The Post-Roe World, the Heart of the Matter

Bernie Diaz, June 30, 2022

I was not sure I would be alive long enough to see what happened last Friday, June 24, 2022. That morning the guarded expectations and dreams of prolife Americans like me, reacting to a leaked Supreme Court opinion last month, came true when the nation’s highest court ruled that abortion was no longer a constitutional right- never having been one legitimately, in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (Mississippi).

This decision will serve as a landmark ruling regarding justice and human life in American history. The majority opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito states that “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.” Indeed, a fatal wrong uttered by the court nearly 50 years ago and later affirmed by Casey, was righted by God’s common grace on our land.

If this is not a bittersweet moment to celebrate, I don’t know what is! We as Christians holding to a biblical worldview bitterly mourn for the 63 million babies killed in the United States up to now, as the result of the Roe v. Wade decision. Sweetly, we can also reflect in a spirit of remembrance. Prolife believers can remember the prayers they’ve prayed, the hours spent volunteering, for the emails and letters written to elected officials and the social media posts to friend and foe alike, arguing for the dignity and sanctity of every human life created by God.

We can remember as I do, the dinner table debates with family as well as the brothers and sisters in Christ we’ve labored alongside in the culture war for life. If you haven’t already, take the time to pause and reflect in an experience of joy for what happened last Friday, which reminded me of how God’s people in the past acknowledged and praised God for his grace:

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them” (Psalm 126:2).

God has done a ‘great thing’ for this nation regardless of whether many of its citizens acknowledge it or not. A lot of different stories will be told about how this decision came to be and why. But, as someone said, ‘ultimately, the story of Roe v. Wade being overturned is a story about God.’

“The Lord has done great things for them”.

History is the story of God (HIStory) and we need to give God all the glory, praise, worship and thanks that he is due for being faithful and extending his hand of mercy to this country in this way at this time of history.

“.. the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Provebs 21:1). Our sovereign God did this.

Today, we are grateful for the court’s decision that should protect millions of our most vulnerable neighbors going forward. With each passing day, more and more people are going to recognize that preborn lives are worthy of protection. As a result of the Dobbs decision, states like our own in Florida, will be allowed to enact more of their own laws and policies restricting if not all together abolishing abortion.

The Divided Post-Roe World

Florida’s new abortion law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis should begin to be enforced in the very near future, should current pro-abort legal challenges or stays to it, be overruled as expected in the wake of the Dobbs decision. HB 5, the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act, aims to protect the lives of Florida’s most vulnerable by prohibiting all abortions after 15 weeks of gestation (pregnancy).

As a result of the Supreme Court decision, the Sunshine State will join more than a dozen more launching ‘trigger laws’ of varying abortion restrictions or abolition nationwide, leaving roughly one half of the states in the U.S. considered pro-life, while roughly the other half of the states are planning to protect abortion access, and some will even expand it.

Therefore, we celebrate this decision on the one hand, while we acknowledge that abortion will not come to an end just yet on the other hand. The prolife movement and the reinvigorated ‘Good Samaritan’ mission of the church to love life and neighbor is not yet accomplished and the ministry is not yet done – it is just beginning. The Dobbs decision in fact, marks the dawning of a new era in the pro-life cause.

Though the high court’s ruling will help curtail the supply of abortion in America, we must continue to work to curtail the demand for abortion. We understand that, because while we can legislate morality to the extent of influencing behavior, legislation does not change hearts in and of itself.

To paraphrase a classic pro-life quote, ‘What the Supreme Court has now made ‘possibly illegal again, the church must make unthinkable.”

Many an American heart has been conditioned to death and convenience as well as rebellion to God and his word for well over a generation now during the sexual revolution. Last Friday’s ruling has not changed that, as evidenced by the vitriol of pro-abort activists, protests, threats, and the vandalizing of pregnancy resource centers in the aftermath of the decision.

Furthermore, recent polls of American attitudes towards abortion, both pre and post-Dobbs, reflect the current theological, ideological and political divide as well as conflict taking place in our country over abortion, and the education and prolife discipleship needed to change the culture from one of death to life.

For instance, while a majority of Americans may have favored the preservation of Roe and Casey, largely due to cultural and historical familiarity, a majority of Americans also favor the kinds of significant restrictions on abortion that are law in more than two dozen states and even in many other western nations around the world.

While it may be true that at present only 26% of Americans favor a total ban on abortion, 41% favor restrictions after the 6th week of pregnancy (e.g. Texas), and 52% favor restrictions after the 12th week. Moreover, 59% of Americans favor a ban on abortions after 15 weeks like Florida and 65% favor a ban after 20 weeks. These survey results indicate this nation is still somewhat ill-informed and conflicted over its stance on abortion.

In short, while many of our neighbors may favor some sort of access to abortion in certain circumstances, most are uncomfortable with unlimited abortion on demand. The citizenry of the United States knows that abortion- the shedding of innocent human blood, is sketchy as best and down right immoral at worse.

The attitudes reflected in these polls confirm that prolife advocates and evangelical preachers, fellow bloggers, podcasters and social media posters, must continue to press and illustrate the humanity of the unborn child when discussing and debating the issue. We should take note that virtually every pro-abort quote, rant and argument this week has spoken of the woman’s rights to ‘her body and her choice’, altogether neglecting to mention the right of the preborn child and his right to life.

Pro-aborts must be reminded that the liberty and choices one makes, ends where the rights and liberty of another – such as the preborn, begins.

That truth is grounded in scripture and the founding principles of the birth and traditions of this country.

So, those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life at conception and are working for a day when human life is protected at all stages, should feel emboldened to insert the noun, ‘baby’, whenever a conversation on abortion omits the mention of the unborn and stresses the misnomer of women’s “reproductive healthcare”, which ignores the health of the baby as well as the health and care of the mother.

When they say, “women’s rights or freedom,” you say, “baby and what about the baby’s freedom?”  By reason of prayer and persuasion, abortion attitudes and culture may begin to change in concert with church leaders engaging and mobilizing their congregations and communities to “create a culture of love and life that will bring an end to the abortion crisis, with the hope of the gospel and help of the local church.” Gospel missions and ministries like Love Life, now in 14 cities nationwide are striving to help churches and business leaders do just that.

What does that culture change look like?

  • Pray

Biblical Christians must seek the Lord’s face in a new and fresh way, encouraged and emboldened by this Supreme Court decision to find ways to labor to love our neighbors –   including those knitted together in their mother’s womb, in obedience to and out of love for, our Lord and Savior.

We must pray for God to provide resources and the wisdom to redirect existing ones to pregnancy help and/or crisis pregnancy centers and clinics (e.g. Hope Women’s Center and Heartbeat of Miami in South Florida) that offer direct-on the ground resources and services to women and families contemplating abortion.

Pray that God will continue to rise up prolife leaders and legislators to stand up for life at every level of elected office so that God’s people may vote for them.

  • Serve

Christians must be missions and ministry minded on this issue, ready to preach and teach the gospel of life, which includes in the education of the public, the hope that God can redeem and forgive those that have made sinful decisions resulting in pregnancy and those who are post-abortive and need healing and restoration.

Churches should put feet to their faith and join ministries like Love Life in serving the abortion minded with peaceful, prayerful witness and love at abortion mills, calling out hope and help to women entering those facilities.

  • Give

The Church of Jesus Christ must be willing to care for women and children as never before. The Dobbs decision may result in a flood of pregnant women deciding to keep or give their preborn children up for adoption or foster care rather than risk legal consequences. Will the church as it has historically done, spend the resources of time, talents and treasure necessary to help support mothers- single and even homeless, their babies and families?

A waiting and lost world is watching us- the church, to see if we really care about women and families from womb to tomb in the post-Roe world, which we have long prayed and waited for. Are we ready? Is our walk ready to match the talk?

Will be Christ -like and welcome the little children as Jesus did when others wanted to push them away (Mark 10:13–16)? Our Lord said the measure of our love for Him would be measured by our love for children (Mark 9:36–37).

Hallelujah- Roe is no more! May the church – God’s people, be ready to take advantage of this gospel opportunity for the next phase of cross-bearing for the childbearing.   

Shining Moments of Religious Liberty

Bernie Diaz, June 23, 2022

Often times this blog is compelled to offer biblically based words of wisdom and worldview analysis in the wake of bad news, about our country and its culture.

Yet over the last week or so, I was encouraged in a handful of current events which revealed that at least a remnant of God’s common grace remains upon this country, as it pertains to religious liberty- a very important issue for evangelical and gospel-centered Christians who wish to remain living in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’

The Supreme Court in issuing the first of eighteen decisions on the verge of its  summer recess (including the case which may overturn the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion nearly 50 years ago), upheld religious freedom in the sphere of education. And in the other news items I have in mind, we observed the courage of professional athletes to stand under pressure and persecution for sexual purity and ministry in a lesson for Biblically minded believers.

First up, the high court in a ruling expanding religious rights (Carson v. Makin), sided with two Christian families who challenged a Maine state tuition assistance program that excluded – better yet, discriminated against private schools that promote religion.

In the case decided this week, the justices authorized expanded public funding of religiously based entities, overturning a lower court ruling that had rejected claims by the two Christian families of religious discrimination in violation of the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion.

Under the state program, Maine had provided public funds to pay for tuition at private high schools of a family’s choice in some sparsely populated areas that lack public secondary schools, so long as they were “nonsectarian” and were excluded if they promoted a particular religion and presented material “through the lens of that faith.” In simple and plain language, Maine had a problem with Christian schools that were actually Christian in confession, creed and curriculum.

This decision is a big win for Christian schools and parents who have been yearning for many years, to enjoy the freedom to select faith-based education for their children with state subsidized programs (i.e. vouchers) offered to all citizens.

Families of faith have not been looking for special treatment but equal treatment under the law, which ensures access to funding programs offered to all, which is a massive development for families who would actually like to exercise a choice as to where their children are educated, whether it be a better public school, private or homeschool.

Freedom of educational choice could not have come at a better time, considering the ever-increasing encroachment of radically secular and liberal government school education, now in cahoots with the LGTBQ+ revolution. This ruling now gives states the option to legislate more religious freedom-oriented policies that may lead to a break-up of the public-school monopoly in their communities.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

As an avid sports fan for most of my life, I have been saddened by the politically correct agenda of identity politics entering into if not overrunning pro and collegiate sports over the past few years, in the wake of the feminist, sexual and BLM movements.

Once a pastime of relatively positive, athletic entertainment, professional sports leagues like the NFL, NBA and MLB in particular, have changed and have increasingly embraced the moral revolution of our times, joining in most recently to the celebration of Pride Month, in which Major League clubs were exhorted to display the biblically co-opted rainbow icon of the LGTBQ+ movement and promotional events supporting it.

The politicization of this movement is both ubiquitous and almost inescapable in American culture. Yet, in spite of most of the players on the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team having donned uniforms emblazoned with a rainbow-colored sunburst logo on the team’s LGBT pride night, several players refused, citing their Christian faith.

As advertised on the Tampa Pride website, half of the proceeds from a selection of  ticket sales for a recent game were donated to an LGBT advocacy organization.

MLB.com added in a report that “the Rays gave away miniature pride flags to fans before the game” and the Rays also announced on Twitter that the team’s players would “wear our pride on our sleeves,” sharing pictures of Rays uniforms and caps adorned with the rainbow colors.

However, while most players wore the uniforms, several team members declined to don the customized clothing and opted to wear their standard uniforms, alleging LGBT activism conflicted with the tenets of their Christian faith. One of the dissenting players, pitcher Jason Adam, elaborated in an interview with The Tampa Bay Times that, “A lot of it comes down to faith, a faith-based decision,” he said.

“It’s a hard decision. Because ultimately, we all said what we want is [for] them to know that all are welcome and loved here. But when we put it on our bodies, I think a lot of guys decided that it’s just a lifestyle that maybe — not that they look down on anybody or think differently — it’s just that maybe we don’t want to encourage it if we believe in Jesus, who’s encouraged us to live a lifestyle that would abstain from that behavior, just like (Jesus) encourages me as a heterosexual male to abstain from sex outside the confines of marriage. It’s no different.”

Adam defended his courageous and biblical stance of conviction – shared by four other teammates as “not judgmental” and “not looking down.” Another one of the players, Ryan Thompson, asserted that he and his dissenting teammates “spent a couple of weeks in prayer and a deep dive into Scripture on the subject at hand to come to the decision that we did.”

The stance that these ballplayers took, at the risk of personal mockery, isolation and job security is one that Christians must be willing to consider taking when they face persecution at school, the workplace and even in the midst of family and relational conflict. The apostle Peter anticipated such challenges for the faith and instructed disciples of Christ, of whom I might refer to as, ‘Strangers on Earth,” to prepare to suffer persecution and respond in an apologetic way. In other words, prepared to defend the faith while suffering:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:14-17, ESV).

Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ has warned his followers about the possible consequence of denying their faith when pressured to compromise their confession and convictions, when he said, “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).

Rather than deny one’s convictions, Christians may also follow the calling and example of now former Indianapolis Colts starter Khari Willis, a 26-year-old millionaire athlete who revealed last week that after three seasons of pro football, was going to take his career in a different direction. “With much prayer and deliberation, I have elected to officially retire from the NFL as I endeavor to devote the remainder of my life to the further advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Willis announced on social media.

Take note that this pro football player is walking away from a base salary of $2.54 million for the 2022 season and was less than a year away from free agency and the opportunity for a heftier contract. His retirement post which gave thanks to the support he has received for his decision from friends, family and teammates, including his fellow Christian and Colts Head Coach Frank Reich, concluded: “I am both humbled and excited to pursue the holy call that God has for my life which brings me much joy and purpose…God bless.”

Joy and purpose in Christ over cash and culture. That is a reason for encouragement and praise for the Lord when ‘rays’ of sunshine peek through the clouds of sin and moral decay in our country, whether it be in the world of sports or politics.

A Toast To Your Former Pride… Bottoms Up!

Jon Rizzo, guest blogger, June 8th 2022

Join me in a stroll and a commentary in the form of a dialogue through the King James Version of Romans 12 (Don’t all the various versions of the Bible have something to offer?!). 

Oh, and invite that monkey on your back – your pride – to come along too.  We’ll see if we can knock it down a couple notches in one fell swoop of glorious scripture….

Rom 11:36 through Chapter 12 KJV –

“For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things:

JR: God is God-centered. The very paradigm of the universe we live in can be best described as God’s gratification of His own desires and plans. 

 to whom be glory forever. Amen.  I beseech you therefore

JR: I Paul must essentially plead with you, because this is a big ask and is so important

brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies

JR: he didn’t say “present yourselves”, he said more specifically your “bodies”.  Might there be some insight in this distinction?

 a living sacrifice

JR: not a dead animal; a living human is the only acceptable and relevant sacrifice for God under the New covenant

holy

JR: not entangled or occupied with anything else but the business of God’s Kingdom

acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service

JR: our living bodies offered to God are the closest option we have to a reciprocal response to the love we have received from God…. in view of God’s sacrifice toward us, the only remaining appropriate sacrifice is to give every anatomical region or system of our bodies in permanent service to Him.

And be not conformed to this world:

JR: resist the rip-current of cultural norms…

 but be ye transformed

JR: and then God will change us

by the renewing of your mind

JR: by causing us to forget our old manner of thinking that was conditioned into us by society and starting to view things in a new way,

that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

JR: So that we can know what God wants to do – specifically.

For I say, through the grace given unto me

JR: As a reminder, I am saying this from the standpoint of having received God’s Word directly from God.

 to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith

JR: The word faith in this instance probably means confidence in one’s own spiritual gift. So, don’t have an inflated view of yourself, but view yourself accurately – without being drunk on your pride, considering the fact that you are not the only Christian gifted with the ability to work with God in one way or another… we are all gifted.

 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

JR: We are all woven together Intelligently, and we all function synergistically, even if we do not labor directly beside each other or carry out the same brand of  strategy.

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation

JR: Find your spiritual niche and get busy in it.  And while doing so, don’t hypocritically show love without having love. That would merely be a simulation of love, not the real deal.

Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another

JR: The only way you can have the same mind is to avoid having such strong opinions about every single issue.  Furthermore, how can you know if your opinion is accurate if the Bible doesn’t explicitly state it?  So, hold your opinions as what they really are: best guesses from the mind of a petty human being.

Mind not high things,

JR: don’t gravitate towards high society.

but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits

JR:Be wise enough to know that it is not possible to quantify your own wisdom and then measure it against other men’s wisdom.  For all you know, you could be the fool compared to them.  Or you will be comparing apples to watermelons.  After all, not everyone wears their wisdom on their sleeve.  Again, you are all gifted. 

Even if you are further along in your walk with Christ than another believer, that does not give you any advantage in pleasing God because being new has its own advantages that offset yours, such as more fervor and zeal and a fresh connection to God, and less accumulated knowledge to sin against. To whom much is given, much is required, and you probably fall short of this “requirement” just as often as the novices.

 Recompense to no man evil for evil

JR: If someone injures your pride, don’t retaliate.  If anything, you should thank them for injuring your pride, right?  If someone interferes with your interests, refuse to hold it against them, since they are ultimately the ones who need help. If someone vandalizes your hard-earned reputation, remember that your reputation is already higher than what it should be because of your private sins and fleshly thoughts, so if someone has harmed your reputation, maybe truth is winning the day, so “rejoice always” and briskly move on.

Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you (in your control), live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord

JR: It is pride to take God’s place as arbiter. Our only assignment is paying forward the forgiveness and kindness we have received.

Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head

JR: overload their hate with kindness, which will help them to later recognize how ugly their hatred is and turn from it.

Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good”.

“The truth will set us free (from pride), but only an ongoing awareness of those truths will KEEP us free!”  Words Are Medicine

        Asking the Right Questions to Mass-Shootings

Bernie Diaz, May 26, 2022

My training as a former broadcast journalist and then a Bible student who became a pastor, has led me to ask of or interrogate historical events a series of questions in order to better understand them. I would suggest now may be a good time for all Americans to engage in such interrogation lest we rush to judgment in thinking about recent news headlines.

Whether I’m looking at the tragic, mass-shooting carnage which took place this week in Uvalde, Texas, or the ones that happened in Buffalo, New York or a Taiwanese church in California, or the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I want to ask myself: What happened, when did it happen, where, who was involved, how did it happen and then and only then can I ask and perhaps answer the question of why did the event happen so that I might begin to make some sense of it all.

The wake of the Uvalde tragedy in which an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers, injuring nearly 20 more, including his own grandmother critically, has driven many of our media and cultural elites to rush to judgment, politics and public policy solutions by focusing on the question of how, at the expense of the why.

  • How?

Violence gets the headlines and gun use and abuse draws immediate attention. This elementary school gunman legally procured two rifles. Officials say he “encountered” a school district security officer outside the school, escaped capture and entered the school through a back entrance. Once there the shooter charged into one classroom and began to kill. He “barricaded himself by locking the door and just started shooting children and teachers that were inside that classroom,” an official told CNN. “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”

The former part of the description of the event answers the how question, leading to the question of “what could have been done to prevent this shooting, or the Buffalo supermarket tragedy?” Is the solution as simple as more gun-control legislation? As crass or overly simplistic as the phrase sounds, “guns don’t kill, people kill,” it still carries much weight when discussing prevention initiatives.

Afterall, more Americans have owned more guns per capita historically than they do now according to the research, but mass-shootings and murder seem to be more frequent today. Gun control legislation has never been more restrictive than it has been within the last generation. Indeed, tougher and well-publicized gun laws in Chicago, New York and California have proven to be largely ineffective.

One could argue that some gun-control measures may be more prudent than others such as waiting periods and minimum age requirements for gun and ammunition purchasers. Mental health alerts are already a part of many a state’s pre-purchase screening process.

Unfortunately, Nikolas Cruz, the South Florida gunman who murdered 17 high-school students in 2018 and is awaiting his final sentence, was red-flagged and targeted for counseling and mental-health care to no avail in preventing his own, ‘Valentine’s Day massacre.’  The Uvalde school shooter had no mental health or criminal history in his background that would have raised suspicion. He just as easily could have purchased his weaponry illegally on the black market or found other ways and means to inflict carnage.  

Thus, I would argue the “how” question and addressing it as the solution will prove to be ineffectual. This most recent mass-shooting at a school has been compared to the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting that occurred in Connecticut some years ago, After each school killing, there is an urge to capture its magnitude in superlatives, which each in some way being worse than the ones before.

That happened after the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, in which a college senior killed 32 people and then himself. Media outlets at the time — and as recently as 2015 — described the event as the country’s “worst school massacre.” One Virginia newspaper ran a headline with the phrase: “Nation’s Worst Rampage.”

But they were all wrong. As horrific and devastating as that day proved, it was not the worst mass killing on a school campus. History tells us that distinction belongs to the mostly forgotten, harrowing explosion at Bath Consolidated School 95 years ago. That day, a local farmer, angry about taxes used to fund the school, killed his wife and then blew up the building before doing the same to his car as he sat inside it. In total, 45 people were killed, among them 38 children.

What measures or laws would have prevented that tragedy? None really. There is no magic wand to wave that will eliminate the threat of mass shootings. This leads us to the final and most complex question to ask and answer from our interrogative process:

  • Why?

Or to put the question in another way, are such violent criminals, “made or born?” Here we have a both/and answer to offer in response to that fundamental but often mysterious question.  

Many of the contemporary shooter’s profiles are exhibiting younger men who have come from dysfunctional homes with absentee parents- fathers most specifically absent, leaving children often on their own in disengaged homes, to spend untold hours in video and social media fueled isolation and fantasy worlds of their own making.

As evidenced by the Uvalde gunman, his lone communication to the world before his heinous act, consisted of online messages warning about his plans. He wrote that he was going to shoot his grandmother, then that he had shot the woman. In the last note, sent about 15 minutes before he reached Robb Elementary, he said he was going to shoot up an elementary school. In one sense, criminals are being made.

However, after the aforementioned Bath school explosion, one of the bomber’s neighbors, who later wrote “The Bath School Disaster,” described him as “the world’s worst demon.” The quoted official describing the elementary school shooter in Uvalde in the aftermath of that rampage said, “It just shows you the complete evil of the shooter.”

Evil and demon are the adjective and the noun that may yet best answer the question of ‘why’ when we read of such acts of wickedness and utter depravity. Criminals such as these may be proven to be more ‘born’ than ‘made.’ The theology of a Christian thinking of all this from a biblical worldview is reminded that Jesus told his followers, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander..” (Matthew 15).  

Murder- the shedding of innocent human life with premediated thought, is evil by definition and the embodiment of the character of Satan himself (John 8:44).  Whenever a terrorist attack or other horrific act of murder occurs, people ask the rhetorical “why” questions in words such as, “What would possess someone to do something like this?” The more appropriate question should be not “what,” but “who.” Who would possess someone to do something like that? Satan would, which is why the “who” question is so important.

While I acknowledge the effects of mental health and human responsibility on mass or serial murders, whenever the most irrational and grievous of evils are committed, I tend to think demon possession is involved.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

What possesses a person to murder dozens of young children? Satan perhaps. What possesses a man to go into a church or another place of worship and blow away Bible study students or himself up with a bomb strapped with shrapnel? Satan perhaps. What causes a young and already troubled man from staking out a supermarket in an African-American community intent on killing as many people of color as possible? Satan perhaps?

As one writer has noted: Denying the existence of Satan is like denying the fact that there is a homicidal maniac trying to break into your home, even though you are watching him bang on your door and try to pry open your windows. Denying the existence of Satan is like going on an African safari at night, by yourself, even though you witnessed hungry lions prowling around earlier in the day.

Evil lurks within mankind and is around us. And spiritual warfare may only be won by spiritual means. So, as we grieve over these shootings and pray for the repentance and healing of our nation, may we be wise in our analysis and ask the right questions and remember as Christian theologian Al Mohler wrote this week, “We are no match for human evil, for human sin. Only Jesus Christ can, and did, triumph over sin and death and evil. Victory over evil will not come fully until Christ brings His kingdom into fullness. The vale of tears we know in this life will overcome us but for Christ and Christ alone.”

May Jesus Christ give us the loving grace and opportunity to minister the hope of the gospel to others as the ultimate answer to the why question and may we also call for his return to right all wrongs – soon and very soon. Just don’t ask when.  

Between the Lines & Below the Surface

Jonathan Rizzo, Guest Blogger, May 11,2022

Pride comes before the fall….. but what comes before pride?

Sometimes it is hard for us to believe that a believer could have unbelief, but even the father of the epileptic child admitted to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”.

            Unbelief goes beyond merely a failure to believe the gospel; unbelief is a failure to believe in ANY of the many words of God. It is my hope that all Christians, upon hearing the word “unbelief” would not think in the narrow terms of only the gospel, but in the proper view of all of God’s Words (which even includes God’s threats!). We may believe in the cross, but without faith in all the other countless words of God, we cannot please Him in the Hebrews 11 sense and the most critical way to please God is to avoid pride.

            Pride is unbelief that leads to exaltation of ourselves rather than God.  The beginning of that statement (“Pride is unbelief…”) is carefully crafted to make a point: that the origin of pride is unbelief in one of God’s many words. Many of us have failed to repent of our pride because our minds are fixed on pride itself as the villain to slay. As it stands, the rhetoric in Church is, “I gotta work on my pride”, but unfortunately we never say “…. so lets work on our unbelief”. 

My guess is that the Enemy has obscured the origin of pride so that Christians do not know how to overcome pride. This leaves many Christians awkwardly, aimlessly attempting humility without dealing with the root cause of their pride. But it shouldn’t surprise any of us that truth is the answer to our sin….. this is just another application of that trusted axiom of Christian life. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you (John 15:3).

“Sanctify them by Your truth…”. TRUTH>>>BELIEF>>>LOVE>>>LIFE! OR IGNORANCE>>>PRIDE>>>UNLOVE>>>DEATH!

I invite you to take a few minutes to drink down the following elixir of truth……                        

1 Samuel 2:7 The LORD (not us) makes people poor and makes people rich; he brings people low and he exalts them” (He ALONE exalts us; we are not able to exalt ourselves, for apart from Him we can do nothing worthwhile).

1 Chronicles 29:11-12, 14 Yours, LORD, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and on the earth (none of it is ours!? Not even our victories!?); Yours is the dominion, LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all (He does not share His exaltation or dominion with any of us!?). 12 Both riches and honor come from You (not from our own merit?), and You rule overall, and in Your hand (ALONE) is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make men great and to strengthen everyone (we don’t make ourselves great?!). … 14 “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer [You sacrifices] as generously as this? For all [offering] comes from You (in the first place), and from Your hand we have given them [back] to You. – King David

Luke 17:7-10 NLT – When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.'”

            We may spend the next moment, or the next week, sitting in the place of God just because we forgot that God has made it clear that we are a “mist” and “worms” and that He is on the throne! Whether we have the ignorant or forgetful form of unbelief, or defiant, willful disbelief, it is likely we will drift into a state of self-exaltation, due to the natural inclinations of our flesh. Whether it is the vain form of pride (before men), or the absolute form of pride (before God), whether we tend to think highly of ourselves or lowly of others, we have departed from the truth and have unwittingly made ourselves abominable. 

            However, if we allow God’s Word to dwell richly in us, and if we follow David’s advice to “write God’s words on our heart, that we might not sin (in pride) against Him”, we will have the truths of God hanging over us and so thoroughly saturating us that we will rarely find ourselves wandering into pride. Our pride will be continually deflated by the needle of truth.

            Instead of fighting pride with manufactured humility, self-belittlement, or other psychological games, we must fight pride by fighting unbelief, and we fight unbelief with the truth. We find truth at its source: God’s words. 

            And finally, it must be said that these words of truth are only assimilated and incorporated into our souls by way of prayerful meditation, in the intimacy of our quiet times with God (meditation). Psalm 1:2 – But his delight [is] in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 

Every time we are guilty of pride, there are some words of God that we are not believing, and until we meditate on those words and wholly embrace them, and allow God to etch and then re-etch them on our hearts, we will fight a never-ending battle with pride.  Or, we might not even realize we have pride!

“The truth will set us free (from pride), but only an ongoing awareness of those truths will KEEP us free!”  Words Are Medicine –

Still The Right To Kill?

Bernie Diaz, May 4, 2022

Much of the U.S.A. was stunned this week by a surprising development – a breach of Supreme Court confidentiality and secrecy, in which a political website obtained and published a draft of a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that would strike down Roe v. Wade, the case that legalized abortion in this country nearly 50 years ago.

The draft circulated in early February, was apparently ‘leaked’ by liberal or left-leaning, pro-abortion advocates looking to stir up a sufficient enough media and public backlash, as to sway at least one of the court’s five more conservative justices to swing their vote before the final decision is announced in late June.

If the reported opinion- verified by Chief Justice John Roberts were to hold, it would be the most consequential court decision in decades and transform the landscape of the abortion debate throughout the country. The impact of the decision in the Mississippi case banning abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy would serve as a new landmark in overturning Roe as the de facto law of the land.

Pro-lifers and most evangelical Christians were cautiously optimistic if not overjoyed by the news of the opinion and its strongly worded objection to Roe having been codified as law half a century ago. In the draft opinion, Alito writes that Roe “must be overruled.”

“The Constitution makes no reference to abortion and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Alito wrote. He said that Roe was “egregiously wrong from the start” and that its reasoning was “exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.”

“That is what the Constitution and the rule of law demand,” he said, according to the draft. Alito’s argument affirms the classic, constitutional position which pro-life legal experts and voters have long held as to the unconstitutional nature of Roe and its 1992 close cousin, Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, which expanded the accessibility of abortion beyond Roe’s original 23-week standard of ‘fetal viability.’

What Happens Next?

Does this opinion- should it hold over the course of the next month or so, make abortion illegal all across the fruited plain? Not quite.

Should Roe be overturned or at least fundamentally weakened, as is now generally expected, half of the nation’s states – generally referred to as “red” and dominated by Republican party leadership, have, or immediately will enacts laws restricting (Florida) or outright banning abortion, as is the case in Oklahoma.

Conversely, a number of other states of the “blue”, or Democratic party persuasion (e.g. New York, California) have or will enact laws and perhaps even state constitutional amendments which will continue to legalize abortion on demand and in some cases, acts of infanticide days or weeks after botched-abortion procedures.   

This is why Justice Alito added in his opinion, “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s representatives.” Therefore, the anticipated reversal of Roe may signal a change of direction more than an absolute end or abolition of abortion in our country.

Christians looking at this development through a Biblical lens or worldview, will understand that sin in the form of the heinous act of murder including the shedding of the innocent blood of preborn babies, sacrificed on the idolatrous altar of fornication and the sexual revolution, will be abolished from our midst no more than the sins of greed, lust or lying will be, my man’s legislative efforts.  

For pro-lifers however, this opinion and long-awaited decision would be a step in the right direction in reducing the mortality rate of the unborn, as the battle for the dignity and sanctity of human life will continue among the states, despite the efforts of lawmakers and the White House to keep the status quo of baby-killing in the land.  

Lest you believe the above reads a bit harsh, note that President Joe Biden was caught accidentally ‘telling the truth’ in a rambling speech made at an Air Force base on behalf of the pro-abort position in the wake of the opinion release. First, Biden fallaciously argued that mainstream religions question the point at which the unborn are human, as his own Roman Catholic church’s doctrine unequivocally states that life begins at conception making abortion a sin.

Second and even more shocking, the President said, “I mean, so the idea that we’re going to make a judgment that is going to say no one can make the judgment to choose to abort a child based upon a decision by the Supreme Court, I think goes way overboard.”

The president came out of the politically correct closet and spoke to the validity of a person’s choice to abort a child.

To abort, according to the dictionary is basically to fail, cease, or stop something or someone. Cease in this context, would be, ‘a cause to cease to live’ as the proper definition of abortion. The President of the United States in other words, publicly said, that to take the life of, or to kill a child- a human being, should be left to the choice of another individual, rather than be protected by law and its governing authorities, as per God’s primary ordinance of government and the most fundamental of human rights (Gen. 9:5-7). 

Unwittingly, the president clearly stated the divide that exists in our nation between pro-aborts and the pro-life position, namely the idea that some lives- in this case, the unborn are inferior or ‘less than’ human beings undeserving of protection under the law. Particularly, when they stand in the way of sexual freedom.

Fortunately, the tide may be turning in the pro-life direction in public opinion, which should have no bearing on the court’s decision in the Dobbs case anyway. Recent polls indicate that nearly 70% of Americans favor some form of abortion restrictions in all or some circumstances and a solid majority of 54% favor laws such as Florida or Mississippi’s 15-week ban.

Indeed, as Love Life missionaries who prayerwalk across the nation like to say, “What the Supreme Court made legal, the church will make unthinkable.” That must be the goal of every disciple of Christ who understands that God is the sovereign creator of life, conceived in the womb and forbids the shedding of all innocent human life, beginning in the womb, but provides healing grace and mercy in Christ, with the hope of the gospel and the help of the local church and its communities.

Thus, while the pro-life and gospel community welcomes the much-anticipated answer to the prayer of the reversal of Roe v Wade in America, we know that this change of direction will not end the pro-life movement, but rather embolden it.

Pro-life Christians must continue their advocacy for the social justice of the unborn and the “least of these” among us, ‘Rescuing those who are being taken away to death; holding back those who are stumbling to the slaughter’ (Pro. 24:11-12) until the Lord Jesus, the only true and ultimately, righteous and Supreme Court Justice of the world returns to right all wrongs. 

           Living and Coaching in the Lion’s Den 

Bernie Diaz, April 27, 2022

How does a voluntary yet public prayer by a high-school football coach in the United States become an issue of civil disobedience and a modern parallel to Daniel and the Lion’s den?

To set the stage for this post, the U.S. Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments in the case of Joseph Kennedy, a former Washington state high school assistant football coach fired in 2015 for …. wait for it…. praying at the 50-yard line after games. What a heinous crime indeed!

According to a news report, During arguments, the justices seemed sympathetic to the high school coach’s plight, yet they struggled to define at what point the coach’s personal, on-field prayer could be considered unconstitutional, as a lower court has ruled.

The school district’s argument- again manifesting the attitude of an increasingly secular and hostile to faith public school system, is they properly barred Kennedy’s prayer because players might feel coerced to join in—a violation of the constitution’s establishment clause.

For Coach Kennedy, the whole matter was a lot simpler. After the coach accepted a full-time job in 2008, he was watching Facing the Giants, a 2006 movie about a turnaround by a Christian high school coach and team. It was “like God coming down and smacking me in the head,” he told me.

“I’ve never had a movie hit me so hard and straight to my heart, [and] I fell to my knees,” said Kennedy. “And I was like, I’m in 100 percent. God, I hear you loud and clear. And so, I said right there, just like in the movie, I’m going to give you the glory after every game. … And that’s the way that all started.”

That’s also what got Kennedy fired after he rejected school offers to accommodate his desire to pray by allowing him to do so out of the sight of players—a firing upheld by both a U.S. District Court and another Circuit Court of Appeals.

I’m not so interested at this point in debating the minutiae or finer points of constitutional law but rather the validity of the moral obligation of Christians to defy man’s law when it’s conflict with God’s as was argued by the apostles of Christ before Israel’s de facto Supreme Court (the Sanhedrin) 2,000 years ago (Acts 4:13-20).  

The Call to Prayer

Six centuries before Christ, a prophet of note, Daniel, was taken to task by jealous, anti-God Babylonian officials during the tail end of the captivity of the Jews there. What heinous crime was this elderly man of God, found even by his critics to be righteous in every way?

He dared manifest his faith and allegiance to the King of his life, by praying publicly, as was the custom of his people, particularly for repentance as per Solomon’s charge (1 Kings 8) and powerfully pictured in Daniel’s national prayer (Daniel 9). That prayer time would always face the holy land and could be seen in the open (through windows in Daniel’s case).

He and his young friends you may remember were never afraid to practice civil disobedience before- if necessary (Daniel 1 and 3). In this instance of prayer (Daniel 6), he was not seeking to do anything controversial, to pick a fight with Babylon’s king, other public officials, to make a political statement or to gain an invite to the lion’s den. Who would?

Nonetheless, Daniel’s faithfulness to the will and word of God earned the wrath of the kingdom of man, via the law of the Medes and Persians – their interpretation of their ‘constitution.’  He was prosecuted and convicted of the high crime of prayer to Jehovah God (Daniel 6:16-20) and sentenced to a sure death in the lion’s den, even to the angst of the king, who had acknowledged and been moved by Daniel’s integrity.

all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12, ESV)

God proved himself faithful again to his prophet and in miraculously preserving his life and rescuing him from danger as the Lord will do on many but not all occasions, as the apostle Paul found out when giving thanks to the Lord, alluding to Daniel in the den in the midst of one persecution (2 Timothy 4:17), but not another for gospel preaching later in Rome (Acts 28; 2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Sometimes – but not always, will God vindicate his people and preserve them on earth and give them a glimpse of justice because of their righteousness and faithfulness as he did for Daniel. Ultimately, God will vindicate us for his name’s sake.

However, there is little doubt that according to the scriptures, born-again believers of Jesus have been, can be and will be persecuted in different ways over different times as Coach Kennedy has learned in our contemporary example.

It is our very loyalty to Christ and sanctified separation from the world that arouses it’s animosity toward us. The world would prefer that we were like them; since we are not, they hate us (John 15:18-21;1 Peter. 4).

This type of persecution will be a prominent part of the tribulation time to come at the end of this age (Luke 21:12,16-17). I don’t mention that to scare you but to prepare and encourage you, the disciple of Christ, to be confident in and comforted by God’s sovereign and wise providence.

There are times and places where God’s people will be called to disobey the same civil governments we are commanded to obey whenever possible (Romans 13; 1 Peter 2), insofar that the authorities do not command us to do what God has prohibited or to forbid us from doing what God has commanded us to do, as was the case for Daniel and other Christ-followers who have stood for life, like the Hebrew mid-wives (Exodus 1) and Esther did as well as the gospel preaching prophets, apostles and pastors over church history.  

The real Christian will endure suffering in persecution as the purifying affirmation of his or her faith as we remember that God is doing a work in us in our persecution, of which more is to follow in these days, by placing us in the lions’ den.

The Pandemic – Two Years in the Rearview Mirror        

Bernie Diaz, April 20, 2022

Has life really returned to normal? Before we look at what normal is, a major milestone in that direction seems to have taken place this week when a federal district court judge in our home state of Florida struck down the Biden administration’s pandemic related mask mandate in the U.S. as it pertained to public transportation.

That regulation, which affected American travel on trains, airplanes and most airports had been in place since January of 2021. The mask mandate became a virtual icon picturing the cultural and societal divide which existed in this country for the last two years since the coronavirus first arrived on our shores toward the very end of 2019 and full bore in early 2020.

To Mask and Vax or Not to Mask and Vax? That was the question.

The wearing or non-wearing of masks as well as the risk/reward assessment of vaccinations, became a matter of politics and debate over the last two years as to the nature of freedom and how it relates to public health, as it did in a number of other European nations in the west. It didn’t help that the scientific evidence put forth by government health officials here on an on-going basis was often inconsistent if not misrepresented, leading to at least half the nation to question the credibility of health officials and the media’s coverage of the pandemic.

In hindsight, or what I’m calling a COVID rearview mirror (one can hope), a body of research – some of it even affirmed by the nation’s Surgeon General, recently indicates that lockdowns, shelter-in-place policies, masks, school closures and vax mandates largely failed in their purpose of curbing transmission of the coronavirus.

While the vaccines may have reduced the severity of COVID related symptoms for some, hospitalizations and fatalities among others, the fact is, these restrictive policies came at their own cost and turned out to be more ineffective and, in some ways, more devastating than intended, by causing immense harm to the economy, especially to the poorer and most vulnerable within societies due to massive unemployment, supply line shortages and inflation which came as the result of quarantines and lockdowns of the healthiest citizens among us- those ninety-niner percenters of the population least likely to be seriously impacted by the virus.

A microcosm of the kind of governmental hysteria still surrounding the pandemic is evident in the country where it likely began – China. Shanghai, is the massive city of 25 million people at the center of China’s zero-tolerance efforts to stamp out the country’s largest ever Covid outbreak. No one is allowed to leave their residential compounds, even to buy food, meaning residents rely on the government or private delivery drivers stretched thin by the massive demand. That reality is creating huge pressure on the system– and for many people, the restrictions are more distressing than the threat of the virus itself.

In Shangai, China, an unrealistic objective has brought despair and desperation to its most populated city, marked by shuttered shops, food shortages and broken supply chains.

Lessons Learned

When governments attempt to play God no matter how well intended their motivations may be, agendas become manifest and overreach is common (1 Sam. 8:10-17).

Whereas the United States mobilized manpower and marshalled resources to combat an unprecedented pandemic, it did so in creating a system and structure which not only threatened religious freedom but also led to massive job and business losses and an increase in cases of mental illness (depression, suicide attempts), drug abuse and domestic violence due to severe lockdowns and mandates, according to a compilation of research studies.

The American economy is still reeling from a period of hyper-inflation brought on by unnecessarily long and oppressive COVID policies. The Wall Street Journal captured the aftermath of what occurred since the start of scientifically questionable lockdowns and school closures two years ago in an article that read: “Six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. carried out two large-scale experiments in public health—first, in March and April, the lockdown of the economy to arrest the spread of the virus, and second, since mid-April, the reopening of the economy. The results are in…. locking down the economy didn’t contain the disease’s spread and reopening it didn’t unleash a second wave of infections.”  

Moreover, our pandemic policies may have unknowingly contributed to a negative impact on children due to isolation and interruption of school closures, which may not be fully understood for years to come, according to a University of Chicago economist who wrote, “School closures may ultimately prove to be the most costly policy decision of the pandemic era in both economic and mortality terms.”

“But God”

Normal for most of us means things as they used to be. That means a pre-pandemic lifestyle where no one judged others for their medical decisions, people dodged church because they could and went where they wanted to go without having to consult websites or newscasts. Life was pretty predictable, expectations were set and future plans could be made.  

Then COVID and a pandemic came full force in America in March of 2020. Then came masks, then mandates, then quarantines, then never-ending COVID death counts, then Zoom meetings, online church services, vaccine arguments, then closed schools, churches, malls, restaurants and inflation. All of that became the ‘new normal.’

Then God in his sovereignty exercised painful providences to remind everyone that sin and suffering while normal in man’s fallen state, comes in different shapes and sizes, making it difficult for us to take his presence and power for granted.

Looking at our COVID rearview mirror over the last two years has revealed to the church of Jesus Christ several lessons of which two stick out in my mind:

  1. Church is a family and a community of faith in which in-person fellowship and discipleship cannot be duplicated online.

Zoom and digital church may have proved temporarily necessary when certain state and local governments limited worship services among other public gatherings at the height of the pandemic and the lockdown period from the spring of 2020 through most of 2021.

Ultimately, the sense of loss in burden carrying, interpersonal relationships, the “holy kiss” and the realization that true, biblical discipleship must be ‘in the flesh’, drove many a church goer back to  church meetings and away from empty, ‘air hugs.’

  • God is not helpless, we are and our hope is in tomorrow, not today.

If COVID and the pandemic taught us anything, it is that we are helpless to control our environment, circumstances and life-spans. God is the only, true sovereign and decisive force in our world. Sometimes it takes a seemingly random, violent event or a tsunami or other “natural disaster” or a world-wide virus to remind the creature of his smallness before its creator.

Whenever we are most helpless, we are in the perfect position to hope (future and yet, unrealized expectation) in God and our glory to come (Heb. 11;13; 1 Pet. 2:11). The Christian’s citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3), not here, where perfect peace and joy will be the new and forever normal in the kingdom of heaven.

COVID may be in my rearview mirror two years past Lord willing, but it’s historic place in my life has spurred me to think of my true home in Christ, to long for it and for him all the more and I – the church should be grateful for that.

 Looking For a New Beginning? Think Resurrection

Bernie Diaz, April 13, 2022

A recent news report on the findings of a study, struck me as odd as well as a bit discouraging, when I read that although Americans are curious about the religious devotion of others and are willing to discuss the topic today, most say they rarely have conversations about faith with their Christian friends.

What? That’s right, an Evangelism Explosion study conducted by Lifeway Research found Americans are widely receptive to spiritual conversations in a variety of settings, but according to the lead researcher of the survey, “Now, perhaps more than ever, people are open to conversations about faith, yet few Christians actually take the opportunity to engage in personal evangelism.”

The survey showed that half of Americans (51%) say they’re curious as to why some people are so devoted to their faith, including 60% of the religiously unaffiliated. Interestingly and hopefully enough, curiosity is also more likely among younger adults.

“This study reveals that most Americans are open to talking about faith,” said the Executive Director of Lifeway Research. “It really isn’t about religious liberty, people not wanting to hear, or religion being off-limits. The reason conversations are not happening about the Christian faith is that Christians are not bringing it up.”

Therefore, rather than this being your typical holy week post exhorting the rationale for why disciples of Christ are called to be disciple makers as per the Great Commission from Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20), this post is to serve as an Easter time exhortation with a ‘reason for the hope that lies within us’ (1 Pet. 3). It is a rationale or argument to share as we understand our audience may be more willing to listen than we thought.

What we can consider sharing as another evangelistic tool that is both biblical and relevant for a society and culture which is self-absorbed with the latest fad, gadget or thought, is offering what so many people intuitively long for: a new beginning. And what better time is there to talk new beginnings than holy weekend, the most important weekend in world history I would say.

Most of our neighbors know something about the gospel facts of this weekend: the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But what many don’t yet understand is the why of these events and what they mean to the person who is lost or unredeemed while curious about our faith.

The premise to the presentation I have in mind is that there are many people who for a variety of reasons, are looking for a new beginning, or for something that’s new in the sense of another chance at life. Many want and sense a need for an opportunity at a new life that will last, and we have something to share with them that will last forever. Unlike their smartphones, it will not need any updating or another version.

Many an unbeliever needs this new beginning because they’re tired, hurting, angry, battling an addiction or may be battling members of their own family, or the consequences of unemployment or financial distress, even leading to an anger with God. They have big questions that deserve big answers and we the disciples of Christ should have them ready to offer.

What the lost need is a reboot of the heart- a new life and new relationship with God- because he’s the one that created them as well as the entire universe and is the only that can bring meaning and order to their life.

A New Life

 … if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come ( 2 Cor. 5:17, ESV).

To understand what it means to be “in Christ” is the key to getting a new life. Christians need to tell non-Christians this week and going forward that if they get right with God, they get a new life. That’s the reward- that’s the goal- that’s the promise of heaven and eternal life that’s in front of them and that’s how it happens. If you’re ‘in Christ’, old things have passed away and ‘all’ things have become new.

If anyone is in Christ, they are at last at peace with God and are no longer His enemy, as the apostle Paul writes in Romans 5, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I would argue there are essentially only two kinds of people in the world: one group is at war with God- they’re rebels, and the second group is at peace with God and they’re his children and his friends (Ro. 5:10-11). Which group does the unredeemed want to be in?

A new beginning- a new and permanent lease on life- by virtue of death – that special someone’s death as a substitute for the sinner, comes in the act of being reconciled to God. The lost need life because they are spiritually dead in their unredeemed state (Eph. 2:1-3).

A New Relationship

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

To be reconciled with God means according to the original Greek language that something must change. In fact, the word was used to describe someone changing coins for others of equal value. Relationally, it means something must or should change.

This is not surprising. We have a clue when we say and hear the word “reconciliation” in our culture. We understand that. There are even courts of reconciliation and mediation. There are friendships that need to be reconciled as most of you reading this post surely know. There are sibling rivalries- family relationships that need to be reconciled. There are spouses that need to be reconciled. We understand what that means. We understand what it means to be apart in a relationship and to find a way back to it.

The great gospel news of the Easter story is that God has made a way in which sinners can be reconciled to Him. To your lost listener that might seem impossible, but believe me, it’s not.

So, what did God do? God in Christ is reconciling the world in the sense of humanity. That doesn’t mean every single person who has ever lived will be saved from the judgment to come or reconciled to God, but it does mean he is doing His reconciling work in the world. If you are a law breaker of God’s law and therefore a violator of His holiness and you reject or blaspheme him, you’re his enemy and therefore only God can set the terms of the reconciliation. Only he can set the terms of surrender.

In the case of reconciliation with God, we alone are the guilty and only God alone can end the rebels’ war against him. 2 Corinthians 5:19 tells us that the Lord cancels the sinner’s debt – forgives them, by virtue of his grace by faith.

The repentant sinner is justified or declared right by God, because the perfect righteousness of Jesus has been imputed or reckoned to use an old Bible term – counted to them if they believe, when they turn to God and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Now, doesn’t that make God too soft on sin? No, he’s a just judge who also happens to also be perfectly gracious, loving, and merciful.     

The sinner in the language of Romans 4 may still ask, “How can God justify the ungodly?” That’s a huge question being that most people think they must be good or godly on their own to go to heaven. But it is God who justifies not the godly but the ungodly. How can He do that?

2 Cor. 5:19 and this judicial act of imputation explains it, in what the theologians of the past called the ‘great exchange’, whereby God treated Jesus as if He were a sinner on the cross, which is why holy weekend begins with Good Friday.

It is good for God’s people that Christ, the sinless one, was their substitute for sin, symbolized in all the sacrifices in the Old Testament. Isaiah 53 prophesied that the coming Messiah would do this. To put it another way, God had Jesus killed with His wrath and punishment over your sin instead of doing it to you (Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12).

Or, in other words, God treated Jesus on the cross as if he had lived your life. Yes, the Bible teaches that God the father treated God the son as if he had personally committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe in him throughout all human history. Indeed, this Easter season perfectly pictures amazing grace and amazing love.

Thus, in this great exchange, when God sees a new believer in Christ- he sees the perfectly righteous life of Christ, which is how we get our new life and new relationship with God. 

During the rest of this holy week, please remind your lost family and friends that Easter shouldn’t be primarily about a pagan feast of fertility gods, harvests, bunnies, eggs and candy. That’s fun for little kids, but even the Jews of the early church knew better. Their feasts of Passover, unleavened bread and the first-fruits were really the pictures or symbols of the gospel (the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus) to come.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ ensures his victory and ours over sin, the devil and death itself. Therefore, our salvation now is the beginning of the ‘first-fruits’ of new life. A new beginning and the preview of the new and eternal life to come.  

The aforementioned survey is telling us that, “Americans are curious about the religious devotion of others and are willing to discuss the topic.” Wouldn’t holy weekend be a great time to tell people you have the directions to a new beginning for them? If they would just look, look up to the resurrection!

 “More Meat or the Primacy of Preaching”

Bernie Diaz, April 7, 2022

It’s been some years now when I was first struck by the words of the senior pastor of what is commonly acknowledged to be the largest, home-grown church in America, who in response to an interviewer’s question on television about his preaching method and hesitancy to mention hell, said: I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe…. maybe it was for a time. But I don’t have it in my heart to condemn people. I’m there to encourage them. I see myself more as a coach, as a motivator to help them experience the life God has for us.

Then the host followed up and asked: “But don’t you think if people don’t believe as you believe, they’re somehow condemned?” To which the pastor replied, “You know, I think that happens in our society. But I try not to do that. I tell people all the time, preached a couple Sundays about it. I’m for everybody. You may not agree with me, but to me it’s not my job to try to straighten everybody out. And so, I don’t know. I know there is condemnation but I don’t feel that’s my place.”

I don’t know? If preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ means not being ashamed of it and its implications (Ro.1:16-17) and is the primary part of a pastor and preacher’s job than why the hesitation? I mean, why do we show up at our church?

Fortunately, COVID and dependence on dissatisfying online church services may have stirred the hunger for more, for more meat in pulpit ministry as indicated by a report which showed that fewer than 10% of Evangelical Protestants want to have shorter sermons during worship, while nearly a third want more in-depth teaching, according to the recently released survey data titled, “The Congregational Scorecard: What Evangelicals Want in a Church.”

The researchers surveyed 1,000 American Evangelical Protestants, asking for their views on 14 different elements about the churches they attend for worship. According to the report, only 7% of respondents want sermons to be shorter, while 85% believe the sermon lengths are acceptable as they are and about 8% percent said they wanted sermons to be longer.

Interestingly enough, these trends were fairly consistent across generations, as 10% of Evangelicals under the age of 40 preferred shorter sermons, while 11% over the age of 70 responded the same.

I think sermon lengths may actually serve as a pretty fair barometer of a local church’s view of scripture as being classically ‘higher’ or lower.’ One can surmise that generally speaking, the lengthier the message from the pulpit, the higher its view of the Bible probably is, as the preacher serves as an expositor or explainer of the word of God, relying on the arguments or point of a given text of scripture to be the point of the sermon itself.

Therefore, more time is required to deliver a message of what a text says, what it means by what it says and then offer sanctified wisdom as to what the listener may do with what it means and by what it says.  

“One of the more surprising findings was that so few Evangelicals want shorter sermons, since such a common and unfortunate stereotype is long-winded pastors,” the research spokesman told the Christian Post.

“Where’s the Beef?”

If the above survey holds any water at all, It looks like we may have arrived at a time where true and hungry disciples of Jesus Christ have been so fed up with ‘ear-tickling’, exclusively topical sermons of fluff and stuff, that they are expressing a craving to be fed more meat from the Lord’s table or to receive more substance from the menu as a significant number of Christians are seeking to grow.

And make no mistake about it, it is the word which God intends to use with the Spirit of God as the primary means of growth or maturity. The apostle Peter wrote the church and used the analogy of milk or baby food and meat to distinguish the spiritual birth and growth of a Christian, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.. (1 Pet. 2:2).”

The author of the book of Hebrews went even further in this analogy when speaking of the remedial teaching a Christian must receive in order to grow, when he wrote, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food (Heb. 5:12).”

The meaning of the metaphor is that disciples of Christ need to graduate as ‘babies’ do from digesting the milk of the word – let’s say the gospel and elementary doctrine, to eating meant or the “solid food” of the word, which refer to the deeper understanding of the things of God and his kingdom, including the sanctification that follows our salvation, as Hebrews 5:14 adds, “.. solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

The word of God – “eating Bible” as our church calls it, consists of personal feeding as well as the corporate savoring of the meal served as a sermon from a pastor and preacher who is not afraid to serve meaty meals in which to nourish his people. That takes time from the cook to prepare and serve the meal as well as the patience required from the guest at the table or congregation to digest it (Psa. 1:1-3).

This is why expositors like me can be encouraged by the survey results reported above. Perhaps more of the people in the pews on Sunday and midweek, are longing to be fed meat, slowly and generously.

What’s the Diet?   

When we’re talking about the meat of the word, we’re talking about substance and the need to thrive spiritually in our relationship with God. Regular nourishment for our souls is as vital for the Christian life as physical food is for the body, as Jesus declared to the enemy of our souls in the temptation he wrestled with, when he rebuked Satan and said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).”

Bread was a major staple of the Hebrew diet from the Old Testament period through the New while meat in the biblical analogy, referred to a greater, tastier and more substantive item on the menu (sorry to my vegetarian brothers and sisters). This meat will consist of reading and sitting under teaching in church that will proclaim and break down large chunks of scripture, chapter by chapter and book by book in the Bible.

Where Should I Eat?

“.. 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 (2 Tim. 4:2-3).

The apostle Paul commanded his young apprentice and Ephesian pastor Timothy – and by extension and application, any and all pastors to preach the word of God, which accomplishes much in five different features. What Paul is giving the church and its leaders in 2 Timothy 4, is the pastor and preacher’s playbook- the manual, the blueprint in a pastoral letter of how a church leading man of God is to do the primary part of his ministry, particularly with regard to worship, before God’s people.

Paul adds in the aforementioned text that there will be times when many professing Christians won’t endure sound teaching, can drift away from the truth and fall for false teaching and error (2 Tim. 4:4). The apostle called

Timothy to continue in the gospel, doctrine and the word he began receiving as a child in chapter three of the same letter, calling the word the “sacred” or holy writings, referring to both ends of the Bible including the new verbal teaching that was going out to the church at the time it was being written. This word was inspired – ultimately written by God through the human authors and given to the church.

Thus, the flow of Paul’s argument from the end of chapter three into chapter four is for the sufficiency, the necessity and the credibility of the scriptures, preached and taught to the church of Jesus Christ, so that the Christian would be ready to withstand and deal with anything that comes in the faith and practice of the Christian life. In other words- the word is filling. It is enough.

Paul told Timothy to feed his flock, in essence, “preach all of the Bible.” That is the menu and an expository preaching church seems to be the five-star type of restaurant the Bible commends for the Lord’s personal patron to dine in this culinary analogy of spiritual growth.

Therefore, in a world of itching ears, thirty second sound-bites and tweets, find a place where the word is preached. To a generation gone astray and in an uncertain time of moral crisis, dine where the word is preached. When false teachers abound, dine where the word is faithfully preached. Whether your friends will listen or not, find and go to a place where the word is preached. That is the way of God for the people of God:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.. (Col. 1:28).