Skeletons Found in the Evangelical Closet

After Major Investigation, Southern Baptists Confront the Abuse Crisis They Knew Was Coming Bernie Diaz, February 12, 2019

Sexual abuse as we have discovered in the midst of the #MeToo era, can no longer be reduced to gawking at high-profile cases from afar in Hollywood and Wall St. to the political centers of our country.

Abuse perpetrated by religious leaders of every brand and denomination have at last been uncovered and are coming to light by the day. For evangelical Christians, who thought that abuse among and committed by clergy was largely confined to Roman Catholic circles, in the aftermath of the still burgeoning yet decades old priestly scandal (which has now uncovered hundreds of nuns as victims), think again.

The nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (of which the church I serve as a pastor is in fellowship with), is now under scrutiny due to a thorough, investigative Houston Chronicle report entitled, “Abuse of Faith: 20 Years, 700 Victims: Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse Spreads as Leaders Resist Reforms.”

Carrying allegations against nearly 400 church leaders in 20 states (a majority of whom were convicted or took plea deals), it’s believed to be the biggest report on sexual abuse among Southern Baptists in the movement’s history according to other news outlets. The report confronts the longstanding defense that the organization can only do so much to monitor abuse since affiliated congregations operate autonomously.

In the first of a three-part series that investigated the records of Southern Baptist abusers who were convicted or took plea deals for their crimes since 1998, 90 remain in prison and 100 are registered as sex offenders.

Even worse according to the first article, “at least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades,” the reporters found. “In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement about complaints or to warn other congregations about allegations of misconduct.”    

Appropriately and thankfully, Southern Baptist leaders and pastors have spoken in response to the news report even more frankly about the problem of abuse and reiterated their commitment to more rigorous, research-driven efforts launched last year to address the issue.

SBC president J. D. Greear, called the voices in the article “a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent.” Indeed, the SBC has been given an opportunity in the midst of this discovery of such personal tragedy and suffering, to minister the gospel of grace, mercy, redemption and restoration to the victims of abuse, as well as the responsibility to apply ecclesiastical justice and the ministry of repentance, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation to the perpetrators of these crimes.

Lest we think sexual abuse is a modern phenomenon, a mere cursory trip down biblical lane from the abuse of Old Testament kings and leaders to church age leaders, false teachers and prophets (1 Pet. 2:1-3) who are driven by “sensuality” to sin dictate otherwise. Those men and yes even some women, as reported in the Chronicle series, are people in positions of authority who are not immune to the temptations of power and lust in the world- even those who are born-again believers.

Therefore, now is the time for the church- particularly led by a denomination (the SBC) which has stood for biblical inerrancy and sufficiency for decades, to practice a bit of reformation and clean house beginning with biblically based discipline toward its own and loving care and counsel for the victims of sexual abuse, of which no excuse can made to explain away or tolerate.

SBC To Do List:

Clean House. Create an atmosphere in which abuse victims can feel comfortable enough to come forward with heartfelt accusations and testimony of having been abused by church leaders or members. Then, be willing to biblically and courageously practice church discipline, following the New Testament’s guidelines which include leaders (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Tim. 5:19-20)

Pray. As SBC President Greear said in the aftermath of the published report, “While it is not enough to ‘just pray,’ we (Christians) should be praying for those who have been abused. Praying for the 700 people in the Houston Chronicle article. Praying for the many, many other victims who have not yet come forward. Praying for the abused in our very churches.”

Listen Up. Hear the testimonies, take seriously and investigate abuse claims immediately. Be willing to call for and listen to corroborating claims and prayerfully follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

Share. It is almost universally accepted as fact that one of the best methods in preventing or curtailing the prevalence of sexual abuse is for employers and organizations to share information about perpetrators and their history to networks and officials to red flag those who may be fleeing from one ministry in the midst of or after an investigation to fly to another to secure employment and again put innocent people at risk.

As Russell Moore, who heads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC, spoke out forcefully in support of the story and commended the investigative reporting:

“The report is alarming and scandalous, the courage and grace of these survivors is contrasted with the horrific depravity of those who would use the name of Jesus to prey on them,” he said in a statement. He also said churches should report all suspected instances of child sexual abuse to police, and the self-governance of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention “is no excuse for a lack of accountability.”

Church Members to Do List:

Look Around. Be particularly sensitive to members or regular attenders of your church exhibiting irregular behaviors (i.e. withdrawal, depression) which may be indicators of a person who may be a victim of sexual abuse if not a perpetrator of it.

Admittedly this thing ‘to do’ may be difficult since such behaviors may be masked for years.

Even in my own church which is a ‘Family-Integrated Church’ ministry, meaning we do not have a children’s nursery or ministry nor youth group by intention following the practice, pattern and model of both Israel and the historic church in the cause of discipleship, one might think we would never have to be concerned with the issue of sexual abuse.

Although the nature of our ministry does greatly minimize the chance of being impacted by sexual abuse, which has been greatly manifested in at least two generations of neo-traditional children’s and youth church ministry, we must still be vigilant to look for signs of suffering and dysfunction among our people and be ready to act accordingly should the situation arise.

Care for One Another. Christians are called to be willing, able and open to love and share the burdens of a suffering disciple (Gal. 6:1-3), particularly those who may be caring the tremendous weight of pain, guilt and shame as victims of sexual abuse.

We begin to do that by moving towards those who are hurting in all humility, being personal and praying with and for the victim in the midst of cultivating relationship with them.

My hope and prayer in light of this SBC crisis, is similar to the goal of notable Christian counselor and author Ed Welch (Caring for One Another), who yearns to see church culture reform itself to the degree that the, “… counseling and mutual care of souls become natural features of the body’s everyday life (Heb. 10:24-25).”

