The Culture of Death ‘Lives’ On

Image result for down syndrome child in iceland Bernie Diaz, September 18, 2017

Apparently, the death toll of as many as 80 lives from Hurricane Harvey was not enough for pro-abortion advocates and organizations, who while in the midst of a battle with the state of Texas over proposed abortion legislation, is actually offering fully paid procedures for Hurricane Harvey victims — and 15 women have signed up, according to a news report.

Note that the Whole Woman’s “Health Clinic”, which is currently suing the Lone Star State for trying to ban second-trimester abortions, plans to pay for six abortions in the clinic’s San Antonio location and nine in Austin, according to that organization’s spokeswoman.

While it is one thing to advocate for the right for pregnant women to legally murder their unborn child on a paid basis (often at taxpayer expense), it is quite another for an abortion group to further facilitate such murder with free killing services.

If that rhetoric sounds a bit harsh, it is because it is meant to, reflecting the state of incredulity or bewilderment that I find myself in today, when thinking of the depths to which our current culture of death will sink to.

It is because of that culture, that was rooted in the more modern eugenics movements of the late 19th century and the Nazi regime of the mid 20th century, that those on the radical left are seeking to eliminate virtually any vestige of human life, whether it be preborn, in the cradle or on the way to the grave (euthanasia). If a life is inconvenient to its caregivers, potential or real, and may be a burden rather than a blessing, then the extermination of those lives seems to make expeditious sense- even in the name of science.

“The Virtual Elimination of Down Syndrome in Iceland.”

At first glance, such a headline as reported by CBS news, may seem promising to many, expecting to read or hear of a cure or way in which to reduce the incidence of Down Syndrome in its population, a condition of birth defects as the result of a preborn child’s possessing an extra chromosome in their DNA.  Ah, but there’s so much more that meets the eye than a headline. The story then reveals that, “On average Iceland has two people with Down Syndrome born each year.”

The solution to the down syndrome problem in Iceland? Simple. Abort- kill, those suspected of having down syndrome in utero, tolerating the miniscule few that may be born due to inconclusive prenatal tests.

Also, take note of the use of the word “people” there to describe the few and the chosen who survive, in that somewhere along the line she became a “person” with Down Syndrome.

According to the rather warped logic of our culture of death, such a child’s  status changed to “person” somewhere during her gestation, while her condition remained stubbornly the same.

Even the founder of a genetics research company that has studied Iceland’s anti-down syndrome experience said of the policy, “It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counselling.  I don’t think that heavy-handed genetic counselling is desirable. … You’re having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision.”

Perspective should change dramatically as to the pro-life vs. abortion wars, when one realizes what or who is at stake and that a mere cursory review of biology and personal experience via an ultrasound exam and/or childbirth, reveals that it is not something but a someone that is eliminated in the name of the ‘right to death’ decisions made by those other than the victim himself.

One of the Iceland experiment’s more provocative cases, was about a girl Agusta, born with down syndrome, after her screening offered a slim chance of Downs, so slim her mother Ingadottir, went with the odds and “lost”? Well, mom is now an activist for the rights of people with Downs Syndrome.  She said: I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That’s my dream. Isn’t that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?

Excellent question and one posed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was put on the spot recently by a German teen with Down syndrome during a live town hall meeting type event in the northern city of Lübeck.

“Mrs Merkel, you are a politician. You make laws. I’m an editor at a magazine for people like me who have Down Syndrome,” Cologne-native Natalie Dedreux told the Chancellor according to a translation by a local German newspaper.

“Nine out of ten babies with Down Syndrome in Germany aren’t born,” she said (about the same figure as the United States). “A baby with Down Syndrome can be aborted days before the birth, in what is called ‘late stage abortion.’ My colleagues and I want to know what your opinion on late stage abortion is, Mrs Merkel. Why can babies with Down Syndrome be aborted shortly before birth?”

“I don’t think it’s good politically. This topic is important to me,” she added. “I don’t want to be aborted, I want to be born,” Dedreux concluded, receiving loud and sustained applause from those gathered. The video clip of this exchange is staggering and to no surprise left Merkel visibly flustered.

Wouldn’t you be if you were Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood of American or another pro-abortion or death rights activist wearing the shoes of the German chancellor, confronted face to face with a person that such an activist had rather seen dead?

To the young ladies’ credit, she respected and acknowledged the chancellor’s push to regulate abortion in Germany, where it is permitted only if the woman presents the doctor with a certificate indicating that she obtained counseling at least three days before the operation and not more than twelve weeks have elapsed since conception, though exceptions are made when there is a risk to the health of the mother or when a prenatal diagnosis shows that the unborn baby has a severe disability.

The dangerous subjectivity of the later exception notwithstanding, the Deutchland has at least surpassed American law in federally regulating abortion.

The post-Harvey news from Houston leads me to ask, ‘How many more deaths through calamities and disasters must God tolerate or perpetuate on a lost and cursed world (Psa. 104; Isa. 45:6-7; Amos 3:6), to effect change, the kind of change through the gospel of Jesus Christ that can change hearts, minds, culture and a country?  

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Hurricane Irma in the Rearview Mirror

Image result for post hurricane neighbors helping neighbors Bernie Diaz, September 12-16, 2017

Someone said that the sovereignty of God is best seen in the review mirror. I love that analogy. More often than not, God’s glory, power, grace and tender mercies are best seen post, tragic events like a Hurricane Harvey or Irma, or in cancers among other faith tests, trials and tribulations.

