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

This Is What’s On My Mind…

When I open my Facebook app there is a space at the top where I can post something. In that space is the question, “What’s on your mind?”

My friends, on my mind is my desire to visit with skeptics and non-believers about the Christian faith.

The musician who had the greatest life-impact on me growing up was a hippy piano-player named Keith Green. Raised in Southern California, he spent most of his younger days playing gigs on Sunset Strip before coming to faith in Christ as an adult.

In his biography he wrote,

[Before professing my faith in Christ], “The thing that kept me from Christ was Christians.” I couldn’t agree more. We often are horrible representations of Christ.

That’s why my conversation with anyone interested will center not around Christians, but on Christ. Who was this man? Is there solid evidence for his existence? His miracles? His death and resurrection?  Is there evidence to support his outlandish claims?

And what about the hard questions of life here on planet earth? The problem of pain, “How could a good and loving God possibly allow such evil and pain?”, is the No. 1 argument for atheism. And for good reason. I lost my dad to alcoholism, my sister to drug abuse, and my son to suicide. I know pain on this earth. And my heart breaks for those who are hurting. So I have no problem discussing this painfully difficult question.

And, then there’s the Bible. Didn’t the medieval church tamper with the text? Isn’t it full of contradictions and hokey stories? If you wish, we can talk about that as well.

Many people tend to think that professing faith in Christ means we have to somehow “measure up” and begin living a form of a perfect life. That’s a lie. It’s precisely because we can’t measure up or live a perfect life that God sent a Savior. We profess faith in *his* perfect life. And somehow Christ’s perfection and right standing before a holy, terrifying God is imputed to us putting us in right standing before God. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21) I love the phrase, “I love Jesus but I cuss a little.” Bottom line, we’re all a mess. But, in Christ, we’re a perfect mess.

My friends, the Bible – which I believe, after careful scrutiny and investigation, to be true – says a Day is coming when Christ busts the sky open and returns to this fallen, corrupt earth to turn everything right-side-up again.  (cf. Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).  What will matter at that moment is the condition of our soul. John, the disciple and eye-witness of Jesus, warned,

“And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

The former atheist, C.S. Lewis, said,

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance; if true, of infinite importance; but the one thing it can never be is of moderate importance.”

If you are interested in having friendly, intelligent dialogue about the Christian faith please look me up on Facebook and PM (private message) me. This allows us time and “peace and quiet” to talk as long as we want.

Oh, last thing – you will receive absolutely no pressure from me to change your mind, repent or “get saved.” That’s a very personal decision between you and Christ (should you come to believe in him.) Nor will you encounter any disrespect, or judgmental, pharisaical attitude. (Obviously, I expect the same in return.). Christ never treated people that way and neither will I. My role will simply be to, hopefully, provide some food-for-thought based on what I strongly believe to be true.

And…, we can end up agreeing to disagree. Jesus always allowed people to believe what they preferred to believe. I won’t be any different.

The most powerful force in existence is the life-changing, liberating love of Christ. (cf. Romans 8: 38-39)

Wanna talk? PM me. 🙂) – I may not be able to reply immediately. But, I promise, I will as soon as possible.

The Lord’s love for you is beyond comprehension.

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

Love to you all, Nick

For Those Who Laugh at the Thought of a Real Devil

The Bible is clear: Satan exists,

He is introduced to us in Genesis 3. And, Jesus refers to him repeatedly in the gospels.

Yet, many people – including believers – forget about his relentless pursuit to make us lose our faith or, better yet, prevent us from coming to faith in Christ altogether.

In Matthew 4 and Luke 4, Jesus confronts Satan head-on in the Judean wilderness.

Satan was forced to flee. But he never gave up.

Never.

In his book, When the Enemy Strikes, Charles Stanley asserts,

He showed up again in Nazareth.

He showed up again in the demonically possessed.

He showed up again in public attacks used to assault Jesus’ credibility and authority.

He showed up again in the Garden of Gethsemane.

He showed up again and again pursuing his ultimate goal of enticing Jesus to say no to the Cross.

But Satan failed.  Every time.

So now his fury is directed toward us.

The devil has attacked every person who has ever lived. You and I are no exceptions.

For those who have placed their faith in the risen Christ, the Bible tells us, despite Satan’s relentless attempts to tempt us to live in a discouraged, defeated and worldly state of mind, “we have overwhelming conquered through [Christ] who loves us.”

But for those who laugh at the thought of a real devil…

…he’s laughing at you.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Wall Street Journal: How to Spot Teen Depression

This article from the Wall Street Journal appeared in their May 5, 2018, edition.  For your convenience, the entire article is included here.  Depression is the number one mental condition associated with suicide.  nw

How to Spot Teenage Depression

New guidelines focus on helping better identify teens who may be struggling with depression, as rates for the disorder climb

By Elizabeth Bernstein

Updated March 5, 2018 4:43 p.m. ET

Is your child’s moodiness a sign of typical teenage angst—or the beginning of a depression that needs professional attention?

Statistics show that teen depression is on the rise.

In 2016, around 13% of U.S. teenagers ages 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, compared to almost 8% in 2006, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which collects this information. Rates for teenagers ages 18 and 19, which are tracked separately, grew as well: More than 11% had a major depressive episode in 2016, compared with 9-10% in 2006.

The survey also found that almost 60% of adolescents with a major depressive disorder didn’t receive treatment. Parents don’t always identify the problem—or know what to do about it even when they do. And teens often resist treatment because of the stigma around mental-health issues. Yet adolescents whose depression goes untreated struggle in school, in their relationships, and to engage in activities they enjoy.

Many teens are moody. But to help better identify teens who may be struggling with depression, the American Academy of Pediatrics last month issued updated guidelines—the first in a decade—recommending that pediatricians screen all those ages 12 and older for depression annually and involve families in the assessment.

The diagnosis for depression is the same for teens as it is for adults. Psychiatrists and health-care professionals define major depressive disorder as five or more of the following symptoms present for two weeks: depressed mood most of the day, irritability, decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, significant change in weight or appetite, change in sleep, increased agitation or sluggishness, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, changes in concentration and recurrent thoughts of death.

Rising rates of adolescent depression are fueled by some unique stressors faced by this generation, the first to grow up with smartphones and social media, mental-health experts say. While teenagers have always felt pressure to be attractive and well-liked, social media amps up the anxiety with real-time measures of popularity such as “follows” and “likes.” Teens also can see immediately when they’ve been left out of an activity by classmates or friends.

Psychologists say this generation of teens also may feel more vulnerable than recent ones because of events such as school shootings, which they follow in real-time—and often via firsthand accounts—on sites such as Twitter or Facebook and through texts and calls.

Add to all of this the pressure to succeed, as colleges become even more competitive. “Teens worry: ‘Am I going to be successful? What do I need to do to get where I need to be? Am I doing enough, in academics, philanthropy and sports?’” says Jessica Feinberg, a licensed clinical social worker and program director of the Adolescent Acute Residential Treatment Program at McLean Hospital, a Harvard-affiliated psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Mass.

Adolescents—who aren’t always in touch with their feelings or mature enough to articulate them—often become more irritable or angry than adults do when depressed, therapists say. They sometimes complain of physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches that don’t have an identifiable cause.

Unlike most adults, they typically lack an awareness of the changes in their behavior.

“Most adults understand if they feel depressed or melancholic—and they’re aware of the effect it has on their work or life,” says Joseph Penn, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and chair of the American Psychiatric Association Council on Children, Adolescents and Their Families. “Adolescents don’t have insight.”

And girls and boys may behave differently. More girls become depressed. They tend to cry more or withdraw, yet they’re still more willing to talk about their feelings than boys, says McLean’sMs. Feinberg. “Boys act out more,” she says. “They may have conduct issues, destroy things in their room or throw things, get into drugs or alcohol.”

But the most significant signs to look for are an impairment in functioning often across several areas of the child’s life—school, social, extracurricular—and an inability to experience pleasure, which appears to have no cause. “It’s the hallmark that differentiates teenage moodiness from depression,” says John T. Walkup, chair of the department of psychiatry at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Corrections & Amplifications 
More than 11% of teenagers ages 18 and 19 had a major depressive episode in 2016, compared with 9-10% in 2006. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated more than 11% of teenagers ages 18 and 19 had a major depressive episode in 2006.

Steps to Take

What should you do if you think your teenager is depressed?

Be curious. Ask gentle questions and listen without being critical, says Jessica Feinberg, a licensed clinical social worker and program director of the Adolescent Acute Residential Treatment Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. “Validate your child’s feelings,” she says. “This does not mean you have to agree with them. It’s enough to say ‘I hear you. Let’s talk.’”

Ask others. A child who is depressed will often have impaired functioning in several areas of life. Check with the school, coaches, family and friends to see if they also notice a change.

Talk to the pediatrician. The doctor can rule out physical causes, such as a thyroid problem or a side-effect of medicine, and make a recommendation to a mental-health professional if needed. Share your family history: Depression, like other mental illnesses, tends to track in families, says John T. Walkup, chair of the department of psychiatry at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Find a therapist. Make sure the therapist is licensed and has experience with adolescents. Look for someone who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a short-term, evidence-based approach that helps identify inaccurate or negative thinking in order to respond to situations more effectively. Ask the school or your friends for recommendations, and let your teen have a part in the decision.

Consider a psychiatrist.. In the case of a mental-health disorder, research shows a mix of therapy and medication often works best, says Joseph Penn, a psychiatrist and chair of the American Psychiatric Association Council on Children, Adolescents and Their Families. “If you don’t treat depression, one of the major risk factors, while rare, is death from suicide,” he says.

Have a plan for college. If your teen suffers from depression, find a therapist near the school and ask your child to sign the college’s confidentiality waiver, so the school can legally contact you if your child has a health crisis.

Get your own therapist. This shouldn’t be the same person your child sees. Take care of your physical health, as well. “It’s the same idea as on an airplane, when you put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your child,” Ms. Feinberg says.

Act immediately if your child talks about self-harm. “A lot of times it is really hard to figure out if a kid is suicidal or crying wolf,” Dr. Penn says. “But it has to be taken seriously regardless.”

Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at elizabeth.bernstein@wsj.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at EbernsteinWSJ.

Christianity & Philosophy

Philosophy can quickly become a black hole of circular reasoning. To most, it can sound like needless gibberish about the ethereal and existential.

However,…

Mature philosophical dialogue  teaches us to think deeply

Those moments spent in careful, disciplined thought and debate prepare us not only to speak intelligently about various topics, but to be able to be articulate, in crystal clear fashion, our convictions – without once sounding defensive.

Philosopher/professor, Paul Copan, is sometimes asked who his favorite philosopher in history is. He replies, “Jesus of Nazareth.” This usually prompts surprised reactions from people who counter, “Wow – I never thought of Jesus as a philosopher.”

But he was.

Certainly, he was so much more. But Christ was the greatest philosopher to ever walk the planet.

In his book, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?, Copan cites another brilliant philosopher, Douglas Groothuis, who presents Jesus of Nazareth as a rigorous philosopher. Groothuis defines a “philosopher” as

one having a “strong inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters.” These philosophical matters include “life’s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy”—especially the areas of knowledge (epistemology), ultimate reality (metaphysics), and ethics. A philosopher’s task is accomplished “through the rigorous use of human reasoning and . . . with some intellectual facility.”

Can you even begin to imagine sitting around a campfire with Jesus Christ listening to him talk about the meaning of life, the existence of God, the cosmos, objective morality, absolute truth, etc?

The Hebrew imagery behind the repeated biblical command to “meditate” upon the Word of God carries the idea of: wrestling with, analyzing, testing and sorting out intellectually.  In short – to think deeply.

Like Copan and Groothuis, William Lane Craig is a brilliant philosopher (all three men are Christians). I saw the post below by Craig and thought it well worth passing along.

Learn to think deeply. nw

Newsweek: Where Do You Go When You Die?

As I study the biblical worldview of the afterlife (which I’m convicted is true) I’m always curious to see what mainstream culture thinks about it all. So, when I saw this tweeted article – Newsweek giving credence to the possibility of life-beyond-death – my interest was piqued.

Most of the article cites what scientists are finding truly fascinating: human brain cells continue to function for hours after death. Scientists in no way argue that when a person is “dead” they may, in fact, be “mostly dead,” to borrow a term from The Princess Bride. They agree when a person dies, they’re dead. But this discovery of post-death brain activity intrigues them nonetheless.

Human consciousness is one of the “Achilles heels” of the psycho-physical/natural reductionist worldview (the argument for human existence being purely natural, void of anything supernatural, or outside empirical evidence – this worldview would include the disbelief in any form of an afterlife i.e. when we die, we cease to exist.)

No respected physicist/scientist on the planet claims to be able to define, much less explain, human consciousness & cognition. Presently, this remains beyond human explanation. No doubt, this is by God’s own design.

Citing “near death” experiences, the author writes,

[The scientific findings] seem to suggest that when our brains and bodies die, our conscious may not,…”

Indeed, according to God, they don’t. “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” the author of Hebrews warned. That does not sound to me like, after death, we cease to exist.

Of course, those who would scoff at this biblical warning are wagering there is nothing beyond death.  This, in my opinion, is a bad bet.

I’ve included for you here the final 4 paragraphs of the Newsweek article – which I find the most interesting part of the piece. (The article in its entirety is linked below.)

“In a 2016 study published in the Canadian Journal of Biological Sciences, doctors recounted shutting off life support for four terminally ill patients, only to have one of the patients continue emitting delta wave bursts—the measurable electrical activity in the brain we normally experience during deep sleep—for more than 10 minutes after the patient had been pronounced dead; no pupil dilation, no pulse, no heartbeat. The authors were at a loss for a physiological explanation.

Parnia’s research (Dr. Sam Parnia, director of critical care and resuscitation research at New York University Langone Medical Center) has shown that people who survive medical death frequently report experiences that share similar themes: bright lights; benevolent guiding figures; relief from physical pain and a deeply felt sensation of peace. Because those experiences are subjective, it’s possible to chalk them up to hallucinations. Where that explanation fails, though, is among the patients who have died on an operating table or crash cart and reported watching—from a corner of the room, from above—as doctors tried to save them, accounts subsequently verified by the (very perplexed) doctors themselves.

How these patients were able to describe objective events that took place while they were dead, we’re not exactly sure, just as we’re not exactly sure why certain parts of us appear to withstand death even as it takes hold of everything else. But it does seem to suggest that when our brains and bodies die, our consciousness may not, or at least not right away.

“I don’t mean that people have their eyes open or that their brain’s working after they die,” Parnia said. “That petrifies people. I’m saying we have a consciousness that makes up who we are—our selves, thoughts, feelings, emotions—and that entity, it seems, does not become annihilated just because we’ve crossed the threshold of death; it appears to keep functioning and not dissipate. How long it lingers, we can’t say.”

Read the entire article here.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Drawing Near to God – And What It Cost Him

TempleVeil

Understanding what it means to be able to “draw near to God”…

There are people in important roles whose office I could call today and be told either it will be days or weeks before I can see them, or that I can’t see them at all.

Not so with the God who spoke the Cosmos into existence.

The Old Testament Law was given by God not to make us perfect but rather to show us how utterly imperfect we are in our sin.

An important part of that Law was the role of the Levitical Priests (Old Testament priests were members of the tribe of Levi). The priests were instructed by the Law to intercede for mankind. In other words, outside of God choosing to speak to an individual like Daniel or Gideon, or prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, regular people had no intimate access to God. Only priests had that privilege.

Think about that for a minute.  In Old Testament times you and I couldn’t talk to God. We had to wait our turn and go through a priest.

Additionally, only once a year, the high priest (the highest rank of all Levitical priests) – and only the high priest -had permission to enter the Holy of Holies (a designated inner room in the Old Testament tabernacle) to offer blood from an animal to atone for the sins of mankind. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin,” the author of Hebrews wrote.

This entering of the Holy of Holies was no casual or hurried experience.  Jewish tradition cites if the high priest did not keep every single required step in this process he did so at the risk of immediate death – this is how seriously God has always taken the atonement for the sin of mankind.

Bottom line: the Law kept mankind outside the intimate presence of God.

But God so loved the world…

The author of Hebrews wrote, “the Law made nothing perfect, but on the other hand, a better hope is (now) introduced through which we draw near to God.”

This was revolutionary news to first century people.

God introduced his new covenant. The need for human priests was fulfilled in the perfect life, death and resurrection of our true High Priest, Jesus Christ.

At his death, the veil in the Old Testament tabernacle that separated the designated human high priest from the Holy of Holies – which symbolized God’s intimate presence – was torn in two from top to bottom signifying the immediate arrival of the new covenant of God with man through Christ.

No longer did mankind need a human being to intercede to God on their behalf. “There is (now) one mediator between God and man,” Paul wrote, “the man, Jesus Christ.”

To the Ephesians believers, Paul encouraged them with this life-changing good news: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Now, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, you and I can approach the throne of God boldly. About anything. Anytime. Anywhere. No wait time. No line to see him.

Stop for a moment and visit with God today. He loved us so much he gave his only Son up to Roman execution so that we might have intimacy with him – and he with us.

Love you all, Nick