The Pope is in Hot Water Over Hell- What Does It Mean?

Image result for hell Bernie Diaz, April 4, 2018

Ironically, in the midst of ‘holy week’, Pope Francis got into some serious hot water, by reportedly claiming in another interview with a longtime atheist friend, that Hell does not exist and that condemned souls just “disappear.”

Obviously, such a statement if true, betrays not only a denial of the ‘official’ doctrine of the Catholic Church, but more importantly denies the clear doctrine or teaching of the biblically orthodox and historic Christian faith, as to the reality of Hell and the eternal existence of the soul.

“There is no hell,” Pope Francis, whose given birth name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was quoted as saying in an interview published last week with Eugenio Scalfari in the La Repubblica.

According to the interview, the pontiff added, “There is the disappearance of sinful souls,” which is really much closer to the doctrine of annihilationism, which is the belief that unbelievers will not experience an eternity of suffering in hell, but will instead be “extinguished” or annihilated after death, as opposed to the historic teaching of the Bible, in which the unredeemed spend eternity separated from God in torment, in an actual place (hell).

Soon after the article was published, the Roman Catholic Church released a statement denying the claim, appealing to the idea that Mr. Scalfari the interviewer is known for not taking notes during or recording his interviews.

The Vatican statement read, “What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the literal words pronounced by the pope are not quoted. No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father (sic).”

According to another news source, Scalfari asked the pontiff, “Your Holiness, in our previous meeting you told me that our species will at some point disappear and God will always create other species from His creative seed. You have never spoken to me of souls who have died in sin and go to Hell to suffer for it forever.

Instead, you have spoken to me of good souls who are admitted to the contemplation of God. But the bad souls? Where are they punished?”

Francis allegedly responded, “They are not punished, those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and join the ranks of souls who contemplate Him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. Hell does not exist; the disappearance of sinful souls exists.”

Despite the nature of the ‘he said- he said’ allegations, at least two alarming elements of this reported conversation with the Pope come to mind:

  • At no point does the Vatican’s statement mention the Catholic church’s position on hell, nor Pope Francis’s personal comments on the doctrine.
  • At best, the Pope’s quoted position is annihilationist- at worst, it’s universalist, meaning that every and all people who have ever lived and died, remaining in impenitent rebellion to God as a gospel and Christ rejecter, has been forgiven for their sin and will reside in heaven regardless of whether they wished to or not.

Frankly, a bit of research on the current Pope illuminates the possibility of this interview’s alleged content being true. A recent biography looks at  Bergoglio’s (Pope Francis) life focusing on his intellectual influences (e.g. books, journals, authors, friendships, networks) that have shaped his thinking.

Having been a Jesuit priest by vocation, Bergoglio followed a school of thought (which became the matrix of the theology of the Second Vatican Council;1962-1965), in which theological differences or oppositions which would become disruptive or filled with “tensions” for the church, would be dismissed or largely ignored, as he distanced himself from definitions and propositions – or absolute truth claims, as he learned to always think in programmatically “open” and “loose” thought forms.

In other words, the “theology of the people” assumed his default position  as being vital and central to his own thinking of an attractive ministry model, which would mean embracing more of a user friendly or ‘seeker-sensitive’ Catholic theology and pastoral practice.

That would mean perhaps negating the always difficult but necessary doctrine of hell, as well as help to explain his low-key approach towards controversial lifestyles (e.g. homosexuality) marked by modern individual autonomy.

For Bergoglio, theology would have to be developed only in a bottom-up way, in the sense in which the Bible could not be the supreme norm or authority for faith and life.

Thus, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis five years ago, a significant transition took place in the Roman Catholic Church. What he has been saying and doing since being elected, as a biographer notes, startled many with “his affirming attitudes towards all, his noisy silences over doctrine, his thoroughgoing Marianism, and his lack of clarity on several key issues…. causing many to wonder where his thoughts came from.”

What the Hell?

As a brief detour, it should be noted that hell is a difficult and somewhat challenging doctrine for Christians to speak of – preachers, pastors and popes included, when sharing the faith in evangelism with an unbeliever. The reality of hell and eternal punishment is not a popular topic nor one to take lightly.

Biblical writers help us picture scenes of unspeakable horror, and most of the time they’re merely quoting what Jesus himself said about hell:

  • weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12)
  • spiritual and bodily destruction (Matt. 10:28)
  • fiery furnaces (Matt. 13:42, 50)
  • outer darkness (Matt. 22:13)
  • unquenchable fires (Mark 9:48-49)
  • endless torments (Luke 16:23-24)

Part of the problem is that the nature of hell has been horribly distorted in our media-crazed culture and its characteristics (above) are softened by some to the extent that it is portrayed as an experience rather than the physical and geographic reality we find in the New Testament.

It is the Christ of the Christian faith who described hell as a real place, using the Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna, just outside the walls of Jerusalem, to serve as a symbol of an eternal place of torment, having been a location where refuse and even unwanted babies were burned, emitting a foul odor conjuring up the images of a “lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 20).”

Admittedly, hell It is not a pleasant doctrine or truth to share, but a necessary one if a disciple of Christ is to preach a complete gospel to one in need of salvation, or rescue from the judgment to come.

Does it not stand to reason that one should be warned about that which they must be rescued from, in order to accept the rescue itself?

Indeed, if the book of Revelation speaks of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet being cast into the lake of fire and being tormented “day and night forever and ever,” then it should be clear that these three are not “extinguished” or annihilated by being cast into it.

Why would the fate of the unredeemed be any different (Rev. 20:10,14-15)? The most convincing evidence for the eternality of hell itself may be Matthew 25:46, where Jesus said “Then they [the unsaved] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In that verse, the same Greek word is used to refer to the destiny of the wicked and the righteous. If the wicked are only tormented for an “age,” or a non-eternal period of time as some critics of the doctrine of hell argue, then the righteous will only experience life in heaven for an “age” or a time. The Pope isn’t exactly making that case is he?

The simple conclusion is If believers will be in heaven forever, unbelievers will be in hell forever. So, what doesn’t Pope Francis get if he is truly an annihilationist or worse, a universalist? Does he read the same Bible as evangelicals?

The answer to that question is a whole other issue and controversy in itself, but suffice it to say, the word of God does not to hold the same authority for this pope (or any other) and his doctrine where its teaching is inconvenient to an ecumenism (search for unity) that seeks to absorb as many spiritual “free-agents” as possible.

Yes, Christians holding to a biblical worldview and theology, are still wrestling with Roman Catholicism and the five-century old reformation battle of church “tradition” versus Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) which is the crux of this issue.

To put it plainly, who gets to decide if hell exists, what is it and what is intended for? Is it God, who revealed the answers to these questions in his inerrant and infallible source we call the Bible, or the errant and frequently fallible Catholic Pope Francis (at the moment)?

For the professing Christian, who congregates in orthodox Catholicism or cults, the above question is not so easily answered, since such religions rely on ‘tradition’ and the means of grace to be facilitated by their church hierarchies and extra-biblical sources of authority (i.e. Papal decrees, councils, The Book of Mormon, The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation and Watchtower material).

In summary, the Pope’s recent and controversial comments on hell are really a question of authority. Whose words stand as the ultimate authority or last word on truth; papal or Godly authority?

When Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of the Christian faith, concluded his ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ he spoke of a contrast between two homes on two foundations. The home that symbolized disobedience to his words due to a faulty foundation, “fell, and great was the fall of it.”

That fall implies condemnation- to a real place. According to the end of that sermon, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” It’s all about authority isn’t it?

Indeed, the Pope may be in hot water over his comments about hell, but may it not be a water so hot as to be found to be ‘the lake of fire itself.’

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“Hey CEO Christian”- Looking for a New Beginning?

Related image Bernie Diaz, March 27, 2018

I’ve long passed on a running joke around this time of year- which is actually a sad commentary on the state of Christianity in our nation, that America and my community is full of “CEO” Christians, an acrostic that has nothing to do with the traditional sense of business, as in a Chief Executive Officer, but has everything to do with nominal Christianity, as in Christmas and Easter Only ‘Christians.’

My implication is that CEO’s are those that rarely grace the doors of a church other than on the two biggest holidays of the Christian calendar (excluding weddings and funerals of course) and identify with Christianity or Christendom only, as a traditional religious affiliation that they may have inherited from their childhood.

In other words, if you are or know someone that rarely attends church services, you or they may very well be a CEO or nominal Christian, as in name only. While acknowledging that reality may not be very significant to such a person at the moment, understanding the fact that they may be missing out on a new beginning or lease on life may be.

Is there any doubt that many if not most people love anything that’s “new and improved?” We immediately take notice of what’s new, whether it be a new car, clothes, home and especially today, technology and gadgets. As you read this post, hundreds of people nearby are at the mall; Wal-Mart, Best Buy, or online at Amazon, getting ready to drop several hundred dollars I’m sure on the newest and latest, best gadget from Apple.

I remember how cool it was when I bought my last new car way back when in 2006, and really enjoyed that new car smell that is long gone. Might it be  time for me to buy another new car or just the pseudo-new car spray for my used car? How about a new and improved Jesus? I think a lot of people would really like a Jesus 3.0 don’t you think? He might excite them like the most new and improved IPhone, meaning we can update Him and mold Him and His message from time to time to fit our felt-needs and desires perhaps?

When things seem to be spiraling out of control in our society, illustrated of late by a rash of school-related shootings, mass-murders and protests (i.e. “March for Our Lives”), to say nothing of our free-fall into today’s moral and sexual revolution, many would like to update Jesus into the Messiah the Pharisees wanted – a simple, rule-making King who would set out to abolish crime and evil with politically correct, laws, rules and regulations that serve as band-aids for sin, rather than the heart surgery we need for what truly ails us.

That picture couldn’t be clearer to me than having seen the current push from the hundreds of thousands that marched in the nation’s capital and around the country this past Saturday, in the student-led protest to demand an end to school shootings, by calling on Congress to pass restrictions if not the abolition of firearms as the primary means of  ending school campus violence, as if such a reactionary and overly simplistic, though well-intended movement could accomplish that.

Or, we can run a spiritual-systems update that can make Jesus into an ultra meek and mild prophet who goes around over-looking sin and dead hearts, because He doesn’t really want to offend anybody, and we certainly can’t have him judging anyone and their sins in this new and improved version can we?

Obviously, the God and Lord Jesus Christ found in the Bible are offering neither of those two extremes. There is no new and improved update for Christianity or Jesus, just the same tried and true version that the Bible describes as the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The message has not changed since that first Easter, or better yet, Resurrection Sunday 2,000 years ago.

If you or someone you love is looking for a new beginning, and for something that will last forever, that doesn’t ever need updating again or the latest version, because you or they are tired, broken, bitter, battling sin and addictions, or even members of your own family, or wrestling with uncertainty over your future due to unemployment, financial distress or you may just be plain angry with God, there is a way or a road to turn to (John14:6).

That way you want and need, is in all likelihood, a new life and relationship with God – the one you thought you may have had as a CEO, but is really the one that gives a new beginning to life, because He’s the One that created you and the rest of the universe and I would argue only He therefore, can bring meaning to your life and the peace or reconciliation with Him that we all need.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself… (2 Corinthians 5:17-18b, ESV).

In his second latter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul encourages Christians who are suffering, that all is not lost, that despite their trials and tribulations, they have promises to hang on to and a bright future. It is there that Paul gives disciples or real followers of Jesus, a bit of an Easter message.

He tells these Corinthians and us today, that no matter what happens, the believer- the Christian, has the hope or the expectation of a better future, not the kind contrary to the popular opinion of neo-evangelicalism that promises health, wealth and popularity by some form of faith, but the permanent update of soul satisfaction whether you’re rich or poor, a life of peace and joy which could be summarized in obtaining it by one word –reconciliation.

CEO Christian, you need to end your war with God. You need to be reconciled, or brought back into a right, personal relationship with God almighty – now.

To understand what it means to be “in Christ” from 2 Corinthians 5, is the key to getting a new life. If we read and properly interpret that text backwards, you would find that if you get your relationship right with God, you get a new life. That’s the reward- that’s the goal- that’s the promise of truth, real joy, heaven and the eternal life that’s in front of you. As this scripture says, If you’re ‘in Christ’, old things have passed away and ‘all’ things have become new.

If you want a new beginning to your life here and for the future, as Jesus told Nicodemus, the truly first ‘Nic at night’, in John 3, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

That statement presupposes that if you’re at war with God, if you’re not in a right relationship with Him through Jesus, you’re not alive right now- not spiritually anyway.  It means you need a new birth, because for all intents and purposes, you’re spiritually deaf, dumb, blind and really dead- an old person – not a new one.

To Be “in Christ”, Means You’re Right with God.

To be resurrected spiritually in this life before you’re resurrected physically in the life to come (Romans 6:3-5), God must change your heart, give you a faith that drives you to turn from your old self to Him and to trust in His Son alone for the forgiveness of your sins, so that you may be declared ‘not guilty’ of all charges and crimes against Him, and therefore are saved or rescued, from the penalty or judgment of those crimes to come.

Here’s the biggie- if you’re in Christ, you are at peace with God. You are no longer His enemy (Romans 5:1)

You say, “What- when was I an enemy with God?” Yes, in your unredeemed state you were or are. It’s like this: suppose you break the law – say you were doing 70 in a 55-mile-an-hour zone. Now the state has issues with you. They’re at enmity with you. You have broken trust and offended against its authority and right to put limits on your life for the common good. So, the state demands a payment for there to be reconciliation between you and the state. Maybe you lose the ticket and forget about the offense. But the state doesn’t forget, and they mail you a summons to appear in court. They’re not friendly. There is an offense and it must be settled. There will be punishment.

That is what the law requires to restore the honor and right of the state. That’s’ sort of what happens between God and us. The Bible says that the wages (or payment or penalty) for sin is death (yes that means eternal separation from God) which also means a separation to a place –a real place originally made for Satan and the demons called hell, where there will be torment and suffering.

That’s why there are essentially only two kinds of people in the world: one group is at war with God- they’re rebels and the second group is at peace with God and they’re his children and his friends. Which group are you in? Which group do you want to be in? The enemies are living the old life and God’s true children and friends are living the new one (Romans 5:10-11).

So, if you come to Jesus, you take his terms of surrender and reconciliation and are forgiven from having to pay your penalty of sin due God. Your debt is canceled. The Bible says we “Receive the reconciliation.” You don’t perform it. You don’t earn it and you don’t pay for it. You just receive it by repentant faith. That’s the great news we call the gospel.

To be “in Christ” Means You’re Living New with God

As I’ve preached and taught many times before, from the Bible, one of the best ways to know whether or not you’re a real Christian, or are in Christ as opposed to being just a CEO, is to look and see whether or not you are producing good and Godly fruit- the fruit of the Holy Spirit, meaning that you’re living a new, more Christ-like life. In other words, you look like a new creation. As the New Living Translation of the above text describes being in Christ, you’re not “the same anymore.”

Don’t misunderstand CEO or Christian. If you think that being saved or in Christ, means all your old habits, evil thoughts and lusts and sins are gone forever, you’d be wrong. What this does mean is that your new life or nature, this new beginning for you, battles your older flesh or humanity for now. You’re not sinless, but you should sin less.

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him (1 John 2:29, ESV).

Because of your new nature or position (in Christ), you’ll have a new practice or lifestyle. This is why the Bible calls you who are in Christ, a “new man” or woman. You can now say no to sin, though as we also like to say in our church, “It’s not about your perfection- but your direction.”  When the day comes- soon maybe- and it will come, when Jesus returns, your attitudes and actions like His, will be perfect. You’ll be whole in glory with Christ.

Are you ready for your life’s new update or beginning? Are you ready to make a move while you still have time? Do you want all things to become new? Realize you need a new life and a new relationship. So, make a move today or no later than this coming Resurrection Sunday and leave the old, CEO membership behind.    

“To the Jew First…..”

Image result for evangelism of jews Jesse Dieterle, March 20, 2018

The church I pastor has at long last launched a Sunday series from the book of Romans (The Gospel of God), reacquainting me to the need to alert true evangelical Christians to acknowledge their Jewish roots and to prayerfully seek the salvation of lost Jewish souls (Ro. 1:16).

God and Jesus have prioritized Israel and her future, through covenants, scripture, patriarchs and promises, to the extent that the apostle Paul, author of Romans, so desired their redemption, that he wrote, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh (Ro. 9:3).” 

Today’s MCT (My Captive Thought) blog is a guest post, from a thoughtful young Christian man, Jesse Dieterle, whose biblical and evangelical family have visited and blessed our church and have found Jesus to be the Messiah that came and is a coming again savior who fulfills the prophetic promises of the Christ. His own testimony and argument for Jewish evangelism speaks volumes, as Jesse writes….

On December 6th of last year, President Trump moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The President was fulfilling a Biblical, historical, and constitutional mandate (in doing so). The Senate, six months before had called upon Trump to fulfill the congressional, Jerusalem Embassy Act, by a 90-0 vote. This act has been waiting, since 1995 to be executed by an executive power.

Now, with this recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the lawfulness of the Six Day War (June, 1967), Christians should thoroughly wonder about their responsibility to the Jew.

Israel is a nation in the eyes of the world and according to the promises of God, we, as the Church and American citizens, support her national sovereignty. However, in the face of political success, we must not forget about the lowly state of “the Apple of God’s eye” and as Jesus said, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)” Our duty is not only to feed the body, but the soul of Israel.

Yet, the Church has forgotten her heart for God’s ancient people, because she has forgotten why Israel must be evangelized. The original church was composed of Jewish believers and throughout history a remnant, according to Romans 11, have adorned the Church of God. In Romans 1:16, Paul commands the church to preach to the Jew first. The Early Church followed this command by starting in, “Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8).”

A humorous little anecdote rightly illustrates Paul’s command in Romans 1:16. The famous missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, at the beginning of each month sent a small percentage of his earnings to his friend, John Wilkinson, a missionary to the Jews around London. On the back of the check, Taylor wrote, “To the Jew first.” His friend, sent a check to Taylor’s China Inland Mission and his check stated, “And also to the Gentile!” Why must we start with the Jews?

Four Reasons:

  1. The Jews are God’s Chosen People and honor should be repaid where it has been rendered.

We have a Savior and Bible through one people: the Jews. Their prophets and priests prayed daily for our salvation. Isaiah in the 49th chapter speaks of God’s wishes to visit grace upon the Gentiles. The Jews’ ancestors were our greatest heroes: Abraham, Joseph, and David. Romans 11:11, “But through their fall…salvation has come to the Gentiles.” The Church is indebted to the Jewish people and it is their duty to repay them by preaching the Eternal Covenant of Redemption.

  1. The Jews shall receive God’s judgment first.

Romans 2:8-9, “indignation and wrath…of the Jew first and also of the Greek.” Much was given unto the Jewish race and their stubbornness and unbelief caused them to forsake their promised Messiah. Yet, now much will be required at the blood of the Jews on the Great Day of Judgement.

The Church out of compassion should show mercy unto the people, who will be judged first. A doctor cares for the deathly ill patient first and likewise, the Church should provide the Balm of Gilead to the Jewish people first.

  1. To preach to the Jews first is God’s command.

We are not at liberty to circumvent God’s wishes to preach to the Jews first. Theologians may take eternity to prove that God has forsaken his people, but the Lord’s heart is still upon that “stiff-necked people.”

The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people, for ye were the fewest of all people, but because the Lord loved you” Deut. 7:7 (KJV).

The Church should obey God’s command and love those He adores. He describes himself as the mother of Israel, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely, they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. (Isa. 49:15)”

  1. There is a blessing to be gained for the Church in preaching to Israel.

“And in you (Israel) all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).

God, in Romans 11, stated that the casting off of Israel provided Salvation to the Gentile nations, but Paul then rhetorically asks what then will be her restoration to the world? It shall be as life from the dead.

The salvation of all of Israel will cause a revival in the Church and world. If their persecution in the last two thousand years has been the growth of the Church, her salvation will cause even further growth. Zechariah 8:12 says yet more explicitly, “It shall come to pass, that as you were a curse among the heathen…so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing.”

The historical examples of preaching to the Jews is extensive, but we shall focus on Scotland’s love for Israel. Scotland was converted to Protestant Christianity in the 1550’s by John Knox. The nation’s next generation of theologians, the Puritans, focused on the importance of Israel in God’s Redemptive plan. It was commonplace in England and Scotland in the 1640’s to hold a deep compassion for the Jews.

It was Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the British people and a staunch puritanical Christian, who allowed the Jews to come back to the Island after 400 years. In 17th century British churches, prayers for the salvation of Israel occurred every week in the church service.

In the 1740’s, after the revival known  as The Great Awakening, prayer services continued for decades for the salvation of the Jews and finally in the mid-19th century, their prayers were answered. In 1839, the Church of Scotland decided to send out four preachers to survey the situation of the Jews in Europe and the Middle East. One of the four was Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a 26 year-old pastor.

He always desired to be a missionary and on this nine-month journey on camelback, through deserts or through disease infested Europe, M’Cheyne and the other men shared the Gospel to the Jews and took notes on where a mission to specifically Jewish people was to be centered.

On returning from the journey, M’Cheyne visited his home church, in Dundee, and surprisingly found revival throughout his congregation, which he believed was a blessing from preaching to the Jews. This historical example is just one of many, where the church has been blessed by Jewish evangelism. It is now upon the American church, who are evangelical and prosperous, to become evangelistic towards the Jews.

America, founded by men, who loved Israel like Washington, Adams, and the Puritans, and whose government is based upon the Hebrew Republic, has a duty to unsaved Israel. The prosperity of physical Israel is not enough, we must preach to the Jew first.

Israel’s embassy may be moved, but is her heart renewed? Do you have the heart of Cotton Mather (American Puritan)? He wrote in 1690: This day, from the dust, where I lay prostrate, before the Lord, I lifted up my cries: For the conversion of the Jewish Nation, and for my own having the happiness, at some time or other, to baptize a Jew, that should by my ministry, bee [sic] brought home unto the Lord.

The hope of these Puritans is exemplified in the Scottish Puritan, Samuel Rutherford’s desire, “O sweet Jesus let me see that sight which will be as life from the dead, thee and thy ancient people in mutual embraces.”

As servants of the Lord, living in South Florida, the third most populated area of Jews in the world, our hearts should go out to the lost sheep of Israel to pray and preach incessantly for their return to the fold of the Good Shepherd, their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Jesse Dieterle is a resident of South Florida. He is a home-educated High School student, who has published a book on the martyrdom of the Apostles, Dying for the Truth. Jesse is also involved in teaching biblically-based classes and is a mathematics tutor. 

Spiritual Disciplines of Success for Christian Kids

Image result for families at church Bernie Diaz, March 13, 2018

Too many parents have long taken the biblical proverb “train up a child” from Proverbs 22 and have treated it like a promise, assuming that if they do everything right in their parenting, their children will turn out just fine.

Though Proverbs are general principles or truths, they’re not specific promises. We’ve also learned if anything as Christian parents how counterproductive if not hypocritical it can be, to try to train our kids to trust God and follow Christ when we as Christian adults do little of neither.

But even though we know we are just stewards or managers of our kids rather than owners, we understand how the above Proverb and much of the scripture teaches us to take the training – the discipleship of our children seriously—both where we feed them and also how we lead them, and as Christian parents, creating a culture can make all the difference in the world.

A new Lifeway research study surveyed 2,000 Protestant and non-denominational churchgoers who attend church at least once a month and have adult children ages 18 to 30. The goal of the project was to discover what parenting practices or disciplines were common in the families where young adults remained in the faith. What affected their moral and spiritual development? What factors stood out?

You might expect that family worship services or devotions would play a major part, or the simple habit of eating meals together around the table. Perhaps you’d expect a Christian school kid to be more likely to follow Jesus than a public-school kid. I would. Everyone has ideas about what practices work best or prove to be most successful in raising Christian children.

The research (compiled in the book Nothing Less) indicated that children who remained faithful as young adults, meaning they identified as a Christian, were sharing their faith, fellowshipping in church and reading the Bible and grew up in homes where certain practices were present.

Hearing God’s Voice

The biggest factor was Bible reading or what we call in our church, “eating Bible.” Children who regularly read the Bible while they were growing up were more likely to have a vibrant spiritual life once they became adults. This statistic doesn’t surprise me, knowing that God’s Word is powerful and provides the primary spiritual nourishment that disciples of Christ are meant to have (Matt. 4; 2 Pet. 1).

The Bible lays out the great redemptive story of our world and serves as the source of wisdom and guidance that becomes the foundation of a biblical worldview.

Therefore, Bible reading is a constant reminder that we live as followers of God. Our King has spoken and we’re to listen, which is why we’ve been harping on our church members to, ‘hear God’s voice’ as the first means of God’s grace. That discipline pertains to younger and older adults in the faith equally.

Having God’s Ear and Being in the Body

Two more factors follow close behind in the maturity of successful Christian children: prayer and service in church. The practice of prayer did not specify whether it was private or corporate, before meals or before bedtime, or in the morning. But prayer, or the means of grace we call, ‘having God’s ear’, was present.

Note that the church-related factor was about service, not just attendance. It wasn’t just that parents took their kids to church (where “professional clergy” could feed them spiritually), as important as that is, but that the children were included and integrated into the church through the avenue of service. Our church being family-integrated (we intentionally do not have a children’s or youth program), strives to facilitate that fellowship and service in the local body.

Indeed, the habit of serving others in the church and community likely influenced these young adults in a way that kept them from being just a churchgoing “consumer,” but rather a Christ-committed contributor to the building up of the body.