I’ve already experienced little evidences of God’s common grace and the love of the common man- fellow image bearers coming together in community with acts of love and service in just the 48 hours of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the largest and most powerful storm to pass through and near parts of south and western Florida in nearly a generation.

Millions of Floridians are living through another day without electricity as of this post, with the Florida Keys having borne the brunt of the storm’s wrath, with widespread destruction in the low-lying islands. Gov. Rick Scott toured the area by air early this week and described “devastating” damage. At least six people died as a result of the storm and another two dozen plus as the result of this storm’s impact on Cuba and other Caribbean islands.

All this on the heels of Harvey’s mayhem in Texas and a massive earthquake in Mexico, which has claimed more than 60 lives thus far. However, Florida weathered Irma much better than expected, with most areas escaping the widespread destruction forecasters feared. Why?

It would be more than presumptuous for anyone- Christians included, to attempt to read the mind of God and his precise providence over these events, all occurring near a relatively quiet observance of the 16th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

What I Do Know

I’m no ‘end times’ enthusiast or expert, but I do know that the God of the Bible is an attention-getter in many ways over many times, often using nature as a tool in which to wake-up His own, as well as a nation or nations (Isa. 45:5-8; Amos 3:6; Matt. 8:23-27) that need it.

As we mentioned in our last post (Why Hurricanes and Suffering?; Sept. 5), Jesus Christ laid a most provocative answer on those that questioned him in Luke 13:1-5, as to the rationale of a violent massacre and the fall of a tower which killed (seemingly random) 18 persons in Galilee. The answer to the question that previously unconfessed or unforgiven sins must have led to the demise of the relatively innocent, was met this way by King Jesus, who simply said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

“Perish” in this context means judgment and eternity. So, that pretty much deals with the why and providence question doesn’t it? Jesus’ point implies that one’s relationship with God and their eternal future is far more important than the circumstances of our death on earth in this lifetime.

Life and eternity come into much larger focus in such times of suffering and uncertainty do they not? Therefore, opportunities to show and share Jesus as reality, truth and light in a dark world increase proportionately in times like these do they not? Is there a coincidence there? Obviously not.

I know that I have reconnected and reestablished relationships with neighbors this week – mostly all unredeemed, that I would not have otherwise, were it not for the fact I needed to cut and clear tree debris with them in order to make our streets and homes safer, all as the result of a Hurricane virtually landing in our laps this past Lord’s day.

Leave it to our Lord to work providentially in such a way as to bring communities together in ways they would not in the flesh. Unfortunately, from my point of view, it took a storm and neighborhood damage to show the love and gospel of Christ through acts of kindness and service. Fortunately, from God’s point of view, the love of neighbor in the aftermath of a storm is best seen through the rearview mirror.

Federal officials warn drivers in the Southeast to prepare for gas shortages after Harvey and Irma’s disrupting one-two punch to the nation’s fuel supply, as Irma continued to wreak havoc on its march north, buffeting Georgia’s coastal areas and metro Atlanta with high winds and heavy rainfall. More than 1.2 million people in Georgia are waiting to have power restored.

How many of them are born-again believers and disciples of Jesus who are prepared to bring food and water to a neighbor, or cut and clear tree limbs and repair fences because Jesus told them to?

Forget for now trying to figure out exactly why God drove these storms and similar calamities to lands near and far. But rather, let’s roll up our sleeves, and show the world how much we love God by loving people and point them to Jesus when they ask why. Then look for God’s providence and answers to the big questions in the rearview mirror.

Why Hurricanes and Suffering?

Image result for hurricane harvey 2017 Bernie Diaz, September 5, 2017

Virtually everyone in the U.S. knows by now what kind of damage, pain and suffering Hurricane Harvey has caused to the southwest region of Texas- predominately in the Houston area, where nearly four dozen people have died, 50,000 plus families have been left homeless and the cost of this storm, which has resulted in the most extensive flooding ever seen perhaps in American history, may rise eventually to $200 billion.

Now what? Hurricane Irma – which may be as big or bigger than Harvey, is making its move through the Caribbean islands south of Puerto Rico and Florida as I post this blog, which are now bracing itself in a state of emergency for its possible landfall this weekend or so.

Where is God and What is He Doing?   

There are no crystal balls of course, to answer the question of “Why do we face certain tests, trails and tribulations like hurricanes, tornados and cancer?” There are people who have either denied or despised the faith of Christianity because they cannot answer or come to grips with the parallel question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

This may be perhaps the most difficult and challenging issue that apologists or defenders of the Christian faith are faced with, being what theologians call, ‘theodicy’, or the problem of evil, pain or suffering in the world. This is what many of them claim is their greatest argument against the faith, as they say that either God is not very good to permit such disasters and tragedy in the world, or that that He’s not all that good, or that He’s not powerful enough to do anything about such calamities, which is actually what some liberal Christians teach.

The problem is that although they mean well, they just don’t understand God or his Word, and so faithless Christians and skeptics want to take Him off the hook for everything from earthquakes and the holocaust, to Hurricane Harvey.

Some years back, a former local newspaper columnist and friend of mine who I worked with on television- an avowed agnostic if not atheist, in the wake of another storm wrote: Faith in a way, makes it harder to understand the maddening capriciousness of natural disasters, or even man-made cataclysms like wars and terrorist attacks. Why would an omnipotent God do this to someone? 

That’s a fair question. According to Luke’s gospel, a number of observers once posed the same question to Jesus Christ about God’s sovereignty and will in the wake of a massacre of Galilean Christians as well as a seemingly random event of a tower in Siloam collapsing upon and killing 18 citizens (Lu. 13:1-5). This could have been described as a 9-11 and Harvey type incident of its time, leading others to think as per Jewish custom that the sins of the victims may have led to their demise.

That speculative question led to a most astonishing yet revealing response from the King of the world…. Wait for it……………. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” What?  Really….

If one is a Christian who takes God’s word and gospel and his or her faith seriously and ponders a bit, this answer makes sense. How? One must have a kingdom and redemption mindset, a mind as Paul called for the Colossians to have, which is to be set, on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2). Why? The next two verses in that passage of scripture give us a clue: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

In other words, we who are born-again believers and disciples of Jesus, have already died to our old sinful-selves and now have heavenly perspectives, a faith “hidden in Christ” that looks to glory rather than the temporal evil, pain and suffering that occurs here on this fallen and sin-cursed planet.

Jesus essentially told those Galileans then, and us now, that 150 to 200,000 people are dying every day on earth, and what matters most is not the particular circumstance of their death or suffering- that is God’s domain in providence, but rather their turning to God and trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior, that will bring eternal life, hope and meaning now, in the midst of suffering.

What hope are we banking on? While I don’t pretend to offer you a comprehensive answer to each and every event or tragedy that has occurred, or even in your family, many like Oswald Chambers have weighed in on the idea that, “God does not tell us what he is going to do. He reveals who He is.” 

So, with that in mind, I like millions of Christians over history, answer the question of pain and suffering with Romans 8:28, which reads:

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

This my friend, is a promise for Christians with three different answers to the question of why, as in, “Why Hurricane Harvey?”

  1. God is Sovereign in the Why (He works all thing together for good..)

When theologians say God is sovereign, they mean that he is absolute in His reign, kingdom and authority over the world and is all powerful, present and knowing in his providence or circumstantial work in the world. In other words, God controls everything, including nature (Isa. 45:5-8; Amos 3:6).

Fortunately, as we pray for Hurricane Irma to be diverted, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus exhibited that same authority on earth. We read in Mark 4:39, that Christ “arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

God controls category four or five storms as well as your life and mine (Psa. 139:16).  

  1. God Has a Promise in the Why (who love God and are the called…)

God’s promise is for His own (Ro. 8:28-31), meaning that his promise is  conditional. It is a promise made only for his adopted children, those he has justified, redeemed and reconciled to himself by his sovereign grace and the repentant faith of forgiven sinners.  In other words, this promise is not for everyone. The non-Christian or unbeliever cannot claim this promise for themselves and all things do not work together for their good.

This reality is another attention-grabbing motive for the lost to find Christ as God changes their heart. Lastly…

  1. God Has Plans for Us in the Why (according to his purpose.)

There are several great men and women of the faith whom God has used mightily to suffer well, with the hope of glory in front of them as they endured great trials and tribulation as a means of bringing glory to God as well as strength and comfort to others, from Job and Joseph (Gen. 50:20) to Jesus and Joni.

God’s glory manifesting itself amidst his control over evil and suffering was never more evident when he healed a blind man from birth. On that occasion as was the case with the tower of Siloam, the disciples wondered whether the man’s sin or those of his parents resulted in his loss of sight. Jesus replied to that query by saying in John 9:1-3; “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

Have you ever thought that one of the more significant reasons that God allows pain and suffering, is because it is a primary vehicle in which God can ‘reveal’ or display his healing power, mercy and grace? It stands to reason that the blind man had to be born that way in order to be healed by Jesus. Who gets the praise and glory for that? Did not this man come to saving faith as a result of his condition and then healing, as the rest of John 9 teaches?

Someone once said, that God’s sovereignty is best seen in the rearview mirror. That is a simple and profound statement. I mentioned Joni, as a great hero of the faith. You won’t find this contemporary heroine in your Bible but you can find or read, see or listen to Joni Eareckson Tada’s powerful testimony, where you find that at the age of 17, a careless dive into shallow water left her a quadriplegic.

She was interviewed on national television about her story and asked whether she had ever doubted her faith in the mist and aftermath of the tragic accident and suffering. This woman now in her 60’s answered:

If God told us the reasons why anyway, it would be like probably pouring million gallon truths into our one-ounce brains. We couldn’t contain it all. But when I look at national tragedies or even personal tragedies, sometimes I think these things are like God’s way of, like, wake-up calls, like yellow lights blinking, like red flags waving. Like what are you doing with your life? Where are you going? Do you not know that this parade of life as you enjoy it is not going to last forever? And what will you do when you face the other side of your tombstone?

What wisdom. It is as if Mrs. Tada had sat next to Jesus when he spoke to the Galileans in Luke 13 in the wake of the calamity of the tower. What do we hang on to as we face hurricanes and cancer? God, his Christ, gospel and promises such as found in Ro. 8:28.  That is our rock and refuge in a storm.

When Tada was asked in her interview what carried her through her storm, she remembered the ministry of Christian friends and said;

“One of the first bible versus anybody gave me was out of the New Testament, 1 Thess. 5:18. And it says there, In everything, give thanks, for this is the will of God and Christ Jesus concerning you. I said, say what? You can’t be serious. I mean, I don’t feel thankful for this. No way. And my friend said, ‘Joni, wait a minute. It doesn’t say you’ve got to feel thankful. Trusting God has nothing to do with trustful feelings. It says give thanks. And so, take a step of faith and do it.”

We who are in Christ, can and must do the same today and as we prepare for storms and their opportunities, be ready to rest in, show and share Jesus Christ.

Life with Jesus Means Fasting to Eat

Image result for no bible no breakfast Bernie Diaz, August 29, 2017

I enjoyed a rather fascinating experience preaching to my church this past Sunday on the doctrine (teaching) of fasting. The looks on some of the faces in our congregation in response to Jesus’ words from The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:16-18) were telling.

Many if not most Americans- born-again Christians included, consider fasting to be either a very practical if not painful way to lose weight or cleanse our bodies for health reasons, or think of it as either some ‘new-agey’ type of religious, mystical experience or politically minded tool of protest as seen in more contemporary ‘hunger-strikes.’

So, why should disciples of Jesus hunger? Weren’t the monks of medieval times condemned by evangelicals for their false asceticism of self-discipline, in depriving themselves physically in order to better please and serve God?

Hunger for God

Rather, what we learned from Christ is that we may starve ourselves from time to time physically, in order to better satisfy ourselves spiritually. In other words, we choose to hunger from a lack of food – even as little as in a partial fast of one meal occasionally, in order to hunger for more of God.

Or better yet, we deprive ourselves of the bread that no man or woman alone can live on, but rather prefer to feast on the bread of every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mat. 4; Lu.4), to paraphrase the very words of Jesus, spoken in the midst of his supernaturally ordained 40-day fast.

What Jesus made even more clear in a parallel passage on fasting from Matthew 9, is that we fast in this church age that we’re now in, so as to anxiously await and hunger for the full manifestation of his presence when he returns to earth at his second coming.

It is only then that today’s fast is consummated in tomorrow’s wedding feast of the lamb- the bridegroom being Christ and the bride his church, in a feast that is eternal and will never fail to satisfy (Matt. 9:14-17).

Until then, we have the hors d’oeuvre of the Lord’s power and presence through the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit. How do we munch on this meal or appetizer however, so that we might quench the hunger and thirst that comes from a spiritual fast? First, we must define again what a Christian fast is and why we do it before we get to the how.

What and Why We Fast

The biblical definition of a fast, contextually from scripture would be ‘To abstain as a religious exercise from food and/or drink.’  As already mentioned, the hunger that results from such a fast can bring an ache to our bodies- our stomachs in particular. So, Jesus seems to be telling us in Matthew’s gospel to “Ache – hunger for me, for my return.”

In addition to, and in a broader definition of fasting, a believer could fast or choose to abstain from biblically permissible activities or hobbies which have threatened to become idols or preoccupations for a disciple that inhibit or prohibit them from drawing closer to God in the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, meditation and prayer. Prevalent, contemporary examples of that would be things like: smartphone and social media usage, internet, television and music, etc.

The idea is for Christians to periodically remove or abstain from obstacles that keep us from spending our first and best time with God, and so we are  free to focus on the kingdom and cause of Jesus Christ, whether we fast to better ascertain his will for our lives, or to see souls saved or for the church to reform and the nation to be revived.

How to Fast

There is much good literature out there as to the different kinds and means of fasting biblically and otherwise (e.g. Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life), and there are very needful times for a local church to call for corporate or congregational fasts as Israel did in the Old Testament (Joel 2:15-17).

However, from a private or personal perspective, I believe the two biggest attitudes or methods to keep in mind when fasting are to do so with a  purpose and prayer:

  • With Purpose

Have a plan. Will your fast be absolute or partial? How long? How regular? Schedule it. We can ask ourselves, “Who and what are we praying for?” Along with evangelical fasting (burden for lost souls), might there be grief over sin in our lives? That should lead to repentance or a return with trust to God.

Might we be seeking protection for ourselves or family in some situation? More wisdom and guidance perhaps. God’s people have fasted for such reasons for centuries (Ju. 20; Ezra 8).

Can there be a better purpose in fasting than to know God and to draw more closely to him relationally through his son Jesus? Somewhat paradoxically we fast to eat. Eat what? How about eating Bible?!

One Chinese evangelist years ago coined the devotional phrase, “No Bible, no breakfast.” He explained that he instituted this personal rule after being convicted that he was too often willing to skip his daily Bible reading in order to catch a few more minutes of sleep. “I found an … effective means of ensuring my early reading. If I did not read at least one chapter to start the day, I did not eat my breakfast. ‘No Bible, No Breakfast’ became my motto.”

Though Jesus and his disciples did, and we should refrain from legalism on this issue (Matt. 6:17-18; 23:4) – avoiding the temptation to mandate fasting and praying forms and functions, many of us can use a set appointment with God to consume that which is most meaningful in our lives: the living, breathing and satisfying word of God.

  • With Prayer

Biblical, Christian fasting is always associated with prayer. You can pray without fasting of course, but you shouldn’t fast without praying. Fasting strengthens prayer. That’s why fasting is God’s idea. One theologian wrote: “Fasting is calculated to bring a note of urgency into our praying, and to give force to our pleading in the court of heaven.”

The biblical priority for you may not be “reading before feeding,” but the supremacy of God’s Word in the life of the Christian is. For some people like myself, this priority is best expressed in reading the Bible before eating breakfast. For others, though, this is a difficult or impossible task (e.g. schedule) and for them the very same rule may bring unnecessary doubt or unfair shame. What represents freedom for some will represent bondage to others.

So, heed the rule if you can do so in freedom and remember the first rule of godliness and spiritual growth as the puritan divines remind us, is to trust the ordinary means of grace such as praying, fasting, the intake of scripture and church fellowship. We must take full advantage of the disciplines God provides, and we must ensure we do not lose our confidence that God can and will work through such ordinary means. It is his desire and delight to do so.

Let’s delight in the words of Christ as our first and best meal, by taking advantage in certain seasons, to pray with fasting, and as we pray, looking for God’s reward or blessing (Matt. 6:18), with increased faith and fellowship with him.

The Devil’s View of an Eclipse

Associated Press/Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast Bernie Diaz, August 22, 2017

My family dared to watch yesterday’s solar eclipse of the sun amidst a fairly massive crowd, at a community park relying only on a reflector made of a colander or strainer and a white piece of cardboard. Result? Not much.

We saw only a shadow of the sun through the many holes of that colander. It was a very veiled and unimpressive view of the eclipse because we weren’t prepared with the proper eyewear – glasses or lenses to see it correctly. I tried a few libraries and stores and couldn’t find even one pair of these ‘special’ glasses last week.

Our saving grace for this event, was one person – one middle-aged woman who graciously gave us her lenses, enabling us to actually sit down and look at the eclipse as clearly as could be seen, absent standing in line for more than an hour to get a glimpse through an observatory telescope.

One person, sharing lenses to see something clearly. Isn’t that analogous to the Christian who is mandated to “make disciples,” often beginning with the sharing or communication of a biblical worldview, or lenses in which to see the world through God’s eyes to those that are spiritually blind?

That’s what this blog attempts to do on a weekly basis and what born-again believers need to do on a daily basis: find those biblical lenses, meaning to develop biblical discernment and a worldview and then share it with the lost among us.

We need good biblical eyewear right now- more than ever, as our age may be in a form of eclipse, where the light of truth becomes harder to see everyday, as the darkness of sin continues to block or obscure that light.

Somewhere, somehow we will find something to put over our eyes, or a method in which to see what it is in front of us. As someone, perhaps a Puritan of old once illustrated temptation, when you are being tempted, the devil sets on your nose a pair of false or ‘rose-colored’ glasses. These glasses make sin look small enough to make our falling in it seem trivial.

How does Satan fool us with lies so that we believe that committing sin will be so inconsequential? Here are four of the common ways the enemy of our souls eclipses, or distorts our spiritual vision with his lies during temptation.

The Devil focuses our attention on the immediate pleasure rather than the pain of sin. 

As someone said, a juicy worm floating in the water looks tasty to a fish, but when it bites and the hook is set the pain makes it thrash. In the same way, the lure of instant gratification of fleshly desires, found in things like; fornication (sexual sin), greed and power, or the pleasure of popularity or prestige (how many likes did I get this week on my social media posts?) may numb my attention just before I feel the ‘pain’ of what may follow.

The Devil makes us nearsighted when it comes to sin.

A key to the enemy’s success with sin in our morally relative society, has been to reduce much of what is referred to as ‘sin’, as merely being a personal and private preference. Satan’s sunglasses make many a person think that viewing pornography, indulging in same-sex and premarital sexual relationships, household idolatry, grudges, gossiping, masturbating, or wasting time are merely personal matters and do not carry public consequences.

What biblical lenses teach us is that each of these sins and others like them are not only seen by God, offending him, breaking his just and good laws for his people, but also result in the harm of others. As Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of England was reported to have said, “Private choices have public consequences.”

Just ask the now divorced guy who neglected intimacy with his wife and lost his family due to an addiction to watching porn (an illicit industry that enslaves and degrades women); the grudge-keeper who becomes a hater and the time-waster who could have been serving and loving others in need. Some sins may begin in private but its impact spreads in public. Didn’t King David’s lust for Bathsheba start just privately?

The Devil causes us to view sin as distant or non-existent. 

When tempting Eve, Satan responded to her reminder of God’s warning about eating from the tree with the contradiction, “You surely shall not die!” Like looking through the wrong end of a telescope, or unsafe glasses, as many did during the eclipse, the evil one makes you believe that sin and its consequences are far away and will not hurt you.

Yet, even if delayed for a time, consequences will come. People who stared at the sun during the eclipse- total or partial for too long a period of time yesterday, risked serious injury to their eyesight. Similarly, people who mock the sure reality of condemnation and Judgment Day, will realize they are were being foolish in ignoring the gospel call or biblical wisdom by choosing to remain in unrepentant sin for too long. Sin always leads to death one way or another (Ro. 6:16).

The Devil shrinks the majesty and holiness of God. 

Satan loves to eclipse or obscure the infinite, eternal, and holy God from being seen in our hearts and minds, by preventing us from “seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

When God is small in our thinking, it makes sin small in our sights as well. If someone were to ‘put lipstick on a pig’ we would know something was wrong. Or, if someone were to sneak in and put a mustache on the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris, the whole world would cry out in disgust. Why?

The greatness of the artist and the sacredness of his painting bring glory to him that demands respect and honor. Satan deceives most people into thinking you can put lipstick on a pig and make it look better or by ignoring a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

Our glorious God, who I prayerfully praised for his glory and handiwork in the heavens during the solar eclipse (Psa. 19:1) yesterday, is dishonored when his own artwork – image bearers like you and me (Eph. 2:10), disobey him and do not even recognize and acknowledge sin for what it really is. Spiritual blindness will come at a greater cost than can be imagined to those that fail to look at this world, and the glory of God in Christ.

May God’s people, do kingdom life and business God’s way and offer the Light of the world to those that cannot see.   

