MLK Day Thoughts – Trump and Oprah in 2020?

Image result for trump and oprah Bernie Diaz, January 15, 2018

Did he or didn’t he? The timing couldn’t be worse for President Donald Trump, accused last week on the dawn of MLK day of having made disparaging if not “racist” comments according to news reports, in describing African countries during an Oval Office meeting with a bipartisan group of senators discussing the DACA immigration policy.

Allegedly, the president also questioned the need to admit more Haitians to the U.S., according to people who were briefed on the conversation, using a vulgarity in reference to the conditions there. Trump reportedly also said in the meeting that he would prefer immigrants from Anglo-white countries like Norway instead.

Regardless of what was actually said or not (Trump and White House officials have denied using the profanity in question, though they have not disclosed what was said), already existing racial tensions have been brought to the forefront of American conscience once again on the 50th anniversary year of Martin Luther King Junior’s assassination.

A Christian can pray that this will not be a year that would approximate in any way, that horrific year of violence and division which so marred this nation in 1968. Racial concerns notwithstanding, two more issues deserving thoughts held captive to Christ and a worldview analysis bear our attention in the aftermath of this latest Trumpian verbal misstep.

A Culture of Profanity

I am frequently amazed by the voluminous level of profanity heard in modern American media and culture today. Crude words that I never thought imaginable are heard or read routinely in public and will now likely become even more commonplace as the result of the President’s alleged comments.

Already mainstream newspaper and magazine editors (e.g. Time, Newsweek) have justified publishing the remark attributed to the President (“s______ hole”) since it was alleged to have been uttered directly by Trump himself. That rationale seems to be more an attempt to embarrass the White House than to justify journalistic standards.

The influence of profanity on this ‘millennial’ generation has never been greater, as my wife and I noticed while waiting in line to make a purchase in the midst of a group of college age females dropping the ‘f- bomb’ as causally and frequently as the use of any word, like ‘the’ or ‘and.’

Cursing has fast become mainstreamed in America. Swear words of all kinds have undergone a radical surge in popularity, largely fueled by popular movies and music, which was once a no-go zone for the slightest whiff of profanity– particularly on the radio—which has become so open to colorful language that according to one pop critic, “four-letter words now grace band names.”

In fairness, Donald Trump is not the first politician to utter profane language in Washington. Several U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents from the 1960’s onward were known for their casual and regular use of profanity, including icons like John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, for instance. And who can forget Vice President Joe Biden’s use of the f-bomb (caught on the microphone) when he quietly congratulated President Obama for signing into law the Affordable Healthcare Act.

To be sure, the problem of unwholesome speech is nothing new. It’s always been around – since the fall of man. But the extensive, wide-ranging and more normative use of it is a new phenomena in our culture. Even some high-profile hipster pastors have foolishly used salty language from the pulpit, seeking to connect with their younger listeners as ‘hip, hot and happening’ speakers.

As Christian believers, profanity is unacceptable in any form and disciples of Christ must be decidedly countercultural when it comes to speech. Paul’s teaching concerning our speech is so relevant it could have been written last week:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

Later he adds, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:4).

The Greek word in Eph. 4 could be translated as rotten, corrupt, or putrid. It is the same word that Jesus uses in Luke 6:43 when referring to “bad fruit.” The point is: The words of Christ’s followers should never read or sound  rotten or obscene.

May we strive to recover, cultivate, and model godly speech in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, communities, and churches, as those who seek to be a cultural preservative like salt (Matt.5), rather than as a polluter.

Next Celebrity President?

Leave it to a feminist inspiring, televised Golden Globes speech to do what only modern culture can do today – create a presidential race where there was none, only one year into the current Presidential administration, with none other than Oprah Winfrey, actress and television personality extraordinaire.

Crowned in a social and news media coronation, the woman known simply by the brand name, Oprah, preached a message last week to millions of empowerment, in the context of the victims of Hollywood sexual misconduct and told America that, “… What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

A classic post-modern and relativistic thought if there ever was one- ‘let your truth be your truth and my truth be mine’, the only truth that sets us free be damned.

If Oprah Winfrey runs for president in 2020 — as some are clamoring for her to do, she would be the latest non-politically experienced celebrity to run for office, perhaps a dangerous precedent set by the ‘Donald’ himself.

Somewhat self-consciously, both Trump and Oprah share a religious message. It’s been said that both Winfrey and Trump preach a prosperity type gospel of wealth, health, and self-determination, seeming to say that  God wants people to be wealthy and healthy and that followers are responsible for their own destiny here on Earth if they would just dream it.

Winfrey according to observers, sees herself as both a Christian and a critic of Christianity. She was raised in the Baptist church, describes herself as a consistent reader of the Bible, and through her television show, basically built the church that she wanted.

“She has found deep and sustaining power in the New Testament, in the Bible, and in the theological interpretation that the good that you receive is a representation of the good you bring into the world,” a Yale University religion professor said of Winfrey.

May we have to thank or blame President Trump, influenced by long-time “pastor” and televangelist Paula White among other TBN favorites, as being the catalyst for a future ‘President Oprah’ campaign? Will it be time should the Lord tarry in his return, that we move from a celebrity president like a Rockefeller claiming Christ, to one who is a black and female Joel Osteen without Christ?