 

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America’s Road to Hell Paved with the ‘Worst Intentions’

Image result for slavery, holocaust and abortion Bernie Diaz, February 5, 2019

Was it more ironic or appropriate that the biggest controversy facing Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam last week was over an alleged med-school picture that emerged of him appearing in “black face” or KKK garb, or his support of a late-term abortion bill in his state that eventually failed to pass?

Of course the nature of American culture and its mores being what they are today in a land of political correctness, the greatest irony I found was the mainstream press’ fixation on the racist photos of his 1984 medical school yearbook rather than the fact that Governor Northam endorsed a failed piece of legislation that cannot be honestly described as anything other than legalized infanticide (the act of killing an infant).

The governor, whose term ends in 2021, said he planned to remain in office as long as he could as of the time of this post, despite nationwide calls for his resignation in the face of 34 year-old racist pictures, while Republicans have called for his resignation since last week for quite another reason, being his comments where he described a hypothetical situation in which an infant who was severely deformed or ‘unable to survive’ after birth could be left to die, even after delivery:

If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

Let’s rewind part of this chilling quote for further reflection, analysis and possible nausea, “The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired .… then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

The governor of Virginia, a former physician who once took an oath to “do no harm”, gave carte blanche to the idea of parents of a new-born child having a discussion of whether or not to murder that child by denying it medical attention.

Mind you, this is more than main-stream abortion we’re talking about, which is a legal and heinous enough act allowed to take place at any time of a pregnancy, snuffing out the life of an unborn child from conception to the point of birth.

No, this is the advocacy of a ‘procedure’, which as per the pro-abortion bill just signed into law by New York governor Andrew Cuomo (on the anniversary date of Roe vs. Wade), can legalize the ‘neglect, choking, or smothering of a baby that somehow has survived the lethal injection and knife cuts designed to kill during the abortion procedure itself’ as pro-life spokesman John Ensor noted.

Another irony in all this is the idea that pro-abortion rights and legislation is all about the health of the mother, to the complete and utter disregard of the health and rights of the pre-born and even newborn child.

As stated in New York’s “Reproductive Health Act” replicated in some form of another now in seven other states with Rhode Island on deck as the next, that unrestricted abortion can now take place, “within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or at any time when necessary to protect a patient’s life or health.”

Guess who the lone patient is in this scenario? Hint: it’s not the child. Guess who decides the “necessity” of such a “procedure”? Same clue: not a representative for the child whose life is in danger. Indeed, not only has “the road to hell been paved with good intentions” but also clearly with the worst of intentions in parallel instances over history.

Now as we have entered into Black History Month, we can briefly reflect on the colonial time of American history (and in much of western civilization) when African residents, aliens and later Afro-American citizens were regarded by many as little more than ‘animals’ and property from an inferior race, to be relegated to nothing better than indentured slavery or other menial labor.

Again, as recently as just a generation or so ago via segregationist policies, we saw a time where legislation was enacted in this nation in the best interests of one protected class of people thought to be superior to another, at a time of not only biological ignorance, but due to pure, unadulterated evil and disobedience to the revealed will of God.

You would have thought our country and its leadership would have learned the lessons of World War II and the Nazi regime of the mid 20th century, where the government of Hitler’s Germany relied heavily upon Darwinian evolutionary theory, to develop and implement policies like eugenics; the practice of controlled selective breeding of human populations as by sterilization to improve the population’s genetic composition designed to protect the ‘superior race’.

Curiously, such thinking was rooted in the ideology of a native New Yorker, named Margaret Sanger, who would become the founder of Planned Parenthood, and whose main concern just a few decades before Hitler’s Third Reich was reducing the population of the ‘less fit’, including ‘inferior races’ such as ‘Negroes’.

This American pioneer of the pro-abortion movement, as early as 1917 was openly giving ‘public support to the eugenics movement’ and to ‘race betterment’ programs according to a Sanger biographer. She opened her first birth control “clinic” in 1916 in the impoverished Brownsville section of Brooklyn to help control the problem of ‘over breeding’.

Interestingly enough, that same abortion strategy continues unabated and unreported by secular media today with the proliferation of abortion centers in low-income, minority communities (see the Jan. 23rd MCT blog, Why Isn’t Abortion THE Social Justice Issue Today?).

So, what does racism, the institution of American slavery and segregation, the practice of eugenics, discrimination and the Nazi holocaust all have in common with modern-day abortion?

Simply at its roots, the devaluing of the inherent sanctity and dignity of all human life from womb to tomb, created in the image of God, by those that are advocates for ethnic and biological superiority of certain classes of humanity and/or as in the case of today’s “progressives” or liberals, calling for unlimited sexual freedom in the midst of America’s current, moral revolution. Those are today’s roads to hell being paved with good intentions.

God through the prophet Isaiah, warned Israel of such roads to come in their future hundreds of years ago (Isa. 5:20-21) and the apostle Paul did the same two millennia ago, declaring there be would times to come in human history where man would reject and rebel against God, conscience and the moral law God gave to mankind (Ro.1:18-23), roads paved smoothly by the enemy of man’s soul.

May God’s people give voice to the most vulnerable and voiceless among us and pray for the Lord to help us return to him and to a peaceful path (1 Tim. 2:1-2) from the well-traveled and dangerous roads of the not too distant past and present.

The Crime of Being Christian in America

Image result for karen pence and the covington catholics Image result for karen pence and the covington catholics

Bernie Diaz, January 25, 2018

Though I don’t claim to be a prophet in the predictive sense of the word, I was surprised to find that my post of two weeks ago on the persecution and fate of 250 Dutch Pastors in the Netherlands for preaching the biblical truth about human sexuality (A Faithful Remnant and its Future, MCT; Jan. 10), and its possible implications for Christians in America, would manifest itself so quickly.

Last week a major news story broke upon the revelation that Karen Pence, wife of the Vice-President of the United States, dared to do the unthinkable in today’s society: practice her Christian faith in public- even in a private institution.

The secular media apparently thought it was newsworthy that the “Second Lady” has taken a part-time teaching job at a Christian school which she had been previously affiliated with for over a decade. What’s so extraordinary about that? According to one report:

It’s not a school where everyone is welcome. In a “parent agreement” posted online, the school says it will refuse admission to students who participate in or condone homosexual activity. The 2018 employment application also makes candidates sign a pledge not to engage in homosexual activity or violate the “unique roles of male and female.”

Or in other words, Mrs. Pence was basically convicted by the major mainstream media and other cultural watchdogs of the day for being a … wait for it… Christian. How so? She was and continues to be vilified and raked over the proverbial ‘coals’ by the press for being part of a Christian ministry which actually adheres to its two plus millennial historic and biblical teaching of human sexuality.

Her job application at Immanuel Christian School, like virtually every other evangelical educational institution in this country from elementary to higher education, contains a statement of faith and an agreement of Christian ethics for employees, of which hers read: “Moral misconduct which violates the bona fide occupational qualifications for employees includes, but is not limited to, such behaviors as the following: heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites.”

The application further had the audacity to say that the school believes “marriage unites one man and one woman” and that “a wife is commanded to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ”, amongst other scripturally referenced moral statements, doctrinal expectations and apparent heresies.

The real sad story here is that The Huffington Post among others “news” outlets, think that the above occurrence and everyday operation of an evangelical Christian school is that strange or newsworthy. The Washington Post even featured the headline: The school that hired Karen Pence requires applicants to disavow gay marriage, trans identity.

What these reports also affirm is that any doubt you may have had that we live in a ‘post-Christian’ culture has been removed, to the point that the mere practice as well as belief of Judeo-Christian and Bible based values is being regarded as fanatical and anti-social, if not bigoted and hate-filled, to the extent that the press has become totally ignorant of or just plain dismissive of classic and orthodox Christianity.

The mainstream media of this country has totally ‘missed the boat’ – missed the fact that tens of millions of Americans believe and conduct their lives in accordance with the above moral and biblical standards even in the midst of our current sexual revolution.

Being as curious as I am, I can only wonder if the media’s reaction to this story would have been the same if Karen Pence would have volunteered to teach art at a Muslim or Judaic school, being that those other two historic and theistic religions of the world also hold to similar if not the same doctrines of sexuality.

At the risk of sounding too extremist, we are fast approaching a time in this nation’s society in which some – and most among the cultural elites will brand biblical Christianity as a cult, in a similar way to the infamous Branch Davidians or Jamestown community of Jim Jones (“drink the Kool-Aid”).

Indeed, no less a theologian than Lady Gaga, a self-proclaimed bisexual (which again by the way obliterates the idea that sexuality is an inborn orientation), called out the Second couple, when she declared at a concert,

“To Mike Pence, who thinks it’s acceptable that his wife work at a school that bans LGBTQ: you are wrong. You say we should not discriminate against Christianity? You are the worst representation of what it means to be a Christian. I am a Christian woman and what I do know about Christianity is that we bear no prejudice and everybody is welcome. So, you can take all that disgrace, Mr. Pence, and you can look yourself in the mirror. You’ll find it right there.”

Not to get too engrossed into Ms. Gaga’s spiritual condition and personal life, it is safe to say that her comments betray the more typical sexual doctrine and attitude associated with sexuality today as evidenced by the above news coverage. That being, the liberal left -religious or secular, lacks even the slightest and most fundamental understanding of Christianity and biblical theology, particularly with respect to sexual mores and truth.

If the ever-increasing ‘criminality’ of Christianity in this age where religious freedom and the acknowledgement of its existence in America as the first constitutionally protected right for its citizens isn’t grounds enough for concern, the mainstream media’s all-out assault on the faith in the culture war doesn’t help.

On the heels of ‘Pence Gate’ came word of the Covington Catholics story, which had all the makings of another perfect 21st century crime dominated by “Fake News.”

This time it was a seemingly incriminating (though carefully edited) social media video of a 16 yr- old Catholic school student with a MAGA (‘Make America Great Again’) red hat, verbally accosting a victim from perhaps the single most oppressed class in American history, a Native American. The villain in this ‘high crime’ again is a white, Anglo-Saxon male professing faith in God. And most damning, sporting a smile at the recent March for Life event in the nations’ capital.

As it turns out, hundreds of thousands or even millions of retweets of an encounter following the march told the wrong story. Nick Sandmann, a junior from Covington Catholic High School, did not  appear to invade the personal space of a Native American veteran and activist. He didn’t trample over the man’s rights as the white privileged youngster he has been stereotyped to be by social justice warriors- or really what some call ‘Cultural Marxists.’

As a WORLD magazine reporter put it succinctly, “So it seems, the student with the now infamous smirk committed only one crime: existing.”

Cultural Marxists for a number of years now have been making a case to academic, political and media elites that a cultural hegemony (“a leadership or dominance of one country or social group over another”) has existed over the history of the United States for far too long and must not be allowed to exist any longer, meaning that an unfair influence and dominance by this hegemony over oppressed and victimized minority groups must stop- now.

What is America’s traditional and cultural hegemony?

What are the features of the hideous American that make up that evil oppressor of all that is good and compassionate in this nation? This prototypical American is:

  1. Male
  2. White
  3. Heterosexual
  4. Cisgendered (a person whose identity actually matches their birth sex and anatomy)
  5. Able-bodied
  6. Native Born (meaning a naturalized American- born in the U.S., not native-American Indians- they would be ok, being a victimized group).

In light of recent events (above) and the current state of cultural affairs I would add to the above hegemonic characteristics:

  1. Christian (particularly of the Bible-believing, evangelical kind).

Therefore, by contrast, the perfectly identified and culturally favored intersectional American resident (intersecting of multiple oppressed minority groups in one person) and worthy of all government protection and special rights might be:

  1. Female 
  2. Of any color (other than white)
  3. Lesbian 
  4. Transgendered (on any given day)
  5. Weak, infirmed or oppressed 
  6. Illegal immigrant 
  7. Muslim or atheist

Welcome to  identity politics and society in America 2019. However, should current trends of religious discrimination towards Christianity continue (what would have been an unforeseen reality to this nation’s founding fathers), the ironic question arises, “Could disciples of Christ sneak into the intersectional list above and be worthy of social justice consideration one day?”

I don’t think so. But then again, Christianity has gone through a similar phase and era before and thrived and grew as the greatest movement of faith the world has ever known – the Roman Empire, ca. 60-300 A.D.

Why Isn’t Abortion THE Social Justice Issue Today?

Image result for pro-life black protesters Bernie Diaz, January 23, 2019

Why Isn’t Abortion THE Social Justice Issue Today?

Today’s social justice debate in our society, culture and even the evangelical church feels not only eerily similar to the one that led to division in the Protestant church in the early 20th century, but I would argue should be at the crux of the abortion debate today, as pro-lifers observed the 46th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision this week, just a day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

For those of us that fight for the human rights of the unborn, we fight for social justice on much of the same moral ground in which Dr. King fought for the civil rights of unjustly oppressed African-Americans over a generation ago, despite the rancor of pro-aborts that would disagree with that analogy.

Rather, today’s more liberal social justice warriors wish to echo King when fighting to make a social justice case for everyone from minority victims of police violence (“Black Lives Matter”), to “victims” of oppression in the LGBTQ community, regardless of whether or not actual social injustices may have been done to such groups.

While this post is not intended to compare or parallel the social issues of the day that impact ‘intersectional’ or identity politics, it is intended as such to draw some parallels between the civil rights movement for blacks in the latter 20th century led by King, to the pro-life movement led mostly by Christians and Catholics over the post- Roe v Wade era.

Nearly 56 years ago MLK penned his classic “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which spoke powerfully to the need for justice, love, and action, under a natural-law theory that recognizes the divine basis of moral law in opposition to the immoral laws of man (e.g. racial segregation, voting). King drew on several principles of scripture as well as quotes from early church fathers to more modern theologians to help make his case.

Similarly and interestingly enough, Dr. Alveda King, MLK’s niece and a pro-life advocate, has often cited the concerns that her uncle voiced about abortion and charged anti-abortion supporters, “By our effort and example may God use us, as imperfect vessels that we are, to bring an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, abortion, racism and oppression.”

Did we just read a quote from the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist in her own right, decrying abortion as a modern-day evil and equate that act with racial injustice, due to its roots in racial discrimination and oppression (see the history of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger)?

Precisely; from one who knows bigotry and having had an abortion herself. Advocates of the social gospel which emanated from a social-justice ideology decades ago, believed the church of Jesus Christ should be engaged in the culture, fighting against injustice and working to uplift the impoverished and downtrodden – all admirable goals which many evangelicals today rightly stand by.

Biblically saturated Christians understand however, that social justice must begin with the most vulnerable and oppressed among us, that being the pre-born, who are granted the status of dignified, image-bearers by God’s own word (Jer. 1; Psa. 139) and yet are the most defenseless and voiceless among us, having lost the most fundamental human right of all- the right to live, aborted by that controversial court decision in 1973, leading to a modern holocaust which has taken nearly 60 million innocent lives to date.

Unfortunately, the social gospel left, unwittingly allowed secular and cultural influences to inform their theology back then, to the point of diminishing if not abandoning clear gospel ministry and seems to be repeating itself again today  – worse, largely abandoning the cause of the most needy and downtrodden of all; unborn children, regarded by so many as little more than an intrusion to be done away with for the sake of unfettered sexual freedom.

Without co-opting the original context of King’s Birmingham letter and it’s necessary and clear argument for the full and basic civil rights of African-Americans, I believe his legacy and his niece Alveda’s worldview would approve of the linkage I’m making between the two issues- particularly since the black population is disproportionately decimated by abortion (an inconvenient truth ignored or hidden by the “pro-choice” movement).

“The Negro cannot win if he is willing to sacrifice the futures of his children for immediate personal comfort and safety. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Unborn Apartheid?

Christian clergy and disciples are often asked, “Why do you get so ‘bent out of shape’ about abortion and are always making a political issue of it or are constantly talking about it?”

King from his “Letter” on the religious reason for civil rights activism:

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

As to abortion? Ditto.

Communal Reason

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham (Alabama). Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Abortion? Ditto.

King in his letter, as complied by Peter Lillback’s Annotations on a Letter That Changed the World from a Birmingham Jail, reviewed the process of his non-violent protests and the history behind it…

Collection of facts to determine if injustice exists

There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case.

Think abortion, it’s procedures, partial-birth, body parts and their sale by Planned Parenthood. Might that qualify as an “ugly record of brutality (that) is widely known?” Are these not “hard, brutal facts of the case?”

The difference between just and unjust laws:

“How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?”

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.

An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. Abortion fits this definition perfectly.

King added, “To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”

As to social justice, particularly for minorities such as African-Americans, abortion should be issue number one of concern. Although there is partial good news in the of number of reported abortions in America having dropped to less than a million per year, rates are still tragically high, and as WORLD magazine reports in its annual Roe v. Wade issue, “They remain particularly steep among African-Americans: The CDC reported black women had an abortion rate of 25.1 abortions per 1,000 women. (White women had a rate of 6.8 per 1,000.)”

In New York City, hundreds more black babies died from abortion than were born alive in 2016. In years past, that number has been in the thousands. In South Florida where we reside, for some strange reason most every Planned Parenthood location is situated in a lower-income, minority community.

That reality makes pro-abortion propaganda in those communities even more alarming. In 2017, Planned Parenthood tweeted, “If you’re a Black woman in America, it’s statistically safer to have an abortion than to carry a pregnancy to term or give birth.” How’s that for a baby-killing sales pitch?

WORLD quoted Ryan Bomberger, a pro-life champion from a speech at Wheaton College (a Christian school) who noted that, former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards tweeted outrage about violence against African-Americans in U.S. cities (‘social justice’) when she said, “There are no words adequate to express the outrage and grief—stop killing Black people.”

Bomberger who happens to be African-American, agreed the loss of any life is tragic, but he noted the irony of Richards’ dismay: “She is the abortion mogul of the nation, leading the organization that is the leading killer of black people.”

How would Dr. King react to the fact that due largely to Roe. V. Wade, that more black babies are killed by abortion than are born alive? What impact has that fact had on the African-American community and our broader culture of death which systematically favors the elimination of an entire class of people and its future generations? Where is the outcry of social justice there?

Alveda King daringly presumed what her uncle would have said and felt in a Roe v. Wade era, when she wrote, “Dr. King would never have agreed with the violent violation of the civil rights of the millions of aborted babies, and Planned Parenthood’s subsequent blitz of women’s health problems related to chemical and artificial birth control methods.

This conclusion leads me to remind my readers that I too have a dream, it’s in my genes. How can the dream survive if we murder the children?”

Regardless of what MLK Jr. may have thought about the scourge of abortion today, he did see and preach hope for a nation that seemed intent on depriving people their most basic civil rights when he wrote from his jail cell:

But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.

May it be God’s will for an American destiny in which its people repent and abortion is once again abolished and returns to a worldview which has regard for the God-given sanctity of human life- from womb to tomb.

Love Romans 8:28 – it is all Around Us

Related image Bernie Diaz, January 16, 2019

I was fascinated this past Sunday after having preached a sermon in my church on Romans 8:28, long considered a favorite and life verse of scripture for thousands of Christians through the church age (myself included), in hearing testimonies from our congregation as to the manner in which God has subtly chosen to reveal the manifestation of that verse in his providence and people.

Yes, although there is awesome theological comfort alone for true disciples of Jesus Christ in the promise of that verse (conditional as it is- for those who are called or chosen by God for salvation and loving him), we may overlook the real everyday events in life in which God comforts his suffering children.

We can read scripture and find biblical illustrations, or stories in which the Lord has sovereignly “worked all things together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose”, as I brought out in my message, as in the lives of :

  • Job
  • Joseph
  • Jesus

And the gripping testimony of evangelical speaker and author Joni Eareckson Tada, who at the age of seventeen, decades ago, became a wheel-chair bound and ministering quadriplegic as the result of a careless dive into shallow water.

However, what is as remarkable as those more well-known testimonies above, are the ways and means in which we see the kingdom of God expand, mature and multiply by at least three ways in which our Lord works all things together for the good of his people as he brings about:

  1. Salvation (Gen. 50:20; Ro. 5:6,8)
  2. Sanctification (Ro. 5:3-5; Phil. 1:29; Ja. 1:2)
  3. Glorification (Job. 42:5-6; Jo. 9:3)

Having studied and found those three factors to be reliable answers to the conundrum and question of theodicy, or “Why bad things happen to ‘good’ or God’s people”, I have taken great comfort and confidence in God’s sovereignty displayed in our suffering as the result of his divine and sovereign grace in my salvation (Ro. 8:28-30).

Many Christians know that God has proven himself faithful as the great promise keeper of Romans 8:28 in the mist of personal tragedies, cataclysms and evil over the centuries, but even more remarkably in a sense of what some might consider the general trials and tribulations of life in this sin-cursed and fallen world. God is working all things for the good of his own, including in broken marriages and families.

A sister in Christ and member of my church, a lady named Jackie, gives testimony to God’s faithfulness and working of Romans 8:28 through her and her family.

I had a very sheltered and easy life and at the age of 24 I married my boyfriend of seven years. Both my parents did not approve; but they surrendered to my relentless persistence and eventually gave their blessing. I was a selfish and an unsaved Catholic girl who had a small view of God; thinking that divorce was an option if problems arose in my marriage.

Sure enough, many problems exploded, the most prominent was verbal abuse and extreme loneliness. At first, I would react with temper tantrums and try to manipulate my husband with my tears, but he was an expert at ignoring me and this caused my anguish and frustration to grow.

Jackie speaks of the difficulties of her married life though she acknowledged the Lord used painful circumstances to save her at 28 years of age. She committed to a marriage which became as she said, a “hotbed of harsh devaluing, abusive treatment”, so much so, that their own children “experienced the terror of ever displeasing their father. “

She persevered with Romans 8 prayers which became ‘groanings’ imperceptible to her own mind but were ushered up to God’s throne of grace by the Holy Spirit (Ro. 8:26-27) himself in intercession on her behalf.

Jackie added, “I strove to love unconditionally and forgive my husband daily.  Many times, I wanted to give up, but God was able to continually give me the strength to trust Him.

He brought other believers into my life to offer support at my lowest moments. God’s word became more precious to me because I knew it was where I would understand why he permitted the horrors and public humiliation that was now my life. Then I saw in the Bible Job, and what he went through, how he got to see the God he loved and heard about through his suffering.”  Indeed, this is how non-biblical heroes, though faithful ‘Bible-walkers’ of the faith as Jackie refers to herself, endure or persevere to the end as they yearn for glory and the “redemption of their bodies” (Ro. 8:23).

My friend Jackie’s trials and tribulations continued well into her post-conversion Christian life, but the promise of scripture continued to uphold her. She added, “I saw that patience had a work to do in me.  But it was Romans 8:28 that gave me real peace to know that none of my misery would be wasted.  It assured me that God is sovereign over all of my circumstances and they would work to renew and refine me.”

Jackie would need God’s sovereign grace to endure what would come in her home: I soon had two more children and the harshness from my husband would be so severe, that when he did come home even our dogs seemed to tremble. The children would many times run to their room to stay clear from doing anything that could trigger their father. I felt like a pilot flying an airplane in the darkest night, having no visuals but relying totally on the dials on the dashboard to keep myself and my passengers safe.  My Bible became my dashboard and the words my dials. The darker it got the more my dials became important.

It is amazing and encouraging for me to see God’s promises come alive in my sister’s testimony, and the Lord’s providential working for the good of his children and those he may be drawing to himself, using suffering as a means of both sanctification and salvation, as Jackie said, “There were times when friends would fear for me and the children, but I grew in my assurance that God was with me and that he was ultimately in control of what I was permitted to be experiencing.

He showed me how Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house, that the presence of a Godly mother can keep light on for the children and that light is always more powerful than darkness.”

Are their common lessons from Jackie’s story to help us respond in a godly manner to injustice or persecution and flat-out pain and suffering?

Response to suffering

Response toward God? In a word, rejoice! (1 Pet. 4:12- 13; Ja. 1:2; Phil. 4:4;1 Thess. 5:18).

Response toward the person causing the suffering? When God’s enemies are persecuting you, you are not to be terrified but instead should respond to them with gentleness and reverence (Phil. 1:28; 1 Pet. 3:14-16).

We are to respond to our (God’s) enemies the way He responds to them — in love (Matt. 5:44-45). We are to bless them and do good to them (Ro. 12:14, 17-21).

Response toward believers? Disciples of Christ are to be of one mind and one heart, united in spirit knowing that the enemy wants to separate believers from the fold (Phil. 2:1) but nothing can or will take them from the grasp of the Father’s hand and his love (Ro. 8:31-39).

Does Jackie’s story end well? Was there a ‘Disnified’, romantic, happy ever- after ending where her husband comes to Christ and all is forgiven, peace made and reconciliation takes place? Well, her husband deserted her and their family’s home for another woman after 18 years of marriage though refusing to divorce. Husband and wife are friends in different places during a prolonged separation and the wife remains convinced that by being faithful to Christ she is to forgive and remain married, ‘for better or for worse.’

She has seen changes of late in her husband after he survived a recent,  serious illness and the Lord may be at work in his life. As we know for those of us in Christ, our story is an adventure which continues on and will not end until by the grace, good council and will of the Lord, the elect are redeemed, and are conformed to the image of the Son of God as they enter into glory (Ro. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:11-14) .

Jackie fittingly concluded her Ro. 8:28 testimony this way: When I look back and I see where I have come in the knowledge of God and His peace, the hard times look so insignificant compared to the glory that there is in knowing God. Our suffering can be the difference between knowing God and knowing about God. 

Nothing that I endured over the years have been wasted. God is truly working it all out for his elect. I love Romans 8:28 and can with deep conviction say that nothing we go through is wasted, so let us give thanks to God in all our circumstances knowing that He is a good Father who knows exactly how to train us in holiness. Everything that God does for us is birthed out of His love and desire to bring us to himself.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose….”

A Faithful Remnant and its Future

Image result for christians and lgbtq debate Bernie Diaz, January 10, 2019

When many Christians think of a remnant, we think of Israel (Gen. 45:7), and what has become of that nation, in terms of that ‘small part’ or ‘quantity’ of people who have been and remain truly faithful to God by faith over the centuries and were once a light to other nations.

God has promised to preserve a remnant of that chosen nation as part of his redemptive and restorative purposes for the world and evangelical Christians should be thankful for that.

However, we ordinarily wouldn’t think of the universal Christian church which numbers in the millions today and over history as a “remnant”, but nonetheless, there are countries and communities in which mere remnants of the Christian faith exist and are fighting to stay alive and fight for truth even in those places where they once flourished.

As an example, it has been reported that more than 250 pastors and church leaders in the Netherlands have signed a Dutch translation of the Nashville Statement, drawing widespread criticism in response.

According to news reports, the signers of the translation, which come from the relatively few conservative Protestant churches left in the Netherlands, comes almost a year and a half after the Nashville Statement was originally released in August 2017, when a coalition of evangelical pastors, scholars, and other leaders in America sought to articulate a biblical view of human sexuality in the wake of the current sexual revolution and the evolution of LGTBQ and transgender identity rights.

(the Nashville Statement can be viewed online at: https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/)

To little or no surprise, the translation has received significant pushback in the Netherlands, as churches in Amsterdam and other cities have flown pro-LGBT rainbow flags in protest. The response has not been limited to churches. The Hague, an international law enforcement agency there and the country’s public prosecution service is “examining the statement to see if there [is] any basis for a criminal investigation,” according to Dutch news.

The report cites Article 1 of the Dutch constitution as possible grounds for possible church persecution, stating that “discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.” Sound familiar?

What should be news and noteworthy to Christian Americans in this story is that the political rejection of the Nashville Statement, which happens to be a simple  affirmation of what Christians have for centuries believed and taught about sexuality according to scripture, comes from a nation (the Netherlands) that had been dominated by Protestantism since the beginning of the Reformation in the 16th century, led by Martin Luther and John Calvin’s teaching.

The biblically conservative Dutch Reformed church was birthed to this movement and had influenced their society to the extent that the notable theologian Abraham Kuyper, was elected as Prime Minister of the Netherlands in the early 20th century.

Are we the Future Remnant?

If the Netherlands and its five-century plus history of Protestant Christianity has fallen to the political correctness and libertinism of the sexual revolution to the point of threatening the remnant of biblical churches that remain there, what does that portend for the biblical church that remains in this country and your community?

Albert Mohler Jr., author and president of a Southern Baptist Southern Seminary and an original signer of the Nashville Statement, in support of the Dutch pastors said:

These truths would have been affirmed without question by all Christian churches and denominations until some of those churches have more recently decided to abandon the Scriptures and join the sexual revolution. These pastors in the Netherlands have affirmed traditional Christianity. The pushback to these pastors reveals opposition to historic Christianity. Sadly, I fear that this is a sign of things to come.

I believe it is safe to say that Mohler is implying such persecution of the church on matters of sexuality, may be washing ‘across the pond’ here to our shores in the near future.

Lest we sound like a premature alarm, American disciples of Christ may remember only a few years ago that a lesbian mayor of Houston, Texas attempted to confiscate the sermon manuscripts and/or audio recordings of pastors there who may have preached biblical messages on sexuality, which her office would have deemed to have violated that city’s anti-sexual discrimination laws, thus rendering those pastors liable for prosecution of committing “hate-crimes.”

Worse, this moral revolution may be infecting churches from the inside out here, as a new proposal is under way among some Christian leaders to strike a compromise with some LGBT activists to balance “LGBT rights” with religious liberty.

The proposal would elevate “sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI) to protected classes in federal law in exchange for certain exemptions for religious colleges and institutions. They call this approach “Fairness for All.”

In reality, such proposed “exemptions” would not result in actual fairness for all, but instead would penalize many Americans who believe that we are created male and female, and that male and female are created for each other and for marriage.

Additionally, such proposals would violate the privacy and safety of women and girls, the conscience rights of doctors and other medical professionals, and the free speech and religious liberty rights of countless professionals who find themselves outside the select group of institutions who are exempted.

Long story short, Christians in America who stand for biblical fidelity on matters of human sexuality should be increasingly prepared for and to do at least the following three things with respect to this issue:

1. Be prepared to defend the biblical view of sexuality. Be familiar with the passages of scripture that deal clearly with marriage and sexuality – both explicitly and implicitly, and God’s intention for them (i.e. Gen. 2; Lev. 18:22; Matt. 19:4-6; Ro. 1:26-28; 1 Cor. 6:9,11, 18; 7:2; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Jude 1:7-8).

2.Speak the biblical truth in love (Eph.4) on matters of sexuality to those that oppose the biblical view. Exude Christ-like meekness and kindness to those image-bearers opposing the scripture’s teaching on the issue without compromise. We must avoid needless, harsh debate with the opposition but rather follow the apostle Paul’s command that our ‘speech would always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that we would know how we ought to answer each person (Col. 4:6).’

The main idea often overlooked in evangelizing family and friends who are homosexual, is the need for them to acknowledge a sin greater than their sexual perversion, that being their disobedience to Jesus Christ and his gospel in rebellion and unbelief, as evidenced by their unwillingness to repent from sin and submit to the Lordship of Christ.

3. Be prepared to accept ridicule and even persecution at your school or work site among others in your family as you discuss this issue in the marketplace of ideas.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented sexual revolution in our nation in which historical and traditional norms of human sexuality, largely founded upon Judeo-Christian values are regarded as antiquated, unpopular and unloving.

In other words, be prepared to be treated like a biblically minded Dutch Pastor in the Netherlands when you speak the truth- even in love on sexuality today.

No matter, as the prophets prophesied and the apostles preached, the faithful remnant of God’s people will be ultimately upheld, rewarded and  restored…

“‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old” (Acts 15:16-18).

This Year’s Check-up and New Year’s Resolutions

Image result for spiritual check up Bernie Diaz, December 26-29, 2018

Our annual check-up at the doctor’s office is supposed to give us an idea of  how we’re doing physically and may present certain health issues for us to be aware of or to even be concerned about.

Many of these check-ups occur around the first of the year in order to coincide with news year’s resolutions and goals that might enable us to improve our physical condition.

That same principle applies to Christians entering into 2019 from a spiritual perspective. As important as our bodies are to our well-being and to God’s, our hearts- our spiritual condition is even more so as per the apostle Paul, who in the midst of ‘training’ his apprentice and young pastor Timothy, said, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Tim. 4:8, ESV).

Therefore, the end of 2018 this coming week presents disciples of Jesus Christ a good opportunity to engage in a spiritual check-up. To help us take our spiritual temperature, it may be helpful to ask ourselves the following ten questions posed by author and pastor Kevin DeYoung:

  1. Did I make regular devotions with the Lord a priority?
  2. Unless there was an emergency, did I commit to attending church every single Sunday?
  3. Did I preach the gospel to myself to remind me of the grace that is available to me through Christ?
  4. Did I confess and repent of my sins quickly?
  5. Did I live deeply in Christian community and seek to bear the burdens of others?
  6. Did I regularly share the gospel with nonbelievers in hopes of persuading them to repent and trust in Christ?
  7. Did I steward my time, talent, and treasure to the glory of God and for the sake of the church?
  8. Did I seek spiritual mentors?
  9. Did I disciple others?
  10. Did I trust God’s providence when things didn’t go my way?

Some of these will apply to you; some of them won’t. For example, due to this season of life, you may not have had the opportunity or energy to disciple anyone. That’s fine and serves as food for thought and a thing to do next year if you can.

