No Resurrection- No Hope

Bernie Diaz, April 17, 2019

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19, ESV)

If you found a genie in a bottle today, what would you wish for (three wishes)? Pretend God was a genie if you must (too many already do). Now, what would you hope for? Do you see the difference between a hope and a wish?

A wish is something you want or desire. Hope which is a commonly used expression, is a little different. Almost everybody at one time or another says, “I hope for this or for that; I hope I go to heaven when I die.” It’s a feeling that what you want can be had, or that a certain event will turn out for the best. There’s a feeling of a certain expectation involved. This thing that I want can actually happen.

Now think about how hard life would be- how depressing it can be more than it already is for some people, if you didn’t have hope- the expectation, or a certainty that life will be better in the future; that there will be “a better place.” I think of the families of the victims of the Stoneman Douglas  school shooting here in South Florida, who lost their kids in the prime of their life. How do that process that and go on living without hope?

Hope for some of the victims’ families might include some sense of justice in the here and now, or perhaps later in having influenced some security based legislation. For other people, their hope and a sense of real peace and joy may be found only in a relationship, such as marriage and a family. Deep down, people want meaning in life. They want to know their lives matter and they ‘hope’ for that.    

Shortly before his death, famed American author Mark Twain said, “A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;…they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence, a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”

Although Twain’s hope was more than a bit morbid, if not a little desperate, it fits the secular mantra of the old beer commercial adage of “grabbing all the gusto” while you can. You live for however many decades make up the average life-expectancy on earth – and then you take the big dirt nap. No meaning, no hope there. All death is for someone who thinks like that, is a means of nihilism and then escape.

That means this life is all there is. Is that a source of hope? A real Christian doesn’t think that way about this life and the one to come as evidenced by the text of scripture from the gospel passage the apostle Paul cited here, from his first letter to the Corinthians.

No credible historian or scholar doubts the life and death of Jesus. But the turning point of human history- the dividing line is over whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead which according to Paul (1 Corinthians 15:12-20), dictates whether or not you will rise from the dead.

If you want to know what Paul is suggesting in this passage, it’s that if Jesus did not resurrect, Christianity is untrue – it cannot be trusted, its a false religion and is a waste of your time and attention, as well as my preaching ministry, so you might as well throw out your Bible. This is why Christianity hinges – the faith stands or falls on this event observed on Easter Sunday.

Noted Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell (More Than a Carpenter) wrote, After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings–or it is the most remarkable fact of history.

Although evangelical Christians like me think the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming, the more important question is, “Why does it matter? It matters because if it’s true, it’s the source of our hope. It gives meaning to life. It means disciples of Jesus have a future.

It’s what strengthens us – our faith, when times are tough living in a world of death, disease, mass-murderers, evil, poverty, pain and suffering.

The key is that if there’s no resurrection- there’s no redemption. As vv.15-16 of 1 Corinthians 15 tells us, my faith is “futile” or worthless, if my past, present and future sins have not been forgiven permanently and conquered for good by a savior that rose from the dead to prove it.

No resurrection? Then we have nothing to look forward to, no hope- maybe ‘Nirvava’ someday if you’ve lived a series of wonderfully reincarnated lives ahead of you as a Buddhist, or some sort of heaven if you’re a Muslim who has worked hard enough, been good enough, maybe killed enough, if you’re been hard-core enough following the Hadiths.

Or, you could wind up food for maggots as the Darwinian evolutionist might think. Or, as verse 18 of this chapter implies, if there’s a God whose a just judge, and someone hasn’t come in your place as a substitute to pay the price of your sins for you, you will suffer and pay that price, in what the Bible calls the “wages of sin, which is….. death”, meaning hell as the separation from God eternally.   

Fortunately, that’s all contradicted by the fact that the tomb is still empty, Jesus Christ is a risen and coming again lord and savior who  conquered sin and death. If you trust in that fact by faith, God counts to you, the righteousness of Jesus (Romans 4:24b-25; 10:9).

This truth is what undergirds the resurrection, hope and future for Christians, a hope that is waiting for the completion of something good that we can expect- in this context, the completion of our salvation with joy and full confidence that it’s coming sooner than we may think (1 Peter 1:3).

As that old wonderful song says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” May that be true for you.

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The Four Roads to God- the Way to Salvation

Bernie Diaz, April 9, 2019

As our church is focusing on Resurrection or Easter Sunday and identifying and focusing in on “our one” person (minimum) to invite to the Super Bowl of all Sundays coming soon, I was reminded of that one thing to do which instills so much fear into the heart of too many believers- talking God to CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) “Christians”.

As our church continues to move through the book of Romans (The Gospel of God), we’re in the section of scripture where the message of justification by faith moves from God’s divine sovereignty (Romans 8-9) to mankind’s responsibility to not only believe, but for Christians to prayerfully preach and present the gospel to the lost and unredeemed in our lives (Romans 10:5-21).

The challenge for disciples of Christ is what to say and how, as they share their testimony and God’s plan of salvation when they are confronted with, or in the midst of, unbelieving skeptics and critics of the faith.

All Roads Lead to God?

The disciple-making responsibility of the Christian, which begins with evangelism, is made more difficult by the rising trend of unbelief and agnosticism among us. According to recent research, more than half of Americans still say they believe in God without any doubts, but they are a shrinking majority.

In the past 15 years, the percentage who say they know God exists and have no doubts dropped from 65% to 53%, according to a national survey. Couple that with the growth of the religious unaffiliated and one may think Americans are increasingly rejecting God completely. In 1991, 6% of Americans claimed “no religion.” Today, almost a quarter of Americans (23%) say they don’t belong to any religion.

The rise of agnosticism (literally, ignorance of God’s existence) is affirmed by the fact that Americans aren’t embracing atheism (denial of God’s existence) as much as they are rejecting certainty about God. Today, 5% of Americans say they don’t believe in God at all—slightly up from 3% in 1993.

What Americans would prefer, is their own road or way to God or heaven or whatever place of paradise for eternity they have custom-made in their minds. The modern mantra of the unredeemed may be, “All roads lead to God, if there is a God at all.”

I would dare argue that most people today would love to be able to have access to God- if it were most any way they wanted.  After all, why can’t there be more than one way to God? They ask, “Is it fair that Christians say there’s only way (John 14:6)?” 

The question matters. The issue of how we know God or a heaven is real, is a critical one because it’s at the heart of what gives your life and mine meaning. It’s why we examine life, as someone said “A life unexamined, is a life not worth living.”

Might I dare to suggest that there is perhaps more than one way or road to God after all? In fact, the principles found in the Bible seem to suggest there may be as many as four roads to God. Are they four different roads or are they four paths to the same road?

In order to help Christians make other Christians by virtue of evangelism and the gospel, we’ll travel here on each of these roads or paths and see where they lead us..

The 4 Roads to God

Road # 1 Creation: For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks (Romans 1:20-21, ESV).

Our world-view or philosophy of life, the way we choose to live, is generally predicated upon what kind of creature we think we are. It’s been said that we live as we think.

For example, If one thinks he’s just a higher form of an animal, and this world is all there is before we die, then you’ll live in a way consistent with that view.

However, if you believe that you were made in the image of a creator God who you are then accountable to for your life and one that may come, you’ll be prone to live that way.

So, essentially, mankind has two choices. Either we evolved out of slime accidentally, by random chance, or we have been intelligently designed or made with a heavenly pattern and purpose. The implications of this choice are profound as you try to find the road to God, or a road to God or just peace and love.

That was the case for Rosalin Picard, an MIT professor who in a biographical article of her life journey said, “In high school, I led a classroom debate team arguing for a godless form of evolution, confident my side would win because “this was science.” When the class voted and awarded victory to the creation side, I was dumbstruck. Most people didn’t understand science, I figured.”

This intellectual after several invitations from a godly couple, began to attend church worship services, heard gospel preaching for the first time in her life and after reading through the Bible, also began to truly think, as she added, “While I never heard actual voices or anything to justify summoning a neurologist, I felt this strange sense of being spoken to. It was disturbing yet oddly attractive. I began wondering whether there really might be a God.”

Road # 2 Conscience:  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them (Romans 1:18-19).

The Bible in Romans 1 tells us that we “suppress” or push away the “truth” that God has “written in our hearts” (Romans 2:14-15) about ourselves and our nature without a right relationship with Him. So, our understanding of creation actually works through conscience to point us towards God.

As H.L Mencken said, “Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking.”   

God’s word says our conscience can excuse or accuse us, or, it can indict or convict us.  Just what would it convict you of?

It should convict you of your sin and rebellion towards God and the price we must pay for that rebellion and sin (Romans 6:23).

That inner voice did its work on Picard, who noted, “There were two passages I found especially troubling: Matthew 10:33 (“But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”) and Matthew 12:30. I resented what felt like an unwelcome ultimatum. I didn’t want to believe in God, but I still felt a peculiar sense of love and presence I couldn’t ignore.”

Road # 3 Communication: The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple (Psalms 19:7).

God could have chosen many ways to reveal himself and did so most generally to the entire world, through the roads of creation and conscience. It is through scripture (holy writing) however, in which He has primarily communicated to people through His written word.

It is through the words of this book that God gives new life which is why that same word states that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”, according to Romans 10:17.

So, in this sense, the Bible tells us that the book itself, is necessary for life transformation- for redemption, and is a road to God and salvation from the penalty of sin.

But, can the lost trust the Bible? Well, no other book is like it- it is: reliable, prophetic, unified, durable, sufficient and authoritative. As importantly, it’s real. It explains us and our world in a way that corresponds to reality. It best answers at least four great questions that man-kind has been wrestling with for centuries:

  • How did we get here (Creation)?
  • Why are we here (Meaning)?
  • Why are we the way we are (Morals)?
  • Where are we going from here (Destiny)?

Road # 4 Christ: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Why must Jesus Christ be the final road and ultimate path to God? First, because the communication of God points to the Son of God. Second, because we need forgiveness for our sins that offend a holy God, and it is only He who provided that road to forgiveness for us with the death of His own Son.

Salvation is defined in the original Greek language of the New Testament as being a rescue or deliverance from something. That something is the consequence of sin, which separates us from God eternally and condemns us to judgment in hell (Hebrews 9:27).

The reason why Jesus is the only way of this deliverance or salvation (Acts 4:12) is because Jesus is God (John 10:30) and only God can forgive sin. Therefore, how did the Son of God accomplish this redemption? By being God incarnate, he made the only substitutionary sacrifice necessary and possible for sinners on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Having taken the unbelieving skeptic through at least one or more of these roads leading to God, the Christian would then be ready to confront the person they are witnessing to wit the fourth road, “What will you do with Jesus?”  When considering a similar question, C.S. Lewis, the popular British author and philosopher argued that essentially Christ was either the Lord, a liar or a lunatic. He said :

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. 

Lewis is right and people must make a choice. The greatest news in the history of the world (the gospel) is that Jesus Christ- God in the flesh, died for sinners and conquered sin and death by His resurrection, as believers in Him will also. 

So, what should we tell people to do? Virtually everyone wants a road to justice, love and forgiveness. Tell people – “your one,” to confess they’re a sinner before God, to repent, or turn from their life of sin and self and submit and surrender to Jesus Christ alone, trusting and believing in Him as the only one that can save them from judgment and then they will have found that one and only road to eternal peace, justice, love and forgiveness.

Put people on the road to redemption this Easter as Rosalin Piccard found it, when she concluded, “I once thought I was too smart to believe in God. Now I know I was an arrogant fool who snubbed the greatest Mind in the cosmos—the Author of all science, mathematics, art, and everything else there is to know.

Today I walk humbly, having received the most undeserved grace. I walk with joy, alongside the most amazing Companion anyone could ask for, filled with desire to keep learning and exploring.“

UnPlanned – The Movie and the Necessary Response

Bernie Diaz, April 3, 2019

The movie Hollywood and the liberal left didn’t want you see, is being seen and is doing fine, thank you.

Despite a profound and perhaps conspiratorial cloud of ignorance if not censorship brought from mainstream media and advertisers, the pro-life film “Unplanned” earned double the box office sales expected for its opening weekend, even while dealing with a blackout on social media as well –  most predominantly by Twitter, which briefly suspended the film’s account, reportedly because of it being linked to a different account that had “violated the website’s rules.”

How convenient and coincidental? Twitter restored the film’s account soon after a big outcry from users, which led Chuck Konzelman, co-director and co-writer of the movie, to say that the suspension was “a sad state of affairs.”

Based on the life of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned anti-abortion activist, the movie raked in over $6.1 million over the weekend, already meeting and about to exceed its production budget.

This debut made Unplanned the third biggest opening weekend film released by Pure Flix, the production company behind “God’s Not Dead” and its sequel “God’s Not Dead 2”.

What is even more remarkable about the success of this pro-life film was its   “R” rating (Restricted to unaccompanied viewers 17 and older) and its exclusion from ads on most of the major cable television networks.

Why the Hubub?

There is one reason for the uproar and controversy over the release of Unplanned, which was screened in 1,000 theaters on Friday, March 29th.

Unplanned is maybe the definitive movie on abortion ever produced, in exposing its insidiously evil, blood-lusting industry, thereby sparking more pre-release controversy than any film in recent memory.

The explanation for that is not that complicated and the reason for all the drama is not necessarily because of the R rating.

The R rating Unplanned received is ironic, in the sense that it does not contain the usual R rated themes of sex, nudity, or foul language. What it does according to a pro-life advocate quoted in Newsweek magazine, “It pulls back the veil surrounding abortion, and reveals it for the truly gory and violent act that it is.” She added, “Even the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) recognizes abortion as truly horrific. The irony is that a teenager as young as 13 can get an abortion without her parents’ consent, but cannot see a movie about abortion unless she is over 17.” 

Could the controversy be because the film exposes Planned Parenthood for the abortion factory and big business that it is? Or is it because we currently have federal and state elected officials and presidential candidates from what I would label “the party of death,” almost casually supporting infanticide (the timing for this movie couldn’t be better)?

The uproar more likely is about the person who inspired the movie but will never be able to see it: the 13-week-old baby boy who was aborted right before the eyes of Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson on September 26, 2009. He changed her forever. Johnson’s testimony reveals that he is the reason this movie exists. And by portraying his short life in the womb, this film validates the reality that this baby indeed was a person who had a life and a right to live it, until it was extinguished by a Planned Parenthood “doctor.”

The scene is short but powerful. According to a news report, the filmmakers of Unplanned, took actual ultrasound footage of a 13-week-old baby boy, like the one Abby witnessed. Then, using CGI technology, they created the abortion that took his life. It is as powerful as it is disturbing–and something the viewer needs to see if they can stand it and will never forget.

Obviously, Planned Parenthood officials and other pro-abortion supporters would rather you pass on this film, which accurately depicts the inherent personhood of all unborn children facing abortion, who are hardly ever known or seen and who have no voice in which to defend themselves.

Yet that baby’s death has led to far-reaching implications for the abortion industry, including by God’s grace, the transformed heart of a former abortion facility director. Abby Johnson has thus far helped at least 500 abortion workers leave the business, to say nothing of the amount of  babies she has helped saved from abortion as a result of her ministry and pro-life stance.

In addition, 40 Days for Life has helped nearly 200 more abortion workers leave their job; Abby Johnson was the 26th. She managed the Planned Parenthood where 40 Days for Life began; a support ministry which has offered free pregnancy tests and alternatives to abortion. This peaceful prayer-based campaign has now gone to 816 cities in 56 countries.

Her story and this movement may be fueling a revival among evangelical and Biblical Christians to engage in what is arguably the most important social justice issue of our times, and among the youth of this generation as it touches on the related themes of discrimination (i.e. against the unborn), the sanctity of life, the true dignity of women and motherhood, morality and sexuality.

The pro-life issue is the primary one that our church in South Florida is concentrating on, as we’re about to launch a new Sidewalk Counseling and Prayer Ministry, now further emboldened by the historic and courageous portrayal of the ministry which impacted Abby Johnson’s life and happened to close down a Planned Parenthood facility in Texas.  

There are many good reasons to see Unplanned whenever and however you can. Films like this need to be supported for the dramatic sunlight they shine on the darkness of abortion. They make a difference.

If this movie angers Planned Parenthood to the point of vitriol or silence, it must be doing something right and must be cause for those that love the unborn as ‘neighbors like themselves’ to be encouraged, as God may be moving providentially within the pro-life movement. In the first three months of 2019 we’ve seen:

– 250 bills restricting abortion have been filed in state legislatures.

– 41 states have seen some abortion-restricting bill proposed.

– Seven states have proposed total bans on abortion.

– Six states are down to one abortion provider.

While many if not most pro-life bills fail to become law, this is the path the great Christian reformer William Wilberforce took to end slavery in Great Britain. He proposed unsuccessful bills again and again until finally one of them passed. We can hope and pray that God will bless those kind of efforts to change hearts and provide these little ones the protection they need.

But the primary reason you should see this–and why Planned Parenthood does not want you to see it–is because of that 13-week-old baby boy. He had no voice and now he has a movie.

Why so Many Christians are So Pro-Life

If you’re asked by pro-abortion sympathizers why you as a God-glorifying and Christ-exalting, people- loving Christian emphasize the pro-life movement so much- why so many of us care so much, simply tell them what God tells us:

  • God is the sovereign creator and sustainer of life from womb to tomb (Psa. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:5; Lu.1:39-44).
  • Abortion is murder and murder is sin (Exo. 20:13). Regardless of whether or not abortion is legal in this country, and the pain and fear mothers are undergoing in crisis pregnancies notwithstanding, abortion is still premediated murder, in the taking of the life of an innocent human being.  
  • Christians are to speak truth, mercy and justice in the defense  of those that cannot defend themselves (Psa. 82:3-4; Pro. 31:8; Eph. 5:11).  

Deliver those who are drawn toward death and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. (Pro. 24:11; ESV).

Let us honor the lives of the unborn and pay homage to those infants who have gone through the same barbaric death as the one that touched Abby Johnson’s life, a death that although Hollywood rated R, should not be forgotten.  Make plans to see Unplanned, prayerfully spread the word and join the tens of thousands now commemorating the lives of the preborn with this movie and engaging in this life-saving movement.

What to Do About Not So Social Media

Bernie Diaz, March 26, 2019

Social Media (e.g. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook) may very well be the greatest technological and cultural phenomenon America has ever developed in terms of its massive use and influence, and yet ironically though unsurprisingly in my view, is struggling to keep the promises it made within the last decade or so, to connect and engage people electronically in community.

A new study finds that young people in particular, are reporting loneliness in increasing numbers and at a rate outpacing that of their elderly counterparts according to news reports of the study’s findings.

Teens whose face time with friends is mostly on their phones are the loneliest of all, but even those who mix real-world socializing with social media still are increasingly isolated, according to one report.

The loneliness report isn’t just an age thing; it’s generational, said the author of the study, which showed that the percent of high school seniors who said they often felt lonely increased from 26 percent to 39 percent over the past five years, as per data collected from national surveys of 8.2 million U.S. adolescents between 1976 and 2017.

The study comes as the topic of loneliness gains considerable interest in the health care field because of its link to mental and physical health, as well as life expectancy and its links to suicide.

Our own South Florida community has just been shocked by the news this past week that two survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting just took their own lives perhaps suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which may have translated into guilt for having survived the mass shooting in Coral Springs just over a year ago.

Did social media play a role there? Although we may never know what drove those young adults to suicide, the possible absence of meaningful, face to face counsel and comfort assuredly didn’t help.

In fact, the parents of one of the suicide victims, said she struggled with “survivor’s guilt.” Shortly after her graduation, she shared a post about suicide prevention on her Facebook page with a hashtag, “asking for help is not a weakness.”

Not to wax overly nostalgic, when I wanted to socialize with my peers as a teen and young man nearly a generation ago, I had the advantage of having to call a friend, to actually use the phone for what it was literally and originally designed for, to hear a voice -emotions and all (sans emojis) or visit with them personally or in groups to play and socialize; what have you.    

No one then was looking to share or bear burdens and opinions of any length over a pay phone. One New York teenager was “alone in her suffering” when she died by suicide three years ago. Her father said there was no “one cause” that led his daughter to take her life though he believes social media played a role. 

“With social media, there’s an appearance of having all this closeness, but we have a lot of time alone,” he said.

Although Christian disciples are called to spend time alone with God in mediating over his word and prayer, a discipline commonly known as ‘daily devotions’, they are to understand that they are social, image-bearing beings specially created by God for relationship and fellowship, mirroring in a small and human way, the loving relationship of the triune Godhead.

In other words, man was made to relate with other people one on one and in community- primarily, which makes local church fellowship such a vital and necessary part of the human experience as well as maturity in the Christian faith (Heb. 10:24-25).

It is safe to say that online or internet church is not God’s ideal for making, maturing or multiplying disciples, as the apostle Paul conveyed in his New Testament letters to his disciples and churches…..

The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9, ESV)      

Social media can never and should not be used as a tool or vehicle to replace interpersonal relationship in the flesh.

Seemingly, boredom, fear and isolation are not ameliorated but rather exacerbated by social media and excessive electronic consumption (i.e. video games, television). Another researcher says teens’ increasing isolation is not caused by more time spent on work or homework – because the research shows they now spend less time on paid work and about the same amount of time or less on homework and extracurricular activities as they did in the 1980s and 1990s.

A just released annual global well-being survey, Well and Beyond, reports that U.S. millennials – members of Generation Y who are 25 to 34 yrs.-old,  appear to favor their smartphone and gaming more than socializing with friends. Spending more time on digital devices and gaming leads people to isolate more by avoiding in-person interaction, the researchers found.

Relationship or Consequences

Technology has made it possible to create new ways for us to sin or do damage to our souls.

For instance, we now have the seemingly innocuous auto-playing video. The feature has long been a common pop-up annoyance on social media. But more recently it’s become weaponized and used to inflict trauma. Many people learned this the hard way after the terrorist attack which claimed at least 50 lives in New Zealand, when the gunman “live-streamed” the killings to his Facebook account.

According to Facebook, the video of the attack was first reported to moderators 29 minutes after the stream began, and 12 minutes after the live feed ended. Initially, fewer than 200 people watched the footage during the live broadcast, and it was viewed ‘only’ about 4,000 times in total before being taken down. But a spokesperson for that platform said that within 24 hours of the attack the company had removed 300,000 copies of the video and blocked 1.2 million copies from being uploaded.

What kind of damage or influence to an already troubled soul can a video of such carnage- replayed repeatedly, do? Interestingly and tragically enough, watching such images—whether by choice or by accident—may be exposing people to images that could be causing in some, media-based secondary PTSD trauma.

“When you watch a violent video of mass shootings and other violence, you increase your chances of developing vicarious traumatization,” a psychologist said.

Christian Response to Social Media

Volumes are being published on the social media phenomenon analyzed from a Christian worldview. Here are a few of my pastoral suggestions that may help guard believers from overindulging on social media and electronic gadgetry beginning with some negatives:

– For those of us who are tempted to turn to various sorts of sin by excessive smart-phone and social media use, turn it off!

– For those of us unwilling or sadly, unable to make the above commitment –  adjust the settings on those platforms to avoid auto-playing videos and sensitive material from being injected into your feed. Furthermore, silence or altogether turn-off your platform notifications. Try it for a few hours. Your heart and spiritual life may be glad you did!

– For those of us (myself included) who are prone to be news and political ‘junkies’ in today’s never-ending news cycle, reduce your exposure to media-based trauma by scheduling those times (like email use- remember email?) of use on a daily basis.

On the positive side, I have found Facebook (yes, my middle-age is readily apparent) to be an effective means of not only reuniting but reconnecting with old and long-distance friends, and by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and the gospel of God to friends via scripture references, meaningful dialog and yes, to an extent, peaceful and engaging debate over kingdom and gospel issues with those who are meek, mild and willing.

I’ve even gone as far as to go where I never thought I as a local church pastor could go, which is hosting a live, monthly Facebook chat on our church’s page, for the curious, unredeemed and unchurched among us looking for something meaningful and something more.

My goal with social media I suppose, like everything else in life is, ‘whether I eat or drink, or whatever I do, including social media, do all to the glory of God.’

To join in and engage with my monthly Facebook Live chat, W.O.W. (Wisdom on Wednesdays) , go to our church’s Facebook Page, Christ Community Church of Pembroke Pines. Our next chat will be Wednesday, May 27 @ 8 PM , featuring the topic, “Why Are So Many Pro-Life Christians, So Pro-Life?”

A Terrorist’s Source of Authority

Bernie Diaz, March 19, 2019

According to news reports, New Zealand police confirmed that a single attacker staged last week’s two shootings at Islamic mosques that killed 50 people in Christchurch, the worst mass-shooting event in that nation’s history. Law enforcement officials there charged a 28-year-old Australian suspect with murder.

Immediately global pundits and analysts stumbled over one another to rationalize that which is largely irrational to the secular mind, which are some of the seemingly random acts of mass murder and terrorism which are occurring at an all too common rate in our world.

Wasn’t this shooter a deranged or mentally insane racist? Could it have been a too liberal gun policy in that province? After all, the prevailing wisdom in mainstream media is that guns in and of themselves murder millions.

The killer posted an 87-page white supremacist manifesto online describing his motives. Interestingly enough, a gun store owner in the city, confirmed his shop sold the shooter four of the five guns used in the attack through a “police-verified online mail order process.” The order did not include any military grade semi-automatic weapons.

In other words, the assassin legally purchased his weapons as any another citizen could there, yet New Zealand’s Prime Minister said the government will provide more details on proposed gun law reforms within 10 days of the attack as if that will be the magic pill solution to such violence.

Perhaps this terrorist type attack could be blamed on a dysfunctional, upbringing and environment in which racism may have been fostered in his home and heart? While not dismissing the reality that such sociological factors play a role in such events, once again a more fundamental two-fold source is overlooked.

One, simply being the reality of evil existing in the heart of every unredeemed individual on the face of the earth, making them all capable of such not so random acts of violence, given providence and the proper circumstances and influences. However, that concept is too loathsome for the modern, secular and humanist mind to seriously consider.

Second, and as to the later cause, is one’s final source of authority. Where are murderers going to, or coming from, as to the predominant source of what they think and may do?

During the attack, the terrorist in New Zealand, livestreamed a video of his murders on Facebook. He also posted a link to his white nationalist manifesto online. In the document, under the heading “From where did you receive/research/develop your beliefs?” the murderer responds, “The internet, of course. You will not find the truth anywhere else.”

That is a frightening thought for more than one reason, though it is not uncommon for terrorists to release a rambling, barely coherent manifesto. While experts deem it usually wise to ignore them – since they only feed the murderer’s desire for attention, the document left by this shooter (whose name is better left omitted) may be worth examining, as to the insights his source may provide law enforcement to help deter or lessen such acts of terrorism in the future.

The New Zealand shooter is an extreme example of an increasingly common disaffected if not depressed person—mostly young men, (see Nicklas Cruz of the Stoneman Douglas shooting here in South Florida) whose worldview is shaped largely by an evil online culture.

In fact, one local police official in my community, warned church leaders at a seminar on Active Shooter Safety, that many mass or “active” shooters are motivated to surpass the ‘body-counts’ or casualties of prior mass murderers with a yearning to be part of a rogues gallery of evil and often use social media to predict, preview and legitimize their actions.

Some analysts are calling this, ‘terrorist trolling.’ The Oxford Dictionary defines “trolling” as making a deliberately offensive or provocative online post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response. One commentator noted that “Trolling is commonly found in almost every area where people congregate online. But for many lost young men—a group that includes more than just white nationalists—trolling has become almost a way of life.”

It is reasoned that just as some children crave attention so much they exhibit inappropriate behaviors to gain attention from their parents, thousands of young men spend their days and nights trying to gain some sort of validation by trolling people online. This is why the internet is flooded with works, such as hate-filled memes, that are used not to persuade but to annoy. As the New Zealand shooter said, “Create memes, post memes, and spread memes. Memes have done more for the ethno-nationalist movement than any manifesto.”

The mass-murderer’s authority or main source of immorality and ethics has become largely driven by internet trolling and searching for meaning and notoriety by evil – online.

At this point, the biblically minded Christian, holding to a scriptural worldview, understands that God’s word alone is his or hers’ ultimate authority of meaning in life as well as our guide for the faith and practice of the born-again follower of Jesus Christ, as the apostle Paul taught Timothy and the church:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV).

We must remind the world beginning in our own communities that the Bible  has the authority and the power to change lives, to bring people to God by reconciliation and redemption that comes through salvation.

The Bible is God’s revealed and specific word to a lost and dying humanity, not a mere source of interesting history and information. It is ‘sharper than any two-edged sword’, and according to Jesus is the truth that sets sinners free (John 8).

This is why as Psalm 19:10 says, the scriptures are, “More to be desired than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”

Cultural observers are coming to find that none of the shooter’s trans-political views fits together or makes sense—they are all over the ideological map. The troll may or may not actually believe what he says. It is likely he may not even know himself, much less as an image-bearer of God.

The main idea of distancing one’s “true” self from one’s online persona is part and parcel of the social media universe. Online “posing”, lies in its origins. Ask Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for his initial inspiration in creating that app.

The only meaningful and permanent source of, and force of good that can combat mass-murder and terrorism, and any other demonically inspired influence to corrupt young and misguided souls looking for a sense of belonging and connection, is to connect such a person to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only the person and work of Christ has the ability to transform a life on the edge of such evil.

Are We Leaving or Staying in “Neverland?”

Bernie Diaz, March 13, 2019

Nothing can and should destroy the love of celebrity, money, power and popularity, more than hearing of the latest celebrity failure or fall from grace in America.

Too many ask, “Don’t sports celebrities and entertainers have it all?”

In my generation I knew better- even as a young man, having been part of the era of the “sex, drugs and rock-roll”, culture that was associated with tragic names like Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, all victims of suicide and/or substance abuse.

If you’re alive and breathing in the U.S. you’ve heard by now of the latest if not among the greatest of such falls, this one of another ‘Star who Was Born’ – a very young one once, having flamed out- even posthumously (after death).

The aftermath of the Leaving Neverland documentary, a two-part, four-hour HBO film in which two men graphically and painfully detail their allegations that Pop music icon Michael Jackson sexually abused them when they were children, has tainted the Jackson legacy. To what extent will remain to be seen. 

While the Jackson family and estate has denied the accusations and is suing the cable network for $100 million, many observers and experts- including fans of all things Jackson, are coming to grips with the strong possibility that where there was smoke, there was fire.

Rather than focusing in on Jackson’s guilt or innocence here, which has been well-documented and debated over the last three decades, as the result of findings from one law-suit which resulted in Jackson paying out a $23 million dollar settlement in 1993, then an acquittal of criminal charges of abuse a decade later, we focus on what the impact of the speculation and possibility of the latest allegations concerning the late Michael Jackson, should have on Christians holding to a biblical worldview.

How should disciples of Christ feel about the one that was at one time nearly canonized as the “King of Pop” by the mainstream media and called “Wacko Jacko” by other cultural critics?

Can you ever download and listen to the Thriller album the same way again? I face the same dilemma in just having to decide whether or not to listen ever again to, or delete my Jackson 5 classics such as “I Want You Back” or “ABC” from my music playlist.

This is not a false dilemma to the conscience of a Christian if even secular music critics among others are wrestling with the same. New Zealand’s MediaWorks Broadcast group had decided to pull Jackson’s music from its radio stations (broadcasters in both Canada and China are considering the same) saying the decision is “a reflection of our audiences and their preferences,” while Radio NZ said the pop star’s songs would only be heard on the station if they’re “part of a news story or to provide color around a commentary piece.”

As the music has been dropped by the biggest radio networks in the country, The New York Times describes this as an “almost complete removal” of Jackson’s music from New Zealand radio.

Unable to watch Leaving Neverland myself (for more than one reason- not being an HBO subscriber is one), I have been greatly disturbed just reading the explicit reports and reviews of this film. I can’t see how one can become acquainted with this documentary on any level and not come away somewhat jaded and jarred by the Jackson persona. In fact, I would exercise extreme caution as a Christian to those who would desire to watch this film.

Can we make a proper distinction and appreciate on the one hand the talent and artistry of an entertainer like Jackson, who dazzled millions as a singer, dancer and songwriter whose influence has extended more than four decades, from an individual on the other hand, who was a perplexing, tragic figure accused by more than one victim of pedophilia? 

For those that cried out that “character counts” during the election of President Donald Trump, can they hold to the same standard when faced with having to follow, if not idolize and defend Jackson and his legacy?

The #MeToo era makes dismissing the many years of Jackson dodging suspicions of child sexual abuse ever more difficult in the wake of Leaving Neverland.

That film has raised many questions that many Christians are now wrestling with, such as whether or not it is morally wrong or right to enjoy Jackson’s songs.

“What is the relationship of morality to art?” asked Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a notable author and cultural analyst on his podcast The Briefing. “Can we enjoy art by discredited artists? What about enjoying music when we discover that the writer, the performer, the arranger, you name it, was somehow morally corrupt? Perhaps, even a child sexual abuser? What happens to the music?”

These are intriguing questions that thinking believers should mediate on. If the allegations about Jackson brought to bear by the movie are true, what could have been the root cause of this fall and what can we learn from it?

Pride. If Jackson, who once ironically sang, “You can’t touch me ’cause I’m untouchable,” on his last real studio album, committed the grotesque and sexually depraved crimes he has been alleged to have committed, the attitude of pride and entitlement, the root of all sin would explain much as to how he and his family have been accustomed like many other celebrities to be above ‘reproach’ as well as the law.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Pro. 16:18, ESV).  

As one theologian put it: Pride causes some celebrities to forget that God was the one who gave them the talents and skills they possess. Pride causes celebrities to have too high a view of themselves, to think they are worthy of all the adulation they receive. … Too high a view of self leads to some celebrities believing they are beyond the possibility of failure, and so they make extremely foolish decisions with their lives, careers, relationships, marriages, finances, etc.     

Unfortunately, much of that pride is fed by the adulation if not outright idolatry from record, concert and movie ticket buying fans- Christians included, believe it or not, whipped up in virtual frenzies over the mere mention or sight of such fallible figures.

Ultimately, we must come to grips with the fact that human beings – much less celebrities like Jackson, are not spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically wired to receive worship.

Only God is worthy of that, and only God can be praised without excess. As Elmer Towns added, “When celebrities worship themselves or allow others to worship them, it results in arrogant pride and self-centeredness, which leads to disaster and tragedy.”

How do we process Leaving Neverland and the Michael Jackson saga as Christians? Give God the glory he alone deserves. We need to remind ourselves of our biblical self-image, recognizing that we are valuable because we are created in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27).

Refuse to worship and adore fallible and often deceitful and indecent if not evil image bearers in the spotlight, recognizing that we are who are  Romans 3:10-23 people, can and should worship and praise the only true, merciful, gracious, and loving God that rescued us (born-again believers of Christ) from idol worship.

Have you or will you leave ‘Neverland?’

The Elephant in the Room of the Catholic Crisis

Bernie Diaz, March 6, 2019

Protestant and biblically bound Christians, particularly those of the Southern Baptist Convention persuasion (of which my church is affiliated), have had to reflect somberly upon the revelation of a sexual abuse within our own camp, concerning some 400 pastors and ministry workers impacting nearly 700 victims over two decades in 20 American states (MCT, Skeletons Found in the Evangelical Closet; Feb. 12).

Thankfully, the SBC immediately upon the publication of this crisis by The Houston Chronicle, has begun to undertake serious reforms and action in response to the scandal, reviewing policies, procedures and discipline in concert with law enforcement agencies, in order to reform the lax structural deficiencies that were pervasive in those churches, allowing such heinous acts to occur. 

But what has, and what is the Catholic church and its hierarchy to do in the wake of yet another series of sexual scandals, some reaching to the highest levels of their leadership? Just recently, Pope Francis “defrocked” former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, amidst allegations from multiple men that McCarrick abused them—some as minors and others when they were adult seminary students.

The allegations spanned McCarrick’s career as a priest, bishop, archbishop, and cardinal. A church whistleblower has gone on record saying knowledge of the accusations against McCarrick reached as high as the Holy See (the Pope) at times, and yet McCarrick was allowed to advance through that hierarchy without facing any official public discipline until late last year.

An Australian court in December convicted Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top financial adviser and the Vatican’s economy minister, of molesting two choirboys as confirmed by church officials. Pell is the most senior Roman Catholic cleric thus far, charged with child sexual abuse.

If all that wasn’t enough, Pope Francis was forced to recently and publicly acknowledge that perhaps 200 or more nuns have suffered sexual abuse by priests and even bishops – including in the U.S.

As the USA TODAY reported, this was not exactly new information, according to other leaders within the Catholic Church. In a statement issued by the largest association representing nuns in this nation, this problem has been prevalent mostly in developing countries like the United States — though there have been many cases in Africa, and last year a nun in India accused a priest of repeatedly raping her between 2014 and 2016.

It is a widely known fact that the Catholic Church has been engulfed in sex-abuse scandals for at least the past 20 years, as stories of priests abusing children and students as well as nuns continue to flood the media, all spotlighted by the phenomena of the #MeToo movement.

Therefore, less than two weeks ago, the pontiff wrapped up an unprecedented Vatican summit, where Pope Francis denounced the abuse of minors and called for an end to the Catholic Church’s long history of covering up such scandals.

In a Sunday Mass, he made an appeal for an “all-out battle” on clergy sex abuse but offered few specifications, reflecting broad criticism that the four-day meeting had not produced anything concrete in which to hold church leaders accountable.

Though Francis told leaders that most sexual abuse of minors occurs in the family and talked about abuse in relation to online pornography and sex tourism across the world, he glossed over the likely and most fundamental cause of this scandal, which can assuredly be traced back several centuries, to the very origin of the policy mandating celibacy among the Roman Catholic clergy.

The Elephant in the Room

During a news conference in the midst of the Vatican summit, its organizers fielded questions from journalists about whether priests, bishops, and cardinals have been unwilling to denounce each other because of the reported and politically incorrect evidence of widespread homosexual behavior throughout the hierarchy.

One journalist asked about a book just released, In the Closet of the Vatican, by a French writer who spent four years investigating the double lives of Catholic bishops and cardinals and called the Vatican one of the world’s largest gay communities.

This bombshell of a book will soon be published in eight languages and 20 countries, under the title “Sodoma,” as in Sodom, in Western Europe and “In the Closet of the Vatican” in the U.S., Britain and Canada.

It includes the claim that about 80 percent of the male Roman Catholic clergy members who work at the Vatican, around the pope, are gay. It contends ironically, that the more outwardly homophobic a Vatican official is, the more likely he belongs to that crowd, and that the higher up the chain of command you go, the more homosexuals you find. And not all of them are celibate. Not by a long shot.

Interestingly enough, Frédéric Martel, the book’s author, himself is openly gay and zeroes in his inquiry to Catholic officials who have had sex with men, not counting the many who have had sex with women, which all points to the glaringly inadequate and abnormal policy and promise of celibacy that priests make which forbids sexual activity of any kind.

In truth, what violates Catholic teaching isn’t just gay sex as provocative as that may be, but any sex including in marriage, which is an unbiblical and extremely difficult expectation to hold (1 Cor. 7), much less mandate over clergy.

When the apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned the qualifications of an elder or pastor in in his pastoral epistles, he said that they should be, “the husband of one wife”- literally meaning a faithful, one-woman man, as a manager of his own household, his “little church” as the Puritans put it, expressing the norm of the married pastor and elder with children in a home as the proving ground of leading a Christian church.

The ages-old dysfunctionality and error of the Catholic clerical system is the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ which the Pope and company can no longer ignore.  

The Scandal of the Priesthood

The sex abuse scandals of the Catholic priesthood and hierarchy is only symptomatic of the illegitimacy of its function or very existence.

Roman Catholics talk about the priesthood’s teaching, pastoral and sacerdotal power. The pastoral work is not so much about comfort, care and compassion, as it is about legislative, judicial and punitive power.

They make laws to which they hold people by the traditions of men in much the same way their ministerial Hebrew ancestors (‘scribes and Pharisees’) did in the first century. As one theologian wrote, “They adjudicate as to whether people have violated those laws and they mete out punishment.  And through the years that punishment has been everything from excommunication to execution” (see the Crusades and Inquisitions).

As to celibacy, it has become an obligatory law of the Roman Church imposed on all priests widespread, since the eleventh century with abstinence vows going as far back as the fourth century, becoming obligatory through the western Church by the time of Pope Leo the Great, in the fifth century. Whereas, the eastern or Orthodox Churches allowed married priests to stay married while prohibiting some single ones from marriage, despite Paul’s clear teaching that the church was not to “forbid marriage” or other forms of false asceticism (1 Tim. 4:1-5).

Unsurprisingly, according to one of many like-minded historians, “This (ancient) mandate for celibacy generated all kinds of immorality. The abodes of the priests were often dens of corruption. It was common to see priests frequenting taverns, gambling and having orgies with quarrels and blasphemy. Many priests kept mistresses and convents became houses of ill fame.  In many places the people were delighted at seeing a priest with a mistress because the married women would be safe from him.”

Does this have a ring of familiarity to the 20th and 21st century scandals of the Catholic Priesthood?

Why ban marriage from the priesthood? There was a time in which priests were very influential and powerful people. They became wealthy. They had families in which they passed their wealth and inheritance to as their wealth accumulated.

Priests owned land and had far reaching influence and the Vatican and its empire needed resources to build and grow.

It is believed by many that Pope Gregory VII determined that priests controlled too much wealth and the Church should take it. If the Catholic Church was going to run the state as the world power it would become, it had to start by confiscating property and the wealth from its most powerful people, including its own priesthood.

Notable historian, Philip Schaff said, “The motive for opposing the marriage of priests was to prevent the danger of a hereditary line which might appropriate ecclesiastical property to private use and impoverish the Church.”  Thus, the priests had to give everything they had to the Church and could not procreate families in which an inheritance could be passed on to.

What Rome has never properly reconciled in all its sorted history, is the enormity of this elephant in the room- the inevitable sexual sin that would befall its clergy as the result of its imposing sexual abstinence upon them.

Yes, there are still failed attempts to justify this policy from faulty scriptural interpretations (e.g. eunuchs referred to in Matt. 19) to linking the celibacy requirements to the Lord Jesus Christ’s first advent, just as Vatican dogma still attempts to link the papacy to the apostle Peter, who just happened to be married and with children- doh! All that aside from the apostle’s having no other connection whatsoever to the historic papal office.

The long-term solution to removing the elephant from the room after acknowledging its existence at long last, is for the Vatican to reverse its celibacy requirement of the priesthood, which would then jeopardize the credibility of the Vatican, its Papacy and perhaps further shake the foundations of Roman Catholicism itself, which is another reformation about 500 years overdue from the last one.