The Moon Landing and a Universal Choir

Bernie Diaz, July 16, 2019

50 years ago this week, man walked on the moon. Countless television and news reports have been observing and celebrating that hot Florida day on July 16, 1969 (definitely a day like today), when astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins flew into space on the most famous exploration mission in history, Apollo 11.

After touchdown on that July 20th, Armstrong would spend just slightly more than two and a half hours walking around on the Moon’s surface, “going where no man had gone before.” They picked up rocks and items of study but life on the moon was never expected nor discovered.

Such a mission has not deterred but encouraged millions of Americans to dream about a time where extra-terrestrial life will be found on other planets and UFO sightings may be confirmed as more than silly hoaxes and conspiracies for those that love all things sci-fi.

I have enjoyed more than a few Sci-Fi movies or TV programs in my lifetime- including E.T. as a youngster, but none was more interesting to me than director Steven Spielberg’s lesser known classic film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  What did I find so fascinating about that story? Perhaps it was the wonder, the transcendence of inter-galactic relationships forming, the thrill of the “coming home” aspect of the earthlings being returned to this home-planet in scenes which stirred my  heart in a “frequency deeper than mere entertainment,” as a writer put it.

Such fantasies bolstered by the enormity of the heavens and universe also stir up our imaginations because as human, image-bearers of God we tend to feel we are not alone.

In fact, a lot of astronomers are fascinated and perplexed, as to why the universe is so big. The Hubble Telescope for instance, seems to tell us that there may be at a minimum, as many as ten thousand galaxies other than our own, which make up just a small portion of the universe, which is so big that we’re considering the expenditure of bigger bucks looking for other life forms in the universe.

50 years post Apollo 11, President Trump is talking about rejuvenating NASA and the space program, as America prepares to return to the Moon by 2024, and eventually, to Mars.

The prevailing wisdom among some scientists is that we have to assume there must be some other life forms in our massive universe. More habitable planets have to exist in such vast reaches of space they say. It’s just way too big, if it’s just a place for you and me right?

Isn’t that why UFO’s exist? What about Area 51? Isn’t that more than just a military base in Nevada, but rather a staging and research center for the study of UFO’s and ET’s? Conspiracy theorists think so.

Only recently the acronym “UFO” (Unidentified Flying Object) is now being referred to as ‘unexplained aerial phenomenon,’ or “UAP.” That is the term used by the scientific and evidence-based wing of the UFO research community, in an attempt to disassociate from the mockery that accompanies the lunatic type fringe of the “UFO” movement.

The Bible and Aliens

Getting to the heart of the issue, other than false interpretations of Ezekiel’s prophetic visions, God’s word makes no mention of “aliens” other than human beings who immigrate from one nation to another or enter a country as refugees, which is a whole other controversy.

Now, could God have created other life-forms; plants, animals or conscious, sentient image-bearers on other planets? I would suppose so. God being the sovereign, all-powerful and all-present creator and sustainer of all life in the universe can do as he wishes. We could not rule out such a possibility in good conscience, but we should know that scripture tells us in the book of Genesis that God began the creation of the universe itself with planet earth and its created beings.   

God spoke and the universe came into being (Psalm 33:6,9). However, speculation remains due to the observation that if the universe was created simply to house humanity, it sure seems a bit oversized.

Why then is the universe so large and teeming with galaxies of stars and planets yet apparently devoid of other life-forms? If only perplexed astronomers, atheists and agnostics knew why God does anything, they might find an answer for the existence of the universe, as Christians have from the Bible (Acts 17:24-27). If they only knew that the universe’s primary function is not to house life-forms like humanity, but to glorify or magnify its Creator. In that sense the cosmos are not as big as they thought:

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away (Psalm 148:1-6, ESV).

Our best explanation for the existence of the unchartered universe (“undiscovered country”) may be more for mankind’s amazement and wonder – reflected in praise and worship of God for his mind-boggling creation in the heavenlies, which speak of his creative power and glory (Psalm 19:1-3) than anything else.

Indeed, it seems that the heavenlies themselves and the created beings within them make up one grand, universal choir of voices of praise and worship.

Perhaps one day, the voice of God will ring out to us as it did for the prophet Isaiah during Israel’s troubled time, when he said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8a). Who would ever have expected that such a powerful and majestic God would ask such a question of one man for one nation? Maybe the Great Commission will expand to other worlds and not be limited to “nations.” Maybe- maybe not.

Quite honestly, I don’t spend too much time thinking about aliens, UFO’s or UAP’s. We have more than enough work to do when it comes to faithfully proclaiming the gospel here on planet earth – don’t we?    

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America’s Sinful Pride Month

Bernie Diaz, July 10, 2019

As the old song says, “Only in America,” would our society and current culture appoint a month (June) celebrating sin as a virtue and source of national pride, when ironically the sin of pride itself, is at the heart of the  observance of “Gay Pride Month” in the United States, which was established by then President Bill Clinton in 1999, and even recognized publicly this year by Donald Trump, the first ever Republican President to do so.

Last month’s observance marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, also marked the birth of the modern, ‘Gay Rights Liberation’ movement.

The sin that is homosexuality is of course inarguably found throughout sections of scripture in both the Old and New Testaments, as testament to the violation of God’s ordained purpose and plan for sexuality to be enjoyed by and perpetuated in the procreation of mankind, by only one man and one woman in heterosexual marriage.

Therefore, any other manifestation of sexual thought and deed out of those bounds, are clearly described as sin to be repented of by God, and worthy of his final judgment should it remain unredeemed like other sins, noted by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

However, America in her generation plus fall from God’s common moral grace and into his “wrath against unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18-28), has chosen to celebrate as a nation, rather than condemn and turn from such sinful behavior.

How?

Today’s LGBTQ movement finds it roots from an event that occurred in  late June of 1969, when New York City police offers raided the Stonewall Inn club in Greenwich Village with the intent of enforcing city ordinances on an unlicensed establishment, owned and operated in unclean and unsafe conditions by the Genovese crime family at the time.

It was a place where at least 200 patrons (some of them underage, homeless teens being sexually preyed upon by adult males) rioted when police came to close the tavern.    

This event sparked a festering though somewhat dormant movement to explode in public protests, becoming a revolution and turning point in American social history, whose pioneers envisioned a country which all historic, traditional sexual norms could be permanently overturned.

The most radical activists of the revolution launched a movement in which an end would be brought to the nuclear family, and in which same-sex marriage, parenting and unregulated sexual freedom would take place.

Harvard Professor Michael Bronski, a follower of the movement, quoted a gay liberationist in an article as saying, “Sexual repressions and lack of sexual knowledge were far more dangerous than same-sex activity for youth.” In an infamous document known as the “The Gay Manifesto,” published a month before the Stonewall riots, liberationist Carl Wittman wrote:

A note on the exploitation of children: kids can take care of themselves, and are sexual beings way earlier than we’d like to admit. Those of us who began cruising in early adolescence know this, and we were doing the cruising, not being debauched by dirty old men. . . . And as for child molesting, the overwhelming amount is done by straight guys to little girls: it is not particularly a gay problem and is caused by the frustrations resulting from anti-sex puritanism.

The above comment affirms the largely ignored truth at the root of this western sexual revolution, which is plainly the ascent of complete, unadulterated, sexual liberty including virtually every form of its perversion and debauchery imagined. This reality is a simple testament to mankind’s pride, emanating from spiritually dead, deaf and dumb hearts which are often antagonistic to God, his gospel and his son.

Make no mistake, Stonewall and Gay Pride month’s influence on the revolution rolls on today, to the point where its proponents have just celebrated cultural victories from the sudden mainstreaming of drag queens (males dressed provocatively as females), reading pro-gay and transgender stories to little children in tax-payer funded, public libraries to Teen Vogue magazine actually posting a guide to anal sex to its readers this year.   

Such frightening news begs the question, “How much further can the revolution go?” As we’ve posted in this blog before, history (see the Roman empire among some other pagan civilizations) teaches us that man’s sinful and unchecked inclinations can unfortunately go far beyond what the mind can see.

This question is even somewhat problematic for some in the LGBTQ movement itself, where a divide or ethical fissure has developed in their community (which is in reality much smaller than media and culture portray it to be), between those that originally sought and might be content with nothing more than some institutional and legal rights equal to heterosexuals (i.e. marriage, property and visitation), and the more radical advocates of the revolution, who see nothing less that an ‘in your face’, societal and institutional acceptance and approval of sexual deviancy as a failure of its original agenda.

What is America to Do?

The largely unredeemed U.S. is limited in what it can say to the face of the sexual revolution, since so much of the nation has sub-consciously or otherwise participated in it, with its own rampant, heterosexual fornications over the decades of; pre-marital sex, abortion, divorce, co-habitation, sexual abuse and cultural acceptance of such, to the degree where Americans- undoubtedly including many Christians, take in media product which legitimizes if not promotes such sinful sexuality.

In fact, it is now estimated that nearly 9% of regular, primetime, television broadcast characters are scripted primarily as LGBTQ, more than twice the best estimates of their true population (only 1 in 20 perhaps, according to a recent Gallup poll).

Cleverly, the revolution’s agenda continues to be aimed subtly at children and families, as new “gay superhero” characters will soon be introduced into the DC and Marvel print and movie Universe as well.     

As a pastor, preacher and American residing Christian, whose “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20-21), my goal as should be the objective of any serious Christ following and kingdom building disciple, is to “speak the truth in love” on this issue as opportunity presents it self, loving neighbors as ourselves at the same time, and exposing light into the darkness of the sexual revolution…

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. (Ephesians 5:6-14, ESV).

May we pray for this nation, for God’s common grace to return to it, in greater measure and blessing, by praying that many would reject sin and the pride of engaging in it, (e.g. “Gay Pride Month”), and lead the lost to the true freedom and ‘liberation’ only found in Christ.    

Today’s New Christian Racism in the Culture Civil War

Bernie Diaz, June 19, 2019

What would you say if I told you that if you held to the view that the Bible permits only men to pastor and lead churches you were a hater of women?

Wouldn’t that be a stretch of credulity? Would it be appropriate to assume that you hate foreigners of all kinds- all immigrants, if you favor some sort of immigration policy and security in America?

Normally making such arguments of moral equivalency would have been enough to brand you as being illogical and intellectually dishonest a generation or so ago. But now that view has become real, relevant and at the heart of the latest battle in the culture wars of this country, which is now on the brink of labeling orthodox or historical Christianity as a racist religion, to be ignored in the market place of ideas at best and feared at worst.

Christianity racist? Dumb? Backward? Yes, if you’re of the more “progressive” (read liberal) persuasion on social issues of family, sexuality and abortion in particular.   

Democratic Senator and Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand, during an interview with the Des Moines Register, actually compared pro-life beliefs to racism.

“There’s no moral equivalency when it comes to racism. And I do not think there’s a moral equivalency when it comes to changing laws that deny women reproductive freedom,” Gillibrand said.

In her opening statement, Gillibrand said some issues have such moral clarity that society has fully decided that the other side is not acceptable as she referenced a pro-life stance.

While speaking of Federal and Supreme Court judges she would nominate were she sitting in the Oval Office, Gillibrand added, “Imagine saying that it’s okay to appoint a judge who’s racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic, asking someone to appoint someone who takes away basic human rights of any group of people in America — I don’t think those are political issues anymore.” Well there you have it- so she said it, so it must be.

What the Senator’s outrageous comments do reveal is that America is in the midst of cultural civil war, divided and wrestling with abortion- the murder of a class of innocent human beings, in a somewhat parallel fashion and ideology to our nation’s late 19th century war between the states, which was over rights to hold another class of human beings as inferior persons of property.  That bit of moral equivalency I just made is rational.

The body count of casualties of this war is massive on a world-wide scale and here in the U.S., dwarfing even the barbarism exhibited during the American Civil War. Nearly 60 million dead babies since Roe v. Wade at last count. That number to me is nearly unfathomable. Twenty years ago, someone said that, if the names of all the lost babies were inscribed on a wall, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the wall would have to stretch for 50 miles. 20 years later now, and that wall would have to stretch twice as far. But no names could be written on it; those babies had no names that we know of.

As proof of the divide, the latest Marist poll shows that 47 percent of Americans call themselves pro-life, while 47 percent consider themselves pro-choice. Seventy-one percent of Americans oppose abortion after a child reaches 20 weeks of gestation. So, are the majority of those Americans then morally equivalent to racists? Or has Kirsten Gillibrand totally lost her moral compass on the issue of abortion somewhere?      

Her notion that being pro-life is a radical, ultra-conservative position is also false, as evidenced by the most up-to-date Gallup poll, stating that Americans are split 48 percent to 48 percent when asked if they identify as pro-life or pro-choice. When half of Americans call themselves pro-life, to suggest that being pro-life is radical in any way, shape, or form is not only false but again, is the height of intellectual dishonesty.

Make no mistake however, the culture civil war is real. The state of Illinois just passed a bill that would strip all protections from unborn children, allowing for abortions up to the moment of birth, becoming the latest of at least a half-dozen states passing pro-abortion legislation, while Louisiana recently passed a bill to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, making it the ninth state this year (mostly in the south) to pass abortion restrictions that could hopefully challenge the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Speaking of the pro-life initiatives, the President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund was quoted as saying, “This is a deliberate attempt to bring a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and to end the right to access safe, legal abortions in this country.” As to the idea of “safe”, one might ask “Dr.” Kenneth Gosnell about that, as he continues to serve a life sentence for first degree murder in the deaths of three infants and the involuntary manslaughter of a mother at his abortion mill in Philadelphia in 2013.

Gosnell was also convicted of 21 felony counts of illegal late-term abortion, and 211 counts of violating the 24-hour informed consent law.

In response to the Illinois bill freeing all regulations concerning abortion, Jill Stanek, an official of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life group said, “The Illinois House passed the most extreme expansion of abortion on demand in the entire country—more radical even than New York’s.”  

Thus, the battle lines have been clearly drawn and are even extending to the world and ammunition of social media. As I posted earlier this year, Twitter shut down accounts and tweets publicizing the message of the pro-life themed movie UnPlanned, the real-life story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director in Texas, turned pro-life champion.

Now in a “Conflict of Pinetrest”, that popular social media network has begun its own censorship campaign blocking the pro-life website, LiveAction.org as … ready for it? A pornography site.  

What that practically means is that none of LiveAction’s links could be posted by users. According to a report from the Family Research Council, Pinetrest also labeled conservatives “white supremacists,” banned Bible-related search terms, and scrubbed any pins with the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood’s organ harvesting ring as “misinformation.”

Where are the battle lines drawn in the abortion battle of our cultural civil war?

Pro-lifers in general and Christians holding to a Biblical worldview in particular, hold to one logical and reasonable line of thought affirmed by scripture (Job 31:13-15; Exodus 20; Psalm 139; Jeremiah 17; Luke 1):

Premise 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.

Premise 2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being. Conclusion: Abortion is morally wrong.

As Christian apologist Scott Klusendorf argues: What’s driving the abortion controversy is not who loves women and who hates them. Rather, it’s a serious philosophical debate about who counts as one of us. Either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life, or you don’t.

The battle or debate over whether or not the unborn child is a member of the human race is no longer seriously debated in the medical field or even among bio-ethicists and philosophers.

In fact, the pro-life cause won that battle nearly a century ago, affirmed by the video proof of ultrasound and sonogram technology, which began to be used extensively in the 1980’s, turning many a pro-abortion activist or advocate (e.g. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Silent Scream) to a pro-life position. Why? Pictures don’t often lie.

If then pro-lifers hold the upper hand as to the proof of the humanity of the preborn- and they do, why are we still fighting this battle and what possible response can the pro-abortion side of battle stand on?  

The Inherent Dignity and Sanctify of All Life

Is it not true that it is one thing to believe that a certain class of human beings exist, and quite another to believe they are equal and worthy of protection as other classes?

The implications are simple enough to understand. The state either recognizes the humanity of the unborn and thus protects them, or it doesn’t and thus permits killing them.

As Klusendorf writes, “Imagine it’s 1860 and the Supreme Court says, “We take no position on whether or not slaves are human beings. When scientists, philosophers, and theologians can’t agree on that question, the court is in no position to decide. Therefore, individual slave owners can choose for themselves whether to free their slaves or keep them.”

A court that rules that way is not neutral. It’s taking the position that slaves do not deserve the same liberties free people do. That is precisely is the same type of thinking that many pro-abortion advocates and most liberal court justices hold to.

The issue for them is not that the unborn are anything other than human. The apparent issue is they are not thought of as being inherently dignified to the extent they should be afforded the same basic human rights as everyone else.

Christians hold that the preborn and the born at any stage, are equal in sharing a common human nature that bears the image of God- their maker.  This is known as the “endowment” view of the sanctity of human life, echoing this nation’s Declaration of Independence.

Interestingly and strangely enough however, the liberal left thought of as the most ‘tolerant’ and noble of American citizens by the cultural elites as being loathe to discriminate, are discriminating daily against the 3,000 preborn Americans being killed every day. How are they being discriminated against?

The lives of the unborn are seen as expendable and less worthy because of their size; level of development; environment and degree of dependency. The frightening reality of that logic, makes a toddler, a senior in hospice care and a developmentally disabled person as also “less than”, and at risk of also being exterminated or aborted under the same line of reason.   

Really? Bioethicist Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Institute insists that once a patient loses “the capacity to reason, to have emotions, and to enter into relationships,” he cannot be called a “person” any longer “It is a mere body only” and the sanctity of life no longer applies.

Thus, the battle lines are drawn, they are clear and it is time to choose sides in this life and death battle of the American culture’s civil war. Kulsendorf summarizes the battle this way, “The issue that separates us is not that I hate women and you love them. What separates us is that I believe the unborn are members of the human family and you don’t.”

May we be ready to take our stand for those that cannot stand for themselves, even in the midst of being called ironically, a pro-life “racist.”

The Slippery Slope of Death in Euthanasia

Bernie Diaz, June 5, 2019

A seventeen year-old female named Noa, has been legally euthanized in the Netherlands, saying the pain she was dealing with after a childhood rape was “insufferable.”

The young lady, said in a social media post a day before her death last week that she “breathes but no longer lives.” This teen wrote an autobiography called “Winning or Learning,” which detailed her battles with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anorexia after being molested and raped as a young child.

Such traumas though real and painful, are becoming more tragic as they are becoming more common place in a modern-day civilization which no longer recognizes the inherent dignity and sanctity of human life anywhere from womb to tomb, but as utilitarian, to the extent that life is only seen as worthy or useful in a world free of pain, suffering and despair.

If life seems subjectively unbearable – then it is expendable.

Noa wrote before her ‘physician assisted suicide’ – an oxymoron if one ever existed, “I deliberated for quite a while whether or not I should share this but decided to do it anyway.” She added, “Maybe this comes as a surprise to some, given my posts about hospitalization, but my plan has been there for a long time and is not impulsive.

I will get straight to the point: within a maximum of 10 days I will die. After years of battling and fighting, I am drained. I have quit eating and drinking for a while now, and after many discussions and evaluations, it was decided to let me go because my suffering is unbearable.”

Then Noa asked her friends and followers on Instagram to “not convince me that this is not good, this is my decision and it is final.” “Love is letting go, in this case,” she said.

While this young lady’s suffering was great I’m sure, and seemed unbearable to her, appropriately eliciting much sympathy, the “great” escape of fatal pain relief offered by suicide- fostered by a lack of individual hope, is being facilitated by euthanasia, another legislative pro-death movement paralleling abortion in some ways.

Children as young as twelve, can legally opt out of life for death in the Netherlands, only after a doctor determines that the patient’s pain is “unbearable.”

Euthanasia is also legal in seven US states, as well as Canada and Belgium. Initially, the movement began as an initiative to relieve the debilitating pain of physical, terminal diseases for primarily the elderly.  Over the past several years however, it has expanded to the point where the slippery slope may become a mental-health induced runaway train:

June 2010: A study appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that discovered that out of 208 physician-assisted deaths studied in Belgium, 66 (31.7%) were administered without an explicit patient request.

April 2014: An 89-year-old retired art teacher utilizes assisted suicide to end her life at a Swiss clinic after becoming disillusioned with the curses of modern life from emails to fast food. Though suffering from ill health in recent years, she was neither terminally ill nor seriously handicapped.

May 2014: The Swiss organization “Exit” that helps people take their own lives officially votes to extend its services to elderly people who are not terminally ill.

February 2015: In a study published by the Journal of Medical Ethics, approximately one in three Dutch physicians would be prepared to help someone with a psychiatric disease, early dementia, or patients who are simply “tired of living” to die.

In just this small and illustrative sampling of how gradually, assisted suicide and euthanasia laws become increasingly relaxed and open to a greater amount of people for increasing reasons, one can readily understand its potential for abuse.

What begins as only allowing for death in the case of competent, terminally ill adults, spirals into euthanasia without request and allowing children to seek their own death whether they objectively are of a sound mind to do so or not. A legal scholar and professor of Christian ethics has affirmed:

If a doctor thinks death would benefit the patient, why should the doctor deny the patient that benefit merely because the patient is incapable of asking for it? If denying assistance in suicide to those physically incapable of committing it, and for whom death is thought a benefit, amounts to discrimination, why does denying euthanasia to those mentally incapable of requesting it, and for whom death is thought a benefit, not amount to discrimination? The logical “slippery slope” argument is unanswerable.   

Indeed the very definition of ‘discrimination’ and to who it applies to today, has become very subjective if not outright dangerous (the ‘slippery slope’), as in the case of the unborn, who are seen as somehow less than human by some and thus unfit for the most basic of human rights- the right to life, and therefore worthy of discrimination by the nature of their mere address – the temporary womb of their mothers.

In fact, the life of the pre-born has been deemed expendable of late – even incredibly enough, at the point of birth, if the mother’s subjective definition of “mental health” (i.e. stress) is cited as her rationale for abortion.

What Does God Say?

For the same reasons that abortion is sin and that suicide is defined Biblically as sin – being equal to murder as the premediated act of self-murder, euthanasia regardless of its legal status, usurps the authority of God as creator and sustainer of human life (Psalm 31:15).

While suicide, physician assisted or otherwise, is not the unforgivable sin, it is grave and definitely leaves a deep, devastating and lasting impact on those left behind. The painful scars left by a suicide do not heal easily.  

Suffer Well

1 Peter 4:12-19, tells Christians that they should be prepared to suffer well because the ‘end of all things’ (last times) is at hand. That letter tells us to expect rather than be surprised by suffering and affliction. Suffering is normative and according to the apostle Peter is not to be regarded as, “something strange when it happens to you, or when it comes upon you to test (or try) you.”

John Piper calls suffering, “painful providences,” that are part of God’s sovereign purposes and plans that not only impact us- but people all around us. There are millions and millions of things going on behind the scenes of our suffering. For instance, God might be saying things like:

These bad things happened to you because I intend to work it together for your good (Romans 8).

This happened so that the gold and silver of your faith would be refined (1 Peter 1).

We often object and ask, “Aren’t there easier ways for God to get this job done in us and the world? We want to know more: “Why now? Why this much? Why this often? Why this way? Why these people?”

The problem is, we would have to be God to grasp all that he’s doing in our problems and to be able to answer all of those questions.

God cannot and will not make plain to us everything he’s doing because there are hundreds, if not thousands or millions of effects and contingencies in every event in your life, good and bad. God guides and uses them all.

As Joni Eareckson Tada has said in trying to understand what God did with her accident and the quadriplegia that has left her in a wheelchair her entire adult life, “He cannot tell you all of them (reasons for suffering) because your brain can’t hold all of them.”

There was a woman and church music minister I had the pleasure to meet while on a missions trip in Cuba a couple of years ago, who deals with a daughter born with cerebral palsy at birth. She’s in a chair and a paraplegic. Her mother counts her daughter and her family as blessed, as they been inspired to minister to and encourage others because of a woman’s story in suffering and a ministry that arranged for her to get a free, quality wheelchair. That women’s name is Joni Eareckson Tada.

Trust cannot demand more than what God has chosen to tell us. And he has given us immeasurably great and precious promises that he is in control of all things and only does good to his children and what brings him glory. And he has given us a good, thick Bible of 66 books where we can read story after story about how he does it all. Let’s trust him and not ask for what our brains cannot contain. Rather than seek or support suicide -assisted or otherwise in our current culture of death, let’s preach to ourselves about the Christian’s hope of future glory and say that, “Life is hard, God is good and Jesus is coming.”

My Beloved Sin City

Bernie Diaz, May 29,2019

Many of us remember the television ad of some years ago promoting Las Vegas as “sin city” with the adage, “Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  

That commercial was very telling as to how their tourism board sought to market and grow their community, as a neo-shangri-la or capital of hedonism. Well, fast forward to 2019 and according to a self-described, “audacious” article, WalletHub.com, published its “Most Sinful Cities in America” report, which compared how more than 180 U.S. cities ranked according to one reading of the medieval list of seven deadly sins, including lust, greed, and vanity.

To little surprise, Las Vegas lived up to its reputation, winning first place overall—but specific sins like lust, greed, and vanity characterized other urban centers. For example, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, and New Orleans purportedly outdo other American cities when it comes to gluttony and drunkenness. What an honor.

Although America’s midwestern states were allegedly found to have the  highest percentage of adults with a gambling disorder, my beloved ‘Sunshine State’ of Florida, was found to be perhaps the most covetous state in the country, led by the city of Fort Lauderdale, just a half-hour north of my community, as being labeled the most jealous city in America, judging by per capita thefts, identity-theft complaints, and fraud complaints.

The tri-county region I reside in known as South Florida, sits high on the list for many kinds of theft, including shoplifting, auto and boat theft. In 2017, southern Florida airports suffered a rash of airbag thefts from cars parked there. Miami police divers often fish “stolen” cars out of Miami’s many canals: Car owners dump them to collect insurance money.

And if that wasn’t enough, Florida also leads the nation in fraud and identity theft complaints. The state’s large elderly population is particularly vulnerable to insurance fraud. The FBI’s website says con artists know “senior citizens are most likely to have a nest egg, to own their home, and to have excellent credit.”

So, based on the above, why are more people moving into the state than out, as evidenced by Florida now becoming the second most populous state in the nation?

Rather than digging further into sociology, we might ask why more Jesus-loving, Bible-believing and family-protective citizens aren’t moving away from this land of greed to the cheaper and simpler, ‘Mayberry’ like smaller towns of relative peace and quiet as evidenced by the brief, pre-2008 recession exodus that took place from here?   

Aside from the realities of economic downturns, cycles, job availability and beaches, South Florida still holds a special if not nostalgic attraction for some and what we should think of as a “field, ripe for harvest” of lost souls in one of the most spiritually, multi-ethnically and culturally diverse communities in this country.

Who needs a foreign mission trip in the search for lost souls when you can come and live as a Christian in South Florida- a stranger living like a foreigner in your own country?

Living as Exiles

Having been born, raised and a resident of these United States for more than a half-century, I have seen America revolutionized in less than a decade, by its cultural craze over money, sex and power at levels I would never have dreamed imaginable, to say nothing of a society that continues to legalize and legitimize the institutional murder of preborn and now, ‘just-born’ children.

Furthermore, the nations desire for absolute liberty- sexual freedom and independence from God, has trumped the idea of religious freedom as an influence on a virtuous people that could self-govern itself.

Thus, the “grass is always greener” syndrome continues to rear its head as people contemplate departing from the sunny skies and hurricane warnings of this community. Another adage has been confirmed by our nation-wide moral revolution, which is, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

How Now Shall We Live as Exiles?  

What would you say if I told you living in South Florida or other major metropolitan areas like it in the U.S., affords a greater land of gospel opportunity than others, and therefore a responsibility for many if not most of us here to stay?  

God’s chosen nation of Israel faced a similar dilemma of sorts when they were exiled into Babylonian captivity for 70 years, approximately six centuries before the time of Christ. Having seen their nation after civil war captured and dispersed by Assyrian and then Persian enemies in the middle east,  the Jews were instructed and encouraged by Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, to remain in their foreign land as exiles and live and excel in such a way as to glorify Jehovah God.

Being that the Israelis were governed by the Old Testament’s moral code and ceremonial laws, they knew were going to have a tough time adjusting to and living in a very pagan environment. But just the same, Jeremiah called God’s people to be a lighthouse, as good, God-fearing witnesses to idolatrous Babylonians, while remaining holy or separated from them in their own lifestyle. 

That historic era parallels not only the early church but Americans and in my context, South Floridians today. Culturally, biblical, born-again believers are in exile, the difference being we’re in a modern Babylon and should heed two main principles found in Jeremiah 29 by application, as to how we’re to live as exiles in our own ‘sin city.’

Settle Down

 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  (Jeremiah 29:5-6, ESV)

Jeremiah told the Jews that as exiles in a strange land (repeated in v. 28), they should treat their legal immigration type residency as a permanent move (though it would not be), as many of us may be called to grow where we are planted and to produce fruit.

Evangelical Christians should not fall prey to repeating the errors of the  fundamentalist movement that hindered the kingdom and gospel in the United States, from the early to mid-20th century.

It was a well-intended movement for disciples of Christ to separate physically from the culture to avoid being infected by the world and sin, but not to the extent that they lost their flavor (as salt is to be) in society and they ‘hid their light under bushels’, in contrast to what Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount, as a large segment of the church went into hiding.

Therefore, the church didn’t influence the culture, as it once had in its founding, through the institutions of: government and politics, media, the arts, and academia.

How else can we as Christians settle down and grow roots where we’ve been planted by God? Jeremiah 29:6 says God’s people were to Get or acquire wives -spouses and have kids… give your daughters in marriage… many grandchildren too. ‘Be fruitful and what?

Multiply, which literally means to; increase or become many there, and do not decrease. A modern Bible translation renders the phrase as, ‘do not dwindle away; don’t become few in number!’ One reason it was important for the Jews to have kids and lots of them, was in order to repopulate Judea when they returned after the captivity ended.

The Church is to display God’s glory in the world. A good place to do that is with families, or a “quiver full of arrows.”

Seek Peace

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)

Disciples need to remind themselves that they are missional – ambassadors of Christ with a ministry of reconciling others to God (2 Corinthians 5:11-20). We want to know God and make him known.  As missionaries or exiles- yes, foreigners here, we are to strive after or seek the welfare (or peace; and prosperity) where God has us planted for however long we’re planted (1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

That peace or shalom type peace also carries the idea of striving to live a quiet and contended life. And, that’s something to pray for- constantly.

Therefore, we have to settle down in a community and then seek its peace. We’re missionaries as exiles on earth period- and that will mean that you don’t always feel 100% comfortable in your mission field. But my ‘sin city’ or wherever God eventually sends you is where your mission field is- the ‘harvest is great and the workers are few.’ 

Are there places in the U.S. where there may be somewhat of a better quality of life? Yes. Cheaper to live? Yes- to a degree. But, are all the biblical Christians scattered across the fruited-plain supposed to leave the big city- or metro-suburban areas for the countryside? That’s not an option found in the Bible. If all the Christians were to vacate the greater Miami-Fort Lauderdale community, who would stay  – settle down and seek the peace of our modern-day Babylonian cities?

Radical Pro-Life Laws and a Needy and New Acronym

Bernie Diaz, May 21, 2019

There should be little doubt right now that a new and radical shift of momentum in the abortion and culture wars are taking place in our country.

A number of American states- most in the south or the “Bible belt” portion of our nation have or are looking to enact new anti-abortion or pro-life laws, ranging from ‘fetal-heartbeat’ bills to what the liberal and mainstream media now labeled as the most radical of all, a law in Alabama just signed by Governor Kay Ivey, which makes performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by prison time for abortionists—but not for mothers.

Such a bold legislative action would have been unthinkable for a state government anywhere to propose just a few years ago, but pro-life attitudes and opinions have been growing in frequency and volume among Americans, according to several polls, now seemingly pushing pro-abortion supporters back on their heels.   

Ironically, within the moment of a heartbeat, the Alabama bill offering nearly complete protections for the unborn, prompted immediate and severe reaction and backlash from both sides of the abortion battle. “To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God,” Ivey said in a statement after the signing, while Senator Linda Coleman-Madison, a Democrat from Birmingham, said the law “completely disregards women.”

Pro-abortion celebrities on Twitter encouraged women to speak publicly about having had abortions using the hashtag #YouKnowMe and Planned Parenthood Southeast and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in Alabama both promised to sue the state immediately, to block the law from taking effect.

Lest pro-lifers celebrate victories prematurely over this new tide of pro-life legislation or becoming overly dismayed over opposing lawsuits, Roe vs. Wade is still the law of the land (unconstitutionally and wrongly so of course) legalizing abortion, until the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) takes on a case which could lead to Roe being overturned- which has everything to do with the spate of pro-life and anti-abortion laws being passed.

The goal of the Alabama law, which includes an exception to allow an abortion if the mother’s health is at severe risk (and other like-minded legislative initiatives such as Missouri’s), are meant to spur opposing legal action at the appeals court level that could drive a case to SCOTUS, being currently comprised of a bench leaning most conservative – thus pro-life, by a razor thin 5-4 majority, due in large part to President Donald Trump’s appointments of judges Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.   

The Alabama law’s sponsor, a Republican Representative, said other exceptions, like for rape or incest, would weaken the law’s ability to bring the question of the baby’s right to life before the Supreme Court. She said lawmakers could go back and add exceptions if the states regain the ability to regulate abortion in hopefully a post–Roe v. Wade world.

“It’s to address the issue that Roe. v. Wade was decided on. Is that baby in the womb a person?” said the Alabama legislator. Roe v. Wade granted women the right to an abortion until the point in pregnancy when the baby could survive outside the womb, which horrifically even at that stage of life is  being reconsidered by Democratic lawmakers.

Obviously, the way for the liberal left warriors of the sexual revolution to stem this tide will be to attempt to appeal to the emotional heartstrings of American citizens and politicians with predictions of a return to “back-alley” abortions and to the extreme and rare cases of pregnancies via rape and/or incest.

To which an Alabama, Republican State Senator replied, “Regardless of how the conception takes place, the product is a child, and so we’re saying that that unborn child is a person entitled to protection of law,” he added. “So if, be it a rape or incest conception, then it would be impossible to ask a judge which of these is protected by law and which is not.”

Interestingly, Ryan Bomberger, a pro-life activist who himself was conceived in rape and adopted by a loving family, penned an op-ed last week responding to criticisms of the Alabama law titled “I am the 1 percent used to justify 100 percent of abortions.”

Ironically, Supreme Court Justice Blackmun’s Roe v. Wade opinion, stated that if the “personhood” of the baby is established (which has been today), then the pro-abortion case “collapses.” That is exactly what Christians holding to a Biblical worldview and therefore a pro-life stance on abortion, are hoping and praying will happen as the current wave of momentum may be dictating.

A Needy New Acronym

Having come from a former vocational history dealing with government based services and public policy in my pre-ministry life, I was indoctrinated into the communication efficient alphabet soup of acrostics and acronyms identifying state and federal agencies (e.g. CDC, NIH, FDA) and initiatives, such as one of the all-time doozies, FHWAR (National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, & Wildlife-Associated Recreation).

Praise the Lord for such abbreviations, which has saved me much verbal energy and keyboard typing time over the years, leading me to incorporate many of them into the life of my church, C.C.C. (Christ Community Church) and our discipleship process (e.g. FSG- Family Shepherd Group).    

While acrostics in general may or may not be particularly significant to many of our readers, a new acrostic I came across in another blog post  may be quite meaningful for Christians seeking to retain their religious liberty and rights in the midst of the moral revolution sweeping over this nation in an increasingly post-Christian culture.

F.R.E.E.  

In light of a wave of high-profile cases involving Christian businesses and organizations being forced to provide contraception, bakers and florists having to participate in gay weddings, or adoption agencies being forced to place kids with same-sex couples, religious freedom continues to be a critically important public policy issue for concerned believers of Jesus Christ.

In a cultural world where increasing numbers of people think religion should be kept private, and sexual preferences should be made public, John Stonestreet makes the case that “Religious liberty is not only a good worth preserving, but that it’s essential to a free society.”

Stonestreet wrote in an opinion column:

You might have heard of “S.L.E.D.” It’s an acronym which stands for “Size, Level of development, Environment, and Degree of dependency.” It makes the argument for unborn life simple and focused, even when things get emotional. It’s memorable and reusable.

For a long time now, I’ve wished there were a “S.L.E.D.” for religious freedom—something to help us remember the arguments and make the case in a convincing way. Well, my colleague Shane Morris has just came up with one: “F.R.E.E.” Free is an acronym that can walk you through an intelligent conversation about religious liberty.

  • F is for Forcing

Forcing people to go against their beliefs for no good reason is a bad thing. This is a premise that even most secular people should be able to get behind.

  • R stands for Reason

Is there a good reason to force a religious person to go against his or her belief in the case you’re discussing? And are there less burdensome alternatives to squashing this freedom, like using a bakery down the street or an adoption agency across town?

  • E (the first one) is for Examples

Offer examples that the person you’re talking with may not have thought of or heard of. Should a Muslim t-shirt designer be forced to create shirts mocking the prophet Muhammad? Should an Orthodox Jewish club at a university be forced to admit Christians as officers? Should an LGBT baker be forced to bake a cake with anti-gay slogans?

  • E (the final one) is for Equality

Christians who don’t agree with the new sexual orthodoxy should be equally free to live according to their faith, without being compelled to violate their consciences. Don’t hesitate to turn it around as a question: “If you think Muslims and Jews should have religious freedom in the examples we gave, why not Christians?”

As Stonestreet concluded, “It’s not a silver bullet, nor does it say everything that we’ll need to about religious freedom, but ‘F.R.E.E.’ can help you have a conversation that’s intelligent and focused.” Indeed, If disciples of Christ can focus discussions about religious freedom and the gospel in a way that cuts through emotional rhetoric— the way many of us have and are learning more each day in talking about abortion, we may have a chance of preserving this freedom no matter who’s in office, with gratitude to those front-line warriors and elected officials who are striving to make a difference – many for the kingdom and cause of Jesus Christ.

Where Can Christian Counseling Be Found? Church and Discipleship

Bernie Diaz, May 14, 2019

A fascinating poll was just released indicating that although most American churchgoers have no problem developing relationships at their church, they are less likely to use their time to help fellow Christians grow in their faith, suggesting a real disconnect for disciples of Jesus Christ at the very heart of Christian discipleship.

Respondents to the LifeWay Research survey were asked whether or not they agree with the statement: “I have developed significant relationships with people at my church.” A total of 78% of them said that they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree with that statement- and that’s good news. But only 47% of respondents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that they “intentionally spend time with other believers in order to help them grow in their faith” – that’s not so good news.

There is a difference Christian between making friends and following Christ to help ‘make and mature fellow disciples’. According to a Lifeway executive, “Most churchgoers have had at least some success at making friends at church. But the majority aren’t as confident as they could be about the significance of those relationships.”

The survey also found that a strong minority of churchgoers in the U.S. do not attend typical small groups or Bible studies that their churches offer throughout the week. That finding is key since those groups in community are the church’s primary means in which to help those that hunger for and need biblical maturity or more Christ-likeness and spiritual growth.     

Caring for One Another

As our church learned through a small group study series, biblical discipleship is fleshed out in large part by those interpersonal and transparent relationships- ‘friendships’, that are borne out of a church community that move both giver and the recipient to grow in the faith, wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ, as they care for and love one another.

That’s right, the many “one another” commands of the New Testament serve as a foundation for discipleship, which carries the meaning of teaching in the context of relationship. In fact, I would argue if more relational discipleship took place within the local church, there would be less need for “professional” or outsourced counseling- Christian and otherwise.

I recently read of a pastor of a fairly large church saying—at a counseling conference no less—that he wasn’t going to hire any more pastor-counselors for the church pastoral staff. What he meant was: he had hired pastoral counselors whose schedules quickly filled with counseling, but they didn’t have time to equip the body to counsel each other. Given that equipping is a critical part of the pastoral mission, his decision made sense.

He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12)

Although counseling (e.g. marital) is a part and parcel of pastoral leadership–the leadership of the local church has also been commissioned to equip or train the congregation to care for each other’s souls.

In other words, the first wave of counseling for Christians is to be provided by fellow, caring Christians from their own, local church, where members have committed to their fellowship and to disciplining one another, those they know best, which includes Bible based encouragement and exhortation, which is the very backbone of what we think of as counseling…

 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Lay ministry is a beautiful and extraordinary thing when it happens. When biblical discipleship is permeating a local church, people are not as in need of or as dependent upon professional advice to deal with sin and despair, bio or physiological issues notwithstanding. Rather anointings of grace are seen, offering Spirit-filled words of guidance and wisdom. Indeed, lay ministry is one of the premiere blessings of the church’s birth at Pentecost.

If you feel a little inadequate to be a part of such a process, or that such a local church ministry is impossible to even behold, remember that God is pleased to have the church mature through the ministry of weak people who seem unqualified in the world’s eyes (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

You will know that you have arrived at and are serving in such an imperfect church, when you observe that the people share their struggles with each other and are praying with each other.

A Discipling Church is a Counseling Church

Our helpfulness- our care for souls- starts with our need for care. We need God and we need other people. Maturity through dependence is our goal (Ed Welch, Caring for One Another, 8 Ways to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships).

Although Christians are taught early on as they come to faith that they are to be dependent upon God and his grace for salvation and sanctification- being “conformed to the image of Christ”, the Lord has provided means in which to dispense that grace, such as the reading and study of his word (“hearing his voice”); prayer (“having his ear”); and the body (“living life in a local church”).

The latter means of grace means seeking as author Ed Welch said, “To be a part of meaningful relationships that become a natural part of daily life in your church.” He adds that following certain scriptural lessons to ‘care for one another’, will result in “ordinary, needy people caring for other ordinary, needy people in everyday life.”

As we move towards one another, talk openly and kindly about sin with one another and seek to speak wisdom and truth to one another in love for one another, we are in essence providing Biblical counsel to our church family.

Let’s face it, this generation is full of personal struggles. Some of these are struggles that humanity has always suffered from are: anxiety, depression, addiction, guilt, shame and anger, yet our times have added some of its own, such as internet and pornographic addictions and its resulting isolation, leading to greater acts of violence as well as today’s psychiatric diagnoses. All of those can be helped by meaningful engagement by a wise and loving church community of faith that is empowered by the Holy Spirit of God which helps ‘one another’ grow in the grace of Jesus Christ. God’s people should strive to do that part of God’s business- the business of counseling, God’s way.