Worship

What may surprise you is how high up on the list was the factor or spiritual discipline of listening primarily to Christian music.

Christian contemporary music gets a bad rap these days, usually for being a bit light, or more inspirational than theological (although this stereotype is warranted to an extent). Still, we shouldn’t dismiss the truth that Trevin Wax points out behind Augustine’s ancient observation that we sing the truth into our hearts. 

When we sing together as a community of faith thanking and praising God on our own, singing songs that affirm and build our faith, we reinforce the beauty of our Christ and the glory of God. Interestingly enough, was the finding lower on the list, that listening primarily to secular music was an indicator that could negatively affect one’s spiritual life.

Culture- Not Programs

For decades now, many Christians have assumed that certain church programs are the key factors in a child’s spiritual development: Vacation Bible school, youth group activities, Sunday school, so on and so forth. But the research study shows that these programs can make an impact in so far as they are connected to consistent habits or again spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, praise, and service. It’s the culture of the family and church, and that they integrate children and young people into spiritual disciplines, that matters most.

Also notable is the impact of the parents’ example of reading Scripture, taking part in ministry, evangelism and the humility of peace-making (giving and receiving forgiveness). In other words, the more the repentant, joyful Christian life was modeled by parents to their children, the more likely those kids were to remain in the faith.

The Power of Imitation

Research shouldn’t be misused in a way that transforms children into blank slates.

There is no perfect parenting formula, and as per the truth behind the famously quoted Proverb above, there is no surefire formula or method for raising faithful and godly kids, as they are to be trained up in “the way they should go”, meaning in the habit or path or journey in which the Lord has placed them on individually.

In other words, our kids are not cookie-cutter products. We don’t want to over or underestimate our influence as parents, all the while understanding you are not your child’s Holy Spirit.

According to the research from Nothing Less, there is power in faithful, Christian imitation as the apostle Paul called other believers to do, imitating him as he strove to imitate Christ. Children are more likely to mature as disciples and avail themselves to the means of God’s grace,  when they see their parents doing the same.

Thus, Christian parents looking to breed spiritual success in their children may want to ask themselves:

What kind of culture do we want in our homes and churches?

How are we rooting our families in God’s Word?

How are we modeling prayer and repentance?

What does faithfulness look like in our home?

What are the songs that are in our hearts and on our lips?

How are we fulfilling the Great Commission to make, mature and multiply disciples?

Ask and begin to answer these questions as God works in and through our families for his glory and your good.

Why and How Every Christian Should be a Scholar and Theologian

Image result for bible study Bernie Diaz, March 6, 2018

Reading and interest in doctrine were once staples and prominent features of the Christian faith in a time where smartphones, social media and tablets were non-existent and people gathered and disseminated information in greater volume than with 150 character tweets and thirty-second television and web-video sound bites.

The post-reformation and post-revolutionary eras of the west and the United States in particular, implied that disciples of Jesus Christ like their Israeli forefathers, were people of the “book” (the Bible) who read, understood and could communicate the fundamental truths and doctrines of their faith. Obviously, that has not been the case in Christendom for some time now to the detriment of the church and our greater society in general, as our nation and much of western civilization continues to flounder in a post-Christian age of moral relativism, which unchecked, could lead to outright chaos.

How do we correct and reform the state of biblical illiteracy that is rampant in the church of Christ, crippling its ability to be salt and light in a decaying if not dying culture? Every Christian must be made aware of their responsibility to be both a scholar and theologian.

Calm down Christian. I’m not suggesting every believer that can read enroll tomorrow in a seminary of their choice or strive to be the church’s next Luther, Calvin, MacArthur or Piper – although that wouldn’t hurt!

What I am exhorting Christians to do is return to the attitude of prioritizing the reading of the Bible and the study or proper understanding of the Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ found in the scriptures.

How to Be a Christian Scholar

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15, ESV).

Interestingly enough, the scripture commands all disciples of Christ to be “workers” or laborers like farmers who plow the soil to sow and harvest seeds and crops to “handle” or cut straight the word of God.

That’s what professional scholars do, as the dictionary defines, as people with “profound knowledge of a particular subject.” That’s supposed to be us Christian! That subject is to be God and his kingdom. Where do we start? Strive to know, learn, live and then give the word of the living God. That starts with a radical exhortation. Ready…wait for it…. READ!!!!

Read to Know

The best reason to read books – beginning with the Bible, is to know God. I think each of us can and will meet God in his Word, but this does not mean that he reveals himself equally to everyone of us.

We can and should benefit from what others have learned and we do that through books, those that are theological in nature (see below) and would include edifying and inspiring biographies. Yes, e-books are permissible of coruse. I’m virtually out of room for hardcopies in my office, so I thank the Lord for the technology that has given me a Kindle.

There are many people who are intimidated by the mere thought of reading theological and doctrinal books. No worries. It doesn’t matter who you are, there is a book written at your level. Ask a pastor and/or a more mature brother or sister in the faith and get yourself a solid reading list that will move you beyond Joel Osteen, and into meatier and weightier works such as those from giants like Calvin or Jonathan Edwards, who were utterly humbled by just how little they initially knew about their God.

For example, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and its abridged version (Christian Beliefs) are very accessible and handy reads summarizing the basic doctrines of the faith.

If you do not read, you deny yourself a great way to learn who God is and how he acts in this world. There is no study more satisfying than that.

Read to Grow

Reading is a means of grace in which we’re spiritually born and then grow (1 Pet. 1:23-25). We read to know God and we read to grow so we can honor or glorify him in every area of our lives.

To do that, we as children of God have to know what the Bible says, what it means by what it says and then what we are to do by what it means and says.

Wisdom and discernment- good biblical discrimination and decision making begin there. So, I recommend to many that they start with the Bible and a good reading plan than enables one to eat Bible in an OIA method of study or scholarship: Observe, Interpret and Apply. Then you’re ready to move on to Bible study tools and theological books and material.

Read to Lead

It’s true- readers are leaders and leaders are readers. Wouldn’t you agree that we could use more Christian leadership today- in and out of the church? After all, every man is called to lead in some area of life, whether that is leadership in the home, in the workplace, in the church or elsewhere. There is more than a little anecdotal evidence proving that the great men of history were readers — find me a great man whose mind was shaped by television. I’m still waiting…..!

Al Mohler, a Christian worldview commentator and seminary President is an advocate in his book, The Conviction to Lead, of: “convictional intelligence,” which he defines as: “the product of learning the Christian faith, diving deeply into biblical truth, and discovering how to think like a Christian.” In other words, the best Christian leaders again know, learn, live, give and then lead accordingly. The unavoidable fact is that your convictions determine where you lead and how you lead.

Read to Love

While we tend to consider reading as a personal pursuit, it can also be a means of loving others. There are ways in which we can love others by being a reader.

First, read to understand. Not only should we read in order to know the Lord better and to grow spiritually as disciples, but reading also benefits others around you. Husbands can learn to love their wives better by reading books like, When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey.

Mothers and fathers can better disciple their children with Voddie Baucham’s Family-Driven Faith and we can better raise our children in the ‘fear and admonition of the Lord’ by reading Ted Tripp’s, Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

Second, we can read to recommend. You can love others by recommending books that will help them in their circumstances. This may involve reading books that will apply more to others than to yourself. Knowledge and information are paramount and powerful tools when we disciple others as the disciple-makers we should be.

For some people like me, reading is a great and natural pleasure. My appetite to read is insatiable and due largely to my curiosity: I need to know things. Yet other people are not as curious by nature and reading brings them little pleasure. May I be as bold to suggest that to discipline or train ourselves to do those things we should, often results in those things becoming pleasurable. Pleasures can be learned! There was a time that I hated to drink my coffee without milk and sugar. Once I trained myself to abstain from the sugar for health’s sake, I soon began to enjoy it as a pleasure.

Reading is a pleasure worth learning to love and pursue, even if it requires some effort at first. Get into the word- via a reading plan perhaps, one chapter a day. Mix listening to it and other treasures via audio versions on your phone or CD player if that helps and notice how quickly you will develop the intake of the word and doctrine as a habit and will miss it when you don’t.

How to Be a Theologian

Again, when I argue that every Christian must be a scholar and theologian, I don’t mean that every Christian must be an academic or a professional theologian like an R.C. Sproul. We don’t want to know about God just for the sake of information – but for life transformation. We all basically understand what is meant by the biblical warning that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1).

There are at least three big reasons why every Christian ought to be a theologian or a student of God:

  • Theology is Commanded

Theology by definition is the study of God (Theos+science/ology). Having a mind dedicated to God is required in the great commandment of the faith: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

Loving God with all of our minds certainly means more than theological study, but it certainly does not mean less than that.

  • Theology Leads to Salvation

Now, of course, the mere study of God- his attributes and such will not bring a sinner salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8) totally apart from any works of our own (Ro. 3:28), which includes any intellectual ability (1 Cor. 1).

But at the same time, the faith by which we are justified, is a reasonable and I believe an even rationale faith, once God gives us the ability to understand ourselves and our sin, as well as the need to escape the wrath of God’s judgment to come as the due penalty for sin.

Saving faith is a gracious and sovereign gift from God (Eph. 2:8; Ro. 8:28-30; 12:3), but it is predicated upon information— initially, what we call the gospel or the good news of who and what Jesus is and has done for repentant sinners. We must believe and know what we are believing.

  • Theology Fuels Worship

True Christians are not those who believe in some vague notion of God. Real disciples of Christ are those who believe in the triune God of the Bible and have placed their trust by the real Spirit in the real Savior as proclaimed in the specific words of the real word of God.

Knowing the right information about God, is just one way we can rightly pursue and praise him. We worship when we listen to our pastor’s preaching, in lifting up our voices to God in ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ (Eph. 5; Col.3) and in our church’s prayers, both corporate and private.

Doctrinally sound and biblically saturated theological study, adds fuel to our heart of worship in the Spirit. What did Jesus explain to the Samaritan woman at the well? True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (Jo. 4:23-24)

As per Romans 12:2, our life transformation begins with a renewing of our minds. As John Piper has said, “The theological mind exists to throw logs into the furnace of our affections for Christ.”

Genuine, purposeful and prayerful scholarship and theological study of God, is an expression of a deepening love for our God. The more we know, learn, live and give his word, the more we will find ourselves in awe of Him and as someone said, “Like a great ship on the horizon, the closer we get, the larger He looms.”

Billy Graham – The Legacy of a Legend

Image result for billy graham Bernie Diaz, February 28, 2018

“My father … was once asked, ‘Where is Heaven?’ He said, ‘Heaven is where Jesus is and I am going to Him soon!’ This morning, he departed this world into eternal life in Heaven, prepared by the Lord Jesus Christ — the Savior of the world — whom he proclaimed for 80 years,” Franklin Graham said after his father’s passing last week at age 99. 

Was there a more significant religious figure in the 20th century, than Billy Graham, known as ‘America’s Pastor” and the organizations and the movement he helped spawn which continue to shape the 21st?

Graham, thought of by many as the nation’s quintessential, evangelical preacher and revivalist for much of the last century, became an iconic figure and perhaps the most identifiable one in Christianity during his lifetime, rivaled only by the Popes of the Catholic faith in terms of public recognition and influence.

So much so that Graham’s body will travel to Washington this week to lie in the Capitol rotunda, a rare honor for someone not directly tied to politics, before returning to Charlotte, N.C. for a private funeral.

Little wonder that much attention has been paid to Graham’s passing, considering that during his life, he preached in person to more than 100 million people and to millions more via television, satellite, and film. Nearly 3 million have reportedly responded to his invitation to “accept Jesus into your heart” at the end of his sermons. It is generally accepted as fact that Graham proclaimed the gospel to more persons than any other preacher in history.

However, it is the nature of that ministry amongst other concerns that have cropped up in my conversations with Christians and leaders in and around the church in the aftermath of his passing, leading to an interesting debate about the legacy that Graham has left behind: particularly with respect to his doctrine and his apparent and alarming move towards ecumenism towards the end of his life and ministry, leaving some or much of his legacy in question.

That ecumenism –  a movement that ostensibly promotes cooperation and better understanding among different religious denominations, is aimed at universal Christian unity but instead brought speculation as to the integrity of Graham’s gospel ministry like others, who have been known to compromise hard gospel truths and doctrine for the sake of ecumenism or politically correct harmony.

Mind you, Graham’s character or conduct has not been questioned. But, the question that has been raised in the wake of his death by some, is, “Was his gospel indeed the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

What- Billy Graham? Really? Graham appeared regularly on the lists of “most admired” people in America. Between 1950 and 1990 Graham won a spot on the Gallup Organization’s “Most Admired” list more often than any other American. Ladies Home Journal once ranked him second only to God in the category of “achievements in religion.” He received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1983) and the Congressional Gold Medal (1996).

Another Gospel?

Asked in his sunset years what he hoped to be remembered for most, Billy Graham often would tell interviewers, “that I was faithful in preaching the gospel throughout my life.”

Though he was neither a scholarly theologian nor a denominational leader, Graham was a charismatic man, one who possessed a compelling charm that inspired devotion in others. He was easily recognized for his memorable voice and face, both out front and behind the scenes with influential church leaders and American Presidents, defining, shaping, and coalescing the evangelical movement as it emerged from the fundamentalism vs. modernism warfare of the 1930s and 40s and took hold worldwide.

Yet, what is still often debated in evangelical circles, is what exactly did Graham believe about the exclusivity of the gospel (John14:6; Acts 4:12)?

What has troubled some, were some of the features of Billy Graham’s revival ministry. He preached for individual ‘decisions’ for Christ. Following in the footsteps of revivalists before him, public relations campaigns were crucial.

So was getting the sponsorship and participation of local churches – nothing wrong there as they were called upon to be involved with follow-up. Graham wanted to make sure that the people who made decisions would be contacted by local churches soon afterwards. He even said this was the most important aspect of his work.

However, that work began to cultivate some controversy beginning in the late 1950s, because of who he was working with. He not only worked with evangelical churches, but also with the large mainline denominations that were more than friendly to liberal theology. Converts from his crusades would be directed to become members of these liberal gospel-denying churches, which caused more than a few conservative Christians to question Graham’s ‘Finney’ like revival methods and theology.

Eventually, Billy Graham even came to cooperate with Roman Catholic Churches as WORLD magazine has reported. If someone would come to a crusade and make a decision and identify as a Roman Catholic, then they would be directed back to the Roman Catholic Church for spiritual care under the assumption that the profession was lifesaving.

Graham was surprisingly open to Roman Catholicism according to reports. At one point he said, “I have no quarrel with the Catholic Church.” In another place, he said, “I feel I belong to all the churches. I am equally at home in an Anglican or Baptist or a Brethren assembly or a Roman Catholic Church.” He was invited to worship alongside Pope John Paul II at a service in South Carolina in 1987, and he would have if not for an unexpected invitation to China.

It seemed over time that doctrinal differences with partners were minimized and became irrelevant.

A Universalist?

One particular television interview Billy Graham conducted with notable Crystal Cathedral liberal Robert Schuller, broadcast in Southern California in May of 1997, perhaps haunted Graham’s theological legacy the most.

It is there according to transcripts of the broadcast where Dr. Schuller asked Graham, “Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?”

Dr.  Graham: “Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there’s the body of Christ, which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups.

I think everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the body of Christ…”

Alarmingly, Graham went on to say, “What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name.  Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ, because they’ve been called by God.  They may not,” he says, “even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think they’re saved and they’re going to be with us in heaven.”

Whether Billy Graham intended to make those remarks or misstated his views, or whether his physical and mental state at an already advanced age at the time of the interview may have impacted those statements, one will never know. Some of his theological convictions (‘easy beliefism’) and associations had been called into account since the early1950’s.

Rather than foster ecumenism, Graham’s passing has affirmed a divide in evangelicalism that had remained dormant for the past several years until his passing. In fact, seeking clarification back then, Schuller responded to Graham’s comments: “What, what I hear you saying, that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they have been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you are saying?” Graham answered, “Yes, it is.” Schuller replied, “I’m so thrilled to hear you say this: ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’,” and Graham added, “There is. There definitely is”

Indeed, our God is the one and only God of mercy, but his word has made it plain that his mercy is only extended to those that repent of their sin and place all of their faith for salvation in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone.

Impact and Integrity

What there is little doubt of, is the massive influence Billy Graham had on evangelical Christianity and in spite of his doctrinal differences and ignorance, God seemingly and providentially used him in his kingdom purposes to lead thousands to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Many prominent evangelicals such as President George W. Bush and the late Charles Colson, former Nixon legal counsel and convicted Watergate prisoner (and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries), owe much of their personal salvation testimony to Graham and his ministry.

It can be argued that there was much biblical “fruit” that one could inspect and approve of in this man’s imperfect life – particularly from those who knew him best, including his son Franklin, founder of the world-renown Samaritan’s Purse ministry.

Vice-President Mike Pence among countless evangelical leaders over the decades have followed the “Graham rule” of personal integrity, refusing to meet with women one on one, in order to maintain strict moral propriety.

End of an Era

Is it fair to even speculate as whether or not Billy Graham was a Christian? Whether or not he preached a biblical, Gospel and Christ-centered gospel?  Perhaps so, but Romans 2 tell us that it is Jesus on judgment day who will “render” or repay each one according to his works or deeds. Justification is by faith, but our judgment and sanctification is confirmed by our works.

As Jesus settled a dispute among his prideful disciples about “Who is the Greatest,” he took a young child and placed him among them all displaying faith and dependence that one must display themselves in order to be saved, and said: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

To which the apostle “John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me” (Mark 9:37-39, ESV).

In the parallel account from Luke’s gospel, he added, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

So, It is not for us to judge Billy Graham’s spiritual condition at the time of his passing last week. Only God ultimately knows the heart of a man or woman and we can only pray that his mercy did touch the man whose autobiography and signature revival meeting hymn was titled, “Just as I Am.”

His evangelical legacy was not only legendary, but his gospel seed planting ministry appears to be the most fruitful of his time.

Question and Answer from the Parkland Shooting – Never Again?

Related image Bernie Diaz, February 21, 2018

The shock is over, the pain remains and anxiety is on the rise as South Florida reflects and begins the process of recovery as well as grieving in the aftermath of the Parkland high school shooting last week, which claimed 17 lives and injured a dozen more, in what is the state’s worst school-related mass murder in history.

The 19 year-old shooter – perpetrator of the seventh school firearm related incident in the U.S. since just the beginning of the new year, did his damage with an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon, leading survivors and students among others to gather in a series of local and state vigils and meetings, demanding gun control.

Never Again!

Thousands of students rallied outside the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee this week, to demand changes to gun laws, as students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – the site of the shooting, rallied and called on legislators to reject allegiance to the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The emotions are running high, are palatable and understandable to any reasonable person. A 17-year-old student from Douglas High School used to worry about tests according to a news report. Now she worries about being shot. “My main concerns are funerals, gun control and whether or not I’m going to be shot wherever I go,” she said. “My innocence ― our innocence ― has been taken from us. I’m 17, but in a matter of days have aged decades.”

Indeed, as President Trump added in his condolences, “No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school.” However, the fact remains that public schools – which are those with larger student populations in particular, are at greater risk for such tragic events.

Grim realities have set in for many Americans watching and almost waiting for the next tragedy or act of evil to befall another school campus, begging two big questions which inevitably follow events like Parkland:

Why? What can be done about it?

The why question is one we have asked and wrestled with too many times before, having posted in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting which resulted in a record 58 deaths, then after the shooting at a Baptist church in rural Texas last November which resulted in 27 more deaths.

Mental Health? There is little doubt that the Parkland gunman was troubled and had been dealing with mental health issues necessitating treatment (ADD, depression and Autism).

However, the degree to which mental health impacted the shooting if at all is in question. While many observers described the young man as  immature, quirky and depressed, others including the family which took him into their Parkland home after the death of his parents, seemed to think his life may have been making a turn for the better.

They thought of him as be being more pleasant at home and growing happier, they said. How the 19-year-old turned into a killer still baffles them. “We had this monster living under our roof and we didn’t know,” Kimberly Snead told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “We didn’t see this side of him.” “Everything everybody seems to know, we didn’t know,” her husband James said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Were it only that simple. School shootings do not always result in mass casualties nor garner the same media attention that Parkland has. This week, an Ohio middle school student brought a gun to school and shot himself in a bathroom. Authorities said the student, who was hospitalized, had not yet made clear if the act was intentional or accidental.

The President of the American Psychological Association had her own message for those blaming last Wednesday’s school shooting, on mental illness: Think twice. “While law enforcement is still piecing together the shooter’s motives, some public figures and news reports are focusing on his mental health,” she said in a statement. “It is important to remember that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness.”

Such rhetoric is true and has become common following violent acts. Mental health though a likely factor in some of the shootings, has been set up as the secondary default position of such events, by an over-reflexive culture, only surpassed by the blame game on public enemy number one – guns.

Gun Control?

Yes, the Parkland shooter’s massacre was tied to an assault weapon, leading to the obligatory and immediate backlash on gun owners and according to their advocates, another assault on second amendment rights.

Gun rights advocates justifiably argued that the Parkland shooter’s rifle was obtained legally, and that interestingly enough, most states with the strictest or greatest number of gun control laws also have the highest per capita rates of gun-related homicides.

Furthermore, tighter restrictions on gun access offer no guarantee that they can prevent mass murder, as evidenced by this week’s arrest in Naples, FL, of an 18-year-old high school student who local police say brought a knife and a backpack filled with a “hit list” of student names and other disturbing items to school.

As a state senator from Ocala said after a special legislative session on the issue, “We’re obsessing over the hardware of violence, and it makes as much sense as saying we’re going to stop obesity by collecting spoons.”

Law enforcement? The FBI apologized for its failure to react and take action on threats and warnings made concerning the Parkland shooter, but authorities also intervened and quickly made arrests in thwarting mass shootings at a prep school and a high school in southern California, set to happen just two days after the Parkland event.

Therefore, who is to blame for the Parkland tragedy? Someone has to get the blame to make sense of it all right?  

The post-mortem debate centering on answering that question and deciding what to do about is most difficult: “Assault weapons are tools designed to kill efficiently,” said one state representative. “Not only are they found in nearly every case of a mass shooting, they make it easy to inflict as much pain and damage as possible.”

In response, another Naples official said, “Solutions to the human condition are something we search for every day. As unfortunate as it is, there’s not a law we can pass that stops crazy people from doing crazy things.”

Reasonable Solutions? Yes, we hope that law makers can address Parkland with common sense initiatives to at least make another shooting harder to occur without unnecessarily detracting from a law-abiding citizen’s right to defend himself and family.

In fact, unbeknownst to many professing Christians, is the reality that the word of God based upon revealed principles, seems to allow for the use of weapons – in self-defense. As reported in the New Testament gospel of Luke (22), Jesus prepared his discipling evangelists to make provision as they took to the road to visit communities and preach the gospel.

One item of particular and relevant importance was a sword, a potentially lethal weapon very much like a dagger, the kind a warrior might stab or slash an enemy with in a pre-gun era of antiquity. Swords were the basic weapon of a Hebrew soldier.

This weapon was a useful tool and part of everyday life in this time of biblical history. One could fend off a wild animal with it if necessary. However, Jesus rebuked Peter for using it in the more offensive context of  fending off the Temple guards that came to arrest the Christ on the night of his ‘Passion ‘(Matt. 26:52-53; John 18:11).

A sword at that time serves as the best parallel we have to modern-day guns. While one can argue for gun control and limited access, biblically, It would be difficult to say the scripture preaches ‘no guns’ by principle. The heroes of the faith were nothing if not armed. Weapons appear early on in Genesis, such as when Lot was kidnapped and his uncle Abraham came to his rescue (Gen. 14:14).

The Torah (the law of Moses) made it a point of divine law that a private person had a right to defend his home and family…

Exo. 22:1-2 1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep. 2 If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.

Thus, a person operating under a Christian worldview, could understand that while the scriptures do not condemn the possession of a weapon per se, they seemed to clarify its proper use. God has ordained government to punish evil and to even execute the wicked with the sword (Romans.13). But in terms of interpersonal conflict, The Bible and Jesus himself, seemed to advocate the use of a weapon in at least a defensive posture.

That said, my own post-Parkland analysis reveals that the legal system could enact the following four proposals:

  • Raise the minimum age for purchasing rifles at the state and federal level to 21 years of age, like handguns.
  • Outlaw devices that increase the firing rate of weapons (e.g. “bump stocks”), which turn semi-automatic weapons to automatic ones.
  • Mental Health providers could somehow grant access of information to federal law enforcement agencies of patients who may be at risk of doing harm to themselves and others.
  • Greatly increase school campus security with a sufficient number of armed security personnel, greater campus access restrictions and perhaps even metal detectors.

But, while all these suggestions may be practical and politically doable from both sides of the gun debate, the Bible reveals clearly why there will not yet  be any lasting and satisfying resolution to this crisis. Simply put- it’s about EVIL.

The heart of man- including troubled teenagers, are “deceitful and desperately wicked,” and continue “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph. 2:2c-3).

As I argued from my two-part sermon from Romans 1:18-32 at my church this month, the only long-term solution to evil, universal sin and God’s wrath of abandonment on a society of people – like ours, hell-bent on its own destruction, is the healing and hope only found in the gospel of God and Jesus Christ, who provides salvation to redeem and restore sinners to a new and righteous life by repentant faith (Ro. 1:16-17).

Who is talking about that solution- spiritual heart surgery rather than a band-aid in triage? Where is the voice of church to shed light in the darkness?