Author Archives: mycaptivethought

Christian Confusion: Is Same-Sex Orientation Sin?

Image result for the gay christian Bernie Diaz, August 16, 2018

It should come as no surprise to Christians in the west in general and America in particular, that the secular world has fallen ‘hook, line and sinker’ for the LGBTQ agenda as the sexual or erotic revolution of our times has taken a stronghold of our society and its culture.

Pro-homosexual policies, laws, media coverage and cultural acceptance of same-sex values and orientation are generally viewed by many today as merely normative, and the transgender movement (the “T” of LGBTQ) is quickly following suit.

What is most alarming however to many Christians and more traditional and biblically minded church leaders, is the rapidity in which the revolution has been attempting to make head way in evangelical Christianity and not just the more liberal, mainline denominations which began embracing this revolution’s influence on the church more than a decade ago.

A new survey found that most LGBTQ adults in the United States are religious, and more than half claim to be Christian, to the surprise of people of faith.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention just passed a resolution that expanded the right for gay couples to marry in all dioceses even where local bishops theologically object to same-sex marriage (including my home state of Florida).

That decision comes on the heels of the announcement made by United Methodist megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton, who stated at a Texas gathering that Christians can support gay marriage and not be at odds with orthodoxy. He argued that both sides of the debate within the UMC held high opinions of Scripture and that the differences were over interpretation instead.

Ironically, Hamilton got one thing right in that statement: right biblical interpretation leads to right authority.

More subtly and recently, a conference entitled, Revoice, hosted by Memorial Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America) in St. Louis, ranged from praise to condemnation over the issue of homosexuality from a Christian worldview.

The 400 attendees heard from speakers who self-identified as both Christian and gay, lesbian, or same-sex attracted. The topics discussed included the loneliness of lifelong celibacy, the nature of “mixed-orientation marriages,” and church ministry with and for lesbians and gays.

Biblically minded believers of Jesus Christ admittedly are struggling with reconciling the brokenness of homosexuals who need and desire Christian love and ministry, with those that wish to live with and love others with one foot in the church and the other in the world, continuing to identify with the LGBTQ community.

Torn Between Two Worlds

If it is to survive, the world’s moral revolution requires a total redefinition of morality, authority, personal identity, and more. The sexual revolution requires a new vocabulary and as another blogger posted, “a radically revised dictionary.”

Ultimately, as is the case with any type of moral revolution, it’s culture warriors seek to redefine reality or truth itself. And this revolution has no stopping point. I have now begun to find a plus sign at the end of LGBTQ+ in my reading as a signal of more identities and challenges to come.

This is the ideology – consciously or otherwise of the Revoice conference and books, lectures and churches like it, as its advocates are calling for a “revoicing” of the evangelical and biblical message on issues of sexuality, identity, and beyond.

The organizers of Revoice stated openly that they  “envision a future Christianity where LGBT people can be open and transparent in their faith communities about their orientation and/or experience of gender dysphoria without feeling inferior to their straight, ‘cisgender’ brothers and sisters; where churches not only utilize but also celebrate the unique opportunities that life-long celibate LGBT people have to serve others; where Christian leaders boast about the faith of LGBT people who are living a sacrificial obedience for the sake of the Kingdom; and where LGBT people are welcomed into families so they, too, can experience the joys, challenges, and benefits of kinship.”

In other words, there is a movement -claiming enlightenment in evangelical circles which wishes to legitimatize if not normalize homosexuality in the church, by arguing with the logic of same-sex orientation.

This line of logic argues that while the scripture can be found to clearly condemn the homosexual lifestyle or its behaviors as sin (i.e. Lev. 19; Ro 1; 1 Cor. 6), one’s sexual orientation – a biological or physiological predisposition or nature, cannot be  disputed nor easily dismissed, thereby making it possible for celibate, LGBTQ individuals who claim to love Jesus, to identify as “single and gay Christians”.

The Sin of the Body Begins with the Sin of the Heart

Of course, the great flaw in the logic of the ‘celibate, gay-Christian’ identity (orientation), is its failure to acknowledge the Bible’s teaching or doctrine on where sin- sexual and otherwise begins in mankind, which is the head and heart, before it hits the hands and rest of the body.

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me (Ro. 7:18-20, ESV).

As Southern Baptist Seminarian Denny Burk and Rosaria Butterfield, an ex-lesbian activist and more recently a wife, mother and Christian author rightly explain, much of the dispute over orientation and sin, is rooted in a basic disagreement between evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism.

Ever since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that involuntary incentive to sin is not itself sin. In a most revealing sentence, ‘Trent’ declared: “This concupiscence (or desire), which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin.”

Did you get that? The Catholic Counsel again acknowledges that it’s tradition and its own understanding of its doctrine, therefore its ultimate authority, runs contrary to the language of the apostle.

Even the earliest church fathers including Augustine, a hero of the faith and theology to both Catholics and Protestants identified the desire to sin as sin, as per a sermon he preached on Romans 7 in A.D. 419,

This lust [desire/concupiscence] is not, you see—and this is a point you really must listen to above all else: you see, this lust is not some kind of alien nature. . . . It’s our debility, it’s our vice. It won’t be detached from us and exist somewhere else, but it will be cured and not exist anywhere at all [in the resurrection]. 

Augustine understood unchosen longing for anything outside of God’s will to be itself sinful. The Roman Catholic tradition, however, departs from Augustine on this point and reflects the view that concupiscence or the desire to sin is not itself sin, and that only conscious acts of the will can truly be judged as sinful. This explains why the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls homosexual sexual activity sinful but stops short of calling homosexual desire sinful and instead labels the desire as “objectively disordered”.

This failure to understand the nuanced though critical understanding of the sin nature of the human heart, opens the rhetorical door for the ‘gay Christian’ movement, giving credence to the idea that the temptation of same-sex orientation is just a result of the fall and is not in and of itself sinful.

Again, this issue like any other spiritual one, must be dealt with biblically and exegetically, rather than emotionally and culturally. The Bible clearly teaches that our desires—all of them, voluntary or involuntary—are morally birthed (Ja 1:14-15) and implicated. If someone desires an evil thing, then the desire itself is evil, whether it be voluntary or not (1 Cor. 10:6). This holds true for all human desire, sexual or otherwise, as illustrated by the law’s tenth commandment:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exo. 20:17).

Note that the English word covet, which is synonymous with the idea of lust, describes desire, and that desire itself is described as being sinful in this text among others.

In fact, the coup de grace or nail in the coffin of the non-sinful orientation and temptation movement, is displayed in the words of Jesus himself, the supposed paragon of the gay-Christian movement, who said in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28).

With Jesus’ similar words of condemnation having echoed upon the angry and hateful heart (Mat. 5:21-22), one should be left with little doubt that God views the temptation to sin, or the hunger or desire to sin as sinful as the acts themselves that emanate from those desires (1 Pet. 2:11).

Jesus made that distinction of sin’s origination and nature, so legalists such as the scribes and Pharisees of his day could not hide under the blanket of surface obedience and piety to the law of God.

Although we should listen to the voices of movements like Revoice at one level and pay attention to the tears, suffering and struggles of LGTBQ people yearning for relationship with a church community of faith and Christ, we cannot compromise the teaching of the biblical faith and choose to share the identify labels of those within the LGBTQ+ community who want to be in the world and of it and in the church, from their hearts to their hands.

Revoice at that level, is not the voice of Christianity we need to listen to.

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The Death Penalty- the Pope’s Latest Flip Flop

Image result for the pope and capital punishment Bernie Diaz, August 8, 2018

For those of you might have thought the word of God and the traditional teaching of Christianity never changes, Pope Francis made headlines again recently, by changing the Roman Catholic religion’s teaching on the death penalty, with a new policy saying it is always “inadmissible” because it “attacks” the inherent dignity of all humans.

The Vatican said Francis approved in May the change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official teaching document which had previously not ruled out capital punishment if needed to defend human life “against the unjust aggressor.” That position is now considered “outdated,” according to Catechism No. 2267.

Francis announced his intention to change church teaching on capital punishment last October when he said the death penalty violates the gospel. In the past, he said, the Holy See (Pope) had erred in allowing a mentality that was “more legalistic than Christian” but now knew better.  That in itself is a significant admission, being that the Pope is thought to be “infallible” when speaking officially on doctrine and church policy.

The Pontiff added that the death penalty “entails cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” and said it was to be rejected “due to the defective selectivity of the criminal justice system and in the face of the possibility of judicial error.”

The errors of human judgment and in the administration of the law notwithstanding, one may note however, that no mention of scripture or understanding of the immutability (or unchanging nature) of God and his revelation of himself, were referenced in that quote as decisive factors in the policy change which a Vatican spokesman said should not come as a surprise.

“It was expected for a long time starting with John Paul II,” the spokesman said. “He had a document, the Gospel of Life, in which he said it is essentially the conditions with which were once considered okay for allowing the death penalty, have basically disappeared.”

He added, “The key point here is really human dignity, the Pope is saying that no matter how grievous the crime, someone never loses his or her human dignity. One of the rationales for the death penalty in Catholic teachings historically was to protect society.”

From a biblical perspective and worldview, the pope’s decision poses two questions and concerns to evangelical Christians looking to reconcile this Catholic view of capital punishment with God’s word.

Who is your Authority?

Regardless of where a particular nation stands or falls on the issue of capital punishment, the disciple or follower of Jesus Christ aims to know and do the will and word of God above and beyond what a secular-based and ever-changing government or society may teach as to political and legal issues.

The Christian must always understand who and what is the ultimate authority and source of truth in his life, in order to live in a way which pleases God. In the polarizing debate over the death penalty, is the believer’s authority to be a church’s tradition or doctrine (no matter how recent or vacillating it may be) or a clear and historically accurate understanding of God’s word?

Interestingly enough, the question of authority is at the crux of the divide between the Roman Catholic and historic Christian faith, revived in large doctrinal part by the Protestant Reformation.

This divide originally occurred over something greater than the church’s position on national government’s death penalty laws – rather it was the church’s position on the issue of the spiritual death penalty impacting all mankind- the doctrine of justification by faith, or how one is declared right before God in order to avoid eternal execution.

When it comes to tradition, Roman Catholicism seems to have more in common with other world religions than biblical Christianity. Traditional Judaism, for example, follows the Scripture-plus-tradition paradigm. The familiar books of the Old Testament are viewed as Scripture, but true orthodoxy is actually defined by the collection of ancient rabbinical traditions known as the Talmud and commentaries like the Mishnah, which in effect, may carry an authority equal to or greater than that of inspired Scripture.

Jesus Christ had strong words during his earthly ministry condemning extra-biblical, man-made laws and tradition (Matt. 7:26-29) echoing the scriptural commands from Deut. 4 and 12, to not add to it or take from it (the law or scripture).” The Lord told the Pharisees in Matthew 15:3, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Even though the early church councils exercised authority to confirm scriptural doctrines like the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, human sin, power and pride began to take root in the type of church authority that became Roman Catholicism, which would evolve over the centuries into creating many false doctrines like: the worship of saints, indulgences and so much more.  Later, the Catholic Catechism would read, “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (# 82).

The point here is that God’s word which supersedes religious or even denominational tradition has not changed its views on the matters of law, justice and the sanctity of life over the millennia, which not only was meant to protect the life and rights of the unborn, but from cradle to grave in society in general from the threats of evil and criminal intent.

What is the Word on the Death Penalty?

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image (Gen. 9:6).”

God in his word to Noah and all generations to come, revealed the need to protect the sanctify of life on earth, by forming the first governmental structure in human history on a foundation of justice with a law of capital punishment towards the murder of innocent life even prior to the law of God being given to Moses and Israel.

Simply put, murder from the meaning of its root word in Hebrew, has the idea of destruction, or the breaking to pieces of something. It is the taking of a life, which can contain the idea of negligence or carelessness, but in the context of the Ten Commandments for example, is to kill in a premeditated way, with a purpose and a plan. Think of an assassination. In legal terms, we’d say that’s an act of homicide punishable by death.

The Bible records the first such act of murder in the account of when Cain killed his brother Abel (Gen. 4:8).

Why then a tooth for a tooth or an eye for an eye or life for life? God specified that murder was to be punished by death because of the very nature of man. Man is created in God’s own image (Gen. 1:27) and as murder destroys an image-bearer, it is a direct affront to God Himself and his creative authority. Humans are unique among God’s creations— none of the animals are created in God’s likeness—and murder is a unique crime.

Again, as a question of authority, God according to Romans 13, ordains not some but all governments of all nations over all times, to literally execute capital punishment, in the hopes of preserving social justice, the integrity and sanctity of the life of his image-bearers.

In other words, the idea of capital punishment is that once a murderer purposes to take the life of another, he forfeits the right to keep his own.

May Pope Francis and millions of biblically illiterate or ignorant Roman Catholics around the world come to learn and follow who and what is the ultimate authority of their lives in faith and practice (Sola Scriptura– Scripture Alone).

Sola scriptura is not Solo Scriptura

In deference to the threat of biblical idolatry, the sufficiency and authority of scripture is not supposed to be a “me and my Bible in the woods” approach to reading, study and interpretation. Because of Christ’s gifts to the Church through the centuries (Eph. 4:11), we have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants from the great early church fathers, to the reformers, the puritans and the great minds and Bible teachers we have today.

 I’m personally indebted to great teaching and wisdom over the years for influence and understanding in my ministry. We all need sanctified wisdom which comes from the Holy Spirit as we’re in the scriptures in order to wrestle with the issues of our day.

Why? Although the Bible doesn’t intend to directly deal with or answer every one of life’s questions and controversies in our society, we can go to it for the direction and wisdom we need. Pope Francis, won’t you try My Captive Thought?!

Advice for the Young in Faith

Image result for giving counsel Bernie Diaz, August 1, 2018

As a local church Pastor, I’m always enthused by the excitement, fresh attitudes and perspectives brought to the faith by fairly new disciples of Jesus Christ.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they are capable of asking baby-oriented and scriptural milk-drinking questions about God and the Christian life, while others even in their spiritual infancy ask amazingly mature questions and can even make amazingly mature observations on occasion.

Regardless, new believers are a blessing to a church in the way they energize and encourage a body of believers with a gospel joy that is ready to charge hell with a squirt gun.

What is difficult or challenging for a newer disciple is processing church or ‘body life.’ How are Christians to interact and live with one another, particularly when sin and conflict enter a body, a body that has been taught to live together as a family?

After all, the typical language used to describe the relationship between disciples is that of brothers and sisters, which are roles that traditionally refer to blood relatives. Now, when a man or woman becomes a Christian, they are automatically absorbed- ‘baptized’ in the biblical parlance, into a new family that is both universal on a broad scale and local on a smaller scale (yes Christian, you have brothers and sisters from Hialeah, Florida to Hong Kong, Japan). For followers of Christ, every single born-again Christian near and far is a ‘blood-bought’ relative.

Like a family related by human blood, there is a common and ethnic bond of physical and perhaps even psychological characteristics which have been passed down from one family generation to another. Similarly, Christians have been passing down common characteristics or traits in their new identity for two millennia so far.

The church of Jesus Christ is many things, including the following six bloodlines of reality, which indicate that the church is:

1) A Holy Priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9-10). In Israel, priests had a special relationship with God. They were the ones who interceded on behalf of the people and offered animal sacrifices. The church’s High Priest Jesus Christ, came as the sacrifice that bought entrance into God’s presence for his people, ensuring that all of God’s redeemed children are holy or “saints” in the truest sense of the word.

2. A Holy Temple (Eph. 2:19-22). The one Spirit, is the very Spirit of God who dwells in believers which unites all believers together into the dwelling place of God. When Christians come together to worship God, they are literally forming the house of God. This is why Paul tells the Corinthian church, “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:17).

3. Children and Heirs (Lu. 18:15-17; Ro. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:1-7). Again, using the language of family that we all relate to on one level or another, God sees the church as his adopted family, his precious children who will inherit his kingdom. God also cares for the church as a perfect and loving Father.

Therefore, as his children, the church depends upon God for his care and protection as we the church, wait eagerly to inherit the kingdom in all its fullness, being our beautiful inheritance, hope and glory to come.

4. A Pillar of Truth (1 Tim. 3:15). A pillar or a column is something that supports or holds up a building, keeping it from collapsing. God sees the church as a pillar for the truth, standing upright in a world on the verge of collapse even if it means enduring persecution and abuse for doing so.

God sees the church, this pillar as anchoring a foundation of truth of which Jesus is the proclaimed ‘Cornerstone’ of that foundation, which comes in the form of the Bible itself, his specific revelation to his church that is to be taken by his ambassadors to the world, proclaiming the gospel and calling the world to repent and come to know God to receive his salvation.

5. Branches of His Vine (Jo. 15:1-6). This is the reality of our intimate fellowship with our Lord and King. In John 15, Christ compares his relationship to his church to the relationship between a vine and its branches. As branches derive all their nutrients and genetic material from the vine they grow out of, so Christ’s church derives its life and bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit because the church is connected to Christ, the life-giving vine. That’s a pretty special relationship.

6. Christ’s Bride (Hosea 16; Rev. 19:6-9). While obviously not a bride in the romantic sense, the church is Christ’s bride in the sense that he has died for her (Eph. 5), vowed to be with her, to care for her, and to protect her for all eternity. The comparison to marriage helps us to understand the kind of commitment and care Christ has for the church.

This doesn’t mean God wears rose-colored glasses, and doesn’t see her (the church’s) faults, her struggles with unfaithfulness, and her hypocrisy. Rather, he sees these issues and provides her with the righteousness and holiness she needs through His Son Jesus (Eph. 5:26-27).

His bride will soon be made perfect in the new creation when his sanctifying work will be finished and he will be with her forever.

For a new Christian, this heritage sounds amazing and while true does not deal with the reality and struggles that he or she enters into, when joining a local church as we war with our flesh (Ro.7) in this life. Yes this tug of war can even manifest itself in a local and sanctified body of believers.

So, from a practical sense, what is my counsel for new believers who are to be ‘all in the family’? Let me offer as strong an exhortation as I can that they must be involved in a local church. I don’t mean simply “attend church.” I mean to be an active, functioning, involved member of a local church.

I understand that telling them to “go to church” may sound cliché, but none of the rest of my advice will be worthwhile if they don’t heed this first exhortation. Christians need leaders they can be instructed by, submit to, and imitate (Heb. 13:7, 17). These pastors are charged with watching over them, protecting them, and teaching them sound doctrine, among other things.

These ‘newbies’ also need to encourage fellow believers and to be encouraged by them (Heb. 10:24-25), just as they need fellow believers to lovingly rebuke or correct them when they sin (Heb. 3:13, Gal. 6:1).

The Bible tells us that we need to be involved in holding others accountable to live the Christian life faithfully (Ja. 5:19-20) and when we do sin, our local church relationships are where we ought to confess them (Ja. 5:16).

There really is no Christianity, in the New Testament sense of the word, without love for brothers and sisters in the local church (1 Jo. 3:14).

Practically, however, what might that look like? A new believer should begin by looking for a solid Biblically-saturated, God-glorifying, Christ-exalting and Spirit-filled church. These are not easy to find and none of them are perfect, including the one I have the privilege, honor and blessing to help shepherd.

If there were a perfect church on earth, it would cease to be so as soon as you or me entered it. If there were a perfect church, you or I couldn’t belong to it. Churches are families that also resemble hospitals and hospitals are congregations filled with sick people- sick, who to varying degrees battle with the disease of sin.

Once you find a church that is solid new believer, attend regularly. Attend all the meetings that you can. Plug yourself into their small group meetings and ministry, so you can really get to know the preachers and people. Sit hungrily under the preaching and teaching of the Word, exposited or explained clearly and passionately. Ask questions when you can. Covenant together with these people in membership or a committed fellowship and submit to the church’s teaching and direction.

When it comes to Bible reading there is no cookie cutter approach. The key is to read and keep reading. Read every day. My suggestion is you begin with a good and trustworthy Bible reading plan which encourages daily intake of God’s word in order to truly hear his voice.  Eat Bible!

Know and learn the word of God. As you read, take notes. Get help in learning how to observe, interpret and apply the Bible, which is to learn, live and then give it. On Sunday, take notes of the sermon as we tend to forget maybe 80% of what we heard within a few short days after leaving a church service. Discuss what you are hearing and reading with others in the church. Ask your elders or trusted friends questions about what you read.

Pray. This is the means of God’s grace he imparts to a church that enables us to have God’s ear. Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5). Be in a constant dialogue with God throughout your day and set aside private, devotional times to speak to God, to pour out your heart to your Abba Father.

Just remember young Christian (young in maturity rather than age), my greatest exhortation and advice to you is the importance of being regularly involved in the life of a solid local church. God is not a fan of ‘Lone Ranger’ Christianity. But I’m not just saying “attend church.”

You are already part of the church wherever you go. What I am saying, is go, serve, love, submit, hold accountable, and receive correction in a local church and watch your love for the church family he has placed you in, grow as you grow.

Somethings You Need to Know about God’s Story

Image result for the new heavens and earth Bernie Diaz, July 18, 2018 

Though I’m not a big fiction reader, I find fascinating God’s meta-narrative, or over-arching story- ‘HiStory’ of the Bible – his specific revelation to his people, which lays out what he has been doing, is doing and will be doing in the near and farther future perhaps.

This revelation has come to me since our church launched and nears conclusion of a long but profitable expedition into the book of Revelation and the study of eschatology (“last things”).

What fascinates many people and most ‘Left-Behind’ oriented folks (of which I could count myself as having been one as a baby Christian more than a couple of decades ago), is the end of all things, human history as we know it, culminating in a time of tribulation (if you’re a pre-millennialist as I am) climaxed by the triumphant return of Jesus Christ to rule and reign on the earth.

However, my greater appreciation for the end of God’s story has come via a greater appreciation of how it completes the entire purpose and plan of the Lord’s redemptive history on planet earth.

We’ve been striving like other churches and theologians to help our people better understand what Jonathan Edwards titled in a book, “The End for Which God Created the World,” with an over-arching or systematized, meta-narrative look at earth.

  1. Creation

Every story has a beginning and an end, and the best way I think to approach a proper theological understanding of God’s purpose for the world is that he began it as its creator and sustainer of all life as the opening book of Genesis clearly states, in six literal days if read and understood in its most plain, face-value and natural way (Gen. 1:1-24).

Moreover, that creation of the world and mankind’s God-given authority to have dominion over it was a perfect and pure ideal, to be led by our first parents, Adam and Eve (Gen.1:25-2:25).

  1. Fall

Our original parents were given freedom of will to choose perfect obedience to God in paradise on earth and forfeited its blessings by falling to the serpent’s (Satan) temptation to sin against God, thereby bringing the curse of death and sin upon the earth and all mankind that would follow (Gen. 3:1-24).

  1. Redemption

In God’s perfect timing (Gal. 5:4-5), God the Son (Jesus Christ) fulfilling Old Testament prophecy (Isa. 7:14, 9:6, 52-53), enters the world to provide the sufficient redemption of both future Israel (Ro. 11:1-5, 25-27) and all mankind, in keeping with the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:4-7).

This redemption from the blood-atoning sacrificial death of Jesus two millennia ago, satisfied the wrath of God against the sin of all who would be justified by faith in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone, based on scripture alone, for God’s glory alone (Jo. 3:16-18, 36; Ro.3:23-26; 10:9-10; Heb. 9:15, 24-28).

Our holy and righteous God would have been perfectly just to condemn all mankind for its sin and rebellion over history, but by his loving mercy and grace, provided redemption and salvation for many (Isa. 53:12; Matt. 1:21; Jo.10:15) to this day.

  1. Restoration

The book of Revelation reveals the end of God’s story in my view. It’s an apocalyptic view that speaks of seven historic and kinds of churches that God deals with, followed in chapters 6-19 by a literal seven year period prophesied by Daniel called the tribulation, described in a series of  judgments on the earth (i.e. seals, trumpets and bowls), culminating with the fall of a final earthly empire (Babylon the Great).

At long last, the Lord Jesus Christ’s second coming is pictured as a time in which his return to judge the world and his enemies (Rev. 19-20) will be the precursor to his ruling and reigning in a restored and literal millennial (1,000 year) kingdom (Rev. 20).

In short, that is the history of the world from a scriptural lens though the final act and curtain, here highlighted in several meaningful ways as we contemplate our current lives and the hope of glory to come:

Jesus Returns as King.

First, the future hope of this world’s refreshment and restoration (Rev. 21:1-2), is bound up with the return of Jesus the King. Peter’s description of Jesus as “the Christ appointed for you” resumes the point he had made on the day of Pentecost: Jesus’ resurrection constitutes God’s declaration that he is “both Lord and Christ (Chosen one),” the rightful heir to David’s royal throne (2:25-36).

It only stands to reason that the king will reign over a future and earthly kingdom.

Jesus Returns as World Healer

Second, God’s ancient prophets had foretold the “times [or seasons] of refreshing” and “the time for restoring all things” for which God’s people were longing. Visions granted to Isaiah and other Israelite prophets previewed a ‘golden age’ or reversal of the curse that had entered the world and human experience through Adam’s sin (Isa. 25:8).

This global healing would be capsuled with the return of Jesus the Messiah, who appears to consummate a renewed era of world history in which peace and justice reign on earth. Until

Jesus Returns as Judge

The consummation of the kingdom at the return of the King entails not only the comforting prospect of “refreshment,” but also the sobering prospect of judgment. Peter proclaimed Jesus not only as the messianic King, but also as the prophet like Moses whom God would raise up, and whose voice must be heeded. “every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people” (Acts 3:23, alluding to Deut. 18:15-19).

The New Testament identifies Jesus as the final Judge of the living and the dead. Not only will the word of God incarnate be the norm by which all people will be judged, but Christ himself is also the royal Judge, authorized by God to conquer the devil, sin and death (Rev. 20:7-10), and to render the momentous, eternity-determining verdict on every human life (Rev. 20.11-15).

Jesus Returns as Architect .

Finally, the scope of “restoration” that the creator King will bring is greater than the prophet Isaiah, Peter and his fellow apostles had envisioned when they asked about restoring the kingdom to Israel.

Peter now knew that the kingdom “restoration” that God’s prophets promised would be wider than Israel and deeper than politics. It would, in the end, embrace “all things,” a whole new heaven and a whole new earth, as foretold (Isa. 65:17-25; 66:2-23).

Peter would later encourage Christians to anticipate “a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21).

Are you a citizen of this new heavenly city, the new Jerusalem to come for eternity in a life of perfect bliss (Rev. 21:3-4)? Now would be a good time to check yourselves as well your friends and family.

The Puritan preacher and author John Newton, composer of Amazing Grace, said that when we get to heaven, there will be three wonders:

  1. Who is there 2. Who is not there, and 3. The fact that you and me are there!

Who gains entry into the eternal state? Only the redeemed! (Jo. 3:3). The best part of being in this home (“dwelling place”), a place prepared by Christ for his bride the church (Jo. 14:1-3), is being with Jesus the groom face to face! This is the most intimate kind of fellowship we can have with God and nothing like has ever been experienced before on earth (“you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live”; Exo. 33).

Are you looking forward to being ‘up close and personal’ with God (Rev. 21:5-7)? I don’t know about you, but the older I get and the more I suffer, I think more about the end of God’s Story and my part in it.

The longer we’re here the more we want to go home as heaven becomes our biggest hope and desire. The presence of Christ and absence of all sin and suffering is what we look to and what we get in the final chapter of the story.

John Bradford, a 16th century martyr less than five months before his fiery departure from earthly life for preaching the gospel in violent times, wrote to a friend of the glories of heaven he anticipated: I am assured that though I want here, I have riches there; though I hunger here, I shall have fullness there; though I faint here, I shall be refreshed there; and though I be accounted here as a dead man, I shall there live in perpetual glory.

Like Bradford, may all Christians grow to have a greater appreciation and longing for their real home and the end of the greatest story ever told, where all wrongs are made right!

The Supreme Court Decision of Fun and ‘Games’ that Few Talk About

Image result for sports gambling Bernie Diaz, July 10, 2018

As per our last post, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will garner a major part of our nation’s societal and political focus over the next several months leading to this fall’s midterm elections in the wake of President Trump’s nomination of Bret Kavanaugh to occupy the vacancy of Justice Anthony Kennedy at the end of this month.

The battle over this potential game-changing judicial seat comes on the heels of a summer’s worth of important decisions rendered by SCOTUS, but one in particular seems to have been glossed over by many observers- Christians in particular, the sports and gaming fanatics among us even more so.

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court effectively struck down federal laws against sports gambling. While the full implications of the ruling will probably take time to play out, most states in the U.S. will likely sanction and promote betting on professional sports, such as NFL, NBA, NHL and baseball, etc. It’s a major ruling for every professional sporting organization (with college sports sure to follow) and for millions of Americans—mostly men—who gamble on their favorite sports and teams.

While I’m no betting man, as an avid sports fan, I am very aware of the betting lines or odds that are laid on virtually every sporting event under the sun or sea and understand that there is a ton of money to be had… and unfortunately lost, by sports gamblers near and far, to say nothing of the risk legalized sports gambling poses to the integrity of the games themselves (anyone remember the Pete Rose scandal?).

According to the American Gaming Association, gambling in the U.S. is a $240 billion industry employing 1.7 million people in forty states and those numbers are sure to grow exponentially in light of the court’s decision.

Why is Gambling so Popular?

The former Director of Gaming Enforcement for the state of New Jersey told a conference that the success of Atlantic City was tied to how well it sold its “products.” He explained:

That product is not entertainment or recreation or leisure. It’s really adrenaline: a biological substance capable of producing excitement–highs generated usually by anticipation or expectation of a future event, especially when the outcome of that event is in doubt.

According to a chief regulator of the industry, gambling is not only a drug, but a mind-altering drug. One author calls it a “controlled substance.”

Psychologists offer several reasons for the popularity of gambling in our culture:

  • It provides a sense of partial reinforcement we crave. “I’ll get lucky next time” is a powerful lure.
  • Some fall for the “gambler’s fallacy” of believing that a string of losses makes a win more likely.
  • The illusion of control causes many gamblers to believe that they have some power over the outcome (whether picking numbers in a lottery or blowing on dice before throwing them).
  • Loss aversion is a major motivator: we feel more pain over losing $100 than joy over winning $100. When a gambler loses money, he or she is motivated to keep gambling so as to recover what has been lost.

Why is Gambling so Dangerous?

Sports gambling may soon parallel the lottery and its various forms, which has proven to be risky at least and bad for your health at worst, in more ways than one. In fact, winning the lottery can be downright dangerous.

Past lottery winners seem to understand that according to news reports.

Abraham Shakespeare was murdered in 2009 after winning a $30 million jackpot. The suspect, a woman who befriended Shakespeare after he won the lottery, shot him twice in the chest and then buried him under a slab of concrete.

For some, winning the lottery was emotionally dangerous. In 2006, Sandra Hayes won the Missouri lottery, splitting a $224 million prize. Her win was emotionally damaging. “I had to endure the greed and the need that people have, trying to get you to release your money to them.

That caused a lot of emotional pain. These are people who you’ve loved deep down, and they’re turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me.”

For some, winning the lottery was behaviorally dangerous. Ronnie Music Jr., for example, won $3 million in a Georgia lottery but found the temptation to make even more money too great and eventually invested part of his winnings in a crystal methamphetamine ring. He recently started serving a 21-year sentence for the crime.

Interestingly enough, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced “gaming disorder” as a new mental health condition included in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases, released last month.

“I’m not creating a precedent,” said Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, a member of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, which proposed the new diagnosis to WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly. Instead, he said, WHO has followed “the trends, the developments, which have taken place in populations and in the professional field.”

           For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that                some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1           Tim. 6:10, ESV).

Stories like the above are not unusual. In fact, they’re more the norm than the exception. Winning the lottery has been described as a “curse,” and according to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 70% of those who receive large cash windfalls lose them within just a few years.

Thus, it can be argued that gambling on and even winning a large amount of money can be physically, emotionally and behaviorally dangerous because money, at its core, can be spiritually dangerous.

Jesus Christ warned his disciples about this nearly two thousand years ago; he talked about money more than any other topic aside from the Kingdom of God.

Why? Was he trying to solicit money or condemn money in and of itself?

No, Jesus didn’t hate or seek money, he was seeking hearts who would have only object of worship- God himself; and he knew his kingdom and the satanically influenced one of material treasure were at odds with one another, as he famously taught, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21).

The Lord Jesus understanding human nature as only he can, understood the struggle between prosperity and godly priorities: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24).

Why Christians Shouldn’t Gamble

The issue of whether or not to gamble is like so many other ethical challenges believers of Jesus face today, which is not to ask ourselves can we do something, but rather should we?

The lottery or mainstream sports gambling of today didn’t exist in Biblical times, but being that gambling is about the parlaying of money- dollars and cents on games of “chance” and otherwise, the prudent and conscientious Christian can look to at least two big biblical principles to guide him in this area:

1.Gambling undermines the work and family ethic. The desire to make money and provide for one’s family apart from honest labor (as in physical and intellectual- the latter which could include wise investing) is not a desire that is favorably looked upon in the Bible (Pro. 10:2; 28:19; Ecc. 5:10). In Eph 4:28, Paul commands the one who steals to stop stealing and work for money instead.

He goes on to say that the purpose of such work is to make money that can be shared with others in need. In other words, it’s not just the method of earning money that matters, but the motive as to why one earns it. Money that’s honestly gained has moral strings attached to it.

2. Gambling is a foolish stewardship of God’s resources. Sports gambling like virtually any other form of gambling is a foolish risk.

The ‘odds’ are for the house and against the player who is bound to lose much more than he wins, which is of particular risk to the poor among us, who are most prone to lose what little they may have looking for the quick score or ‘big win’ from gambling, beginning with the lottery.

Sometimes people respond to this point by saying that investing is risk, like any investment, but not all risk is the same. There is inherent risk to even holding down a job—I might get injured, or miss out on an opportunity, or be fired. Those risks are real, but they are not foolish risks.

The risk of sports gambling is unlike those risks because it demands far more than it gives. The rewards of sports gambling are rare and the costs are plenty. In fact, it’s the high degree of risk and the high probability of losing that makes sports gambling fun and fascinating for so many.

Are there better ways to spend your money? What if my fellow sports fan took the 50 bucks he wanted to put on an NFL game and took his wife out to a special dinner investing in his marriage rather than gaming?

What if we after giving to our local church, we gave to godly, kingdom building ministries and missionaries?  What if we simply invested it in a company whose values we believed in? All of those options carry a degree of risk, but the kingdom rewards easily outweigh them. This is the path of love, wisdom and God’s blessings, rather than the instant gratification of the quick fix of a winning bet.

My bet is that the Lord Jesus Christ and his kingdom are the truest and surest source of eternal satisfaction in this life and the one to come.

Independence Day Food for Thoughts- Independence for Who?

Image result for the bible and the us flag Bernie Diaz, July 4, 2018

G.K. Chesterton once said that the United States is “the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” In many ways, that creed was a religious one.

Over the years, many Americans have defined themselves as people who came here seeking religious freedom as its first settlers did in the early 17th century and who are still, despite everything by an ever-decreasing majority, a religious people.

Many of the earliest ‘Americans’ sought, as Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop put it in his 1630 sermon, to create “a city upon a hill,” paraphrasing the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. “The eyes of all people are upon us,” Winthrop said; if the Puritans followed “the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God” (Mic. 6:8), He will “delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways.”

Although the current state of our nation- spiritually, morally and culturally pictures an apple that has fallen far from its tree and the blessings of God (see Ro.1:18-32), its founding fathers left in place for us an enduring institution of government, set in a series of declarative principles, a constitution and a bill of rights which reflected its belief in a Creator who moved in the world in general and in this nation in particular, through providence.

So, like it or not, political correctness aside and despite the peaks and valleys of religious life in the United States over nearly the last two and a half centuries, as of this coming July 4th, it should never be seriously argued that this nation was not settled nor founded upon anything other than the values, scriptural foundation and influence of The Bible and Christianity.

One of those enduring principles which has been brought to the forefront of our attention this past week, is the fundamental right “to life.” 

Independence Coming to the Unborn?

The announcement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement due July 31st set off a political earthquake that will dominate Washington and this country’s news cycle in the weeks and months to come.

Why? Kennedy was known as somewhat of a social liberal and judicial moderate, who became over time the swing vote in many important cases on a sharply divided nine seat court. This past week alone he was the swing vote in three major split decisions including: one which upheld the free speech rights for pro-life pregnancy resource centers in California, and another upheld President Trump’s travel ban against immigrants from terrorist sponsored states.

In fact, Kennedy may be most remembered by observers for his positions on the two most divisive social issues of our time in America: same-sex marriage and abortion, as per his decisions in landmark cases in 2003   (overturning sodomy laws), 2013 (a decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act -DOMA), and the 2015 Obergefell decision that redefined marriage across this nation.

Due to this coming vacancy on the highest court in the land, President Donald Trump is now poised to make his second judicial appointment to SCOTUS, which will stand as the most monumental of his administration, a legacy defining and societal game-changing choice which would not only go a long way to securing evangelical support of his reelection to the White House, but could also lead to the overturn of some if not all of the above decisions, the most consequential of all to the independent right of preborn children to live, being the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion in 1973 in the United States.

Should Trump nominate and congress approve (of which a massive battle will be waged from the left) a constitutionally sound judge to the bench that will historically and properly interpret the constitution and the intent of its authors in much the say way the Bible should be by the way, pro-life Christians should expect a court majority of at five pro-life votes on cases of law which have recently passed with new protections for the unborn, that could lead to direct challenges to “Roe.”

Biblical, pro-life Christians should pray that God would shine his common grace and mercy to this nation through his gift of wisdom and discernment to the Trump administration on this nomination, which may save several million lives to come and his favor or blessing to overcome the devilish opposition to that nomination which is sure to follow.

Independence Leaders were Writers and Readers   

Speaking of Independence Day and America’s birthday, Marvin Olasky of WORLD magazine reported on the fascinating figure that was one of this nation’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, the architect or primary author of our Declaration of Independence, signed by the first Continental Congress 242 years ago this Wednesday.

One of the more fascinating features about Jefferson that Olasky reported, was that “Jefferson worked hard at writing because he was a lousy speaker.” Our nation’s third President was not well-regarded as an orator in his time. Olasky notes, “Except for his inaugural addresses, which he read in such a mumbling manner that eager listeners could barely hear him, he gave almost no speeches during his eight years in office.”

Yet when that first American congress needed someone to draft a declaration of independence, it turned to Jefferson, who brought with him —in John Adams’ words— “a reputation for literary science and a happy talent for composition.”

Jefferson was a deist, (a theology in which God created the world but then left it to its own devices) but he knew his draft had to satisfy the majority of delegates who had Christian faith. “Jefferson’s talent for composition allowed him to locate language that satisfied Christians without violating his own principles”, Olasky wrote. Phrases such as “endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights,” expressed Christian positions but were also acceptable to deists.

Thus, Jefferson, respecting the Christians around him, became “the pen of the revolution” (George Washington was known as its sword, Patrick Henry its voice.) Christian leaders like Samuel Adams loved Jefferson’s rhetoric and became his supporters according to Olasky.

Praising the Declaration’s emphasis on providence and a law above kings, Adams declared, “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom alone men ought to be obedient.”

Jefferson like most of the founders were voracious readers and deep thinkers. His reading was both deep and wide, as he was educated in the classics by tutors and college classes, turning his pen into a masterful sword of prose and legislation.

Although he was not likely a Christian based on his stated views of the deity of Christ and the miracles found in scripture, he proved like the spiritual leaders of every Christian generation to have a consuming passion to learn the Word of God through diligent study.

What are you Reading?

Summer time is a time for reading, along with a bit of time for rest and relaxation in the United States. The beaches are full, families are on the road and I for one, will attempt to find every free moment I can to read this summer- perhaps more than usual.  After all, aren’t we who are disciples of Jesus, “People of the Book”?

Therefore, for the first time in at least a few years in this space, this pastor and preacher with an insatiable appetite to read and know, passes on his all-time top ten list of books for your consideration (in no particular order) of both contemporary and classic volumes as you ponder your summer reading list. In Part 1, here I commend to you my….

Contemporary (20th century to present) Books:

  1. Knowing God,I. Packer. This simpler and classic systematic theology is warm and inviting- meant for the common Christian, coming from one of the past century’s most accessible and humble theologians.
  2. The Holiness of God, C. Sproul. Maybe the greatest work from one of this nation’s greatest theologians, church-men and philosophers who recently went home to glory. It is a masterful and critically important must-read for any Christian seeking to know what is likely the most outstanding attribute of God’s nature.
  3. The Gospel According to Jesus, John MacArthur. This is the biblically saturated book which put arguably America’s greatest exegete of the past generation on the map, revealing the true gospel of repentant faith in Christ from his own words and settling the “Lordship Salvation” argument once and for all.
  4. Desiring God, John Piper. The hallmark of the ‘Christian Hedonist’ himself, who gives the joyful clarion call that “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him.”
  5. The Cross of Christ, John Stott. Perhaps the most complete, well-rounded dissertation of what the crosswork of Jesus Christ is about and what it means to God’s plan of redemptive history.
  6. The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney. My favorite and perhaps the most well-regarded among many good works on the basic means of grace that God has provided believers, in order to grow closer to him and in Christ-likeness.
  7. Mere Christianity, S. Lewis. Perhaps the 20th century’s most notable apologist (defender of the faith) and fiction writer (Chronicles of Narnia), his WWII era volume meant to encourage and exhort Churchill’s Great Britain, makes the simple, reasonable argument that God is real and Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of the world. God used this book to put me on the path to salvation.
  8. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, JI. Packer. This relatively short volume from Packer bridges the perfect balance scripturally, between God’s sovereign grace in saving sinners and mankind’s responsibility to believe in and share the gospel.
  9. Ashamed of the Gospel, John MacArthur. His second appearance in my top 10 is this massive, influential read for church leaders who have sought to glorify God in faithful, biblically sound church practice and ministry, rather than falling prey to the modern, seeker-sensitive, mega-church growth movement.
  10. Heaven, Randy Alcorn. No volume has more comprehensively and accessibly laid out the future home for believers with an index of Q&A’s that should satisfy the most curious of disciples seeking more info about our paradise to come.

Next post: my top 10 classic books of recommendation and a reminder and final food for thought for July 4th and the rest of the summer: Readers are leaders and leaders are readers!

Summer Supreme Court Decisions and Your Free-Speech

Image result for supreme court and gay rights  Bernie Diaz, June 26, 2018

Constitutionally protected free speech rights and religious liberty are critical components of American life to Christian citizens as we should all know by now, as we wish to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and live according to biblically based conscience in this nation.

This past week, some very interesting developments arose from the U.S. Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) summer session, found in decisions and non-decisions that may greatly impact the right of evangelicals to work, speak truth and live – at least for a season.

SCOTUS’ work comes on the heels of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders ejection from a Virginia restaurant, highlighting a possible trend of personal protests against members of the Trump administration.

An employee at the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., this past week asked Sanders to leave because she worked for President Donald Trump. Sanders used her regular press briefing to declare that Americans are “allowed to disagree, but we should be able to do so freely and without fear of harm.”

You would think so right? But discrimination in this nation seems to be running one way. Bakers, florists, people who speak ‘Christianese’ and make absolute truth claims at the wrong place and wrong time may be branded as bigots and discriminatory zealots worthy of criminal prosecution of some sort or another, whereas discrimination is tolerated only by those that preach ‘tolerance’ –  the leftist politically correct in this country.

United States Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, actually told supporters in her state, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd, and you push back on them!” I find that to be a rather interesting form of two-headed discrimination and tolerance.

Unfortunately, President Trump – never known for his subtlety and restraint in public discourse, fired back Tuesday on Twitter: “Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party. She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement.”

Although civility may be in short order in our land at present from all sides, two major supreme court decisions should encourage and also remind Christians, that no matter how deeply flawed our President may be- and God only knows how deeply flawed he is, his Supreme Court appointment of Neil Gorsuch and related executive orders are holding back an even greater advance of the moral dysfunction and revolution present in this nation.

First, SCOTUS handed down a 5-4 ruling in favor of California pro-life pregnancy centers in a First Amendment case over advertising abortion.

The pregnancy centers, under the umbrella of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, challenged a 2015 law known as the Reproductive FACT Act. The law mandated that licensed pregnancy centers advertise information on the state’s free or low-cost abortion coverage while unlicensed centers had to provide disclaimers in 13 languages that their services did not include medical help.

Justice Clarence Thomas in his majority opinion noted that the pregnancy centers “are likely to succeed” in their claim that the law violates the First Amendment because it narrowly targeted pregnancy centers. How free could a crisis pregnancy center be to accomplish its explicitly stated mission to save unborn lives, by having to post or refer clients to abortive services which take, eliminate- kill those same lives? How ludicrous could such a law be? Only in California- well, maybe not.

That decision is a reprieve for CPCs that were threatened there and probably elsewhere, to compromise their liberty and freedom to do what they have been called to do.

Second, Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman, who was sued by the Attorney General of Washington State for refusing to create floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding, received some subtle good news from SCOTUS.

The Supreme Court sent Stutzman’s case back to the Washington Supreme Court, after vacating that court’s decision and instructing it to reconsider her lawsuit in light of the recent decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In that similar case, SCOTUS reversed Colorado’s decision to punish cake artist Jack Phillips, a confessing Christian for living and working consistently with his religious beliefs (conscience) about marriage, just as Stutzman has also been trying to do while under legal attack by Washington’s AG and the ACLU.

The two organizations sued Stutzman after she declined, because of her faith, to design custom floral arrangements celebrating the same-sex wedding of a customer she had been serving for nearly 10 years. Both of these supreme court decisions seem to at least temporarily support the free speech rights and conscience of believers in the work place.

Furthermore, in a major victory for the Trump administration, SCOTUS upheld President Donald Trump’s travel ban on a handful of mostly Muslim countries in another razor thin 5-4 ruling. The president’s immigration order in September of 2017, restricted travel into the U.S. by citizens of Somalia, Iran, Libya, Venezuela, North Korea, Yemen, and Syria.

Hawaii was among the U.S. states challenging the travel restrictions, and in Trump v. Hawaii the state argued the president had superseded his authority and acted against Islam, the predominant religion in most of the named countries. In the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court rejected claims that Trump’s travel ban was triggered by religious hostility and said it falls “squarely” within his authority as president.

Roberts noted that “the order is expressly premised on legitimate purposes”- that being national security. While some may call such an immigration practice- racial or even religious profiling – interestingly enough,  the President and his administration’s chief duty according to this nations’ constitutional preamble (echoing biblical principles and plain common sense) is to protect its people: “.. establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity..”

It just so happens that the nations named as security threats have been long labeled and associated as terrorist sponsoring states for some time.

 Battles Won but the War is Not Over

This summer’s SCOTUS decisions notwithstanding, we find that the ‘Golden State’ of California (of course), which will be voting this fall to split into three distinct states as a precursor to making an eventual attempt to secede from our union entirely, has struck a two-fold attack against true evangelical Christianity directly, or its biblically-based values indirectly with legislative efforts to:

  1. Outlaw licensed Christian counselors from practicing “conversion-therapy” on citizens questioning their same-sex orientation.

We call this counsel gospel preaching and a call to repentant faith, for people to convert from darkness and sin to light and redemption.

  1. In a related initiative, their Assembly Bill 2943 would make it an “unlawful business practice” to engage in “a transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer” that advertise, offer to engage in, or do engage in “sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.”

In fact, efforts by religious organizations to publish materials proclaiming the dangers of homosexuality and its historic definition of sinful behavior (i.e. books- Bibles?) may be prosecuted as hate crimes there. Yes, Christians in California can now prepare if such initiatives are enacted, to think of their Bibles as state-certified weapons of hate.

Coincidentally, new research reveals that religious hostility is on the rise globally, as government-sponsored restrictions and assaults on religious practice have grown for the second year in a row. According to the Pew Research Center, antagonism toward people because of their religion world-wide, is trending upward.

The most targeted religious groups for harassment by government or social groups according to the study were Christians and Muslims, the two largest religious groups in the world. Christians faced an uptick in overall social hostility and government restrictions in 144 nations in 2016, Muslims in 142 countries.

This trend is a reality that is endemic to the Christian faith and has been since its birth at Pentecost 2,000 years ago to varying degrees.

The apostle Peter in his first letter to the early persecuted and dispersed church, told them to be prepared to suffer well because the ‘end of all things’ (last times) is at hand. He wrote that they shouldn’t be surprised by persecution and the suffering which accompanies it as if it were “something strange”, or alien were happening to them, being that their master- Jesus, Lord and Savor suffered the same- worse and first.

Despite the current reprieve of supreme court rulings this summer, Christians must always be on watch for persecution because of who you follow and what you stand for (Christ and the gospel).

However, If Jesus is worth a painful death, is he not worth an uncomfortable life? A demotion at work? A loss of popularity- social media suffering? We’re all going to need to figure out how to seek our life and joy primarily in Jesus—through his usual means of grace (prayer, Bible reading, and church fellowship) in the days ahead, so that the loss of anything else, whether it be job, friends, family, or possessions, will seem smaller by comparison.

Let’s take heart in Jesus’ own words as he told his disciples about the persecution and suffering to come for his church (Lu. 21:17-19), You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.