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Christianity and Climate Change – Heads in the Sand?

Bernie Diaz, September 24, 019

We know that President Trump is in the news virtually every day for something he has said or how he has said it, and occasionally gets some press- mostly negative from the mainstream media, for what he does.

This week the President may be raked over the coals for something he didn’t do- which was spend much time at the climate change summit at this past week’s UN (United Nations) General Assembly in New York. Instead, Mr. Trump opted to join Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (the latter two long-time professing Christians) in co-hosting a “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom.”

That assembly long-overdue and much needed, was largely ignored by the secular press to no surprise. Yet, the President chose to attend and lead an international discussion on the import of religious liberty rather than hop on the climate change bandwagon which seems to again be sweeping much of the nation and its culture.

In fact, reportedly millions of students around the world skipped school on Friday of last week for a global climate change strike. The movement included more than 5,000 demonstrations in 156 countries, including Germany, Nigeria, and Tokyo. Young demonstrators held signs that read, “You are destroying our future,” and “There is no planet B.” Amazingly, New York City Public Schools said parents could excuse their students to participate in the strike.

Dozens of nations are committing to adopt stricter climate goals by the end of 2020, aiming to reach a net of zero CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) emissions by then, largely influenced by a campaign led by Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg, 16 years-old no less, and a group of other activists who filed a suit with the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child against five different countries——for failing to curb carbon emissions.

Thunberg gave an impassioned speech accusing world leaders of failing future generations, saying, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

‘… Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot! …

Is there something to this idea of climate change and global warming? I don’t know about you, but my own South Florida experience has led me to believe that the last few years here – summers in particular, have been much warmer than usual, with several days of heat indexes (temperature including humidity) exceeding well over 100 degrees.

A recent news report and a follow-up analysis of it, illustrate the difficulty though, in pinpointing the level of climate change we may be undergoing much less what to do about it.

For instance, July was the hottest month ever recorded according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report. The scientists said July’s sizzling heat wave soared to an average global temperature 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average. The previous hottest month on record was July 2016.

However, as WORLD magazine reported, a meteorologist and principal research scientist in the U.S., said NOAA’s analysis is wrong, because it’s based on a limited and “error-prone” collection of mostly ground-level thermometers. His own website chart, based on satellite recording of temperatures in the lower atmosphere, shows the July increase as only two-thirds of a degree Fahrenheit: “not terribly alarming.”

So, which is it? Are we experiencing on our planet legitimate and disconcerting global warming or is science and society just reacting to politically motivated news and agendas with “global warming hysteria?” Theology may influence of course the answer to that question.

According to a Newsweek article, “The vast majority of scientists agree climate change is an existing, growing, and man-made threat to our planet. And yet the topic is a divisive issue in the U.S.—not least among people of faith.”

The article noted that White evangelical Christians in particular are, on average, more likely to question whether human activity contributed to the Earth’s warming, with research by Pew suggesting 28 percent accept this view, compared with 64 percent of those without a religious affiliation.

There is no doubt that the biblical worldview that disciples of Christ should follow, calls for obedience to the creation mandate God has given to his image bearers (Genesis 1:26-31), to subdue and have dominion or authority over creation, which means the environment.  Mankind is of greater value to the Lord and his kingdom than plants and trees, no matter how radical that sentence may read.

The secular left and its institutions which have little or no understanding of Christianity and its doctrines, would argue that evangelicals believe that global warming is of little concern when the end times are approaching. Indeed, it could even be proof of it.

Extreme and mistaken theology aside, Orthodox Christian doctrine teaches that believers are not only called to be stewards or managers, rather abusers of the environment, but to also continue caring for creation responsibly, as much as they are to preach the gospel and evangelize responsibly up to the moment Jesus returns to judge, rule and reign over his creation.

Climate Change is a controversial and complex issue. The scientific consensus even among Christian or theistic scientists, acknowledge that Carbon emissions that can adversely impact the environment are on the rise, having increased more than 20% over the last half-century and are above pre-industrial levels.

Burning fossil fuels (e.g. oil) undoubtedly contributes to that. And everyone agrees that CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas, and therefore adds increased amounts of CO2 to the air which should cause more heat to be trapped and warm the globe, all else being equal. Yes, an ice cap or two seems to be melting as well.

That said, the evolution of technology and industrialization over the past century plus, has greatly improved man’s quality of life and standard of living as efficient fossil fuels greatly contributed to that, including in the lives of ‘tree-hugging’ activists who are actually calling in some circles for the abolition of jet air-travel and automobiles, as they hop from plane to plane and into limousines for their next press conference.

Some countries including the U.S. have argued that they, and the world in general, will suffer economically from radical attempts to control CO2 emissions. Simply put, jobs, families and homes are at stake and are threatened by the more radical elements of the climate change movement currently dominating American media. So we better be sure.

‘How Now Shall We Steward?’  

The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s; But the earth He has given to the children of men. (Psa. 115:16, ESV)

As we think through this very difficult issue, let’s remind ourselves of who created the environment and why. God has given us all his creation to fully enjoy and to cultivate it for the sustenance and good of man-kind.

Christians however, can’t forget the fact that while enjoying it, we are not to waste, abuse or exploit the creation as Genesis 2:15 admonishes us to “tend and keep” (to guard) it, proclaiming the idea of stewardship.

Similar to lending a car to a friend; you’ve given that person a level of dominion over the vehicle while he’s driving it, but you expect it to be returned in good shape right? His creation is on loan to us and is not to be polluted. To that extent, God is “green.”

In summary, there is little to no objective evidence that man is definitively the main cause of global warming, nor that the effects will be catastrophic. Yet the fact remains that our world is wearing out and has been continually decaying since the fall of man and the curse of sin infected it.

Therefore, until Christ returns to work his “extreme makeover” over planet earth (2 Peter 3:9) which cannot be stopped, we glorify God and point others including environmental advocates to Christ and the gospel by only worshipping the creator rather than his creation or creatures (Romans 1), and proving to be God-obedient stewards over it as manifesting his kingdom rule.

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The Battle for Freedom: Sexual vs. Religious

Bernie Diaz, October 15, 2019

I have been slowly but surely ringing the bell to local churches and pastors at least since the last U.S. election cycle, that the single biggest sociological and political issue Christians need to be educated on and braced for, is the war being waged over sexual and religious freedom in our country.

If anyone doubts that is so, they need look no further than the video clips available online from the televised CNN townhall meeting of Democratic Presidential candidates devoted to LGBTQ issues last week. It was then that Senator Beto O’Rourke was asked, “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities—should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

“Yes,” O’Rourke said without hesitation, drawing applause from the largely liberal, Los Angeles audience.

“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone—or any institution, any organization in America—that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us,” he added. “So as president we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing on the rights of our fellow Americans.”

Only four years after the Obergefell Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in this country, O’Rourke has been among the first on Capitol Hill to ideologically ‘come out of the closet’ and shown Christians that the threat posed by the legitimization of homosexual marriage and special rights is more real—and more radical—than many could have imagined.   

For anyone who has been following this particular battle of the culture war that we’ve been in for more than a decade now – for any length of time, O’Rourke’s comments, reflecting the agenda of the “blue”, left-leaning advocates of this nation should not surprise.

The very exchange between then U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito on April 28, 2015, in oral arguments of the Obergefell v. Hodges case, proved to be the ominous portent of the things to come.  

When Judge Alito asked Verrilli whether constitutional recognition for same-sex marriage would lead to stripping federal tax exemptions from religious colleges that oppose gay marriage, in the same way that federal law legitimately strips tax exemptions from colleges that oppose interracial marriage or interracial dating, President Obama’s Solicitor General responded, ‘It’s certainly going to be an issue.’”

Well, the issue is here and the revolution intends to march on threatening religious liberty for all institutions of faith- particularly Christian ones, which make up the majority of those that serve citizens in a variety of ways in America, such as charities like the Salvation Army and hospitals which receive the same non-for profit tax exempt status as ironically enough, Planned Parenthood, GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and other atheist and humanist groups (e.g. the Freedom from Religion Foundation).

Many of the more than 300,000 plus churches in the U.S.A. along with Christian secondary schools, colleges and universities would suffer serious financial hardship to the point of closing its doors, under the burden of taxation should their tax-exempt status (unofficial since the country’s founding and federal law since 1894) be revoked, due to the difficulties that could be brought about by property taxes and associated ministry compensation costs for churches that would be damaging to pastors.

Though some would argue by playing the church-state “separation” card, that the tax-exempt status of religious institutions should be eliminated, their ignorance of that often misinterpreted and misunderstood phrase, was  not meant for the government to create a religion-free public square. Far from it. But rather, it is, instead, to safeguard the fundamental right to religious freedom by imposing limits on the regulatory—and, yes, the taxing—powers of governments.

After all, as Daniel Webster (the man that gave us the dictionary of the same name) famously argued in the Supreme Court, that the power to tax involves the power to destroy, and so we have very good reasons for exercising that power with care—especially when it comes to religious institutions, which form the backbone or foundation of the uniquely American ideal of “self-government” and freedom.

The New Battle Front

The days of subtle encroachment by the left on biblically grounded religious liberty has come and gone. The activists of the sexual revolution which has now climbed the steps of the nation’s capital via congressional members and presidential candidates have explicitly made their end game clear- the coercion of the church – to submit to the state and the legislative wishes of this revolution.

The LGBTQ community no longer (if it ever did) stands for tolerance in the marketplace of ideas and law. It now seeks to mandate the mainstream acceptance and approval of religious adherents to their lifestyle and agenda, while personal and corporate convictions and conscience be damned.

A notable Harvard law professor’s policy recommendation made that clear, calling for the left to take a “hard line” with religious conservatives because, after all, “trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War,” and “taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.”

The Casualties

We just read some pretty harsh, war-time like language for dealing with a cultural and political opponent. The casualties of such a “war” have been documented and its not just wedding bakers, photographers and florists anymore:

A popular Virginia teacher sued the school for firing him after he refused to use male pronouns to address a female student who identified as transgender.

The school board simply issued him an ultimatum: Use the male pronoun for a female student or lose his job. The teacher, Peter Vlaming, a Christian, “… went out of his way to accommodate this student as he does all his students; his school fired him because he wouldn’t contradict his core beliefs,” said his legal counsel from the Alliance Defending Freedom, who represents Vlaming. “The school board didn’t care how well Peter treated this student. It was on a crusade to compel conformity.”

That lawsuit comes on the heels of a well-publicized case of a doctor, who was recently fired in Great Britain after 30 plus years of service for refusing to acknowledge a patient by their biological gender.  

-Duke and Wayne State Universities have joined the revolution’s wave of colleges trying to dictate which students can serve as leaders of campus clubs and ministries as well as limiting the inclusion of such groups on campus should they hold to biblical standards in their statements of faith..

Are Christian ministries like IntraVarsity crying wolf or overreacting to reasonable college standards above? Not when one considers that Wayne State for example, has not applied the same policy to other student groups that limit who can hold leadership roles. Fraternities and sororities limit their membership by sex, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association limits its membership to Muslims, and even the Quidditch Club, based on a fictional game from Harry Potter, can select leaders who affirm its stated mission.

Amazon pulled books by Joseph Nicolosi Sr. from its website earlier this month, sparking accusations of viewpoint discrimination against the late psychologist for his pioneering work in what he called “reparative therapy,” a method to reduce unwanted same-sex attraction.

Critics often refer to him as the “father of conversion therapy,” though his son insists Nicolosi never advocated such a practice and says the term is “ill-defined.” “The book ban by Amazon and radical LGBT activists reveals the blatant hypocrisy of today’s leaders of the LGBT movement,” Joseph Nicolosi Jr. wrote for The Daily Signal. “They celebrate exploration of every kind of sexuality they can imagine, unless that exploration happens to lead an individual toward a traditional, heterosexual lifestyle.”

The biggest casualty of all that Christians who think in terms of a biblical worldview should be weary of, is the religious freedom we have long enjoyed, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, freely in the byways and hallways of America and its institutions.

More than one local American municipality (Houston, TX) has tried to confiscate the manuscripts of Sunday sermons to determine if they have violated “hate discrimination” laws.

Disciples of Christ in this country should not just be concerned about the right to “believe,” but the right to freely “exercise” their religion and faith – what and why they believe, throughout culture and society as the founders of this nation, from the pilgrims to the fathers of this government envisioned and codified into constitutional language.    

The battle lines have been clearly drawn. The Democratic Party of the United States- a pro-abortion party of death, no longer believes it will be punished for being open about how LGBTQ issues trump religious liberty.

Therefore, I would argue that the greatest freedom Christians should legally fight for aside from ‘the right to life’, would be the right to preach; to declare that Jesus is Lord of all and that he is the only, way, truth and life for the lost- including those who are fighting the hardest to quench that truth, preferring the darkness to light.

Let us show our culture war opponents the love of Christ, by arguing to fight for the freedom- the right, to preach the truth in love to them, the only truth that can save them.

A Look at the Cure for our Spiritual Cancer

Bernie Diaz, October 8, 2019

Some though perhaps not many of you by now, may have seen or read the heart-wrenching story of eighteen year old Brandt Jean, an African-American man who hugged a woman and forgave her in open court during a murder trial in Texas, for the shooting death of the man’s brother in which the woman was charged and convicted.

The shooting victim, Botham Jean, was killed by Amber Guyger, a white, off-duty police officer, who walked into what she believed to be her apartment and mistakenly shot Botham dead.

You read it right. Yes, while we’re still in the throes of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, this man hugged this woman as she was sentenced for killing his brother, provoking a wide-array of reactions from; wonder,  amazement and admiration, to frustration. It has also deepened the national debate over regulating police use of force.

At the sentencing hearing of Guyger, Brandt Jean, used his victim-impact statement to tell the court that despite what the officer took from his family, if she is truly sorry for what she did, then he forgives her and wants the best for her.

“I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please?” Brandt Jean asked the judge, after telling Guyger that his main desire wasn’t for her to go to jail but to “give your life to Christ.” As the two shared a tight hug, the courtroom was largely quiet except for the sounds of sobbing.

While that act may have startled if not bewildered a good chunk of America, it should be noted that is serves as a contemporary picture of Jesus Christ’s crosswork and a very difficult reality which is to serve as a hallmark of the Christian faith: love of neighbor through forgiveness.

My recent preaching series in my church of The Gospel of God from the book of Romans, well documents and illustrates this counter-cultural mark of Christianity (Romans 12-13) in a world which hangs on to the disease of bitterness from a lack of forgiveness like a cancerous tumor.  Vengeance, the desire to ‘repay evil with evil’ (Ro. 12:19-21), eats away at the heart of both secularists and believers day in and day out.

The unbeliever or unredeemed person by nature, cannot largely understand nor desire to forgive an enemy that has done such harm to themselves or loved ones. Having been offended and cursed, the average person can quickly quote and lean on the biblical and cultural adage to take an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” ignoring Jesus’ clarifying call of that phrase to “not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.. (Matt. 5:39).”

In fact, having lived through and seen this lethal disease of bitterness at work infecting professing and Spirit-possessing Christians for some time, I know all too well the temptation of our fallen flesh to embrace unforgiveness. It’s easy and very human to do- it’s instinctive.

The counter-cultural and freeing thing to do is come to Jesus Christ, receive him by repentant faith, be born-again and then by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, to forgive or ‘cancel the debt’ of offense owed us by our enemies or neighbors.

This most Christian of all actions is painful, difficult and time consuming, yet so I’m also told is the surgery, and/or treatment and recovery of conditions like cancer. The victim’s mother of the case above, Allison Jean, had testified that she still struggles with the trauma of her son’s death, saying: “I cannot sleep. I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me.”

What About Justice?

We must be reminded that forgiveness does not negate or absolve offenders of the consequences of their actions. Amber Guyger, the police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean, received a ten-year sentence for her crime.

While forgiveness takes the first step of healing for a victim of an offense, it does not necessarily reconcile and restore a relationship that has been broken by the offense. For that to happen, justice must be served, which in the context of interpersonal relationships, involve the offender earnestly confessing their guilt and sin to the offended victim, seeking and then receiving forgiveness from the victim as the initial step towards the peacekeeping result of reconciliation.

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Lu. 17:3b-4, ESV).

At that point of repentance and relational restitution, forgiveness as one of my church’s fellow pastors once preached, can be, “God’s Eraser in your hand.”

Christians are to use forgiveness as God’s eraser of love with all people- particularly with others in their church families, because they have both received it in their own life as the means of being made right before, and at peace with God (Ro. 5:8; Eph.4:32), and because they will be seen by the world as never being more like their lord and savior, then when they forgive others- even the unforgiveable.  

What About the Cure?

Furthermore, forgiveness is the cure for the cancer that is bitterness that we carry in our souls every day, metastasizing into more bitterness which infects and threatens our current and future relationships if left unattended.

Bitterness caused by unforgiveness stores itself in the soul, and slowly poisons the one who carries it. As one writer put it, “It’s a blade meant for another that eventually severs the hand that tightly conceals it.”

Over time, repeated hurts can build up to destroy a relationship, as I have seen in too many marriages as a pastor who has counseled over the years. Though a tough pill to swallow, we choose to hold on to our grudges, because of our pride (“it’s the principle of the thing”). Bitterness, though, doesn’t pay very good dividends does it? It doesn’t do anything to the person you’re angry at, but only hurts you now and later. You go through life always testing people, always suspicious, and never at peace.

It prevents you from paying what God’s word demands of us, which is the never-ending debt of love to our neighbor (Ro. 13:8-10). Simply put, we must choose to love a neighbor by choosing first to forgive them.

What About the Medicine?

Unforgiveness is probably the biggest barrier to healing this side of heaven. It takes much Christ-like humility (Phil. 2:3-8) and strength to say, “I will no longer hold this against you,” and often we just don’t feel up to obeying that command of Christ.

As hard as it seems, though, it is so much harder to live with the disease of bitterness. As someone said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” You may be protecting your need to be right, but you give up your only chance at freedom and peace, and limit what God can do in you and your witness of his saving grace with others.