Charlottesville and the Coming Solar Eclipse- Strange Days Indeed

Image result for charlottesville va protest Bernie Diaz, August 15, 2017

Talk about Déjà vu. As I think about the tragedy of the “Unite the Right” rally that degenerated into violence last weekend between groups of white nationalist or ‘supremacist’ protestors and counter-protestors near the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, I’m tempted to ask myself, “Haven’t we been here before?”

That question isn’t necessarily harkening back to the American age of the civil rights movement and its struggle with segregationists a little more than a generation ago, as much as the thought of last weekend’s attack reminded me in some ways of troubled Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black Christian church members at a Bible study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina just two summers ago. (“Captive Thoughts on Charleston and the Latest “Fall”, June 23, 2015).

Similar to the Charleston incident, a lone, young, troubled man with reported Nazi sympathies and racially hateful attitudes, drove his car into a crowd of protestors in Charlottesville, killing one woman and injuring 19 others, in what has been classified by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a “domestic act of terrorism.”

Though some responsibility for this tragedy could be laid at the feet of local community officials, who have hurried to remove confederate flags, statues and symbols across southern and southwestern American cities virtually at once, antagonizing citizens with traditional and cultural ties to the south, as well as supremacist hate groups (e.g. KKK), ultimately such hateful and murderous acts are the result of darkened and sinful hearts.

A biblical worldview calls for Christians to see this event for what it is and call out it for what it is plain and simple: racist views and bigoted actions of extremist hate groups such as those which have been manifest throughout human history and yes, western civilization at its worst.

According to a news report, last “Friday night around 10pm in Charlottesville, the crowd was chanting: ‘One people, one nation, end immigration” & “blood and soil.’ The German and Nazi ‘Blood and Soil’ mantra was used over and over again throughout the weekend. This was a mantra focused on empowering the German ‘Volk’ of the early 20th century and was adopted by the Nazis as a way of saying that the land belonged only to the ethnic German people….in other words, when you hear ‘blood and soil,’ you’re hearing Nazi ideology.”

Indeed, Satanically inspired racism as found in the recent upsurge of Nazi sentiments, is alive and well – surprisingly for some – for now. In light of our world’s history with eugenics and other racially motivated movements of “superiority” (e.g. Planned Parenthood’s roots), it is somewhat surprising we find these strange days to be so strange.

However, in spite of this reality, someway, somehow Christ-loving and Christ-conforming followers must find a way to ‘love’, show and share Jesus to such sinful image-bearers as opportunities present themselves.

And, although it must go almost without saying that there can be no Biblical justification for racism and its support of corollary institutions such as slavery (the most historically significant blind spot of American society since its inception), born-again believers must remind themselves and others that God does not fear nor prohibit orderly immigration and assimilation, which is found to be at the root of many racially motivated views today.

After all, the kingdom of God in all its manifestations past, present and future are to mirror a race and community of one, joined together by a covenant relationship in Christ, his cross and his gospel (Acts 17:26; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:13-15), which is to be perfectly consummated in perfect worship in the future (Rev. 7:9-10; 15:3-4).

What to do with Confederate Symbols? 

Many Civil War buffs like myself, holding to traditional Unionist sympathies, struggle to reconcile scripture with the views of Confederate (‘rebel’) sympathizers who hold to the flags and symbols of a providentially fallen and defeated ideology, though there are many today, sensing the rise and fall of a common American culture and morality holding current secessionist longings of another sort.

Should America then follow Germany’s post WWII example of banning all vestiges and symbolism of its heinous Nazi past as is the case there?  Berlin well-intended in particular, has swept aside virtually any semblance of Hitler’s Third Reich to the extent that its citizens may be arrested for just posing in the infamous Nazi salute (‘heil Hitler’).

Could such a movement to quash every historic symbol of American history lead to an all-out culture war with ramifications for people of faith who wear religious symbols (e.g. crosses)?

Wisdom for Anti-racists

Fortunately and somewhat ironically, our constitution protects what a majority of citizens may call hateful speech, as being free speech, knowing that the speech of what may be a majority view today, may be re-classified as a hateful and minority speech tomorrow. Sound familiar Christian?

Those that support ‘Black lives’ and ‘All lives matter’ (Christians included), should practice the mantra they preach of true tolerance, meaning that while they may peacefully protest hate groups and their speech, they must permit their opponents peaceful existence at the market place of ideas, which may include forms of confederate symbolism.

After all, protecting hate speech one day, protects the speech of all for another day, no matter how hateful it may be. This is why disciples of Jesus Christ understand that Christianity is not a coercive faith (limited parts of Christendom’s history notwithstanding) and that religious liberty should be granted to all religions, so that Christian liberty may be preserved.

Wisdom for Supremacist Sympathizers

The ‘Alt-Right’ (Alternative Right), white only, racist movements, or mere sympathizers of the historic and traditional ‘south’ (Christians included), must come to grips with the fact that confederate symbols such as the rebel flag and statues of rebel military leaders and legends, confer endorsements in images of racist slavery, torture, rape, hatred and oppression to most, if not virtually every African-American living in the United States.

Image result for confederate flag A confederate flag or statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest (a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and early member of the Ku Klux Klan) would be as objectionable to a black American as a swastika (icon of Hitler’s Germany) would be to a Jew in this nation, or a statue commemorating Fidel Castro in Little Havana would be to a Cuban-American like myself.

Although such symbolic speech may be constitutionally protected, why would anyone feel the need to pay homage to a symbol which deeply offends so many, or how would it be in a community’s best interests to symbolize such speech at tax payer’s expense?

The analogy is clear. Americans of good faith- particularly the Christian faith, should think about refraining from supporting symbols that extol vanquished enemies of this nation and almost universally accepted forms of immoral or hateful and racist ideologies (e.g. Jim Crow laws and segregation).

As Christian ethicist (Southern Baptist Convention) and fellow Southerner Russell Moore wrote in the aftermath of the Charleston murders in 2015, “White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them. The gospel frees us from scrapping for our ‘heritage’ at the expense of others.”

Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Ro. 14:19).

Image result for solar eclipse Monday’s Solar Eclipse- Apocalypse Now?

Let me make it clear that me and my family are planning to find a good, safe spot in which to view this coming Monday’s (August 21) solar eclipse of the sun (by the moon), that may be seen clearly from as far as South Carolina to Oregon.

According to NASA, the last total solar eclipse taking place over the contiguous United States occurred in February of 1979 and another like it is not expected to occur until…. April of 2024, unless, the great tribulation judgment of the world as prophesied in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation (6:12) comes first?

Was that last sentence a bit of “Left Behind” hyperbole? Not according to Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of world-renowned evangelist, Dr. Billy Graham. She thinks that it might be a warning. In a blog on her website titled, Is God’s Judgment Coming on America? Lotz recently was quoted in The Christian Post as having said, “People are preparing to mark this significant event with viewing parties at exclusive prime sites. The celebratory nature regarding the eclipse brings to my mind the Babylonian King Belshazzar who threw a drunken feast the night the Medes and Persians crept under the city gate.

While Belshazzar and his friends partied, they were oblivious to the impending danger.  Belshazzar wound up dead the next day, and the Babylonian empire was destroyed.” Lotz added, “While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something.”

God has been sending us many signals that we have been ignoring for quite some now and being that we, like the Lord Jesus Christ in his first coming, knew neither the time nor hour of his second coming and judgment, I for one, refuse to be frozen in terror or paranoia over what God may or may not do next week or the week after, understanding the judgments of God are ‘sure and righteous’ and must occur whether or not I’ll be physically present on earth for them or not.

What I will choose to do this Monday is worship and praise God for his wondrous creation and the lunar event: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psa. 19:1).

Lessons from the Summer of Searching for Spiritual Gifts

Related image Bernie Diaz, August 9, 2017

At last our summer mission to go where no church has gone before has been accomplished!

Our community of faith, a Southern Baptist church plant in South Florida,  embarked on an eight week mission preaching a verse by verse exposition of chapters 12-14 of the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in the hopes of finding at long last, conclusive answers to the controversial questions surrounding the issue of the charismatic spiritual gifts of the faith.

Essentially, the debate boils down to the question of whether or not the signs and wonders gifts and miracles of the early church age continue today in the ministry and church of Jesus Christ, as Pentecostal and charismatic leaders would have us believe? Or, have those gifts ceased, as many a biblical scholar, theologian and pastor have argued for centuries, including some of the more vociferous and reliable voices in evangelicalism today and over the past generation or so? Strange Fire anyone?

This doctrine has baffled some of the best of Christendom’s biblical minds and has unfortunately caused way too much dissension and division in the process, and in the name of Christ, largely due to the mischaracterizations, emotional excesses and abuse of these gifts found in the pages of New Testament scripture, over the last century.

So, was is it utter brashness or sheer folly that led our leadership team to embark on this journey understanding the risks to church unity that are inherent in taking on this doctrine?

Actually- no. Although for some pastors and preachers this topic and passage of scripture is ‘untouchable’ due to the difficulty in its interpretation and the controversy it can foster, we were not only too curious to let it go, but figured that if we truly stood on the reformer’s doctrine of sola scriptura- (2 Tim. 3:16), the notion that the inerrant and inspired word of God is wholly sufficient, authoritative and therefore necessary, this critical section of scripture should, could and would bring clarity to this issue, making it incumbent upon the Christian to pray for God’s Spirit-illuminating grace in the reading, study and understanding of it.

Whereas I would love to inform the readers of this post that we unequivocally answered all the questions surrounding this controversy and settled the debate conclusively once and for all, bringing all cessationists and continuationists around the world, together, to hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ we did learn some valuable lessons as the result of our series, The Power and Gifts of the Holy Spirit, that may be edifying and helpful to share (http://www.christcomchurch.org) with you.

The Challenge and ‘A Hill to Die On’

Our church’s elders and pastors warned our congregation from the beginning of this series with much fear and trembling, that “defining terms” would be the key to understanding this issue.

When we spoke about the gift of tongues, what kind of tongue or language were we talking about? The human and foreign language that was exhibited by the newborn church at Pentecost and/or, a largely unintelligible and non-human language in the function of worshipful, private prayer and praise?

Furthermore, aside from the landmine of healings, we dealt with the gift of prophecy.  What kind of prophecy did we mean since one Greek word commonly translated as “prophecy” can be used to described a predictive or foretelling sense of prophecy, or a proclaiming or forthtelling sense of preaching and speaking forth biblical and gospel truth into a person’s life?

At the conclusion of several weeks of prayerful study, that was and remains  easier said than done, due to the challenge of interpreting scriptural texts for us today, in comparison to what it meant for its original listeners and readers then, 2,000 ago.

Charismatic Gifts Are Not “A Hill to Die On”

The doctrine of the Spirit and the gifts he imparts to the church, including those of a more miraculous, supernatural nature are NOT- I repeat not, a hill to die on. A “hill to die on” is a military term referring to the upmost sacrifice of soldiers and resources that an armed force may make in taking a strategic position (hill) in battle.

