Turning the Tables on the Devil

We all have awful days i.e. our car breaks down, the hot water heater goes out, something frustrating happens at work or school, someone hurts us, the list seems endless.

Pastor/author, Charles Stanley, writing about Joseph (the one with “the coat of many colors” in the book of Genesis), pointed out,

“we are all dealt, in essence, a hand of cards. Some hands are awful. The key is not focusing on the cards, but rather on our response to them.”

In Acts 16, Paul was thrown into the “inner prison and shackled” for simply sharing his faith in Christ.

He was dealt an awful hand. And, like Joseph, had every earthly reason to curse God, remain bitter, and even throw in the towel – which is what Satan was desperately hoping for.

But, Paul turned the tables on the devil in a surprising plot twist.

Verse 25 records, “About midnight Paul and (his friend) Silas were praying and singing hymns (while shackled in prison.)”

The next phrase grips me as much as the one we just read: “and the (other) prisoners were listening to them.”

A friend told me once, “It’s completely ok – and normal – to have a pity party. But make sure and put a time limit on it.”

Translation: when we are dealt an awful hand, pain and anger and frustration will naturally follow. And that’s where Satan wants us to remain – but don’t.

Jesus is whispering to us, “I’ve got this. Trust me.”

And, who knows, just like the other prisoners in the story, it could be that others who’ve been dealt an awful hand are looking for someone – anyone – to remind them that there his hope in the Cross and the Empty Tomb.

Love to you all, Nick

 

The Supernatural World

On the book of Job, chapters 1-2…

From award-winning author, Philip Yancey’s, book, The Bible Jesus Read:

“Nowhere else in the Bible are we more clearly informed of a realm beyond our own – one we cannot see but, nonetheless, exists.

“Like Job, we live in ignorance of what is going on ‘behind the curtains.’ Job reminds us that the small history of mankind on this earth takes place within the large drama of the history of the universe. We are foot-soldiers in a spiritual battle with cosmic significance.

“In the words of C.S. Lewis, ‘There is no neutral ground in the universe – every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.” (Philip Yancey)

nw

The Old Rugged Cross

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

The-Old-Rugged-Cross-By-MidoriEyes-On-DeviantArt

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

The God Who Hurts Us

“Yet is was the Lord’s will to crush [his Son] and cause him to suffer…” (Isaiah 53:10)

I’ve studied the book of Job (the “o” in “Job” is long as in “stove”) numerous times. But, until recently, I haven’t had the courage to read it devotionally (daily readings) since 2013 when my 19 year old son, Jordan, took his own life.

Of all 66 books that comprise the Bible, no book is more perplexing and disturbing as Job when considering the age old mystery, “Why do seemingly good people suffer?”

I have screamed at the heavens standing next to my son’s grave.

Job stood next to ten graves.

It was after burying all ten of his children Job’s wife told him, “Curse God and die!” She sometimes gets a bad rap. But I have felt her rage and resolution. Consequently, she sounds quite normal to me.

The first two chapters of Job are hard to read. Even though I knew well the story, I still wept as I began daily readings. I can feel Job’s and his wife’s acute pain. What is even harder to accept is this:

Job’s suffering was God’s idea.

It was God who asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”

Of course, Satan was, as he incessantly does, attacking the character and faith of God’s children, accusing God of favoritism and special treatment. “Of course Job loves you – his life is good,” Satan hissed. “But let me have him for just a few minutes and he’ll curse you to your face.”

So God gave Satan permission (Satan can do only what God allows him to do) to hurt Job.

There’s no way I can dive into the deep end of what the Bible says about God and his relationship to human suffering here. It’s the No. 1 argument for atheism. And rightly so.  I have studied the topic at length since my son – who, at 14 years of age, committed his life to global missions – took his own life after suffering from debilitating depression.

Job begged God to let him die (cf. Job 6:8-9). So did I. Which is why I spent 10 days in a Psychiactric Ward.

I get it.

I have no cheap, hollow bumper-sticker cliches for you here.

Despite what some round-the-clock “Smile, Jesus Loves You” people may say, pain is very much a part of the Christian life. You need to search no further than what’s recorded in scripture and secular ancient – and modern – history to know this to be true. (For crying out loud, an entire Old Testament book is titled, “Lamentations.”)

In defense of God’s relationship to human suffering (I am well aware he doesn’t need me to defend him), he pulls no punches where this fallen, corrupt world is concerned.

David wrote, “The righteous person faces many troubles…”

Jesus, himself, on the night before his execution, said, “In this world you will have many trials and sorrows…”

But, don’t stop reading there. The other half of David’s and Jesus’s words are as follows:

“…but the Lord comes to the rescue each time”, and “But take heart – I have overcome the world.” (Psalm 34:19; John 16:33)

God not once answers Job’s deepest question, “Why?”

He hasn’t answered mine either.

Job was rightfully hurt and angry and demanded a face-to-face meeting with God. In chapter 38, God honors that request. And it scares the you-know-what out of Job.

Wanting to put God on trial, God shows up and a plot-twist ensues: Job is the one on trial.

There are explanations for human suffering sprinkled throughout scripture: the testing and strengthening of our faith; God may use pain to get our attention; judgment and natural consequences of sin, etc.

But these explanations don’t make the pain any less painful.

One theologian wrote about the overriding theme of the book of Job,

“When there is no rational or even theological explanations for disaster or suffering, trust God.”

Even as I now type that statement everything within me wants to mock and say with dripping sarcasm, “Sure – I’ll do that.”

But, what alternatives does the world or atheism give me?

None.

What i’ve discovered Christ gives us in our suffering is hope.

We’re told,

“…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,…” (12:1-2)

Translation: Jesus says to us, “I saw the eternal joy on the other side of my temporary pain. If you’ll let me, I’ll help you do the same.”

Indeed, we do not have a Savior who, from his safe ivory tower in heaven, offers empty cheers, “Come on! It’s not so bad!” Nothing could be further from what is true.  The Bible records:

“[Jesus] was a man of sorrows and pain, acquainted with grief… [therefore] we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,…” (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 4:15)

My son was merely 10 years old when, with tears in his eyes, he walked up to me and said, “Dad, God told me to paint this.”  It hangs in our home today.  Jordan titled it, “When we hurt, God hurts.”

Christ doesn’t “wait for us on the other side of our pain”.  He is with us in our pain – carrying us through it.

Jesus whispers to us in our pain, “I’ve got this.  Trust me.”

I began this post with the startling messianic prophecy written by Isaiah: “It was the Lord’s will to crush [his Son] and cause him to suffer…” (53:10)

The 20th century beloved pastor, A.W. Tozer, once said,

“I doubt God can use a man greatly until he has first hurt him deeply.”

That’s an unsettling statement.  But, I must confess, I see this pattern throughout scripture.

The purpose of this post is to simply encourage those who are suffering.

I can’t offer satisfying reasons or answers to human suffering.  But, I can offer you hope that it will not always be this way.

The maddening pain of human suffering, for me, is only resolved by the truth given me in scripture:

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

No other worldview offers me that hope.

Paul, who suffered greatly, encourages his readers:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

According to God: I’ll see my son again; he’s more alive than he’s ever been; and he is in the presence of the risen Christ, forever free of debilitating depression.

And, because of what Christ gave twenty centuries ago on a cross just outside of Jerusalem – a reunion is coming.

Oh to hold my son in my arms once again – completely free from my own often crushing depression. To quote the popular song, “I can only imagine.”

Because of the suffering – and triumph – of Christ, I choose to stand with Job and say,

“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21)

Satan again loses his haughty, myopic bet with God.

I love you, my precious son.

For Jordan Watts.

#ForNarnia.

For Christ.

 

Love and hope to all who are suffering, Nick  (see Side Note immediately below)

(Side note: beginning with chapter 4, Job’s “friends” spend over 30 chapters attempting to explain Job’s suffering based on their mere human logic, intellect and reason. In the final chapter of the book God basically calls them all idiots, indicting them: “You have not spoken the truth about me.” Job’s prayer for them is the only thing that kept them from God’s severe judgment. Our well-meaning “friends”, feeling they must offer an explanation when suffering takes place, can easily fall into the same category as Job’s friends.)

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

Grief is a Part of Life – for Now

“Weeping may last for the night, but Joy comes in the morning.” (Ps 30:5)

In Sep., 2015, shortly after completing  nine days in the Psychiatric Ward of our local hospital (I ended up there due to a cluster of triggers associated with my 19 year old son’s suicide), I sat in my counselor’s office and listened intently as he shared with me how to learn to “live” again. Completely broken, and possessing zero self-esteem, he lovingly said to me, “Part of running the race (of life) is encouraging your fellow runners.”

In other words, you will rediscover joy in helping others rediscover theirs.

Allow me that privilege now.

One of the most influential Christian minds of the 20th century was CS Lewis. The following two paragraphs are taken from his book, “A Grief Observed,” written after the loss of his wife:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid…”

“At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be [around] me. I dread the moments when the house is empty…”

After burying ten children, Job uttered, “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow.”

David, in Psalm 6, cried, “My eyes waste away because of my grief;…”

Bottom line: Grief is a part of life (for now).

But there is a passage in Isaiah that we, as believers, have heard so many times we may begin to miss its significance. About Jesus, Isaiah prophesied, “He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief...” (emphasis mine)

It’s this passage from Isaiah that changes everything.

Where is God when we are grieving? He is in our grief, whispering to us, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the believers at Thessalonica, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers (your loved ones) who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, our loved ones who have passed on before us are more alive than we are. Alive! Joyful. Free of sickness and disease. In the very presence of Jesus Christ. The Lamb who is our Shepherd. The Alpha and Omega. The Almighty.

On the cross, Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished.” On the throne in Revelation, he proclaims, “It is done.” We live in the “in between.” But, because of the blood Christ shed at Calvary, we have hope not only for the future, but for the present as well. Blessed be his name!

And, until that day we meet him either through death, or when the cosmos peels back for his return, he is whispering to us, “I’ve got this. Trust me.”

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace,” Jesus told his closest friends the night before he would die for us. “In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.”

(John 16:33; Amplified)

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.