You may be so full of bitterness today, that you’ve convinced yourself that your heart and relationships could never be healed tomorrow, but let me assure you that the healing begins with yourself. With God, ‘all things are possible’ (Matt. 19:26). Here are three major steps to take to begin curing the cancer of bitterness that may be in your soul:

  • Confess your bitterness as sin (Heb. 12:14-15)

You must seek peace with your enemies or those you’re in conflict with and the grace to forgive them (Ro. 12:16,18). You begin by cancelling their debt to you in your heart, by casting that debt on to God in prayer.

  • Ask for God’s strength to forgive and diligently seek that forgiveness (Eph. 4:31-32; Col. 2:9-11)

It’s hard to be tender-hearted to someone who has hurt you deeply, but it is possible. We have the power to forgive because Christ forgave us, and He gives us strength through the Holy Spirit.

  • Be concerned about changing yourself, not your offender (1 Pet. 3:1,7)

You’re nobody’s Holy Spirit. You cannot change your offender- so often a spouse or other close, family member—only God can. But what you can do is allow God to change your heart. If you have a log of bitterness in your own eye, how can you take the speck out of your offender’s (“brother’s”) eye (Matt. 7:3)?

You, too, have made choices in this relationship perhaps that have hurt the other party and need to be mended. Even though their sin goes unresolved for now, he, she or them will answer for them one day before God (Matt. 10:26). In the same way, God will hold you responsible for the bitterness that remained in your heart.

As author Ed Stetzer wrote of the Amber Guyger case, When we are able to say with heartfelt words that we have forgiven those who have harmed us most, we have understood not only the power of transformation but also the gravity and enormity of what Christ did on the cross. Brandt (Jean) forgave Amber. It reminds us of who Jesus is, who we are in Christ, and points the world to a different way.

That different way is the truth and a life of healing and peace, free from the cancer of unforgiveness and bitterness.

One Pastor’s Wish List for Pastor Appreciation Month

Bernie Diaz, October 1, 2019

Virtually every month and week of the year is now recognized as a pseudo-holiday and awareness call for some sort of group or another to recognize in the United States.

Having just perused this year’s calendar, I noticed that I have already missed observing the following 10 through the first three quarters of this year:

  • National Pharmacist Day (may need a pill for that one)
  • Rare Disease Day in February (I’m not making these up)
  • Teen Dating Awareness Month (that one should be every month)
  • Fat Tuesday in March (not touching that one)
  • Adopt a Ferret Month (why?)
  • Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month (this one doesn’t add up to me)
  • Cell Phone Courtesy Month (how about this one being 24/7, 365?)
  • Honey Month (how sweet!)
  • Pirate Month (“shiver me timbers!”)
  • Shameless Promotion Month (for all of the above- in September)!

Conspicuously absent though from the national calendar is one of my favorites, Pastor Appreciation Month, sometimes called ‘Clergy Appreciation Day’, celebrating in October the contributions of pastors, reverends and ministers in the U.S.

Being a pastor myself, I might think the origin of the holiday might have begun when the apostle Paul – the church’s first missionary and church planter, stated that the elders (or pastors- leaders) of the church are worthy of a double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). He reiterated that idea in 1 Thess. 5:12-13, when he stated that that those who work hard as shepherds among the flock should be held in the highest regard for their work. 

Sounds good, but lest I am thought to be ‘shamelessly promoting’ my work, I, like many of fellow under-shepherds of Jesus Christ, are not looking for gifts (as appreciated as those may be) as much as for the fruit of our faithfulness and labor unto Christ from the sheep.

Many of us yearning to please our king and advance his cause and kingdom are looking for affirmation that they are making a difference. As for myself, I am looking for growth, but not the kind you may be thinking of in raw numbers such as church buildings, budgets and bodies per se.

Having studied and been somewhat exposed to the mega-church growth movement for nearly two decades, I frankly weary of that pastoral prospect and burden, knowing the temptations inherent in reaching that status, to compromise the gospel, to fall in sin and being pre-occupied with sheer attendance and giving stats.

As an average church-size pastor (reportedly more than two-thirds of the 300,000 plus churches in America are 100 and under in Sunday attendance) who believes in the sovereignty of God and his providence in working his will out in the world through circumstances, I’ve come to understand that it is Jesus alone who builds his church (Matt. 16:15-19).

In fact, my church’s leadership team is in the good company of the cornerstone itself of the church, Jesus Christ. If you were to lay aside the unprecedented and exceptional open air crowds our Lord preached to in his ministry, including his Sermon On the Mount messages and among the feeding of the thousands, you find a preacher and ‘Good Shepherd’ who had his most pastoral relationships defined by a smaller and specific group of disciples that, by virtually any definition, we would call today a small or average size church.  

In fact, though he preached to some massive groups of people, he never pastored them and would speak in a way so as to even whittle down the masses in order to separate true followers from fair-weather fans (Jo. 6). He called such assemblies “sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36), which is like calling a mega-crowd, “a church without a pastor.”

That said, all of us who serve in the ministry should pray for and labor towards more worshippers to come to our Lord Jesus in ‘spirit and truth.’ As the universal and invisible church legitimately grows in number, the kingdom of God advances as does the praise and glory he is worthy to receive.

However, there’s no denying the numerical decline of the American church, including the nation’s largest Protestant denomination of which our church is affiliated with, the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC lost almost 78,000 members in the past year, according to reports and have now lost a million members since their peak of 16.3 million in 2003.

The denomination is down to its “lowest baptisms since 1946; lowest membership since 1990; lowest worship attendance since 1996,” according to a historical analysis from one of its seminaries. The only measure where Southern Baptists are growing fortunately in terms of the long run, are in  their number of churches being planted, adding 479 last year for a total of more than 47,000.

On the one hand, church planting has long served as a fertilizing seed for the kingdom, as it creates energies, initiatives and movements grounded upon evangelistic community outreach and discipleship. But on the other hand, “It’s clear that evangelism and discipleship are waning,” Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, an SBC affiliate told a media outlet in speaking of the church’s current state. “I don’t believe it is due to the lack of opportunities, though. Instead, there is a lack of engagement.”

So, as I think about my own church within the context of God’s kingdom priorities, I offer the following ‘Pastor Appreciation Month’ wish list to my people on behalf of my fellow elders and other local churches that may read this post all following under the umbrella of “engagement”…

  • Go to Church Regularly

Heb. 10:25 says, we should not neglect ‘to meet together, as is the habit of some’. The reason is because our meeting together is one of the primary ways we fulfil our obligations as universal church members. It is very hard to encourage, build up, challenge, edify or do any of the ‘one another’ commands when we don’t meet with the other believers to whom we have committed. We expect regular attendance when the church gathers together.

This is an even greater need to build up the encouragement of smaller, average-size churches.

  • Prioritize the Lord’s Supper

In Acts 2:42-47 we see the things the early church prioritized in its fellowship. We find they devoted themselves to teaching, worship, breaking bread, the Lord’s table and prayer. These are the activities that make a church, a church. In Lu. 22:19, Jesus commands his disciples to remember and proclaim his death in communion. The Lord’s Supper renews our commitment to Christ and his people, marking them off as a church that distinguishes them from the world around them.

By drawing a line between the church and the world, baptism and the Lord’s Supper make it possible to point to something and say, ‘there is a church’ rather than ‘there are some Christians just getting together over coffee’.

  • Tell People About your Church Regularly

The best form of advertising – whether it be the church or several other institutions or forms of consumerism if you will, is by word of mouth. No church billboard, TV, internet or radio ad campaign can match the words of a Christ-exalting and Spirit-filled member of a local church telling an unchurched and/or unsaved person about the evidences of the Lord’s grace and excitement experienced in their congregation.

Tell them what the Lord has been teaching you through the word ministry of your church. When asked how many people attend your church on a Sunday, respond by telling them about you and a few others that you have seen become transformed and are growing due to your church’s ministry.

  • Pray Regularly

The Bible tells us to pray ‘without ceasing’ (1Thess. 5:17), to pray for each other (Eph 6:18; Ja. 5:16) and for our leaders (Col 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:1; Heb 13:18). If the church is the sum of its members, this means we are called to pray for the church- including for its Biblically grounded growth. That is, each individual member as well as for its wider work and mission.

A great place to do this is in the church’s regular prayer meetings such as we have, every Sunday morning before the rest of our worship service continues.

  • Give Consistently and Serve joyfully

The Bible is full of instructions about giving. In the New Testament, its only injunctions are that disciples are to give (Lu. 6:38) generously and cheerfully from the heart, “not reluctantly or under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:6-7)” regardless of our resources.

Our church’s Commitment to Fellowship makes clear that those who wish to become members are to give of their time and talents, as well as of their treasure. The pastors or elders are “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph.4) so that may do their part to build each other up and the kingdom, as well as doing their part to be disciples who make, mature and multiply more disciples of Jesus Christ, fulfilling our Lord’s Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).

We, therefore, desire and expect every member at Christ Community  Church to serve joyfully in the work of ministry, as every other local church should. Where there is service to build up the body and where there are opportunities to reach out with the gospel, we expect each member to be involved.

Finally, I  might add a more personal, pastoral addendum to the ‘Appreciation’ wish list to include this reminder of a gift from church members to their pastors: remember your pastor(s) are an example to the flock, but are also fallible men with fallible family members that need as much love, grace, mercy and affection as you the church member need and expect from them. In other words, your pastoral families are church members as worthy of the ‘one anothers’ ministry as you are.

Again, for those pastors struggling to remain faithful to their calling which is the greatest fruit a church elder can bring to his Lord and people, consider if you ever feel underappreciated as you may, your Pastor at the right hand of the Father appreciates you.

As one writer put it; Jesus shepherded a small group of imperfect, but committed people. He discipled them through relationship and instruction. He knew what it was like to have the crowds leave as quickly as they came. He developed a leadership team. He got frustrated when his leadership team seemed like they’d never get it. He was let down by the people he loved when he needed them the most.

He helped them assess their progress, using correction and encouragement. He prepared them to keep the ministry going after he was no longer with them.

If you are an ‘average’ church pastor, know all of the above and this: whatever you’re going through, whatever frustrations you feel and whatever joys you experience, Jesus felt them too. You’re not alone. Jesus understands and Jesus appreciates you as I appreciate the fellow pastors of my church, both bi-vocational ministers, this month and every other day whether it’s on the calendar or not.

Don’t Be Fooled at the Salad Bar

Bernie Diaz, September 17, 2019

At the risk of cultural sacrilege, I might in lieu of recent news, rewrite the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s classic folk song, Blowin’ in the Wind, in the first verse as:

How many roads must a weak theologian stumble and walk down
Before you call him or her a theologian?
How many seas of reason must a white dove sail Before she sleeps in the sand?

As we posted recently (Christ Alone or the American Gospel?; 8/21), we noted that a feature documentary has done an excellent job of exposing the false and dangerous doctrine found in the ‘Word of Faith’ or Prosperity Gospel.Much of the exposition of that movement therein features the mainstreaming of a superficial, man-centered and ear-tickling rather than God-centered gospel and theology.  

Within a week or so, two news items- largely hidden under the mainstream news media radar, illustrated the type of theology inherent among so many  celebrity ‘theologians’ or famous faces attempting to espouse religious wisdom today, who dine at the spiritual salad bar and buffet table of religious syncretism, believing in a “little bit of this religion and a little bit of that one.”

The first to dine, almost tragically came in the wake of Hurricane Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamian islands, which has claimed at least 50 lives and left 70,000 people homeless.

No less a theologian that current Democratic Presidential hopeful, author and spiritualist Marianne Williamson made a rather novel, if unorthodox suggestion for dealing with that storm – using “the power of the mind” to will the storm elsewhere.

I was initially conflicted over whether to laugh or cry in response to this suggestion, but thankfully deferred to the Biblical admonition to “weep with those that weep” (Ro. 12) in the wake of the storm.

In a since-deleted tweet, Ms. Williamson, a former spiritual guru to Oprah Winfrey to no surprise, suggested that visualizing the storm’s retreat could be an effective way to change its course.  “The Bahamas, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas … may all be in our prayers now,” she tweeted, according to images posted by several Twitter users as the storm made landfall and threatened the east coast.

“Millions of us seeing Dorian turn away from land is not a wacky idea; it is a creative use of the power of the mind. Two minutes of prayer, visualization, meditation for those in the way of the storm.”

I could not have made up such new-age and mystical drivel had I tried. The response in fact to many if not most rational human beings was such that her campaign was forced to later explain that the tweet was not intended to be taken literally. Oh.

