One Pastor’s Vaccination Journey and Call to Peace

Bernie Diaz, September 15, 2021

Take your pick as to which familiar axiom best fits with President Joe Biden’s controversial and sweeping COVID vaccine mandate last week: “He bit off more than he can chew,” or, “He just poured gasoline on the fire.”

With much of the United States having been embroiled in a debate over whether or not coronavirus mitigation protocols and policies are appropriate and helpful to a nation that has been dealing with a pandemic for more than a year and a half – so far, Biden announced his plan to force companies with more than 100 employees to vaccinate workers against the coronavirus or test them weekly.

Immediately that announcement sent shockwaves throughout the country to a citizenry that has been divided from the onset of the virus, as to the best means of balancing public safety with personal freedom.

The President sparked a firestorm when in his speech, he indicted the tens of millions of unvaccinated people in the nation as being most responsible for the pandemic’s continuing presence when he said, “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us.”

If that wasn’t an inflammatory enough comment, he added, “Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective and free.” He continued, “You might be confused about what is true and what is false about COVID-19.”

One thing is true, the President’s condescending rhetoric not only acknowledged but furthered the division inherent in our country and unfortunately, some of the evangelical church, which has been wrestling with this season of the pandemic and God’s painful providence.

Americans have lost or will lose jobs for failing to vaccinate and some others like evangelical pastor and ministry leader Dan Darling last month, will, for publicly supporting COVID vaccines.

Furthermore, a number of large public-school districts have again recently mandated masks, if not vaccines as well, in the wake of the Delta variant spike, while elected officials (e.g. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis) are opposing them. Perhaps as many as half of the country’s state governments may be taking on the President’s federal vaccine mandate in court. The partisan political impact on the coronavirus issue has sadly pervaded personal relationships, causing division even among families.

Illustrated by the ultimate form of social distancing, a new survey reported that one in seven vaccinated Americans have ‘dumped friends’ over COVID shots. Nearly one in five “broke up” with at least three friends since the pandemic began in March of 2020. If that survey is true, the results are not only troublesome, but unacceptable for any ‘neighbor-loving’ professing believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

My Vaccine Journey

Should churches be splitting, fellowships and families dividing over the issue of COVID-19 mitigation protocols and vaccine mandates? What does our Lord think of all this?

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.… (Colossians 2:16)

Before you skip further down on this post for my own testimony as to how with some fear and trembling in this disclosure, I went from being a personal, ardent, die in the wool, anti-vaxxer for well over a year of the pandemic, to becoming a recent, personal convert to getting the ‘Fauci ouchie,’  I will first engage you in some theological triage to lay a foundation for my personal decision.

Being a Christian man, husband, father and pastor, I was compelled to not only read and research much on this topic, but to study the scriptures first and foremost in looking for biblical guidance as to how to think about the vaccination in particular, in the midst of the government, health agencies and mainstream media’s push for the shot.   

Borrowing from that medical method of ascertaining emergency medical care or determining priorities among needs, theological triage, is a skill in which the disciple of Christ prayerfully studies to find where an issue of the faith and practice of the Christian life fits theologically in wishing to determine and follow the will of God. My findings?

To no surprise, there are no direct or explicit commands- precepts to be found in scripture dealing with pandemics, masks and vaccines. Therefore, in practicing theological triage, we must appeal to biblical principles, practices and patterns which may inform and influence our thinking, in order to make a biblically grounded decision on what to do or not to do- particularly with contemporary issues of our day which are not always dealt with in black and white terms, but rather in gray.   

This means that the worldview and decisions a Christian makes with respect to vaccine mandates and masks, must be made with wisdom and by individual conscience, as believers in the early church did in wrestling with issues of conviction like eating meat offered to idols, drink and the observance of Sabbaths and special days.

On those gray issues above, the apostle Paul spent a good deal of time in his ministry and apostolic and Holy Spirit-inspired writing on teaching and clarifying gray issues (“opinions”; Romans 14:1), emphasizing personal freedom for those truly in Christ, so long as they prioritized the love of the brethren and the unity of the body (the church) above and beyond preferences and one’s freedom.  

Once I arrived at the conclusion that the issue of vaccines is a gray one, not specifically dealt with in scripture as such, I understood that I had personal liberty to take the jab or not. I further learned like many of you, that there is also much equivocation, uncertainty and even suspicion regarding the data of almost every aspect of the coronavirus and the appropriate response to it.

God is infallible- Science is not  

Thus, three areas of concern seem to dominate the center of the debate over this issue which I first addressed in a post from last April which one most consider: safety, efficacy and liberty.

  • Safety (are the mRNA vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson reasonably safe?)

A straight answer to that question is difficult to give due to the fallible source or authority one relies upon on either side of the debate. The most recognized and oft-quoted sources of medical expertise traditionally are those given by government funded and contracted agencies like the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the NIH (National Institutes of Health).  

On the con or ‘against’ vaccine side, there seems to be a legitimate concern over the “warp speed” (President Trump’s COVID initiative last year) in which the vaccines were tested and approved for emergency use by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

It is reasonable to assume that much of the population would be at greater ease with the vaccines had they been tested in longer-term clinical studies and the drugs themselves had been developed more slowly. However, on the “pro” side, the counter point to that concern was the severity and contagion of a global pandemic which has taken more than three million lives so far, as a more conservative estimate. That is the nature of medical triage. ‘Desperate times = desperate actions.’

To illustrate the complexity of this gray issue, recent reports indicate that about 15,000 vaccinated people in the U.S. have suffered severe illness from a “breakthrough” coronavirus infection.

As of early September, almost 12,000 people who had a breakthrough case have been hospitalized and another near 3,000 people who had a breakthrough infection have died, according to data published by the CDC.

15,000 is a big number and a 9-11 type number of fatalities for those that received what they thought was a life-saving injection gives room for reflection. Unless of course, you compare those numbers to the 177 million plus Americans- over half the adult population of the country, who have been vaccinated with little or no adverse effect (0.01% chance of a serious consequence).

Although an alarming number of positive COVID cases have occurred among children in the U.S., It is reasonable to assume that an ‘anti-vaxxer’ has a legitimate concern over being vaccinated in light of some data and the results of a new study from U.S. researchers, showing that 12–15 year-old boys with no underlying medical conditions, are more likely to get a vaccine-related myocarditis (heart related) issue than end up in the hospital with COVID.

  • Efficacy (How effective are the vaccines?)

Which data and perspective do you prefer? On the one hand, or on the “con” side, COVID vaccinated people can still be infected by the virus. Anyone who has been led to believe that the vaccines provide a life-long and complete inoculation or immunization from the coronavirus are kidding themselves. Breakthrough cases are real and a risk.

Moreover, according to a large Israeli study, people who once had a SARS-CoV-2 infection were much less likely than never-infected, vaccinated people to get Delta, develop symptoms from it, or become hospitalized with serious COVID-19, which begs the question, “Why take the shot?”

But then on the other hand, or on the “pro” vaccine side, most health experts say the Delta COVID-19 variant (occurring in arguably 80-90% of new positive cases) doubles the risk of hospitalization among the unvaccinated. According to a British study, the number of hospitalizations and deaths accompanying the high number of cases has remained lower (and for some countries, much lower) than at earlier points in the pandemic when vaccination rates were much lower.

That may prove that the coronavirus vaccines in use in the West dramatically lower the chance of a severe infection, hospitalization and death. The probability of that relationship of the vaccines to severe, symptomatic effects proved to be a contributing factor in my journey.

As you read this post if you’ve been courageous enough to follow along this far, you should have been able to see the complexity and gray in this issue and that both pro and anti-vaxxers have legitimate arguments to make and concerns to share with others as to what they have found in arriving at the convictions of their conscience. Which leads finally to…

  • Liberty (are we free to choose?)

Christianity in contrast to other fundamentalist religions or worldviews is non-coercive. Christians understand that faith in Christ is a choice of repentance and personal belief in the risen and coming again Lord and Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. It is God’s free gift of grace to a sinner who can turn to God and trust in Christ alone for salvation, rather than by works of the law or third-party coercion.

Similarly, born-again disciples understand that only scripture can bind the conscience of a Christian and that on disputable issues and doctrines of the faith and it’s practice, “.. whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).”  

A Christian is neither a “weaker or stronger brother” in deciding to vax or not. That decision should not be arrived at quickly, nor politically in either direction since politics in and of itself does not keep people alive. Rather, I would argue the decision and the conviction of conscience that leads to it, should be a carefully arrived at, personal and humble one.

The Bible states that on such matters of dispute, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5c).”

Furthermore, God’s word clearly admonishes any Christian from ‘passing judgment’ on another who comes to his or her own black and white decision or conviction in a gray matter. One Christian is no more spiritual or mature than another, if they chose to vaccinate or not. God’s secret will of decree is that some will and some won’t.    

 As I looked at my own personal, family and health circumstances, as a middle-aged man, surrounded by an ever growing number of close personal friends and church members (including one of my co-elders) having been infected by the virus- most in my age group and some hospitalized by the all too common condition of COVID related pneumonia, I concluded that the likely benefit of my getting a vaccination far exceeded the risk of the vaccination itself.

That decision however, made by a careful and prayerful time of study (including conversations with trusted friends who happened to be Christian doctors), was made personally and humbly- I pray. It was ultimately a journey and decision for me and me alone.  

Due to all of what has been posted in this space, I am making clear that I am not an advocate for everyone to be vaccinated and as one who has been, I sympathize with those who do not choose to. As one who believes this decision is one of personal liberty for the Christian, I oppose the President’s vaccine mandate and virtually any other at this time.

What I do wish for above all, is that Christians will obey the revealed will and word of God in placing love and unity above personal liberty.

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:19).

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).

Christian, let’s pay heed to what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and the church as “Having nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; ‘knowing that they breed quarrels.” But rather as “the Lord’s servant, we must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting ‘our opponents with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:23-26).”

Jesus told his disciples and us – the church by extension, that love and unity whenever possible are paramount in our walk as the highest ends and the greatest gift to a world checking in to see if Christ-followers are really what they’re supposed to be. What does that love look like?

It’s not primarily for husbands and wives, but in context for the church:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

By the way, in case you weren’t sure, the above applies to fellowshipping with the saints and thinking and talking about the coronavirus, vaccine, mask and mandates.     

New Abortion Battle Lines Are Drawn

Bernie Diaz, September 8, 2021

Although one might expect this space to feature a post on the 20th anniversary of the Terrorist attacks on our country, I chose to to focus on another war that takes as many lives as 9-11 did (3,000) each and every day in the United States- abortion.

When it comes to the culture war and abortion, the line in the sand was drawn last week, in one of the clearest and most dramatic ways it could be, since the abortion debate began between pro-lifers and pro-aborts in the wake of the recently enacted Texas Heartbeat Act.

That new and controversial law enables the Lone Star state to prohibit virtually any and all abortions at the moment in which a heartbeat may be detected in an unborn child- which can occur in as little as six weeks of pregnancy. The stick or the enforcement power of the law, comes in the form of potential fines and civil lawsuits to those who perform the barbaric act of abortion (“doctors” who took a pledge to do “no harm”) and abortion centers.

The opponents on either side of the issue, could not be clearer as to their ideology that drives their stance on the issue and their goals to bring about that ideology. President Joe Biden took the side to little surprise of the pro-abort left, with his stated desire to marshal the full power of the federal government to fight back against the ban in Texas.

In fact, our Commander in Chief held nothing back in his battle rhetoric, when he said that the new law in Texas was, “Almost un-American,” which in my view, would be a new and rather interesting way of defining what it means to be American, since we’re a nation founded on the ‘Declarative’ principle of our most fundamental rights being “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

To which I would ask President Biden if given the chance, “Sir, how does one pursue liberty and happiness if they’re not alive?!”

Furthermore, the Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, among other pro-abort congressional leaders, have committed to opposing the Texas legislation with a federal pro-abortion law to preserve as they say, the ‘constitutionality’ of abortion. That’s another contemporary, unorthodox and post-Christian definition of constitutionality, since that document and its bill of rights omits any mention of abortion whatsoever.

Quite the opposite, the U.S. Constitution by virtue of its jurisdiction left the question of abortion to the states (beginning with the thirteen original colonies), which banned, even criminalized abortion – far from legalizing it, since its inception, reflecting its traditional Judeo-Christian and Biblical values.

Abortion does not appear in the constitution as a right, much less an issue at all, because it was universally condemned in this country until the latter half of the 20th century in the midst of our first sexual revolution and feminist wave, resulting in the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision nearly 50 years ago.    

Keep that in mind. A slim majority of a court of nine robed magistrates, rather than a body of elected officials, arbitrarily and in unprecedented fashion, made abortion the law of the land. Hopefully, this president’s efforts to overturn the Texas act may end the same way as so many other elements of his ambitious and expensive agenda so far: with success proving elusive.  

Indeed, the implications of what may turn out to be a potentially landmark law have begun to take place. Some pregnancy center directors across the state of Texas have already reported an increase in clients. Women came specifically because of the new law, and some were even angry. Angry perhaps that the state government there has made abortion- the shedding of innocent blood, more difficult there, than it has been in well over a generation.  

Some prolifers called the Supreme Court’s emergency ruling enabling the law to stand, a “baby step” toward overturning Roe v. Wade, while of course most pro-abortionists saw it as an infringement upon their court-given precedent, rather than by legislatively enacted law.

This Texas act however may prove ominous in at least two ways for the prolife movement….

Abolitionism and the Future of Abortion  

Some pro-life advocates, known as modern-day abolitionists, were underwhelmed or less enthused by the Texas act, seeing it as little more than the most recent compromise of many such “pro-life” bills which focus on only one particular aspect of the abortion movement, from advocating for parental consent, restricting late or mid-term abortions to fetal heartbeat bills which allow for early-term abortions.

Thus, the abolitionist who believes in the all or nothing abolition of, or elimination of abortion in our country in a similar ideology to the abolitionists of the 19th century slavery movement, see the Texas and Mississippi laws restricting abortion as little more than capitulation to the pro-aborts and a propagation of the prolife institutional movement.

There exist a number of abortion abolitionists who hold to a neo-conspiratorial view that ‘incrementalists’ who speak of making abortion illegal, do so only with a long-game, piece-meal legislative strategy, furthering the lifespan of their prolife organizations that are funded by billions of dollars from prolife donors, both corporate and personal.

Though this view may be thought-provoking and true for some incrementalists, it is mostly divisive and still lacks wholesale proof and a better alternative.

In looking at the landscape of the American culture wars, it seems unlikely that public, societal and government opinion will be so swayed- even by the Texas Heartbeat bill and the sonographic window to the womb, soon enough today, to launch a full-scale assault on Roe v. Wade, resulting in an immediate, state by state criminalization of abortion, or the end of abortion as we know it.

Therefore, the true incrementalist argues that a bit by bit and state by state legislative movement, buttressed by moral, spiritual, ethical,  technologically and scientifically sound developments – guided by the providence of God and the prayers of his people, may yet lead to a case and court reversal of Roe, that would move the question of the legality of abortion back to the states and ultimately the federal level.

It is on that battlefield, where voters may be able to elect enough prolife lawmakers to make life safe again for the preborn. Ironically, this incremental strategy worked particularly well for the more radical LGBTQ+ movement, which moved on a grassroots level of public relations, education and legislation from local through state levels, via same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws in three-dozen states over a decade of time, to the Supreme Court’s judicial and tyrannical act of again legalizing another sin on the national level – same-sex marriage in the 2015 Obergefell decision. That may be a lesson for prolife activists.

The other possible hurdle for prolifers in the wake of the Texas heartbeat law, which could threaten the future brick and mortar existence of independent and Planned Parenthood death camps, is the reality that chemical or medical and ‘home abortions’ will continue to grow in its usage.

Already it is estimated that nearly 50% of short-term abortions in the U.S. are of the chemical variety, taking place in the form of a ghastly two-pill procedure (RU-486), in which the first, blocks the essential hormone which enables the unborn baby to stay implanted to its mother and growing, essentially ending its life. The second pill, taken at home, often times unsupervised, causes the uterus to contract and expel the baby in something resembling a grotesque miscarriage.

The consequence of this trend, may be that a greater number of mothers who may be denied access to an abortion center where a prolife, sidewalk prayer and counseling ministry may be present, to prayerfully guide her into a better choice of life, may turn to the convenience and privacy of their homes, to take the lives of their own children.

That scenario is a frightening one and will gain likely approval from most pro-aborts, whose main objective is to see abortion continue as a parachute of the sexually promiscuous or irresponsible.

This is why at the end of the day with respect to abortion, what the Supreme Court has made legal, the church of Jesus Christ, shedding gospel light into the darkness of this culture and its institutions, must make unthinkable. When it is unthinkable, the legal system should follow suit, whether it be incrementally or abolished then, at once- God willing.  

Afghanistan and Abortion – Why Theology Matters

Bernie Diaz, September 2, 2021

Christians and even many secularists understand the meaning and concept of theology, or the study of God (‘Theos’). Some professing Christians are even intimidated by the very thought of theology and engaging in it, which essentially is to have thoughts of, or an opinion about God- his existence or lack thereof, his character and attributes and his ways of working in his creation. In other words, whatever one thinks about God, makes up one’s theology and guess what?

Everybody on earth has a theology – whether they’re conscious of it or not. Everybody – even the atheist (‘without God’) has a view about God. The atheist’s view generally speaking, is that God doesn’t exist and that man is the center of the universe- ‘the captain of his own destiny’, or ‘an island unto himself.’

Whereas a theist, believes in the existence of some sort of an intelligent designer and deity – a divine person who he or she may be somewhat accountable to, but may not go much farther than that. Or, they have an unbiblical view of God, of which the implications of such are massive, as displayed in our news headlines this past week.

A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Tozer’s comment was never more evident in how both the issues and controversy over Afghanistan and abortion played out this week, proving how important theology is- how much it matters, in both public policy and day to day life. How so?

The Theological Error of Afghanistan 

The regretful exit of American and allied forces and advisors from Kabul by the August 31st withdrawal deadline of President Biden, after twenty years of war there against the Taliban’s threat of terrorism, largely resulted – ultimately, by the failure of our nation’s executive leadership to properly acknowledge the Taliban’s ideology, rooted in their fundamentalist Islamic theology.

Admitting that of course, would be a bold and politically incorrect admission to make in today’s society.

Secular minded American officials who attempted to install western style democracies there and in other troubled and contested middle eastern nation states, failed to take into account the prime directive and motivation which drives Islamic terrorists like the Taliban, ISIS-K or Al Qaeda to act as they do.

Islamic terrorists sworn to follow Sharia law and to carry on jihad (holy war), wish to capture territory and vanquish the enemies of Allah, such as the infidel Jews, Christians and American “imperialists,” and thus have little or no interest in international peace, human rights (i.e. their treatment of women) and religious freedom. That is the fruit of their theology.

Orthodox Islam long ago, morphed by and large into a religion of conquest, competing tribalism and achieving the objective of establishing Islamic order and government administrations (like the ISIS caliphate) wherever it could.   

All of the above ideology of Islamic terrorist organizations may be properly understood by Christians thinking and operating under a biblical worldview, as being influenced if not directed by the ‘prince of the power of the air’ and of this age, the ultimate deceiver and worldly power who comes as Jesus Christ said to “steal, destroy and kill.”  We’re talking about Satan here. We’re talking theology here.

That reality is why the United States cannot and likely will not be able to negotiate any lasting peace with an enemy that is hell bent on destroying this nation and its way of life from the inside out or from the outside in, as it attempted to do nearly twenty years ago with the terrorist attack that claimed 3,000 American lives.

The debacle of the evacuation of Afghanistan this past week, which resulted in nearly 20 more American deaths, should serve notice that the war on terror should never end until our ultimate King returns to eliminate the enemies of the cross once and for all. That is another theological reality.

Although the U.S. successfully held off the enemy by keeping the war ‘on their turf’ and this country relatively safe for two decades at a great cost of resources, the past three presidential administrations failed to come to grips with the theological truth that this war must be fought perpetually to provide national security here and abroad.

That means a military presence until every last terrorist threat has been eliminated or Jesus returns to the surprise of both Muslims and secular minded Americans – whichever comes first. Does anyone think the devil negotiates? Therefore, at the end of the day, the war on terror is a theological war which must be understood at the level of one’s view of God, man and sin.

Had American leadership been guided by the theology that tells us that God ordained government, “does not bear the sword in vain,” but “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer,” boots may have remained on the ground in Afghanistan fighting to keep this nation safer from terrorism.

The Theological Conflict Over Abortion 

For prolife evangelicals a crack in the wall of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which essentially legalized abortion nearly fifty years ago in this country, may have been found as of September 1st, as abortions will be made illegal in the state of Texas after a baby’s heartbeat is detectable.

The Texas Legislature passed the Texas Heartbeat Act, as a new law which will require an abortionist to determine if a preborn baby has a detectable heartbeat before committing any abortion. If the baby’s heartbeat is present – which is detectable in as little as four-six weeks after conception, the law will protect the baby’s life by prohibiting that elective abortion with virtually no exception.  

In fact, the bill does not allow criminal action to be brought against a woman seeking the abortion or the abortionist, but instead, the Texas Heartbeat Act focuses on those who profit off of the killing of innocent babies, such as the abortionist and others in the abortion industry by making them liable to civil action.

What is unique to this particular pro-life initiative, is that the U.S. Supreme Court took no immediate action the night before its implementation to block it.  Although a constitutional challenge is pending in the lower courts enabling a judicial ruling on the law, it has apparently gone into effect- for  however briefly, marking a monumental shift in the abortion movement in the United States.

This heartbeat related legislation has come as the result of one of the two windows into the womb, where the unborn are revealed as being every bit as human as a toddler, and therefore worthy of the most basic and fundamental human right there is- to live.

Science- biology in particular, has always been and is now a greater friend to the pro-life movement than ever befofe, by offering the technological window of sonography into the womb, where we see that life not only began for us all at the moment of conception when the sperm met the egg, but giving us now 3-D video of a preborn child moving and living in color.

How the pro-abort secularist can argue that the preborn are somehow less than human, is beyond me. Unless… we’re talking theology.

Abortion by virtue of being a moral issue is inevitably a theological issue, as evidenced by Peter Singer, an infamous professor of Bioethics at Princeton University who has actually pushed for abortion rights to extend to newborn babies, until the baby is ”self-aware.” He said, “killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person..”

Men and women who value sexual freedom above the right to life of the unborn have no other way to justify the murder of the unborn, other than to rely on human autonomy and independence (“my body- my choice”) in ignorance of, or willful rebellion to the Bible’s clear stance on life.

“Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I chose you.Before you were born I set you apart….”  (Jer. 1:5)  

God’s word is the second window to the womb, and it is there where we find that he is the creator, giver and sustainer of all human life (Job 12:10). He defines it – we don’t(Gen. 1:26;Deut. 30:20). The Bible says, “Whoever finds me (God), finds life.” The word says he preserves life, as the fountain of life and the redeemer of life.

Furthermore, we find from scripture that every human being as an image bearer of God, is created with intrinsic and inherent value that is equal, exceptional and eternal (soul).

Civilizations for hundreds of years before modern science came along acknowledged that reality because God said so (Psa. 139:13,15). God is pro-life – make no mistake about it, which is why properly discipled Christians are as well.

Abortion is every bit as theological as it is ideological. According to the Bible there is no greater offense or injustice or moral wrong than the shedding of innocent blood. The sixth commandment of the top ten (Exo. 20:13) tells us, ‘You shall not what? Murder. To murder according to the original Hebrew language in which the commandments were penned, is, ‘to kill.’

Ultimately, our theology also tells us that man will live morally right, when he is redeemed and his heart is made right by God making these issues gospel issues.

There is no ambiguity on where God stands theologically on Afghanistan or abortion, regardless of what becomes of Texas’ new Heartbeat Act. The question is where do you, and the elected officials we vote into office in this country?

Mustard Seed Ministry

Bernie Diaz, August 25,2021

The word of God is so amazing in the subtle yet profound ways it can edify and encourage Christians and their church leaders in such new and fresh ways, even from passages of scripture that have been read and perhaps overlooked countless times over the years.

Indeed, as John Piper said, “..the Bible for veteran Christians, is mainly repeat.” But that repeat exposure to the word, that constant eating of Bible like most of our physical meals, enriches our lives – like our bodies, over the culmination of meals over the years, rather than just one.

For example, I received an epiphany of sorts over the last week, from my foray into Mark’s gospel and chapter four, from the familiar parable of the ‘mustard seed’, which I studied and preached at my church:

“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade (Mark 4:30-32, ESV).”

That illustrative, little, short story is not one you would think could make an immediate, profound impact on an unheralded, local church pastor like myself, but it did. The illumination that the Spirit seemed to give me in the study and proclamation of that text, is not only does our faith grow as we rely more and more on Jesus Christ in our sanctification, but from a bigger picture perspective I either learned or was reminded how great and large – and invisibly the kingdom of God has and will grow from its extremely small and humble beginnings.

This parable, the final one of four found in this chapter, which began with ‘the parable of the soils’, expands on the nature- from the example of nature, of how the kingdom comes to earth and then grows, manifesting itself through the citizens of that kingdom, producing fruit at a thirty, sixty and up to a hundred-fold rate.  

What was it that gripped me about the passage and its preceding parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29)? First, that God grows his kingdom and therefore his church- both universally and locally, underground as it were, invisibly so, by his own hand. Meaning in plainer language, that as a pastor or preacher or disciple-making disciple of Christ delivers the message of the gospel and the kingdom (“casting seed”) to a properly prepared soil – also done by God, he will secretly and sovereignly see to its new life and growth.

Mark quotes Jesus this way in his unique accounting of this parable, “He (the sower) sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”   

In this parable, the sower scatters the seed and goes to sleep. That is a simple statement of truth, which is why I find such comfort and confidence in its meaning and application as should any evangelical Christian, who labors over and fears his presentation of the gospel. All the sower did in the story was go about his business, night and day, planting seeds. He wasn’t the one that could or did make it grow.

The sower or preacher woke up one day and saw that seed had sprouted.  There was life from it and as long as the soil (a symbol of the heart or listening ear) was good, its produce or fruit would be good. This is why we call salvation a miracle every time it happens and we praise God when it does in song, as the one who is mighty to save.

God the Holy Spirit uses the proclamation of his word- the truth as the means in conjunction with the regenerating or life-giving power of the Spirit, to make the new-birth and redemption happen, because God is creator of both physical and spiritual life (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Therefore, as a preacher and as a local church member who strives to follow the command of Jesus to “Go and make disciples,” I can sow and sleep. The kingdom is growing and will continue to grow as it should, and as the book of Revelation tells us, producing crop from every nation, tribe and tongue.

This king and his kingdom cannot be stopped by the enemy of our souls or anyone else, as Jesus told Peter and the other disciples, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” As a pastor, I take both comfort and confidence in that. Although I may make a mistake here or there in my gospel presentation to a congregation or individual, God will be the decisive factor in ensuring the seed will either hit a rocky or thorny soil, or the kind of rich soil which produces life.

In either case, God has lifted the burden of success and its pressure from me to save the lost. He only expects me and you fellow Christian, to be faithful in delivering the message, while he is the one who will bring forth the fruit of that faithfulness.

The Peace of Mustard Seed Ministry

I am a shepherd of a wonderful, loving, average sized church in my community, therefore a relatively smaller one in comparison to a larger one. It is a literal church plant, sowed by God through my family’s hard labor  twelve and a half years ago.

If I were to gauge its success by today’s mega-church, seeker-sensitive and growth standards it could be graded as a failure. That is, until I remind myself of the mustard seed ministry in which Jesus launched his kingdom with his church and by the subtle if not secret fruitfulness he brings from a shepherd’s faithfulness to a God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Bible and gospel-centered ministry.

The mustard seed was among the most common and the smallest a farmer in the holy land at that time would plant. It would take hundreds of black mustard seeds to equal just one ounce. And yet, that small seed could grow as high as fifteen feet high and six feet wide, as among the largest of plants or trees to provide shade for various creatures to take refuge.

A major point of this parable is that the Kingdom of our Lord began just like that tiny, insignificant mustard seed in its infancy. We might remember the Lord Jesus started with only 12 apostles – he chose 12 original followers not 12,000, because the emphasis from scripture is on quality, over quantity. He poured himself into his real followers, while the rest remained as his mere fans, following the crowd looking for another sign or wonder.

The kingdom of Christ did not begin as a mega-church by any stretch, until the church was more or less officially birthed after his ascension at Pentecost when 3,000 came to faith in one day, in an explosive event that God created to give credibility to the apostles ministry and the early church.

But as you read the book of Acts you find a church movement – still growing strong today, two millennium later, that expands and grows extensively in some places more slowly and in other places more quickly, with roots that spread out of Jerusalem, throughout the region of Asia Minor, then moving to Europe, from the east to the west.

The takeaway for me from this parable, was that something big and blessed—the kingdom of God—had a relatively small and humble beginning and that church plants and seeds both big and small will be rewarded for their often secret, faithfulness to mustard seed ministry in varying levels of fruit here and in the age to come.

Afterall, some must have thought back then in the first century A.D., “How significant could a short three-year ministry of a Nazarene named Jesus be? How is it going to last? Their leader’s gone and he has this little group of largely uneducated followers – fisherman no less, coming out of the upper room- a hideout, and they’re going to revolutionize the world? Really?”

 Yes. After the resurrection and then the ascension, the kingdom did take off. The real born-again church of Jesus Christ grows broadly after it begins to grow deeply, picturing the fact that big things often have small beginnings. As the prophet Zechariah admonished his listeners, “don’t despise small things.” 

I believe the church needs a mustard seed faith, attitude and ministry today. As Vance Havner, a gifted mid-20th century preacher said: As long as the Church wore scars, they made headway. When we began to wear medals the cause languished. It was a greater day for the Church when Christians were fed to the lions, than when we bought season tickets and sat in the grandstand. It is wrong to win banners and raise quotas rather than to know God. Better to have small, growing Spiritual assemblies than large, unwieldy, undisciplined ones.

The parable of the mustard seed encourages me to persevere in the faith and in my calling, though I understand that sometimes the work of the Lord – and yours, at your workplace, home or school can become frustrating. It can be disappointing. We work hard but see little fruit from our efforts. We sow the seed of the Word but not much growth seems to happen. It seems almost futile. So, why even continue?

My personal testimony, confirmed by the countless lives our ministry has touched in our smaller, secret, mustard seed way, exhorting and leading other Christians to grow in their faith, encourages me that God has and will continue to bring forth his kingdom secretly, sovereignly and assuredly, until the king comes back- hopefully sooner than later, to consummate it.

God’s Peace Plan in a Suffering World

Bernie Diaz, August 19, 2021

There is no shortage of words that can detail the level of suffering that has been experienced in our world recently and no telling from when or where the next major event of tragedy or chaos will come ……

On the heels of an assassination of their president, the beleaguered and long-suffering nation of Haiti was hit by a 7.2 earthquake last week that has resulted in the death of at least 2,000 citizens so far, injured well over 10,000 and left countless Haitians homeless.

After twenty years of war and a relatively successful campaign against the Taliban and terrorism, President Biden pulled several thousand United States military training forces and personnel out of the often-troubled territory of Afghanistan this week, surrendering control of that nation state once again to the Taliban which overran inexperienced and intimated Afghan forces in short-order.

Citizens and missionary lives are in constant danger there as Americans, Afghans and allies have been forced to flee the country in embarrassing fashion, conjuring up images of the U.S. exit from Vietnam a generation ago.

To add further insult to injury, the Delta variant of the Coronavirus has been wreaking havoc in the United States since early July, infecting thousands at a rapid rate including a number of fully vaccinated people bringing further suspicion to the efficacy of the vaccine itself leading to greater uncertainty, mistrust and even division among Americans in and out of the church.

So, when will God’s seeming discipline and just judgment of our world end? Is this the beginning of the end, as in the end times? Is the vaccine really the “mark of the best” mentioned in the book of Revelation? Not likely. While it is biblically true that Jesus could come back at any moment, the Bible also tells us he could tarry or delay it for centuries to come (“one day is as a thousand years”).

Jesus said to his disciples discussing the last days, “See that no one leads you astray…  But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” So, what do we do in times like this? Where are we in the story of God’s redemptive history?

For starters, I say we must confidently again turn to the sovereignty of God (Isaiah 46:9b-11). That truth should actually bring comfort, courage and confidence to the true follower of Jesus Christ – especially in uncertain times like ours.

Why? Because it means that nothing happens randomly or by chance. Luck is non-existent in our father’s world. Nature, the environment, everything falls under God’s ultimate care and authority as he uses mankind’s will and even sin, to accomplish his greater, redemptive purposes.

Indeed, God cannot sin or tempt people to sin, but he can allow sin in this world and use it for better, God-glorifying purposes in exercising his holy and righteous justice on a sin-infested world like ours.

The truth is that God is the ultimate authority- the decisive force as the creator over his creation, meaning that he not only created it, but he also sustains it (providence) and moves and works in it to accomplish his good will. Because he is good- his providence is good; providence meaning the provision of his sovereignty or what he does to bring about his plans and purposes.

He may or may not use natural laws to do it, but he makes and keeps those laws going. He keeps the earth in orbit and rotating over the stars – all the celestial bodies in place. The Bible makes clear that God commands the rain and the snow to fall, and the wind and storms to move and yes, even the earth to ‘quake.’

All of this will only make sense if God and his Son- God incarnate is true. The acknowledgment of Christ as the source of absolute truth or reality is the life preserver that Christians must cling to and then share as a source of life and light in our darkened world.

I’m reminded of Pontius Pilate’s encounter with Christ at their ‘mock trial’ just before his crucifixion when in the apostle John’s gospel, Jesus declared under interrogation his rightful kingship, “.. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

To which the Roman prefect in the place of the world’s skeptics then and now, asked, “What is truth?” That is the question before us is it not?

Jesus actually answered the question four chapters earlier in his massive statement to his troubled disciples, fearing his demise and a collapse of his pregnant kingdom when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

That often quoted, controversial and yet clear statement of objective truth not only speaks to the exclusivity of Christ as Lord and savior- God incarnate, but also makes clear that he is the source and center of all truth. He is the beginning, and the middle, and the end (way, truth and life) of reality as we can know it.

The point of that truth to his real followers, is that he is all they should ever want or need now for and forever. In fact, a well, Old Testament read, God-fearing Jew knew that the “way” was the path God set for his people to walk on or live in. Isaiah 30:21 says, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

In John 14, Jesus is clearly saying the way, the road, the path, the means to God and real peace is only through or by a personal relationship to him by repentant faith. All roads do not lead to God. Buddha, Allah, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Pope, Mary, will not get you there. Why? Because it is Jesus who is the.. wait for it… truth.

What that means is Jesus is the perfectly human image, (logos) or picture and full manifestation of God and his glory. Everything Jesus said and did was and is true- is reality. Accepting that truth puts the believer on the way to life in all its fullness (John 20:31). Truth according to Jesus sets us free does it not (John 8:31-32)? That’s real peace.

‘Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled’

Don’t we need ‘true’ peace in a world that looks like it is turning upside down before our very eyes? God has provided no other way to it, other than by Jesus as his perfect peace plan and person.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

Look around, we’re in troubled times and when and where it stops nobody knows. “But God”… By knowing him we can weather the storms. In conclusion, remember Jesus told those first disciples, “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled.”Why according to John 14?  

  1. Because there’s peace in a place for you.
  2. Because Jesus is the one who prepared the place for you.
  3. Because Jesus himself is your dwelling place and he will come again and take you to himself.
  4. Because Jesus and the Father are one, so that when you have Jesus you have the Father.

Therefore, the sooner we get our minds off this temporal world and on the person of Christ, the sooner we’ll live in a state of truth, real lasting peace and joy now, as well as later.

The Reformation of True Worship – Pt.2, The Songs We Sing

Bernie Diaz, August 4th 2021

Anyone who knows me fairly well or spends any time with me at all, will figure out that I like to sing- regardless of whether or not they approve of my singing.

I sing in the shower and the car- loudly oftentimes and if you stand close enough to me during our church’s worship services, you’ll notice that I can sing loud too. Singing in church is almost unavoidable for me, as the Lord fills me with his Spirit, particularly in my favorites like Behold Your God, or Shout to the Lord.

If you listen closely to me sing in church, you’ll hear me attempt to sing  different vocal harmony parts as well, because that sound of voices tightly intertwined, happens to resonate within my heart. That joy in vocal music comes from my pop sensibilities from way back when, when I would constantly listen to and learn from the Beach Boys and the Beatles and so forth. Singing can be quite joyful in general we know, but why do we sing – particularly in church?

In my church, we begin every worship service in song and the music is featured as the second largest element of our liturgy, or order of service  only surpassed by the sermon.

Afterall, the human voice is God’s first musical instrument. I think we sing in church not only because God commands and expects it, but because as important as the word of God is to us and as important as the preaching is in the worship and assembly of God’s people, the revelation of God and his son – who he is, what he has done, what he is doing and will do, is just too great, too glorious and too grand to be contained or expressed in spoken words alone.

Singing moves us. Singing unites believers with other believers in a way that singing the national anthem at a ball-game or happy birthday at a party just can’t do. Body and soul are brought together as we praise: “my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:2).

Our emotions- our heart, or what theologian Jonathan Edwards called, our ‘religious affections’, need another expression to compliment the word. That’s where music comes into play – singing in particular.  

A Christian can’t just think and talk about God. He or she has to sing about God and to God. This is what Christians were made to do corporately. Christians are made to preach and sing- in worship to God (Psalm 100).

The apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians presents a very helpful text of scripture – echoed if not paralleled in its sister letter to the Ephesians, which helps us better understand the nature of congregational worship in word and song, serving as a more than helpful guide for Christians and church leaders, to establish a proper perspective on music and a way to end the “worship wars” that may exist in their church.  

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

My study of that text of scripture to preach to my church, led me to the conclusion that there is a filling and then a flooding or overflow from the body and soul that takes place in the congregational gathering of a word-centered Christian.

Be Filled (Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…)

In this amazing verse, Paul gives his readers the idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit and discipling others via the word and work of the Spirit – manifested even in music.

The verse is a flowing run-on sentence that tells us when we have the word, we give it to our church family in at least three different ways. We teach or instruct one another in the word; we “admonish”, which is a Greek word that carries the idea of warning, exhorting, as well as encouraging our brothers and sisters from the word, which is to be done with great wisdom, or with great skill, or tact.

Then, all of that word intake will lead to an overflow of singing. How does that happen? The first word of this verse is “let.” We are to let the word do something in us, to fill us. What does that look like?

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Both of the nearly identical passages of Colossians and Ephesians speak to the same idea. Colossians says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you,” whereas Ephesians has, “Be filled with the Spirit.” To be filled with the Spirit (found elsewhere conceptually throughout the New Testament (1 Corinthians 2:12,16; Romans 8:5b-6; Galatians 5:25) is to let the word of God and his gospel make itself at home, within our hearts and minds. It is that means of grace win which we meditate on and memorize the word.

In Ephesians, Paul utilizes the contrasting analogy of getting drunk and relinquishing control of the human mind and body, to yielding control of our body and soul to the power of the Holy Spirit. Practically speaking as a result of letting the Spirit of God fill or control us, we will come to church and read, preach, teach, pray and then sing the word.

In our church, we often talk about ‘eating Bible’ as the daily, life-sustaining digestion of the word as our food as both Job (Job 23:12) and Jesus (Matthew 4:4) did, and as a result we know if we eat a lot of Bible, we’ll serve a lot of Bible meals in different ways.

Be Flooding (… teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God).

It is fascinating to me that the means of grace are the means of discipleship and are the means of enjoying God- including music. In other words, Colossians 3:16 is telling us if we let the word make its home in our hearts and minds, we will be flooded- or overflowing with a corporate fruit of the Spirit that will move in through the church in song.

Moreover, In Ephesians 5, Paul adds this phrase of the flooding over of the Spirit, making melody to the Lord with your heart.  What does that sound like? The apostle gives us three forms of music that we actually have little or no idea what they actually sounded like, but nonetheless provide some insight into the nature of early Christian church singing.

In fact, there is consensus among biblical scholars that the terms overlap and can’t be separated as explicit distinct forms. Though volumes of ink have been shed on the subject, here is a brief primer or overview of each of them:

Psalms: this type of song is often sung from the psalter, which is of course the song book we have in our Old Testament. The lyrics- or the words of the psalms, are wonderful because they’re so relevant to us, expressing the emotions we go through, as we follow the psalmist crying out his questions or frustrations and despair to the Lord, usually ending with a call to praise God in spite of everything, offering the salve of healing and comfort (Psalm 42:11).

We often turn to the psalms to help us pray and sing when we don’t know what to say or sing.

Hymns: these sacred, worship songs of praise to God are actually man-made, not inspired like scripture, though some ‘hymns only’ disciples might imply otherwise. The best ones often incorporate portions of scripture and are filled with rich doctrinal truth. Hymns are like metrical poems arranged to be sung corporately, as one might have imagined hearing through texts like Philippians 2 and Colossians 1:15-17.

Even today, we think of hymns by and large as the most theologically or doctrinally rich of songs that we can sing in church. They’re deep (Doxology of Holy, Holy, Holy or Nothing but the Blood, etc.) and were familiar even in Jesus’ day, as evidenced by the Lord’s singing some with his disciples after the Last Supper (Matthew 26:30).

Spiritual songs: generally, these are songs of praise coming from the heart, expressed by believers in different ways, dealing with different spiritual themes. They might teach the church something about God or us, or encourage the body, or prompt others to love and good works. A general distinction might be is when we sing a hymn, we address the Lord; when we sing a spiritual song, we address each other.

These songs are probably the most commonly used in most evangelical churches today, something more like gospel songs (e.g. Waymaker, The Ascension from Phil Wickham, Awesome God, The God of this City).

Interestingly and surprisingly enough, classics such as; Amazing Grace, It is Well, maybe even Be Thou My Vision could also be classified as spiritual songs. You say what, ‘those are old, slow songs.’ Most of us think of hymns that way in contrast to Christian Contemporary Music (CCM). However, what must be understood by all sides of the worship wars, is that these three musical forms found in the Bible are not specific as to music style.

There is not one mention of tempo or rhythm, melodic structure, chord progression, arrangements, or nothing like that in the scriptures. There are descriptions without prescriptions of musical forms, as we find instrumentation as diverse as the lyre, harp and yes, even percussion. Corporate music is not all acapella voices only – even if I personally wish it were!

There is little doubt that the emphasis in the worship music of congregational life is most definitely vocal- singing, which drives the lyrics of the song. Why is that? That one sentence from one verse in Colossians 3, indicates thatthe words – the message being conveyed is the main thing. We know that because that verse tells us that we start the singing process when we come together by letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly.

We need to be reminded that church worship music is about the head and heart. They compliment each other like music compliments or supports the lyrics. The analogy is it’s not the intellect versus emotions, rather a both/and.

The music we sing in church is a gift from God, meant to complement, support and deepen the impact of the words we sing. Bob Kauflin, an author (Worship Matters) and worship leader of note and former vocalist of the Christian group, Glad, makes some real practical and theologically sound observations in his writing of which one point stuck out in my mind:

Singing Can Help Us Remember Words

I remember as a child, teen and parent that memorizing scripture and virtually everything else was helped along by singing. Why is it you still remember today the lyrics to pop songs or TV commercial jingles you heard and learned years ago? Because you sang them. We’re hard wired that way.

Which is why in Deuteronomy 31, God called the Hebrews to sing and memorize the covenant as a means of passing it on to future generations.

This is why like Kauflin, I’m big on doing songs in church that contain memorable melodies, tunes that we can sing along to and want to sing along to, which make it easier to remember the words – the very words of God.  

That idea speaks to the worship philosophy of my church. That is, we choose music that is theologically deep, God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated and congregationally oriented. God wants to hear his people sing.

Church orthopraxy (practice) should always follow it’s orthodoxy (doctrine), or in plainer language what you do is based on what you believe. So, if you’re in a church that thinks, or believes theologically that the Lords Day service should be called the visitors day service, then you will emphasize spiritual songs that are up, loud, with lots of tempo and rhythm, simple, catchy tunes with repetitive words. Why? Because that will sound like or remind the people in attendance of what they hear in the car or at home. That can be comfortable for them.  

Similarly, theology drives methodology. If you think the music at church needs to move guests to make a decision during the service to accept or believe in Jesus, that God and his preached word needs some help to save with some tunes, then that’s how a church will be more prone to program its worship music.

Paul mentions three interchangeable forms of music for the church gathering. Not just one. There’s’ no hint of a preference there, though we all have ours. But the worship music of the church is to unify not divide like the worship wars do.

The big idea here is if you know the word, you’ll sing the word. The connection made from the texts of Colossians and Ephesians, is the importance of knowing the word of God, in order to enrich our public and private worship of God.

Finally, if you can’t sing as well as I do, or try to, and think you can’t hold a tune in a bucket, God just says, ‘make a joyful noise! “Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (Psalm 30:4)!

The Reformation of True Worship

Bernie Diaz, July 28, 2021

If I were to ask you to close your eyes and tell me what would be the first thought or image that would pop into your mind if I whispered the word “worshipinto your ear, what would it be? Though I’m no betting man, I might bet for many if not most of you – my readers, the thought or image would have been music related right?

Maybe a particular song came to your mind, a favorite of yours from a favorite artist. Maybe a hymn, or considering our contemporary Christian culture today, you might have imagined someone like Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, Mercy Me or King and Country performing a song (sorry if I omitted your favorite).

I mention that little experiment to illustrate a relevant issue within the evangelical church- Christendom really that has taken place over at least the last two generations, that being it’s preoccupation with worship music to the extent that church leaders have had to wrestle with, “The Worship Wars.”

Practically, that war is based upon the number of church attendees who have and continue to make Sunday morning worship music the primary means or factor in their decision over what church to stay in, attend or join. And therefore, leads to a war among church leaders over worship music direction and styles to utilize in corporate worship settings.

As I preached this in a message to my church, I said that I believed that the “worship wars” problem stems from the fact that we improperly prioritize Sunday morning worship and have a faulty perspective of it, because we don’t totally understand what it is. We’ve contextualized worship in a modern sense as most every culture has in our age.

Interestingly enough, Jesus Christ encountered a certain Samaritan woman at a well who misunderstood the nature of worship as well, as evidenced by her question to Christ in John’s gospel, and his response (John 4:20-24) fortunately for us all defined- theologically, true worship.

During that often-quoted conversation which was evangelistic in nature, Jesus brought a conviction of her sin to her conscience in pointing out her lifestyle of fornication (co-habitating), prior adulteries and marriages. She figured out at a minimum, that the man was a prophet and either she wanted to change the subject as the result of his insight, and/or, that she should be worshipping him or God someway and somewhere because of what she experienced in this encounter.

So, this prophet, priest and King gave her a two-part doctrinal lesson on worship, as she wondered where to prostrate herself in that act.

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews (John 4:20-22).

Jesus’s old covenant correction highlighted the divide between Jews and Samaritans and their understanding of worship. The corporate worship of God’s people at that time, was detailed, prescriptive and centered around offerings, feasts and festivals that happened at the temple in Jerusalem where the faithful had to go in order to worship. The Samaritans claimed it was at Mount Gerizim going back to the time of Abraham.

In that exchange, we can see where the roots of the worship wars had already been planted and watered. The idea in the old covenant era was that worship was regimented and largely geographic. It can only be here or there, in this way or that way.  However, Jesus’ corrective indicated that worship would no longer be restricted to a time and place, as the prophet Malachi had written, For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

That was a prophecy given a handful of centuries before this meeting of Jesus and the woman at the well, that a time would come where the worship of God wouldn’t be limited to one place but would be all over many places.

Jesus at that moment made the groundbreaking announcement that there would no longer be a need for temple-intensive services, for priests or sacrifices or altars at all, in order to approach God in the new covenant age of grace. The traditions of Judaism and the error of Samaritan worship were over and that the ‘times, they had a changed’ (“the hour is coming”) for a new, internal, mobile way of worship.

Indeed, speaking to the personal as well as corporate dimension of worship in referring to his own body, Jesus in his first visit to Jerusalem said in the same gospel, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In other words, he had already said that he himself was the new temple—the new meeting place with God.

It would now be a waste of time for Jews, Samaritans or anyone else to dispute or debate worship forms or locations. Under the new gospel umbrella, all places that were gospel-centered and Christ-exalting, would be alike as centers of public worship.

In fact, in one generation after this conversation, the temple and the city of Jerusalem will have been burned to the ground by Nero and the Romans. Did that stop the worship of the people of God? Obviously not, as we find in our reading of the book of Acts, moving into early church history and we see that the church grew- it exploded, after the destruction of the temple and the holy city. The building and the place was no longer the main idea behind worship!

We can observe this reality in the mission field were in undeveloped nations, the poor may be worshipping God under a tree in a field. Whereas others, prefer worship in a church with stained-glass windows, priests with robes and vestments, and big-time liturgy and prayer books with all the rituals of religious trappings.

Why? Because it is religious. That kind of ‘higher church’ gives off an air of transcendence which mankind wants deep down.  

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24)

New Covenant Custom

Jesus told the Samaritan women that a new covenant way or custom – a new course in worship had been charted, because worship would no longer be a superficial and external means of experiencing God.

By application for us, we should know today that worship is not just about showing up to a church sanctuary of sorts, to jam to music and raise your hands. An unbeliever can actually visit a typical evangelical church with rocking music, a light show, smoke, a concert atmosphere and feel right at home in the world, not even giving a thought to Christ and his kingdom at that moment in time. Church for too many people has been centered on the ‘worship music’ and how entertaining it is and how professionally it is done, regardless of whether or not the Bible is opened up, much less preached or taught in the gathering.

Prior to planting our church more than a dozen years ago, I came from a larger church ministry where the word was faithfully preached and the godly young worship leader was creative, in adding even Latin flavored, rhythmic arrangements to Christian contemporary songs of that time. The people in the pews loved to move and groove to the music, to the extent that if you asked many of them afterwards what they thought of the sermon that had been preached that Sunday, they likely would have replied, “What sermon?”, not even remembering what it was about. However, they could add, “But, the worship was great!”

There is a reason why seeker-sensitive church ministries do worship the way they do, which may include comedy skits and silly messaging. They want to draw crowds and yes, unbelievers- however well intended, will come, because worldly people will like and want to come to a place where they can feel comfortable. The worship music may remind them of their favorite bands and music videos. It will sound and feel good.

Then once they’re there, maybe they may be given a bit of the word of God and the gospel- so long as it’s not too strong or too tough to hear. Because if it is, they may not want to come back.

In contrast, Jesus called the Samaritan women to worship God in spirit and in truth- the heart and the mind, which is why music is to complement the word in corporate worship, rather than overshadow it.

This is what God seeks: God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled and Bible-saturated songs sung congregationally by his people, rather than simply performed by professionals.   

True worship according to our king and the head of the church, is not about externals and crowds, but spirit and truth, where worship is not so much about where, or primarily how, but of Who. That’s what the Lord is “seeking” from his followers.

We must be reminded that worship – corporately or privately, is not about me and you, but about God and his glory. We pray, sing, preach and read the word to praise him, not so we can feel better. God is the focus of the world and redemptive history. That truth is to drive the motivation of why we come together every Sunday.

The Bible is not a ‘me book’, it’s a ‘God book.’ That’s why it is so important to worship him in spirit and truth. What is the truth that Jesus is referring to? Simply put, truth is what is real. In essence, everything that’s true about God, man, the world, sin, our inability to save ourselves, the gospel and faith is what God says about all of that and more.

In reality or truth, all of life is worship (Colossians 3:16-17; Romans 12:1-2) for the Christian, built upon the foundation of God’s word, obedience to his will and manifest in our hearts by the new song he has given us by his Spirit.

The way that truth relates to our corporate worship and the modern-day reformation of it, which needs to take place, is summarily described well by C.S. Lewis, in his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, and a passage about church and its application to worship:

As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not dancing but only learning how to dance. A good shoe is you don’t notice it. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print or spelling.

“The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” A new worship reformation must be brought back to God- in both spirit and in truth.

Next week, part 2 of The Reformation of True Worship: the songs we sing.

Take 5 to Give 5

Bernie Diaz, July 22nd, 2021

As I think about military concepts like basic training or boot camp- including the spiritual kind, it is interesting to note how difficult it can be- even fear inducing, for soldiers to obey even one of the most basic of commands or orders from their superior. The same can be said of following the Christian’s commands. 

In a series I’ve been preaching at my church by the same title, I’ve discovered that no single command seems to strike as much fear into the hearts of disciples than disciple-making – specifically, evangelism.

I must admit I’m a bit scared of heights (acrophobia), for others, it may be enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) though for most people the greatest human fear seems to be public speaking (glossophobia). For Christians, I believe there’s a parallel of sorts to that fear- evangelism- the sharing of our faith, or to keep the mental health analogy going, evangophobia if there’s such a word!

In fact, most missiological studies indicate that the average Christian fails to share his or her faith more than once a year if at all. If true, that’s a problem for at least two reasons: (1) that would be disobedience of a direct command of God found in the Great Commission and elsewhere, to make disciples, (2) because a failure to share or proclaim the faith, is a failure to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

I can boldly make that statement because withholding the greatest, life-saving news anyone can ever hear – the gospel of Jesus Christ from a lost and dying soul, is among the most unloving things a Christian can do. If we’re to manifest the agape love of God that sacrificially meets needs, then that would include giving the truth about Jesus Christ, since he is what the world needs most.

Now, why do we exhibit “evangophobia?” Three fear factors may be the prime contributors:

Fear of man: I might get mocked, upset people, or create conflict. Yes, you may. Rejection and ridicule come with the territory in evangelism.

Additionally, some might argue that their issue is time (I don’t have time for that). I don’t doubt that for some, that is a factor. But that’s usually not the case for most. As someone was fond of saying, ‘We all have the same 24-hours in the day as everyone else. It’s not lack of time, but how you choose to spend it.’

Fear of failure: I feel alone and powerless to evangelize. This fear may be healthy to have, if it reminds you that you have to rely on the Holy Spirit in evangelism. It is also unwarranted, in that for those of us who believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation (the Doctrines of Grace), we know we can ‘sow and sleep’, meaning give the gospel faithfully and accurately, and then rest in the Lord’s providence and monergistic role in regenerating sinners.

Fear of ignorance: I just don’t know what to say. I am not prepared to do evangelism. It’s that fear one has of sounding ignorant or being unable to answer a big question. In response to the fear of not knowing what to say, the Bible tell us to get prepared!

We are responsible to understand what the gospel is and the nature of the kingdom, prayerfully looking for someone we can tell the truth to, as the apostle Peter spoke of our “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).

There are many methods- some better than others that prepare us to share our faith and over the years, we’ve taught our church more than one: The Way of the Master, Tell the Truth, Two Ways to Live and Three Crowns, which are all good, biblically sound methods of evangelizing. No one way is perfectly suited for every occasion or person, as Jesus and the apostles illustrated.

But there are also times and places where we don’t have a lot of time to share something about Christ and the gospel with someone, so we need to be prepared to share something that is both coherent as well as concise. Such an opportunity may present itself to us on an airplane, an elevator, a line at the grocery store or a coffee shop.

Regardless, there are certain communicable truths that are essential for Christians to be mindful to share with unbelievers, whether it be in a thirty second sermon or let’s say five minutes or so.

As I thought about what the apostle Paul brought to the Athenian philosophers and skeptics on Mars Hill in Greece, from Acts 17, I came up with five meta categories of thought, or theological truths that disciples of Christ can give in as little as five minutes of disciple making which sum up God’s plan of salvation: God, man, inability, gospel and faith.

The context of Paul’s apologia or defense of the faith and gospel preaching in Acts 17, comes as the result of his being “provoked” or literally irritated and burning with anger over the pagan worship of false idols there, among them an ‘Unknown god’, of which Paul took the opportunity to deconstruct with the new construction building of these five truths which took a bit longer to communicate than five minutes, though we may be able to condense them into that period of time.

  • God (Acts 17:22-25)

Paul began his discourse with something he could work with- something these lost people could relate to, in order to take the conversation from the secular to the spiritual. Some of these people we find were agnostic (without knowledge of God) in referring to an unknown god, leading Paul to answer the question of origins (‘How did we get here’)?

The apostle argued that God has given witness about Himself through what He created: ” The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1). This is what theologians would refer to as the general or natural revelation that God gives to all mankind of himself through the beauty and complexity of creation (Romans 1:19-20) and the conscience of his image bearers (Romans 2:14-16).

  • Man (Acts 17:26-28)

Since God is creator, it stands to reason that he is the sovereign ruler over his creation. The text of Acts 17 tells, “he marked out the appointed times” of mankind. Psalm 139 tells us our days are counted and God knows what they are- when we live and when we die. We came from one common ancestor (“made from one man”) – Adam and that means there’s only one race – and that’s the human race.

Paul’s call for repentance later in this passage and his words from Romans 3 and Ephesians 2, affirm the Bible’s claim from cover to cover that  unredeemed man is essentially and spiritually, dead, deaf, dumb, blind and in desperate need of redemption and reconciliation with his creator God whom he has rebelled against.

Amazingly, God has seen fit to give a universal and external call to everyone on earth to not only be reconciled to him, but to know him personally, not just superficially, which was a radical thought for some of the Athenians, being the idea that man can come to know and love God and be loved by God.

That can only happen however, if man recognizes something important…

  • Inability (Acts 17:29)

Paul exhorted these Athenian agnostics to understand their inability to worship God however they wanted to, which was to worship idols. He not so subtly called out their sin of idolatry, as one commentator said, “God made us in His image, so it is foolish for us to make gods in our own image!”

Paul told them you can’t serve or please God on your own and you are incapable of earning his favor, his blessing or his salvation. Simply put, man does not have the ability, the heart or the knowhow in his unredeemed state to do any of that.

  • Gospel (Acts 17:30-31)

Paul in this passage, brings the good news that is the gospel when he moves from man’s inability to his accountability and therefore the stark reality of the implications of the gospel. God is a just judge who cannot  fellowship with sinners who are covered in sin and unrighteousness. Therefore, something or someone has to change- and that’s us.

We must be bold enough to communicate the gospel truth that the time has come for sinners to repent or turn to God and away from a life of sin. Now is the time for repentance and faith in Christ. The gospel gift has been offered and is out there for everyone if we would just take 5 to give 5 to them. By the way, we can take more than five minutes of course as we have opportunity.

Why must we repent to God and trust in Jesus? Paul tells us in Acts 17:31, “ because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Not only is God gracious and merciful, but he’s perfectly righteous and just, meaning the just judge must hold us accountable to the law as any good judge would, and he metes out the consequence – judgment to be pronounced to law-breakers. Admittedly, this will be a stumbling block to those people who love the idea of justice, until it comes to them.

A law breaker gets pulled over for speeding and what they’re looking for from the police officer on the scene is not justice, but immediate mercy and forgiveness. We love and want justice when we’ve been offended. People just hate it, when they’re the offender, and sinners have been rebellious towards God, offending him and breaking his laws for a lifetime.

Paul’s simply saying sinners should have to pay the price for their unrighteousness – should meet justice and adds that God the Father will judge the world by God the Son, Jesus- being the God/man whom the Father has appointed to do just that, being the Messiah and king of this kingdom.

His resurrection in fact, is the “assurance” – or proof of his judgeship, having risen from the dead to prove that not only is he God in the flesh, but that Jesus is worthy of being the judge of the guilty and the dead, having conquered the guilt of sin and death. The fifth and last thing God and the Bible want us to know is…

  • Faith (Acts 17:32-34)

We learn from the final passage of this text that we basically will get three kinds of reaction to the sharing of the gospel and our faith in Christ: yes, no and maybe. Paul’s response to the mockers- the ‘no-no’s,’ led to his departure. He left them where they were. Indeed, there comes a time when you’ve said or posted, emailed and written enough. People can be stiff-necked and will want to debate you just to win an argument. They don’t really want Christ.

So, we ‘shake the dust off our feet, and we don’t ‘cast pearl before swine.’ Meaning, with some skeptics, we say, I’m not going to give them any more gospel truth right now- to paraphrase that classic movie line because, “They can’t handle the truth!” It may not be their time to receive the beauty and the value of the gospel, or maybe, you casted or watered a seed and the Lord will have someone else come for the harvest of it (1 Corinthians 4).

Indeed, some, will come, repent, “join” and believe in Christ. Our responsibility is to obey the Christian’s command to make disciples while there is time and that takes fear-killing preparation.

As one writer who experienced a dramatic evangelistic opportunity on an airplane in danger of a crash landing, said, “Any moment could be your last. You are not in control. Be ready. Your next walk around your neighborhood could be your last moment on earth. Your condo complex could tumble down on you while you’re sleeping.” He said that interestingly enough, before the Surfside condo tragedy occurred here in South Florida.

He added, “Your next drive could end in twisted metal. Your life could be over before you drop your kids off at daycare.” Therefore, it may behoove us to learn how to take 5 to give 5.

The Sovereignty of God in Caribbean Chaos

Bernie Diaz, July 14, 2021

On the heels of the assassination of the President of Haiti, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in Havana and at least a dozen more cities this past week, to lash out at the worsening conditions in the country under the communist regime – the biggest protest in decades – prompting the country’s president to call on “revolutionary” citizens to join police and the military to counter the protesters.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who heads Cuba’s post-Castro, Communist Party, addressed the country and (illogically) blamed the U.S. for stoking the anger, according to the Washington Post. 

“The order to fight has been given – into the street, revolutionaries!” he said in an address, according to another news report. The impetus for this uprising, stems from the simple fact that Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, having reported 7,000 daily COVID-19 infections and more than four dozen deaths in one day.

What the chaos from an ensuing crisis has in common with both Cuba and Haiti, is the consequence of two secularly led and dysfunctional government and political systems located in the close Caribbean vicinity of our nation, both suffering God’s judgment on their collective ‘unrighteousness and wickedness’, tragically enslaving their people to hunger, ill-health, poverty and injustice.

The basic human rights of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ have been denied the citizens of both Cuba and Haiti for decades, and from a practical standpoint, no simple solution seems to be in sight.

Haiti’s collapse will be far more complex to deal with than Cuba. The unstable Haitian government and society has been wracked fundamentally with corruption and violence for a century. There is barely the appearance of an infrastructure of any kind for the Haitian population and billions of dollars in foreign aid from the U.S., the United Nations and other countries, have been squandered time and time again by its leadership.

Christians thinking from a biblical worldview can see the plight of Haiti and understand why God ordained the institution of government and authorities to rightly deal with the problems of evil and suffering in a nation state (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2). This is what Haiti lacks and desperately needs- a reformation of its nation from top to bottom. Unfortunately, the road to such a reform will be a long and hard one.

Whereas Cuba, sitting just 90 miles from our most southeastern American border- near my home, is a strategically important and yet, paralyzed nation, caught in a vice between its current government, seeking to preserve the last vestiges of its failed and romanticized, socialist-communist revolution, and the reality of a populace which may have arrived at last, to the end of its rope, unable to tolerate any longer its political and economic oppression which stretches back more than three generations.

Can Revolution Save?  

Is bloodshed the answer? Supporters of revolution – including those pointing to the French and American revolutions of more than two centuries ago, yearn for war as a means of casting off evil and oppressive governments, at times forgetting that the overthrow of one tyrannical dictatorship or monarchy, can just as easily lead to the birth of another.

The United States was reminded of that fact, after having helped install  Saddam Hussein as the President of Iraq, only having to spill blood less than a decade later in the Gulf War, leading to an uprising that deposed Hussein by assassination. Cuba itself simply moved from one American-friendly dictator, Fulgencio Batista, to following another, that infamous, bearded, olive-clad, closet communist named Fidel Castro.  

Fans of revolutionary movements should always be careful for what they wish for, lest they get it. Revolution tends to beget more revolution. Cuban and Haitian nationals know this for sure.

God in his sovereign providence on the other hand, has ordained governing authorities according to Romans 13, to restrain and then punish evil, and to promote that which is morally good and righteous. Government is ordered by God as a foundational institution of creation, to prevent anarchy and chaos in the street- such as we’ve witnessed in Haiti and then Cuba.

Therefore, every head of government is under the Lord’s authority and “whoever resists the authorities, resists what God has appointed” (Romans 13:2). But what’s even more remarkable about this truth, is that God’s sovereign rule as king of the world over human government, includes every form of it that has ever existed. Furthermore, that we are commanded to be subject to, or to submit to which ever form of government exists where we are – as a principle – or general way of life.

The Bible from Old Testament to New (including Titus 3), is for citizens- led by Christians, to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, without qualification. We must keep in mind that the New Testament writers were arguing for the citizen’s submission at the time of church history, when it had no voice or vote in how the governors or emperors, Kings or Caesars of that time came to power – sort of like, oh, Cuba and Haiti.

Governments in ancient times were often more ruthless, evil and pagan in every which way, than the two current Caribbean examples I’m citing here. But still, we are to submit to them all, to the glory of God and the ultimate good of his people.

Admittedly, this doctrine or teaching is hard, so much that some scholars or commentators think that when the apostle Paul meant for us to submit, that it would only be to a “lawful” or decent kind of government. I wish that were so. That would make things a whole lot easier for us. Then we could think we only need to submit to a capitalist, democratic republic like America. We wouldn’t need to submit to or pay taxes to a socialist government and wouldn’t that be nice?

Wouldn’t it be nice for those of us with close family and friends in Cuba to call them to arms and to overthrow the communist government? To strike while the iron is hot at this moment? That’s much easier said than done and the scriptures do not give us that out. What the word gives us are a few principled exceptions.

Yes, Cubans and Haitians can disobey man– the state, but only when it commands them to do what God clearly forbids, and to disobey man when the state forbids what God clearly commands them to do.

But such a decision must be taken with great wisdom, care and caution as lives and the glory of God, in obedience to his word are at stake.

The Cuban president answered the unprecedented protests by authorizing police shootings on unarmed civilians — and, in his words, “summoning all the revolutionaries and all the communists” all over Cuba to confront the demonstrators.

As one journalist observed, “Under the cloak of night into Sunday and in the light of day Monday, Cuban police and special ops moved into neighborhoods all over the island, at times shooting at homes and at ordinary people staging protests across Cuba, from Havana to Guantánamo.”

“They got the response they deserved,” Díaz-Canel said, blaming the people ironically, for his own violence. 

How Now Shall They Respond?

In the aftermath of our COVID and election year of 2020-21 in the U.S., I recommended in a post that we respond in three general ways to the crisis and chaos that befell our nation at that time, and I repeat them here, for the biblical benefit of our brothers and sisters in Christ in both Cuba and Haiti. Revolution is not one of them

Rest: I have argued from scripture that God pre-ordained the circumstances and consequences of this most current season of crisis as the result of his sovereign providence (the outworking of his sovereignty). He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.. (Daniel 2:21a-b).

I for one, will not panic in the wake of these events, but rather rest in and take comfort in this doctrinal fact, with confidence that these political events did not take place randomly away from the eyes and hands of our creator and sustainer God who has used many an unbiblical king, ruler or president to contribute to his good will and purposes. That is, until the ultimate king and ruler of earth, returns here to right all wrongs- Jesus Christ.

Remember and Repent: There are many lessons to learn from what has occurred in Cuba and Haiti. Among them, is a need for them to be reminded as several texts of scripture reminds us, to refrain from placing their trust in “princes” or kings, rulers or presidents (Isaiah 2:22; 30:2; 31:1; Jeremiah 17:5; Psalm 118:9).

The psalmist wrote, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Psalm 146:3). Christ followers must not fall prey to the fandom of any political figure or system near of far, placing greater faith, love and obedience to fallible men, than the infallible Messiah and Son of God. If any of us fall to that temptation, may we confess it as sin and repent of it- turning to God.

Pray: Understanding all of the above, our primary weapon against the prevailing principalities and powers of the age, is of course, prayer and thoughts held, “captive to Christ,” not primarily to thoughts of revolution.

Now is a time to not only pray for our own biblical wisdom and discernment in sorting out these issues of life and liberty – both here and nearby, but for God’s common grace to fall on these two countries, in mercy and with wisdom and grace for a peaceful resolution to these crisis and His intercession to bring about national leadership that would enable its people to live “… a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2:2-3).”

Let us come together to love and pray for our neighbors in Cuba and Haiti, as we wait on the Lord, hanging on to our hope of glory and the perfect earthly kingdom and government to come with Jesus Christ.

The Real Freedom of Independence Day

Bernie Diaz, July 7, 2021

This past week America observed its 245th birthday, though you may notice I didn’t say that the nation ‘celebrated’ it as a whole. Celebration would have normally been a cause for joy in fireworks and patriotism for most of this country’s 300 million plus residents.

Though the nation’s flag sports colors of red, white and blue, only the most ‘red’ of states would have truly celebrated America’s birthday, reveling in its traditions, founding principles and historical prowess as a super power and beacon of freedom to the world.

Red Americans, known as the more politically conservative among us, would have gladly seen and shared Hobby Lobby’s July 4th full-page ad in multiple newspapers featuring a prominently placed verse from the Bible along with numerous, pro-Christian and pro-Bible quotes from the Founding Fathers and other key leaders in our history. It then closed with an appeal to readers to find out more about Jesus.

The ‘bluest’ of states however – being the more liberal or “progressive” among us, may have illustrated the great division existing in the ‘Divided States of America,’ by having somberly reflected on the ad, this country’s “oppression and tyranny” over minorities at the hands of white, male and cisgendered founders in a revisionist history known as, Critical Race Theory, which has been posited as the ‘latest thing’ in the good ole’ U.S. of A.

No wonder that the response from the left to the Hobby Lobby ad was less than enthusiastic, if not downright hysterical. According to a headline on a popular gay atheist blogsite, “Hobby Lobby Goes Full Dominionist In July 4th Ad.” The idea being that the retailer like so many Christians are trying to lead America to a theocratic form of government. But is that response in any way warranted? 

The obvious answer would be no, but Christians who are holding to a biblical worldview are still caught in the vice of a polarized nation trying to figure out how to answer the great philosophical question, ‘How Now Shall We Live?’ in a fractured, post-Christian America.

The fact of the matter is that disciples of Jesus Christ are having to come to grips with our affections for a nation that although founded upon Judeo-Christian principles and worthy of our gratitude for God’s manifold blessings upon it, has become largely unrecognizable from its roots, as the apple has fallen far from its cultural tree.

The crux of this issue and a search for “Real Freedom,” just happened to be the main idea of the sermon I preached to my church last Sunday- the 4th of July. I tried in that message to help my congregation and myself, think through 21st century life in America through a biblical lens that forces us to deal with certain realities and challenges we’ve never faced before.   

‘She Ain’t What She Used to Be’

I opened my sermon to the text of 1 Peter 2:11-16, by citing the Pledge of Allegiance – a pledge I haven’t heard in I don’t know how long, and which had been a staple of my public-school experience in America years ago (that’s right- public school)! As I pondered the words of the pledge, I was reminded that the U.S. has not always been, “one nation, under God,” nor has it always offered “liberty and justice for all.”

Frankly, it would have been more than a bit disingenuous to have recited those phrases if you were an African-American who lived in the first 150 years of our nation’s history, or if you had been an unborn child over the last 50 years or so.  

Such historical realities should temper any thought of ‘Christian nationalism’ for those whose untethered love of the U.S. rivals their love for the kingdom of God. However, a right perspective of our nation balanced upon the theological foundation of the inherent depravity of man as the fathers of this country held, helps ground our love of country the way it should for our neighbor.

Afterall, both are flawed, image bearing creations of God worthy of love, honor and respect, and balanced by a clear eye which can see and discern its flaws, appreciate its heritage as well as its need of redemption.  

That is why I can critically discern America’s warts and all, and still profess the great affection for this country that I have always felt, being glad and grateful to God to have been born and raised here and likely to die here.

That gratitude for God’s providence wells up in me all the more, when I consider my own family’s exile from a communist country which knew little of freedom to come to the United States.

Strangers on Earth

The apostle Peter wrote his first letter to the diaspora, the dispersed early church that was persecuted and forced out of Jerusalem and began to grow in the other nation states of that region. It was there that Peter exhorted and encouraged Christians, to remain faithful to the word of God in obedience to Christ by living in, withoutbeing of, this world in an uncanny parallel to our society today.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12, ESV).

Peter by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave his readers three commands or imperatives to carry out their mission as foreigners- aliens, or pilgrims in their exile: to be holy, humble and then free.

  • Be Holy

The journey for believers that “have no lasting city” other than the one to come, starts with holiness. As Peter quoted Leviticus in his letter and said, “be holy as he is holy,” referring to Christ, we can reinvigorate our culture by being different, as the world holy implies, and not in a way that we isolate from the world, but to simply meanwe don’t imitate it.

Salt and light Christians (Matthew 5) are to enhance or bring out the best flavor in our country. We act as a preservative. So as spiritual, green-card carrying disciples of Jesus, we strive to be holy because we are, living counter-cultural, godly lives that attract the lost that God is drawing to himself.

How do we do that? 1 Peter tells us to “Abstain from the passion or lusts of the flesh”, so that we won’t lose the tug of war with our remaining flesh and lose our witness to the world.

  • Be Humble

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good (1 Peter. 2:13-14).

Christians are not taught by scripture to be revolutionaries in any political and violent sense. We don’t look to join angry and violent protest mobs like Black Lives Matter and scream obscenities at our opponents. We don’t overthrow capitals (read January’s protests in D.C.).

Rather, we live in subjection or submission to the governing authorities God has placed over us. Everyone in one way, shape or form, has to submit to, or ‘come under the authority’ and leadership of someone else in life- usually in multiple ways and relationships (e.g. wives to husbands, husbands as unto Christ, Christ to the Father, employees to employers, children to parents; Ephesians 5-6).  Government is no different (Romans 13:1-2).

The theme of Christian citizenship is humbly submitting to authority because God is a God of authority and the creator of order, not the creator of chaos. With the fall, chaos entered the world necessitating government. If we didn’t have law enforcement, we’d have complete anarchy and chaos in the streets, which we’ve already seen some of in this country over the last year or so in Portland and Seattle.

Therefore, believers need to be careful with their political posturing. Yes, politics and policy matters and we are free to speak and act and vote and should take every reasonable opportunity to do so, but real Christian freedom is free to shut up our critics with righteousness or better yet, humble, holiness (1 Peter 2:15).

Not only can Christian nationalism or a preoccupation with politics in America hurt our witness and make enemies of our mission field (radical, secular, unregenerate citizens), but it can also lead us down the road of moralizing America, which does nothing to advance the kingdom and cause of Christ.  

Our job as disciple-makers is not to ‘reclaim America for Christ’ and create a nation of religiously or morally superficial Pharisees, but to live and love in such a way that the lost would be found by Jesus.

  • Be Free

 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (1 Peter 2:16).

God is not some anti-freedom cosmic killjoy. In Christ, you will never be more free than you are now having had your sin chains broken. Another great paradox of our faith is that Christians who have been born-again are no longer slaves to sin but instead, are slaves to Christ, which is why Jesus said, the truth will make you free. Real Christian freedom means we are now free from sin, free from Satan, free from guilt over sin and from trying to earn God’s grace.

In summary, I’m glad to be an American. To be patriotic, is to have a special affection or love for country and there is nothing wrong with that. I will watch the Olympics this summer and will still get some of the chills of watching our athletes who stand for our country on the medal stand as the national anthem plays. But, as a Christian, my greatest allegiance is not to the USA for which it stands… Although it is a nation under God – his sovereign rule, but my greatest allegiance is to Jesus Christ and his church.  

Though it’s ok to sing the star-spangled banner, it’s even better if you love to sing “Amazing Grace.” The way to be an American best, is if you are a Christian first.