It is one of my favorite ways of referring to the separation or distinction between doctrines and the emphasis they deserve as being essential to our faith and practice as Christians.

What might be a hill to die on for a Christian? Depending on your theology, there may be a few or several. Many consider essential doctrines to be those that are fundamental to the doctrine of God and the gospel itself, meaning salvation. For instance:

  • The existence and nature of God.
  • The nature of man and sin.
  • The deity or divinity of Jesus Christ.
  • The sin-forgiving or atoning cross work of Jesus, to satisfy God’s justice and the display of his saving grace by faith alone.
  • The existence and ministry of the Trinity or Godhead.
  • The second coming of Jesus Christ.

Depending on who you talk to, there may be more or fewer than these six key doctrines, which makes Bible and theology discussions among Christians so interesting, thought-provoking and yes, contentious. A huge factor in all this is knowing which doctrines are truly essential or hills worth dying on and which or not.

Christian worldview commentator, theologian and seminary president Albert Mohler, expertly defines these categories when speaking of doing doctrinal ‘triage’, and knowing which doctrines should be regarded as  primary, secondary or tertiary.

Like the close parallel of eschatology (study of end times), disciples of Christ should hesitate to break fellowship with others over the timing of Christ’s return or, over the precise form, function and existence of certain spiritual gifts, while still holding to their own personal convictions of conscience.

So, what did we come away with after two months of digging into 1 Corinthians and the teaching of Paul on the grace gifts of the Spirit?

Lessons on the Gifts

Our church began the series as “open but cautious” continuationists and ended, by moving to a more “desirous but discerning” position on the gifts. Desirous in what sense? In the sense of wanting to experience more of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our worship and day to day lives with God in Christ. Discerning in the sense of following Paul’s caution for Christians to participate in congregational worship that is orderly and in control to the good of the local church body and to the glory of God (1 Cor. 14:40). Why? We found at least four reasons:

  1. We see the gifts of the Spirit clearly listed (1 Cor. 12:7-11, 28-31; 14:26).
  2. We see descriptions of them in operation in the church (Acts 2:1-11,16-21; 10:44-46; 11:15, 19:4-7; 1 Cor. 14).
  3. We see no compelling textual reason for their removal (1 Cor. 12:1, 8-11, 27-31; 13:8-12; 14).
  4. We pursue them because we believe we’re encouraged by Scripture to do so (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1, 26, 31, 39).

Therefore, our church leadership affirmed to the congregation our beliefs that:

  • The gifts of healing continues today and throughout the church age until the “perfect” (face to face fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ) comes (1 Cor. 13:9-12; 1 Jo. 3:2) and is most commonly manifested by God through the prayers of faith from fellow Christians and may accompany the laying on of hands in that prayer and by the anointing of oil by the elders (leadership) of the church (1 Cor. 12:9; Ja. 5:13-16).
  • That the gift of prophecy continues today and throughout the church age until the “perfect” comes in both the foretelling (predictive) and primarily, in the forthtelling (proclaiming) sense.

As to the foretelling, we qualified that statement in that it cannot add to the canon of scripture as new revelation and is at a lower and fallible level in contrast to the authority of scripture as manifested in the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and therefore must be “tested” or “weighed” or discerned as to its truthfulness (1 Cor. 12:10; 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:19-21; 1 Jo. 4:1-6).

We also cautioned our people to be very sensitive and careful when sharing this gift, by qualifying statements that would not equate their individual prophecies with the credibility and authority of infallible and inerrant scripture (e.g. “Thus says the Lord”), and to emphasize that prophecy of this form should be encouraging and edifying to the hearer, meeting the overall standard of gifts manifestation of love, unity and edification, as per 1 Cor. 12-14.

  • We also affirmed the belief that the gift of tongues continues today and throughout the church age until the “perfect” comes, as clearly evidenced by the speaking and hearing of foreign or ethnic and discernible human languages (Acts 2, 10-11).

We added the important caveat however, of respecting the view that a tongue or language of prayer, praise and/or worship that may be non-human or discernible to the speaker and hearer without interpretation, may exist and continue, according to those that profess having it.

We took that qualified position for the simple reason that we could not close a door completely upon that which we felt the Bible had not already and clearly closed. But, being that we did not find this private and/or public tongue to be explicitly taught in scripture, we chose to withhold our endorsement or recommendation of its public manifestation in the gathering of the local church, in deference to the biblical admonition for order in worship.

By God’s grace, we found that as we concluded this series, our church- chock full of cessationists and some continuationists, could lovingly continue in close fellowship and worship as God intends for his people, by following Paul’s theme for the 1 Cor. passage on this issue, being that our God is a God of order, who ordains that the local church body emphasize edification (or the building up of one another) by way of orderly, understandable, Christ and Word-centered worship, and by way of humble submission, rather than just personal experience.

Our final lesson learned was that by approaching, teaching and preaching this section of scripture and this issue with great care and grace, we could marry our love and respect of the word, with our desire to know and experience more of the Holy Spirit.

Or to paraphrase continuationist pastor and author Sam Storms, a competition did not have to occur between the people of the word and those that prize knowledge, versus the people of the spirit and those  that prize experience, or those who emphasize the seen versus the unseen or those that believe God has already spoken versus those that believe  God can still speak, or that the worship of God is about exalting versus experience. We learned this past Sunday, that it is both beautiful and biblical to not only sing about God, but to sing to God as well.

We learned that this doctrine is not about falling for the either/or fallacy, but that knowing and experiencing God is the ultimate both/and reality.