Her follow-up statement read, “Everyone please pray for the people of the Bahamas, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. May the peace of God be upon them, may they and their families remain safe and their hearts be comforted as they endure the storm.”

Interesting. First, Ms. Willliamson, a long-shot though not atypical liberal candidate for the 2020 Presidential election in many respects, suggested we visualize or dream away Dorian from the U.S., then suggested in the midst of self-imposed ridicule that we pray to God – a God she clearly does not know, for help and peace.

When the author of the best-seller of A Course in Miracles was asked who Jesus Christ was and is, she replied: “Jesus was a human being who while on earth completely self-actualized and fulfilled in all ways the potential glory that lies within us all. He became one with the Essence and Christ Spirit that is in all of us. In that sense, he is our evolutionary elder brother. He demonstrated our destiny.”

She said when asked if Jesus was the only Son of God, “Hogwash! First of all, I believe we are all Sons of God, and it is our destiny to be as Jesus.” All righty then. She’s got my evangelical vote! 

I wonder why if Ms. Williamson, heresies aside, as a renowned teacher of self-actualization, fulfilling her ‘God-like glory’ that resides within her, didn’t just take out Hurricane Dorian by herself?

Which begs the question, “Why don’t any self-proclaimed anointed, prosperous and faithful teachers and preachers of the word of faith movement heal the infirmed in most of their local hospitals?” 

Similarly, Alex Trebek, the Canadian host of that fine television quiz show Jeopardy!, returned to television after having been diagnosed with Stage Four pancreatic cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.

Despite the ominous long-term prognosis of this stage and type of cancer, Trebek remained optimistic, saying in a magazine interview, “I’m going to fight this and I’m going to keep working, keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done.”

However, at the salad bar of faith, “Keep the faith” can mean a lot of different things to different people. Is this a case of a Hollywood celebrity unthinkingly using religious language at a vulnerable moment in life? Or does Trebek’s spiritual biography suggest something more significant in?

Little do most know, that Trebek, now 78, grew up Catholic in Canada, grew up attending a Catholic boarding school, but later rejected and today is a critic of the Roman Catholic religion, all the while maintaining evangelical connections through the World Vision relief organization and supporting his wife Jean, an active member of the North Hollywood Church of Religious Science, a church born out of the New Thought movement of the 1920s.

According to one description from a published report, Religious Science teaches that the “individual human mind is an expression of the Universal Mind, and the universe is its material manifestation. Man and nature are, therefore, like the God who is their true being, considered to be fundamentally good, and apparent evil stems from ignorance of the highest identity.”

This entrée at the religious salad bar tastes a lot like Marianne Williamson’s above doesn’t it. Speaking of Romanism…

The Pope – Ashamed of the Gospel?

Our second headline worthy example of theology ‘blowin in the wind’, comes from the Vatican in Rome, which just made a decision to implement a document affirming that the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God.”

That statement issued without correction, was tantamount to “promoting the neglect of the first Commandment” and a “betrayal of the Gospel,” according to Catholic Bishop Athanasius Schneider. In an interview discussing a Vatican-backed initiative to promote the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” this official in Astana, Kazakhstan, said that “however noble such aims as ‘human fraternity’ and ‘world peace’ may be, they cannot be promoted at the cost of relativizing the truth of uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His Church.”

Amazingly this Catholic bishop is on to something, when he said that the spread of this document in its uncorrected form would “paralyze the Church’s mission” and “suffocate her burning zeal to evangelize all men.” He added: “Attempts at peace are destined for failure if they are not proposed in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Indeed, it is the exclusivity of Jesus and his gospel (Jo. 14:6; Acts 4:12), that continues to be a tough dish to swallow for the salad bar and buffet sensibilities of the “Co-Exist” bumper sticker and morally deist crowd.

It is also long past time in which Biblical Christians admit that the Protestant Reformation of five centuries ago has not completely ended. The evidence is clear that Roman Catholicism and its doctrine preaches what the apostle Paul called and condemned as “another gospel,” when referring to the religious and false Judaizers of his day (Gal. 1:6-10).  Our fight for the one truth faith remains.

The passage from the Vatican inciting controversy reads:

Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept.

While the first part of the passage correctly affirms the non-coercive nature of the gospel and Christian faith, it clearly rejects the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, when it opens the door to God accepting adherents of any religion other than Christianity, where redemption is found by faith alone in Christ alone.

 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal. 1:10, ESV)

But then again, Rome and the Papacy, like many other seeker-sensitive church growth movements, have held to a long tradition of expanding its theological convictions and boundaries, in order to absorb into its fold as many religious dissidents of other faiths as possible.

Indeed, according to Bishop Schneider, in implementing this document without correcting its error on the diversity of religions (which the Vatican has failed to do), “Men in the Church not only betray Jesus Christ as the only Savior of mankind and the necessity of His Church for eternal salvation, but also commit a great injustice and sin against love of neighbor.”

Aside from being informed, ready and alert for false doctrine, to the extent of being prepared to continue to evangelize the lost that actually claim to be Christian, all Biblical disciples can do to is pray for those who Paul described as, “preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (condemned).” 

Our Post 9-11 World: ‘Same Old Same Old?’

Bernie Diaz, September 11, 2019

An article in WORLD magazine nearly 20 years ago read, “If Dec. 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy, Sept. 11, 2001, is a day that will live in reruns. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, death and destruction rained from the sky, catching a complacent nation utterly by surprise. But unlike that earlier attack, the mayhem this time was first broadcast live, then replayed endlessly on tape, burning itself deep into the national psyche.”

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing 18 years ago today- the date of this blog post? It’s a fair question to ask in light of the fact that a number of young adults just being licensed to drive today were not even born when a new, “normal” came to the United States, on that fateful morning in which a group of Islamic terrorists led by Osama Bin Laden and his movement known as Al Qaeda, launched an unprecedented attack on American soil, killing more than 3,000 citizens in a series of suicide airplane “bombings.”

I remember that unspeakable and demonically inspired, evil event as if it had occurred today. That event triggered appropriately, America’s ‘War on Terror’, which continues two decades later in some form or another, perhaps interminably.

