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The Roots and Revolution of Today’s Sex Scandals

Image result for fraternity scandal penn state Bernie Diaz, November 28, 2017

As a disc jockey famously said on-air years ago, “And the hits just keep on coming!”  

One sex scandal continues after another, rocking American culture as seemingly never before, with no institution immune from its clutches.

First it was Misters Weinstein and Spacey amongst others from the Hollywood film and television industry, including long-respected talk-show host, Charlie Rose, and then Washington D.C. the very cradle of our government, being beset with a deluge of allegations of sexual sins, manifest in harassment, inappropriate advances, illicit physical contact and even charges of rape in some cases, allegedly perpetrated by congressional candidates and leaders (e.g. Roy Moore, Al Franken, John Conyers).

Amidst the call for resignations and congressional committee hearings in several of these cases, the apologies and mea culpas from the accused have largely fallen upon skeptical if not deaf ears.

Franken, a Minnesota Senator and former Saturday Night Live member and comedian, when accused of groping at least ‘a handful’ of women in photographs taken over the past several years, said in his first post-accusation interview to the news media, “I don’t remember these photographs, I don’t.” Franken, who was elected to the Senate in 2008, added. “This is not something I would intentionally do.”

Really? When presented with visual evidence of sexual misconduct, this elected official actually admitted to groping women ‘unintentionally?’ Was that just a motor reflex movement then on behalf of the Senator?

More alarmingly, when asked whether he expected more women to step forward with similar allegations of unsolicited fondling, Franken said in the interview that he certainly hoped not. “If you had asked me two weeks ago, ‘Would any woman say I had treated her with disrespect?’ I would have said no… So, this just caught me by surprise. … I certainly hope not.”

Surprise, surprise indeed Senator. Misogynistic, sexual sin has been rediscovered and revealed in mainstream media for what it is and has been for more than a generation now, being merely the most recent sign or symbol of our sexual revolution, a rebellion of God’s created order, emanating from the root of the sexually depraved nature of man.

Why would we be surprised that anyone in general and particularly even men in positions of authority, would be guilty of inappropriate sexual conduct in a world which legalizes, legitimizes and then glamorizes sexual sin throughout its society (i.e. Game of Thrones, pornography and the LGTBQ agenda)?

College campus Greek fraternities and sororities are now being re-examined if not closed at various universities throughout the country, as a crescendo of talk about sexual consent and sin has been squarely aimed at our teens and young adults.

As my daughter’s new Freshman orientation material at a local state university indicated, the ‘indoctrination,’ better disguised as the orientation of students, has as much to do with sexual and gender orientation as its campus and curriculum.

If alcohol is allowable and accessible on college campuses (where half to ¾ of the population is under the legal age of drinking) and students are taught that consent must be given before the commencement of any sexual encounter, then sexual misconduct and sin will be sure to follow.

Whereas, it may be practical and even humanly wise to teach the importance of sexual consent and the consequences that come from ignoring or violating it, such sin can only be properly dealt with by God’s standard of sexual conduct (1 Cor. 6:12-20).

If we as Christian parents in our homes and within a local community of faith, cannot ground our children in the context of sexual relations being ordained exclusively in a marriage between one man and one woman, we will reap- personally and corporately, that which we have sown, which is a compromising, morally relativistic harvest of debauchery, disease and abortion in a lost and decaying world.

 Back to the Basics

Former church pastor and author Tim Keller and his wife Kathy, describe sex as a “covenant renewal ceremony” and say, “sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’ You must not use sex to say anything less. So, according to the Bible, a covenant is necessary for sex. It creates a place of security for vulnerability and intimacy.”

That God-ordained context of sex within marriage, is built on a foundation of commitment and willing consent as an expression of mutual love. Keller implies that it is not the fear of law and consequence that should constrain us, but rather the presence of love and commitment.

Anything else is a perversion of the intimacy that God desires and has ordered for his image-bearing creatures. Of course, the enemy of our souls and the ‘prince of the power of the air’, has expertly blinded the eyes of not only the weeds, but even some of the wheat in the church to the extent that sexual abuse and harassment has become as common place as it has (2 Cor. 4:4).

That is, because the sexual revolution has taught our society the idea that to be fully human, is to be fully free sexually, which really means the often temporary and therefore empty expression of mere physical gratification outside the ‘constraints’ of traditional marriage.

The revolution has deliberately separated sex from its God-given intention of loving, family-reproducing commitment. Young adults, always at the forefront of this rebellion, are being led further astray now, by adult examples of power and influence in a culture of sexual indulgence that more closely resembles prostitution than real relationship.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Sexual sin can be regulated or somewhat restricted by conventional law, but is ultimately powerless to govern ourselves.

To turn the tide of this sexual revolution, Biblical Christians must model and teach the truth that the gospel not only redeems souls, but sex and intimacy as well. That can only happen within God’s context and covenant of marriage, where sex can be truly safe and most satisfying (1 Thess. 4:3-5).

That means that Christians are to embrace marriage ‘lest they burn’ when their gift of singleness has been enjoyed and are called to covenant with another, and are to hate divorce almost as much as God does and enjoy the blessed privilege that God has provided for his children exclusively in marriage….

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous (Heb. 13:4, ESV).


Giving Thanks For…. Pain and Suffering?

Image result for joni eareckson tada Bernie Diaz, November 21, 2017

Some Christians read the familiar passage of scripture found in 1 Thessalonians 5 and think it’s either a suggestion from the apostle Paul or that it must only apply to the most sanctified of saints- disciples of Jesus Christ who walk at some higher level; “give thanks in all circumstances …”

All circumstances. Really? God, am I really supposed to give you thanks for a job loss, financial ruin, death or the diagnosis of a disease? And if that command wasn’t hard enough, Paul concludes the verse with the phrase, “… for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Yup, God desires and commands that all Christians would give thanks or show gratitude within, and in spite of their circumstances and not just on Thanksgiving Thursday.