These questions are provided not so much to make us feel guilty, but to provide some motivation and guidance to help you check your soul for spiritual health.

Just as a physical check-up may result in a diagnosis such as being over- weight, our doctor may propose some fundamental disciplines or strategies to combat that issue, such as a better or proper diet, self-control and regular exercise program. Therefore, I would exhort my church and fellow Christian readers to commit to four, fundamental New Years resolutions of our faith to deal with our spiritual check-up results above.

For those of you who are not crazy about making new year’s resolutions by the way, or believe they may be unbiblical, consider that America’s greatest theologian perhaps, Jonathan Edwards made 70 pretty good ones before reaching age 25- and all were quite biblical (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-resolutions-of-jonathan-edwards).

Furthermore, it is actually quite wise and biblical to think about where one is in his or her walk with the Lord (2 Pet. 1:10), and then to adjust accordingly. So we begin…

Love God

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)

Sound basic or fundamental enough? I call this the ‘Great Commandment’, in that the Lord Jesus Christ quoting from the Levitical law, summarizes all of the Torah and all of scripture’s teaching for that matter, with the two greatest commandments from God to his people, which is to love him and other people as themselves.

This love for God and man, from which our church derives its slogan, Love God, Love people, can only come from a regenerated or born-again heart.  If we strive to love our perfectly holy, pure, just creator and sustainer of life with everything we have and are, through the love of his Son whose crosswork and resurrection saved us, then we will be empowered by his Spirit to do everything else his will and word commands of us.

As a practical means of grace, the single best way to rededicate or resolve yourself to loving God more, is to dine with him or eat Bible, (below) which means to be in the word in order to hear God’s voice in and through your heart and mind.

This is how we better know God, and to know God and Jesus is to love him more, as we focus on his beauty, character and attributes.

Love People   

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:39-40)

It simply stands to reason if we are obeying God’s first great command to love him, we will be led to love others- including our families and ‘neighbors as ourselves’ (Lu. 10:25-37) as a result of being loved first (1 Jo. 4:10).

This love of God that has been “shed abroad in our hearts”, will spill over into our lives- both in attitude and action, meaning that we will sacrificially serve others- beginning with doing the ‘one anothers’ for our church family and then extending outwards (Jo. 13:36; 1 Jo. 4:11, 14, 16-18) to those in our sphere of influence, which will include the willingness to speak the truth in love as we show and share Christ to the lost (Eph. 4:25).

Are there exceptions as to whom we love? Not in God’s eyes, if we’re speaking of true, God-like ‘agape’ love of unconditional service which extends to our enemies- those who have wronged us as impossible as that may seem (Matt. 5:43-48).

Love the Bible

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. (Psa. 119:33-35)

This love of the Bible is not a mere intellectual assent to it being the inerrant, infallible word of the living God. I definitely hope you do know and believe that to be true. But believing that and loving the Bible aren’t always the same thing.

Resolving to love the Bible means treasuring it as Jesus did when he spoke of the word as his food or “daily bread.” That means prayerfully resolving to meet with God in his special and specific revelation to his people more than you love checking your latest social media notifications, looking up stats for your favorite sports team or how the stock market did yesterday.

Ask yourself if you love the Bible more than your favorite TV show or music download? How do you know that? Like anything else, the greatest treasure of our hearts is what we spend the most time with and think most about.

To truly and appropriately love the Bible is to think of it and treat it as the love letter to you that it is and being the word of the living God that it is, you treasure it as the all authoritative and wholly sufficient word for your walk with Christ and GPS for your life.

How to? Read the Bible everyday by yourself (find a good Bible Reading Plan), with your family, with your small group, with your friends and co-workers, and with anyone else who might be willing to read it with you- think of an unbeliever in need of Christ. The word of God has power to give and transform life. Why would we even hesitate to take it up?

Love the Church

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… (Eph. 5:2, 25b-27)

It’s always wise to love that which Jesus Christ loves. He loves his church so much he prayed (Jo. 17) and died for it.

When we’re talking about loving the church, the Lord is not referring to its programs, buildings or budgets. Rather, he is referring to his body of believers in the universal and local church which he purchased with his own blood.

Again, the question for you as you think about resolving to love your church this new year may be how? Or, what does that look like? Do you have to be involved in every ministry or every event your church does? No. You probably couldn’t if you tried.

But if your church meets regularly on Sunday mornings and a mid-week night-  go to all of it, or as much as possible. Be committed to small or community groups where real body life happens. Invest your life and the life of your family in the local church. I understand that other things will have to take a back seat if you are committed like that. Guess what? It’ll be worth it and God expects it.

Moreover, seek to cultivate and develop relationships and fellowship outside of the church’s regular gatherings. As another writer put it, “Quit dividing your ‘church life’ from the rest of your life. As much as you can, blend those two areas. Enjoy your church family.”

Discipleship happens when you go to the beach or picnic or partake in an activity with them. Be more hospitable this year and invite church members over for supper. Go make disciples (evangelize) together. Go serve together. Don’t wait for your pastors to schedule something in order for you to spend time with your church family, to do ministry and to disciple. Make all of that a habit this coming year.

We don’t know what lies ahead in the coming year of our Lord, 2019. Wouldn’t it be great if he returned this new year? Shouldn’t we cry out for that as the apostle John did in the book of Revelation?

We do know that there are always things about our lives to change and that we are to grow and improve our spiritual health while he has us here. Why don’t we resolve to work out our spiritual condition this new year (Phil. 2:12-13)? Why don’t we resolve to?:

  1. Love God
  2. Love People 
  3. Love the Bible
  4. Love the Church

You won’t regret improving your spiritual health this new year.