Although life goes on and should, that task will always be harder for some -like the victim’s families, than others. Today, some of those families gathered with U.S. leaders and emergency responders at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City; the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.; and a field near Shanksville, Pa.—all of the places where terrorists crashed the passenger planes.

After holding a moment of silence at the White House, President Donald Trump and the first lady Melania, attended a private memorial for survivors, family members, and law enforcement personnel while at another ceremony, Vice President Mike Pence remembered the passengers who overwhelmed terrorists and forced United Airlines Flight 93 to crash into a field instead of a populated area potentially saving hundreds of more lives.

Pence noted that a generation “has come of age with no personal memory of 9/11 … so the rest of us, my fellow Americans, must tell the story.”

One of the more interesting stories that emerged from 9/11, was the religious and patriotic fervor which the terrorist attacks initially seemed to inspire all over the nation. Flags at homes were unfurled where they had never been seen before and churches were filling to the brim according to media reports and polls, with visitors seeking God, seeking answers to this massive problem of evil, pain and suffering known as “9/11”, and others seeking salvation from Jesus Christ in increasing numbers.

However, less than a year later, the public’s belief that religion was playing an increasing role in American life had slipped back to pre-attack levels, a poll found.  “Religion was in the air after Sept. 11 in a way that hadn’t been the case for a long time and may not be the case for a long time in the future,” said a director of The Pew Research Center. “I’ve never seen such a dramatic change disappear so quickly.”

Although God’s word is clear that he is sovereign over all catastrophes and  tragedies (Isaiah; 45; Amos 3), often used in part as wake up calls to slumbering and comfortable masses, the immediate and later post 9/11 world’s attitudes, exerted only modest and short-lived effects on our nation’s religiosity and spirituality.

In other words, America went back to sleep- spiritually. While religious pundits proclaimed the last months of 2001 to be a time of unprecedented religious and spiritual revival in the U.S., research findings suggested otherwise, indicating that no remarkable revival occurred among adults after September 11th, nor at any other time since.  

Post 9/11 Lessons:

  • America is Sensitive to Terrorism

One of the most practical lessons our nation’s government and military establishment learned, is that we can no longer be – can never be complacent when regarding terrorist threats. The Taliban (possible peace negotiations notwithstanding), is still alive and well. Al Qaeda is still a legitimate, long-term threat and ISIS though lacking a strong caliphate (geographic state) at the moment, hates America and is still determined to regroup and threaten western society.

The United States are more vigilant and more sensitive to terrorist aggression, threats and national security than ever before 9/11, even influencing American immigration policy.

The war on terror should never be considered over, so long as terrorists exist.

  • America is Sensitive to Evil

No event could have quieted the voice of atheism and secular humanism’s argument that man is inherently good and only prone to violence due to environmental or sociological influences, more than 9/11.

Al Qaeda’s Satanically fueled hearts are deceitful, wicked and attacked the U.S. because they hate God, Jesus, America, its roots and the culture of  the west. To put it mildly, terrorists must be considered “by nature, children of wrath (Eph.2:3)” and whose ‘father is the devil (John 8:44),’ still intent on cold-blooded and premediated mass murder.

The reality of the existence of innate evil present in the hearts of man can no longer be honestly debated, due in large part to 9/11. Some on the left have since acknowledged that.

Post 9/11 Warnings:      

  • America Still Needs Revival

Our post, Christianity and Patriotism – More or Less? from August 28th, analyzed the results of a Wall St. Journal poll indicating that Americans over the last 20 years, value God and patriotism much less than the previous generation.

The post 9/11 revival that many evangelicals wished for and anticpated, never materialized. Neither the former finding nor the latter, surprise when we remember from our Old Testament readings that Israel, a literal chosen nation of God, called to be a true lighthouse to the rest of the known world, went through centuries in cycles of sin, rebelling against their creator, shepherd and law-giver only to find itself in the discipline of captivity for decades, before Yahweh granted them a merciful reprieve and return to their promised land for a season.

Somewhat similarly, the United States, a nation born of Judeo-Christian values and influence, only 18 years removed from one of its most alarming and tragic wake-up calls, remains largely stuck in neutral, moving closer and closer to a completely secular and post-Christian and gospel  society, chained in the captivity of moral relativism and sexual revolution.

Is America beyond revival? Absolutely not, because of God’s providence and goodness, the church of Jesus Christ may revive and help bring a refreshment and healing to our land. What is the key to unlocking the chains of our current captivity that could lead to a time of revival?

  • America Needs Repentance

The prophet Daniel expressed this warning and need best when he prayed on behalf of his nation for God to release them from Babylonian bondage (Dan. 9:3-19):

 16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.

18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Dan. 9:16-19, ESV)

May it not take another 9/11 next year or in 18 more, for this prayer to be answered.  

Where Was God in the Bahamas?

Bernie Diaz, September 4, 2019

Another natural disaster has come and is going, and another set of questions follow in its path along the lines of “Where, how and why?”  

Hurricane Dorian as of this post has weakened into a category two storm as it makes it way along the eastern coast of a handful of South Atlantic states before dissipating at sea, having devastated the Bahamas and the Abaco Islands as a Category five hurricane, battering those islands with 185 mph plus sustained winds.

At least seven are dead (more casualties are expected) and more than two dozen injured so far. Relief officials have already reported scenes of utter ruin this week in parts of the Bahamas and rushed to deal with an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the wake of this storm, not only the most powerful one on record ever to hit the islands, but perhaps the most powerful in history to make landfall in this hemisphere other than one unnamed storm in 1935.  

The storm’s punishing winds and floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes and crippled hospitals. “It’s total devastation. It’s decimated. Apocalyptic,” said an official from a local hurricane relief organization there.

“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.

‘Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?’

Is the answer that “God is good, but he’s not powerful enough to do anything about such tragedies?” Some liberal Christians teach such ideas.

I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things (Isaiah 45:5-7, ESV).

The confused and unbiblical mean well, but in my view, they just don’t understand God, the world and his Word very well, as they look to take him off the hook for things like the Holocaust and hurricanes, rather than acknowledge his sovereign power and purposes (providence) in the midst of it all.

