Author Archives: mycaptivethought

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.

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The Sexual Revolution vs. “Brain Damaged” Christians

Bernie Diaz, May 7, 2019

As the sexual revolution continues to sweep across America with no end in sight (see last week’s MCT post, A Gay and Christian President?), and the battle for objective moral and biblical truth at hand, we should have known it wouldn’t be long before the secularist gate-keepers of our society would move from first branding evangelical Christians as ‘back-water haters’, to being either insane or now, “brain-damaged” according  to a recently published study.

The aforementioned research from the journal Neuropsychologia, has shown that religious fundamentalism (read– the scriptural group think of the world’s three major religions; Christianity, Orthodox Judaism and Islam) is in part, the result of a “functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex.”

The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes ‘religious fundamentalism,’ by diminishing “cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.”

In other and more intelligible words, the humanist left will be resurrecting the old Freudian idea (faith as a mental “crutch”) that objective truth claiming religion comes as the result of a warped or defective mind- yes, a mental health condition to be avoided and I’m sure eventually treated.

Perhaps Christians can then look forward to the day they can receive special workplace and parking accommodations as per the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), having been infected or afflicted with something like, ‘Christophobia’ or ‘religiophobia’ (Lol)? Or, would that label better fit the anti-religious crowd?  

Lest you think I exaggerate, keep in mind that some American states and communities (including South Florida) have begun to criminalize Bible-based, Christian counseling for sexual sin and dysfunctionality, regarding it as little more than “conversion therapy.”

Talk Troubles

In fact, two Christian counselors in Palm Beach County, FL have had to terminate ongoing counseling relationships and turn down new clients who have willingly sought their help suffering from depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other struggles associated with sexual issues (e.g. ‘gender dystopia’).  

That’s right. As we’ve posted before in this blog, evangelistic counsel, life-saving and transforming truth (2 Corinthians 5:17) given by trained Christians to another willing to hear it, may be punishable by fines and criminal prosecution.   

All of this ideology framed in the above study, filled with pseudo-scientific  conclusions, are based largely on the finding that “Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge.”

That summary statement mind you, comes from a worldview that as per its self-admitted Darwinian, evolutionary roots, explains the origin of life in the universe as having been essentially arrived by, ‘Nothing + time + chance = …everything!’

Seriously, which group here might have to be examined for “brain-damage?” Christians know better however, understanding that unredeemed, God-hating and Christ-rejecting rebels go to such lengths to deny God’s existence and gospel, not so much because of their brains, but because of their heart condition.

Many secular, mental-health “professionals” like much of the world’s minority atheist and agnostic population, think the way they do about people of faith, due to the diagnosis of their hearts, made by the apostle Paul,

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…  because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:21,25, ESV).  

Such hearts, darkened by sin and spiritual death, also add, “Religious fundamentalism refers to an ideology that emphasizes traditional religious texts and rituals and discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues. Fundamentalist groups generally oppose anything that questions or challenges their beliefs or way of life. For this reason, they are often aggressive towards anyone who does not share their specific set of supernatural beliefs, and towards science, as these things are seen as existential threats to their entire worldview.”

Well, the bigoted, anti-religious language of the study, implicitly joining Christianity to Islam, is not very subtle is it? This kind of thinking is influencing a bevvy of state legislatures such as Colorado’s to make it illegal for public schools to teach sexual education programs that promote abstinence and instead mandate programs that include information on LGBT relationships and sex.

To no surprise, the organizations backing the bills, including Planned Parenthood, describe themselves as “sex positive” and encourage teen sexual experimentation as a healthy part of growing up.

In other words, America’s number one abortion factory encourages sexual experimentation as a means of growing the abortion mil industry for dealing with more unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. Simply put, free-sex is good for their business.

The anti-God and scripture movement’s growth coincides naturally with the growth of the sexual revolution. It’s fundamental, that those that lust after unbridled and unregulated sexual activity, will attempt to brainwash themselves from the moral and natural law which God has placed on the heart of every human being he has created on earth (Romans 2:15).

Tragically enough, it is the hearts and minds of the sexual revolutionaries which are “damaged” and need to be transplanted while there is time:  

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light     and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21).

A Gay and Christian President?

Bernie Diaz, May 1, 2019

The moral and cultural revolution in America sees no signs of letting up anytime soon, as evidenced by the media attention now being lavished upon the latest if not ‘greatest’ of presidential candidates to declare a run at the oval office from the Democratic party in America.

Is this candidate from an ethnic minority? No. That ground was already trailblazed by President Barrack Obama as this country’s first African-American President. Female? Not yet (see Hillary Clinton), but probably coming soon and the same for a Hispanic candidate as well.

Actually, the Democratic candidate I’m referring to is so far, the only one talking at length about faith in the just inaugurated 2020 primary election cycle, and believe it or not, he happens to be a small-town, “red” state Mayor. 

Of course, I’m referring to none other than Pete Buttigieg (Booti-judge), the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana (more famously known as the home of the University of Notre Dame), who according to CNN, is “An Episcopalian who can freely quote Bible verses. He’s also a presidential candidate who embraces his husband on stage at campaign rallies.”

Could it be that the United States may be soon preparing to nominate if not elect its first ever openly gay, “Christian” candidate to the White House?

Before you consider the above question as little more than ‘click bait’, note that being ‘Gay and Christian’ is no longer being seen as an oxymoron in the same sentence, according to the left-leaning mainstream media of our county, influenced by the activists of the sexual revolution, which include professing Christians and leaders of several mainstream protestant denominations.

The crux of the issue is that “Mayor Pete’s” candidacy is being seen by some as a sort of lightening rod for Christianity in America, as his notoriety climbs, heightened by his pleasing, charismatic (as in personality) and affable, Oxford-educated charm.

The Buttigieg candidacy and its accompanying controversy is whether or not it is time for traditional and ‘conservative’ Christianity to admit it is now on the wrong side of history as to the issue of sexuality and should now bow down and submit to the sexual revolution. 

CNN’s recent feature story on Buttigieg said, “For some on the religious right, like Franklin Graham, Buttigieg’s identity, while it’s shared by many gay Americans of faith, does not compute. Graham, in a series of critical tweets, said that being a gay Christian ‘is something to be repentant of, not to be flaunted, praised or politicized.’

He added, “The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman—not two men, not two women. The core of the Christian faith is believing and following Jesus Christ, who God sent to be the Savior of the world—to save us from sin, to save us from hell, to save us from eternal damnation.”

Interestingly and unsurprisingly enough, CNN and other liberal outlets interpreted Graham’s comments as being radical if not hateful, rather than simply reflecting the Biblically historic and orthodox teaching or doctrine on sexuality of the two millennia old Christian faith, which happen to be affirmed by the other two centuries old historic and influential monotheistic religions of the world; Judaism and Islam.  

That last fact was omitted of course in the CNN feature. This predictable, political conflict which has bled over into the theological realm, was instigated by Buttigieg’s attacks on his former colleague, Vice President Mike Pence (former Governor of Indiana), known as a conservative evangelical Christian, who has been known to “wear his faith on his sleeve” in affirming God’s Biblical blueprint for marriage as being exclusively heterosexual. 

“I hope that Pete will offer more to the American people than attacks on my Christian faith or attacks on the President as he seeks the highest office in the land,” Pence told CNN.

The primary point of contention, is whether or not an avowed, practicing homosexual such as Buttigieg, can publicly claim to be a born-again, Jesus Christ loving and following Christian while reinterpreting the plain meaning of scripture, regardless of celebrity status?

Buttigieg admits that, “It can be challenging to be a person of faith who’s also part of the LGBTQ community,” while also saying his understanding of faith is far different than Pence’s or Graham’s: “Part of where I’m coming from is a faith tradition that counsels me to be as humble as possible, that counsels me to look after those who need defending.”

While criticizing the current presidential administration and its view of the poor, Buttigieg claimed, “It’s just so different than what I get when I read scripture.” The South Bend mayor added, “And I get that one of the things about scripture is different people see different things in it. But at the very least, we should be able to establish that God does not have a political party.”

Aside from stating the obvious as to Jesus Christ’s political affiliation, Buttigieg’s comments fail to deal with the reality that the plain, natural and face-value reading and interpretation of scripture- what people with common sense “see”, clearly condemns homosexuality and the idea of same-sex marriage (Gen 2:24; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Matt. 19:4-5; Ro. 1:26-32: 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10).

In other words, Buttigieg cannot and should not even try to make an intellectually honest argument that God approves of his orientation and lifestyle in anyway, which is what drives the ‘religious and liberal left’ nuts, as they reject facts with feelings and appeal to the idea that the church should ‘throw in the biblical towel’ in order to survive and thrive in the culture, as suggested by a recent USA Today opinion column by Oliver Thomas, in which the headline read, American churches must reject literalism and admit we got it wrong on gay people.

Churches will continue hemorrhaging members until we face the truth: Being a faithful Christian does not mean accepting everything the Bible teaches.”

That sub-heading from Thomas’s column is followed by his lead that, “A sad thing is happening in America. The church is killing itself. A great revelation has occurred that is bringing joy and happiness to millions, but it is being met with resistance and retrenchment from many of my colleagues inside the church.”

Thomas quoted Buttigieg directly as telling Mike Pence  that his “quarrel — if he has one — is not with the mayor. ‘Your quarrel, sir,’ said the openly gay Democratic presidential candidate, “is with my creator.”

I would offer three responses if I had the opportunity to directly respond to both this columnist and Mayor Buttigieg:

1.The church is not hemorrhaging members over biblical fidelity. Simply, a clear divide between Biblically faithful and unfaithful Christians has been drawn today. As the columnist above admitted, “The United Methodists, are doubling down on their opposition to gay clergy and gay marriage by threatening expulsion to congregations that don’t toe the line.”

2. A great moral and sexual revolution rather than new “revelation” has occurred in American culture, but its breadth is greatly overstated (“bringing joy and happiness to millions”).

Only 1.7% of Americans say they are gay, lesbian or homosexual, statistically unchanged in the last decade, according to the latest General Social Survey. The percentage of those who identify as bisexual, however, has increased slowly since 2008, from 1.1 to 3.3%, which though still a relatively small population, contradicts the argument that homosexuality is an inbred or genetic orientation since bisexuality is a choice by definition.

3. The “Creator” God of the universe Mayor Pete, in both his general and special revelation- his word, has made abundantly clear what his “quarrel” is with sinners who take their own sexuality and lives into their own hands.

Therefore, how do we speak and minister to liberals and homosexuals such as Mayor Buttigieg? Strive to follow the great commandment summarized in our church slogan, Love God- love people. How do we love our neighbors? Get to know them. Listen to them. Serve them. Help meet needs.

If your neighbor is a homosexual – don’t judge him or her in condemnation. They can repent and change- it happens more than you know. Pray for them and pray that God will open doors for you to speak the truth in love to them (Ro. 1:17). 

The sexual revolutionaries of our day are people in darkness that need light. As Rosaria Butterfield, a former Lesbian activist turned born-again Christian, author and speaker testified: To be clear, I was not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief. I didn’t swap out a lifestyle. I died to a life I loved… How I feel does not tell me who I am. Only God can tell me who I am, because he made me and takes care of me. He tells me that we are all born as male and female image bearers with souls that will last forever and gendered bodies that will either suffer eternally in hell or be glorified in the New Jerusalem.

Mrs. Butterfield knew the real issue was a heart and mind of idolatry described in Romans 1. She acknowledged God as he is revealed in the Bible, accepted who he is, acknowledged who she was in sin without him, trusted in his son for forgiveness and then she was healed.  Healed and cleansed as the Bible promises.

Terrorism Comes Again to the Church – Bringing Hope

Bernie Diaz, April 23, 2019

At one point in time, it would have been unthinkable for Christians and most people of faith outside of the Middle East to think of acts of violence such as mass murder, invading places of worship as targets of terrorism.

Yet a number of church shootings around the globe (two in the U.S.) and the more recent, racist led burnings of three historical African-American churches in Louisiana, have begun to raise awareness that not even a sanctified and peaceful place of worship is immune to the evil that is rampant among us today.

Not even Easter Sunday – more properly acknowledged as Resurrection Day for the Christian church, can be considered as “off-limits” to evil doers who suppress their conscience. The joy that should have been evident at an Easter gathering quickly turned into terror and grief for those celebrating the risen Christ in Sri Lanka last Sunday, when suicide bombers conducted coordinated attacks on three churches and three high-end hotels, killing more than 300 people (including four Americans) and injuring another 500.

Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the bombings of the churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, as attacks that were “carried out in retaliation” for the last month’s shooting at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 according to Sri Lanka’s government officials, who imposed a state of emergency across the country early this week and observed a national day of mourning.

What is apparent to anyone paying attention at all, is that religious tensions are as flammable around the globe as racial ones. Christians make up less than 10 percent of the population of the majority-Buddhist nation of Sri Lanka and have reported escalating concerns about their religious freedom.

In fact, Open Doors, a watchdog ministry for the mission field, ranks Sri Lanka as No. 46 on its World Watch List of the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian. It explains: “Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist nation, and so while Christians from more historical churches enjoy a little more freedom in expressing their faith, believers from Buddhist backgrounds are treated as second-class citizens and can face slander and attacks.”

The report adds, Believers from Buddhist or Hindu backgrounds face harassment and discrimination from their families and communities. They are pressured to recant their new faith, as conversion is regarded as a betrayal of their ethnicity. The majority of state schools do not teach Christianity as a subject, so Christian schoolchildren are forced to study Buddhism or Hinduism. Churches in rural areas have been attacked or closed, and Christians have been assaulted.

The fight for Religious freedom and gospel liberty remains a constant for disciples of Christ both near and far – and now includes the struggle for safety in an ever-increasing environment of anti-Christian hostility that few in the mainstream media and culture are daring to acknowledge.

The weed that is real Christian persecution in our lifetime and even in our nation, is beginning to sprout up out of the ground. Every Christian who walks and talks a godly life has or will soon experience a certain amount of persecution for the faith, whether it be on the job, in school, in the neighborhood, or perhaps even in your own family.

A growing number of people that you and I interact with are people who resist the truth and oppose the Gospel of Christ evident in your life, because it is a mirror of righteousness and Christlikeness that many people would rather not look at or think about. No matter what a believer says or does today, enemies of God and the faith will find fault and criticize you.

.. through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22, ESV)

Again, the reality of what is occurring in our world is a reminder to me that Christians as Peter’s first epistle implies, live as ‘strangers on earth’. Aliens or immigrants (however legal we are with our ‘citizenship in Heaven’) are seen as a ‘peculiar people’ that will draw attention and often for the wrong reasons in the eyes of our society.  

So, the Sri Lanka Easter attacks may serve as an advance warning of suffering meant to prepare believers to be ready for more of the same in whatever shape or form persecution may take. This is the refiner’s purifying fire that the final Old Testament prophet Malachi talked about and that John the Baptist warned of, as the Messiah Jesus was about to come on the scene – and the ultimate testing of real, kingdom faith that would occur, which we observed and celebrated last holy weekend.

Real Christians endure in the faith under tests and trials. We don’t abandon the faith if our faith is the real deal regardless of the threats, to the point that we can even rejoice in our tribulation and suffering as commanded from the scriptures.

One great source of joy that we can lean on in such times was reflected on the day we just worshipped and which some if not many of our Southern Asian brothers and sisters from Sri Lanka enjoyed as their home going…

The Hope of Resurrection Glory

The idea is be glad now because of our gladness or happiness to come tomorrow. Be joyful in today’s suffering because of the joy coming in the glory of Christ’s return tomorrow. If we suffer with him, we’ll reign with him and that keeps us going right now when we suffer affliction.

True hope is what separates Christians from every other religion or worldview on the planet (see last week’s post, No Resurrection- No Hope).

The letter of 1 Peter and Romans 8 tells us that we’re heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, meaning children of God awaiting our inheritance, “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” How are we glorified with Christ?

If you’re in Christ, you’ll find out at his second coming. It is then that 1 John 3 tells us we’ll see him as he really is and be like him when he returns. That’s our Christian hope and keeps us going as we suffer now, and that hope is even working in us now (Romans 5:3-4).

Although dismayed by the turn of events which occurred in last Sunday’s attacks, a seminary professor in the capital city of Columbo in Sri Lanka, said in its aftermath, “We cling to the Risen Lord and the hope of the resurrection. Without him, we are in darkness and death.”

No Resurrection- No Hope

Bernie Diaz, April 17, 2019

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19, ESV)

If you found a genie in a bottle today, what would you wish for (three wishes)? Pretend God was a genie if you must (too many already do). Now, what would you hope for? Do you see the difference between a hope and a wish?

A wish is something you want or desire. Hope which is a commonly used expression, is a little different. Almost everybody at one time or another says, “I hope for this or for that; I hope I go to heaven when I die.” It’s a feeling that what you want can be had, or that a certain event will turn out for the best. There’s a feeling of a certain expectation involved. This thing that I want can actually happen.

Now think about how hard life would be- how depressing it can be more than it already is for some people, if you didn’t have hope- the expectation, or a certainty that life will be better in the future; that there will be “a better place.” I think of the families of the victims of the Stoneman Douglas  school shooting here in South Florida, who lost their kids in the prime of their life. How do that process that and go on living without hope?

Hope for some of the victims’ families might include some sense of justice in the here and now, or perhaps later in having influenced some security based legislation. For other people, their hope and a sense of real peace and joy may be found only in a relationship, such as marriage and a family. Deep down, people want meaning in life. They want to know their lives matter and they ‘hope’ for that.    

Shortly before his death, famed American author Mark Twain said, “A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;…they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence, a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”

Although Twain’s hope was more than a bit morbid, if not a little desperate, it fits the secular mantra of the old beer commercial adage of “grabbing all the gusto” while you can. You live for however many decades make up the average life-expectancy on earth – and then you take the big dirt nap. No meaning, no hope there. All death is for someone who thinks like that, is a means of nihilism and then escape.

That means this life is all there is. Is that a source of hope? A real Christian doesn’t think that way about this life and the one to come as evidenced by the text of scripture from the gospel passage the apostle Paul cited here, from his first letter to the Corinthians.

No credible historian or scholar doubts the life and death of Jesus. But the turning point of human history- the dividing line is over whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead which according to Paul (1 Corinthians 15:12-20), dictates whether or not you will rise from the dead.

If you want to know what Paul is suggesting in this passage, it’s that if Jesus did not resurrect, Christianity is untrue – it cannot be trusted, its a false religion and is a waste of your time and attention, as well as my preaching ministry, so you might as well throw out your Bible. This is why Christianity hinges – the faith stands or falls on this event observed on Easter Sunday.

Noted Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell (More Than a Carpenter) wrote, After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings–or it is the most remarkable fact of history.

Although evangelical Christians like me think the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming, the more important question is, “Why does it matter? It matters because if it’s true, it’s the source of our hope. It gives meaning to life. It means disciples of Jesus have a future.

It’s what strengthens us – our faith, when times are tough living in a world of death, disease, mass-murderers, evil, poverty, pain and suffering.

The key is that if there’s no resurrection- there’s no redemption. As vv.15-16 of 1 Corinthians 15 tells us, my faith is “futile” or worthless, if my past, present and future sins have not been forgiven permanently and conquered for good by a savior that rose from the dead to prove it.

No resurrection? Then we have nothing to look forward to, no hope- maybe ‘Nirvava’ someday if you’ve lived a series of wonderfully reincarnated lives ahead of you as a Buddhist, or some sort of heaven if you’re a Muslim who has worked hard enough, been good enough, maybe killed enough, if you’re been hard-core enough following the Hadiths.

Or, you could wind up food for maggots as the Darwinian evolutionist might think. Or, as verse 18 of this chapter implies, if there’s a God whose a just judge, and someone hasn’t come in your place as a substitute to pay the price of your sins for you, you will suffer and pay that price, in what the Bible calls the “wages of sin, which is….. death”, meaning hell as the separation from God eternally.   

Fortunately, that’s all contradicted by the fact that the tomb is still empty, Jesus Christ is a risen and coming again lord and savior who  conquered sin and death. If you trust in that fact by faith, God counts to you, the righteousness of Jesus (Romans 4:24b-25; 10:9).

This truth is what undergirds the resurrection, hope and future for Christians, a hope that is waiting for the completion of something good that we can expect- in this context, the completion of our salvation with joy and full confidence that it’s coming sooner than we may think (1 Peter 1:3).

As that old wonderful song says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” May that be true for you.

The Four Roads to God- the Way to Salvation

Bernie Diaz, April 9, 2019

As our church is focusing on Resurrection or Easter Sunday and identifying and focusing in on “our one” person (minimum) to invite to the Super Bowl of all Sundays coming soon, I was reminded of that one thing to do which instills so much fear into the heart of too many believers- talking God to CEO (Christmas and Easter Only) “Christians”.

As our church continues to move through the book of Romans (The Gospel of God), we’re in the section of scripture where the message of justification by faith moves from God’s divine sovereignty (Romans 8-9) to mankind’s responsibility to not only believe, but for Christians to prayerfully preach and present the gospel to the lost and unredeemed in our lives (Romans 10:5-21).

The challenge for disciples of Christ is what to say and how, as they share their testimony and God’s plan of salvation when they are confronted with, or in the midst of, unbelieving skeptics and critics of the faith.

All Roads Lead to God?

The disciple-making responsibility of the Christian, which begins with evangelism, is made more difficult by the rising trend of unbelief and agnosticism among us. According to recent research, more than half of Americans still say they believe in God without any doubts, but they are a shrinking majority.

In the past 15 years, the percentage who say they know God exists and have no doubts dropped from 65% to 53%, according to a national survey. Couple that with the growth of the religious unaffiliated and one may think Americans are increasingly rejecting God completely. In 1991, 6% of Americans claimed “no religion.” Today, almost a quarter of Americans (23%) say they don’t belong to any religion.

The rise of agnosticism (literally, ignorance of God’s existence) is affirmed by the fact that Americans aren’t embracing atheism (denial of God’s existence) as much as they are rejecting certainty about God. Today, 5% of Americans say they don’t believe in God at all—slightly up from 3% in 1993.

What Americans would prefer, is their own road or way to God or heaven or whatever place of paradise for eternity they have custom-made in their minds. The modern mantra of the unredeemed may be, “All roads lead to God, if there is a God at all.”

I would dare argue that most people today would love to be able to have access to God- if it were most any way they wanted.  After all, why can’t there be more than one way to God? They ask, “Is it fair that Christians say there’s only way (John 14:6)?” 

The question matters. The issue of how we know God or a heaven is real, is a critical one because it’s at the heart of what gives your life and mine meaning. It’s why we examine life, as someone said “A life unexamined, is a life not worth living.”

Might I dare to suggest that there is perhaps more than one way or road to God after all? In fact, the principles found in the Bible seem to suggest there may be as many as four roads to God. Are they four different roads or are they four paths to the same road?

In order to help Christians make other Christians by virtue of evangelism and the gospel, we’ll travel here on each of these roads or paths and see where they lead us..

The 4 Roads to God

Road # 1 Creation: For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks (Romans 1:20-21, ESV).

Our world-view or philosophy of life, the way we choose to live, is generally predicated upon what kind of creature we think we are. It’s been said that we live as we think.

For example, If one thinks he’s just a higher form of an animal, and this world is all there is before we die, then you’ll live in a way consistent with that view.

However, if you believe that you were made in the image of a creator God who you are then accountable to for your life and one that may come, you’ll be prone to live that way.

So, essentially, mankind has two choices. Either we evolved out of slime accidentally, by random chance, or we have been intelligently designed or made with a heavenly pattern and purpose. The implications of this choice are profound as you try to find the road to God, or a road to God or just peace and love.

That was the case for Rosalin Picard, an MIT professor who in a biographical article of her life journey said, “In high school, I led a classroom debate team arguing for a godless form of evolution, confident my side would win because “this was science.” When the class voted and awarded victory to the creation side, I was dumbstruck. Most people didn’t understand science, I figured.”

This intellectual after several invitations from a godly couple, began to attend church worship services, heard gospel preaching for the first time in her life and after reading through the Bible, also began to truly think, as she added, “While I never heard actual voices or anything to justify summoning a neurologist, I felt this strange sense of being spoken to. It was disturbing yet oddly attractive. I began wondering whether there really might be a God.”

Road # 2 Conscience:  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them (Romans 1:18-19).

The Bible in Romans 1 tells us that we “suppress” or push away the “truth” that God has “written in our hearts” (Romans 2:14-15) about ourselves and our nature without a right relationship with Him. So, our understanding of creation actually works through conscience to point us towards God.

As H.L Mencken said, “Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking.”   

God’s word says our conscience can excuse or accuse us, or, it can indict or convict us.  Just what would it convict you of?

It should convict you of your sin and rebellion towards God and the price we must pay for that rebellion and sin (Romans 6:23).

That inner voice did its work on Picard, who noted, “There were two passages I found especially troubling: Matthew 10:33 (“But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”) and Matthew 12:30. I resented what felt like an unwelcome ultimatum. I didn’t want to believe in God, but I still felt a peculiar sense of love and presence I couldn’t ignore.”

Road # 3 Communication: The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple (Psalms 19:7).

God could have chosen many ways to reveal himself and did so most generally to the entire world, through the roads of creation and conscience. It is through scripture (holy writing) however, in which He has primarily communicated to people through His written word.

It is through the words of this book that God gives new life which is why that same word states that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”, according to Romans 10:17.

So, in this sense, the Bible tells us that the book itself, is necessary for life transformation- for redemption, and is a road to God and salvation from the penalty of sin.

But, can the lost trust the Bible? Well, no other book is like it- it is: reliable, prophetic, unified, durable, sufficient and authoritative. As importantly, it’s real. It explains us and our world in a way that corresponds to reality. It best answers at least four great questions that man-kind has been wrestling with for centuries:

  • How did we get here (Creation)?
  • Why are we here (Meaning)?
  • Why are we the way we are (Morals)?
  • Where are we going from here (Destiny)?

Road # 4 Christ: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Why must Jesus Christ be the final road and ultimate path to God? First, because the communication of God points to the Son of God. Second, because we need forgiveness for our sins that offend a holy God, and it is only He who provided that road to forgiveness for us with the death of His own Son.

Salvation is defined in the original Greek language of the New Testament as being a rescue or deliverance from something. That something is the consequence of sin, which separates us from God eternally and condemns us to judgment in hell (Hebrews 9:27).

The reason why Jesus is the only way of this deliverance or salvation (Acts 4:12) is because Jesus is God (John 10:30) and only God can forgive sin. Therefore, how did the Son of God accomplish this redemption? By being God incarnate, he made the only substitutionary sacrifice necessary and possible for sinners on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Having taken the unbelieving skeptic through at least one or more of these roads leading to God, the Christian would then be ready to confront the person they are witnessing to wit the fourth road, “What will you do with Jesus?”  When considering a similar question, C.S. Lewis, the popular British author and philosopher argued that essentially Christ was either the Lord, a liar or a lunatic. He said :

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. 

Lewis is right and people must make a choice. The greatest news in the history of the world (the gospel) is that Jesus Christ- God in the flesh, died for sinners and conquered sin and death by His resurrection, as believers in Him will also. 

So, what should we tell people to do? Virtually everyone wants a road to justice, love and forgiveness. Tell people – “your one,” to confess they’re a sinner before God, to repent, or turn from their life of sin and self and submit and surrender to Jesus Christ alone, trusting and believing in Him as the only one that can save them from judgment and then they will have found that one and only road to eternal peace, justice, love and forgiveness.

Put people on the road to redemption this Easter as Rosalin Piccard found it, when she concluded, “I once thought I was too smart to believe in God. Now I know I was an arrogant fool who snubbed the greatest Mind in the cosmos—the Author of all science, mathematics, art, and everything else there is to know.

Today I walk humbly, having received the most undeserved grace. I walk with joy, alongside the most amazing Companion anyone could ask for, filled with desire to keep learning and exploring.“

UnPlanned – The Movie and the Necessary Response

Bernie Diaz, April 3, 2019

The movie Hollywood and the liberal left didn’t want you see, is being seen and is doing fine, thank you.

Despite a profound and perhaps conspiratorial cloud of ignorance if not censorship brought from mainstream media and advertisers, the pro-life film “Unplanned” earned double the box office sales expected for its opening weekend, even while dealing with a blackout on social media as well –  most predominantly by Twitter, which briefly suspended the film’s account, reportedly because of it being linked to a different account that had “violated the website’s rules.”

How convenient and coincidental? Twitter restored the film’s account soon after a big outcry from users, which led Chuck Konzelman, co-director and co-writer of the movie, to say that the suspension was “a sad state of affairs.”

Based on the life of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned anti-abortion activist, the movie raked in over $6.1 million over the weekend, already meeting and about to exceed its production budget.

This debut made Unplanned the third biggest opening weekend film released by Pure Flix, the production company behind “God’s Not Dead” and its sequel “God’s Not Dead 2”.

What is even more remarkable about the success of this pro-life film was its   “R” rating (Restricted to unaccompanied viewers 17 and older) and its exclusion from ads on most of the major cable television networks.

Why the Hubub?

There is one reason for the uproar and controversy over the release of Unplanned, which was screened in 1,000 theaters on Friday, March 29th.

Unplanned is maybe the definitive movie on abortion ever produced, in exposing its insidiously evil, blood-lusting industry, thereby sparking more pre-release controversy than any film in recent memory.

The explanation for that is not that complicated and the reason for all the drama is not necessarily because of the R rating.

The R rating Unplanned received is ironic, in the sense that it does not contain the usual R rated themes of sex, nudity, or foul language. What it does according to a pro-life advocate quoted in Newsweek magazine, “It pulls back the veil surrounding abortion, and reveals it for the truly gory and violent act that it is.” She added, “Even the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) recognizes abortion as truly horrific. The irony is that a teenager as young as 13 can get an abortion without her parents’ consent, but cannot see a movie about abortion unless she is over 17.” 

Could the controversy be because the film exposes Planned Parenthood for the abortion factory and big business that it is? Or is it because we currently have federal and state elected officials and presidential candidates from what I would label “the party of death,” almost casually supporting infanticide (the timing for this movie couldn’t be better)?

The uproar more likely is about the person who inspired the movie but will never be able to see it: the 13-week-old baby boy who was aborted right before the eyes of Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson on September 26, 2009. He changed her forever. Johnson’s testimony reveals that he is the reason this movie exists. And by portraying his short life in the womb, this film validates the reality that this baby indeed was a person who had a life and a right to live it, until it was extinguished by a Planned Parenthood “doctor.”

The scene is short but powerful. According to a news report, the filmmakers of Unplanned, took actual ultrasound footage of a 13-week-old baby boy, like the one Abby witnessed. Then, using CGI technology, they created the abortion that took his life. It is as powerful as it is disturbing–and something the viewer needs to see if they can stand it and will never forget.

Obviously, Planned Parenthood officials and other pro-abortion supporters would rather you pass on this film, which accurately depicts the inherent personhood of all unborn children facing abortion, who are hardly ever known or seen and who have no voice in which to defend themselves.

Yet that baby’s death has led to far-reaching implications for the abortion industry, including by God’s grace, the transformed heart of a former abortion facility director. Abby Johnson has thus far helped at least 500 abortion workers leave the business, to say nothing of the amount of  babies she has helped saved from abortion as a result of her ministry and pro-life stance.

In addition, 40 Days for Life has helped nearly 200 more abortion workers leave their job; Abby Johnson was the 26th. She managed the Planned Parenthood where 40 Days for Life began; a support ministry which has offered free pregnancy tests and alternatives to abortion. This peaceful prayer-based campaign has now gone to 816 cities in 56 countries.

Her story and this movement may be fueling a revival among evangelical and Biblical Christians to engage in what is arguably the most important social justice issue of our times, and among the youth of this generation as it touches on the related themes of discrimination (i.e. against the unborn), the sanctity of life, the true dignity of women and motherhood, morality and sexuality.

The pro-life issue is the primary one that our church in South Florida is concentrating on, as we’re about to launch a new Sidewalk Counseling and Prayer Ministry, now further emboldened by the historic and courageous portrayal of the ministry which impacted Abby Johnson’s life and happened to close down a Planned Parenthood facility in Texas.  

There are many good reasons to see Unplanned whenever and however you can. Films like this need to be supported for the dramatic sunlight they shine on the darkness of abortion. They make a difference.

If this movie angers Planned Parenthood to the point of vitriol or silence, it must be doing something right and must be cause for those that love the unborn as ‘neighbors like themselves’ to be encouraged, as God may be moving providentially within the pro-life movement. In the first three months of 2019 we’ve seen:

– 250 bills restricting abortion have been filed in state legislatures.

– 41 states have seen some abortion-restricting bill proposed.

– Seven states have proposed total bans on abortion.

– Six states are down to one abortion provider.

While many if not most pro-life bills fail to become law, this is the path the great Christian reformer William Wilberforce took to end slavery in Great Britain. He proposed unsuccessful bills again and again until finally one of them passed. We can hope and pray that God will bless those kind of efforts to change hearts and provide these little ones the protection they need.

But the primary reason you should see this–and why Planned Parenthood does not want you to see it–is because of that 13-week-old baby boy. He had no voice and now he has a movie.

Why so Many Christians are So Pro-Life

If you’re asked by pro-abortion sympathizers why you as a God-glorifying and Christ-exalting, people- loving Christian emphasize the pro-life movement so much- why so many of us care so much, simply tell them what God tells us:

  • God is the sovereign creator and sustainer of life from womb to tomb (Psa. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:5; Lu.1:39-44).
  • Abortion is murder and murder is sin (Exo. 20:13). Regardless of whether or not abortion is legal in this country, and the pain and fear mothers are undergoing in crisis pregnancies notwithstanding, abortion is still premediated murder, in the taking of the life of an innocent human being.  
  • Christians are to speak truth, mercy and justice in the defense  of those that cannot defend themselves (Psa. 82:3-4; Pro. 31:8; Eph. 5:11).  

Deliver those who are drawn toward death and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. (Pro. 24:11; ESV).

Let us honor the lives of the unborn and pay homage to those infants who have gone through the same barbaric death as the one that touched Abby Johnson’s life, a death that although Hollywood rated R, should not be forgotten.  Make plans to see Unplanned, prayerfully spread the word and join the tens of thousands now commemorating the lives of the preborn with this movie and engaging in this life-saving movement.