“Awakenings” (sermon excerpt)

From a Roman prison Paul wrote, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened [flooded with light] in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,…”  (Ephesians 1:18)

Below is the link to the final 9 minutes of the sermon I preached this past Sunday.  What you will not hear (because I spoke of it during my introduction) is my explanation of what C.S. Lewis calls “looking at” vs. “looking along.”  You can find Lewis’ explanation of this brilliant concept in his book, God in the Dock (a defense of Christianity), in the chapter titled, Meditation in a Tool Shed.

To illustrate the difference between “looking at vs. “looking along” go with me (in your imagination) to Studio B in Nashville, TN.  In July, 2013, my family was given a private tour of this historical address, located on Nashville’s “Music Row”.  Upon entering the main recording area, I immediately noticed the beautiful Steinway piano.  As i “looked at” the piano I saw that it definitely “had some mileage on it” (I had no idea how old it was), but was still in excellent condition,…a sight to behold for a piano man like me.  Then, the lady giving us the tour said, “Elvis played this piano often when he recorded in this very studio.” Being a huge Elvis fan, my heart skipped a beat as I stared at her trying to think of something to say in response. But, before I could speak she continued, “Floyd Cramer not only played this piano, as well; he recorded his monster hit, Last Date, in this studio, on that very piano.”

My entire perspective of that piano changed in a matter of seconds.  I had entered that studio seeing that piano one way, but was leaving seeing it completely differently, recognizing that this piano was merely part of a much grander story. I had gone from contemplating the piano to enjoying not simply the piano, but the history it represented.    I was not longer “looking at” the piano; I was now “looking along” the piano, enraptured by its history.  My imagination ran wild “seeing” Elvis and Floyd Cramer “doing their thing” in the very room in which I was standing. The eyes of my imagination were enlightened.  In short, at least for me, the piano came to life.  (Yes, they did give me permission to sit down and play Cramer’s “Last Date” on that piano.  It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”)

In the sermon I preached on Feb. 15th, using Ephesians 1:11-23 as my text, with verse 18 serving as my primary text, I described the difference between “looking at” the Word of Christ, the Body of Christ, and the Cross of Christ” vs. “looking along” the three.  The sermon excerpt here picks up with “the Cross of Christ“.

Although the excerpt is categorized as a video, there is no video of me – only audio – since I instructed the folks in our A/V booth to leave a logo I’d put together on our video screens.  However, a video clip from the 1998 hit, Patch Adams, begins at the 3:15 mark.  The scene encapsulates what I was trying to communicate and teach from Ephesians 1:18.  “Don’t focus on the problem – look at me,” rails the bitter old man to Adams (played flawlessly by Robin Williams).

Since my 19 year old son took his life, God has patiently and lovingly taught me how to “look along” that day of unspeakable pain, rather than “look at” it. “Don’t focus on Jordan’s death – look at Me,” Christ has taught me.  “[I am] not the God of the dead but of the living…I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”  (Matthew 22:32; John 11:25)

In sum, when we allow God to “open the eyes of our heart”, we quickly become acutely aware of the Hope we have in ChristAnd hope changes everything. 🙂

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Redemptive Violence

I’ve supplied for my former Sr. Pastors dozens of times, as well as preached every Wed. night to students for almost 25 years. Truth be told, preaching & teaching are my #1 passions- far more than leading music. I’ve always seen myself as a “preacher disguised as a musician.” 🙂 This is why I continue to preach/teach on Sunday evenings here at BHBC.

When I was a full-time Youth Pastor, I was able to preach a lot on Sunday mornings. However, since I transitioned into the role of a Music Pastor, I tend to be “busy” on Sunday mornings leading the music. 🙂 However, in the Spring of 2011, my Sr. Pastor, Jerry Joplin, dropped by my office and asked me if I’d like to preach that April in his absence. I stumbled across the video of that sermon last week and watched it for the very first time.

It is interesting to listen to yourself trumpet the truths of the Gospel – what Christ made available to us through His life, death & resurrection – PRIOR TO horrific tragedy in your life.
(I refer to my son, Jordan Blake Watts, at the 3:45 mark. He was in the audience.) As I listened to what I said that morning – now on the other side of my son’s suicide – I had to ask myself, “Do I still believe this?”

My RESOLUTE answer: If possible, I believe it MORE now than I did then!
“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away,” wailed Job. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21) God is still God. And God is still good. And, because of “redemptive violence”, Jordan is more alive than you and i have ever been! And in the presence of the Risen Christ who made it all possible.

I’ve included the link to the sermon here. It’s from April 3, 2011. Significantly – and this is no accident – the sermon (given during the Easter Season) is about the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. After Pastor Rick Warren’s son also took his life last year, Warren asked the rhetorical question, “How do we make it through what we’re going through in this life?” He answered, “The answer is Easter.” Hallelujah, Nick

Separated No More: The Utmost “D-Day”

As I contemplate the heroic courage of the men who gave their lives 70 years ago today (June 6, 1944) on the beaches of Normandy, France – and where our world might be had it not been for their sacrifice (consider a Europe ruled by Hitler’s monstrous Third Reich into the late 40’s, 50’s & beyond) – my mind is drawn to a “greater D-Day.”

As God gave detailed instructions to Moses regarding the construction of the very first “temple” (The Tent of Meeting) while Moses met with God on Mt. Sinai to receive the Law, God said, “Hang the curtain (that will SEPARATE sinful man from God’s holiness) from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will SEPARATE the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place…” (Exodus 36:33-34)

Fast forward some 14 centuries…..

Matthew, a disciple of Jesus, wrote, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice [while dying on the cross], he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple [the one described to Moses that day] was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split…” (27:50-51)

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

Hallelujah, nw

How I Survived the Worst Day of My Life

I was approached a few weeks back and asked if I would write an article for the June edition of the Lubbock Metro Leader Newspaper. I went back and read the article after the magazine came in our mail. Honestly, there’s a part of me that still doesn’t believe any of it happened. Perhaps, that’s the Holy Spirit telling me just how alive Jordan is….I don’t know. It’s surreal. Anyway, everything I wrote, where the healing process is concerned, is, I’m finding, a lifetime of learning.

You can read the article here.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

S.O.S. – A Request for Prayer

Each year, our staff writes letters of congratulations to the year’s high school graduates. As I was searching for resources today, I came across the letter I wrote to my son, Jordan, when he graduated high school in 2011.

This week, as we approach May 13th, has been horrible. The emotional ambushes are crippling. I’ve lost my temper enough at one point to scare myself. But, there are two things that seem to help me:

(1) doing everything I can to focus on truth. In this case, the “greater reality” (heaven;….the fact that Jordan is alive – more alive than I am, and with Jesus)

(2) reaching out to my family and friends by being open & honest, admitting that i, at times, feel like i’m drowning. For some, social media can be a bottomless pit of wasted time. For me, the Lord has used it to remind me, as He reminded Paul in Corinth, “I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18:10) Oh, the strength that comes from knowing you’re not alone.

Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

My family (Michelle, Kelsie, Macy & myself) needs you. Please pray for us.

I’m not sure why, but I felt the need to attach the short letter I wrote to Jordan 3 short years ago. Perhaps, it’s just to remember him.

I love you all, Nick

2011 – Letter to JORDAN

When God Looks At Me What Does He See?

***Forgive me for the length of this post. I went back to trim & edit. But, I felt i needed to include every word.

This past year i attended a wedding. Expecting to simply enjoy seeing two friends united in matrimony, I sat there as the preacher officiating the wedding proceeded to call everyone in the audience (as well as the bride & groom) “sinners”, reminding us repeatedly how “unworthy” we were of God’s grace. Intent on making his point, this guy reminded us “sinners” of how “unworthy” we were over and over and over again. When the service was mercifully over, all I could think about was a famous quote by Mike Yaconelli: “We’ve all been to those churches that, when you leave, you feel worse about yourself than when you arrived.”

I’m not altogether clear as to this man’s purpose for repeatedly calling everyone sinners. If it’s for the purpose of conviction, only the Holy Spirit can bring that – so he would do well to leave that to the Holy Spirit. (John 16:8) I’ve found some very well-meaning pastors either forgetting, or altogether not knowing, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

You may be thinking, “Nick, I’m a believer. But I still sin.” I know that. I’m fairly certain I’m worse than you are in the ‘sin’ category.” But my point is this: in Christ, our identity is no longer defined by what “we do,” but by what HE DID.

After that wedding, I came home and re-read through the four gospels (stories of Jesus’ life, death, & resurrection) just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. But what I found was this: not once did Yaconelli’s statement (cited above) apply to those He encountered. Not once. (This would include the religious leaders who hated Jesus. Because, even in their hatred for Jesus, they continued to feel “better” about themselves, being blindly self-righteous.)

However, in regard to the lost, the hurting, the hopeless, the searching – without compromising the slightest degree of His holiness & righteousness, Jesus helped everyone see themselves as God intended for them to be: His.

Let me ask you a question. If you’ve professed your faith in Jesus Christ, how righteous do you think you appear in God’s sight right this minute? The Bible says 100% (because of Him, and in spite of us). Paul wrote, “For our sake [God] made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin, so that in and through Him we might become [endued with, viewed as being in, and examples of] the righteousness of God [what we ought to be, approved and acceptable and in right relationship with Him, by His goodness]. (2 Corinthians 5:17, Amplified)

NOTE: For those already angry with this post, reading furiously so they can get to the bottom of this “waste of digital ink” and correct me, reminding me that we are all “SINNERS saved by grace,” save your energy. I completely agree that the Bible’s clear: we were born a depraved, hopeless, degenerate, rebellious, selfish mess, possessing hearts that are “deceptively wicked.” (Jeremiah 17:9) No one had to teach us how to lie, hate, cheat, or be selfish – it all came naturally. C.S. Lewis called this “natural desire to sin” our “bent” as a human race. The Bible calls it “the flesh.” And we’re ALL born with it. Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, wrote, “All of us have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) In other words, due to our sin, before we put our faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9), we were hopelessly separated from God.

However, a “sinner” is who I WAS. Not who I AM.

Do I still sin? Sadly, often. I’m a pathetic mess. But, in Christ, I’m a PERFECT MESS.

Like believers throughout the New Testament, for the remainder our lives on this fallen planet, we will continue to struggle with the “flesh” (our natural desire to sin with which we were born) until the moment we shed these “fallen bodies & minds”, and enter heaven. Romans 6:6 is clear: in Christ, we’re “no longer slaves to sin” (sin no longer masters us). But, until we enter paradise, we will inevitably battle with our flesh, the world’s sin-driven system, and satan as they, individually & collectively, attempt to lure us away from our commitment to following Jesus, our Savior. However, along with Paul, we’re able to shout, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)

Writing of our new-found identity in Christ, Paul opened his letter to the Ephesians this way: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints [believers] who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus,…”) This means I stood up in that wedding that afternoon and hollered, “Yo! Call me by biblical name: Saint Nick!” 🙂

So…. “When God looks at us, what does He see?” (Here’s a partial list…)

1. A saint [holy in His sight] (Ephesians 1:1)
2. His child (John 1:12)
3. His friend (John 15:15)
4. Justified [100% righteous] through Christ’s life, cross & resurrection (Romans 5:1)
5. His own possession, bought & paid for (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
6. A member of His own Body (1 Corinthians 12:27)
7. One COMPLETELY forgiven (Colossians 1:13-14)
8. A citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)

Final Note (to those who’ve never professed faith in Jesus Christ): When Paul wrote, “There is there now condemnation…” (Romans 8:1), he was describing those who’ve professed their faith in Jesus Christ. The other side of this truth is clear in these words spoken by Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Bottom line: “When God looks at a person who’s never professed their faith in Christ, what does He see?” He sees someone for whom He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ – but who has never trusted Christ and therefore, remains condemned. Trust Christ today. He loves you. So much.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick