The Church is to Persevere in Prayer

Related image Bernie Diaz, December 13, 2018

Perhaps to the delight of some of my regular MCT (My Captive Thought) readers, this mid-December post will not focus on Bible reading per se, though that will be sure to come as we approach the New Year and resolutions thinking.

Nonetheless, I will say that the regular digestion of the word of God as noted by the Westminster divines among other great theologians of the faith, stands as generally one of three main ways or means, in which God has dispensed his sanctifying grace to his church, meaning ways or means in which Christians grow in the grace, wisdom and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and their corresponding holiness.

Those basic means are: the word, prayer and fellowship, which includes the administration of the biblical ordinances of the church (e.g. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper or communion and discipline). Unfortunately, these three simple and basic means of sanctifying grace or growth in the Christian life are more often ignored than observed, and none more so than prayer.

In fact, the only type of prayer more difficult for Christians to observe than private prayer is corporate. Recently a group of pastors spoke at a national forum about prayer in general and each church’s congregational practice of it. After all, corporate or congregational prayer is a historic mandate and expectation for the people of God (Psa. 63:1-8; Acts 2:42). It was a fascinating discussion which produced at least a few interesting takeaways.

1. Prayer Is Difficult. We know this to be a given in the Christian life both privately and corporately. Though it was encouraging to know this is a shared battle it is discouraging to know that real victory is so elusive. I’m not personally aware of a single pastor in my community who believes his church is excelling in prayer and who is really comfortable with his leadership and the church’s participation in this area.

We should not find this surprising since prayer is the means through which God works most powerfully among his own and Satan will undoubtedly make it an area of concentrated attack. Often the enemy’s means are no more complicated than utilizing distraction as a temptation to steer disciples from time alone with God (TAG) and time together in prayer.

2. Many Have Given Up. While many a church has had a weekly or otherwise regular prayer meeting at one time or another, many have since abandoned it.

Usually this is a result of the church losing its enthusiasm for prayer and their belief in its necessity. “Many have made prayer supplemental instead of instrumental in the life of the church.” Some have replaced the prayer meeting with programs or small groups, and some have not replaced it with anything at all. What is debatable is whether a local church’s membership will be more enthusiastic about prayer than its pastor is.

3. It’s Easier to Talk About Prayer than to Actually Pray. In many cases churches talk about prayer more than they actually pray. If there are 30 or more minutes set aside for a mid-week prayer meeting, often only a third of the time is actually used to pray to God and for his kingdom while the rest goes to additional Bible study content and sharing individual prayer requests.

It is often easier to talk about prayer and prayer requests than it actually is to dedicate a sustained period of time to praying. Satan knows he can undermine a church’s effectiveness by undermining a church’s prayer life which is also evident in the scant attention paid to prayer in the Sunday worship service of many churches.

4. Persevere. It was a blessing though to read the transcript of this meeting of pastors and see how many churches have persevered in prayer even when attendance at the meetings is far too low and even when enthusiasm has waned. The perseverance of prayer has long been a valuable tool in the face of the enemy’s attacks!

Tips to Persevere in Prayer

I was reminded in these useful tips from those pastors as to how Christians can pray better. Here were but a few of them:

Longer ≠ Better. We need to protect ourselves and our churches from believing there is a necessary correlation between the length of a prayer and the godliness of the person praying, or between the length of a prayer and the likelihood of God answering it.

As Jesus warned his disciples in light of the long, tedious and repetitive prayers of the uber ‘religious’ (Matt. 6:5), God is no more likely to hear and respond to a long prayer than a short one. Many prayer meetings suffer when the people pray for too long.

Pray Honestly. A pastor needs to remind himself and his church that we do not pray to impress the other people in the room, but to pour out our hearts to God. Public prayer still has that one-to-one dimension of a child before his Father.

Pray Scripture. Having abided by this principle for some time now, I have found that the people of my church in our weekly Sunday morning prayer meeting can and should use the prayers in Scripture as a means of prayer, or ‘having God’s ear. We should also model how to pray Scripture. Where our prayers tend toward “give me!” the Bible’s prayers are far more focused on God’s kingdom purposes, the cause of Christ and Christian character.

Can there be better words to speak to God than the very words he inspired in the Bible? I can think of nothing better than to speak to God in his own vocabulary.

Identify Gifting. God blesses many churches with certain people who are gifted in public prayer. Church leaders and members should consider strategically encouraging such people to commit to your prayer meetings, to pray often, and to see this as a ministry to and for the church.

Make It God-Centered. It is easy to slip into a pattern of man-centered rather than God-centered prayer. Man-centered prayers tend to ask, “How can God help me with my wants and felt-needs?” while God-centered prayers consider, “What is God doing in this? How can I join in God’s purposes here?” This changes not only what we pray for, but also the way we pray.

Pray in Small Groups. One church has one of their small groups each week dedicate their entire time to prayer. So, while the entire church may not pray together that week, one of the small groups is interceding on behalf of others.

Variety Matters. Even something as good as a prayer meeting can stagnate over time. There is value in planning out a few different kinds of prayer meetings and changing it up on a regular basis.

It was disclosed at this pastor’s forum for example, in one week the men and women would pray separately; another week there were only prayers of thanksgiving or confession; another week featured prayer for only certain kinds of requests. At our church’s meeting, we strive to follow the familiar prayer acrostic patterned after the Lord’s or better yet, disciples prayer of Matt. 6 and Lu. 11 (A.C.T.S.):

Adoration (“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; Matt. 6:9)

Confession (and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors; Matt. 6:12)

Thanksgiving (For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened; Lu. 11:9-13)

Supplication (Your kingdom come, your will be done; Matt.6:10a; Give us each day our daily bread; Lu. 11:3-4)

Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted as saying, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” If that is true, why would we hesitate to pray any more than breathe- alone and congregationally? Prayer is and always will be a constant battle. I pray Christians and God-glorifying, Christ-exalting and Bible-centered churches would not give up the battle to breathe- to pray!

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The Reason for the Season of Gospel Proclamation

Image result for jesus reason for the season Bernie Diaz, December 4, 2018

Any day now a deluge of online and printed magazine articles, television documentaries and talk shows will begin to pour in to take advantage of the advent or Christmas calendar to debate the ‘reason for the season’ and whether or not Jesus Christ was born in a manger on December 25th on or about 6 BC.

This is the season for some skeptics, including liberal theologians (i.e. The Jesus Seminar) and atheists to question if not attempt to debunk Christianity, the historical Jesus and the veracity of the Bible. This will happen as millions of professing Christians among other spiritually minded folks will “celebrate” Christmas (when they’re not busy buying presents and worshipping Santa Claus).

Lest Bible-believing, born-again disciples of Jesus despair once again over the growing secularization and commercialization of Christmas during this time, I encourage evangelicals with two reminders of the following Christmas truths:

  1. Don’t get too hung up on December 25th being our Lord’s birthday in his incarnation.

Don’t waste time arguing over or debating this. According to scriptural insights and the best historical evidence available, it is highly unlikely that Jesus was born on this date. More important than the ‘then’ is the what and why.

It is widely accepted by most scholars that the Roman Catholic church centuries ago, initiated the December observance of Christmas and the Savior’s birth to counter and attempt to redeem pagan worship during the winter solstice.

  1. This is an excellent time to proclaim or declare to friends, co-workers, students and loved ones the real reason for the season.

Only Easter can compare to this unique cultural opportunity afforded Christians at this time of year, to obey Christ and his Great Commission mandate to “make disciples.”

The name, images (false as they may be) and talk of Christ on video, print, in our ears musically and on the lips of people is hardly greater in our community than now.

Therefore, we are to called with wisdom to follow the apostle Paul’s instructions to the Colossian church just two decades after the resurrection to preach gospel truth. It is a process and culture of discipleship that involve ‘three Ps’: People, Pray and Proclaim.

  • People Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time (Col.4:5, ESV).

Who are the people you may have the greatest opportunity to influence and introduce to Jesus Christ during this Christmas season? A family member(s)? At a Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) or Christmas Day gathering? A fellow student or co-worker on the job while on break?

A relative stranger at the store or common acquaintance (i.e. neighbors, those folks you say hi to while running errands or serve you)? Identify at least a couple of people that you want to talk to about God, Jesus and the gospel before the month of December.

  • Pray Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—  that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak (Col. 4:2-4).

Prepare in advance what you will say to the people you will proclaim truth to, by asking the Holy Spirit of God that indwells you for courage, opportunities, wise words and a listening ear. Do the same for your fellow disciple makers amongst your church family.

Pray for the salvation of the people that the Lord has put on your heart or you run into, and for the power of the Spirit to be at work in their hearts and lives. Also, pray for the power to live a life that is an example of the evidence of Christ as his ambassador, as you show and share Him with those who know you best.

  • Proclaim Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Col. 4:6).

Preach the gospel of God and his word of truth by telling your testimony as a witness of how God saved you- worked and is working in your life and his power that delivered you from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of light and his beloved Son, which is the very reason for this holiday Christmas Season (Lu. 1:76-79; 2:10-11)!

Strive to proclaim God’s word by reading, sharing and studying his word with others one-on-one or more. Now might be a great time to invite one of your “people” (above) to not only attend your church’s Sunday worship service (‘the front door’), but perhaps via a small or community group meeting or Bible study (‘the back door’).

Or, you may find it best to create a mentoring process of your own privately, perhaps studying the more salvific oriented gospel of John or the Christmas accounts in Matthew or Luke with a curious and willing friend.

The apostle Peter paralleled Paul’s teaching in Colossians when he wrote that we should “… be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

I believe that preparation may entail having a Christmas ‘apologetic’ (“defense”) handy. To tie in this holiday with the reason for the season, be prepared to say that the most valuable gift worth receiving this time of year, is the free one from Jesus, which is justification and salvation by faith alone, through God’s grace alone (Ro. 4:5; 6:23).

Prayerfully anticipate the fact that when evangelizing someone or in the attempt to make a disciple, you may have to play the part of a yuletide doctor who will diagnose the terminal disease of sin in the heart of your loved one or friend.

We must be willing in other words to first share the bad news of the gospel- the necessity of being forgiven for sin and escaping God’s just wrath upon it, before serving up the good news of God’s free-gift of salvation and a new birth (Ro. 5:8; 8:1) to those that repent and believe in Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9).

Think of it as that great third act (redemption) of God’s story of mankind that was literally birthed on whenever that first Christmas day was. Be prepared to tell them that world history began with creation (Gen. 1-2); was followed by the fall (Gen. 3), was rescued by the redemption of Christ (Ro. 3:23-26) and will be restored as a kingdom and then permanently (Rev. 19, 21-22). Most appropriately enough, don’t forget to say to your Jewish, agnostic, Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness friends, that the Old Testament prophets perfectly prophesied or predicted the Christmas story’s redemption plan centuries before (Mic. 5:2; Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7).

My favorite Christmas movie of all time – movie period I think, is Frank Capra’s classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. Remind me when I mention it to someone this month to remember to tell them the part about the truly wonderful life being in Jesus Christ with the hope and glory of heaven. That’s a good reason for the season!

There Was a Seed- Sowing President…

Related image Bernie Diaz, November 27, 2018

Many Americans of my middle-aged Baby Boomer generation (post-WWII to 1964) look fondly back at the “good ole days” which weren’t always as good as we thought they were or made them out to be.

Nonetheless, ‘boomers’, are nostalgic. We talk about days gone by, love classic oldies music (at least I do) and we make lists- conscious or otherwise of our favorite things, including favorite entertainers and Presidents.

My all-time favorite President goes back quite a bit further though than the boomer generation, to the late 19th century; and our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, a wise and brilliant leader who led this nation by carefully navigating the Civil War, while having personally struggled with his Presbyterian roots, flirtations with agnosticism and a return- seemingly (depending on which historian you read) to the biblical, Christian faith towards the end of his life.

As far as a more contemporary favorite, that would be the first Presidential candidate I ever voted for, Republican Ronald Reagan, the former actor and Governor of California who served in the White House from 1980-88.

Reagan was a charismatic figure (in the sense of personality) and a true conservative who fought for Biblically based political platforms and principles (our first true pro-life President in the post Roe v. Wade era) endearing himself to the new evangelical voting bloc in America (‘The Moral Majority’).

Whether on the domestic or foreign policy stage, Reagan conducted himself  with dignity and was such a man of character, as to have even earned many a vote from the other side of the political chasm, known as “Reagan Democrats.”

However, more recently and subtly, I came to find a new reason to both admire and respect Reagan, who was thought of as a more reserved and professing Christian, who loved souls, the kingdom of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Subtle Seed Sower

Earlier this year a note was discovered in Nancy Reagan’s personal effects – dated August 7, 1982 – written by her husband President Reagan to his father-in-law. What makes the 36-year-old letter special is the topic – the most powerful leader of the free world was taking time on a Saturday afternoon to write to Loyal Davis, his ailing father-in-law. Reagan was concerned about his health, but even more so about his eternity – Davis was a self-declared atheist.

Reagan then 71, and just 16 months removed from being shot by crazed gunman John Hinckley Jr. in an assassination attempt, maybe understood what his father-in-law was facing, how he was being confronted with his certain mortality. From the letter it’s clear that Reagan had been doing some reading about God, sharing with his father-in-law arguments that probably came from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict – two apologetic resources which happen to be personal favorites of mine.

What he began with was one of his own experiences, what we evangelicals would commonly call our ‘testimony.’ During his first year as governor of California, Reagan developed an ulcer that gave him sharp pains, and other times only discomfort, but which never went away entirely. Then one morning, as he reached for his Maalox, he discovered he didn’t need it – he was healed. That same morning the first and second letters of the day were from people telling him that they and others were praying for Reagan.

Inside of an hour, a member of his legal staff popped in “on some routine matter” and on the way out the young man shared that some of Reagan’s staff would arrive early every day to pray for him.

An appointment two weeks later confirmed that not only did Reagan no longer have an ulcer, but, the doctor added, “there was no indication I’d ever had one.” Reagan understood this as God answering the many prayers of the saints (fellow believers of Christ). But he knew his skeptical father-in-law might dismiss that as coincidence, so he presented him with more to consider.

“Some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ the ancient Jewish prophets predicted the coming of a Messiah…. All in all there were a total of one hundred and twenty-three specific prophesies about his life all of which came true. Crucifixion was unknown in those times, yet it was foretold that he would be nailed to a cross of wood (a loose paraphrase of Psa. 22). And one of the predictions was that he would be born of a Virgin.”

Reagan continued “….But Loyal, I don’t find that as great a miracle as the actual history of his life. Either he was who he said he was or he was the greatest faker & charlatan who ever lived. But would a liar & faker suffer the death he did when all he had to do to save himself was admit he’d been lying?

The miracle is that a young man of 30 yrs. without credentials as a scholar or priest began preaching on street corners. He owned nothing but the clothes on his back & he didn’t travel beyond a circle less than one hundred miles across. He did this for only 3 years and then was executed as a common criminal.

But for two thousand years he has had more impact on the world than all the teachers, scientists, emperors, generals and admirals who ever lived, all put together.”

And with all that, a brilliant piece of apologetic (faith defending) truth (1 Pet. 3:15-16) as a President ever uttered, was offered to a lost and dying man (aren’t all unbelievers in that condition?). Reagan pleaded with his father-in-law to turn to God and place his trust in Jesus Christ. And there is some reason to hope that he did.

A Washington Post reporter discovered the letter while doing research for a biography on Nancy Reagan, and, rather than simply place it back in the box, she brought it to her paper, where almost shockingly in my view (the Post is not known as a bastion of orthodox Christian understanding nor conservative ideology) published it a few months ago.

And so it was, some 35 years after it was written, God used this private plea to challenge the many hundreds of thousands who have now been able to read it.

Whereas our nation’s 40th President may have not been able to use the “bully pulpit” as a gospel pulpit in the public proclamation of gospel truth, he apparently did not shy away from privately showing and sharing Jesus Christ to loved ones.

My favorite 20th century President did not shirk his Great Commission responsibility to do his part to approve himself studied as to why he believed what he believed and then to sow that gospel seed (Matt. 13).

May we seek and strive to follow President Ronald Reagan’s example and be the type of Christians that evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman described, as those whose “most ordinary interest is in those with whom we come in contact that would prompt us to speak to them of Christ. … If the New Testament be true—and we know that it is—who has given us the right to place the responsibility for soul-winning on other shoulders than our own?”

If the President of the United States could take time to subtly sow seed, shouldn’t we?

Thanksgiving Day Reflection: “I Can Get Satisfaction”

Image result for thank god Bernie Diaz, November 20, 2018

Was it no less a theologian than Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones who sang, “I can’t get no satisfaction? The Stones added, “I can’t get no satisfaction ’cause I try and I try and I try and I try I can’t get no…When I’m drivin’ in my car and that man comes on the radio he’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information supposed to fire my imagination I can’t get no…”

How true. No matter how hard we try, man cannot satisfy his insatiable appetite for material goods, peace and deep-seeded joy in and of himself and his own efforts.

In fact, the only group of people I’ve ever heard about or known who have ever experienced contentment or satisfaction in any meaningful way whatsoever are Christians – disciples of Jesus Christ like the apostle Paul, who learned contentment via the road of thanksgiving. Paul once wrote a book about joy and satisfaction while… wait for it…. chained to a guard from a prison home in Rome. That’s a big clue.

That book was a letter to a church we know as Philippians. Interestingly enough, that book of ‘joy’ was penned by a man, centuries before Americans and their forefathers expressed thanksgiving for finding a new ‘promised land.’ Paul’s old covenant people had lost their promised land (Israel) but witnessed and received God’s new covenant promises via the advent of his long-promised Messiah who brought the only immaterial resources that can produce real and lasting satisfaction.

Paul as a Jewish scholar back in the day had had it all and lost it all and considered his former life of power and prosperity as nothing more than rubbish (“dung” in a more literal translation) compared to his new riches in Christ.

What was his secret? How can we share that type of gratitude attitude with Paul above and beyond this week’s Thanksgiving Day, considering that our national holiday has been relegated culturally nowadays to being primarily about shopping- the eve of “Black Friday” rather than any acknowledgment about being thankful to God and his blessings?

Thanksgiving and Joy are Found in Christ 

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (Phil. 4:11-12, ESV).

The apostle Paul seems to be arguing from the above text of scripture that true soul-satisfying joy comes from within, not without. A Christian who is satisfied is content beyond temporal and fleeting circumstances (Ecc. 5:10).

In other words, born-again believers are not happy and thankful, just because a positive circumstance or event has come their way (i.e. a new home, car, relationship, winning lotto ticket or job). After all, the unregenerate parrot their supposed ‘thank God’ phrases in such circumstances or times of common grace.

Paul’s secret is a contentment that comes to him in whatever situation he finds himself in, whether he is near poverty and having little (“brought low”) or in plenty and having much (“abound”). There is no human circumstance that can alter Paul’s contentment – no material blessing can increase it, and no loss can decrease it. How is that possible?

Satisfaction is in Christ and from His power

 I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).

This oft-misquoted verse of scripture speaks to a power or strength that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ (“him” or “Christ” depending on your translation), and it’s not a power that allows us to do anything we like much less ‘all things’, but rather to be spiritually empowered to do and face anything God calls us to (2 Pet. 1:3), including want or need as per the context of Philippians 4.

I know Tim Tebow and many an American hero loves to sport the Phil. 4:13 icon under their eyes, or on a bumper sticker or in a social media post, but we should be reminded that God will not likely strengthen you to be ‘faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive,’ nor ‘able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.’

What Paul is saying, is that for those who are in Christ, God promises Holy Spirit empowerment and equipping to withstand any ‘thorn in the flesh’, test, trial or tribulation that comes our way.

As a result of that reality, one commentator has said, “If there is any event or circumstance apart from sin that would diminish your joy, you have SINNED!” Really? Why would dissatisfaction with our life and its circumstances be described as sin?

In short, dissatisfaction or discontentment with our lives reveals a lack of faith or trust in God and his sovereign and providential plan for, and work in us. Our complaining dissatisfaction reveals a lack of faith in the power and wisdom of God to bend his will to ours.

As opposed to being dissatisfied with God’s sovereign purposes in our lives, and being anxious or worried about his provision, we can rather appropriate the Lord’s Phil. 4:13 strength through a faith that takes peace and comfort in at least four unmistakable truths of which we can be thankful for:

  1. His Purpose. (Matt. 6:26)
  2. His Provision (Phil. 4:19; Matt. 6:25-32)
  3. His Promises (Matt. 6:30, 33)
  4. His Presence (Psa. 107:8-9)

It is a prayerful focus or heart meditation on the above that breeds a thankful and contented heart in the Christian year-round (Pro. 30:7-9; 1 Tim. 6:6-10; Heb. 13:5).

While it is right this week to give thanks to God for our many blessings of life, relative health, peace and provision, we who are in and are strengthened by Christ may other reasons for thanksgiving:

Reasons to Pray (1 Thess. 5:16-18) with Thanksgiving:

  • For Who God is (Psa. 28:7)
  • For Christ’s Work (Ro. 3:23-26; 5:1-2).
  • For the Holy Spirit’s Ministry in You (Eph. 1:3, Ro. 14:17)
  • For Future Hope and Glory (Phil. 3:20-21)
  • For Answered Prayer (Jo. 16:23b-24) 
  • For the Bible (Psa. 19:7; 119:14). 

This Thanksgiving Day take to heart that Prayer + Supplication+ Thanksgiving in Christ = no worries, joy and the fact that yes, you ‘can get satisfaction!’   

Post Veteran’s Day Reflections: The “Great and Just War”

Image result for wwi Bernie Diaz, November 13, 2018

This past Sunday, was Veteran’s Day in the United States, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary and commemoration of Armistice Day and of the end of World War I.

That monumental day acknowledged Germany’s agreement to cease fighting against the forces of the British Empire, France, Russia, and the United States which took effect at 11 a.m. November 11, 1918, ending what would be known for decades, as the “War to end all wars,” or what other historians call, “The Great War”, which resulted in 40 million casualties (military and civilian related in famine and disease), including over 116,000 American lives.

Great atrocities were committed by the combatants including the Armenian Genocide in signaling a new, “modern” and devastating era of warfare on earth. One of the more significant lessons I take away from the observance of Armistice and Veteran’s Day is the paradoxical nature of war.

Is War Evil and Necessary?

Warfare illustrates on the one hand, the evil of our world and on the other hand, its very necessity to restrain it. I’ve come to understand that warfare and law enforcement of any kind, is a reality and outgrowth of the need to confront mankind’s sinful nature. Heads of state are often evil and therefore commit heinous and evil acts towards their own people as well as other nations.

One of our nation’s founding fathers James Madison, rightly asserting the need for government to flex its muscles as necessary in the provision of a  military defense, famously argued in The Federalist Papers:

It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

Truer words have never been spoken, as we have found in our lifetime that negotiations with terrorists are virtually impossible and that warfare has become and continues to be a necessary ‘evil’ in which to combat the forces of greater evil.

Interestingly enough, secular humanists influenced by Darwinian evolution have to had to eat much crow for more than a century in arguing for absolute pacifism, having to swallow the fact that man is more violent now, in spite of his progressive and evolving ‘enlightenment,’ technological advancement and worldly wisdom, than ever before.

The 21st century seems to have picked up where the 20th left off, which was the most violent in world history, where more people were killed as the result of war and tyranny in the 20th century, than the first 19 centuries of A.D. (or C.E. if you must) history- combined.

So much for that idea about man’s evolution and upward mutation into beings of peace that would overcome the ‘evils’ of organized religion. Thank you very little Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Chavez, et. al, professing and known atheists.

Having just passed Veteran’s Day and honoring the great sacrifice so many men and women have made for our country, in our post mid-term election time of reflection on the state of our union, Christians wishing to have and hold to a biblical worldview must be able think about and communicate what God and his kingdom have to say about war.

Is God For or Against War?

Or to put in another way, is the LORD more of a “hawk” or a “dove” in the more modern military parlance, on matters of war?

The United States struggles with this question today, since she has been involved in some wars that were approved of by an overwhelming majority (even by pacifists), such as WWII. While others have been unpopular and opposed by many from the Civil War, to Korea, Vietnam and then the War in Iraq and against terror. Why? This issue points to the question of just-war theory.

For starters, the Bible is more than instructive on this issue, having much to say about war- it’s mentioned 350 times in the Old Testament alone. God actually commanded war many times in Israel’s history, so He obviously is not anti-war per se. He has often used it as part of His sovereign and permissive will, to achieve His purposes on earth.  

Some may cite the commandment “thou shall not kill” to justify pacifism, though the Hebrew word literally means the “intentional, premeditated killing of another with malice”, meaning that a better word for ‘kill’ in the English translation may be ‘murder’.

What about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount like the ‘golden rule’ and ‘loving enemies’ and the oft-quoted, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”? (Matt. 5:39,44, ESV)

Didn’t the apostle Paul tell us to overcome evil by doing good in Romans 12? Interpretations like those probably led a national leader of the Methodist church in opposition to war, to say, “War is inherently evil and is contrary to the will of God.” Is that true?

Context is King in biblical interpretation isn’t it? Are Jesus and Paul talking about individuals or government relations in scripture? Were a coalition of nations not right to resist Hitler or Bin Laden? Should we have given them the other cheek? Remember, what God’s word says about the chief aim or duty of government. Paul in echoing Genesis 9:6 wrote:

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil (Ro. 13:3-4).

Obviously, police officers arrest criminals and must use force on occasion and in this country there are states which still practice capital punishment. That is not turning the other cheek either. Thus, we understand that war is a form of international law enforcement and is a reality in our sin-cursed world.

God called his chosen nation on several occasions after the exodus from captivity in Egypt to conquer enemies as part of the acquisition of the promised land in fulfilling his covenant to them.

Furthermore, the early church theologian Augustine said, war is a “stern necessity; and that peace is the end sought for by war….it is therefore with the desire for peace that wars are waged.”

Joshua, one of the great men of God in scripture and successor of Moses, was a conquering warrior whose military exploits are summarized in Joshua 11. Ecclesiastes 3:8 declares, “there is…a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

So, I think it’s safe to say that God permits and even uses war as a tool. Why? We may conclude that sometimes it is in order that men (the world) would bear the consequence of sin as we see time and again in Israel’s history. He also seems to permit war so we can see what sin truly is and the need for God to save us from it.

After all, God and his kingdom have been at war with Satan and his, since the fall, so warfare of some kind of another is no stranger to humanity on this side of Christian glory.

Lest anyone think that Jesus Christ- that meek and mild savior that appeared on the scene two millennia ago is a dove by nature, they should be reminded that he is a risen and coming again Lord, who will bring a glorious, awesome and even violent, final judgment at the end of this age in Revelation 19:11-21.

Until then, Christians today should pray to live “peaceful and quiet lives” and for the salvation and wisdom of our government and military leadership (1 Tim. 2:1-4), as we pray that when war must rear its ugly head again, we would be led in God’s providence to a just war.

It is widely regarded that Augustine originally formed the ‘Just War’ theory in the fourth century and that Thomas Aquinas elaborated on it in his thirteenth century, Summa Theologica. To summarize the theories highlights on war:

1)      It must be waged by constituted authority.

2)      The cause must be just (such as a defensive stance).

3)      The intention must be to establish good or rectify evil.

4)      The war must be waged by proper means.

5)      The conduct must be just (avoiding civilians).

Although we pray that our nation would carry out ‘just wars’ when and if necessary, may we who are disciples of Christ keep in mind that Jesus’ return will truly bring about the ‘war to end all wars.’

That’s not a conflict we want to be on the wrong side of, nor our loved ones. That war will be just and will right all wrongs. This war for souls is more important than any other war being waged around the globe and is even more important than the next election that comes in 2020, should Jesus tarry.

The Election Results: Everything and Nothing Changed

Image result for midterm elections 2018 Bernie Diaz, November 7, 2018

‘Wave’ or no ‘Wave: What happened in Tuesday’s night’s mid-term elections? It depends on who you ask. The big “Blue” wave hoped for by the Democratic party apparently advanced until it hit a big “Red” wall erected by Republican opposition, led largely by the influence of President Donald Trump.

Or, to put it in clearer and factual terms: Republicans gained seats in the Senate while Democrats reclaimed the House majority by at least a couple of dozen seats. From there, it is all a matter of political posturing and perception:

  • President Trump, who threw his political muscle into the campaign and changed the terms of the debate, claimed “tremendous success.”
  • Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio proclaimed the results a “#redwave.”
  • NBC News called it a “suburban takeover by the Democratic Party.”

Others classified the results coming from a near record turn-out for a mid- term election, as a “pink wave” with a record number of women on track to be elected to the House.

Indeed, overall, women voted considerably more in favor of congressional Democratic candidates — with fewer than 4 in 10 voting for Republicans, according to a nationwide survey of voters.

In suburban areas where key House races were decided, female voters voted heavily for Democrats by a near 10-point margin. Voters were on track to send at least 99 women to the House, shattering the record of 84 now. The House was also getting its first two Muslim women, Massachusetts elected its first black congresswoman, and Tennessee got its first female senator.

Even college-educated younger male adults – long considered a ‘swing vote’, skewed towards more Democratic candidates than at any time in recent history. Therefore, it may be safe to safe to say that the moral revolution under its mantra of diversity, is definitely beginning to make as much headway into the political landscape as it has in the greater culture at large. That’s something that changed.

Although objectively, neither party can claim a victory from these election results, there are interesting developments to be pondered.

Excluding three as yet undecided states, roughly 52 percent of the American population (or 172 million people) will live in a state run by a Democrat, compared to about 43 percent of the population that’ll live in a Republican-led state due to some surprising Democratic wins in gubernatorial races. In that sense, the nation may be turning a bit ‘bluer.’

In fact, it could have been a much bigger night for Democrats, who suffered stinging losses in Ohio and here in Florida, where Trump-backed Republican Ron DeSantis edged out Democrat Andrew Gillum and his bid to become the state’s first African-American governor.

What Does it Mean?

From a practical perspective, the election results were mixed at best. The President may have helped GOP candidates in some areas of the country (i.e. FL and Ted Cruz in Texas) and hurt in others. Donald Trump bet big on a somewhat controversial closing message, warning of an immigrant “invasion” that warned viewers of a spread in violent crime and drugs across the nation.

Several television networks, including the Fox News Channel, yanked a Trump campaign advertisement off the air on the eve of the election, determining that its portrayal of a murderous immigrant went too far.

A Rainbow Wave of Change

Voters across the country decided on issues—not just candidates on Tuesday in more than 150 statewide ballot initiatives in 37 states, including a diverse, ‘rainbow’ type wave of measures ranging from abortion and marijuana, to religious liberty, gender identity, and voting rights.

Three states considered initiatives related to abortion. In Alabama, voters thankfully approved a constitutional amendment giving unborn babies the right to life and stating nothing in its constitution protects a right to abortion or requires the government to fund them.

Additionally, Alabama voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment authorizing the display of the Ten Commandments on state, public, and school grounds (see our Food for Thought link).

Elsewhere, voters in Oregon failed to pass a measure that would have banned the use of public funds for abortion- no surprise there, being they’re part of the blue’s ‘left coast.’

Also, in the first statewide referendum on transgender rights, Massachusetts voters upheld a 2016 state law extending nondiscrimination protections to people identifying as transgender. The law requires businesses open places of public accommodation segregated by sex to anyone based on his or her gender identity—anyone who denies access could face having to pay big fines or do a year in jail. A group of Massachusetts citizens led unfortunately, an unsuccessful campaign for a repeal initiative, saying the measure threatened the safety of women and children.

Here, Florida voters approved eleven out of an unbelievable 12 state amendments, including the restoration of voting rights to about 1.5 million convicted felons. Current law requires ex-felons to file a request with the governor before they can vote, but the passed constitutional amendment will now automatically give felons who have completed their sentence a right to vote with exemptions for those convicted of sex offenses and murder.

The Green Wave

Marijuana won in three states. Voters spread the green tide of pro-marijuana laws Tuesday as Michigan became the first Midwestern state to legalize pot, joining nine other states and the District of Columbia with legal recreational weed, something its bordering neighbors aren’t too crazy about.

Individuals age 21 and older in the state will now be able to possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused products and grow plants for personal consumption. As per common-sense backed by recent research trends among legalized states, heavy increases in pot-related accidents, injuries, costs and deaths are sure to follow.    

What Didn’t Change

Our federal government is as now divided as the rest of the nation between red and blue state lines, due to what should be the obvious and irreconcilable division of world-views present in our nation (see last week’s MCT post, A Troubled Time and What to Do About It).

It is apparent that red and blue Americans no longer share the same moral values we once did well over a generation ago, including our views of God, man and sin. Americans are as entrenched in their positions and values as ever before, making political compromise difficult at best.

The split Congress is sure to set up a host of obstacles for the Trump administration to hurdle, as the opposition-controlled House is almost certain to launch a string of investigations of the White House.

A split Congress also sets up a more challenging legislative path for Trump’s agenda. Democrats can block any major legislative initiatives such as securing funding for a border wall or repealing Obamacare, although the Republican majority in the Senate will continue to control the process of nominating and confirming federal judges, including the Supreme Court (Kavanaugh II anyone?).

Does Tuesday’s election now make governing impossible for our country? No, this has happened before. The last time Congress had a Republican majority in the Senate and a Democratic majority in the House was during the Reagan administration and that turned out just fine by God’s providence.

Speaking of which, the best result of Tuesday’s mid-term election is that nothing was decided or voted upon to alter the unavoidable fact that God continues to be sovereign ‘over the affairs of men’, including every government he ordains into being (Ro. 13:1), including this nation’s newly elected congress and presidential administration. Before man elected congress, God elected man – in more ways than one.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. (Pro. 21:1, ESV).

As no less a theologian than MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman asked, “What, me worry?”

Christians are not to be anxious about elections or the future of our country, being that it is all in the hands of God, who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations— let not the rebellious exalt themselves (Psa. 66:7).

In praying as if everything depended on God – which it does, and voting as if everything depended on us, in having honored God with our vote, we rest in the comfort of knowing that our ultimate and final citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20) is unaltered by Tuesday’s election and that we are subjects in the only kingdom that matters:

“… the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.” (Dan. 4:17)

A Troubled Time and What to Do About It

Image result for pittsburgh synagogue shooting Bernie Diaz, October 31, 2018

During a Catholic Mass at a Washington parish last Sunday, a priest asked during his sermon: “What has happened to the world?”

Questions like that are once again surfacing in America at least, in the wake of one of the more startling weeks in our nation’s more recent memory.

This past weekend, our country experienced an antisemitic mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, that killed 11, injuring several more as well as the mailing of at least a dozen pipe bombs from a deranged if not psychopathic suspect from South Florida, to Democratic and news-media critics of President Trump (including to former President Obama and former Senator/First Lady Clinton).

All of that and the emergence of a caravan of Central American refugees trying to make it to the U.S. border, calling into question the very nature of immigration policy in this nation, serves as a backdrop for the midterm elections just one week away. What an October it has been!

Due to the unfortunate frequency of such events- violent and otherwise, we won’t take too much of this post’s space – more than we already have this year documenting the true, root source of all the hate and violence Americans seem at a lost to explain, other than to remind them that it is basically the real and historic presence of E-V-I-L, evil.

Sticks, stones, nor guns, knives, fists, words and names are the issue. Mental health and dysfunction even, as large a contributing factor as it may play into some of this year’s mayhem in the U.S., should not be thought of by biblical, world-view oriented Christians at least, as the primary cause of what ails us. Rather, God and his word answers the above question, “What has happened to the world?”

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:12-18)

The “they” mentioned above and the very heart and nature that drives them, consist of unredeemed mankind. Evil and sin are moral wrongs from immoral human hearts that cause harm – inside and out, pain, suffering, disaster and death.

So, guns, sticks, stones, tweets and extreme television and internet analysis of our never-ending news cycle are mere tools more that can feed, rather than act as direct causes of man’s evil impulses to sin.

Political Solution?

Does this mean that we in America are hopeless to combat violence and injustice? Stick our heads in the cultural sand? Not entirely and no. Our upcoming election cycle reminds us that we have a privilege to cast a vote which may possibly make at least a temporal difference for good in our country.

Can the right governmental administration bring peace to our land? Interestingly, there is one Democrat already running for president who has staked his entire campaign on the proposition that people want a unifying figure (though almost no one knows this congressman from Maryland), a centrist who has pledged to bring together our divided nation.

He’s even produced a campaign book titled “The Right Answer: How We Can Unify Our Divided Nation.” In it, he writes, “We’ve got to stop retreating to our corners and complaining about each other.”

Sounds good but the honorable congressman misses a major point as well as human nature. America is divided because she no longer shares the common values that once united this country for much of its two century plus history.

The U.S. once extolled the virtues of Biblically influenced faith, family, freedom, the rule of law, personal responsibility and a work ethic. For more than a generation now, those values have eroded to the point where the nation I studied and grew up in is virtually unrecognizable to me.

Therein lies the rub and the hub of this conflict. It has always been and is clearer then ever, that a clash of worldviews, or philosophies of life are what keep this nation divided and as irreconcilable as New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans.

For example, how can pro-abortion and pro-life advocates reconcile or compromise on whether or not a woman has a right to choose death for her unborn child in the name of sexual freedom or even under great sociological stress? The two views are at their core incompatible to one another. Thus, the choice must be to support one side or the other.

The absence of the ideal of the integrity of man as an image-bearer of God and the sanctity of human life are as apparent today as they were at the time of Jesus Christ and the Roman Empire two millennia ago.

Two Biblical Solutions:

If you’re looking to be a peace-making, Christ disciple-making and multiplying Christian in the midst of all the mayhem before us in 2018 and beyond, may I be so bold as to make two general, Biblically based suggestions in order of importance:

  1. Be Christian.

Sounds obvious right? Remember if the above is true about what truly ails America, then only a grass-roots, person to person revival of salt and light Christianity amongst the lost, can make any significant difference.

We must remind ourselves that such a difference is for Christ’s sake and his kingdom, since the reformation of America I’m sorry to say, is probably not that high on God’s list of kingdom priorities. He “seeks worshippers in spirit and truth” for his glory more than a superficially moral nation.

After all, the Lord had that in first century Israel under the leadership of the scribes and Pharisees didn’t he? More specifically, this means that ‘lighthouse’ Christians pointing to Christ should:

  • Pray

Christians are mandated to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4). “Authority” in our system is different – thankfully, than what we see in a monarchy or empire. The opening line to the preamble of the constitution is “We the people.” Authority ultimately rests in the voting population.

Therefore, we elect and submit to persons that have representative authority over us (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17), which tells us to honor those in charge and praying for them to be providentially blessed by God’s saving and common grace, in order to be saved and to lead our nation as righteously as possible.

  • Obey

Christians have a duty to obey the will and word of God in order to live lives which resemble their new life and lord, Jesus Christ. We’re to glorify him with good and godly fruit, in such a winsome way as to attract the lost to Christ in order to be found by him in faith.

We also are to obey just laws that do not contradict the explicit law or commands of God. In the gospels when Jesus was asked if it was lawful to pay taxes, he replied, “Whose image is on the coin?” When those testing him answered, “Caesar,” Jesus said, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” For, as both Paul and Peter state above, government exists as a preordained representative of God to punish evil and support good. Thus, we give appropriate support to our governments, from the local to the federal. Only then….

  1. Be Wise

The great thing in the United States, is if we don’t like a law and enough of our eighteen and older citizens don’t like a law, then we can vote for candidates who will work to change said law. But as long as it is law, it is to be obeyed.

  • Say Yay or Nay

‘How now do we vote?’ I don’t think I’m going to give you my ballot for the first Tuesday of November. However, the vote of a Christian should be one of conscience that is Biblically informed. We are to exercise sanctified wisdom in the voting booth.

“Vote the Bible.” In a way, that phrase should inform our decisions. The scriptures are pretty clear on many moral issues facing Christian voters today, from the sanctity of life to the preservation of marriage and family; but the Bible doesn’t directly speak to a variety of other policy issues, ranging from levels of national security, law enforcement and tax rates, to health care coverage or immigration details.

In these cases, one platform may not be necessarily more right or wrong than another, but most be wrestled with. Moreover, scripture also tells us that character counts (Proverbs 11:10; 14:34, 28:12). As another blogger said, “Governmental leaders of good character lead to a better nation; those of immoral character lead to ruin and disgrace.”

In the last presidential election just two years ago, American voters were faced with choosing between two major party candidates of shall we diplomatically say, poor moral character. Some of you were ‘Never____ voters, who voted “for the lesser of two evils.” Others of us voted third party as independents or wrote-in other less ethically objectionable candidates.

Remember Christian, we have a sovereign God over the affairs of men and nations, we have a conscience and even though God can use evil men for his good ends, we are not forced to vote for a Nebuchadnezzar into any office, any more than Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace.

  • Speak softly

Christian, try hard not to lose a friendship or acquaintance (like someone you’re trying to introduce to Jesus) over needless or petty political arguments, as we would be careful to avoid the same on non-essential theological issues (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Let’s not add to the coarseness and incivility of our political environment and society shall we? Let us not ring reproach on the name of Christ and be holy- different and set-apart both in and out of the voting booth in both the best of times and the worst of our times.