This could actually happen. God help us.

 

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A Child’s Gender Identity vs. Parental Authority – What’s a Parent to Do?

Image result for transgender boy scouts of america Bernie Diaz, January 8, 2018

You’re a parent and your pre-teen or teenage child wants to join the Boy Scouts. What’s a parent to do? Your child now has unprecedented choices to make as which of the two major scouting organizations they’d like to affiliate with; the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Does it really matter?

It’s all about gender identity today as the latest topsy-turvy issue and controversy emanating from the sexual revolution. Can a child be permitted to make a personal decision to alter their own gender or cross the street alone? According to today’s cultural and academic elites, they do have the right and expectation to alter or completely change their gender or sexual identity with or without their parent’s approval, guidance or maybe even knowledge of. What’s a parent to do?

The Boy Scouts of America recently announced that of the start of this new year, it would now accept girls into its boys-only programs. “We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children,” Boy Scouts chief executive Michael Surbaugh said of the decision. The Boy Scouts board voted unanimously in favor of the policy change, a major reversal for the 107-year-old organization.

This latest shift of the BSA, follows numerous changes to membership requirements in Scouting in recent years. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts now allow openly homosexual scouts and leaders. In 2015, the Girl Scouts opened their ranks to transgender children who identify as girls on a case-by-case basis. And of this year, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for the Cub Scouts program. Although there are no immediate plans to allow boys and girls to join the same den, that eventuality cannot be far behind. Won’t that make for a special overnights camping trip?

If your biology means your daughter is Peggy Sue, the Boy Scouts new policy allows her to self-identify as Bobby Sue, regardless of the gender on her birth certificate. What’s a parent to do?

Crossing the Street or Changing Gender?

Did you know that more than 200 children under the age of 14 died in the United States in 2014 after being struck by a car? Another 8,000 suffered injuries, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

Based on the above, a recent research study conducted at the University of Iowa has determined children younger than 14 do not possess the “cognitive” or intellectual skills and judgment to… wait for it…. safely cross a street. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published an excerpt of the study as a nod some physicians found ironic, given the organization’s support for transgender treatment.

Ironic? Perhaps. ‘Revolutionary’? For sure. “This same AAP, also frequently promotes the claim that children this age or younger are cognitively capable of deciding that they are the wrong sex,” noted Michelle Cretella, president of the American College of Pediatricians, a conservative alternative to the AAP. “Moreover, the AAP also deems children cognitively competent to consent to puberty blockers, toxic sex hormones, and sex reassignment surgery.”

That’s right 14 year-old Peggy Sue, you can’t cross the street on your own, but you can decide to painfully mutilate your body in the name of self-awareness.

The obvious irony in this sad and contemporary tale, is that while scientists document how the cognitive limitations of children compromise their judgment and ability to provide informed consent on something as fundamental, frequent and simple as crossing the street, they are according to the experts capable and cognitive enough to reassign themselves a brand-new gender identity or sexual orientation.

By the way, hasn’t society long had age restrictions not only for consenting to medical procedures, but also for driving, voting, joining the military, and purchasing alcohol and cigarettes? But sex-change? No not that, as the advocates and activists of the sexual revolution have similarly opposed any and all opposition to any age restriction of underage girls seeking abortions.

Who has and should have the ultimate responsibility and authority for maintaining the physical and mental health and direction of a child in a household? Parent or Professional?  One pediatric endocrinologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, believes doctors should give puberty blockers to even younger children. In a recent issue of the journal Endocrine News, he claimed the best age for boys is between 12 and 14, while girls should start between 10 and 12.

This is a question of authority. Who has it? Israelite history reveals that the father was to be diligent in instructing his children in the ways and words of the Lord for their own spiritual development and well-being. The father who was obedient to the commands of Scripture did just that, as found in the oft-quoted scripture of Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

To “train” indicates the first instruction that a father and mother give to a child, i.e., his early education. The training is designed to make clear to children the manner of life they are intended for and the sexual orientation they are to follow.

We can see throughout God’s word that the Christian parent is really an instrument in God’s hand. The whole process of instruction and discipline must be that which God commands and which he administers, so that His authority should be brought into constant and immediate contact with the mind, heart, and conscience of children.

However, Christian parents are going to have fight in today’s day and age to preserve their role as the central earthly authority over their children’s lives, all the while knowing that they should never present themselves as the ultimate authority to determine truth and duty. It is only by making God the teacher and ruler on whose authority everything is done that the goals of education can be met.

May we pray that God’s grace will enable parents to retain the right to meet those goals. Because, “Apparently, cognitive immaturity is an obstacle to crossing the street but not for giving consent to a sex change,” Michelle Cretella said. “Looks like ‘correctness’ outranks science when science gets in the way of agenda.”

New Year’s Wisdom on Weed

Image result for marijuana legalization Bernie Diaz, January 2, 2018

Many of us have brought in the new year with resolutions to improve our physical and fiscal health through better dieting, exercise and money management.

In addition, millions of Christians (I hope) are getting their spiritual house in order by resolving to improve their health by availing themselves to the ‘ordinary’ means of grace that God has provided his people, through the pathways of hearing his voice, having his ear and partaking of his body, as I preached to our church last Sunday, which in simpler terms means: the word (eating Bible), prayer and the church – the fellowship thereof.

And then, there are millions today on the left coast, who have resolved to partake of the consumption of weed, as California welcomed the new year with legal sales of recreational marijuana.

Although the state had issued only about 100 licenses to marijuana-related businesses so far, demand was ‘high’ (pun intended) and lines were long at dispensaries that opened on the first day of legalized pot.

Those that make the convenient “economic” argument for legal, regulated pot use, project the marijuana industry to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue for California within several years. However, in terms of precedent, I wonder how well that deficit-ridden state has done with its similarly sold lotto gambling initiative?

As WORLD magazine points out, the nation’s most populous state joins a growing list of others, and the nation’s capital, where so-called recreational marijuana is permitted even though the federal government continues to classify it as a controlled and illegal substance. Florida, the state where I reside and minister, legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes only last fall – thus far, by virtue of a popular vote.

Legality aside, this would not be the first or last ethically questionable legal right Christians have had to contend with. So, is marijuana use permissible for a born-again, Christ-believing, child of God?

Like many other issues and ethical questions facing man in the 21st century, scripture – as all-sufficient and all-authoritative as it is, does not deal with weed specifically by name for obvious historical reasons, leaving disciples of Christ with the responsibility to wisely discern this issue themselves as they strive to hear God’s “voice” and “have his heart” through Bible study and prayer.

The Push and Pushback for Pot

Interestingly enough, the growth of marijuana legislation (more pun intended), has stirred the curiosity of more than a few Christians as to its legitimate use. Already men and women in my church have shared in small-group discussions about wisdom, questions from friends in and around a community of faith as to whether God and his word permits the recreational use of marijuana.

As it applies to weed, there seems to be two main arguments posed by its ‘Christian’ proponents in justifying its use:

  1. Christian Liberty

Aside from the fact that It’s now legal in some states, there are also professing believers out there using the proverbial, catch-all tag of “freedom in Christ” in application to certain moral and ethical issues of ‘grey’ or in dispute, such as weed, as an immediate cover for imbibing, since the Bible does not explicitly condemn it in black and white terms.

Does the Bible explicitly condemn viewing pornography on television? The internet? Explicitly? Of course not, since TV and the web could not be on the minds of the biblical writers of antiquity. So, how many of you know whether or not it’s right to eat foods offered to idols? That doesn’t really happen much today in non-Santeria circles does it? Well, that was an ethical issue of concern to early Christians coming from a pagan and Gentile background who wrestled with their liberty to partake of that.

How did they know what to do?  The Bible thankfully gives us wisdom from God and in his Spirit (applied knowledge), if we ask for it and run it through the principles and patterns found in scripture, where there are no precepts (clear commands or statements).

Paul in his 1st letter to a confused and controversy ridden Corinthian church posed certain principles or general truths to help them find such answers which beg questions in and of themselves that we can infuse the word and issue of recreational marijuana with. For instance:

  • “Everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Question: though ‘legal’ by law and not explicitly condemned in scripture,   is smoking weed helpful or beneficial to me – physically, spiritually, and mentally? More on this in a moment….

  • Everything is permissible for me’ – but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Question:  Does using weed bring me under its power? Can it cause an addiction in me? Talk to most reforming drug users and abusers who have been in a treatment program if you’re unsure of this one.

  • Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13).

Question:  Does weed hurt others? Can it? See above, and speak to victims of use and abuse who are dysfunctional and non-productive members of society and who have caused or been victim to workplace and auto accident injuries and fatalities due to marijuana.

Would I want to be a stumbling block to a brother or sister in Christ- injure their conscience, by using and advocating the use of this potentially harmful drug?

  • So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Question: Does smoking pot glorify God? How does the use of weed make much of, make known, or show Christ to a lost and dying world? As Voddie Baucham would say, “If you can’t say ouch- say amen!”

         2. Alcohol Use

Indeed, the Bible does not explicitly condemn the recreational use of alcohol nor require its total abstinence, as a long, historic and culturally acceptable substance in most civilizations over the millennia.

Consider the following though: consumption of alcohol in the Bible served necessary medicinal purposes without many if any alternatives (Proverbs 31:6-7), of more contemporary means of sedation and pain relief.

Further, much research seems to indicate that the wine and strong drink of Biblical times was consumed as a mixed beverage with water, or fermented in much less potent concentrated does of alcohol than today. That said…

Question: does God’s word not caution us to abstain from (Ephesians 5:18, Proverbs 23:20-21, etc.) anything that negatively impacts our self-control (1 Peter 4:7)?

Some might compare regulated and moderate marijuana use to coffee drinking, cigarette smoking and alcohol use.  While it may be pointed out that all those substances have psychoactive compounds – there are notable differences between them too.

As Jeff Lacine made clear in his article, “Marijuana to the Glory of God” at DesiringGod.org,

As Christians, our goal is knowing and experiencing the full and undistorted reality of the glory of God in our resurrected physical bodies (1 Cor. 15:12–49; Phil 3:20–21; 1 Cor. 13:12). This is our trajectory as Christians. This is our aim…. We want to see things as they really are. The Christian use of any kind of psychoactive substance should always align with this gospel goal of looking to see things clearer. We do not want our vision of reality distorted.

Consider this principle in terms of a psychoactive substance most American adults use every day: caffeine. Why do people drink coffee in the morning? To help them to see things as they really are, rather than through the fog of grogginess. The right and proper use of this God-given substance helps us see things as they really are.

He goes on to note that this is why people drink at weddings but not funerals – at weddings “moderate lubrication…can be in keeping with reality” since it is a time to celebrate. In this setting “proper and moderate use of alcohol can be a clarifier and not a distorter,” whereas at a funeral alcohol use might well be obscuring reality.

But what then of weed? Lacine argued, “both from research and personal experience” that cannabis use distorts and numbs a person’s perception of reality. We might expect a regular user to argue that it doesn’t numb their thinking but, as Lacine notes, if marijuana is numbing their thinking, that’s going to also impact their ability to perceive its impact on their thinking.

Though I might disagree with this author as to the celebratory aspects of alcohol’s ‘moderate lubrication,’ since it too may remove moral inhibitions and distort reality for users, it would be more than difficult to make the argument that alcohol is as powerful in concentrated doses as marijuana today and even if it were, what possible advantage could there be in legitimizing the use of yet another potentially mind-altering substance?

As Jon Dykstra notes in his article from Reformed Perspective, “There is a reason that marijuana has long been associated with the couch, a bag of chips, and a television remote. Put another way, marijuana has never been associated with engaged parenting…. studies have shown a high correlation between regular cannabis use and the clinical diagnosis of Amotivational Syndrome.”

True, last resort medicinal use aside, what would the positives be to American society to have a greater number of its citizens smoking weed?

The Better Question

Perhaps the most important biblical principle pertaining to this and similar issues, is found in Hebrews 12:1. There we read: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Question: how does smoking pot help me run? How does weed help me grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Another translation of the phrase including the word, “weights” from the English Standard Version of Heb. 12:1, would be, “everything that hinders us”, or as the New Living Translation (NLT) renders the phrase, “let us strip off every weight that slows us down.”

Therefore Christians, when considering the recreational use of marijuana, the question, “Is it a sin?” according to Jesus and Paul may not be as good a question to ask as “Does it help me run?” Or, “Does it get in my way when I am trying to become more patient, more kind, more gentle, more loving, more holy, more pure, more self-controlled? Does it get in my way or does it help me run?” Christian that is the wise question to ask and answer.

Don’t Waste Your Time in 2018

Image result for redeeming the time Bernie Diaz, December 26, 2017

Christmas is now behind us and as we near the close of the year of our Lord 2017, we have to admit it has been both a very interesting and challenging year. I’m sure you had many blessed moments and by the same token, some very rough ones.

In our world and more specifically, our county and our greater community, we were challenged by threats to religious liberty and rights, a controversial year of politics under the administration of the ‘Donald’ in the White House, a radical and rebellious, leftward societal and cultural turn to the left via the sexual revolution, “natural” disasters, mass shootings, violence and social unrest (e.g. Black Lives Matter vs. the Alt-Right) just to name a few of the crisis and issues we faced this year, pretty much disposing with the eschatological notion that the word is getting better.

Biblically in fact, the “last days” or what we could call, the church age, is one that progressively gets worse, before it gets better I think, with the return of King Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote his young apprentice Timothy 2,000 years ago:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power..  (2 Tim. 3:1-5a, ESV).

Lest we become overly pessimistic nor prophetic, it is safe to say that Paul was not contextually referring to our day and age per se, in the early 21st century, but in the reality, that despite mankind’s unprecedented advancement in technology and information, our hearts will continually grow devious and ‘desperately wicked,’ or as he added in his second letter to Timothy, “.. evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

So, ‘how shall we then live’, as Francis Schaffer may have asked a generation ago? What are we do about- and in the times we live?

A New Year’s Resolution next week? I’ve been making and failing at the same resolutions for the past several years, so I’m not sure that works real well or that I’ve been doing it right. Probably a little of both. Most of the time we’re our own worst judge of which resolutions we should pick anyway.

TIME

I’m going to argue here that perhaps our biggest resolution as Christians in 2018, should be to ‘redeem’ the TIME. What should you do with your time?

How Do You Value Time?

  • How do we value ONE YEAR? Ask a student who failed a grade.
  • How do we value ONE MONTH? Ask a Mother whose baby arrived prematurely or is overdue?
  • How do we value ONE HOUR? Ask someone who lies terminally ill waiting for a loved one who is late.
  • How do we value ONE MINUTE? Ask someone who missed a plane, a train, a very important meeting or event that can never be rescheduled.
  • How do we value ONE SECOND? Ask an NBA or NFL player at the end of a close game, or someone who just missed having an accident, or someone saying goodbye to a loved one they will never see again.

Most people measure their lives in years. But how would our thought processes change if we measured our lives in days? On the 20,000th day of his life, Robert D. Smith decided to put this concept to the test. He spent the next 48 hours planning his next 20,000 days—and walked away with life-changing information that became a best-selling book.

I’ve now lived over 20,000 days in my life-time and if I really think about it, I’d like to have a lot of those back- as do-overs or mulligans as they say in golf. So maybe this new year’s time, looking forward, it might be a good time for me to rethink the concept of time.

If we think about the kingdom of God, time is not ours to spend as we choose, it is a trust from our creator (the King of that kingdom) and we have to give an account to Him for how we use or invest it, as our church has been studying in some of The Greatest Stories Jesus Ever Told.

Paul may have been thinking that as he wrote Timothy at the church in Ephesus (AD 60-62) that he had planted on his third missionary journey. In the middle of the great chapter of Ephesians 5, he said that they and you, were once children of darkness and now as disciples, that you should be a child of light, walking in light and love and taking no part in the “unfruitful works of darkness”, but instead “exposing them”.

Then in Eph. 5:15-16, he gets into some nitty-gritty, or some detail of how we do that, which is so fitting for the mindset I think we can consider taking into AD 2018.

Walk Wisely

In other words, the apostle begins this passage with a call for disciples of Christ to: “Wake up! Don’t sleep-walk today. Open your eyes and make the most of your day! That is the simpler definition of that phrase you might find in your old or new King James Version, walk circumspectly.

The word and the concept has with it the idea of living in such a way as to  see and discern with skill, or simply to be wise.

A wise person knows what to do with what he knows. That’s a parallel to the idea of discernment or decision making. You could be a Bible scholar and be a fool or unwise- did you know that? Wisdom is applied knowledge and is more art than science. It’s acquired and matures over time, with experience or with some trial and error sometimes. Someone said, “Experience comes from what we have done. Wisdom comes from what we have done badly.”

There’s an old story about John and Dave, who were hiking when they spotted a mountain lion staring at them. John froze in his tracks, but Dave sat down on a log, tore off his hiking boots, pulled a pair of running shoes from his backpack and hurriedly began to put them on.

“For crying out loud, you can’t outrun a mountain lion!” John yelled. “I don’t have to,” shrugged Dave. “I just have to outrun you.”  That’s wisdom!

Little wonder why we are emphasizing the doctrine of wisdom, in our small-group studies for men and women at our church right now from the book of Proverbs.

So, what’s the admonition here? That we should walk or live wisely because the days are few. The days are evil. Sin and its influence and temptation is everywhere right? Persecution was a reality for the Ephesian believers and has dawned upon America in our time.

Make the Most

Eph. 5:16 tells us that we are to ‘make the best use of the time’, which though literally is about paying a price to recover something or someone from the power of another, giving the idea of making the most of every opportunity of the time we have. That makes sense since James also reminds us in the New Testament that “life is but a vapor.” We can be here today and gone tomorrow. Try walking with that in mind.

The Psalmist puts it this way: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psa.90:12). In other words, Bernie Diaz, count those days that you’ve lived and what may be ahead, the times you’re living in, wake-up, smell the coffee, get to some serious business and live for Christ and his kingdom.

Simply stated, we are to redeem, or make the best of the opportunities and moments that God gives us for our good and for His glory. The believer who walks in wisdom knows how to make the most of his or her opportunity. The parallel passage from Colossians says it another way:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col. 4:5-6)  

Walking wisely is then knowing how to talk and share with unbelievers, giving them your reason for the hope that lies within you. It’s funny, we pray (if at all), for evangelism or witnessing opportunities for the cause of Christ, and then we wonder why we rarely share our testimony or our faith, when we keep missing the time and opportunities God keeps putting right in front of us. We as Christians, are salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16), and should preserve and shine in a world that is dying and dark every day.  Therefore, let’s not waste any more time.

The Real Message and Mission of Christmas

Related image Bernie Diaz, December 19, 2017

Our church just celebrated this past weekend, a wonderful Christmas fellowship and “Love Feast”, as we call it, emulating the early church’s congregational gatherings, and not only did we worship God and his gift to us in Christ by  word and music, we had fun – just plain ole’ fun, as in fun and games, as well as sharing a wonderful meal together and a candlelit singing of Silent Night.

It was a real birthday party, which jives with the literal meaning of Christmas, which to take the Latin meaning of the suffix translated in English to ‘mas,’ (from mass) as a festival or celebration, we literally celebrated the birth of Christ as the ultimate birthday party.

However, I remain struck by the paradoxes of this holiday, the juxtaposition of the very first Christmas, as in the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, to the sort of secular, carnival mentality that exists today with Christmas in the western world.

It’s the humility and poverty of the stable of the first Christmas event, compared with the wealth, indulgence and hoopla surrounding all the gift giving, as in the case of hysteria seen on ‘Black Friday,’ that I find most  interesting.

So, thinking about Jesus and His birth as the real “reason for the season” begs the question, how should we observe what has become a national holiday? While it is true that there is no biblical holiday that marks the birth of Jesus, nor is there a command given to celebrate it at a later time, there is also no command found which prohibits its observance if not its celebration.

But what is often missed, is the profound theological foundation of this holiday, which goes deeper than just wishing someone a ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.’

As the recently departed theologian R. C. Sproul explained the observance of Christmas, “We’re going to celebrate the thing that’s most important in our lives, the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ. So, this is going to be a time of joyous festivities, of celebration and worship of our God and King.'”

Incarnation then is what I want to focus on in this post, being that the whole gospel story is a story of redemption, and God becoming a baby to achieve it. So, being that God owns every day of the year anyway, why not redeem a day set apart for pagan worship (as it was originally) and use it instead to glorify the Lord?

The babe in the manger – God in a manger, is the Godhead’s means by which our redemption is secured, so what really drew me to the reality of the incarnation (God becoming man) of Christ –  a revelation of sorts I discovered several years ago, was the discovery of the real message and mission of Christmas among the most unlikely of biblical places – Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  It was spiritually serendipitous, which for us is the work of the Holy Spirit.

What’s remarkable about the message of Christmas- a real significant part of it, may be boiled down to one word- humility. That word as the message and mission of Christmas is really a stark contrast to the modern idea of this holiday. Where does this idea or theme come from and how can we apply it? What does it have to do with us?

Philippians features the apostle as a peacekeeper determined to mediate a conflict in this letter from his prison cell in Rome as he appeals to harmony and reconciliation to come from two sisters in the church, from the high motive of love pictured in one word- humility (2:3-4). But again, what does this have to do with Christmas?

Philippians 2:5-11 is a theological masterpiece on Christ- Who HE is, and why HE came and what the triune God-head was thinking about in defining this Christmas holiday in two big ways through a call to humility. The Message of Christmas comes..

By the Incarnation of Christ (Phil. 2:5-7)  

Paul introduces this grand idea and presentation of Christ with a call to all of us to be understanding and wise like Jesus (v. 5). In other words, we are to have a single-minded attitude like Christ which he repeats in Romans and the Corinthian letters all over the place.

That mind of Christ he wants us to have is be: selfless, sacrificial and serving. So, what does Paul do to illustrate that? He points us to Jesus of course and by extension, Christmas.  The Son of God did the single most selfless thing he could do in his incarnation-  he abandoned his sovereign position on earth to benefit those less worthy- us.

.. though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Phil. 2:6, ESV),

Jesus did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or seized by man. Paul is saying clearly that Jesus is God in the flesh (incarnate)- the God/man- 100% God and 100% man.  In other words, If God the Father would choose to come to earth as a man in the flesh, He would look like this…Jesus.  “He being in the form of God.”

Just think about the word, “being” for a moment. Being denotes the person’s essential nature, essence and the outward expression of the inward nature. The nature of Christ is that of God. It describes that part of a person that can’t be changed, it is essential to His very existence and it always remains the same.  I and my Father are one (Jo. 10:30).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (Jo. 1:1-2, 14).

Jesus Christ was selfless in his Christmas incarnation, in that while retaining His personhood as God the Son, He gave up equality with God in His position or role for his mission on earth. This is why the New Living Translation (NLT) renders Phil. 2:6 as, Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God.

That should clear up the idea by the way for the cults and others that struggle with Jesus referring to God the Father as his ‘Father.’

In Humility and for the Worship of Christ (Phil. 2:8-11)

Lots of people are willing to serve others if it doesn’t cost anything or a lot. If there’s a big price to pay like sacrifice, they may lose interest but not Jesus.  He humbled himself by sacrificing his life- that’s the ultimate price to pay. He died the worst possible death on the cross. Some historians have said, “Anybody who died on a cross, died a thousand deaths.”

Why is that? Death on the cross was painful and shameful. You were accursed, Deut. 1:23 says, “Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.” Christ became a curse for us – his church, absorbing the wrath of God on our behalf. This was the most shameful form of execution, like the electric chair or gas chamber more recently would be reserved for the worst criminals.

Make no mistake, this baby was born to die- to die unjustly, so sinners wouldn’t have to eternally.

The whole message of Christmas- the motive behind it- behind everything to us lies in this passage from Paul’s pen. The whole purpose of the incarnation and humiliation of Jesus is the glory of God in and through God His Son.  As Christ prepared to go to the cross for his church, he prayed this to his father..

…”Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You (Jo. 17:1).

How? Phil. 2:9 tells us that God exalts or lifts up Jesus, not only in the resurrection after his cross work, but by giving him “the” name. It’s the name “Lord” (Kurios). It’s not just the name Jesus – that’s an earthly name. many other people name their sons Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew (the Lord saves). It’s this name above every name that is this Jesus, who is Lord.

There is coming a time- maybe sooner than we think, in which everyone on or under the earth will confess Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father.  Don’t think for a minute that the people in hell don’t know Jesus is Lord. He is the Lord of hell and they now know it.

People who have denied or rejected Christ will actually confess His Lordship now, or later. If I were given the power to choose, I would rather confess him now and take those blessings that come with the opportunity to confess him as Lord forever in heaven than to have to do it forever in the torment that is hell.

This passage from Philippians explains then the goal of ministry and missions. That is, the universal worship of God and His Christ. As John Piper has said, ‘Missions is not even the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is.’

The idea to share in this final week of Christmas preparation with your lost family or friends and co-workers is, “Do they want to join this hallelujah chorus the redeemed church is in, or the confessors that are condemned? This is the real message of Christmas. It came by the incarnation of Christ, by the humility of Christ, and for the worship of Christ.

Tell them, to join in the worship, to really enjoy Christmas, tell them, “Merry Christmas”, and do what Ro. 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“Conversion” Is Not Therapy or a Dirty Word

Related image Bernie Diaz, December 14, 2017

If you ever doubted as to whether or not mainstream media is secular and ignorant, if not antagonistic to orthodox Christianity and its values, note this recent South Florida Sun-Sentinel lead in a story published about a local initiative that would criminalize counsel that would offer hope and change to professing homosexuals:

LGBT youngsters living in Boynton Beach are free to be themselves and love who they want to love without worrying about medical efforts to change them.

Talk about editorializing in a news article! The story goes on to say, “The city on Tuesday became the latest municipality in South Florida to outlaw ‘conversion therapy,’ a method aimed at converting a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”

And of course, in this worldview battle, talk of changing a behavior that God in particular and many still in general, believe to be aberrant, sinful or wrong, is deemed to be nothing more than a proselytizing form of “conversion therapy,” which includes religious based efforts for people to abandon lifestyles that those religions deem to be immoral.

The story added; “The Boynton Beach Commission gave initial approval to an ordinance banning licensed professionals from trying to convert the gender identity or sexual orientation of LGBT youth. Violators can be fined $500 or sued by the city, according to language in the ordinance.”

One Commissioner Justin Katz, voiced his support for the ban by saying: “It’s just an absurd idea that in 2016 — going on 2017 now — that people could believe that you could change someone’s sexuality through chastising them and berating them and making them hate themselves,” he said. “I’m happy that this ordinance has been trickling its way down Palm Beach County, and we’re able to solidify that we are protecting children regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Biblical Christians will juxtapose or compare that comment with God’s word and commands which read:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (2 Cor. 6:9-11, ESV; see Gen. 19:1-13; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Ro. 1:26-27).

The gospel of God mediated in and through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is all about conversion- not as “therapy” mind you, which is generally somewhat of a humanistic and mental ‘band-aid’ for some afflicted with emotional and or physiological issues, but rather a conversion of the heart- body and soul of a person, so that by a new nature and will, a person struggling with sin is called and equipped by the Holy Spirt to please God by faith in obedience to his commands and revelation, and to reject their sin.

That is what Christian conversion means, which is to be born again (Jo. 3; 1 Pet. 1) and as Romans 6 puts it, a new life in which the disciple can,   ‘consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.’ In other words, a sinner (homosexual or otherwise) does not need societal or governmental permission to remain in their sin, nor a band-aid for that sin once they recognize it, but what they need is heart surgery. They need redemption.

Once justified and redeemed, the new man or woman in Christ is then able to in more Pauline language, stop sin from ‘reigning in their mortal body, to make them obey its passions.’

Despite what this morally relativistic culture feeds us, God does not create a person with homosexual desires as such. The Bible tells us that people become homosexuals because of sin (Ro. 1:24-27) and their rebellious nature, and ultimately because of their own choice, which may be influenced by certain environmental factors, as in one’s personal history.

A person may be born with a greater susceptibility to homosexuality, just as some people are born with a tendency to violence and other sins or addictions. That does not excuse the person’s choosing to sin by giving in to sinful desires.

If a person is born with a greater susceptibility to anger/rage, does that make it right for him to give into those desires? To legalize or legitimize them? Of course not! The same is true with homosexuality, which is why homosexuals or those identifying with LGTBQ lifestyles need conversion to Christ, as opposed to mere conversion therapy, which at least can offer a struggling sinner a choice to seek change from whatever source they deem worthy, as opposed to having to be exiled or trapped in a lifestyle they wish to escape from.

Thankfully, this ban which members of our church in Palm Beach have spoken against at a public hearing, will apply only to state-licensed therapists. To ensure its constitutionality, the law still allows unlicensed professionals, such as religious leaders (e.g. pastors), to engage in “conversion therapy”, the city said.

Last month, the Lake Worth City Commission in Florida voted unanimously to ban the practice, joining other cities that enacted such bans, including: Miami, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands and Wilton Manors. The Key West City Commission was scheduled to vote on and likely approve it as Palm Beach county likely will, after its final hearing on December 9th. Broward County, where much of our church congregation resides, will hold its first public hearing on the measure on January 9th of the new year.

Make no mistake, this issue such as the related legal battles concerning people of faith and their liberty to refrain from endorsing if not advocating homosexual rights and the sexual revolution in their vocation, taking place in our country (e.g. wedding bakers, florists and photographers), is one of religious freedom.

Either licensed counselors – including Christians, will retain their long-held legal right to help homosexuals with gospel hope, or they will be denied that freedom, keeping many enslaved to sexual sin who seek moral and spiritual freedom.

Interestingly enough, The Palm Beach County Human Rights Coalition (a pro-homosexual rights activist group) believes that the county government by adopting the ordinance, will be ” … About protecting children.”

The opposite of that could never be more true, as evidenced by the number of young people I know and am in contact with, who are torn and confused by their sexual identity and conviction of conscience over the sin of sexual immorality and may have few options left by law to turn to for hope.

Hope in Christ and conversion- repentance by a regenerated faith in Jesus, is precisely what these poor young souls need. According to the Bible, God’s forgiveness is just as available to a homosexual as it is to an adulterer, idol worshipper, murderer, thief, etc. God also promises the strength for victory over sin, including homosexuality, to all those who will believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).

May the Christian community be willing to argue for the right for these sinners to have the freedom to escape from the prison of their sin.

 

Mother Mary’s Christmas Carol

Image result for pregnant mary mother of jesus Bernie Diaz, December 5, 2017

A Spanish proverb reads “An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest.”

As secular proverbs go, that’s not bad. Though I am the first to criticize Roman Catholicism’s blasphemous worship and veneration of Mary, earthly mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, many protestants in their backlash to Roman doctrine, fail to give Mary the credit she is due in the legacy she left the church with her life, particularly with the birth story of King Jesus, which gave us perhaps the first biblical, Christmas carol ever written- Mary’s ‘Magnificat.’

‘Manificat’ is a Latin word referring to the magnificent song of praise that Mary offered up to God for His grace, goodness, power and mercy in not only choosing her for salvation, and for her people of Israel and for all believers to come, but for her being chosen, to actually give birth to the Lord and Savior of mankind as recorded in Luke’s gospel (Lu.1:46-55).

The story behind this song or inaugural ‘Christmas Carol,’ is that Mary and Elizabeth her cousin, were pregnant and got together for a chat as pregnant women often do, comparing notes.

Elizabeth, a very mature woman at the time, was in her sixth month carrying none other than John the Baptist, who would be the relative (second cousin) of our King and she realized just looking at Mary and speaking with her, that she was carrying God in the flesh, which by the way, is an acknowledgment in a real good illustration of the sanctity of the unborn life in God’s economy. Just saying.

I wonder if the ladies reading this post might reflect on their reaction had they been chosen for the role of biological mother of the incarnate, creator and sustainer of all life in the universe today? What would be their prevailing emotion? Anxiety? Overwhelming joy?

Well, as verse 37 of Luke’s opening chapter states, mother Mary understood that “nothing will be impossible with God”.

So, this young Jewish adult- perhaps a teenager in our vernacular today,  delivered a great song of praise and joy – a magnificat that centers on four things that we can be worshipping about and singing praises to God for, as carols during this Christmas season:

A Joyful Song of Salvation (Lu. 1:46-47)

“Christ was content with a stable when he was born so that we could have a mansion when we die.”

When was the last time you sang a thanksgiving song of praise to God for your salvation? Christian, aren’t you happy or blessed, thrilled and awed that God called you and chose you to be born-again at the just the right moment in time and space?

I think about and do periodically pray thanks to God for the wonderous work of salvation he has wrought in me, by virtue of his sovereign and divine grace. The theological ‘ordis salutis’ (order of salvation) not only tells me that God saved me in Christ, but my ‘Abba Father’ also adopted me as his own, justified me, sanctified me, redeemed me and reconciled me to himself in peace. Mary gratefully rejoiced in that (1:47).

A Joyful Song About God’s Grace (1:48)  

If you’re not overjoyed about your salvation today as a Christian- you ought to be. You should be joyful because you know that God loves, perfects and disciplines a humble servant as necessary. That’s grace, which is literally a gift of favor, an unmerited favor. There is nothing, we have in us that deserves such grace and there is nothing we can do to earn it.

Do you know that you stand in front of a holy and just God? Does that humble you? It humbles me – even at jolly Christmas time. I fear God, I have great respect for Him and am in awe of Him as Mary was. And, I know He loves me and gave me the greatest Christmas gift anyone could ever have or even imagine – Himself, the gift of God wrapped up in a manger to die for me. That humbles me and gives me Joy at the same time!

A Joyful Song About God’s Power (1:49, 51-53)

God is unconventionally supernatural isn’t he? If there is anything predictable about God, it’s the fact that he’s unpredictable.  Isaiah said ‘his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts.’ Praise God for that. Paul tells us in Romans 11 that His judgments are unsearchable and His ways are inscrutable.

Who else but God, could conceive of and then providentially carry out such a Christmas plan? God incarnates himself as his son, through his Holy Spirit by way of a virgin birth in a relatively indiscriminate little town called Bethlehem. Really? Yes. To ‘him be glory forever amen.’

A Joyful Song About God’s Mercy (1:50,54)

Mary’s Christmas carol pays tribute to God’s loving mercy as a parallel to his grace and as opposed to what we might expect as unredeemed rebels- justice. She sings about the mercy of God, emanating from his perfectly holy and righteous character to not give us what we deserve.

What do sinners, moral lawbreakers that offend a holy and just God everyday deserve? The Bible tells us that the “wages of sin is death, and we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Ro. 6:23; 3:23). “None is righteous” the scripture says, “no not one.”  Yet, God is still good and merciful to us.  Might that deserve a vocal chorus or two in a godly Christmas carol?

Do you want a reason or reasons to get really excited about Christmas – something that will last longer than the dress or shirt you have to take back to the store in January?

How about Christmas joy for: God’s gifts of salvation; grace, power and mercy? All that and more God chose to give us in the flesh, through a godly and courageous young woman named Mary.

I think some of the best gifts are those that meet needs- don’t you? Ponder this one in this Christmas season:

 If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist;

If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer;

But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

That news- the greatest ever given to mankind in the history of this world, deserves songs of joy does it not?

I thank God for giving us Mary this Christmas, not for being a ‘Queen of the Universe,’ or some sort of super-saint or co-mediator of the gospel as some others teach, but for simply being a faithful woman and vessel for carrying and then wisely caring for, God in the flesh, our ultimate Christmas gift.