We understand the command, the words and their meaning, we just struggle to understand how it can be obeyed and what it looks like when it is obeyed.

Joni Eareckson Tada is still obeying those words and shining the light of joy and thanksgiving 50 years later and going strong after suffering an accident in which she was a 17 year-old care-free teenager one moment and in the next, after diving headfirst into shallow water, a quadriplegic.

In an interview after being named WORLD magazine’s annual Daniel of the Year, Mrs. Tada was asked how she is able to persevere as she does in the face of her own tragedy, pain and suffering. According to interviewer Jamie Dean, “Joni’s answer is jubilant: ‘It sounds incredible, but I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without Him.” She celebrates “that glorious but awful, beautiful but sad, terrible but wonderful day I broke my neck—because look what God has done.”

To pray and give thanks in all circumstances- including quadriplegia, means for Tada to know and rest in God’s sovereignty of suffering and the deep soul satisfaction that can only come from a close, personal relationship with Christ that is perfected by trials.

That reality is what enables her to talk about her weaknesses, her battle with chronic pain, and her dependence on God’s grace for getting out of bed each day—with joy.

Her story is inspirational and yet riddled with pain. Five decades in a wheelchair—and chemotherapy for breast cancer in 2010, which wore on her bones and body to the extent that she has suffered from scoliosis and a displaced hip that cause chronic, sometimes severe pain.

Before coming to Christ, the self-doubt and loathing of her circumstances so common to our humanity, drove her to despair. After her accident, she faced a litany of what-ifs: “What if she hadn’t gone swimming that day? What if her tennis date hadn’t canceled? What if she hadn’t jumped in head-first?”

She begged a friend to kill her, and despaired she couldn’t do it herself. Eventually, she turned to hopes of miraculous healing and attended an event in Washington, D.C., led by purported faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman.  She was ignored at that ‘faith- healing event’ and felt both disappointed and bitter.

Famously as she came to Christ, she prayed: “God, if You won’t let me die, then show me how to live.”

God to the Rescue

Tada’s autobiography reveals how she would sit for hours with a Bible on a music stand, turning the pages of Scripture with her mouth-stick. Friends joined her for Bible studies around her family’s large farm table, and they read books about God’s sovereignty by authors like J.I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and J. Gresham Machen. “We just delighted that this accident wasn’t a mistake,” she says.

Not only was it not a mistake—Joni learned God uses suffering to make people more like Christ and to know Him more deeply. Indeed, He used the suffering of His own Son to accomplish salvation for sinners. Joni’s deepest need for healing was spiritual, not physical.

Only God by his providence can use evil, or pain and suffering through calamity or a tragedy to bring salvation, greater good for his people and glory upon himself. As Joni has often said, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” It was a life-altering realization: God was fully in control, and He could use her suffering for good in her life and the lives of others.

That good has literally touched thousands worldwide in and out of wheelchairs with her ministries, Joni and Friends, and Wheels for the World, a program that delivers wheelchairs to people with disabilities in developing countries. One of those chairs I saw profoundly touch a young lady and family in Cuba, when our church had the opportunity to serve there on a mission trip. The gratitude attitude evident in that family which has emboldened worship in that church, is beyond description.

More recently, Tada has become a uniquely gifted and anointed speaker of ethics of life issues such as abortion and euthanasia. When actors and activists pushed for embryonic stem cell research to help people with paralysis, Joni advocated using adult stem cells, which were already yielding scientific successes and didn’t involve destroying embryos.

WORLD reported that “She spoke out for Terri Schiavo, a disabled Florida woman whose husband had successfully persuaded courts to allow doctors to remove her feeding tube, despite her parents’ pleas that their daughter was still interactive and viable. On Larry King Live, Joni warned against a mentality of ‘better off dead than disabled.”

Moreover, Joni has spoken against abortions targeting unborn children with disabilities like Down syndrome. She grieved California becoming the fourth state to legalize assisted suicide and noted if euthanasia had been legal in 1967, she might not be here today. We give thanks to God that was not the case then.

Today, the day to day struggle of pain and even anxiety continues for Tada, who continues to live joyfully in Christ, by combating her pain in part, with the praying and singing of hymns. She describes her antidote as knowing that “Christ’s grace is available—it won’t take away the pain, but it will give you the courage to face it.”

It is the hope of Christ, heaven and glory – the expectation of a healed and perfected body to come that drives her joy, as she has spoken of actually thanking God for a ‘no’ answer to physical healing.”

True Thanksgiving

Why thank God for a “no answer” to healing? Joni said, “I’m depending more on God’s grace, it’s increasing my compassion for others who are hurt and disabled. … It has strengthened my hope of heaven, and it’s made me love Him so much more. … And I would not trade it for any amount of walking.”

As her WORLD interview concluded, Joni said she looks forward to the day she’ll walk again in the new heavens and the new earth. She looks forward to kneeling too. For now, she asks those with able bodies to do what she and others can’t do—yet.

“Kneel before the Lord God, your Maker and mine,” she writes. “And while you’re down there, if you feel so inclined, thank Him for being so good to a paralyzed woman named Joni.”

Count your blessings this week Christian. Join Joni Eareckson Tada in thanking God for blessings today, and joyfully recount your future blessings and the hope of tomorrow, that can empower you to thank God in ‘all your circumstances.’

The “New” and Dark Side of the Sexual Revolution

Image result for kevin spacey and roy moore Bernie Diaz, November 15, 2017

When we have posted my biblically saturated “captive thoughts” on the sexual and moral revolution that has been taking place in America for several years now, the bulk of that context has usually surrounded LGTBQ (etc.,etc.) politics and public policy.

On occasion, I felt led to comment on and attempt to give a Christian worldview on the moral failings of certain, influential Americans such as, oh, President Trump, albeit from his pre-White House days.

