Take 5 to Give 5

Bernie Diaz, July 22nd, 2021

As I think about military concepts like basic training or boot camp- including the spiritual kind, it is interesting to note how difficult it can be- even fear inducing, for soldiers to obey even one of the most basic of commands or orders from their superior. The same can be said of following the Christian’s commands. 

In a series I’ve been preaching at my church by the same title, I’ve discovered that no single command seems to strike as much fear into the hearts of disciples than disciple-making – specifically, evangelism.

I must admit I’m a bit scared of heights (acrophobia), for others, it may be enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) though for most people the greatest human fear seems to be public speaking (glossophobia). For Christians, I believe there’s a parallel of sorts to that fear- evangelism- the sharing of our faith, or to keep the mental health analogy going, evangophobia if there’s such a word!

In fact, most missiological studies indicate that the average Christian fails to share his or her faith more than once a year if at all. If true, that’s a problem for at least two reasons: (1) that would be disobedience of a direct command of God found in the Great Commission and elsewhere, to make disciples, (2) because a failure to share or proclaim the faith, is a failure to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

I can boldly make that statement because withholding the greatest, life-saving news anyone can ever hear – the gospel of Jesus Christ from a lost and dying soul, is among the most unloving things a Christian can do. If we’re to manifest the agape love of God that sacrificially meets needs, then that would include giving the truth about Jesus Christ, since he is what the world needs most.

Now, why do we exhibit “evangophobia?” Three fear factors may be the prime contributors:

Fear of man: I might get mocked, upset people, or create conflict. Yes, you may. Rejection and ridicule come with the territory in evangelism.

Additionally, some might argue that their issue is time (I don’t have time for that). I don’t doubt that for some, that is a factor. But that’s usually not the case for most. As someone was fond of saying, ‘We all have the same 24-hours in the day as everyone else. It’s not lack of time, but how you choose to spend it.’

Fear of failure: I feel alone and powerless to evangelize. This fear may be healthy to have, if it reminds you that you have to rely on the Holy Spirit in evangelism. It is also unwarranted, in that for those of us who believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation (the Doctrines of Grace), we know we can ‘sow and sleep’, meaning give the gospel faithfully and accurately, and then rest in the Lord’s providence and monergistic role in regenerating sinners.

Fear of ignorance: I just don’t know what to say. I am not prepared to do evangelism. It’s that fear one has of sounding ignorant or being unable to answer a big question. In response to the fear of not knowing what to say, the Bible tell us to get prepared!

We are responsible to understand what the gospel is and the nature of the kingdom, prayerfully looking for someone we can tell the truth to, as the apostle Peter spoke of our “always being 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 (1 Peter 3:15-16).

There are many methods- some better than others that prepare us to share our faith and over the years, we’ve taught our church more than one: The Way of the Master, Tell the Truth, Two Ways to Live and Three Crowns, which are all good, biblically sound methods of evangelizing. No one way is perfectly suited for every occasion or person, as Jesus and the apostles illustrated.

But there are also times and places where we don’t have a lot of time to share something about Christ and the gospel with someone, so we need to be prepared to share something that is both coherent as well as concise. Such an opportunity may present itself to us on an airplane, an elevator, a line at the grocery store or a coffee shop.

Regardless, there are certain communicable truths that are essential for Christians to be mindful to share with unbelievers, whether it be in a thirty second sermon or let’s say five minutes or so.

As I thought about what the apostle Paul brought to the Athenian philosophers and skeptics on Mars Hill in Greece, from Acts 17, I came up with five meta categories of thought, or theological truths that disciples of Christ can give in as little as five minutes of disciple making which sum up God’s plan of salvation: God, man, inability, gospel and faith.

The context of Paul’s apologia or defense of the faith and gospel preaching in Acts 17, comes as the result of his being “provoked” or literally irritated and burning with anger over the pagan worship of false idols there, among them an ‘Unknown god’, of which Paul took the opportunity to deconstruct with the new construction building of these five truths which took a bit longer to communicate than five minutes, though we may be able to condense them into that period of time.

  • God (Acts 17:22-25)

Paul began his discourse with something he could work with- something these lost people could relate to, in order to take the conversation from the secular to the spiritual. Some of these people we find were agnostic (without knowledge of God) in referring to an unknown god, leading Paul to answer the question of origins (‘How did we get here’)?

The apostle argued that God has given witness about Himself through what He created: ” The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1). This is what theologians would refer to as the general or natural revelation that God gives to all mankind of himself through the beauty and complexity of creation (Romans 1:19-20) and the conscience of his image bearers (Romans 2:14-16).

  • Man (Acts 17:26-28)

Since God is creator, it stands to reason that he is the sovereign ruler over his creation. The text of Acts 17 tells, “he marked out the appointed times” of mankind. Psalm 139 tells us our days are counted and God knows what they are- when we live and when we die. We came from one common ancestor (“made from one man”) – Adam and that means there’s only one race – and that’s the human race.

Paul’s call for repentance later in this passage and his words from Romans 3 and Ephesians 2, affirm the Bible’s claim from cover to cover that  unredeemed man is essentially and spiritually, dead, deaf, dumb, blind and in desperate need of redemption and reconciliation with his creator God whom he has rebelled against.

Amazingly, God has seen fit to give a universal and external call to everyone on earth to not only be reconciled to him, but to know him personally, not just superficially, which was a radical thought for some of the Athenians, being the idea that man can come to know and love God and be loved by God.

That can only happen however, if man recognizes something important…

  • Inability (Acts 17:29)

Paul exhorted these Athenian agnostics to understand their inability to worship God however they wanted to, which was to worship idols. He not so subtly called out their sin of idolatry, as one commentator said, “God made us in His image, so it is foolish for us to make gods in our own image!”

Paul told them you can’t serve or please God on your own and you are incapable of earning his favor, his blessing or his salvation. Simply put, man does not have the ability, the heart or the knowhow in his unredeemed state to do any of that.

  • Gospel (Acts 17:30-31)

Paul in this passage, brings the good news that is the gospel when he moves from man’s inability to his accountability and therefore the stark reality of the implications of the gospel. God is a just judge who cannot  fellowship with sinners who are covered in sin and unrighteousness. Therefore, something or someone has to change- and that’s us.

We must be bold enough to communicate the gospel truth that the time has come for sinners to repent or turn to God and away from a life of sin. Now is the time for repentance and faith in Christ. The gospel gift has been offered and is out there for everyone if we would just take 5 to give 5 to them. By the way, we can take more than five minutes of course as we have opportunity.

Why must we repent to God and trust in Jesus? Paul tells us in Acts 17:31, “ because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Not only is God gracious and merciful, but he’s perfectly righteous and just, meaning the just judge must hold us accountable to the law as any good judge would, and he metes out the consequence – judgment to be pronounced to law-breakers. Admittedly, this will be a stumbling block to those people who love the idea of justice, until it comes to them.

A law breaker gets pulled over for speeding and what they’re looking for from the police officer on the scene is not justice, but immediate mercy and forgiveness. We love and want justice when we’ve been offended. People just hate it, when they’re the offender, and sinners have been rebellious towards God, offending him and breaking his laws for a lifetime.

Paul’s simply saying sinners should have to pay the price for their unrighteousness – should meet justice and adds that God the Father will judge the world by God the Son, Jesus- being the God/man whom the Father has appointed to do just that, being the Messiah and king of this kingdom.

His resurrection in fact, is the “assurance” – or proof of his judgeship, having risen from the dead to prove that not only is he God in the flesh, but that Jesus is worthy of being the judge of the guilty and the dead, having conquered the guilt of sin and death. The fifth and last thing God and the Bible want us to know is…

  • Faith (Acts 17:32-34)

We learn from the final passage of this text that we basically will get three kinds of reaction to the sharing of the gospel and our faith in Christ: yes, no and maybe. Paul’s response to the mockers- the ‘no-no’s,’ led to his departure. He left them where they were. Indeed, there comes a time when you’ve said or posted, emailed and written enough. People can be stiff-necked and will want to debate you just to win an argument. They don’t really want Christ.

So, we ‘shake the dust off our feet, and we don’t ‘cast pearl before swine.’ Meaning, with some skeptics, we say, I’m not going to give them any more gospel truth right now- to paraphrase that classic movie line because, “They can’t handle the truth!” It may not be their time to receive the beauty and the value of the gospel, or maybe, you casted or watered a seed and the Lord will have someone else come for the harvest of it (1 Corinthians 4).

Indeed, some, will come, repent, “join” and believe in Christ. Our responsibility is to obey the Christian’s command to make disciples while there is time and that takes fear-killing preparation.

As one writer who experienced a dramatic evangelistic opportunity on an airplane in danger of a crash landing, said, “Any moment could be your last. You are not in control. Be ready. Your next walk around your neighborhood could be your last moment on earth. Your condo complex could tumble down on you while you’re sleeping.” He said that interestingly enough, before the Surfside condo tragedy occurred here in South Florida.

He added, “Your next drive could end in twisted metal. Your life could be over before you drop your kids off at daycare.” Therefore, it may behoove us to learn how to take 5 to give 5.

The Sovereignty of God in Caribbean Chaos

Bernie Diaz, July 14, 2021

On the heels of the assassination of the President of Haiti, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in Havana and at least a dozen more cities this past week, to lash out at the worsening conditions in the country under the communist regime – the biggest protest in decades – prompting the country’s president to call on “revolutionary” citizens to join police and the military to counter the protesters.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who heads Cuba’s post-Castro, Communist Party, addressed the country and (illogically) blamed the U.S. for stoking the anger, according to the Washington Post. 

“The order to fight has been given – into the street, revolutionaries!” he said in an address, according to another news report. The impetus for this uprising, stems from the simple fact that Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, having reported 7,000 daily COVID-19 infections and more than four dozen deaths in one day.

What the chaos from an ensuing crisis has in common with both Cuba and Haiti, is the consequence of two secularly led and dysfunctional government and political systems located in the close Caribbean vicinity of our nation, both suffering God’s judgment on their collective ‘unrighteousness and wickedness’, tragically enslaving their people to hunger, ill-health, poverty and injustice.

The basic human rights of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ have been denied the citizens of both Cuba and Haiti for decades, and from a practical standpoint, no simple solution seems to be in sight.

Haiti’s collapse will be far more complex to deal with than Cuba. The unstable Haitian government and society has been wracked fundamentally with corruption and violence for a century. There is barely the appearance of an infrastructure of any kind for the Haitian population and billions of dollars in foreign aid from the U.S., the United Nations and other countries, have been squandered time and time again by its leadership.

Christians thinking from a biblical worldview can see the plight of Haiti and understand why God ordained the institution of government and authorities to rightly deal with the problems of evil and suffering in a nation state (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2). This is what Haiti lacks and desperately needs- a reformation of its nation from top to bottom. Unfortunately, the road to such a reform will be a long and hard one.

Whereas Cuba, sitting just 90 miles from our most southeastern American border- near my home, is a strategically important and yet, paralyzed nation, caught in a vice between its current government, seeking to preserve the last vestiges of its failed and romanticized, socialist-communist revolution, and the reality of a populace which may have arrived at last, to the end of its rope, unable to tolerate any longer its political and economic oppression which stretches back more than three generations.

Can Revolution Save?  

Is bloodshed the answer? Supporters of revolution – including those pointing to the French and American revolutions of more than two centuries ago, yearn for war as a means of casting off evil and oppressive governments, at times forgetting that the overthrow of one tyrannical dictatorship or monarchy, can just as easily lead to the birth of another.

The United States was reminded of that fact, after having helped install  Saddam Hussein as the President of Iraq, only having to spill blood less than a decade later in the Gulf War, leading to an uprising that deposed Hussein by assassination. Cuba itself simply moved from one American-friendly dictator, Fulgencio Batista, to following another, that infamous, bearded, olive-clad, closet communist named Fidel Castro.  

Fans of revolutionary movements should always be careful for what they wish for, lest they get it. Revolution tends to beget more revolution. Cuban and Haitian nationals know this for sure.

God in his sovereign providence on the other hand, has ordained governing authorities according to Romans 13, to restrain and then punish evil, and to promote that which is morally good and righteous. Government is ordered by God as a foundational institution of creation, to prevent anarchy and chaos in the street- such as we’ve witnessed in Haiti and then Cuba.

Therefore, every head of government is under the Lord’s authority and “whoever resists the authorities, resists what God has appointed” (Romans 13:2). But what’s even more remarkable about this truth, is that God’s sovereign rule as king of the world over human government, includes every form of it that has ever existed. Furthermore, that we are commanded to be subject to, or to submit to which ever form of government exists where we are – as a principle – or general way of life.

The Bible from Old Testament to New (including Titus 3), is for citizens- led by Christians, to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, without qualification. We must keep in mind that the New Testament writers were arguing for the citizen’s submission at the time of church history, when it had no voice or vote in how the governors or emperors, Kings or Caesars of that time came to power – sort of like, oh, Cuba and Haiti.

Governments in ancient times were often more ruthless, evil and pagan in every which way, than the two current Caribbean examples I’m citing here. But still, we are to submit to them all, to the glory of God and the ultimate good of his people.

Admittedly, this doctrine or teaching is hard, so much that some scholars or commentators think that when the apostle Paul meant for us to submit, that it would only be to a “lawful” or decent kind of government. I wish that were so. That would make things a whole lot easier for us. Then we could think we only need to submit to a capitalist, democratic republic like America. We wouldn’t need to submit to or pay taxes to a socialist government and wouldn’t that be nice?

Wouldn’t it be nice for those of us with close family and friends in Cuba to call them to arms and to overthrow the communist government? To strike while the iron is hot at this moment? That’s much easier said than done and the scriptures do not give us that out. What the word gives us are a few principled exceptions.

Yes, Cubans and Haitians can disobey man– the state, but only when it commands them to do what God clearly forbids, and to disobey man when the state forbids what God clearly commands them to do.

But such a decision must be taken with great wisdom, care and caution as lives and the glory of God, in obedience to his word are at stake.

The Cuban president answered the unprecedented protests by authorizing police shootings on unarmed civilians — and, in his words, “summoning all the revolutionaries and all the communists” all over Cuba to confront the demonstrators.

As one journalist observed, “Under the cloak of night into Sunday and in the light of day Monday, Cuban police and special ops moved into neighborhoods all over the island, at times shooting at homes and at ordinary people staging protests across Cuba, from Havana to Guantánamo.”

“They got the response they deserved,” Díaz-Canel said, blaming the people ironically, for his own violence. 

How Now Shall They Respond?

In the aftermath of our COVID and election year of 2020-21 in the U.S., I recommended in a post that we respond in three general ways to the crisis and chaos that befell our nation at that time, and I repeat them here, for the biblical benefit of our brothers and sisters in Christ in both Cuba and Haiti. Revolution is not one of them

Rest: I have argued from scripture that God pre-ordained the circumstances and consequences of this most current season of crisis as the result of his sovereign providence (the outworking of his sovereignty). He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.. (Daniel 2:21a-b).

I for one, will not panic in the wake of these events, but rather rest in and take comfort in this doctrinal fact, with confidence that these political events did not take place randomly away from the eyes and hands of our creator and sustainer God who has used many an unbiblical king, ruler or president to contribute to his good will and purposes. That is, until the ultimate king and ruler of earth, returns here to right all wrongs- Jesus Christ.

Remember and Repent: There are many lessons to learn from what has occurred in Cuba and Haiti. Among them, is a need for them to be reminded as several texts of scripture reminds us, to refrain from placing their trust in “princes” or kings, rulers or presidents (Isaiah 2:22; 30:2; 31:1; Jeremiah 17:5; Psalm 118:9).

The psalmist wrote, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Psalm 146:3). Christ followers must not fall prey to the fandom of any political figure or system near of far, placing greater faith, love and obedience to fallible men, than the infallible Messiah and Son of God. If any of us fall to that temptation, may we confess it as sin and repent of it- turning to God.

Pray: Understanding all of the above, our primary weapon against the prevailing principalities and powers of the age, is of course, prayer and thoughts held, “captive to Christ,” not primarily to thoughts of revolution.

Now is a time to not only pray for our own biblical wisdom and discernment in sorting out these issues of life and liberty – both here and nearby, but for God’s common grace to fall on these two countries, in mercy and with wisdom and grace for a peaceful resolution to these crisis and His intercession to bring about national leadership that would enable its people to live “… a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2:2-3).”

Let us come together to love and pray for our neighbors in Cuba and Haiti, as we wait on the Lord, hanging on to our hope of glory and the perfect earthly kingdom and government to come with Jesus Christ.

The Real Freedom of Independence Day

Bernie Diaz, July 7, 2021

This past week America observed its 245th birthday, though you may notice I didn’t say that the nation ‘celebrated’ it as a whole. Celebration would have normally been a cause for joy in fireworks and patriotism for most of this country’s 300 million plus residents.

Though the nation’s flag sports colors of red, white and blue, only the most ‘red’ of states would have truly celebrated America’s birthday, reveling in its traditions, founding principles and historical prowess as a super power and beacon of freedom to the world.

Red Americans, known as the more politically conservative among us, would have gladly seen and shared Hobby Lobby’s July 4th full-page ad in multiple newspapers featuring a prominently placed verse from the Bible along with numerous, pro-Christian and pro-Bible quotes from the Founding Fathers and other key leaders in our history. It then closed with an appeal to readers to find out more about Jesus.

The ‘bluest’ of states however – being the more liberal or “progressive” among us, may have illustrated the great division existing in the ‘Divided States of America,’ by having somberly reflected on the ad, this country’s “oppression and tyranny” over minorities at the hands of white, male and cisgendered founders in a revisionist history known as, Critical Race Theory, which has been posited as the ‘latest thing’ in the good ole’ U.S. of A.

No wonder that the response from the left to the Hobby Lobby ad was less than enthusiastic, if not downright hysterical. According to a headline on a popular gay atheist blogsite, “Hobby Lobby Goes Full Dominionist In July 4th Ad.” The idea being that the retailer like so many Christians are trying to lead America to a theocratic form of government. But is that response in any way warranted? 

The obvious answer would be no, but Christians who are holding to a biblical worldview are still caught in the vice of a polarized nation trying to figure out how to answer the great philosophical question, ‘How Now Shall We Live?’ in a fractured, post-Christian America.

The fact of the matter is that disciples of Jesus Christ are having to come to grips with our affections for a nation that although founded upon Judeo-Christian principles and worthy of our gratitude for God’s manifold blessings upon it, has become largely unrecognizable from its roots, as the apple has fallen far from its cultural tree.

The crux of this issue and a search for “Real Freedom,” just happened to be the main idea of the sermon I preached to my church last Sunday- the 4th of July. I tried in that message to help my congregation and myself, think through 21st century life in America through a biblical lens that forces us to deal with certain realities and challenges we’ve never faced before.   

‘She Ain’t What She Used to Be’

I opened my sermon to the text of 1 Peter 2:11-16, by citing the Pledge of Allegiance – a pledge I haven’t heard in I don’t know how long, and which had been a staple of my public-school experience in America years ago (that’s right- public school)! As I pondered the words of the pledge, I was reminded that the U.S. has not always been, “one nation, under God,” nor has it always offered “liberty and justice for all.”

Frankly, it would have been more than a bit disingenuous to have recited those phrases if you were an African-American who lived in the first 150 years of our nation’s history, or if you had been an unborn child over the last 50 years or so.  

Such historical realities should temper any thought of ‘Christian nationalism’ for those whose untethered love of the U.S. rivals their love for the kingdom of God. However, a right perspective of our nation balanced upon the theological foundation of the inherent depravity of man as the fathers of this country held, helps ground our love of country the way it should for our neighbor.

Afterall, both are flawed, image bearing creations of God worthy of love, honor and respect, and balanced by a clear eye which can see and discern its flaws, appreciate its heritage as well as its need of redemption.  

That is why I can critically discern America’s warts and all, and still profess the great affection for this country that I have always felt, being glad and grateful to God to have been born and raised here and likely to die here.

That gratitude for God’s providence wells up in me all the more, when I consider my own family’s exile from a communist country which knew little of freedom to come to the United States.

Strangers on Earth

The apostle Peter wrote his first letter to the diaspora, the dispersed early church that was persecuted and forced out of Jerusalem and began to grow in the other nation states of that region. It was there that Peter exhorted and encouraged Christians, to remain faithful to the word of God in obedience to Christ by living in, withoutbeing of, this world in an uncanny parallel to our society today.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12, ESV).

Peter by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave his readers three commands or imperatives to carry out their mission as foreigners- aliens, or pilgrims in their exile: to be holy, humble and then free.

  • Be Holy

The journey for believers that “have no lasting city” other than the one to come, starts with holiness. As Peter quoted Leviticus in his letter and said, “be holy as he is holy,” referring to Christ, we can reinvigorate our culture by being different, as the world holy implies, and not in a way that we isolate from the world, but to simply meanwe don’t imitate it.

Salt and light Christians (Matthew 5) are to enhance or bring out the best flavor in our country. We act as a preservative. So as spiritual, green-card carrying disciples of Jesus, we strive to be holy because we are, living counter-cultural, godly lives that attract the lost that God is drawing to himself.

How do we do that? 1 Peter tells us to “Abstain from the passion or lusts of the flesh”, so that we won’t lose the tug of war with our remaining flesh and lose our witness to the world.

  • Be Humble

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good (1 Peter. 2:13-14).

Christians are not taught by scripture to be revolutionaries in any political and violent sense. We don’t look to join angry and violent protest mobs like Black Lives Matter and scream obscenities at our opponents. We don’t overthrow capitals (read January’s protests in D.C.).

Rather, we live in subjection or submission to the governing authorities God has placed over us. Everyone in one way, shape or form, has to submit to, or ‘come under the authority’ and leadership of someone else in life- usually in multiple ways and relationships (e.g. wives to husbands, husbands as unto Christ, Christ to the Father, employees to employers, children to parents; Ephesians 5-6).  Government is no different (Romans 13:1-2).

The theme of Christian citizenship is humbly submitting to authority because God is a God of authority and the creator of order, not the creator of chaos. With the fall, chaos entered the world necessitating government. If we didn’t have law enforcement, we’d have complete anarchy and chaos in the streets, which we’ve already seen some of in this country over the last year or so in Portland and Seattle.

Therefore, believers need to be careful with their political posturing. Yes, politics and policy matters and we are free to speak and act and vote and should take every reasonable opportunity to do so, but real Christian freedom is free to shut up our critics with righteousness or better yet, humble, holiness (1 Peter 2:15).

Not only can Christian nationalism or a preoccupation with politics in America hurt our witness and make enemies of our mission field (radical, secular, unregenerate citizens), but it can also lead us down the road of moralizing America, which does nothing to advance the kingdom and cause of Christ.  

Our job as disciple-makers is not to ‘reclaim America for Christ’ and create a nation of religiously or morally superficial Pharisees, but to live and love in such a way that the lost would be found by Jesus.

  • Be Free

 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (1 Peter 2:16).

God is not some anti-freedom cosmic killjoy. In Christ, you will never be more free than you are now having had your sin chains broken. Another great paradox of our faith is that Christians who have been born-again are no longer slaves to sin but instead, are slaves to Christ, which is why Jesus said, the truth will make you free. Real Christian freedom means we are now free from sin, free from Satan, free from guilt over sin and from trying to earn God’s grace.

In summary, I’m glad to be an American. To be patriotic, is to have a special affection or love for country and there is nothing wrong with that. I will watch the Olympics this summer and will still get some of the chills of watching our athletes who stand for our country on the medal stand as the national anthem plays. But, as a Christian, my greatest allegiance is not to the USA for which it stands… Although it is a nation under God – his sovereign rule, but my greatest allegiance is to Jesus Christ and his church.  

Though it’s ok to sing the star-spangled banner, it’s even better if you love to sing “Amazing Grace.” The way to be an American best, is if you are a Christian first.

The ‘Tower in Surfside Fell…’

Bernie Diaz, June 30th, 2021

As of this post date, the death toll has climbed to sixteen and rescue teams are entering their seventh day searching the rubble of a collapsed building in Surfside, Florida — still holding out hope they will find the 147 people still unaccounted for.

There is an ongoing search for life, for hope – in the expectation of a better day and for answers to the ultimate “why” question that has plagued mankind for centuries in the wake of such catastrophes and human tragedy like the fall of this condominium tower in my greater community. Why did those sixteen perish? Why then? Why there? Where was God in it?

Those types of questions in similar circumstances have been raised as arguments for centuries, for some with a sense of hatred of God and for others, the argument that he cannot exist, unless he is an impotent God who cannot prevent disasters or is an indifferent or heartless God who cares not to.

Christians holding to a biblical worldview- needed now more than ever, know better.

By now, most of the watching world knows the what and when of what happened: The condo building, Champlain Towers South just north of Miami Beach, partially collapsed in the middle of the night last Thursday as many residents slept.

Family members of the missing residents watch, wait and pray, while the bereaved members of those that died, grieve. Thankfully, the church of Jesus Christ is mobilizing locally as only it can, in delivering the grace of mercy ministry to meet both spiritual and practical needs at ground zero.

What lingers though, is the emotional and spiritual anguish the victim families are struggling with and will continue to for some time. Some may choose to, “curse God and die” as Job’s wife did in the wake of their family’s calamities, while others may turn their backs on their creator or fail to find his presence and comfort in the midst of their pain. Others both near and far to the scene struggle to make sense of it all.

2,000 years ago, a number of Hebrew citizens were perplexed by two mind-numbing tragedies that occurred in the Holy Land, producing pain and suffering, and they approached Jesus Christ, the chosen one, en route to Jerusalem, with the proverbial “why” question:

Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5, ESV).

God-fearing Jews would not ordinarily place much stock in the idea that these were random events, but more likely the result of judgment on individual sins. Today, we might be more prone to make this strictly a geographic or structural issue. After all, news reports are indicating suspicious signs of building decay and the ignorance of such, may have led to the condo building’s collapse.

Ultimately, the issue however, is theological..

I am the LORD, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.’ Talk about hurricanes….(Isaiah 45:5a,7).

Interestingly enough, well over 60 million people will die around the world this year- that’s about 200,000 per day- nearly 8,000 per hour- and I would say the vast majority are “perishing” or going to hell for rejecting Jesus Christ and his gospel of salvation. But that reality doesn’t seem to bother us as much as the plane crash that kills 200 at a time, the tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and a collapsed tower that took the lives of a  dozen or more people, unexpectedly and quickly.

What makes this worse is our 24-hour, satellite and internet news cycle, which does not enable us to escape from the information and the images that go with them. We bear the knowledge of every disaster that occurs and the degree of our awareness of them may make us think that there are more calamities in the world now than any other period of history.

The reality for example, is that diseases did as much or more damage in the past than COVID-19 did. We know plagues have wiped out entire nations, so the truth is, calamities aren’t any worse or any more frequent than they’ve always been. The earth has always been a dangerous place to live. Why?

That question is worth asking because it leads to the Lord’s answer to the “Tower” question. What is the common thread throughout history and events like this? Where did it all start and why? SIN (Romans 8:22-23).

Why did those Jews offering sacrifices die at the hand of Pilate in Luke 13? Why did that tower of Siloam or the Surfside building fall on those citizens? Those really shouldn’t be our primary questions though we understand why they are raised. Man wants to be sovereign in knowledge while struggling to submit to the only one who is.

The question should be, “What kind of a God lets anybody live?” We know God is holy and righteous and we know the wages of sin is death, and we deserve to die. The Bible tells us that ‘the soul that sins, it shall die.’ The fact that we take another breath today is because God is merciful.

But time will come as the apostle Paul told the Athenians on Mars Hill, that God has long overlooked our ignorance, but now commands, “.. all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man (Jesus) whom he has appointed (Acts 17:30-31).”

It is the patience and tolerance of God leading us to repentance that delays his final judgment and restoration of this world. You see, history works this way: we all deserve to die. But instead, God lets us live and really live. We live, we love, we laugh, we enjoy blessings by the good hand of God’s common grace while taking our days for granted.

That truth goes to the heart of Jesus’ response to the why question of the tower. He replied, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  What’s the point of that answer? That we not be preoccupied with the details and timing of the inevitably of disease and death on this side of glory. The ultimate questions of our death should not be about how or why? But rather, what is the state of our souls? Were the victims of the tower of Surfside ready to meet God on judgment day? Are you and I?

Are we right with God at the moment, since we know not when our time comes- only he does (Psa. 139)? Through events like these, Jesus is telling us, ‘It’s time to repent.’ He’s giving the lost the opportunity to be found.

If we repent and believe in Jesus, we do not have to “perish.” Jesus and those first century Jews knew they were going to physically die regardless of whether or not they repented in faith, so he was not referring to physical death but rather spiritual. Therefore, the way out of the rubble of our sin-cursed lives here and now – our rescue or salvation, is by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).”

Tower Lessons To Learn

One overarching takeaway from this latest of human tragedies to come, is for us to learn to be patient in our own trials as Job was, so that we might learn to help others in theirs. Our communities are filled with people who need to repent, be saved and also need encouragement once they are.

God may be preparing us in events like these, for that kind of ministry. As C.S. Lewis famously wrote: Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. U.S.A. are you listening?

If you still wonder or somebody asks you where was God in the fall of the Surfside Condo? Think and say to yourself and others, “Where he’s always been – right in the middle of it, directing, working, loving and waiting for people to cry out to him for his mercy and grace, in repentance for the forgiveness of sin, so they would not “perish.”     

The Unreached Mission Field in America

Bernie Diaz, June 25, 2021

Being that western nations like the United States and those from the Reformation era in Europe, were the greatest sending church nations of the modern missionary movement, we would not think of America has being a place where one can rarely find an evangelical Christian would we?

Indeed, if you thought the international mission field where distant ‘unreached people groups’ remain as those still likely to be absent of a significant or visible Christian presence you would be right.

According to a recent study by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, only 19% of those belonging to a non-Christian religion personally know a Christian. When considering the three largest religions other than Christianity in the world—Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism—there adherents were even less likely to have had a personal contact with a Christian.

In some countries, the percentage falls even lower, which is particularly true of nations that are overwhelmingly Muslim and where the few Christians that are there are persecuted, such as in the hemispheres of Africa and Asia.

However, what many of you may be surprised to know is that the U.S.A. has been fast becoming one of the greatest mission fields of modern history and is quickly approaching the status of importing more missionaries to spread the gospel than it exports.

Moreover, a new Barna Research report states that other faiths are now attracting more Americans than Christianity, for what is likely the first time in our nation’s history. For example, in 1991, nearly nine out of every ten U.S. adults held a biblical view of God, but now less than half (46%) do. Belief in the Bible as “the accurate Word of God” fell from 70% in 1991 to 41% in 2021- that has occurred in less than a generation’s worth of time.

Meanwhile, the number of Muslims in the United States has increased three-fold over that time and about one out of every fifteen American adults now identify with Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, more than double the number from 10 years ago.

Missiologists have been at a loss to comprehensively explain what has gone wrong with the American church for several years now, attributing several factors to its numerical decline; most notably the influence of a liberal, post-modern and post-Christian culture which has grown in influence and number for more than a generation.

This culture has not only infiltrated virtually every sphere of American society, but even the church itself, which struggles today with its identity in the midst of an unprecedented sexual and moral revolution, which has seen the U.S. legalize same-sex marriage and blur if not begin to blot out the God-given distinctions of biologically fixed genders.

The church as an institution has seemed to have lost its way on the verge of our nation’s 245th birthday next week, and as painful as it may be to admit, Christianity has largely lost its savor as the salt which preserves common moral values in America.

I would argue that we have lost our saltiness in the culture at least in part, because we- church leaders and theologians, may have far too long misidentified and miscounted the number of true, evangelical Christians who faithfully worship and fellowship in the church – the pandemic notwithstanding.

That may sound like a radical claim, but one I find unsurprising in a church culture that has over emphasized easy beliefism, easy baptism and an easy if non-committal approach to local church membership for far too long. All of which has since exposed the church as somewhat of a minority community in a nation that was largely built by God’s sovereign blessing in a Christian culture.

The Good News from the Mission Field

While these trends in American beliefs offer Christians and church leaders abundant, close-to-home mission opportunities, Barna adds this caveat: “As I see it, Christian ministry as practiced (in America) for the last five decades will be ineffective in meeting these new challenges.”

Whereas I may disagree with this pollster and analyst’s solutions for church growth, I do affirm that the church of Jesus Christ may be in need of a new reformation, which could foster revival in and through the church if, it were to return to the truth telling theology and doctrines of the reformed faith (the five sola’s of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone, based on the word alone for God’s glory alone).

Furthermore, the church can also go ‘back for the future’ as the lighthouse of truth in delivering real social justice- lasting, non-legislative, biblical justice as it did as a minority new-born in the middle-east of the first century, when Christians- known then as the “people of the way,” stood for the scriptural and God-designed institutions of marriage, family, children and the rule of law with equality for all (Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave and free) without prejudice, in a culture that was antithetical to such views.

       What could a similar movement like that look like today?    

How about a unified engagement and mobilization of the gospel-faithful and Christ-exalting church in America, to bring a culture of love and life to a too-long abandoned, American mission field? The mission field where too many professing, but often times non-faith possessing “Christians” may be found: your local abortion center.

Prolife advocates have known for some time that one out of every four Americans have experienced abortion in some way, shape or form. Worse, about half of the pregnant women- mothers, who have participated in this tragic waste of image-bearing human life – over 60 million deaths of preborn children in this country alone since 1973, identified as being ‘Christian’ at the time of their abortion. How could that be?

Some pregnant women- often, young, single-mothers who claimed Christ have seen no better alternative than to take the life of their unborn child, thus believing their economic and emotional burdens would be lifted. Others may have been nominal ‘Christians’ (in name only) who were never properly discipled by a church if they real were disciples at all.

Perhaps the church will move in such a way that pregnant women looking for a solution to their problems would run to their local church rather than an abortion center.

Make no mistake about it, abortion not only continues to be the most divisive and important moral crisis of our age, but is has also been an untapped mission field for far too long, where the workers have been relatively few.

Politics and public policy have not solved the issue, as important a factor as that may be in the fight to save the unborn. I believe public policy will only be moved forward when public opinion is swayed, which is most likely to happen when more of the public turns to and trusts in Jesus Christ by faith. Only then, when a resurgence of life-transformed Christians holding to a gospel and biblical worldview, including God’s view of the preborn – made in his image (Psa. 139; Jer.1; Lu. 1), will cry out for justice and by bringing a culture of love and life to the issue, so to paraphrase, as someone said, that ‘What the Supreme Court has made legal, the church would make unthinkable.’

There is a mission field awaiting us in each and every city and community of your town. There are 700 abortion clinics nationwide, killing probably more than 1,200 babies each- on average, per year. With that reality in mind, and the countless souls of lost mothers and fathers abandoned to the “hope” of a death-mill, how can God bless his church and America, if the church remains apathetic, casual and comfortable, if not silent when it comes to abortion.

The “harvest is great and the workers are few”, but there is time for the American church to wake-up, rise-up and sow gospel seeds of hope with the help of the local church into this field. God’s people are called to “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter (Proverbs 24:11).”

But If we fail to meet this challenge and call, perhaps we can look to the missionaries of the church abroad for help. God help us if we do.    

Gays and ‘the Real Family of God’

Bernie Diaz, June 16, 2021

I initially thought I would refrain from posting anything about “Gay Pride Month” in June, which by its very name and nature, troubles me as it does many biblical Christians, who have been watching so much of our country and its culture celebrate and take pride in what scripture clearly calls damnable sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

However, as I thought of making greater application here, to the sermon I  preached last Sunday at my church on the “Real Family of God” (Mark 3:31-35), I was drawn to the idea of ‘killing two birds with one stone”, if you will.

Thus, I pose this question: What does former American Idol celebrity David Archuleta’s ‘coming out’ announcement of his multi-sexuality, have to do with a message on the family that Jesus Christ prioritized over his own blood relatives in the gospels?  

Archuleta like many secularists and even some other ‘professing’ Christians, have far too long confused and conflated gospel forgiveness with ongoing sin and what it means to belong to the family of God. In fact, the very definition of family- what it is and means, is up for grabs today in the midst of the sexual revolution.

The revolutionaries and feminists see the traditional, biblically based, nuclear family (2 parents with biological children) as a straight- jacket. They view the family as being outdated, oppressive, controlling and just no fun at all.

While others- particularly the mainstream view of the revolution as seen in culture (TV, movies, Hollywood), pictures LGTBQ families as normative enough to take a form of national “pride” in it, so one can make of it whatever one wants, so long as you ‘love’ someone or some people at any given time.

In contrast, Jesus Christ shared a rather stark and thought- provoking definition of family when he spoke to an assembled crowd in Galilee as recorded in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

He was interrupted by his relatives- which included his mother Mary, his half-brothers and sister, who sent a message that they wanted to speak to him outside of a congregational venue, perhaps to take him away from what they perceived to be a Pharisaical danger – his preaching about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and the unforgiveable sin.

Jesus responded to the message by saying to the assembly of his disciples, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:34c-35).”

That was a bomb right then and there to any Jew within earshot, who believed that family consisted of blood relatives exclusively and that any spiritual and familial connection one might have with God, would be predicated upon one’s heritage (Israel) or upbringing, or a mere mental assent to some facts or features about Jesus.

In the gospel of the new covenant however, Jesus identified his real or true family members- those of the greatest relationship to him, as his bride, as the church of the redeemed, those that not only profess faith in him, but show that they posses saving faith by their obedience to his revealed will and word.

That word which reveals the will of God for his image bearers, is that they are prohibited from manifesting behavior or a heart or orientation towards sin, such as those of fornication (sexual) of any kind, including homosexuality (Gen. 19; Lev. 18, 20; Deut. 22; Ro. 1; 1 Cor. 6; 1 Tim. 1).

Gays and God   

Now, contrast that truth with those who are unfortunately enslaved to sexual sin and a corresponding identity to it, who also claim allegiance to Christ, such as Mr. Archuleta, who recently said, “You can be part of the LGBTQIA+ (I= Intersex and A= allies or asexual) community and still believe in God and His gospel plan.” 

Is that claim true? Mind you that statement comes from a pop singer, who claims to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism), which is a cult religion that holds to heretical, non-biblical views of Jesus and the doctrine of salvation to begin with.

Nonetheless, Archuleta rightly described in his Instagram post the struggle that homosexuals share with faith, in trying to live an abnormal, sexual lifestyle, identify with it as if it were an inherent, ethnic like trait and at the same time attempt to believe in the God of the Bible and a Lord and Savior who clearly condemns that orientation and conduct.

Since that position is untenable, the sexual sinner must either misinterpret the teaching of scripture as God’s sole authority of truth, or disobey it altogether, in order to continue in the lifestyle and its identity, thereby  excluding himself from membership to the real family of God.

Tragically- for now, David Archuleta and like others like him are doing just that, claiming that God has either created them that way (LGTBQ+) or ‘for a purpose’ of some sort in his kingdom. This idea of course of the existence of a “gay gene”, enables a homosexual to justify his ‘identity’ and adherence to some form of Christianity or another religion, meeting the inherent need to worship a creator, that everyone on this planet possess whether they admit it or not.

For the impenitent fornicator, their god happens to be an idol of their own making, since they will not honor or thank the true God of the Bible, who created them (Ro. 1:21), to submit to his will in relationship.

So, how would we answer a David Archuleta, who insists that God created the homosexual as is, with perfectly natural and acceptable desires and behaviors, and who is more than capable of entering into the family of God as a ‘gay Christian’ or person of faith- with “pride?”

The scientific answer for the strict secularist is that there has never been, nor is there currently any objective and conclusive proof of a single gay gene or biological disposition to same-sexuality among humans. Any research or news reports to the contrary, have been disproven by now.

Furthermore, were it ever proven in the future that such a genetic inclination to same-sexuality existed, it would not from a moral perspective, justify that sin for a follower of Christ, anymore than a newborn who inherited a biological predisposition to anger and violence, would be justified in assaulting another person or a crack baby from using and abusing cocaine as an adult.

We are cursed by original sin and regardless of our tainted genetic inclinations, we are all responsible moral free agents who choose to sin or not to sin, and then suffer the consequences of doing so.

Spiritually and theologically, aberrant sexual behavior, which is a perversion of God’s created order for mankind, is the result of the fall and consequently, man’s deceitful and wicked hearts, prone to the “lusts of the eyes, the flesh and the pride of life” (1 Jo. 2).

This is why homosexuality has been around for three millennia of human history.

The only thing new about sexual sin in western civilization, is that its governments and societies- reflected by its culture, have largely chosen to legalize and therefore, legitimize this sin over the last two decades or so. From a biblical worldview however, what is often legal, is also often immoral and unrighteous.

If David Archuleta brought his sexual struggle to my attention during this ‘gay pride’ month or any other day, I would hope I could show him my love for God and for him as my neighbor, by speaking the truth in love to him, sharing his need for repentance of sin and faith in Christ alone for redemption and salvation.

I would tell him that hope and healing can be found for him in the gospel. I would add that rather than arguing with him about politics or making a superficial change in lifestyles, I would tell him to turn to God. I would tell him If we have mass murders at schools, it has to do with our rejection of God. Abuse of women, people of color and homosexuality- it has to do with our rejection of God. If people are in darkness, they need light. I would try to show and share Jesus Christ with him.

It was that light that brought author and speaker Rosaria Butterfield, a former, radical lesbian out of the darkness, as she testified: To be clear, I was not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief. I didn’t swap out a lifestyle. I died to a life I loved… How I feel does not tell me who I am.

Only God can tell me who I am, because he made me and takes care of me.

He tells me that we are all born as male and female image bearers with souls that will last forever and gendered bodies that will either suffer eternally in hell or be glorified in the New Jerusalem.

Mrs. Butterfield has been healed and cleansed by the blood of Christ. Yes, we are condemned by our sin if we remain “stiff-necked” and impenitent, “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 (1 Cor. 6:10). 

But by faith in our substitute on the cross who resurrected to kill sin and death, we can be clean…

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 (1 Cor. 6:11).

Let’s remember and share the truth that we all come into the real family of God by the cross of Christ, no matter who we think we are.

Whatever Happened to the ‘Protestant Work Ethic?’

Bernie Diaz, June 10, 2021

Our season of the COVID pandemic and social unrest in the United States has raised more than a few ‘why’ and ‘what’ questions over the last year. Among them were, “Why did the election cycle turnout the way it did?” Why has the pandemic and the chaotic policies and protocols surrounding it lasted this long?”

If that weren’t enough, recent economic trends and mere observation over the past several months have led me- among others, to ask, “Whatever happened to the Protestant Work Ethic in this country?” 

Help wanted signs are hanging everywhere, want ads are being ignored and scheduled job interviews are missed without notice by prospective applicants, leaving businesses- many of them retail stores and restaurants severely short-handed, hungry to fill vacant positions and bereft of offering adequate service leaving consumers more frustrated by the day.

These COVID related factors are pointing to some troubling economic trends. Job openings rose nearly 8 percent to a record-breaking 8.1 million in March of this year, according to a Labor Department report released last month. Yet overall hiring rose only 4 percent, revealing a huge gap between the number of jobs available and the number of people willing to return to work.

An April survey by the National Federation of Independent Business found 44 percent of small businesses had job openings they couldn’t fill. All this begs the question, why?

Could it be that many potential workers are staying home because of a lack of incentive, as they continue to receive enhanced unemployment benefits? A labor policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation noted that under the Trump administration’s CARES Act, the federal government added $600 a week to state unemployment benefit checks, later cutting that amount down to $300. President Joe Biden’s March stimulus package extended those benefits through September. By then, a worker could have been on supplemental unemployment benefits for up to a year and a half.

While a government safety net of help for qualified citizens can be a biblically sound blessing, if abused, it can result in a bloated net of entitlements.

Add to that, several million Americans collected additional monies from Uncle Sam in the form of stimulus checks, coupled with various forms of debt relief whether they needed it or not. It is estimated up to 42 percent of unemployed workers are making more by staying home than they did at their previous jobs.

“… If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat (2 Thess. 3:10c, ESV).”

There was a time long ago- where there was a thing that could make a difference in this recent phenomenon today: a “Protestant work ethic,” also known as the Puritan work ethic, which is a concept known in the fields of theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes that diligence, discipline, and frugality came as the result of a person’s adherence to the values espoused by the Protestant faith.

That biblically rooted ethic, reaching as far back as the Reformation, was taught by reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Many historians argue that this work ethic fueled the capitalistic system of economics that resulted in the unparalleled growth of the United States as a superpower.

The idea came forth because the medieval Catholic system, influenced by Grecco-Roman and even first century Jewish thought, claimed there was a serious distinction between secular and sacred work, and the sacred work of priests, preachers, poets, philosophers or thinkers, were superior to, and more worthy of praise than the work of the blue-collar worker. Interestingly enough, today’s elites in media and academia feel the same way.

Not so according to God and his word. We don’t work for our salvation and we don’t work for God’s approval being justified by faith in Christ. Jesus  did that work. We don’t work for just a paycheck either.

The Protestant work ethic believed the lowly workman also had a noble vocation which he can fulfil through dedication to his work, which could also provide a means of support for his family and respect for his personal property – protected by three of the ten commandments (Exo. 20).

But this ethic seems to be disappearing from much of our county of late. Many people – even Christians, think we are to work because we have to. We have to work to make a living, rather than our work having any intrinsic value and grace of its own, as Adam had in his pre-fall work in the Garden (Gen. 2:15). As the old saying goes, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.”

Indeed, work is hard- it can be tedious, even drudgery as the result of the fall. Solomon – perhaps the wealthiest person who ever lived, reflected on that conflict, when he wrote in Ecc. 6, “All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.”

A biblical worldview of work tells us that all of our labor – at home and in the workplace should manifest the fruit of our faith. Luther stressed that calling is not primarily about what we do. Rather, it is about what God does through us. “God gives us this day our daily bread.” How? Another commentator wrote, “Through the calling and the work of farmers, bakers and the factory workers, truck drivers, grocery store employees, and the hands that put all of our meals together every day, that’s how we get our daily bread.”

Therefore, the Christian’s work ethic – government benefits notwithstanding, should give testimony to man and more importantly, glory to God (1 Cor. 10:31). Being that the Lord is our direct supervisor rather than man, we work with all we have while we can.

If God is your boss, shouldn’t he get your best? God gave us his best when he gave you Christ right? Charles Spurgeon said, “A short life should be wisely spent. We have not enough time at our disposal to justify us in misspending a single quarter of an hour. Neither are we sure of enough life to justify us in procrastinating for a moment.”

Disciples of Christ should be bothered by lazy Christians who do shoddy work. We should know better because we have the job manual through the pages of scripture in our hands.

While we’re posing questions in this post, we should then ask, “What kind of store clerk or mechanic or kitchen worker or school- teacher should we be?” The very best. Why? God is the best and he made you and gave you a new birth to be among the best.  

What would Luther and the pioneers of the Protestant Work ethic think of American workers today? I hate to imagine, though the German reformer of the 16th century did understand the meaning of work when he wrote, “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

May that be our example to a waiting world that needs to get back to work.

Post- Pandemic Summertime Church Shopping

Bernie Diaz, June 3, 2021

Now that the height of the COVID pandemic seems to have leveled off, normalcy policies are taking greater effect nationwide- certainly in my home state of Florida and Americans are beginning to return to summertime routines and lifestyles which means travel for some and a search for renewed church life for many Christians.

I mentioned, “renewed” church life or fellowship, because so many Christians have been displaced from their normal or routine congregational lives for so long. More than a year ago, we were quarantining ourselves physically, to the extent that church life took on an extraordinary if not unprecedented nature, when exclusive online streaming of worship services and midweek meetings became the norm.

For those of us as church leaders, who had never imagined doing live, online church before, the entire process was a splash of cold water of God’s providence on our faces, pushing many to the limits of their comfort zones.

After a time of retrospect, I realize that I had learned over the course of many months at least three valuable lessons from the COVID season: how to be repentant over whatever corporate sins we may have contributed to, which may have led to this wake-up call or chastening from our Lord. Secondly, I learned a bit more – the hard way, the meaning of patience, as I continually wrestled with God’s providence in prayer begging for his grace in relief of a seemingly endless time of spiritual distancing, isolation and uncertainty.

Third, I learned to be more dependent on God (Psa. 104:27; 1 Pet. 5:7) than ever before in my pastoral ministry, for his grace of peace and wisdom, to continue to help feed and lead our church flock in such unorthodox times. Tough decisions had to be made by our leadership on a constant basis, about how and where our church would meet, which included as a twelve-year-old church plant, a move to Sunday evening services in the sanctuary of our sister church in the fall of 2020.    

These are just personal examples of what so many disciples of Christ have had to deal with during the pandemic as it pertains to congregational life. Masks and Zoom became staples of a rather bizarre form of biblical discipleship within communities of faith in the U.S.

Need I digress, it’s summer and many churches at long last – mine own included, have or will soon be resuming regularly scheduled, in the flesh, Sunday morning worship and fellowship- hallelujah Jesus!  

This means that thousands of displaced  Christians from churches that still emphasize online worship or which closed down or which some members and attenders have become disenchanted with – of which there may be biblical reasons for, are seeking new church homes or rethinking their fellowship with their current church affiliations.

While departure from one church to another may be warranted on occasion biblically- something akin to a divorce as we have posted in this space before, there are marks of a true, biblical church in which displaced believers may wish to consider, as they seek to remarry into another faith community.

As I am a local church pastor in a very transient town like South Florida, I’ve been often asked, “What do I look for when seeking a new church home?” Invariably, I’ve sought to simplify what can be for some, this complex question into an alliterated (of course as a preacher) three-part answer, which allows for one’s conscience and wisdom – guided by the word and Spirit of God to make the proper choice for individuals and families.

The parts to my answer grounded from a biblical foundation of priorities would be for today’s summertime searchers to find a church that emphasizes: preaching, pastoring and people. Notice that bodies, buildings and budgets are not a part of my reply. Perhaps that may be in part, since I lack an abundance of either of those three. But I think the Bible is on my side on this question nonetheless.

  • Preaching

From the time that God gave Moses his law to give to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai, to Ezra the scribe’s pulpit preaching ministry to the Jews returning to the holy land from exile, to the Sermon on the Mount from Jesus- inarguably the greatest sermon ever preached, the public proclamation of God’s specific revelation to his people has been at the center of congregational life.

The apostle Paul exhorted his young ministerial apprentice Timothy, a pastor of the church at Ephesus to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Tim. 4:2-4, ESV)

God has always prioritized the preaching of his own word – the Bible, the holy scriptures, as the primary focus of the gathering of his people. When the apostle admonished Timothy to preach “the word,” the obvious implication was for preachers then and now to go to the authority of the existing scripture- God’s own inspired word to bring grace in instruction as the function of preaching to God’s people.

That means more often than not, expositional preaching should be normative, which is a theological term simply meaning to ‘exposit’ or explain what the Bible says and means from particular texts, with a thrust as to what to do with it (application), rather than placing an emphasis on more contemporary, ‘feel good’ (“itching ears”) messages, which might offer better and more superficial, healthier, happier lives based upon seven easy, self-help step formulas.  

Such preaching may lead to vast social media followings and best-selling books for celebrity preachers but will do little to deepen the biblical faith and maturity of hungry, milk-consuming, meat-needy disciples.

  • Pastors

One of the more fascinating trends that I have witnessed of late and expect to see more of in a post-COVID world of summer church searching, is the void of shepherding or pastoring, that many Christians have experienced and discovered over the past several years.

The pandemic and distancing notwithstanding, how well do you know the pastors, or elders of your church and how well do they know you? Interestingly enough, I have met members from mega-churches predominately over the past several years, who have never even had the opportunity to meet their preaching pastor or pastors, particularly those who settle for ‘flat-screen’ pastors from remote, multi-campus locations.

Again, the apostle Paul serves as a scriptural guide for the necessity of the more personal, pastoral ministry which took place for centuries in the Christian church until more modern times, when he admonished the Ephesian elders (pastors), “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God…”

Moreover, he shared the form of that ministry by his own principled example, when he added in the same chapter in the book of Acts, “how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28, 20-21).”

Shepherding in the biblical sense then, means that the pastors of a local church know and smell like the sheep of their flock, living close enough to them and in front them to serve as imperfect, “examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:2-3).” Are your pastors- prospective or otherwise, preaching God’s word and shepherding – feeding, leading and spiritually protecting their people – up close and personal?    

  • People

No matter how powerful and persuasive a church’s preaching ministry may be, or how warm and inviting the pastoral care may be, many if not most people in general and Christians in particular, will hesitate to commit to the fellowship of a local church where the “one-anothers” doing and loving of the body is not present.

People want to connect with other people in and out of the church gatherings. They want to love and feel loved. Moreover, biblical discipleship if nothing else- though severely challenged by COVID, is interpersonal, relational and in smaller fellowships, more transparent, leading to greater accountability, which therefore, leads to greater maturity in Christlikeness, if done well- in truth and with love (Ro. 15:1, 5-7).

In summary, based on the recent polls and surveys of current evangelical attitudes that I see, more and more Christians who have hungered for meaningful relationships and growth in the absence of such during the height of the pandemic and our post-Christian culture, will be seeking simpler and more personal discipleship, fellowship and ministry this summer. That trend will probably lead to more and more summer seekers gravitating towards smaller, church ‘family’ like congregations paralleling the ‘pre-Christian’ communities of the first century

When I was recently asked “Why should I attend your church?” I had my formal outline above in mind, speaking to our preaching, pastoring and people. Fortunately, those have been hallmarks of our church that I have been able to gather from people in our greater community.

However, I wound up answering the question in a more informal way, when I said to the effect, “If you love Jesus Christ and want to grow in grace as his disciple, if you love the Word of God, the Word being preached, the Word being sung, the Word being prayed and applied in a simple church way, and want to be part of a family that aims to make, mature and multiply disciples, I think you will really enjoy being a part of the fellowship of Christ Community Church – a place where we love God and love people.” 

Yes, at the expense of sounding like a commercial, I added our church’s slogan at the end, as per the great commandment of Jesus (Matt. 22:37-40), because at the end of this COVID season of unrest, a little more love of God and people are what we who are in Christ, seem to need and want most.   

‘George Floyd’ – One Year Later

Bernie Diaz, May 26, 2021

Much attention is being focused this week on the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd, the African-American man who was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the midst of an arrest.

Chauvin was found guilty in April of second and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter for causing Floyd’s death, a verdict that could send him to prison for the rest of his life when he is sentenced next month.

Thus, one might say that ‘justice has been served.’ Others would not.

Still, there is both personal loss being felt by the Floyd family (meeting with President Biden and congressional lawmakers this week marking Floyd’s death) and there is a public loss of peace in the acknowledgment of the date by Americans who had to wrestle anew with the issue of race relations in the wake of nationwide protests (“Black Lives Matter”) and police reform initiatives that were sparked by Floyd’s death, then escalated by some other police-related shooting incidents involving black citizens since.

Our nation which began to divide over the COVID pandemic and its impact on society early last year, began to rip apart at the seams over the Floyd event which a few months later, poured fuel on the fire of an already contentious presidential election campaign which spread through the end of the year and has not died down yet.

“Critical Race Theory” is ‘a major thing’ that has arisen in the wake of George Floyd, and evangelical Christians and their churches have been scrambling for the better part of a year as a result, to understand and reconcile that theory and the issue of race, or perhaps more properly and biblically defined as ethno-centrism.

New Racism?

Different ideas and differing points of view have been proffered in and out of the church to deal with ethno-centrism, which a growing number of biblically minded Christians define as the root of the issue- sin over skin, as the scriptures speak of one-blood and one race of mankind – the human race (Gen. 1:26-27; Acts 17:26), with various and mostly minor physical variations that point more to one’s national or ethnic background than their shade of skin color.

In the post-Floyd world of the United States however, a growing number of solutions to the problem of “racial” bias or ethnic discrimination – perceived and real, seem to be coming from the idea of reverse discrimination or an anti-racism that seeks no matter how well intended, to stoke the fires of racial strife. Case in point:

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, the city’s first black and lesbian mayor in history made headlines when she flat-out declared last week that she’s not going to be giving one on one interviews to White reporters. At least for the time being.

To say that such a revelation from an elected official, sworn to serve ‘all of the people’ of the Windy City is deeply troubling is an understatement. Why did the mayor make such a divisive move? In an open letter, Lightfoot called out “the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Chicago media outlets, editorial boards, the political press corps and, yes, the city hall press corps.”

In other words, her way to combat perceived racially charged media bias was to inject a bit more race-based bias into it herself, as she added that it was, “unacceptable” that a mostly White press corps covers a Black mayor and a council that is majority Black and Latino, or Latinx, as she put it.

A suburb of Chicago, Evanston, Illinois, just became the first U.S. city to make reparations available to its Black residents for past discrimination and the lingering effects of slavery – a century and a half later.

Evanston’s Council voted to distribute $400,000 to eligible black households. Each qualifying household would receive $25,000 for home repairs or down payments on property in a program funded through donations and ironically, revenue from a 3% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana.

The city has pledged to distribute $10 million over 10 years to qualified residents who either have lived in or been a direct descendant of a Black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969 and who suffered discrimination in housing because of city ordinances, policies or practices.

In fairness, there should be little debate that housing discrimination took place and disproportionately hurt many black families during this time period that bridged America’s Jim Crow laws to the dawn of federal, Civil Rights legislation.

The big question however, is whether or not reparations- financial compensation made payable by a government to an individual or group for a historical wrong should be mandated? Is it right? Is it biblical?

Reparations in the form of restitution, are found in an original form of biblical justice in the law of Moses to Israel, which dealt mostly with individuals who suffered property loss in the commission of a crime (Exo. 21-22; Lev. 5).

Furthermore, it should be noted that voluntary personal restitution or reparations can and should be made by Christians who have wronged others whether ethnically motivated or not, as was the case of the repentant Zacchaeus upon his salvation (Lu. 19:8-9).

Moreover, God sovereignly in providence led Darius, a Medo-Persian king to make reparations of a sort to help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem at least two generations after the Hebrews began to return to the holy land from their Babylonian captivity (Ezr.6).   

That historic narrative in no way affirms the idea that as a biblical principle one person or a group who have not committed or contributed to the commission of a crime or an evil should pay for the crimes of others- particularly to a person or group which has not demonstrably suffered as victims of such a crime or evil.

As one studies scripture, we find that God does not impute culpability or personal guilt on the sins of a group’s forefathers to their descendants (Eze. 18:20). Although the influence of the sins of the fathers may ‘visit’ the sons in future generations as a manifestation of our sin cursed world and depravity, each and every man, woman and child is personally responsible to God with his or her sins.

In fact, it may be argued that to insist on national or group reparations for past sins, would be to combat one injustice with another.

This kind of initiative being put forth from certain quarters of our country, tie into the philosophical and neo-religious movement, better known as Critical Race Theory (CRT).

The Threat of CRT

CRT is an intellectual movement which has been affecting America for several years. Its influence – rooted in Marxist ideology, has dangerously extended from academia into society, through government, even making inroads into the church and many seminaries, as evidenced by conflicts within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and its institutions over what to do with it.

The current cultural vocabulary of “wokeness,” intersectionality and Black Lives Matter, all have ties into CRT, which is made up from a set of analytical tools that say the United States was and is inherently racist, and that victims of its systemic racism are negatively affected by ‘white privilege’ and oppressed by traditional and Judeo-Christian influenced norms, which must be eradicated in order to counter prejudice.

Therefore, reverse discrimination and reparation policies are just some of the ways that are posited to combat white privilege and racism, which has expanded interestingly enough, via CRT and BLM, to include the LGBTQ agenda. How’s that for the alphabet soup of the moral revolution?

Prominent author and Southern Baptist preacher Voddie Baucham Jr. – an African-American, in his latest book, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe, denouncing CRT, fears America may be on the verge of ‘race war.’

As part of that concern, he shares a warning to the evangelical church to be ready for such conflict when he compares CRT to a new and pagan religion. In a recent interview he said, “CRT is built on premises that are anti-biblical. That would be akin to someone coming into your church and talking about Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva … and you coming and saying, ‘I understand these things come from Hinduism, but if we just look beyond the words and beyond the other religion, maybe there is something useful that we could use.’ That’s not what you do when somebody is coming with another gospel,”  

Lessons Learned?

To little or no surprise, one year after Floyd, our nation- most of the world, civilized and otherwise, continues to struggle with racism or ethno-centrism because that’s who we are. Mankind can and will sin, and racism is an outgrowth of hateful, if not ignorant, prideful and sinful hearts.

No police reform initiative (of which many may further endanger the safety of law-abiding citizens) or piece of federal or state legislation will cure racism, much less CRT, which threatens to exacerbate it.

Our one-year old lesson from the George Floyd tragedy remains the same as it was in the year before, and years before that. Christians are to denounce ethno-centrism as the sin it is. No ethnic group or skin color shade is superior to another and as a result, no group is to exhibit prejudice or discriminate against another on that basis.

The early church made that principle quite clear, when the apostle Paul wrote, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).

Races are reconciled at the cross and in the church by the life transforming power and grace of the gospel, which brought Jew and Gentile together into one, new covenant body of faith (Eph. 2:11-16).

The church of Jesus Christ should reflect the heart of its Lord, which unites rather divides and discriminates as do racists and CRT.

-Personally, disciples of Christ are to reconcile with and yes, make restitution to whoever, whenever and wherever necessary, to bring peace (Ro. 12) and the love of neighbor to the hurting.

– If we offend another racially, we repent of it and beg forgiveness as we are ready to extend the same to those who have offended us (Eph. 4:32).

– If we see racism taking place in our community, mourn over it, report it where appropriate and repudiate it.

Finally, preach the truth in love Christian. Understand and educate others about CRT, remember the message is sin, not skin and we need God’s grace to cover the sin of race.

‘The Battle of the Pulpits’- Female Pastors

Bernie Diaz, May 19, 2021

I recently came upon an elementary classroom school exchange between a teacher and her female students that went like this:

Teacher: Susie what do you want to be when you grow up?

Susie: I want to be a doctor.

Teacher: How wonderful! And what about you Julie?

Julie: I want to be a soldier.

Teacher: Wendy, how about you?

Wendy: I want to be a church pastor.

Teacher: How commendable! And what about you Hannah?

Hannah: When I grow up, I want to be a wife and mother!

Teacher: [dead silence] . . .

That wouldn’t be a terribly surprising exchange today in the midst of our anti-life, anti-motherhood, feminist leaning culture which pervades our society would it?

Having already posted a mother’s day post-mortem on the state of motherhood, I’m now tackling the latest, neo-feminist wave of controversy and debate surrounding female church leadership, within inter-denominational and evangelical circles.

Just this month, Saddleback Church, the California-based megachurch headed by Pastor Rick Warren, author of, The Purpose-Driven Life and Church, announced that they had a “historic night,” in having ordained their first three female pastors, despite being affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which prohibits female ordination.

“We ordained our first three women pastors, Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards,” Saddleback Church said in their social media post drawing a barrage of likes and dislikes.

Is Saddleback then on the ‘right side of history’, according to the cultural elites of the day, or on the wrong side of the Bible, as a historic, fundamental and classic understanding of scripture as well as centuries of church history would seem to dictate?

The current new wave of the sexual revolution, including feminism is reaching farther and wider than just the SBC, as the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA, formed in 1887) suddenly discovered new meanings to the Bible, believing that even people who completely rely on the authority of scripture can legitimately differ on important issues.

A CMA official asked when questioned about their wavering position on whether or not to call women, ‘Pastors’ in local churches: “But even Peter said Paul is sometimes hard to understand in one of his epistles, so can we not admit that maybe my brother or sister who loves Jesus and Scripture and reads faithfully might come out with a different understanding of 1 Corinthians 11 than me?” Not really.

Following the defection of speaker and author Beth Moore from the ranks of the SBC, fellow female church leaders began praying her departure would lead to some soul-searching within that divided denomination.

Indeed, we can trace back this issue all the way back to the garden, in the fall of Adam and Eve which set the stage more than three millennium ago, for what the church of Jesus Christ – predominately in the west, is dealing with today.

I referred to this issue in fact in this week’s meeting of my church’s men’s community group, as an illustration of the virus we might commonly call, ‘the battle of the sexes’, which first contaminated the church, as well as marriage and family at the fall of mankind into sin resulting in the curse of all of creation and life as we know it.

Though Eve was directly deceived by that serpent, Satan, Adam abdicated his responsibility as the head of his home to protect his wife from the lure or temptation to sin from the enemy of our souls.

The consequence of which, God sovereignly brought to mankind a tear in the fabric of relationships, as part of a curse which effected both child and vocational labor (Gen. 3:16-19) as well.

The battle of the sexes then, is a reflection of our tainted ‘flesh’, contaminated by original sin, according to that single verse from the book of Genesis, which tells us that the woman’s “desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

The Hebrew word translated there as “desire” in some of our English versions of the Bible, is best understood as a hunger to control, as evidenced by its usage in Gen. 4:7, when God warned Cain, “if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Therefore, the roots of our conflict are clear: a woman’s general desire or craving is to control her man, and the man’s inclination to respond is with either apathy or control- to “rule” over his woman. In the sociological vernacular, it’s feminism versus chauvinism.

Fortunately, God has provided a way for us- his image bearers to deal with the battle of the sexes. God’s way gives us guidance and the gospel, in which he provides redemption for our sinful souls and lives.

God’s Guide for Women and Church

The apostle Paul in the somewhat familiar and misinterpreted text of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, addresses corporate fellowship and the issue of a woman’s role in the church, which is to not teach, preach and lead in authority over the men of a local church congregation.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; (1 Tim. 2:12-14, ESV)

We understand that’s a big bone sticking in the throat of many women. Therefore, Paul introduced the biblical basis for these instructions and laid the foundation for his teaching on the redemption of women from the fall, in the unique design and high-calling that God has for women – particularly, in motherhood.

When the apostle Paul calls on church leaders to prohibit women from  preaching and teaching the world of God in a mixed, adult congregational setting, or from serving as a pastor or elder, which is restricted among its dozen or so qualifications to, “a man of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2)”, an argument is made for complementarianism, which is the concept that God has designed roles for men and women to function at home and in the church which complement one another.

Although the scripture makes clear that Adam and man came first in creation, and that he was to be the head of, or in leadership over Eve- the woman, who was created to be his helper or to be a ‘helpmeet’ (Gen. 2:18,22; 1 Cor.11), we are reminded that he and all men going forward, were not to be regarded in any way, shape or form as superior to women, as all human beings regardless of gender, ethnicity and social standing are equal at the cross of Christ (Gal. 3:28). Men and women are equal but different by God’s design.

However, God in his sovereign ordination over the institutions of marriage, family and church fortunately, had the apostle appeal to the creation order and the account of the fall in which to base the doctrine of church leadership.

.. and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (1 Tim. 2:14-15).

God’s word from the pen of Paul simply obliterates the argument from feminist leading interpreters that the command of male only church leadership was exclusively designated for that culture, that church (Ephesus) and that time (mid-1st century) only.

We know this because Paul cites the culturally transcendent example and principle of Eve’s sin and participation in the fall (being particularly ‘deceived’) as a pre-law ground for her exclusion from the preaching ministry and leadership in the local church. This was and remains a universal principle, a transcultural doctrine for the church of Christ – unchanging, having been published in a circular letter for, and distributed to all the churches of all times and peoples – then and now.

God’s Redemption for Women in the Church

1 Tim. 2:15 can be a difficult verse to interpret or understand at first glance. How can women be, Saved by childbearing?  What does that mean? Can women be saved or justified and escape God’s judgment by the act of childbearing? We know it can’t mean that because that would qualify as works oriented salvation, which is simply unbiblical (Eph. 2:8-9).

The Greek verb translated as “saved” in the verse, does not always mean, being saved or rescued from the consequence of sin. The word which carries the idea of being saved from destruction or being preserved, is translated a number of times in the New Testament as to make whole, or to heal.

So, taking the context and the theology of God in redemption into account, I (and the vast majority of conservative, biblical scholarship) take that verse to mean that by having children, women are given an incredible, unique, blessing of grace from God, have had the stigma and burden of falling first in sin, removed.

God redeems and rewards women-saves or delivers them from the curse of the fall, by having them become the mothers of mankind, which no amount of gender dysphoria can change. This is the joy of their salvation. 

In other words, women are saved or rescued from being left in a second-class situation for their representative sin in the garden.

As one commentator asked, “Can you imagine what it would be like if men had babies and all women ever contributed to the human race was the Fall?” Though women led the race into sin, praise God, they have been given the honor, privilege and the blessing of leading the race out of sin.

It is a marvelous thing how God providentially worked the pain of childbirth as a reminder of woman’s sin, into the subsequent reminder of God’s redeeming and restoring grace in childbirth that puts her back in a prominent place of the created order.

Although woman may have played a prominent role in causing the generations of man to plunge into sin, in motherhood, she can raise godly children to bring generations to God. That appears to be the Lord’s high calling for women rather than local church leadership. May the Lord fill our churches and communities with faithful mothers rather than pastors, women who understand the call that redeems them from the fall and the battle of the sexes.