrath of God upon sin.

Yet….

It was Jesus who inspired, encouraged, motivated, loved, and stood strong for His closest friends. The disciple, John, records those powerful moments when Jesus comforted His disciples by telling them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid…As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you…I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Bottom Line: Then, and now, Jesus is whispers, “Lean on Me. I’ve got this.” :))

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick