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Symbols, Statues and the Need for ‘Dependence’ Day

Bernie Diaz, July 3, 2020

I’ve been around for a while and I can’t remember the last time a July 4th weekend and upcoming Independence Day, seemed so dour or dark as this one- and that’s not just because the beaches of South Florida are closed down, due to our latest COVID-19 breakout as inconvenient as that may be.

Yes, the pandemic seems to be rearing it’s ugly head again, leading to a resurgence of new cases in most of the country, including at record levels in my state, now regarded as one of the nation’s “hot-spots.”  

But of almost greater concern to me, is the state of the United States of America, which seems more divided to me, than at any other time in my lifetime. The sexual revolution which began as a late 60’s – early 70’s drizzle, brought a tidal wave of cultural and political upheaval to our nation over the last two decades, but even that seems to pale in comparison at the moment, to the crisis of a country struggling to retain a sense of its own collective identity, as it prepares to celebrate (?) it’s 234th birthday as an independent nation.

Protest crowds across the nation have been defacing or toppling monuments and destroying statue after statue, while cities and states- particularly in the south to little surprise, are debating whether or not to continue the public display of the confederate flag and names of confederate veterans and leaders from their places of historical heritage, which still stand as symbols of slavery and racism to tens of thousands of African-Americans, particularly in the aftermath of the George Floyd police killing, among other high profile incidents in which Black citizens have been killed by white police officers more recently.

As we’ve noted in this space before, racism and race relations are “a thing.” It’s real and it’s real complicated (Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt.1). Race is America’s blind spot – the biggest blight on an unprecedented record of national prosperity and blessing, perhaps without equal in world history.

However, the problem of race or better yet, ethnocentrism, has always simmered at the American surface, and certain events – from court decisions or cases of police brutality have lifted up the lid of pent-up prejudice and animosity, leading to heated rhetoric, race-related protesting and rioting, pouring gas on an already explosive flame.

In response to such civil unrest, we’ve argued here that the issue of race is more about sin than skin, and that a proper theology of God and a right anthropology of man, can help make sense of a crisis like ours.

America’s history on the one hand is great, and on the other hand, is checkered in more ways than one, and the American story changes depending on the storyteller.

There is the story of America’s founding, which began on the shores of New England as the result of missionary pilgrims of puritan sensibilities seeking a land to practice pure Protestantism and gospel witness in a new land. The original thirteen British colonies declared their independence in a fight for freedom and formed a federal government and system that was grounded in a Biblically influenced Judeo-Christian culture, which espoused values like law and order, traditional family and freedom – based on the principles of self-government and personal responsibility, in a culture which respected God and his providence over a people. That story is admirable and true.

Then there is the American story of slavery and race. A story of image-bearers of God, whose primary distinctive according to their “owners” who twisted scripture to suit their own depraved and economic desires, was a life of subjection based upon their skin tone and being profiled as inferior human beings, who were subjected often times to forced labor, discrimination, oppression and the violence of beatings, public lynchings and later fire hoses, from a legacy of unjust Jim Crow laws and segregation. That story is abhorrently true.

As Pastor and Author Kevin DeYoung posted, America’s history is mixed and its gospel relationship to race, has been often scrutinized: The history of God and race in America is, as Mark Noll (a notable evangelical historian) puts it, a “tangled history” filled with “moral complexity.” On the one hand, the Christian faith has been a prominent feature in American history and has often been a beneficent force at home and abroad.

Noll wrote, “Christian altruism, Christian philanthropy, Christian consolation, and Christian responsibility are not the only forces for good in American history, but they loom very large and have had very positive effects.” And yet, Noll admits that “the American political system and the American practice of Christianity, which have provided so much good for so many people for so many years, have never been able to overcome race.”

A true, non-fiction story contains tragedy and redemption- good and evil doesn’t it? Why should America be any different? Israel, God’s own “treasured possession”, a nation he unconditionally elected to be his own lighthouse of his love and law to the world, escaped four plus centuries in Egypt, only to enslave pagan neighbors themselves, disobey Jehovah’s commandments, commit the most egregious acts of idolatry (including infanticide), engage in their own civil war and face decades of captivity or isolation as punishment and discipline for their centuries of spiritual adultery.

It may be argued that the U.S. has been and is now suffering much of the same fate- and for some of the very same reasons as Israel did and does, including the rejection of her Messiah. God gave America a light. Christ the Cornerstone by way of his cross, provided a foundation for a powerful nation, rich in resources and knowledge, and yet, continues to fulfill God’s history of redemption in displaying a people that were taught, tested, failed, restored, retaught and retested again and again. That is the U.S.A.

What to do with the Signs and Symbols?

History should be taught and acknowledged. American’s checkered past should be celebrated and mourned at the right time and in the right place and in the right way. The land of the free, has not been so for some of its people historically, but it has been known as the ‘land of opportunity’ and remains the bastion of immigration world-wide. People still love to come and chase the ‘American Dream.’

My family of Cuban immigrants is grateful and indebted to God for his grace, having enabled my parents to come to America as exiles at the dawn of the communist dictatorship there.

Our nation is a just big reflection of our world- a creation of fallen, sin-cursed creatures who bear the creator’s image at the same time we rebel against our creator and fall prey to the “whole world (which) lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jo. 5:19b).

Let’s not destroy every vestige of our flawed but unique history as a country, rather capture and display it in its most gracious and appropriate venues. For instance, the Confederate flag in case some of you didn’t know, is the symbol of a coup- a failed experiment of a movement that wished to divide this nation and shed the blood of more than 650,000 lives over “state’s rights,” to keep and even expand a slave trade and culture that abused an ethnic people.

I respect and heartily approve the state of Mississippi’s bipartisan action to remove the long-revered image of the confederacy from its state flag. NASCAR racing has decided to remove the ‘rebel’ flag from flying over its events. That’s a big move. For opponents of that idea, what would they think of Nazi Swasitka’s still flying over Germany’s republic as a commemoration of that bit of history?

In the respect for law and order- decency and the love of neighbor, I think it wise to support the government removal of statues, monuments and like symbols from open, public places of some historic figures that obviously represented hate and racism beyond the pale (e.g. Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest of the KKK) and move them (not by the destruction of property by protestors), to museums, places of education and reflection, rather than memorial and celebration.  

Let’s remember, acknowledge and take the best we can from our heroes of faith and the flesh, as flawed figures who were human in every way, without blotting out their history, such as Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, to  David, Solomon, the apostles of the church like Paul, to more contemporary figures like Martin Luther, Washington, Lincoln, MLK Jr., Regan, Obama and Trump.

Would America be America, if it changed the name of our nation’s capital because the “Father of our Nation” and first President owned slaves at Mt. Vernon? Should his accomplishments and legacy be erased?

Each of the above figures among so many others, in their own way can claim accomplishments that will mark American history and found to have been sinners, corrupted by the world, their flesh and the devil to one degree or another, and yet did much and hopefully found redemption in Jesus Christ, in the final chapter of their story.

Let this Independence Day in our country, be a time of reflection and a cry for a day of dependence– more than ever for the grace and mercy of our God to restore and repair a broken nation.

Civil War Continues in the Sexual Revolution

Bernie Diaz, June 25, 2020

As if we didn’t have enough battle fronts to contend with in the current culture war in America, which a growing number of pundits are referring to as a potential, new ‘civil war’, in describing our nations divisions in the wake of civil unrests linked to cases of police killings, another battle was quietly waged and lost for the soul of our country and objective truth last week.

It happened when the supreme court ruled that a landmark 1964 civil rights law could be applied to protect homosexual and transgender identifying workers from discrimination in a historic victory for LGBTQ+ supporters, that they will undoubtedly celebrate in the midst of “Gay Pride Month,” in June. I would rather call this ruling a loss for this nation, for the general welfare of its children, families and the idea of Bible-based truth renewing our culture.

The six-to-three verdict in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, is the latest and biggest victory for LGBTQ special rights since the court made same-sex marriage the law of the land in 2015.

The implications and the consequence of this supreme court decision which again practically makes new law where none previously existed (which happens to be the responsibility of Congress- the legislative body of the United States), are far-reaching and will likely be felt deep and wide for some time to come.

Justice Neil Gorsuch (a President Trump appointee joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and the four members of the court’s liberal wing) in his majority opinion wrote, “Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Although the justice’s stated opinion and motive behind it, may seem benign if not worthy of consideration on its face at first glance, danger may be lurking behind it in a way that Biblical Christians should be aware of.

One chilling effect of the decision is that it redefines the category of sex in American law. The Title VII language of the Civil Rights Act forbids   discrimination “against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Nowhere in the statute does it say that “sex” was intended to include sexual orientation or gender identity. Sex as defined and intended by this law is a fixed and immutable characteristic – meaning an unchanging, physical attribute such as biological gender. Now, by virtue of this decision it includes sexual desires, actions and self-made identity as protected classes worthy of extra-constitutional rights. 

Whereas in contrast, the founding fathers and historic American law had always understood sex as it pertains to the law, to follow God’s creative design and purpose for it, as described in its “good”, clear, pre-fall order set forth in the book of Genesis:

… then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature… 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him… 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.. 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2:7,18,22,24, ESV).

Another consequence sure to arise in future courtroom dramas as the result of this ruling, will be what to make of school locker room and bathroom facility policies which still restrict in most states access for safety reasons, to the traditional and binary reality of gender.

Furthermore, couldn’t a male gender-dysphoric youth struggling with his sexual identity, now be able to successfully sue a school – public or private, for access to those female facilities by virtue of his own, subjective identification? I would say that hypothetical will be more a question of how soon, not if.

As troubling, would be the likely pressure exerted upon religious schools (secondary and university) and places of worship that would now be forced to hire employees that don’t live by the tenets or confession of their faith, particularly with respect to God’s created order of sexuality, under fear of a lawsuit should they defy this court decision and unprecedented interpretation of the Civil Rights amendment.

Disciples of Christ must be frustrated and weary of how SCOTUS (The Supreme Court of the United States) has again usurped the will of the people and authority of the legislative branch of our government, by making moral laws from the bench which threaten religious liberty and advance the sexual revolution.

We’ve seen that reality played out already in the legal battles which have economically crippled Christian bakers, photographers and bed and breakfast owners who tried to stand against these kind of judicial decrees by conscience, in the aftermath of the Obergefell decision that legalized same-sex marriage. 

Are Christians Discriminating?

At face-value, we might ask, “What can be wrong with anti-discrimination laws? Isn’t discrimination always a sin?” Well, as per the above definition of the anti-discrimination language of the Civil Rights Act, the idea is that we are not to discriminate or show bias against a person based upon their immutable, human characteristics that jibe with reality (i.e. gender and ethnicity or “race”).

Certainly, as per my last post (Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt. 2), discrimination in the modern sense of the word, as showing prejudice towards or partiality towards another based on their ethnicity or gender or even economic class (Ja. 2:4-9) is called sin in scripture.

However, discrimination in the sense of discernment– meaning to rightly divide truth from error, what is right and wrong and to wisely make decisions, is not only permissible but necessary in order to live life and even share gospel truth.

For example, when we hear preaching or “church” teaching which denies an essential and orthodox truth of the Christian faith, such as the deity of Christ or his substitutionary atonement to justify sinners by faith, we are to be “discriminating” and call out such preaching to be the heresy that it is.

Therefore, words and their meaning matter. The fact of the matter is that the Christian’s opposition to, or discrimination towards homosexuality and transgenderism would not have ‘been a thing’ or controversy at the time the Civil Rights Act was signed into federal law, or up until as recently as less than a generation ago, since our society’s laws and culture reflected the Judeo-Christian values of normative sexuality and identity, affirming two millennia of church history and doctrine.

The legitimization much less the legalization of an LGTBQ community, was a non-issue in American history and mainstream thought until only recently. Bible-based Christians oppose the sexual revolution and its radical agenda to redefine sexuality and family, because God does, as clearly revealed in his word (see Genesis 2 above and echoed by Jesus in Matt. 19:4-6).

God’s written revelation lays out an unambiguous sexual design for mankind consisting of one biological man and one woman, marrying for one life on earth- that’s the blueprint and it’s unmistakable.

Why Does it Matter?

The supreme court decision (Bostock) as described above, jeopardizes the bedrock institutions of family and church, with the former being the first and best community in which children can survive and thrive, in an environment of proper and stable role models, which leads to stable societies.

The latter institution of church, and its freedom to operate and speak as God has intended, is put at risk by such legal warfare, as we draw ever nearer to the day, in the good ole’ U.S.A. when gospel speech may be criminalized as hate speech.

How Do We Respond?

Actually, hope is mandated for the Christian who knows and wonders at God’s story, of which we find ourselves in that section of the timeline we understand to be the time of redemption (Lu. 4:18), with restoration of this broken creation not far behind (Ro. 5:12,15; 8:18-21).

The disciple of Jesus Christ should not be surprised to find our nation in its current state of turmoil (e.g. a COVID pandemic, civil unrest and a sexual revolution), as we are simply joining other kingdoms and epochs of history, in which an “unrighteous” or wicked society, chose to honor and worship the creature and its creation, rather than its creator (Ro. 1:18-23), leading to a period of God’s wrath to be brought upon such a society, often through its inclination to sexual depravity and perversion (Ro. 1:24-28).  

Despite the disappointing news of another supreme court decision gone wrong, we have a hope of glory which sanctifies and strengthens the church to continue striving to be the loving and truth-telling dose of salt and light that this nation needs for a time such as now. The war continues for now- but we win in the end.

Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt. 2

Bernie Diaz, June 17, 2020

The fog that prevents many of us from seeing the issues of race clearly as I argued in last week’s post in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota, became thicker just a week later, after an officer shot and killed a 27-year-old African American during a routine sobriety check that went wrong outside a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia.

Unfortunately, a peaceful demonstration the day after the incident again turned violent when protesters set the restaurant on fire, further inflaming public and national calls for social justice and aggressive police reforms if not the abolition of local police altogether, demonstrated in the current standoff between protestors and law enforcement officials in Seattle, Washington.

There, under pressure from protesters, police have virtually ceded control over part of the city’s downtown area (CHAZ — Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) to activists who are practically holding that zone under siege.

The fog was dense enough already to weave through both the reality and complexity of the issue of race in our COVID-19 infected country before this latest police related death, further drove American race relations to the precipice of a cliff that is even harder to see through our cultural fog.

Sin not Skin

In part one of this post, I began to make a case for Christians to lead a way through the fog with a Bible-based vision that centers around gospel reconciliation (Eph. 2:13-16). It is the idea that those that turn to Jesus Christ for salvation can find the peace and cultural diversity that most desire, through the unity found at the foot of the cross of Christ (Gal. 3:28), where everyone: “red, brown, yellow, black and white are all precious in his sight,” by virtue of being equal image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Acts 17:26) who differ more by their national or ethnic roots, rather than their level of melanin – the tone of their skin.   

Those that follow Christ as disciples, understand by their call to color-blindly love their neighbors (as the Good Samaritan did) is that there is a danger in falling off either side of the cliff of extremism with respect to race.

The extremism exists between those that claim discrimination and prejudice are no longer an issue or problem in America due to the elimination of legal and institutional racism, and those that insist that systemic racism is alive and pervasive in this country, to the extent that ‘white privilege’ is brutalizing, or at least dehumanizing and oppressing blacks and other minorities in the face of data suggesting otherwise.

Neither view will do for Christians holding to a biblical worldview. Therefore, what are we to do and how can the church of Jesus Christ lead the way?

       Grace not Race – 4 Steps to take in Biblical Reconciliation:

  1. Study (“be an approved workman” 2 Tim. 2:15)

It stands to reason before anyone- Christians in particular, begin to speak about the issue of race or ethnocentrism, that they would strive to know what they are talking about. In other words, Christ followers need to develop a theology of race or ethnicity according to God’s word and to follow the biblical admonition to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.”

Indeed, believers need to think about the nations, tribes, tongues (Rev. 5, 7) and even economic classes of people as God does, who is no, “respecter of persons.” Half of the second chapter of the New Testament book of James, declares the sin of showing partiality (discrimination or bias) illustrated by the prejudice which even took place in the early church, where Hellenistic Jews (Greek widows that converted to Christ) were being neglected in the benevolence feeding of the church in Jerusalem, necessitating the ministry of Deacons to serve them.

What we find in scripture interestingly enough, is that race is a social construct that does not exist as a legitimate human distinction, since we are all members of only one, human race. That fact is why our nation’s problem is sin, not skin. As notable black preacher and author Voddie Baucham said, “The concept of race is not a biblical concept. It’s not a biblical idea. It is a constructed idea. You won’t find the idea of races in the Bible unless you find it in the proper historical context where we see, number one, that we are all the race of Adam. One race, one blood.”

2. Listen (Pro. 10:19c; 18:13)

My views of ethnocentrism took greater shape- clarity in my own racial fog, after speaking at some length with an African-American friend of mine – a brother in Christ, whose perspective I sought and received as to what has taken place of late. His desire was that a White-Hispanic man like me, would focus on the need right now to display empathy and engage in real dialogue. That essentially was it.

He didn’t want to talk about the Floyd case in any detail or crime statistics of black on black violence, things that may be germane and relevant to the greater issue at hand and public policy, but rather to just understand right now, what everyday life can be for a black man.

In other words, he just asked me to listen to his story in the wake of Floyd’s death, including what it felt like to be seen as an alien from another planet entering into certain stores or being pulled over on more than one occasion while driving, not having broken any laws, traffic or otherwise.

Subsequent to that meeting, I was shaken in reading the powerful and gripping testimony of Christian hip-hop artist, Reformed preacher and writer Shai Linne, who powerfully detailed his own testimony in recapping his email response to a white sister in Christ seeking his post-Floyd views.

In wanting to share the “opportunity to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ and ‘mourn with those who mourn”to the body of Christ, Linne in an excerpt from an essay that related at least seven experiences he’s had as a black man in America, wrote: It’s about being told to leave the sneaker store as a 12-year-old, because I was taking too long to decide which sneakers I wanted to buy with my birthday money and the white saleswoman assumed I was in the store to steal something….

Linne added, It’s about intentionally making sure the carseats are in the car, even if the kids aren’t, so that when (not “if”—it happens all the time) I’m stopped by the police, they will perhaps notice the carseats and also the wedding band on one of my visible hands on the wheel (which I’ve been taught to keep there and not move until he tells me to—and even then, in an exaggeratedly slow manner) and will perhaps think to himself, This man is married with a family and small kids like me. Maybe he wants to get home safely to his family just like I do.

Sadly enough, my friend, a black attorney, was told by his Law School professor that having a ‘Baby on Board’ sign visible on his car would serve the same useful purpose to him.

Linne in another account said, It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin

Conclusion? Racism- subtle as it may be and more overt for some, exists.

3. Seek (justice- Pro. 24:11-12b; 31:9)

Although the social justice movement has been radicalized in the name of “virtue signaling” and “intersectionality,” it may be argued that ethnic majorities or non-minority citizens in this country have too often failed tocall out real injustice when they see it and call for biblically based justice in our society and communities.

God is a God of justice and demands that his own children reasonably seek it for others. When the prophet Micah wondered what the Lord wanted from his people during a time of strife for Israel, their solutions might have called for more Sabbath worship or sacrifices. Instead…

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Mic. 6:8)?

The prophet Isaiah, in rebuking and calling the nation of Judah (then  separated from Israel) to repentance in a time of wickedness, wrote, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause
(Isa. 1:17).

That is our justification to enter into the fray of true social justice in at least interpersonal dialogue. Would that justify Christians joining in protests for racial justice? Opposing ‘police brutality’ and joining the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movements? Traveling through that fog is for another post.

4. Speak

So, what do we say or preach today? After studying, listening and seeking to understand, we can talk about both God’s law and order and gospel grace. Yes, we can correct the dangers of extremism while telling others that rioting and looting is wrong, and yet call for justice for all at the same time – as well as the respect for law enforcement. That’s all biblical.

We can also tell the truth in love as I have preached this month, that we can only ‘bring about a semblance of peace and justice to our country and its communities, because a utopian form of perfect, social justice and peace cannot and will not exist in this sin-cursed and fallen world.’ Not yet, until Jesus comes back. Our struggle now to find racial peace and justice, is what beckons us to cry to God for mercy.

Until then, Christians must speak about the peace of reconciliation with God that can be found only by his grace, a grace that supersedes issues of race found in the forgiveness of sins by the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt.1

Bernie Diaz, June 10, 2020

Are we now dealing with a world ‘spinning out of control’ as one news-report click baits and suggests, in the aftermath of the double-shot crisis of Coronavirus and racial unrest in America? Or, might our current, national life be about trying to find our way to God, justice and peace through a societal and cultural fog, which clouds our vision and confuses our path?

I hope, pray and believe it is the latter scenario, due to the fact that as Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun” and God has made a way.

Mankind has been here before. I’m old enough to remember the tail end of the last major, racial crisis in America that was broadcast far and wide on TV screens more than 50 years ago and stretched out institutionally and systemically to as recently as just a few decades ago (remember Rodney King and O.J. Simpson?).

Unfortunately and tragically, violence, hatred, racism and disease, are all constants as part of God’s story in this sin-cursed world, where we have been living in the consequences of the second chapter of history – the fall of man for thousands of years, in the midst of the third chapter – the opportunity of redemption, as we await the fourth and final chapter to come – the restoration and renewal of God’s creation, being the culmination of HIStory (‘God’s story’).

The fog however is dense and painful to pass through, as you might imagine how painful it can be to step through a forest filled with rocks, trees and dangerous animals lurking in a distance near and far, which cannot be readily seen. Thankfully, I have a pretty good compass to find my way through the fog to the other side of my destination.

Of course, the compass I’m referring to is the Bible, the all-sufficient, special and living revelation of God, which manifested itself in this world in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I believe there is a God-given biblical path to grace that will cut through the fog and supersede race. Before we get to where I’m going though, I’ll begin to make an argument for where we don’t want to go- particularly from the Christian perspective or worldview.

The Reality and the Complexity

It must be acknowledged that there is both absolute truth and complexity that has arisen from the aftermath of the shocking death more than a week ago, of George Floyd, an African-American man while in the custody of a white, Minneapolis police officer, after having been arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a store.

Cries for social justice from cries of pain, anger and frustration have been and continue to be poured out of thousands of Americans, seen in mostly peaceful protest, though violent protests resulting in rioting, looting and the ransacking of personal property, also broke out in several American cities, led by more than one faction, undermining much of what the protest movement might have had to offer in the divisive discussion of race going on in our nation right now.

Make no mistake, a considerable amount of this country’s population is divided in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, not just in the red and blue of politics, but in the red of shed blood and the blue uniform colors of law enforcement. Our culture, often driven by social-media saturation hasn’t helped the issue, pushing people to take one of two extreme, either/or positions.

The first, might be the idea that racism in America does not exist. The argument is that problems of race have been largely eradicated and is a virtual, non-issue, with the vociferous protest to the Floyd case being overdone and seen as unAmerican, due to institutional and legislative progress made in this country from the Civil Rights movement- ironically, achieved in large part by peaceful protest.

True enough, it may be argued that institutionally segregated schools, buses, lunch counters and public facilities (“whites only”) no longer exist in this nation. From that standpoint, race relations have improved, interracial marriage is a reality and job opportunities and prosperity have increased greatly for African-American society and for that I am grateful to God.

However, it may also be argued that black-Americans are still disproportionately profiled and targeted for undue police attention and other, more subtle forms of racism. Where there may be a lack of conclusive data to make that point, there is the reality of the nature of sin.

As I preached to my church last Sunday concerning this matter, racism exists, because hatred exists and hatred exists because pride and sin exist in the wicked and deceitful hearts at one level or another, of men and women.

What our culture defines as “racism” today may be more broadly speaking, prejudice, which is a preferential bias, that can be either favorable or unfavorable. Usually, the term prejudice most often refers to a negative opinion, not based on conclusive fact or experience, but formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge. Furthermore, prejudice targets groups or types of people (ethnic and cultural) rather than responding to people as individuals.

So with that definition in mind, why would any Christian think that the age-old sin of racism or more properly, one’s prejudice or ethnic superiority has been eliminated, any more than the sins of greed, murder, lying, fornication and adultery have? Such a notion is naïve and inconsistent with a biblical view of man or anthropology (Romans 3:10-23).

Christians should know better. All we need to do is sit down and have an honest dialogue with more than one Afro brother or sister in Christ or unbeliever and listen to their life experiences (see my next post- Pt.2) as I’ve been doing more of late, to understand.

After all, the professing American church has contributed to this divide, having historically dropped the ball big time on the issue of race. Prior to planting the church I serve as a Pastor, I came from a ministry with a racist background unbeknownst to me at the time our family arrived there. In the generation prior, bigotry was rampant in the name of Christ incredibly enough, having separated whites from blacks in congregational seating and baptisms, to say little of its not so subtle, school ministry segregation.

“Racism” unfortunately, is a shameful and historic stain on western Christendom that cannot be honestly denied, evidenced by a segment of the church’s support of slavery through the 18th and 19th centuries through the Jim Crow era.

True disciples understand that the world is the world- we can’t be surprised by racism and hatred from among the unregenerate. But when you see or hear about it from the church- from those that profess Christ, there are almost no words to describe the incredulity.

The second extreme position of today’s toxic, racial divide, is the view that being part of the white majority (“white privilege”) is a social crime worth punishing in and of itself and that the mere suggestion that ‘All Lives Matter’, encompasses the reality that all ‘Black Lives Matter (including the unborn),’ brings public ridicule if not job loss to others. This is evident in the debate over the role of police going forward in the aftermath of ‘Floyd.’

The extreme position there is to not only “defund”, but to eliminate local police departments altogether as we know them, as called for by Minnesota’s local city council. This one particular case of fatal, police brutality that just occurred, has now led more than one city government to move towards a law-enforcement less municipality that while caught up in the emotions of the moment, fails to explain how it will keep it’s citizens of all ethnic backgrounds safe from crime and violence.

One Minneapolis community activist said in a USA Today article, “We’re safer without armed, unaccountable patrols supported by the state hunting black people.” The inflammable rhetoric aside, might citizens of that city reasonably ask, ‘What happens when there is a school shooting?” Or, “when a drug deal goes wrong? When a woman is raped? What happens when gang leaders kill or hostages are taken?”

In light of the fact that an estimated 16,000 plus people were murdered in our country, according to the last year’s available FBI statistics, the above questions might be fair, you think? As one state’s Attorney General said, “This defunding makes as much sense as cutting funding for a hospital or a school where a doctor or teacher has engaged in criminal conduct against a patient or student.”

Accordingly, the mere suggestion that there may be another nuanced and balanced way to reform rather than replace police, may lead to a verbal attack from the politically correct police, that are pushing the growing “‘woke” agenda of intersectionality, where different forms of alleged discrimination interact or intersect with each other leading to social change movements.

In recent years, it has become a feminist buzzword, describing the cumulative, societal effects of “systemic discrimination on people who belong to more than one disadvantaged group.” For example, a woman may be oppressed by the anti-women crowd; a black woman faces anti-woman and anti-black bias; a black lesbian woman faces anti-woman, anti-black, and anti-gay bias and so on and so forth.

The point of intersectionality is that the victim of only one type of discrimination may have a hard time identifying with those who face multiple types of oppression. And for white people, you need not apply for inclusion in this.

Thus, American society is being pulled in two opposite and extreme positions on race and culture. Fortunately, the cross and the person of Jesus Christ has the both/and solution to the problem.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28, ESV).

I’ll offer the scriptural solution in our next post (Cutting Through the Fog of Skin and Sin- Pt.2).

Peacemaking for a Time Such as This

Bernie Diaz, June 2, 2020

“If I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are you all doing? … That’s not going to bring my brother back at all.” – Terrence Floyd, brother of the late George Floyd –

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9, ESV).”

If persevering with the dangers, depression and upheaval of COVID-19 weren’t enough, America erupted into a degree of civil unrest, not seen since the “race riots” of the late 1960’s this past week, in the wake of the death of African- American George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25th.

At least 40 cities (including most of my home region of South Florida) have imposed curfews and National Guard members have been activated in 15 states and Washington, DC to try and squelch the violent side of protests that have resulted in looting, damaged property and threats to people and police, amidst the cries of , “No justice – no peace!” by protestors.

All of this has come in the aftermath of the actions of one police officer, who was seen across the country on video, with his knee on Floyd’s neck while making an arrest for a non-violent crime, leading to his being  charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. However, thousands of protesters nationwide say the charge isn’t harsh enough, and the justice they demand isn’t coming fast enough, as they’re also demanding charges for the other officers involved.

Peace seems to be the last thing that a number of the protesters are seeking, as police were provoked to use tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and low-flying military helicopters to clear out crowds that defied curfews across U.S. cities early this week, including our nation’s capital and a Chicago suburb, where at least two people died during the protests.

It is painfully apparent that cooler heads- I would say cooler, Christian heads must prevail, in order to bring about a semblance of peace and justice to our country and its communities. I say a “semblance” because followers of Christ understand that a utopian form of perfect, social peace and justice cannot and will not exist in a sin-cursed and fallen world, filled with followers of Satan (Jeremiah 17:9; John 3:19-20, 36; 8:44) until Jesus Christ returns to set up his kingdom on earth and restore God’s creation.

Racism is grounded in hatred, the kind that has been personified in some of the protests we’re witnessing and arguably in the hearts of some in law enforcement whose negligible and irresponsible actions may have resulted in the high-profile deaths of now three black Americans over the last month including George Floyd. What to do?

In the absence of a biblical worldview, America- its judicial system and the voices of its culture are struggling to find the answer. ‘Killer Mike’ a rap artist with an ironic name if there ever was one right now, made an emotional plea for calm as a protest in Atlanta against police turned violent.

According to CNN, the demonstration started peacefully, but some protestors broke storefront windows, torched cars and vandalized the cable TV network’s headquarters.

“I am the son of an Atlanta police officer,” said the rapper and activist, who was joined at a press conference by Atlanta’s Mayor, among other officials who criticized the looting among protesters not only citing the greater economic damage that violent demonstrations will likely bring that city, but also noted that such protests greatly contradicted the peaceful, non-violent and largely successful methods of the civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr.

While on the one hand Killer Mike said, “I am duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy”, he added on the other hand, “It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth.” This comment was made on  camera as Mike wore a T-shirt that read “Kill Your Masters,” a lyric from one of his rap group’s songs.

So, while one should sympathize and grieve with Floyd’s family and friends and prayerfully seek to understand the anger that boils under and above the surface of such messages and protest, that kind of public rhetoric above, not only sends a mixed message of justice, but it may even inflame more violence and conflict.

Real Peace

Many if not most people feel that the mere absence of conflict results in peace. Unfortunately, that idea is temporal at best and outright untrue at worst. According to historians, less than 90% of the last 3,500 years of recorded world history have seen peace on earth. Treaties that are not bathed in truth and reconciliation are eventually burned.

Interestingly enough, governments are mandated to order a degree of civil peace by punishing evil and promoting that which is good, but are limited by their infrastructure to do much more than that.

Love and true meaningful peace can be no more legislated than hate, which we have seen branded as a crime in and of itself as a motivating factor for additional criminal prosecution over the last decade or so. That of course is a well-intended but failed, secularly driven agenda that fails to see mankind as he is.

Racism is a hatred as old as the history of the Old Testament, which comes from a sinful heart of pride and selfishness that may be controlled but cannot be cured by man’s law. Conflict begotten from hatred began in fact on this earth when Cain murdered his flesh and blood brother Abel (Genesis 4), indicating just how ingrained it is in the unredeemed nature of man.

Thankfully, it can be argued that the institutional racism and bigotry which plagued our nation for two centuries has been eradicated. But still, conflict remains. Human Beings are wired to actually take one of three steps towards peacemaking, the third kind that Jesus called “blessed” and worthy of the identity of being called a son or child of God.

Conflict Resolution:

  • Escape (Fly and Deny)
  • Attack (Fight for rights – verbal assaults)
  • Peacemaking (forgive and reconcile)

You probably don’t have to think long and hard to figure out which of the three methods of conflict resolution is the rarest and most blessed. While it is in true in one sense, that peace is the absence of conflict, that will only be for a time. But in the greater sense of the word, peace is the positive presence of that which is good and loving- shalom peace as the Jews call it, referring to one who wishes and strives for the well-being of another or others.

I would go as far as to submit that those without Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, will long struggle and ultimately fail to keep meaningful peace. Why? Because the key to peacemaking is forgiveness, the kind that God exhibited, by sacrificing his one and only son on a cross to forgive and make atonement for the most vile and wicked of sinners, in order to make them righteous.

Cross-rooted forgiveness makes peace and is at the heart of any relationship in any sphere of life, whether it be: marriage, family (with children), the local church, friends, co-workers and yes, even enemies divided by skin color or ethnicity.

Peacemaking must be a way of life and a mindset, as an adversary once said to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, “I never forgive and I never forget.” To which Wesley replied, “Then, Sir, I hope you never sin.” If you live long enough on earth, you will sin and be sinned against- all of your life. Therefore, we need to constantly forgive and be forgiven by others, because we all need peace and we can’t have it without forgiveness.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

I would argue that only Christians who have received mercy and forgiveness, who now have pure hearts as Jesus taught in the Sermon On the Mount, can forgive the way we do- even our enemies. One of the best-known secular humanists and writers of the last century, said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”

The Church as a Model

Born-again Christians can model the kind of counter-cultural and color-blind peacemaking that is so necessary today, by a love and forgiveness that serves- meets needs including justice, as much as an individual can grant (Micah 6:8).

What is this forgiveness that is so uniquely Christian? It’s a promise – a promise to cancel a debt. It means to put away what someone owes you.

A dictionary on Christian Theology defines it this way: “Forgiveness is the act whereby an injured party allows the party responsible for the injury to go free.” The idea is to release the injury or the offense- to let it go.

In the Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible, the term ‘release’ is the best one-word definition of the word ‘forgiveness.’ This forgiveness is relational- a person to person initiative as the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. In other words, we are called to do what we can do to make peace with people. We do that first with God in a vertical forgiveness (“God I will not hold this offense against this person any longer. Help me by the Spirit, to take the bitterness away from me, towards this person”).

Then, after we forgive internally- vertically, we can then forgive relationally, or externally or horizontally. We begin to do this with those closest to us and then work outward. Indeed, as heart or internal forgiveness is vertical- up to God, a heart-felt verbal or external forgives goes out to the offender who has repented.

Racial reconciliation can begin to grow in our society only so far as individual peacemaking takes place, based upon a forgiveness rooted in the repentance of sin – personal and corporate, if we have contributed to hatred and racism ourselves, coming from the confession of sins. This can be a grass-roots movement which takes place within hearts of regenerated and righteous men and women, given the power to do so, reaching out, living and preaching the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ to our divided world.

For any relationship to be reconciled and the cancerous sin of bitterness to be removed in favor of restoration, righteousness must reign (James 3:8) and offenses must be acknowledged, confessed and repented of. Only then can forgiveness can be requested and granted, in order for that relationship to rebuild and for people to live the “quiet, peaceful and dignified lives” that the Bible calls for.

That’s peacemaking and it’s ‘for a time such as this’, while there is still time.

Is Church “Essential?”

Bernie Diaz, May 28, 2020

President Donald Trump says he wants churches to reopen as quickly as possible, being important to the “psyche” of this nation. He believes if they remained closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, “you’ll break the country.” That’s a bold statement but then so is just about everything else that comes out of the mouth of our President.

The President like the Governor of my home state of Florida, have designated religious gatherings as “essential” to the well-being of the country and it’s communities, leading a vast number of churches to resume worship services as soon as the beginning of June, which is music to my ears.

However, at least a half-dozen or more state governments around the nation have begged to differ, arguing in essence that the assembling of people in places of worship, are ‘nonessential.’ In fact, some state officials have gone as far to presume that religious gatherings may still present public health dangers, citing either remote or unlikely threats based upon questionable numbers or anecdotes of a small number of COVID-19 related cases and fatalities from an even smaller number of gatherings back in March and early April, prior to when widespread mitigation policies were put into place.

One of the justices of a federal district court of appeals which rejected a California church’s request for a restraining order against the state’s ban on worship gatherings, wrote, “ … if a court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”

Church meetings right now = a “suicide pact?” Really? Well, that decision has led that church in San Diego to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, the nation is again dividing on a cultural issue of critical importance to our society, this one about the very ideas of the necessity of religion and the application of its constitutional right to ‘freely exercise’ it.

This issue has been recently dominating the headlines and conversations from local church leaders, to state houses, federal courts and up to the federal office of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as well as the White House.

The media-driven controversy pitting public safety versus religious liberty, came into sharper focus in two events this past week. The first, came amid reports that Chicago police banged on the doors of Cornerstone Baptist Church, interrupting their worship service, demanding an immediate end to it, intimidating the pastor and congregants in the enforcement of a local ordinance from Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot, despite the church having observed all of the required and suggested CDC protocols given it.      

Second, a coalition of 1,200 pastors in California announced their churches would be gathering for worship services on the final Sunday in May, in defiance of their Governor’s executive orders to remain sheltered, prompting grass-roots citizen and legal initiatives there and in Minnesota, that pushed those state’s chief executives to remove church bans to worship.

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan (Proverbs 29:2).

Unfortunately, some new government guidelines are restricting gatherings not only in size and the length of the service, but going as far as in the case of California, to suggest that places of worship refrain from singing. Obviously, that ‘guideline,’ poses a potentially massive threat to the church’s legal standing and ability to worship God as it sees fit. 

Thus, COVID related policies and protocols are again prompting inter-denominational and evangelical debates over the justification of practicing civil disobedience to the “governing authorities (Romans 13).”

Really, the legal and cultural wrangling boils down to the question of whether the public manifestation of religion is essential to a society or not?

Generally, one’s worldview or perspective of faith will dictate the answer to that question. Secularists have one point of view on essentiality and religious advocates of the three ‘great’ monotheistic religions of the world- Judaism, Christianity and Islam have another.

In the aftermath of this pandemic, restaurants and retail businesses have been deemed “essential” and reopened in most of the country, including such essential or necessary establishments like liquor and marijuana/CBD dispensaries, as well as abortion facilities among others, while churches have been lumped together with nonessential and entertainment oriented businesses, such as: gyms, movie theaters, sports events, summer camps, concerts and local playhouses.

Is it safe to say based on such classifications that the meaning and significance of church has been lost to a chunk of America and its governing authorities in the year of COVID 2020?

Why Church is Not Essential

For secularists, religion is ok for you – prayer in your closet, but not so much for them. When we parrot the phrase, “Christianity is more about a relationship than a religion”, they take that literally to mean that faith is an exclusively private affair, consisting of a spiritual person’s personal and private devotion to a ‘higher authority’, or way of life, rather than having a positive influence on, or being essential to, the greater welfare of a society.

The California Department of Health hinted as much in their stringent guidelines for religious gatherings, noting that, “Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of COVID-19.”

It’s that kind of viewpoint that helps explain why secular liberals prefer that Christianity and its worldview, be left out of the marketplace of ideas and public policy. Afterall, if they’re right and religion is just a solo practice of faith, then why don’t the religious just remain worshipping in the king mattress at home, doing virtual and online church there? Why can’t they keep their religious rules and opinions to themselves?

Spirituality for the secularist is about creating a customized and self-styled god if there is room for one at all. They believe, “If I’m ok- you’re ok and we must be with ok with God or mother nature or whoever is some sort of deity that may have once been involved with the world historically.

Therefore, the ultimate authority the secularist is accountable to, is a two-fold hierarchy: (1) self. Self-determination, being an island to one’s self and fulfilling one’s own personal desires and pleasures as the greatest good (2) the state. If and when they fail, the state or government is there to pick them up with a safety net and guarantee their happiness by virtue of ever-evolving laws and standards (e.g. the sexual revolution) as the next greatest good.

There is no room in their world for God – the creator and law-giver found in the Bible, judge and jury, that the secularist has always disdained and rebelled against.

Why Church is Essential

The church it may be argued, carries an essential, two-fold corporate identity and authority for elected officials to consider or be remind of: (1) it is a local body of believers, accountable first to God and to one another to receive and serve others with its spiritual gifts – in person, as a family and community of faith, dedicated to reproducing itself in Christlikeness, via relationships in a process of discipleship which reaches out to the world with the greatest news in the history of the world- the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:42-47; Matthew 28:19-20).

(2) admittedly, though the church is essential to Christians universally and locally- it really is, only those who are born-again in Christ and of the faith, will realize it. However, what the world too often loses sight of, is the essentiality of religion in general and Christianity specifically. The church was deemed essential to the greater good or welfare of a society by this nation’s founding fathers.

President George Washington – our nation’s first, while declaring the essentiality of the Bible to governance, said in his farewell speech at the conclusion of his term in office, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Washington’s successor and fellow Founding Father John Adams added, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The common denominator being the uniquely American concept of ‘self-government’, as a life of freedom only possible by the anchor of a belief and obedience to God, as the highest and most objective source of law, order and morality- “nature’s law” as 18th century British Jurist William Blackstone put it.

America’s tradition and legacy holds that religion is an essential source of moral and ethical training as well as a protective force for good and bulwark against evil, for a people to survive and thrive in self-government.

From a more practical perspective, history has also shown us via the church’s manifestation of supernaturally empowered agape love and mercy over two millennia, that its has proven essential to the development of pre-government, societal welfare programs (e.g Salvation Army and homeless aid), counseling, hospitals, schools and orphan care.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).

Who came to the aid of New York City, besieged by COVID-19 being the epicenter of the virus in this country, with a mobile hospital center to care for the sick in Central Park when their hospital system was overwhelmed? An atheist non-for-profit organization? Nope! It was Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian ministry led by Franklin Graham, who said of their ministry to all New Yorkers regardless of their creed, color and yes, sexual orientation, “This is what Samaritan’s Purse does—we respond in the middle of crises to help people in Jesus’ Name.”

Is Religion essential? Should God’s people be allowed to meet- reasonably and safely at this time? Well, how essential is it that America be allowed to receive the gospel and love of Jesus Christ, as well as remain firmly grounded in it’s freedom afforded by self-government? Case closed.  

A Legacy of Apologetics – Ravi Zacharias

Bernie Diaz, May 20, 2020

The news though expected when it finally came, still caused me to pause and reflect. Notable Christian apologist, philosopher, author and evangelist Ravi Zacharias was gone- having finally succumbed to a rare form of bone cancer, passing on to an eternity with the Lord and Savior he spent most of his lifetime defending, Tuesday, May 19th at the age of 74.

Zacharias, a prolific writer and articulate rhetorician of great skill born in Delhi, India and from a Buddhist background, left behind a massive legacy of a life and ministry dedicated to “helping thinkers believe and believers think,” about God, Jesus Christ and his gospel.

For nearly a generation, ‘Ravi,’ connected Christianity to the life of the mind, proving that the Christian faith was not a blind one, founded upon myth, but rather a real, rationale faith grounded in reason, centered around the God that became a Man.

His impact on my life was both subtle and significant. Having grown up in a fairly nominal Catholic family, my faith up until nearly the age of 30, was largely theistic though agnostic as to the relevance of the gospel in my life. I was pretty sure God existed, Jesus was a historic figure of some importance who may or may not have resurrected and who I cried out to for help, only when needed as push came to shove, backed in various corners of life by my own choosing. Does that sound familiar to any of you?

Without yet understanding the supernatural and sovereign way in which God calls and saves sinners like myself (one of the areas in which I would come to disagree with Ravi theologically), I was somehow lured (John 6 would say “drawn” or better yet compelled by God the Holy Spirit) to investigate the claims of Christianity, after having met my future wife and contemplating my future with her nearly 30 years ago.

Moreover, my brother had come to Christ not long before this compulsion to investigate Christ, and by witnessing his dramatic conversion and testimony, I knew something was up spiritually, and I had a hole in my heart which needed to be filled by someone, leading me to embark on a journey to see whether or not Christianity was true and meaningful. So, I went on a search for God, all the while God was seeking me.

The Ministry of Apologetics

God uses many means and methods in which to draw and save sinners to himself, as Jesus demonstrated in his ministry, as diverse as the approach with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), to the Roman Centurion (Matt. 8) and with a Pharisee named Nicodemus (John 3).

Some believe in Christ as the result of a dramatic, Pauline like, Damascus Road experience, others as the result of a tragedy and for others like me, an intellectual path of exploring the meaning of life that led to a face to face confrontation with the risen and coming again Christ of the gospels. How?

.. but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).

God used Ravi Zacharias. I first became familiar with the idea of apologetics- the ‘defense’ (from the Greek word apologia) of the Christian faith, by observing my brother’s ‘born-again’ life and wanting to know the “reason for the hope” that was in him. Then I began to read classic books he directed me to, such as C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Josh McDowell’s More than a Carpenter, which both made tremendous arguments for the validity and credibility of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus.  

However, it was a grid- a systematic presentation of a four-part question and answer paradigm of thinking that mankind has always wrestled with, that I had first heard on Ravi’s Let My People Think radio broadcast, which I found later in his work, Can Man Live Without God (1994) that floored me. I had been asking myself and others- on and off the written page, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The best seller of the same title of that era, written by a rather liberal Jewish Rabbi, left me wanting but at least piqued my interest.  I had to know. 

The four big questions I needed big answers to, that Ravi expertly laid out and answered – logically, mind you, were and remain:

  1. Creation: How did we get here?

I had been indoctrinated already by a public school system and enforced by a culture, that taught that life existed by a random, accidental explosion, leading to an ancient earth, made up of life forms which inexplicably arrived, mutated and became human by an evolutionary process that seemed to defy the laws of evidence and reason in my mind.

As I dug Darwin’s ditch a bit deeper, I found reasons to turn to the Bible as God’s special revelation declaring a unique, unprecedented and literal, supernatural, six-day account that better explained the origin of life than the naturalistic idea that nothing plus time – plus chance – equals everything.

The answer to the creation question seemed to serve as the linchpin that unpacked the answers to the rest of the questions. Ravi Zacharias continued….

2. Meaning – why are we here?

Though I am no scientist or scholar, I figured that if the answer to the above origin question was evolution, my life carried no more of an intrinsic value or meaning than a centipede or speck of dirt.  That thought was not very appealing nor would that answer satisfy the millions of minds over the millennia that have searched for meaning as being the most fundamental yearning perhaps that man has ever had – it wasn’t just me.

3. Morals: why are we the way we are?

Ravi Zacharias among other great defenders of the faith, argued that the fall of man in sin, produced a lineage and legacy of hearts that were “deceitful and desperately wicked,” which much better explained the ravages of murder, death, destruction, oppression and evil in the world, rather than just a few societal ideas gone wrong.

Why had the 20th century, filled with the rise of historic industrial, technological and intellectual advances, and largely influenced by the most powerful, atheistic minds and leaders of the age (e.g. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao) taken more human lives than all of the first nineteen centuries combined?

The answer to that question became obvious to me as Ravi explained the need for a transcendent and objective law-giver to be the author of the moral law by which one could differentiate good from evil, making sense of the problem of pain and suffering in this sin-cursed world.

4. Destiny: where are we going from here?

Essentially the life or death question came down to two possible answers. One, if God does not exist and meaning is irrelevant, then our destiny is, and one should live as selfishly as possible, since everyone’s life expectancy is limited to this material life, which leads to a short-lived existence as little more than being food for maggots, having taken the big dirt-nap on earth.

Again, not an answer I found to be very coherent nor satisfying. The second option was the most plausible one for me, being that if God is true, man fell despite a greater purpose and promise of eternal life with him, and is then in need of redemption with God for having lived a life of sin and rebellion.

What better way to explain that – destiny and the future of man, than the opportunity for redemption or salvation – rescue from the consequences of moral sin, from the God of love, as well as holiness and righteousness found in the Bible, than by virtue of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which provides that freedom and redemption by faith?

It all lined up for me- hand in glove, four questions posed and answered biblically, philosophically and reasonably by this master apologist who subtly influenced if not shaped public opinion and policy, Ravi Zacharias, who connected my mental dots- my mind, curiosity and doubt with the gospel of Christ. That’s what I needed in order to fill the Christ-shaped hole in my heart I discovered so long ago.

I am in debt, and much of my pastoral and preaching ministry is as well, to this man that God used to ‘help this thinker believe’ as he did with tens of thousands of other Christians I’m sure over these many years. Tim Tebow tweeted in a video upon hearing of Ravi’s passing: “He is an absolute inspiration, a hero of the faith. He will absolutely be in the hall of faith.”

Indeed, Ravi is another hero of the faith I’m looking forward to spending some time with in the New Heavens and Earth. How joyous this ‘good and faithful servant’ must be right now, as he awaits a well-deserved crown for living and leaving behind a well earned legacy by God’s grace.

Life or Livelihood? Restoring America in the Pandemic

Bernie Diaz, May 12, 2020

Another silver lining of the Coronavirus cloud (My Captive Thought, April 22nd) has been the hunger that is evident in most local churches across America, who are ready to reopen and resume in-person congregational meetings as the Bible commands.

The digitally gathered and scattered church in the U.S. is seemingly busting at the seams, longing for fellowship- truly and in the flesh, after two plus months of isolation and flat-screen worship services. Church pastors and leaders are ready to begin scheduling Sunday services and small group or Sunday school meetings as well and only await the much-anticipated, ‘all-clear’ signal from health, local, state and federal officials.

The double-edged question is when and at what cost? Literally, it is indeed a question of cost not only for the church but the population of the United States as a whole, which has been engaging in a debate over which value is of greater importance to emphasize, as if one should be considered to the exclusion of the other: life or livelihood?

The novel Coronavirus has reportedly cost more than 80,000 American lives to the date of this post, as well as over 30 million jobs, crippling the American economy in April to levels of unemployment not seen since the early 20th century’s ‘Great Depression.’

Therefore, the question of, “Do we sacrifice the country’s economy to preserve life or do we sacrifice lives to preserve the economy?” has been bandied about in greater intensity over the two weeks in particular, as fatality rates from the virus seem to have “flattened out” if not significantly reduced to the extent that the majority of our nation’s states, have begun to re-open in phases, or seek a degree of normalcy, with piece-meal restrictions, orders and guidelines.

While a full-scale ethical debate over lives versus livelihood would prove interesting and even beneficial here, space will not allow a comprehensive treatment of it, other than to say that again, government and church leaders are tempted to fall prey to the ‘either/or’ fallacy of rhetoric.

The philosophical trap of the either/or position, is the insistence that any argument must reach a conclusion of being either all of one thing or position, or all of the other, to the exclusion of balance between both, best seen in the position of what we call, the ‘both/and,’ which concludes that an argument can be settled by acknowledging that something may be true in more than one way or for more than one single side, without excluding the other or contradicting truth.

For example, I have long been a part of participating in and mediating debates between professing Calvinists and Arminians in church circles for years, over the doctrine of salvation. Does God save sinners or does mankind save himself? This is the age-old conundrum of God’s sovereignty of choice juxtaposed with man’s responsibility to choose when one is redeemed.

The either/or position cannot satisfy truth seekers without the nuanced position of the both/and in this case, which allows for the biblical revelation that both assertions when properly understood are true. The Bible teaches that God is free in choosing or electing his church and man – though not altogether free, but enslaved by his sin nature, still chooses whether to reject or accept Christ and the gospel’s free grace gift of salvation.

Similarly, church and state does not have to exclude the moral mandate to preserve life- always an absolute for the biblical Christian, and the mandate to protect and not covet anthers personal property, which can extend to protecting one’s livelihood -their means of provision for him or herself and their family.

A wise and balanced biblical approach to this question and current dilemma, understands that there may be exceptions, allowances and moderating positions available to wise and discerning parties taking a both/and stance. It is possible for instance to hold both of these two truths in tension and strive to honor them both: one, that God’s people have an obligation and American right to assemble in person and all citizens must travel to and from work, school, for reasonable recreation and necessary errands (health care, shopping) and that the government’s prime directive, ordained by God in scripture, is to reasonably protect and preserve life from harm and evil (Ro. 13).

It is no small task to achieve the proper wisdom and balance necessary to avoid the extremes that threaten our way of American life in the midst of this pandemic.

On the one hand, Christians are right to denounce our abortion fueled “culture of death,” yet risk their witness being branded as harsh or hypocritical in demanding our freedom to assemble corporately for  entertainment purposes at this time, throwing care and caution to the wind (i.e. ignoring social distancing mandates).

There is a way for Christians to sacrifice their “rights” to a degree and for a season, in obedience to the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. While on the other hand, Christians may fall so hard to a spirit of fear in leaving their front door (unless prohibited by their health) or discussing legitimate freedoms, that they may be prone to ignoring or dismissing facts that would allow for reasonable expressions of those freedoms.

These are difficult times in which to make absolutist, either/or determinations as to the nature of COVID-19 and its impact on our society. I think of myself as a healthy skeptic politically, though not prone to conspiracy theories, yet I admit I recently passed on a now controversial and viral documentary and video on social media to friends, which may not have been the wisest thing to do considering some of the valid backlash it has since received. Simply put, I hit the ‘send’ button too soon.

There is much equivocation right now from all sides, as to the origin, trends and science concerning this pandemic – an unprecedented and historic event in American history.

Without pretending to answer the challenging question here of life or livelihood, or offering ultra-wise policies and solutions to restoring America (of which I have opinions of course!), Christians seeing our Coronavirus world through biblical lenses, should be cautions of the either/or fallacy and commit to rejecting direct harm to fellow image-bearers of God when discussing our views. Grace and more grace is a both/and that we should hold to at this time.  

A Timely and Much Needed Day of Prayer

Bernie Diaz, May 7, 2020

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV)

Do you think the 68th annual National Day of Prayer could have come at a better time- a more providential one in America than now?  

The United States of America- the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world, has been crippled in large part, by the global, COVID-19 pandemic which has reportedly claimed almost 74,000 lives from among 1.2 million plus confirmed cases as of the date of this post.

The U.S. has suffered more casualties than any other country in the world since the Coronavirus first broke-out here in January. Additionally, the nation’s economy has been dealt a severe blow by the virus, or the government’s response to it, depending on your point of view, to the tune of over 33 million jobless claims for aid filed since the virus hit.

The all-powerful and sovereign God of creation has placed a severe and sobering wake-up call to his creation in general and this nation in particular, leading tens of thousands of citizens perhaps, to answer that call, with many of them calling on God today for his help.

Although this day of prayer (NDP) – first created by a joint resolution of Congress interestingly enough, during the Truman administration at the dawn of the Cold War era, is ecumenical in its religious nature, the thrust of its advocacy and growth has largely been due to its evangelical influence.  The significance of the event continues to stand as a call for the nation to humbly come before God and seek his guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people. 

It is indeed admirable that this year’s NDP organizers have centered on the sovereignty of God as the central theme of the event, for it is that awe-inspiring, worship-inviting and even comforting characteristic of God’s nature that so many of his people turn to in uncertain times like these.  

A sovereign is best imaged by a King, as being the ultimate protector and authority over a kingdom.

Make no mistake, the Bible clearly reveals the “Most High” and majestic Lord of all, as that sovereign who is the ultimate and decisive agent of everything that occurs on this planet:

For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!
(Amos 4:13)

While there is much that our country should be in prayer for God to do and bless, such as his will and grace to empower the institutions of family, the military, media – now struggling to report more fact than fear or fiction, business and education, the rest of this post will focus on the need for God’s people to pray for the church and state- the ‘cities of God and man,’ as Augustine would put it.    

Pray for the State

When I exhort the church to pray for government- at every level, from local city and county municipalities to state houses and to the federal government, I’m not calling for Christians to pray that God would bless America with a return to mere “normalcy” or the status quo, or things as they were. That cannot be the Lord’s intention.

As Jesus said in response to a question about Jehovah’s providence over a seemingly inexplicable ‘tragedy’ that took many lives in Galilee, “.. unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3,5).”

Wake-up calls like those, 9-11 attacks, pandemics and pestilences tend to accomplish more than one of God’s goals and purposes for this world. Drawing people to himself, to repent or turn to and believe in Jesus Christ for salvation by faith alone, is one of the biggies we can be sure of.

This nation is in sore need of another revival or an American, “Great Awakening”, which will only happen when God’s people and those he brings to faith, confess and plead for the forgiveness of their sin and hunger for holiness.

Christians are not only taught in scripture to submit to and obey the governing authorities, they also are to pray for the salvation of the elected officials God has placed over them, as well as for his common grace of wisdom that they would lead and enact policies that would punish evil, promote and protect that which is good, so we may lead, ‘peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way’ (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

In fact, that apostolic command to pray for government authorities does not exclude any specific political party or system at all. Yes, that means that ‘Red’ believers are to pray for ‘Blue’ officials and vice versa.

One thing I will certainly be praying for, is that our leaders wisely and responsibly act in a way which will respect religious freedom and it’s fundamental call to assemble, as it continues to safely restore our nation to health- physically and economically by God’s grace.

Pray for the Church

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:3-6).

This pandemic is prime time for the church to be the church, to show and share Jesus Christ and the hope his gospel offers to a lost, hopeless, dying and doubting American society. Now is a great time for the church to “find a new zeal and commitment to the mission and purpose of Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:37),” as the NDP website reads.

– Therefore, I would also implore the church to recommit to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and take seriously the call to make and multiply disciples, beginning with spirit-bathed prayer for witnessing opportunities.

-That the church in America would strive to take “its thoughts (or worldview) captive to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Colossians 2:6-8) as per the intent of this blog by name.  

– That the church would strive for unity in truth whenever possible, with and among churches that reveal God’s love to the world (John 17:23).

– That the church would return to the absolutes of God’s Word (Psalm 1:1-3) – as the sufficiency of scripture being the absolute, clear and necessary guide for the faith and practice of the Christian life (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

– That the church would strive for Biblical Integrity–that God’s people look and act differently from the world as pilgrims or alien witnesses to it (1 Peter 2:11; 1 John 2:15-17; 1 Corinthians 13:6)

– Finally, that the American church would remember and return to its first love – being Christ (Revelation 2:4-5), by striving to do everything it does to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory said, “if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” America’s foundations have cracked and its cultural divide has never been greater. God knows that, has permitted it to be so, is moving and working in it to reveal what must be revealed to a nation that in its ungodliness, continues to reject its roots and its source of life and prosperity (Romans 1:18-32).

May this National Day of Prayer- at this time, prove to be a watershed moment in our nation’s history, as a step towards renewal and revival. Pray for America- beginning with prayer for its church.

Church and State in the Coronavirus World

Bernie Diaz, April 29, 2020

When church leaders have been conflicted and faced with the prospect of defying the law of duly constituted authorities of the state, it is doubtful that they would have had to consider doing so over the right to congregate as a church, in the midst of a pandemic like the Coronavirus.

Indeed, the church – its people, are commanded by scripture to obey or submit to governments at every level (Ro.13:1-7; Ti. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-16), though God has seen fit to allow her to practice civil disobedience to the state under some rare and exceptional circumstances.

Would one of those exceptions include defying orders to hold public worship services during state ordered quarantines for assembled groups? Is that a case of governmental regulation, or as some would say, intrusion into congregational life?

Case in point: New Jersey’s governor said he was “not thinking of the Bill of Rights” when he implemented strict social distancing measures to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus in his state, and he is not alone. State and local officials across the country, facing a spiraling public health crisis since mid-March, have issued highly restrictive public gathering bans and stay-at-home orders—sometimes without considering the constitutional ramifications of them.

Although most churches have adapted well to the guidelines without incident, looking to safeguard their members, as well as their greater communities with prudence, wisdom and a God-glorifying witness, some have struggled against overzealous enforcement of such restrictions even when they tried to comply.

According to a news report, it took two lawsuits and U.S. Department of Justice intervention before a Mississippi Mayor, reinterpreted his April 7 order in a way that allowed drive-in church services.

The report read that, “Temple Baptist Church said in a complaint that the city fined members $500 and sent police to break up services even though people stayed in their cars, six feet apart with the windows up, listening to the worship service over an FM radio signal.”

Apparently driving through a fast-food restaurant is okay- driving through a liquor store to pick-up a six-pack may be ok. Drive-thru to park and pray, hear the word of God with a church? Not so fast.

Echoing a statement made by the U.S. Attorney General, the Justice Department acknowledged that the government can take necessary, temporary measures to meet a genuine emergency, “ … but there is no pandemic exception … to the fundamental liberties the Constitution safeguards.”

While that sounds all well and good, a church vs. state conflict has arisen and may worsen in the weeks and months to come, over a church’s desire and right to worship God corporately, while the state seeks to protect public health at virtually all costs- even costs to economic life and liberty, including the religious kind.

Civil Abuses

Representatives of both, “The City of God” and “The City of Man” have seemingly overstepped their boundaries in ways that have hurt, rather than helped church and state relations during this pandemic season.

On the government side, the governors of the states of Kentucky and Virginia played hard ball during April’s holy weekend, clamping down on worship services to the extent that in one instance, police photographed license plates and registered the addresses of cars in the church parking lot to be submitted to the state’s health department.

In another instance, executive orders banned religious gatherings with more than 10 people – including a summons placed upon a Palm Sunday service of 16 attendees, carrying a penalty of up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine for violators if prosecuted, though such an action may be in violation of the state’s constitution, according to a federal lawsuit.

Yes, the conflicts have begun to move to the courtroom. On the  church side, a controversial Louisiana pastor, who had been placed on house arrest for allegedly backing up a church bus toward a person protesting his defiance of state stay-at-home orders, held an in-person church service on a Sunday while wearing an ankle monitor.

Rather than beginning with an appeal to government officials to find an acceptable compromise between the public worship of God and public safety, this pastor decided to defiantly take a stand with little consideration of the gospel witness to obey “all” of the Great Commission commands of Jesus Christ, including the command to ‘submit to the governing authorities’ whenever possible.

Again, much of the problem stems from those that focus on taking the either/or stance, rather than a both/and approach. The church can cooperate with reasonable and temporary government restrictions to quarantine its citizens, as Israel took similar precautions with lepers in the book of Leviticus.

And at the same time, the church can be vigilant that government authorities not overreach and target the church – or any place of worship in our pluralistic society, to observe laws and orders which are not expected of other institutions.

Under such persecution, the apostle Paul appealed to Caesar among other Roman officials in the book of Acts, to preserve the opportunity to preach the gospel, and Esther made appeals to the state (Persia’s King) to prevent the loss of life.  

When to Disobey

At what point then can and should a Biblically bound church, defy the commands of Caesar in order to remain faithful to God?

First, we should remember why the Bible contains Paul’s admonition to Christians to obey the human authorities God has ordained in society over them (Ro. 13:3-4).  It is a command built on a foundation of the Lord’s intent for creating government with a two-fold purpose.

Fundamentally, the institution exists to restrain evil and secondly, to promote good, or literally honorable conduct, which one could argue, would include the good of its physical health.

But what do we do when the state commands you to do something God forbids or forbids what God commands, whether it be picketing, making petitions, paying taxes to an unjust government or holding a church service in a time of quarantine?

This an ethical dilemma for Christians to think about that has existed for centuries, from the time Rahab the harlot, was justified hiding the Israeli spies in Jericho (Jos. 2), or whether or not Corrie Ten Boom or Anne Frank’s families should have hidden Jews and lied about it in Nazi Germany.

John Stott in his commentary from the book of Romans said: “Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty.” So, there is precedent for biblically justified civil disobedience.

My study of scripture yielded essentially four categories of civil disobedience from scripture, which may help us develop the church’s COVID conscience:

  1. Preaching (Acts 4, 5:29), We ought to obey God rather than men.”
  2. Prayer (Dan. 6:4-5, 10, 19-22) which concerned a governor’s edict to prohibit prayers to the God of Israel.
  3. Idolatry (Dan. 1:3-19, 3:16-18)

When Daniel and his three friends refused to obey the king’s dietary regulations, they disobeyed the law; but the way that they did it proved that they honored the king. Daniel gave a respectful alternative on the diet issue. He made an appeal first to the authority mandated by God in Babylon, which serves as a compelling example to churches today.

Then, Daniel’s three friends refused to break God’s commandments forbidding idol worship. There was no compromise on that.

4. Life (Est. 3)

The Hebrew midwives proved to exemplify perhaps the first pro-life movement recorded in Biblical history, when obfuscating the facts over births of the new-born babies ordered to be terminated by Pharaoh.

Therefore, in the Coronavirus context, is the church being prohibited from preaching the gospel or praying to God? At this point, the answer is no, as churches are still resembling their Heb. 10:25 mandate to assemble- no matter how incompletely, with online worship services and Bible study meetings.

Is the church being asked to commit the sins of idolatry and murder in meeting the demands of government to quarantine for health reasons during the pandemic? The answer would have to be no. I believe it is in the church’s best domestic interests and witness to a watching world to be patient – for now, by temporarily closing its doors for a little while longer, for the purposes of public health and love of neighbor, as we keep a watchful eye on government to keep our gospel doors open, as we strive to respect and submit to the authorities whenever we can without compromising God’s law – rendering to Caesar what is his, and to God what is his, which ultimately is everything.