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Uncomfortable Truths for a Nation Grieving Over School Shootings

Image result for santa fe school shooting Bernie Diaz, May 22, 2018

Just when the gun-control movement thought they had it all figured out in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting here in February –  ‘just ban assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons and all will be well and students will be safe’ …..

Problem: mass murders are not exclusively committed with particular weapons as again evidenced by last week’s tragedy, in which a 17 year-old shooter and a student at a high-school in Santa Fe Texas, gunned down 20 plus victims, killing 10, among them students and teachers. His weapons of choice? A shotgun, such as the double-action kind that millions of law-abiding Americans safely use for hunting and self-defense purposes and a .38 caliber pistol. Those are not massive, high-powered automatic type weapons folks.

So, what now? Ban every gun or weapon in the United States (of which tens of millions are already in circulation)? Is that the ‘silver bullet’ or magic pill to curbing school campus violence? How will that happen? What about the second amendment of the U.S. constitution which permits gun ownership and is a right that has been affirmed again and again by even the most liberal of Supreme Courts?

This is not to say that local and state governments should sit idly by and do nothing to combat school violence. After all, airports, courthouses, public and private buildings have taken serious steps over the past few years to secure their buildings. Why shouldn’t school districts do the same?

As Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, a professing evangelical Christian said after this most recent event, “In the midst of such tragedy, we pray for the victims and those mourning in Santa Fe, while we work to ensure swift and meaningful action to protect our students in schools across our state.”

Pray and Work. As a wise theologian said many years ago, we of all people as disciples of Jesus Christ should, “Pray as if everything depends on God (which it does) and do as if everything depends on us.”

That said, we fallen and fleshly beings depend more than a bit too much on the latter effort.

Although there are many prudent steps that schools could take to better safeguard students nationwide (i.e. metal detectors and plenty of armed security), the greatest emphasis has been placed on legislating away guns or concentrating on mental health diagnosis and the sharing of background information.

While such actions are well-intended and a few may even be sensical, they are far from full-proof. While the Stoneman Douglas shooter from our local community, carried a load of red-flags pointing to mental health issues and dysfunctional behavior that was not properly dealt with by authorities, the Texas shooter and the Fed-ex package bomber for instance, came from relatively stable homes and environments and had not exhibited any significant, previous abnormal behavior that was documented.

The Practical

At least one emerging pattern that has become evident from the recent epidemic of school shootings, is the ‘copycat problem.’ In a provocative post, Samuel D. James wrote, “… Literally hours after the deaths of 10 people, cable news outlets are promoting (yes, promoting) the alleged murderer’s Facebook profile, interviewing his classmates and friends, pasting his name atop the internet, and doing in-depth psychological profiles of his clothing and music.

Let’s face it: This stuff is either a ‘celebritization’ or else it’s a form of pornography, a soft-core concoction of tantalizing details and insinuations that titillate the imagination. Either way, this is a carb-rich media diet for desperate and violent men.

Yes, let’s face it- people in America- youth in particular, love and want fame. According to one statistician, many young people want fame more than they want success, meaning, or even family.

Think about it, if you’re not the most physically or intellectually gifted young adult among your peers, or if you’re a lonely, rejected and isolated teenager in your community, what would be the best way to become infamous overnight? Audition for American Idol or commit a sensationally heinous act of mass murder that would ensure your name and face’s exposure to millions around the world? Doesn’t everybody know and remember the monsters among us?

Writer Malcom Gladwell hit on a key component of the “copycat” problem in 2015, when he argued that the Columbine high-school shooting in Colorado from 1997 changed the paradigm:

The first seven of the “major” modern school-shooting incidents were “disconnected and idiosyncratic.”

Then came Columbine. The sociologist Ralph Larkin argues that Harris and Klebold laid down the “cultural script” for the next generation of shooters. They had a Web site. They made home movies starring themselves as hit men. They wrote lengthy manifestos. They recorded their “basement tapes.” Their motivations were spelled out with grandiose specificity: Harris said he wanted to “kick-start a revolution.” Larkin looked at the twelve major school shootings in the United States in the eight years after Columbine, and he found that in eight of those subsequent cases the shooters made explicit reference to Harris and Klebold. Of the eleven school shootings outside the U. S. between 1999 and 2007, Larkin says six were plainly versions of Columbine; of the eleven cases of thwarted shootings in the same period, Larkin says all were Columbine-inspired.

Here’s Gladwell’s chilling conclusion:

In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

According to early reports, there are indications that the Texas shooter engaged in behavior that sounds eerily like the Columbine shooting. He allegedly was regularly wearing a trench coat to school and his choice of weapons and explosives looked like the hallmarks of the Colorado massacre. In thinking about Columbine and Santa Fe, I can connect dots to Gladwell’s essay.

Therefore, another practical step that could perhaps stem the tide of this wave of school shootings is to de-personalize the criminal to the extent that his name would not be mentioned in the mainstream media in effect removing some of the copycat’s motive to commit the crime.

However, whatever the treatment may be, Gladwell points to the fact we are still dealing largely with young men in the grip of a terrible infection, with no cure in sight. Or is there?

The Spiritual

Once we come to grips as some officials already have with the idea that these acts are inherently evil, only then can we begin to deal long-term in the cure of this violent infection, which is the eradication of evil itself.

In fact, a recently published interview with the brother of the Parkland shooter – who apparently is an unbeliever, confirmed the notion I hold to that such despicable acts of evil are influenced or tempted by the enemy of our souls.

Zachary, the shooter’s older brother, described a sibling who self-admittedly was wracked with demonic oppression and was unable to overcome his opponent of demonic warfare; “He was listening to music really loud,” Zachary said. “He said something about demons. I hate saying it but I shrugged it off.”

Obviously, the acknowledgement of man’s depravity and a world of evil, implies the spiritual dimension of life and is not a place in which mainstream media is willing to go. As Christians with a biblical worldview,  we know better (Matt 10:1; Lu. 8:2).

According to a recent newspaper article, a guardian of the Parkland shooter noticed that his behavior became increasingly bizarre, almost as if “possessed,” she said. “He lost it. He went through a phase. He got crazy. Got weird, cold, distant; his face got mean,” she added. “Someone took over.”

Around Christmas of last year, shortly after his adopted mother’s death, the shooter began to act out in new ways according to the guardian, “He began making demon noises through the night. It lasted a few days”. She spoke of something like the sound of a dark, screeching, squealing horse that would echo through their trailer home. “Me and my mom were so afraid that we slept together, blocked the door with the dresser, machete in hand,” she said. “His fascination with demons continued to grow.

Whereas such testimony may not be conclusive, it is nonetheless informative and compelling for those that know that the heart of man as the prophet Jeremiah said, is, “deceitful and desperately wicked.”

Being that our world is cursed and infected by sin and evil (Ro. 5:12; 8:22) until Jesus returns to restore and redeem his creation, what then are we to pray and do about school shootings?

Working backwards, we understand the need to take common-sense steps or initiatives that better safeguard our children at school that do not infringe on the rights of people to protect themselves. That’s doing. That course of action though, is fraught with rhetorical and legislative landmines.

For Christians who understand the kingdom of God and heaven, as well as the great commission, we understand that now more than ever is the time to introduce people to the person and gospel of Jesus Christ, as the only way, truth and life and that can transform a demonically oppressed if not possessed killer, into a repentant, forgiven and born-again child of God.

Now is the time for the real American church of Christ to kneel down and ask for a movement of the Holy Spirit that will capture the hearts and minds of Christians to pray and undertake the armor of spiritual warfare on the behalf of others and those that are lost and trapped in a world filled with evil manifest in mass murder (Eph. 6:10-20). That’s praying and God talk.

May God begin to wield his cure to rid this world of the infection of evil by growing his kingdom and church in a fresh way. Let’s Pray and do.

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A Milestone for Israel and Christian Bigotry

Image result for Jerusalem embassy dedicationBernie Diaz, May 15, 2018

This week was a landmark one, if not a milestone in the history of the nation of Israel, when the United States participated in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence (May 14), at the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Just the moving of the embassy itself from Tel Aviv to the holy city (“Mt. Zion”) is a controversial move, that has been hailed by a number of evangelicals but has also led to mass protests and violence.

In fact, 60 Palestinians were killed in an armed skirmish with Israeli forces this week near some of the contested border areas inflaming tensions in a historically simmering region of the world.

Whereas this space does not allow for a comprehensive explanation and context of Israeli-Arab relations, sufficed to say the holy land is a relatively small and narrow piece of land of massive interest to the ‘three great religions of the world’ (Christianity, Judaism and Islam).

Biblically, we find that God promised this land to his chosen nation of Israel as part and parcel of the covenant he made with Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3). In this covenant or agreement with the “father of faith”, God not only promised the land of Canaan to the Jews forever, He also promised to bless those who blessed the Jews and curse those who cursed the Jews.

Consequently, millions of evangelical Christians believe that if they want God to bless them individually, and America collectively as a nation, then they need to bless the Jews. More importantly, Christians want to love those God loves and vice versa.

If that weren’t enough, millions of dispensational or pre-millennial disciples of Christ of which I count myself as one, believe that the remnant of Israel which remains during a future time of ‘great tribulation’ on the earth, will be redeemed by Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies pointing towards an earthly, Messianic kingdom reigning from Jerusalem.

This is why we need to explain to others, and to remind ourselves, why many Christians fervently support Israel and the Jewish people while others in the faith do so with varying opinions of the end times, on strictly moral grounds.

However, we must also remind ourselves that Israeli-Arab relations are more than a bit sensitive, due to complex geo-political events and diplomatic initiatives which have been enacted over the centuries, granting portions of the holy land to Palestinian refugees prior to Israel’s rebirth, further complicating matters.

Nonetheless, one of this country’s most worthwhile accomplishments has been its consistent support of the Jewish nation. No nation in the history of the world has a better record of treating individual Jews with respect than America. In 1948, it was President Harry Truman who helped persuade the United Nations to recognize Israel as a nation. Since then, the U.S. has contributed billions of dollars in aid to the democratically minded nation of Israel.

Christian Bigotry?

On a related note, former Governor of Massachusetts and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, condemned First Baptist of Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, for his past comments on Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and Hell, arguing that he is a “religious bigot” who should not have been delivering a prayer at the new American embassy in Jerusalem.

“Robert Jeffress says ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.’ He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem,” tweeted Romney, who is also a Utah Senate candidate and a Mormon.

Beginning with the follwoing two disclaimers, I would understand why Romney an allegedly devout Mormon, might take issue with Pastor Jeffress’ prayer and comments. Furthermore, Jeffress, an avid supporter and spiritual advisor to President Trump, has made more than a few controversial if not inappropriate statements in the past.

However, what Jeffress has stated is nothing more than classic, orthodox and historic Christian theology and doctrine with respect to salvation and redemption. “Historical Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith alone in Jesus Christ,” Jeffress declared. “The fact that I, along with millions of evangelical Christians around the world, espouse that belief is neither bigoted or newsworthy.”

Despite my past disagreements with Jeffress’ political involvement from the pulpit, I stand with his Biblically based position for the exclusivity and truth of the gospel.

When Romney ran for president in 2012, Jeffress caused some controversy by claiming during the primaries that Christians shouldn’t support Romney because Mormonism is a “cult.” After Romney became the Republican nominee, Jeffress revealed that he backed Romney as the “lesser of two evils” when Romney challenged former President Barack Obama for the White House.

Separately, Jeffress has said that although he finds Romney to be a “good and moral family man,” as a Mormon, he would not be considered to be a born-again follower of Jesus Christ.

From the biblical worldview or perspective, it must be said no matter how politically incorrect or unpopular it may be, Jeffress’s analysis of Romney’s faith is spot on, as it would be for any other Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, Jew or even a Roman Catholic –  anyone that would deny the deity of Jesus Christ, salvation by God’s grace alone, in Christ alone, based upon the scriptures alone. Therefore, if those doctrinal beliefs make Robert Jeffress out to be a religious bigot, then we can join him in wearing that label.

By the way, we would be in good company with true believers like the apostle Paul, who called out and cursed false gospels in his time (Gal.1:8-9). What virtually every false gospel or ‘cult,’ which is a religion claiming Christ though denying the essential elements of his life, gospel, mission and ministry, differ on in particular, are their views in contrast to Christianity on: revelation (scripture), man, God, Christ and the nature of salvation.

Aside from that, we can all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

But seriously, serious biblical disciples of Christ must love their unchurched, unsaved friends and family whether they are in a cult or not, and as such tell the truth to them “in love” with grace, courage and without compromise, as prayerful opportunity presents itself.

A notable Baptist leader told of a witnessing encounter with a Jewish rabbi who said to him, with some exasperation, ” I know that is what you believe, but do you have to say it?”

The preacher replied, “Yes, I do. My faith has in it something called The Great Commission, which is a divine command to share the Gospel with everyone. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul commanded Christians to go ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Rom. 1:16).

So, as a disciple of Jesus I am specifically commanded and called to witness to the Jews, God’s chosen people, that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah and Savior. If the price of respecting your faith is to disregard the commands of my faith, then the price is too high.”

Are you willing to pay that price Christian? The price of being called a bigot? I am.

Today’s Pictures of Life and Death – from Womb to Tomb

Related image Image result for alife evans and david goodall Bernie Diaz, May 8, 2018

Life and death controversies dominated a recent and busy news cycle over a fortnight (that’s two weeks) with ideas that challenge us to better understand how our worldview on end of life issues are just a logical extension of our beginning of life views. What do I mean by that?

Two headline stories intersected recently, illustrating for us how the culture of death in our society is not limited to the abortion debate, but consistently flows into how we view the end of life. At both ends- from womb to tomb with the cradle and the coming of age in between, our world continues to devalue the sanctity of life and the inherent dignity given it, by its creator and sustainer, God himself.

A Picture of the Grave

A 104-year-old Australian– a relatively healthy one –  as healthy as a centurion can be, started his journey to end his life in Switzerland, saying he “greatly regrets” living to his advanced age.

Botanist and ecologist David Goodall is traveling to the Life Circle clinic in Basel, accompanied by a nurse from the pro-euthanasia organization Exit International, the group’s founder said.

Speaking on his 104th birthday, Goodall said if he had one birthday wish it would be to die. “No I’m not happy. I want to die… It’s not sad particularly, what is sad is if one is prevented (from dying),” he told an Australian broadcaster.

The question of whether people should be able to legally seek help to die, what may be better referred to as, “medical or doctor assisted suicide” is a subject of fierce debate here and around the world.

Euthanasia, interestingly enough, is still illegal in Australia, including in Goodall’s home state although another region there plans to allow it next year. On our ‘side of the pond’, seven U.S. states now have a form of physician-assisted suicide, the most recent being Hawaii, joining a small number of countries including Japan, Belgium and Switzerland.

The founder of Exit International, said the option of traveling to Switzerland to seek medically assisted suicide was open to anyone, provided they had sound reason and fulfilled certain criteria. “My belief is that any rational adult should have the ability to access the drugs which would give them a peaceful, reliable death,” he said.

Here in America, the usual method of causing that death is via a prescription of lethal drugs to terminally ill patients. As you might imagine, evidenced by the case of the above Australian scientist, the criteria no matter how well intended is subjective, ripe for abuse and makes a complete end around the sovereignty of God, of who the Psalmist said,

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
(Psa. 139:15-16, ESV).

Goodall said in his interview ahead of his departure, that although he was still technically healthy, his physical condition and quality of life was deteriorating. “I might as well not have (my health) getting worse and worse, making me unhappy as it goes,” he said. There we have it. Quality of life (“happiness”) – as subjective a category as there is, should determine our time of death.

Who then is to number our days? God or us? Who decides on who is to live or die? You? Your parents? The state? All of those options are on the table when discussing a domain that had been left exclusively to God for centuries.

Hawaii’s assisted suicide bill’s opponents note it makes the elderly and disabled vulnerable to pressure to end their lives early for reasons other than extreme suffering. One of only two senators to vote against the bill, said he could never approve something that would create “an environment of hopelessness” for those already struggling with agonizing circumstances.

“My faith in God, prayers, and sense of hope got me through this,” the Senator said of his own battle with cancer.

“Because of this personal experience, I feel so strongly that we must always have hope and never give up.”

So, how did we arrive at a point and place in life where peoples and governments made subjective value judgments on life and death?

A Picture of the Cradle

If just stands to reason that if we attribute little value to the end of life, we probably began to pave that road to death at the beginning of it- namely, with abortion.

If we believe that human beings are expendable in a utilitarian vision which determines value based on relative usefulness and independence, then we have come to the theological conclusion that how you live determines if you are to live at all, because God cannot have much to do with life if anything.

Alfie Evans’s parents just lost their fight when their son died last week, after lingering for days at Liverpool England’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital without life support. Doctors, who didn’t expect Alfie to live that long once the plug was pulled, insisted his brain had degenerated beyond recovery and declared he should die.

In February, a High Court Judge there concluded from the doctors’ testimonies that severe brain deterioration due to an unknown disorder had left Alfie unable to see, hear, or respond to any stimuli. He admitted that “life itself has intrinsic value, however tenuous or vestigial its hold,” and a visit to Alfie’s hospital room, filled with toys and gifts from supporters, convinced him the child’s “life has true dignity.”

But paradoxically and hypocritically, that same judge ultimately decided Alfie would benefit most from having his ventilator disconnected. The U.K. Supreme Court upheld the decision in March, citing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Britain ratified in 1991. Under this treaty, the court ruled, a child’s rights “will, if inconsistent with the rights of his parents, prevail over them.”

An expert of legal studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights, said the courts have used the “free-floating principle” of a child’s best interest to trump parental rights in cases like Alfie’s, instead of using it “when parents have failed to provide protection for their children.”

Far from failing to provide protection, Alfie’s parents sought to transfer him to a hospital in Rome at the paid expense of the Pope with guaranteed Italian citizenship as a bonus. However, Britain’s High Court again rejected the couple’s appeal, and hours later, the hospital removed Alfie’s ventilator.

It’s not the first time British courts have overruled parents’ wishes to continue fighting for a disabled child’s life, and it’s unlikely to be the last. “It happens on a daily basis,” another official said. Last year, the world watched as parents Chris Gard and Connie Yates fought for their son, Charlie Gard. They took his case to the highest level of the British judicial system in an unsuccessful bid to stop staff at a Hospital in London from switching off his life support.

Alfie’s parents continued to fight for his life after he started breathing on his own last week. Despite Italy putting an air ambulance on standby to take Alfie to Rome, the court stood by his initial ruling that death was in Alfie’s “best interest.” Alfie’s parents then stood by and watched Alfie’s condition deteriorate until he died at about 2:30 a.m. on that Saturday morning.

The staunch refusal to release Alfie to another hospital’s care and his ultimate demise, serves as an example and warning for us who like to think that God and parents in that order, hold the proper authority for the care of their children.

This event pictures of course a seemingly unbelievable level of human arrogance, vanity and for all intents and purposes, idolatry, where “the enlightened” among us play God in a now Orwellian like dystopian world illustrated in more modern books and films like the Hunger Games and Divergent.

A New Picture?

Indeed, our once civilized society and its political systems are locked in a backroom battle over life itself. Iowa is on the verge of passing the strictest abortion ban in the United States, outlawing the procedure when a fetal heartbeat is detected, though some pro-life groups have said that they are disappointed that exceptions were allowed for cases of rape and incest.

The legislation passed by state officials, is now in the hands of Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.

Although Iowa already has a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks, this new bill looks to forbid doctors from performing the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can come as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Opponents to the bill, predominantly Planned Parenthood of course, described the effort as an “intentionally unconstitutional ban on 99 percent of safe, legal abortion, designed to challenge Roe v. Wade.” I always wondered what is safe about murder.

“The bill weaponizes fetal heartbeat, which is by all accounts an arbitrary standard that bans abortion long before the point of fetal viability,” said a PP spokeswoman. A-ha. “Viability” is the issue? What is that and who decides? Well, when it doubt (and inconvenient), terminating the life seems to be their idea.

Thus, according to a Republican state Senator from Iowa, the bill is “100 percent” aimed at challenging the 1973 Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.

How will that go? God only knows. I do admire however, the courage of this state legislative body that is willing to go where few lawmakers have and will go to recognize the sanctity of life and protect the lives of the unborn just as we should also argue passionately to protect the lives of the born, particularly the elderly and ill among us.

A Picture of Hope

Former first lady Barbara Bush, wife of President George H.W. and mother of President George W. Bush, passed away at age 92 after her own gutsy and God-glorifying battle with pain and suffering, was visited by her son and former Florida Governor Jeb, just prior to her earthly death.

It was then according to news reports that mother and son talked about their Christian faith. “Jeb, I believe in Jesus and he is my savior,” she told him when he asked her about her feelings on death.” She added, “I don’t want to leave your dad, but I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.”

My personal and theologically based conviction and hope is that the preborn among us who have been aborted are there in that “beautiful place” already.

May we continue to speak up for those that can’t, so their families may preserve that right to stand upon God’s truth and fight for life from womb to tomb.

The Spiritual State of the Union

Image result for bible reading group Bernie Diaz, May 1, 2018

Two major surveys polling attitudes of Americans towards their views of God and the Bible have been released indicating if not clarifying the spiritual condition of this nation. There is both good and bad news in the findings presenting interesting opportunities for the church.

The Good News?

80% of Americans Believe in God! According to the just released survey by the Pew Research Center, 4 out of 5 Americans say they believe in God. Really?

Well, God regularly gets mentioned in prayer, platitudes, and phrases like “God bless America” and “in God we trust” doesn’t he? Our kids in many schools still pledge allegiance to a nation that recites the slogan therein, “one nation under God…”, but according to the polls —even within ‘Christianity’—people have different conceptions of who God is and how he operates. Does God judge? Does God love all? Does God control what happens on Earth?

The Bad News?

The research seems to indicate that the way people view God—and how they believe God interacts with them—shifts by religious affiliation, gender, and political party.

Even in an era where more of the nation doesn’t ascribe to a higher power at all (10% – atheism) or believes in some sort of higher power or spiritual force (33%), a slim majority of Americans (56%) still believe in God “as described in the Bible” according to the Pew report.

But even belief in God can lead to different conclusions as evidenced by the disparity of views within the major religions or faith systems around the world, including what Protestants, Catholics, and Jews believe about God.

For instance, take two of the “People of the Book”: Christians and Jews. American Christians (80%) are most likely to believe in a biblical God, a minority position among Jews (33%).

A majority of American Jews view God as a higher power or spiritual force instead. Jews are less than half as likely (30%) as Christians (74%) to describe God as all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving all people regardless of their faults.

That result confirms the fact that many if not most Jews we come in contact with have rejected their religious roots and are more secular and ethnic than anything else. Seemingly, what counts for religion today is really nothing more than an indication that mankind is inherently spiritual.

That reality shouldn’t surprise us. Indeed, Solomon wrote that God ‘has put eternity in the hearts of man.’ The apostle Paul discovered as much on Mars Hill in Greece (Acts 17), when he observed the Athenian philosophers acknowledgement of the “unknown god,” which he used as an opportunity to present the gospel by introducing them to the one and only God of the Bible.

Higher or Lower View of the Bible

Generally speaking, a higher or lower view of the Bible itself as the divinely inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God will dictate one’s view of God, man and the world.

The Christian based Barna Research firm and the American Bible Society just released new research on behaviors and beliefs about the Bible among U.S. adults. The report issued three findings of note:

  1. Most Americans appreciate the Bible and wish they read it more often.

The largest segment of Americans fall into the “friendly” to the Bible category. They don’t engage the Bible regularly, but neither are they neutral, skeptical, or hostile. They see the Bible as an important book that has the potential to improve their lives, even if it’s not a source of wisdom they regularly tap into.

The Good News: Because they have a relatively high view of the Bible, the majority of Americans (58%) wish they read it more often. Of those who are friendly toward the Bible (the largest segment), a striking 78% wish they engaged it more often.

The research shows that every segment of Americans expressed a desire for more Bible reading, including one in five Skeptics and one in five non-Christians.

The Big Idea: although far too many Americans look to the Bible as a self-help and “me book,” as the best thing we’ve got going for us, we can at least take heart in that most people outside the church today are not as  hostile or skeptical or even neutral toward the Bible as we thought.

If we can assume some people appreciate God’s word as a source of wisdom and yes, even truth, then they may be more likely to appreciate our suggestions or input in helping them make Bible reading an ongoing part of their lives. After all, It is with that hope that the lost will find Christ (Psa.19:7).

  1. It’s likely that American views of the Bible are therapeutically motivated.

Older people read the Bible more than younger people, and women read the Bible more than men. – no surprise there. And many people say that they’ve gone to the Bible because of a difficult life experience or because they’ve seen the Bible improve someone else’s life.

Again, based on data from other surveys, it’s safe to assume that American appreciation for the Bible is not so much because it communicates truth, as much as its information and guidance to a ‘better life now.’ Many an agnostic or spiritual buffet consumer has looked to the Bible as a good source of morals.

The Good News: more Americans than you may have thought are still going to the Bible. Shouldn’t we build on this? If people have a somewhat ‘high view’ of scripture-  even for the wrong reason, we ought to meet them at that starting point and then invite them to learn more.

A Christian disciple attempting to make another disciple by sharing their testimony in light of this information might say, “Since I know that you appreciate the Bible, you may want to get into it more and find out if it’s more about life transformation than just information.”

Or, “You probably have big questions you need answered about life don’t you? There are four big ones people have been wrestling with for centuries:

  • Creation (How did we get here?)
  • Meaning (Why am I here?)
  • Morals (Why am I the way I am?)
  • Destiny (Where am I going after I die?)

Do you want to go on a journey with me to find out the answers?” I tell people I did over 25 years ago and God used the Bible to change my life forever.

  1. Printed Bibles aren’t going away anytime soon.

Perhaps the most startling takeaway in the research is that readers of the Bible overwhelmingly prefer a printed Bible (91%), even though they access the word of God in other formats (online, smart phone, and apps). Clearly, electronic forms of Bible reading are on the rise, but the arrival of the digital age has not changed Americans’ preference for reading the Bible in print instead of digital.

The Good News: I know for me personally nothing electronic or digital can replace the feel and sound of the word on printed pages, THE BOOK in the form of a book- all 66 books in all, where I can easily scribble in notes, highlight pages and thumb to other parts and cross-references quickly.

A printed and marked Bible as greater minds than myself have noted, also leaves a legacy to be handed down to future generations. That said, I thank God for my Kindle which holds an ever increasing part of my library of associated Bible material (i.e. commentaries, biographies, theology).

When all is said and done, as LifeWay’s Trevin Wax wrote, We’ve got our work cut out for us if we want to increase Bible engagement across America. Thankfully, we’ve got the opportunity to build on widespread appreciation for the Bible in our evangelistic efforts. We’ve got the opportunity to preach and teach in ways that exposit and explain the biblical text. And we’ve got the opportunity to show people why this Book has stood the test of time and how it can still change lives today.

At least that workload according to the data may get a little easier with God’s help, as we strive to help people turn their first Bible question from, ‘Who am I’, to ‘Who is I AM?’

The Key to Hospitality and Discipleship

 Bernie Diaz, April 24, 2018

In her new book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Christian author, speaker, pastor’s wife and homeschool mom Rosaria Butterfield, a believer converted out of a radical leftist and lesbian lifestyle, writes with engaging stories from her own life-changing encounter with radically ordinary hospitality, how Christians can use their homes as a means to showing a post-Christian world what authentic love and faith really look like.

While we might readily assume- properly, that hospitality is a means of fostering relationships and Biblical discipleship-  a foundation for my own church’s process of ‘maturing and multiplying disciples’, we might overlook gospel and neighbor loving hospitality as a critical means of ‘making disciples’ today.

For instance, Mrs. Butterfield in her riveting testimony speaks of a past in which just the “Very name of ‘Jesus’ stuck in my throat like an elephant tusk.” She relates that as a university professor and LGBTQ activist, she thought of the God of the Bible as: “Stupid. Pointless. Menacing.”

What Changed?

I was a broken mess. I did not want to lose everything that I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world.

While researching the “Religious Right” and their politics for a negative article she was about to write and publish about the 90’s Promise Keepers men’s movement, Butterfield was spurred to curiosity from a letter from a Pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church.

She would later write, “It was a kind and inquiring letter. Ken Smith encouraged me to explore the kind of questions I admire: How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right? Do you believe in God? Ken didn’t argue with my article; rather, he asked me to defend the presuppositions that undergirded it. I didn’t know how to respond to it..”

To make a long and compelling story short, fast-forward two years post-letter, where Butterfield made friends with the ‘enemy.’

She said, “Ken and his wife, Floy, and I became friends. They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. We talked openly about sexuality and politics. They did not act as if such conversations were polluting them. They did not treat me like a blank slate. When we ate together, Ken prayed in a way I had never heard before. His prayers were intimate. Vulnerable. He repented of his sin in front of me. He thanked God for all things. Ken’s God was holy and firm, yet full of mercy. And because Ken and Floy did not invite me to church, I knew it was safe to be friends.”

Butterfield continued in her autobiography, “I started reading the Bible. I read the way a glutton devours. I read it many times that first year in multiple translations. At a dinner gathering my partner and I were hosting, my transgendered friend J cornered me in the kitchen. She put her large hand over mine. “This Bible reading is changing you, Rosaria,” she warned.

With tremors, I whispered, “J, what if it is true? What if Jesus is a real and risen Lord? What if we are all in trouble?”

The Gospel Key

Whether we would agree or disagree with Pastor Ken and Floy Smith’s evangelistic methodology and rhetoric with Rosaria Butterfield, what we can take away, was their warm hospitality, as they invited Butterfield over for dinner in their home and not on an infrequent basis.

Her hardened walls of sin and deception were broken down by loving hospitality to the extent that she eventually accepted her hosts’ church worship service invitation, which she attended, heard an expository sermon from the gospel of John and repented, trusting in the same Jesus Christ for salvation that she had cursed years before.

Hospitality was the key to her salvation in much the same way that Jesus Christ dined with tax collectors and sinners in the hopes, desire and expectation of ultimately winning them to the kingdom, much to the chagrin of the religious leaders of his days (scribes and Pharisees).

Butterfield in her book shares her lessons learned from her personal experience in a way in which disciples of Christ today, would catch the vision to duplicate the ministry that led her to life transformation in Christ. The following is an excerpt:

10 Things You Should Know about Christian Hospitality

  1. Hospitality reflects the gospel.

Faithful Christians are—and have always been—a strange minority in a hostile world. Redeemed by Christ, we have lost our old lives—and with our lives, we have left behind the history, identity, and people who once claimed us. Conversion starts with the sacrifice of what once was, and the gospel provides for what we have relinquished through hospitality (Mark 10: 28–30). The gospel comes with a house key, and that key unlocks the “hundredfold” of God’s provision of family and community for others. Hospitality is the ground zero of the Christian life.

  1. Hospitality is spiritual warfare.

Hospitality that gathers brothers and sisters alongside unsaved neighbors and strangers isn’t charity or kindness; rather, it takes the gospel upstream of the culture war—where it belongs—and shakes the very gates of heaven for the souls of our neighbors. When we are in each other’s lives daily, we are not operating with ignorance or stereotypes about other people and their “lifestyles.” At our house, when the meal is finished, the children pass around Bibles and my husband, Kent, begins nightly practice of family devotions, where all are welcome to join. My neighbors know that they can leave, but usually, they don’t.

  1. Hospitality makes room for different kinds of hosts and guests.

Every Christian is called to practice hospitality, but that does not mean that everyone practices it in the same way. We practice hospitality by sharing our resources and our needs, by serving as both host and guest, as Jesus did when he walked this earth. Hospitality works on the same principle as tithing. You are either giving, or you are receiving. You are either building up the body, or you need the body to build you up. All of us have a stake in hospitality because Jesus does.

  1. Hospitality is the Benedict option on mission.

St. Benedict, the 6th century father of western monasticism whose response to the collapse of Roman civilization helped preserve the Christian faith, has received renewed attention with Rod Dreher’s 2017 publication of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. We Butterfields practice almost-daily hospitality, including table fellowship, Bible reading, psalm singing, and prayer.

This comes out in the wash as Benedict option on mission. Over the years, we have learned how to help each other without being asked. We are a set-apart people. We love the church, and we extol her virtues, and we call others to come into God’s family.

  1. Hospitality requires unity in the church.

When I lived as a lesbian in a diverse LGBTQ community in New York in the 1990s, someone’s home was open every night for anyone in our community. The AIDS epidemic simultaneously terrified and unified us, and it was unthinkable that anyone in our community would be left alone in chronic and extensive ways, especially during such desperate times.

My lesbian partner and I opened our home on Thursday nights, and I learned back then how to cook for a crowd of unknown numbers, and make serving others a priority, even in the midst of a frenetic professional life. If the church felt the priority of our brotherhood and sisterhood over and against our fleshly identities, we too would make hospitality a priority.

  1. Hospitality nurtures and grows the family of God.

Chronic loneliness should never be the norm in the church. The church is God’s family, and we should live in daily community. Chronic, debilitating loneliness in the midst of the great assembly of God’s people devastates lives, and sadly, this cancer is growing in the church.

Nourishing the family of God and compelling those outside of God’s favor to come to your table are the twin heartbeats of hospitality. We must seek those outside of ourselves with intention. What would our church family look like if we had members whose participation in social programs brought the outside in?

  1. Hospitality is good for the giver.

People whose lives are riddled with hidden sin patterns hate hospitality. They fear its openness. They moan about its burdens. Their idols leave no room for competition. And maybe it isn’t egregious sin that causes the barrier. Maybe it is domesticated sin.

Maybe they care more about their boundaries and their white carpet than they care for their church family or for the eternal state of their neighbors.

Hospitality puts our lives and hearts on display. It compels us to confess and repent, to live below our means, and to build in margin time for the unexpected needs of others.

  1. Daily hospitality is good for the children.

It’s good for children to watch their parents living the gospel in regular, nightly table fellowship. They watch you warmly embrace neighbors who think differently than you do, and they hope that maybe, just maybe, their secrets are safe with you.

They watch you live gospel fluency, handle conflict, make sacrifices, and they see unbelievers come to Christ at the kitchen table. Your children behold that Jesus really is King and really is alive, and that he isn’t just some prop you pull out on Sunday morning or for youth group.

  1. Hospitality is expensive.

Hospitality takes money and time. Daily hospitality multiplies the Butterfield food budget. It also keeps me in a daily pattern of chopping vegetables, kneading bread, and soaking dry beans. By 4:30 pm, the rhythm of our house shifts from homeschool to hospitality. While our teenage son is still doing homework, and our younger daughter is practicing the piano, I start picking up the house for table fellowship and Kent starts thinking through the passage for tonight’s family devotions.

My single friends from church come home to a warm meal with many friends waiting to embrace them. Other families from church start to wander in. My neighbors know that I am often able to do childcare after school, so we regularly have children from the neighborhood here. All of this takes time, money, sacrifice, and flexibility.

  1. Hospitality is worth it.

Hospitality develops eyes to see. It sharpens the saw of God’s word on our hard hearts. It develops bold intimacy among people who would never have reason to be friends. It grieves the loss of missed opportunities to serve (Matthew 25:42–45).

Jesus identifies with the stranger, the outsider, the needy. Daily hospitality hones a distinctive Christian culture from within as it embraces evangelistic optimism, knowing that if God wills, strangers will become neighbors and neighbors will become part of the family of God. Who knows? This may happen at your kitchen table tonight.

Though we cannot all be Rosaria Butterfields with our hospitality, what kind of kingdom difference could we make if we opened our homes a bit more with the gospel key in and out of the church?

Today’s Thing to Do- Render to Caesar!

Image result for tax day 2018 Image result for render to caesar Bernie Diaz, April 17, 2018

If you’re unfamiliar with the film or TV series of many years ago, The Untouchables, or the classic The Godfather, an infamous and real-life Mafioso figure by the name of Al Capone, embodied the fictional and non-fictional characters of an underworld kingpin of crime during the early to mid-20th century.

Though law enforcement agencies struggled mightily to arrest and convict “Big Al” on charges of: Bootlegging (i.e. smuggling and selling alcohol), bribery, blackmail, extortion, assault and battery and attempted murder (i.e. “making people an offer they couldn’t refuse”), he was finally brought down by a crime that can get us all.

That crime emanates from the latter of those two earthly realities most of us struggle to avoid – “death and… wait for it… taxes!” In 1931, the ‘untouchable’, Eliot Ness, coordinated the arrest and case against Capone that brought him down with the one crime this “godfather” considered so small that he hadn’t even bothered to cover his tracks: the crime of tax evasion.

As Cripplegate blogger Clint Archer noted, “Capone had been making $100 million a year illegally, but the only thing they could prove for certain was that he didn’t pay taxes on those earnings. Capone was convicted of three counts of tax evasion and two counts of failing to file tax returns. This was enough for the courts to put him away for eleven years.” He died by the way in prison. God’s providence and justice is as real and certain as death and taxes.

Well, Tuesday, April 17 is the deadline for Americans to submit their annual income tax returns and pay or attempt to minimize that which they must pay or owe “Uncle Sam” or this nation’s federal government.

Being that Christians are commanded to submit to the governing authorities over us (Ro.13; 1 Pet. 2) and in the Lord Jesus Christ’s own words, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matt. 22:21),” tax evasion is not an option for the Christian no matter how enticing or ethical we may think that may be.

 The Taxman

“He Works, He Votes, Generally He Prays – But He Always Pays.” – William Graham Sumner –

Simply said, the idea is for citizens, led by the example of law-abiding Christians, to give, even when it hurts, because God-ordained governments need the resources of its people to function- to protect, to secure and to serve (i.e. national security, roads, transportation), even when some of those resources are immorally allocated, such as in the case of the nearly half-billion dollars of tax-payer funds that will go to Planned Parenthood this year for the business of murdering preborn children via abortion.

Notwithstanding our government’s regressive if not excessive system of taxation and legislation (i.e. our country’s multi-trillion dollar budget deficit), Christians are free to join any American in making their voices heard in demanding change by changing its elected officials at the voting booth, as the opportunity will present itself in this fall’s mid-term elections.

God himself through the prophet Samuel, warned Israel to be wary of tax and spend governments (1 Sam. 8:1-22). That said, taxes have always played a role in the worship and governance of God’s people. From the earliest time worshippers understood that what they had earned was still a gift of God and giving back a portion in sacrifice to Him was the essence of practical worship. In fact, the first murder in world history, came not as a result of tax evasion a la Capone, but of an insufficient or unworthy sacrifice (Cain).

Israel had a God-ordained tithe to support the Levitical priesthood, as well as the various other offerings and contributions, not only in ‘religious rites’ but also in support of the civil government, tallying as some have calculated to over thirty percent of one’s income.

Yes, governments like the United States are often irresponsible with the collection and expenditures of its tax-payer resources, but God still gives it to it to them to use at the risk of abuse, as part of his providential purposes of redemption now and earthly restoration later.

It may help to remember that ultimately no money is yours or theirs (Uncle Sam). It’s all God’s anyway (Psa. 50:10) and whatever we get here and now, is icing on the cake from above (Ja. 1:17) before the ten-fold kingdom riches we will receive from him for eternity.

Our responsibility is to obey God and somewhat cheerfully part with what is required by law (though not a ‘shekel’ more if we can help it). After all, Our God who feeds birds and clothes lilies promises to take care of our needs if we seek him first (Matt. 6:25-34)

If you don’t owe anything as you file your tax return, thank God for the blessing of having had more of your hard earned dollars to manage throughout the year, enjoying what was left over to God’s glory, along with whatever ‘refund’ you may receive, knowing whatever amount you get, is more than you deserve and much less than the abundance you will receive in Christ now and forever more.

China and the Fight for Freedom – Present or Future “Babylon?”

Image result for china religious persecution Bernie Diaz, April 10, 2018

Though I am not given to predictions and daily news eschatology (the study of end times), I found it more than a little interesting that just one week after leading a small group study at my church from Revelation 17-19, about the rise and fall of a future ‘Babylonian’ kingdom, two stories arose about what the nation of China is doing with its citizens, harkening to that future ‘one-world and one-religious’ system referred to as an evil empire to come.

The first story concerns the elimination of the sale and acquisition of the  Bible in China, which appears to have been removed from online marketplaces as Beijing clamps down on how its citizens practice religion.

Though China has always controlled sales of the Bible, only allowing it to be distributed and printed by state-sanctioned churches, in recent years it had been available to buy online. That loophole now appears to be firmly closed by its communist government as it again appears ready to further restrict religious freedom in general and Christianity in particular.

Being the futurist that I am theologically, meaning I believe that most of the events described in the book of Revelation, echoing much prophecy concerning Israel and the world, will take place in the future, describes how earth’s major religious and political movements to come during a final tribulation time of judgment will attempt to exert absolute control over religion and commerce.

Just because I might have begun to connect some dots between China and a futuristic Babylonian empire, please don’t think I am suggesting that we are currently in or about to enter this tribulation period, however ominous some of the signs may be.

This era or the end of our age of history that I believe the Apocalypse (or Revelation; “unveiling”) refers to, I think will fall under God’s sovereign decree and yet largely utilize the influence of Satan, symbolized as a “Dragon,” accompanied by two “beasts”: one being the figure commonly known as “antichrist” and the other, a “false-prophet,” a charismatic personality, to achieve these purposes, including the accumulation of much of the world’s worship of the time, for that antichrist (Rev. 17:1-18).

Where does China fit into that? Many biblical scholars say future Babylon will not be a rebirth of that historic kingdom of 700-600 BC, but could be a major influential world city or empire like the United States (think a New York City or a Los Angeles), or a London, Paris or Bejing?

After all, virtually every age of human history has already featured a “Babylon” of sorts, a political and economic system or empire that has sought to control people’s hearts, wallets, minds and destinies (i.e. Egypt, Greeks, the Medo-Persians, Rome, Nazi Germany, USSR).

Fortunately, Revelation also tells us that just as the first Babylon fell, its parallel future kingdom will too at the hand of God (Rev. 18:1-20). But that reality should not detract from the fact that there is more than one country around the globe attempting to control its masses today and disciples of Jesus Christ must be aware of them, living as citizens of the kingdom of God.

Missional Christianity is, has always been and will be continue to be challenged by secular, world powers and must not stray from its Great Commission mission to make disciples regardless. The obstacles however are formidable.

The Removal of God

Sarah Cook, a senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House, said the sales ban on the Bible “is an important example of how internet censorship intersects with restrictions on religious freedom.”

“Sensitive religious topics and groups are among the most censored in China,” she said. “In our research we found the Chinese authorities increasingly using more high-tech methods to control religion and punish believers — including surveillance and arrest of believers for sharing information online.”

For those unaware, religious practice in China has been tightly controlled by the government for decades, with the five recognized faiths — Chinese Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Taoism — supervised by official organizations within the nation’s oversight.

According to a recent five-year plan on Christianity in China, published by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), the “principle of independence and self-management” is important in their view, due to the “humiliating history of the Chinese people” and the use of Christianity by the powers of “colonialism and imperialism.”

Indeed, China’s current religious stranglehold echoes both past and future Babylon, a spiritual prostitute or harlot, pictured as an evil woman symbolizing a controlled religious system, in contrast to the true church of Jesus Christ symbolized as a pure virgin (Rev. 19). Such countries enact religious systems which prostitute themselves for personal gain, figuratively denoting the practice of idolatry.

The idea of a people being unfaithful to God has been consistent in every age, reflected in “harlot” nations, who persecute God’s people and will culminate in the last days in a worldwide apostate religious system likely using modern tools of technology to do so.

The Control of Technology

Could it be technologically possible for a government to monitor and control its citizens as never before? Well, China is now going to take advantage of that capability.

According to the second news report I mentioned, China is in the process of implementing a “social credit system” that will give points for good behavior and deduct points for bad behavior.  In one administrative district, everyone starts with 1000 points.  If you get a traffic ticket, you lose 5 points. Other demerits will be issued for things like cheating on video games, smoking on a train, being late with your rent, failing to pay fines, causing trouble on plane flights, and spreading false information.

Don’t worry, you can also add points. Chinese citizens would be able to  earn a city reward for heroism to get 30 points. Other rewarded activity includes donating blood and doing volunteer work.

Furthermore, on the basis of the accumulated points, everyone is assigned a grade, from A to D. Some bad behavior will make you lose not only points but a letter grade.  Drunk driving will drop your score to a C.  If you are in the triple A range, you get perks such as being able to ride public bicycles for free, receiving a $50 discount in your heating bill, and getting more favorable bank loans if you want to buy a house or start a business.

Bad grades however, could cost them the ability to get loans, face travel and college enrollment restrictions and even frozen assets.

All of that is to be made possible by our contemporary information technology, with its capacity for record keeping and for allowing different information-collectors to “talk” with each other, all monitored by an all-knowing government.

The plan is scheduled to be fully implemented by 2020.  Already, though, elements of the plan are in force. It was announced that beginning on May 1, those with low social credit scores in China will not be allowed to board trains or airplanes for up to a year.

The social credit system is the brainchild of Communist party leader and head of state Xi Jinping, whose accession to absolute power was recently topped off by the elimination of term limits for the office he holds. His plan sets up the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted.”  It is designed to reward the “trustworthy” and to punish the “disobedient.”

Does this sound anything like a certain “beast” found in the scriptures? 666 anyone? Thanks to our information technology, a government can now control its citizens, using both carrots and sticks, in almost every area of their lives, completely extinguishing any kind of individual rights, religious and civil liberties.

This has long been the totalitarian dream, and we should not be surprised that a country like China–which has seemed to have found a way to make Communism work economically for now–is eager to implement such a system.

Who needs prison camps when current and future ‘Babylons ‘can prevent a critic of the regime from buying a house, educating his children, or leaving his town? Controlling citizens by granting or withholding the everyday, ordinary requirements of life and faith are age-old means of oppression.

We know who is behind it all, as the book of Revelation indicates, but better still, we who are in Christ, know that the enemy of our souls is a dragon on a leash, and God has empowered his Christian soldiers to forge on ahead showing and sharing Christ to this embattled world, empowered by the one in us, ‘who is greater than the one who is in the world (1John 4:4).’