As I mentioned to a Facebook Live audience last Sunday, an acquaintance and former local media colleague of mine some years ago, was an avowed agnostic if not an atheist, who in the wake of some hurricanes and the chaos they left behind, wrote, “Faith in a way, makes it harder to understand the maddening capriciousness of natural disasters, or even man-made cataclysms like wars and terrorist attacks. Why would an omnipotent God do this to someone?” It’s a good question and one that Jesus Christ dealt with in a somewhat similar scenario 2,000 years ago.

At the end of chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus rebuked his religious skeptics for their lack of discernment. He told them that while they might be experts in discerning basic weather patterns like our meteorologists do today, they couldn’t figure out the real sign of the times, which was the coming of Messiah and his kingdom.

The enemies of Christ often looked to set-him up and trap him in rhetorical arguments such as at the beginning of Luke 13, where they threw at him maybe the most difficult question anyone with his authority could be asked, the question of the problem of evil, pain and suffering- “Where was God in…the Bahamas maybe?” Two local tragedies had occurred leading to the question he was asked which he answered with two incredible, direct and to the point statements of his own.

The Question of Relative Death

We learn in Luke 13:1-3 that Pontius Pilate, then governor of Judea who would later condemn Christ, slaughtered a number of relatively defenseless Jews protesting an injustice.

The Pharisee crowd must have thought they had Jesus pinned to a wall, thinking he would split the Jewish community if he declared the Galileans were judged by God for sin in being mutilated, and if he sympathized with the victims, he would be siding against Roman officials, potentially endangering himself and his ministry with them.

Therefore, rather than having dealt with the politics of the question, assigning blame or sin or giving God’s specific reason for the “why” of this persecution related tragedy, he essentially asked them, ‘You think God’s sovereignty is limited to people’s sin? Does cataclysm and disasters and murders only happen because of God’s direct judgment on people (Luke 13:2-3)?’

Then as a follow-up, he was asked about the rationale behind or responsibility for the tower in Siloam that fell upon and seemed to ‘randomly’ kill 18 people.

What then was Jesus’ answer in verse 5? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Or, to put in the even more direct words attributed to the ‘Prince of Preachers’, Charles Spurgeon, “Turn or burn.” Do those two answers satisfy you? Perhaps not, if you are looking to ascertain God’s secret and providential will of decree, which is not for us to know (Deut. 29:29).

This Jewish question tying into interpretations of the law as reasons for calamities or unexpected death comes up everywhere in the Bible.

Job obviously lived what many would call in human terms, a ‘tragic life’ and his friends got around to laying the blame for his suffering at his feet (Job 22:4-5). Although God would have been justified to judge a sinner like Job or anyone else in calamity for that matter, by virtue of their sin and rebellion, (there are no “good” people to which bad things happen), God had other purposes in mind.

Similarly, what we find out from Jesus in his encounter with the Jews is much more important than an explanation for tragic events. We learn something about God and man and who we are when we come face to face with God. One thing we learn, is that everyone has or will die this side of the second coming of Jesus and glory, and that the way and when is not nearly as important as our relationship to God and our future and eternal destiny at the time of our death.

We also learn that God has sovereign purposes and plans in the midst of his redemptive promises for his people – even in the wake of disasters. One of those purposes as C.S. Lewis once said, is to “rouse the deaf ears” of a sin-cursed world.

What may be more interesting to me in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian is that well over 60 million people will die around the world this year- that’s about 200,000 per day- nearly 8,000 per hour and I would say the vast majority are “perishing” or going to hell for rejecting Jesus Christ and his gospel of salvation.

That fact doesn’t seem to bother us as much as the concern about the plane that crashes and kills 200 at a time, the tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and other catastrophes and disasters that take larger numbers of people unexpectedly at one time, which is all made worse by our 24 hour, satellite and internet news cycle. You can’t escape worldwide suffering today.  We now bear the most scientific knowledge of every CAT 5 storm.

In fact, every tragic event seems to us to occur at unprecedented levels which may not be the case at all. Though it is certainly true man has more technological killing power at his disposal than ever before, God seems to be restraining it at present.

Disease did far more damage in the past to man, when plagues would virtually wipe out the populations of whole nations, but the truth is, the calamities aren’t any worse or any more frequent than they’ve always been. The earth is a dangerous place to live. Why? That question is worth asking because it leads to the Lord’s answer: What is the common thread throughout history and events like this? Where did it all start and why? SIN (Romans 8:22-23).

Why did those Jews offering sacrifices die at the hand of Pilate? Why did that tower of Siloam fall on those 18? Where was God in the hurricane that just decimated the Bahamas? Those really shouldn’t be our most important questions, considering we know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and ever-present.  

The question is what kind of God do we have that lets anybody live? We know God is holy and righteous and we know the wages of sin is death, and we deserve to die. The soul that sins, it shall die. The fact that we take another breath is because God is merciful. It’s the patience and tolerance of God leading us to repentance.

You see, history works this way, we all deserve to die. But instead, God lets us live. He lets us love, laugh and enjoy blessings of common grace-why? What’s that about? It’s God putting his love, grace and mercy on display as well as his intent to judge sin, to the point that we would obey Acts 20, which commands us to repent toward God and have faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

The point that Jesus was making in Luke 13, is that ‘natural’ disasters, calamities and cataclysms remind us that It’s time to repent. He’s giving the wolrd that opportunity during this age of redemption to repent, believe in Christ and escape the coming judgment that the Bible has been talking about for centuries.

How Do We Pray?

Our response as born-again Christians with a salvation story to tell is at least three-fold in prayer:

  1. Pray for God’s mercy to fall upon the victims and survivors of the Bahamas and the surrounding islands as they rebuild their country.
  2. Pray for God’s divine and sovereign grace to give a new birth of salvation to many in the wake of the storm as they seek God and seek to make sense of this disaster.
  3. Pray for God’s people to bring salt and light with good, loving deeds of service to the victims, manifesting Christ and the hope of glory only found in a relationship with him.

If you still wonder or somebody asks you where was God in Hurricane Dorian? Think and say, where he’s always been – right in the middle of it, directing, working, loving and waiting for people to cry out to him for his mercy and grace, in repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

Think and say along with the millions who are the just living by faith and hope, for the time when all wrongs are righted and when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:4)”