Fortunately, I thought, those type of posts might be relatively rare, until oh, this last month, where not only one, not two, not even three, but at least four scandals of varying impact, involving either sexual harassment and/or allegations of pedophilia and sexual misconduct, have come to light and made major nation-wide headlines.

One case, came amazingly close to home for South Floridians, with that latter revelation being even more difficult to deal with- the fuller disclosure of the moral fall of a well-known pastor from our area.

What do Christians make of the Harvey Weinstein scandal?

For those of you out of touch from the debauchery and machinations of Hollywood and the left coast in general (consider yourself blessed), a now infamous film producer has been outed for having taken the Hollywood idiom of the “casting couch” to new lows, having been named by a bevy of actors, of varying degrees of fame, as having coerced sexual favors or attempts at such, in exchange for acting assignments and company promotions.

Being that much of what Hollywood holds near and dear ideologically is greatly manifest on-screen – particularly in the way of sexual deviancy if not perversion, the exposure of Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey’s fall from grace, should not be found as unexpected to the biblically wise.

The apple does not fall far from the tree, and Hollywood has been a diseased tree for quite some time. The outcome and consequence of such a tree is made clear by applying the Lord Jesus Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount to the smut which has been peddled in the movie and television industry for more than a generation, exposing the roots of more than a few of its purveyors..

… the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matt. 7:17b-20, ESV)

The victims of Hollywood’s obsession with sex, are now coming ‘out of the closet’ to share what has long been assumed. May God have mercy on both the perpetrators and victims of what has been uncovered.

Roy Moore – Does Character Count?

Eeerily, Christians – leaders, as well as those in the pews or seats, will have to wrestle once again (as was the case in last year’s Presidential Election) with supporting an elected official, a pillar of biblical truth in the public sphere and supporter of evangelicalism’s stance on prioritized cultural issues (i.e. abortion, same-sex marriage), in the face of questionable if not gross personal, sexual misconduct.

An Alabama woman this week, accused 70 year-old Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual assault, the second of as many as five woman to outline allegations of immoral and illegal behavior against the longtime politician and former judge, known for fighting to keep a statue of the 10 Commandments displayed in front of his state’s courthouse.

According to the latest news report, two of these women are alleging that inappropriate and aggressive sexual advances were made towards them by Moore, a then early thirtyish, state district attorney in Alabama, when the women were teenagers.

Though Moore and his campaign have gone on record denying any allegations of rape or sexual misconduct, questioning the timing of such, coming less than a month before the election of that senate seat, a key seat for the GOP to hold its razor slim majority congress, a subsequent report surfaced, alleging Moore’s habit of approaching underage women in a suburban Alabama mall during the same time-period.

Is it just a matter of “she said- he said?” How does one determine guilt here? Is it just a matter of the credibility of the accused verses the accusers in the absence of corroborating witnesses?

Were it a case of church discipline, two or more Christian witnesses would have to be of the same mind in bringing charges or allegations of sin and misconduct against a fellow church member or leader (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Tim. 5:19-21).

Actor Jeremy Piven, accused of similar allegations made against him, denied those claims, and said in his defense: “We seem to be entering dark times—allegations are being printed as facts, and lives are being put in jeopardy without a hearing, due process, or evidence. I hope we can give people the benefit of [the] doubt before we rush to judgment.”

Dark times indeed. Although formal charges have not yet been filed against Moore, his response – even obfuscation, to interviewer Sean Hannity’s direct questions as to the allegations concerning him were disconcerting.

When asked if it were unusual for a 32-yr-old man to seek a 17-yr-old woman or younger, he said, “Not generally, no. If I did, you know, I’m not going to dispute anything but I don’t remember anything like that.” Yikes!

Memory aside of events which may have transpired nearly 40 years ago, the word “generally” here used by Moore I find to be a tad troubling. What may be legal as a consensual relationship in a given state, may be unwise at best, and often unbiblical or downright sinful at worst, in the eyes of God.

What may be just as troubling are the post revelation polls indicating still solid support from a considerable bloc of Alabama voters intent on prejudging and dismissing the allegations against Moore in the interests of having a politically ‘conservative’ Republican win the open Senate seat now being contested.

Does Character count? Didn’t we go over this last fall? WORLD magazine editor and columnist Marvin Olasky wrote in the wake of the Moore scandal, “Basically, we need to be concerned more about the gospel than about any particular election. The Good News is not a favorable political poll but the Bible’s announcement that God saves sinners.

Overall, I hope we can all learn from this Moore discussion that it’s important to be concerned about the personal morality of those we elect to high positions—and ignoring character for political reasons has enormous cultural repercussions. In 1998 Bill Clinton normalized oral sex for many teens.” Olasky added, “Should we also this year normalize predatory action among evangelicals?

Isn’t it true as Olasky opined, that we do a disservice to God’s holiness when we minimize sin for the sake of political expediency? Once again, Christians- citizens of another world- strangers on earth, or ‘legal aliens’ as the apostle Peter might call us, can do a disservice to evangelism when we say or believe winning an election is more important than telling the truth about God’s glory and our sinfulness.

We must be willing to be circumspect of our church leaders as well, as fallible shepherds of local flocks, who can be led astray by the demonic wolves that knock at their doors.

This week reports surfaced of three pastors at one Ohio church having been indicted on charges of running a sex-trafficking operation. We also might remember that in April 2014, the pastor of the largest mega-church in Florida, Calvary Chapel in Ft. Lauderdale, resigned in disgrace after admitting to multiple affairs and a pornography addiction.

Now according to a just published New Times magazine story, the same pastor has been accused of the sexual assault of a woman for years, beginning when she was just 4 years-old. This latest accusation serves as another thorn in the flesh for the neo-denominational Calvary movement, beset for years by allegations of sexual sin, lawsuits and controversy surrounding its pastoral leadership nationwide.

While it remains to be seen as to how many of these allegations are true, the old adage of “where there is smoke, there’s fire” resonates within the healthy skeptic.

Lessons Learned from the Dark Side

What kind of perspective can a disciple of Christ come away with from these reported scandals- both in and out of the church?

  1. The Sin of Sexual Molestation is not far from any of us (Ro. 1:18-32)

Aside from the increasingly common place stories involving sexual abuse among our celebrities, many of us know loved ones and friends who have been victimized by this among the most heinous of all crimes.

There is perhaps no more cruel, perverted, and loathsome sin than child molestation or underage sexual exploitation. Jesus consistently expressed compassion for children and anger toward anyone who would harm them (Matt. 19:14; Lu. 17:1-2). While no sin is unforgivable, the evil of child molestation can only come from a warped and ‘desperately wicked’ heart and mind.

  1. Your sin will find you out (Nu. 32:23)

Or, in plain English, “You can run but you cannot hide.” For the sexual abuser, there is no escaping God, because he is omnipresent and there is no place where he is not. God is also omniscient and knows the heart of each and every man and woman, no matter how silent they attempt to be about their sin. Comedian and television star Bill Cosby has learned this lesson the hard way.

If one’s sin of sexual abuse is not revealed in this lifetime by a victim or in our fallible system of justice, the day of reckoning will eventually come for the sinner in the form of God’s perfectly holy and righteous justice, with far greater consequence.

  1. Sexual Sin Can Be Conquered by God’s Gospel of Grace (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

God’s grace is so amazing, that the sexual sinner- even a pedophile, is not out of the reach of God’s mercy and redemption, if they would only cry out to God for forgiveness, from a heart of repentance towards him and faith in Jesus Christ alone, for salvation and rescue from God’s just wrath.

For the victim of such horrific abuse, the grace of comfort, healing, restoration and wholeness of one’s soul cannot be found in bitterness, a bottle or a pill, but only in that same gospel of Jesus Christ, who can remove by the power of his Holy Spirit, the shame, hurt and guilt which come from having been victimized by this sin (Psa. 34:18; 147:3).

Though the scars of this wound will remain for a season, they will be fully healed as those of our Lord Jesus (Isa. 53:4-5). There is nothing shameful about having been abused. The shame belongs to the abuser alone, and the abusers of our time must either ‘turn or burn.’

Hope After the Texas Church Shooting

Related image Bernie Diaz, November 7, 2017

This is getting old… in one month’s time:

  • A Las Vegas gunman shoots and kills 58 concert attenders from a hotel room- the worst mass shooting in American history.
  • A self-radicalized Muslim man rents a truck and proceeds to run over bikers in the heart of New York City, killing eight people and injuring a dozen more.
  • This past Sunday, a man entered a church in the small, rural community of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and opened fire with an assault that murdered 27, ranging in age from pre-born to 77 years old, including the 14-year-old daughter of the pastor of that church. Between 12 and 14 children were killed in that massacre, the worst in Texas’ history and making it the highest death toll for the smallest of Americans since 20 kids were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

What in the world is going on?

My call to remain faithful to share ‘my captive thoughts’ on current issues, events and controversies from a biblical perspective or worldview, has never been more difficult or challenging to do than in days like today, posting in light of recent events- all tragic and unconscionable.

We are beyond the point of merely asking “Why?”, though that is our first inclination. Most of us are relatively rational creatures, made in God’s image and want answers to questions in the wake of acts of murderous evil.

Mankind seems to better process such violence when we understand it’s root causes or circumstances. So, was there a common denominator or thread running through the horrific events of the past month in our nation?

  • The Vegas killer’s motives are still in question, though it has been recently revealed that he had amassed considerable gambling debts in ‘sin city.’
  • The truck driving assassin in Manhattan was apparently inspired by the radical Muslim terrorist group known as ISIS.
  • The rural Texas church shooter’s attack may have stemmed from a domestic situation that was not racially or religiously motivated. A Texas public safety official said the shooter had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, who attended the church.

This latter tragedy really hits home to a pastor like myself, with children of my own worshiping and serving in the church with other children, younger and older, assuming that a church in America is a safe-haven and sanctuary.

Relatively speaking, it is true that violent church acts rarely occur in our country, and the circumstances of the most recent rampage do point to an individual, with a personal history of dysfunction (as a former Air Force cadet who had been dishonorably discharged over a domestic abuse crime).

However, what remains is upon Christian reflection a single thread that does run through these events. Was it Mental illness? President Trump believed so, when he said in a press conference after the shooting: “Mental health is your problem here.” He added the shooter, identified as a military veteran, had been suffering from “a lot of problems over a long time.” Perhaps. Maybe, maybe not. We’ll probably never know whether a mental issue may have contributed to this act of violence.

The president said that he would not be drawn into a debate on gun-control, saying it was “a little too soon” to draw conclusions from the attack. That tact is certainly wise though loopholes in federal gun regulations seem to have been exposed in this incident. Trump also said according to a news report, “.. these are dark times.” The latter comment is more on the money.

The simple, single thread running through all of these events as hard as it is for the secular humanist or atheist to admit to, is the presence of evil that is manifest in this world.

This planet is under a curse which is several thousand years old, originating from mankind’s sin and which continues to spread as the lethal infection that it is, world-wide.

Evil is most clearly manifest or seen in acts of violence which are rooted in hate, whether it be from one person to another or others, or from one nation state to another.

What the church of Jesus Christ must remind itself of, and to a lost and dying world, is that the church is not immune to the suffering caused by sin and death, but the church is uniquely called and equipped to deal with it as no other institution, religion or worldview can.

Related image

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas will not likely die, because the universal church of Christ will not die before the Christ of Christianity returns to judge and restore the world, as the author and finisher of redeeming and saving faith.

He will not allow the church to die (Matt. 16:18), because it is empowered by the Spirit of the one God-man Jesus Himself, who conquered sin and death with his own resurrection, as the “first-fruits” or foretaste of what it is to come for every born-again believer of that same Jesus (1 Cor. 15:20-23).

Christians must remember that persecution, martyrdom, or testing, trials and tribulation such as what occurred last Sunday, is part and parcel of the disciples’ life. It is even the will of God that Christians suffer as a means of not only spiritual growth, but to serve as an example of the Lord and Savior of the world (1 Pet. 2:20-24), whose own suffering points to the hope of redemption and glory that can only be found through a relationship with him, as the means of achieving peace with God.

Christians have been the victims of murder and martyrdom since its birth two millennium ago, and has just now arrived in greater frequency here in America, with the persecution of reviling against believers and their faith. Therefore, proper expectations of what lies ahead and our hope in Christ will enable us to walk forward when others around us can only ask why.

As another commentator noted, “Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the 19th century in London stated this beautifully: ‘When we cannot trace God’s hand, we are simply to trust his heart.”

The Texas church shooting is a timely reminder having occurred on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP), that all  Christians like the rest of the world’s people, live in a dangerous world.

We live in a place called anywhere U.S.A.,  where diligent wisdom and awareness are needed- preparation, couched in prayer for God’s mercy to descend and prepare believers to show and share Christ, particularly by suffering well, in order to point them to the only kingdom where perfect peace and justice reign- the kingdom of God and heaven.

No one knew and could relate better to an unjust, terror-laden act of murderous evil than God himself, who as the Son Jesus Christ, endured and overcame it, ensuring the final victory to his followers as the prophet Isaiah predicted five centuries before the cross, “… surely he has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows . . . But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:4-5).

I believe God knows and feels the pain of Sutherland Springs, even if those that do not know him and the power of prayer do not. Some of the anti-prayer media pundits and political leftists were taken by those who believe some politicians and Christians use prayer as a substitute for action, such as the case for new gun-control laws (which is largely untrue).

That is primarily because the ‘mainstream media’ doesn’t understand faith in general and biblical Christianity in particular. No matter, God’s people have always and will continue to persevere and prevail in the face of persecution and evil, because that’s who we are and what we are meant to do as the Psalmist lamented and declared:

 I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my shelter, my portion in the land of the living.” Listen to my cry, for I am very weak. Rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Free me from prison so that I can praise your name. The righteous will gather around me because you deal generously with me. (Psa. 142:5-7).

Why the Reformation Matters and Thoughts on Terror and Evil

Image result for pope francis at the vatican Bernie Diaz, November 3, 2017

By now you’re heard and read plenty about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, which observed its 500th anniversary last week not so ironically, on Halloween, October 31st . We won’t rewind the history here.

But what you may have not realized by now, is not only its importance to mankind in general and the church of Jesus Christ in particular, but its relevancy and importance today.

Briefly, the reformation if anything, led to at least these three of the following results that reformed if not revived the biblically based church and pure evangelicalism. Namely, the Reformation was:

  • Necessary
  • Successful
  • Relevant

How was the Reformation necessary? To condense centuries of historical context into one short paragraph, means that the one true, catholic or universal church of Christ- living by “the once and for all faith delivered to the saints (all believers),” had been co-opted and corrupted by the Roman Catholic religion over a millennium.

Rome, led by it’s politically inspired papacy, sought to control Christendom and the church by controlling conversion, which came to be based upon tradition and papal authority as the ultimate source of faith and practice via works salvation and sanctification, manifest in seven sacraments, leading to abuses manifest in false doctrines and means such as: veneration of Mary, purgatory, penance and indulgences (paid and earned gifts from a supposed treasury of merit).

The people of what became known as the “Dark Ages” and the medieval period of history, were withheld from having access to and the ability to read scripture in their own language and were held in bondage to sin, guilt and a wicked system of justification by works.

How was the Reformation Successful?

By virtue of courageous reformers before and after Luther in the 16th century, the authority of scripture alone (Sola Scriptura), as the all-sufficient, credible and necessary Word of God, began to take the church by storm in opposition to the power structure of Roman Catholic rule.

Because of the ministry of men like Luther, the church unshackled itself  from the yoke of ‘Romanism’ and returned to the preaching, teaching and understanding of a true and biblical gospel of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone and for God’s glory alone.

How is the Reformation Relevant Today?

Does Roman Catholicism still exist? Does the Pope still hold to a human throne demanding absolute allegiance by virtue of his title of “Vicar” or substitute for Christ?” Does Rome by virtue of its encyclicals, decrees, catechisms and councils over the past five post-reformation centuries still hold to justification by faith plus works? Is Rome therefore still preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:8-9)?

Unfortunately, the above are all rhetorical questions with the obvious answer to them all, being yes. Rome is still an apostate church, in grave error, leading its adherents to deception and spiritual death by its dogma and heresy.

Worse in some ways, is another growing segment of evangelicalism in need of reform, which has been co-opted by a false religious and apostate movement known as the “prosperity gospel,” which has been deceiving and manipulating seekers and professing Christians for nearly a century now.

Born from its more modern Pentecostal and Charismatic roots, it’s “Word of faith” gospel and doctrine, teaches that one can virtually buy their way into the kingdom of God and heaven, promising rewards of grace, faith, power, prosperity and privilege by means of tithes, offerings and gifts to ministries for its adherents.

Such a false doctrine has permeated Christian television networks and is manifest in the lavish and dishonoring lifestyles evident in many of its high-profile preachers and pastors (i.e. Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Paula White).

Little wonder that Luther said that the gospel must be defended in every generation.

What is Your Part in Today’s Reformation?

Rather than being part of a formal reformation as Luther and his colleagues were at this point in time, Christians are called to be diligent in their wisdom  and discernment of ‘spirits’, prophets, preachers, teachers and false religions and cults that attempt to lure the unsuspecting with veiled references to Jesus, by utilizing Christianese type language and traditions.

Does one have to be an expert on Roman Catholicism or the prosperity gospel movement in order to help keep the church reforming whenever necessary (semper reformada)?  No.

What the legitimate born-again church of Christ must do is understand and be obedient to the call to know, learn, live and give the pure and unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of justification by faith alone to everyone we have opportunity to.

Bankers for years have been trained to differentiate between genuine and counterfeit currency not by primarily studying and become experts of the counterfeits, but by learning to recognize and identity the real thing. Can you? Keep reforming.

Image result for new york truck terror attack Why New York’s Latest Terror Attack?

Unlike the death and calamity wrought by disasters like hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria of late, or even perhaps the tragic Las Vegas shooting last month, “Why?” would not be the most appropriate or necessary question to ask in the aftermath of this week’s “lone-wolf” terror attack of a 29 yr-old man, who killed eight people and injured a dozen more by driving a truck onto a New York bike path in Manhattan.

The perpetrator of the worst terrorist related attack in New York since 9-11, seems to have been a self-radicalized murderer, inspired by the infamous terrorist group know as ISIS, who has claimed allegiance with the driver who was shot and captured by local police.

Terrorism by definition, is a simple act of violence, often resulting in murder, motivated by evil, in order to send a message and strike fear or terror into its victims or intended targets. This driver who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater) after committing his crime, uttered this declaration used by Muslims on many occasions and in many prayers and by radical Muslim terrorists to dedicate their acts of evil to their god of Islam.

The motives are simple rendering the “Why”? questions of such acts moot. Radical Islam teaches eternal rewards are available to its martyrs and that its enemies or “infidels” must be eliminated in a holy ‘jihad’ or war.

The Christian response in conversation about such acts is to call them what they are and again point unbelievers to the reality of the depravity in the human heart that is dire need of redemption.

What does continue to trouble many are what seem to be the more  disconnected and seemingly random acts of violence perpetuated by murderers like the Vegas shooter. Though interestingly enough according to a new report from WORLD magazine, the shooter Stephen Paddock, was losing money gambling and “going in the wrong direction” financially the past two years, according to investigators, who still have not nailed down Paddock’s motive for the mass shooting, which killed 58 people. However, the sheriff leading the investigation said his gambling losses might have played a role.

The sheriff told a television reporter that Paddock worried about how his friends, family, and the casino perceived him. “Obviously, that was starting to decline in a short period of time, and that may have a determining effect on why he decided to do what he did.”

Isn’t it interesting that there are many who believe that gambling is a mere innocent and fanciful leisure activity that can have little or no negative effect on someone? Might it be safer to acknowledge its dangers and risks, which have been linked to addiction and even violence?

In light of these most recent acts of terror and violence in New York and Las Vegas, I am moved to be more aware of and needful to obey God’s command to Christians more than ever from the book of James:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  (Ja. 4:13-15)

May we take advantage of each and every day to live for, show and share Christ while we have opportunity.

Fruits of the Protestant Reformation – Pt.2

Image result for luther at the diet of worms Bernie Diaz, October 24, 2017

October 31st, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the day where Halloween did not come to mind to millions of Christians, but the day in 1517, in which a Catholic Monk named Martin Luther, staked his soul on two revolutionary ideas: sola fide, that salvation is dependent on faith alone; and sola scriptura, that Scripture is the only ultimate authority for Christian belief and practice and that it does not need oversight from church leadership or tradition, such as Rome’s papacy and councils, in order to be read and understood.

Believe it or not, many professing Christians didn’t and don’t actually agree with him. The 95 theses or points of contention Luther nailed to the door at Wittenberg, served as the catalyst for one of the world’s largest religious splits, as thousands broke off from the Roman Catholic Church. His legacy, 500 years later, is 560 million Protestants across the globe, making up more than a third of the world’s ‘Christians’.

Ironically enough today, half of American Protestants say that both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven (52%); the same number believe that in addition to the Bible, Christians need guidance from church teachings and traditions, according to two recent studies released by the Pew Research Center.

The numbers don’t change in Western Europe either, the very birth place of the Reformation. In Luther’s home country of Germany, 61 percent of Protestants believe good deeds are needed for salvation. In John Calvin’s Switzerland, 57 percent agree, as do 47 percent in Abraham Kuyper’s Holland.

What happened to the fruits of the reformation we discussed in our last MCT (My Captive Thought) post? When I speak to middle school students in a public school ministry that our church serves as part of, in our community, I find that even kids from Catholic families know or sense the difference between their faith or upbringing and of those they refer to as “Christians.”

They are inherently aware of the distinction between the two theological systems of thought, faith and practice, found under the umbrella of what we might call, ‘Christendom’.

In America, where many followers of the Reformation fled to escape Catholic persecution (e.g. Puritans and ‘Separatists’ of the early 17th century), more than half of Protestants now say that Catholicism is more like Protestantism than the two are different (57%).

If that statistic is true, then I believe the enemy of the Christian’s soul, is quite happy. This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is always at risk of distortion. It became distorted in the centuries leading up to the Protestant Reformation among other points of church history, and it is often distorted today.

As theologian and Bible teacher R.C. Sproul notes, “This is why Martin Luther said the gospel must be defended in every generation. It is the center point of attack by the forces of evil. They know that if they can get rid of the gospel, they can get rid of Christianity.”

Why the Reformation Today?

Okay, so Roman Catholic doctrine is somewhat different from evangelical Christianity, but didn’t the reformation and Luther settle that dispute? Can’t we just affirm our similarities of faith together?

After all, both Catholics and Protestant Christians affirm the essential doctrines of: God, the deity of Christ, his resurrection, the inerrancy of scripture, the need of atonement for sin, the Trinity and the virgin birth (Rome especially likes that one).

However, we must remember as per our last post, that the Reformation was triggered by the question of indulgences, a paid (in gift or deed) granting of partial or temporary relief from a departed soul’s sin debt in purgatory. The debate over indulgences soon led, directly or indirectly as scholar DA Carson has written, to probing debates on authority, the nature of revelation (Does God speak to his church by both Scripture and Tradition, or on sola Scriptura?), purgatory itself, the authority by which sins are forgiven, the treasury of merits or satisfactions, the nature of the church, the nature and authority of clergy (priest/presbyters), the nature and function of the Eucharist in the mass,  saints, justification, sanctification, the nature of the new birth, the enslaving power of sin, and much, much more.

All of these issues are still central and remain on the theological table today, for Catholics and Protestants to chew on. Even the issue of indulgences is still important: both Pope Benedict and Pope Frances have offered special indulgences (see last post- Fruits of the Reformation- Pt.1) under certain circumstances.

Therefore, we have looked at the fruit of the Word of God and the Gospel of Grace as being as essential and necessary to taste and reproduce today, as they were back then for Luther and the reformers that followed him.

More Lasting Fruit

Church historian and author Joel Beeke wrote of The Ten Lasting Fruits of the Reformation, of which I summarized and condensed into seven beginning with the two above. The other five are:

Experiential Piety

Beeke’s sophisticated phrase simply refers to, “a deep conviction of the fatherly sovereignty of God through Christ, which results in a deep, warm, sanctifying, experiential piety or godliness that moves believers to commit their entire lives to His praise.”

In other words, having a personal relationship with God by faith alone and in Christ alone, results in greater sanctification for a true disciple of Jesus.

The Head of the Church

Beeke said, “The Reformers reasserted the crown rights of Christ as King over the nations and the only Head of the church. This resulted in a church where all is done in subjection to God’s Word and in relation to the triune God rather than in subjection to man’s desires.”

The result of that reality of course, is that Luther and the Reformers soon found themselves at odds with the hierarchy of the church, and in particular, with the Pope. Over the centuries, the Papacy had advanced its claim to dominion over the worldwide church and over the kings and princes of Christian Europe.

Beeke adds that, “Not infrequently, these divergent views led to fierce and bloody conflicts. The Reformers found themselves fighting a two-front war, as the Pope used all his power to suppress the Reformation, and hostile kings and princes resisted and punished attempts to reform the church in their territories. Against both, the Reformers exalted Christ as the only Head of the church in heaven and on earth. Where they prevailed, the church was delivered from the twofold tyranny of the Papacy and the state.”

Christian Freedom

The Reformers established the freedom of the Christian from tyranny in the church, the rights of citizens under the rule of law, curbing the powers of kings and nobles, and enabling the rise of representative democracy in the form of constitutional monarchies and republics.

Beeke notes, Upholding the supreme authority of Scripture, they dealt a deathblow to the medieval theory of the divine right of kings. All estates of the nation, including the king, are subject to the law of God and the laws of the state. None but God has power over the conscience…

This idea of kingship fell upon 16th century Europe as a revolutionary thunderbolt. Therefore, we should cherish our political freedoms and use all lawful means to preserve them, as fruitful and providential gifts of the Reformation.

Marriage, Child-rearing and Culture

Beeke found that the Reformers established the Christian home on the principles of Scripture, in which marriage is understood as a reflection of the Christ/church relationship; where husband and wife covenant with each other to walk in God’s ways; and parents, to rear their children, who are loaned to them by God.

Beeke said, “Casting out the medieval cult of celibacy, the Reformers embraced and exalted marriage in the Lord as the norm for the Christian life. The Christian family is counted as the basic unit of the church and the foundation of society. In no better way can the mystery of Christ and His church be honored and enacted before the world.”

Additionally, Beeke reminds his readers that the Reformers rekindled the spirit of inquiry, founding schools, academies, and universities; disseminating knowledge; encouraging research and exploration; enabling many discoveries and producing many valuable inventions. Exalting God as Maker of heaven and earth, believing that man was created in God’s image, and valuing the creation as God’s handiwork served as more examples of reformation fruit.

History teaches us that a large chapter of Reformed Christianity in the United States, is the history of the founding of schools, school systems, and institutions of higher learning wherever Reformed immigrants and settlers established their new homes and churches. Finally

The True Worship of God

Perhaps, above all, the Reformation according to Beeke, promoted true worship. For them to worship God, whether privately or publicly, was to bow down before His majestic glory, and in spirit and in truth to bring Him, in and through Jesus Christ and in accord with Scripture, the honor and praise that belong to Him alone.

Calvin said that the Christian faith turns on two main hinges: how we are saved, and how we should worship God. Reformation worship turns away from Mary and the “saints” as heavenly mediators and encourages people to draw near to God the Father through the sole mediation of God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

The Conclusion of the Matter

In reality Christian, theologically speaking, the Reformation is not over (semper reformada), it is nearly and merely 500 years old and counting.

Soli Deo Gloria

Here we have seen at least seven crucial ways of fruit, that the Reformation—contra Rome—has blessed our world.

What is the one great reality that all these things reflect according to Joel Beeke? The diamond of the Reformation is the glory of God. The Reformation was about the centrality of God—the supremacy, sovereignty, holiness, goodness, and mercy of God in His triune being. The spirit of the Reformation, if you boil it down to its distilled essence, is to love God by faith in the grace of Christ, as He is revealed in the Scriptures.

May we learn, live and give that truth now as was done then.

Fruits of the Protestant Reformation- Pt. 1

Related image Bernie Diaz, October 17, 2017

As I preached to my church congregation this past Sunday from the Sermon on the Mount, we re-learned the importance of fruit, as a metaphor, to picturing the single best indication of a Christian’s spiritual condition.

As Jesus Christ brought his incredible message from Matthew’s gospel (chapters five to seven) to a conclusion, he marked the line in the sand as to who is a kingdom citizen and who is not, when he said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Mat. 7:21, ESV).

Doing the will of God in one word means, obedience. Or, in other and more simpler words, doing what God has called and commanded us to do from his own words, which can only be found from his specific revelation to his people – the Bible.

The tie in between fruit, of which Jesus used in the preceding analogy prior to the above statement, is that fruit is not only produce, meaning it comes from something, it is the effect of a prior cause (salvation in this case), but that it also produces, it is created to cause its own effect, which is the proof or evidence of true saving faith.

Well, the lasting impact of the great Protestant Reformation of the Christian faith, being observed world-wide in its 500th anniversary this month, is as important and needful today, as it was perhaps five centuries ago, when one considers the constant war which must be waged between the biblical and “once and for all delivered faith to the saints,” and religious systems, traditions and ideas that strive to have man earn his salvation by works, rather than God’s sovereign grace producing salvation for works, or fruit.

Something Greater Than Halloween

Many if not most of America will be celebrating Halloween on October 31st, ignoring or unaware of Reformation Day, the very same date (in 1517) when a ‘monk with a mallet’, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses, or arguments of contention on the church door of Wittenberg, Germany, against the Roman Catholic church’s practice of selling indulgences, which was for all intents and purposes a promissory note given to those who could pay for penance, or pay to have their sins and even those of deceased family, temporarily forgiven or absolved, by the Catholic church, freeing those ‘purchased’ souls from the cleansing or purging process and penalty of purgatory.

Luther, though not initially intending to pick a death-defying fight with Rome when he posted his protest on the community bulletin board of his time, set off a series of events that soon revolutionized the west and modern civilization itself it can be argued, with a reformation, or a return to the gospel and biblically based roots of the Christian faith in the sixteenth century.

The Reformation served as a dynamic motivation and catalyst for change and progress wherever its influence reached, which had been sown by the pre-reformation and equally revolutionary efforts of men like Wycliffe, Tyndale, Hus and Zwingili, who not only saw the institution of Christianity stray far from its foundational roots with its many excesses and fought to reform it – at the cost of their own lives, but also saw the Bible had become a closed book to the masses leaving people in spiritual ignorance.

The Gospel had been distorted and twisted into an ugly representation of what was once good news, to the extent that the reformers met the need for scripture to be translated and given to God’s people in common languages, so they could find Christ for themselves, by being freed from the religious yoke of their time, the Papacy and the Catholic church.

Though many would credit Luther as the driving engine that propelled the Reformation, Luther himself said, “I did nothing; the Word did everything.”

Scottish reformer John Knox said, “God did so multiply our number that it appeared as if men had rained from the clouds.” How did the Reformation change the church and the world? With FRUIT.

Here in this post are the first fruits of seven lasting fruits (condensed and adapted from a larger list from church historian and author Joel Beeke), in which the Reformation made a significant difference then and continues  today, so that it would be appreciated and remembered, so as to inform and make ready the real church of Christ to be forever diligent to continue reforming (semper reformada):

  1. The Word of God 

The reformers recognized the Bible as God’s written Word, and the supreme rule of faith and life for both the individual believer and for the life of the church.

They understood that the very words of God and Jesus Christ, should be the sole authoritative voice for the born-again believer, over the man-made tradition that had become the Catholic religion.

Lest anyone believe I’m being too harsh on Rome or falsifying information to make a point, officially, the Catholic Church has always been very straightforward about her blending of Scripture and tradition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (a much different CCC) acknowledges that the Roman Catholic Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (CCC 82).

The reformation’s return to the Bible as being the sole, primary and authoritative source of God’s revelation to mankind, would later be known as the foundational doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Latin for ‘Scripture Alone’), as one of the “Five Solas” representing the reformed faith’s biblical view of salvation.

To Luther and his reformed compatriots, recovering the knowledge of the original languages of the Bible, made it possible again, for anyone and anywhere to read, understand and respond to the gospel in their native tongue, by the regenerating grace of God.

This piece of reformation fruit is seen, tasted and enjoyed by God’s people, whenever they come together to feed on the scriptures being faithfully proclaimed from biblical pulpits.

  1. The Gospel of Grace

As Beeke notes, “The Reformers recovered the authentic gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, and proclaiming it to the ends of the earth through zealous evangelism. They taught that sinners are saved as Christ graciously works in them by His Word and Holy Spirit, convincing them of their sin and misery, and leading them to faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, offered once for all, as the only ground of their salvation.”

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

Beeke adds, “What Luther and the other Reformers discovered was that Rome had exchanged the true gospel for a false one. According to Rome, salvation was achieved by slow degrees and hard work, by receiving the sacraments (seven of them, including: marriage, communion, infant baptism, confirmation and penance) and by doing such good works as the church required or directed.

Sinners must atone for their sins by doing penance in this life and suffering the fires of purgatory in the next, calling on saints and angels for help, and cherishing the hope of full salvation only in the far distant future.”

Indeed, such a heretical works based salvation gospel and retention enabled Pope Leo to approve of the selling of indulgences in Martin Luther’s era, to complete the building of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome.

Luther was appalled by the sermon of an indulgence vendor named John Tetzel who said, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs,” which resulted in Luther springing into action with his 95 Theses. By the way, Rome’s rotten fruit of reformation remains and continues to be part of Catholic theology.

When the current Pope (Francis) visited Brazil for World Youth Day in 2013, the Vatican offered a complete indulgence to those who could not attend the event but followed it on social media. Though Rome did not require cash for this particular indulgence, strict attention to the internet, Facebook and Twitter was in order for faithful Roman Catholics to ‘bank’ some merit for future sins by virtue of this ritual.

What would Luther have thought or said about Pope Francis’ declaration? His 95 Theses would speak as loudly today in plain English as they did 500 years ago:

#32 Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

#79 To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.

Make no mistake about it, Luther was far from being perfectly righteous apart from the imputed (credited) righteousness he received from Jesus Christ by faith alone. He did not condemn indulgences as much as their abuse. But he did acknowledge that God’s forgiveness of sins could not be bought or earned.

What Luther understood, was that godly reformation fruit is based upon the authority of the giver of that good fruit:

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
(Matt. 15:6d-9)

Enjoy your pumpkin, costumes and revelry on Halloween if you must, but take more than a moment to remember that German monk with a mallet that God used as a reformation tool to bring the faith back to the word and life-giving freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ.