Shark Week Thought: Are we Fishers of Men or Mere Spectators?

Image result for shark week Bernie Diaz, August 1, 2017

Shark Week just concluded its annual cable television campaign and I couldn’t help but catch more than one documentary episode of this typical, late July series that not only aims to educate viewers, but scare them more than half to death from swimming in the ocean with these man-eating machines, as they’re portrayed on screen.

These creatures- the Great White shark in particular, are big, strong and fast – even faster than Olympic Gold-Medal swimmer Michael Phelps, as I learned by watching one program, which prevents most of us from even the thought of fishing for one in the deep blue sea. There may be benefits in catching such a show to learn more about these predators, but who would be willing to actually take the risk of physically catching one, marine biologists aside?

I must admit that even if I tried to fish for a shark, I’d fail miserably. I would flunk Shark Fishing 101, even standing or sitting in a boat. So ‘flunking’ is probably a good word to also use in summarizing how many if not most of us have done in obeying the call to evangelize the lost among us, or “make disciples” as Jesus commanded his church of existing disciples to do in his Great Commission.

Jesus has been calling people to be fishers of men for over two millennia now, delaying his second coming for that last gentile to enter the kingdom, but we still prefer to watch, as I was doing taking in Shark Week on the Discovery channel. The apostle Peter said we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have, but we are not. Solomon says he who wins souls is wise, but we flunk.

But if you’re anything like me, you’re probably not quite so blunt about your failures in evangelism. As Pastor and author Mark Dever, director of the 9Marks church ministry wrote, “In fact, even at the time you’re not witnessing, you’re busy spinning, justifying, rationalizing, and explaining to your conscience why it was really wise and faithful and kind and obedient not to share the gospel with a particular person at that time and in that situation.”

We know that public speaking is secular man’s greatest fear according to virtually every study that tracks such attitudes and gospel speaking is probably spiritual man’s (Christian’s) greatest fear. Is that fear legitimate or just the most commonly held excuse we go to, to justify our non-evangelism?

As ‘back to church’ time begins for many ministries this fall, now may be a good time to explore some of these evangelism curtailing excuses, at least  some of the particularly popular ones as listed in Dever’s book, The Gospel And Personal Evangelism.

Excuse 1: “I don’t know their language.”

Dever writes, Now, a language barrier is an impressive excuse. If you’re sitting next to people who only speak Chinese or French, you don’t have much of an opportunity to share any news with them, let alone news about Christ and their own soul.

As my church’s leadership team has learned well this summer, preaching a series on the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophesying, preaching and teaching the gospel or anything else in church with unintelligible words is useless according to the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 14:10–11, 16, 23). After all, the whole point of our using words is to be understood!

Hint: in South Florida, communicating in Spanish and to an extent creole, for our Haitian friends and neighbors are cultural realities and advantages to life and kingdom work.

Excuse 2: “Evangelism could cause problems at work.”

Again, Dever adds; Even in countries where evangelism is legally allowed, many of us have jobs for which employers are paying us to get a certain amount of work done, and they have a legitimate expectation. During those work hours, it may be that our evangelism distracts people, or reduces our productivity, or does other things that can cause our employers valid concern.

We certainly don’t want to undermine our credibility as workers and  citizens in the workplace by spending an inordinate amount of time evangelizing, but while utilizing wisdom, most workplaces are amenable to Christians showing and sharing Christ and God’s gospel with how we work, walk and talk, as opportunities present themselves (lunch or break time, pre and post shift or scheduled hours) to receptive ears.

Excuse 3: “Other things seem more urgent.”

Dever: There is so much else to do in any given day. We’ve got to care for our families and plan for our weekend. The job has to be done, and the bills have to be paid. Studies, cooking, cleaning, shopping, returning calls, writing emails, reading, praying—I could go on and on about all the good things we need to do.

And many of these things are time-sensitive. If I have a misunderstanding with my wife, I need to take care of that immediately. If the baby is crying, I need to get her home now. If the paper is due tomorrow, I’ve got to get the writing done right away. If we’ve got no food for tonight, I’ve got to do some shopping and cooking now.

Yes it is appropriate for us to make and keep those commitments and fulfill responsibilities in life other than evangelism. But do we do so much that we at least sub-consciously leave little or no time for outreach and evangelistically minded interaction with people? If we are too busy for that, what things are we making more time for?

Or as J. Wilbur Chapman so eloquently put it: “If today is the day of salvation, if tomorrow may never come, and if life is equally uncertain, how can we eat, drink and be merry when those who live with us, work with us, walk with us and love us are unprepared for eternity because they are unprepared for time?”

Or, “If I am to stand at the judgment seat of Christ to render an account for the deeds done in the body, what shall I say to him if my children are missing, if my friends are not saved, or if my employer or employee should miss the way because I have been faithless?”

If we can’t say amen, shall we say, ‘ouch?!’

Excuse 4: “I don’t know non-Christians.”

Dever writes, Isolation from unbelievers may be the most common excuse for a lack of evangelism. This is the excuse of choice for mature Christians.

I must say this one can work really well for me if I let it, because I realistically have fairly few significant relationships with non-Christians. I’m a pastor and elder at my church and most of my time and labor is spent with or about the business of shepherding and church ministry. Most of my time is spent studying to write sermons or Bible studies, counseling, planning, training other Christians, returning phone calls, texts and emails — and yes, even blogging ‘Captive Thoughts’ in an effort to sharpen the Christian worldview of others.

I make myself generally unavailable to most people other than my blood family and church family, both day and night. That’s what I’m called to do. Can’t I just blame God then for my failure to evangelize more?

Nope! I can still go fishing for men running errands at the store, the bank, social occasions with extended family and friends (birthday parties, weddings) and neighborhood walks with my dog as I’ve been attempting to do more of lately. By that I don’t mean walking the dog more, but greeting and trying to strike more conversations with neighbors when I do.

What about you? Are you baiting that man hook and dropping in a line for souls?  If you’re a young mother at home with her children, or an older Christian, retired and not very mobile or easily able to build new relationships, then you, too, know something of this challenge.

Hint: If you’re a Christian, I’m exhorting you to get to know and build new, friendships with unbelievers as you build your most significant ones with believers.

Excuse 5: “People won’t listen, much less believe.”

From Dever: “People don’t want to hear.” “They won’t be interested.” “They probably already know the gospel.” “It probably won’t work. I doubt they’ll believe.” I don’t think about how powerful the gospel is. I get myself in a wrongly hopeless mindset.

Thankfully my soteriology or my biblical, theological understanding of salvation is that although I’m not mighty to save, as the song goes, ‘God is.’ Evangelism and the sovereignty of God in salvation are not mutually exclusive.

I whole-heartily believe that the Bible teaches that God initiates and accomplishes salvation, as Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, and God uses his children as the means to his ends of kingdom growth by our faithfulness to his commands to be witnesses that give testimony, preach and teach the new-life and light giving gospel to the lost, dying and darkness-dwelling among us.

Why do we think that we would respond to the gospel, but someone else wouldn’t (2 Cor. 4:7)? Don’t you know that God saves some of the most unlikely of converts? If you aren’t sure about this, consider some friends you’ve seen converted, as I think of my now 85 year-old father-in-law who turned to God and trusted in Christ in my kitchen just two years ago, after more than two decades of our praying, crying and testifying for that to happen. Consider your own conversion. Dever notes that the great Jonathan Edwards called one account of the Great Awakening, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions.

Of course, as I think about miracles, signs and wonders ‘continuing’ in the church age today as per the series we’ve been preaching this summer, is there any one more surprising and miraculous than your own conversion?  That plain fact should encourage us in our evangelism. God can save anyone and is still in the business of making miracles.

Dive in the water to catch a shark? Maybe not me, but shall we join our Jesus in dropping a line into our water world and become better fishers of men?  Count me in. How about you?

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Why Church? So You Can Body Build

Related image Bernie Diaz, July 25, 2017

Our Leadership team has learned quite a bit about the body life of a local church this summer, spending considerable time preaching and teaching the rather controversial doctrine of The Power and Gifts of the Holy Spirit from the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapters 12-14.

You might presume our primary lesson has been the understanding surrounding the contentious debate about the more miraculous ‘signs and wonders’ gifts of healings, prophecy and tongues found in that somewhat complex and difficult section of scripture.

While on the one hand yes, we have learned a great deal about these gifts- their form and functions and how they may be manifested in the local church (which can be heard at www.christcomchurch.org), on the other hand no, we haven’t completely figured out-unequivocally that is, how to reconcile the divide that continues between cessationists and continuationists.

Those are the two central positions of both evangelical and Pentecostal and charismatic Christians who are still wrestling over the question of whether or not these ‘charismatic’ (grace-given) gifts ceased at the end of the apostolic church age, or continue on throughout the church age until believers come face to face (“the perfect” of 1 Cor. 13:8-13) with Jesus Christ.

Regardless, what I’m referring to is the main theme of these three New Testament chapters, which I believe is Paul’s call for loving unity amidst the diversity of a local body of believers and the edification or building up of that body – or let’s say spiritual growth, that comes from and being in, a biblically based, community of faith.

Paul wrote: So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12).

Why should a local church be strengthened? We know we have been saved and sanctified to mature as disciples or followers of Jesus, so that we can glorify or make much of God, by multiplying and making more disciples for the kingdom of God (Eph. 4:11-16).

That’s the main ‘great commission’ mission of the church. We’ve learned enough Bible to make that mission the mission of our church in South Florida, rather than trying feebly to improve upon what the heard of the church, Jesus came up with when he planted the universal church 2,000 years ago. But the question remains, as per our 1 Corinthian lesson, what’s the best way to do that?

Wait for it Christian…. be accountable. Commit to being in and involved with the fellowship of a local church. Lone Rangers need not apply for this level of spiritual growth. I have learned that my maturation in the faith or whatever level of spiritual growth I have seen in my life over the last 25 years plus of my walk with Christ, has been mostly due to the accountability I have had in the local church rather than my own personal drive to grow.

I think I could not have grown as a Christian at the same rate, left to my own motivation. Because, like most Christians, I struggle to keep up with my personal devotional life, in the practicing of spiritual disciplines like consistent Bible reading, meditation, prayer and fasting. Yet, the Lord has placed me in positions where people were counting on me.

People expected me to show up, prepared and ready to teach and preach the word of God. Four of those people- the congregation that makes up my “little church” and most important ministry, consists of my wife and three children in family life and devotions.

Before our family found a place in the local church, I felt the insecurity of not being tethered to a body of believers. I sensed that even as a baby Christian, dealing with the temptation of salad bar Christianity, custom making my faith like choosing side dishes at a buffet, I might plop down some church as just being just one of those items, as I pondered the many things our family could do in our free time.

All of this mind you happened before the advent of today’s web-based church, which can enable me today to worship from the church of the king mattress singing, ‘Lord I Lift My Name on High’ and ‘Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me.’ I thank God I didn’t have that option then.

I have found that participating in ministry, actually using the spiritual gifts that the Lord through the Spirt has given me, was actually a gift to me and to my family, prior to answering His call on my life to pastor, as ministry in a local community grounded me and my own personal spiritual disciplines.  Again, we seem to thrive best when others are counting on us.

Paul instructs the church that each and every member has a role to play, “having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them” (Ro. 12:6).  He says we shouldn’t think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but God has assigned us each a function.  These functions are a gift for both the church as well as ourselves, as we use them to build up or strengthen the body – think encouragement and exhortation, as well as to  grow in our own spiritual lives.

You don’t have to be a pastor or a pastor’s wife to be relied upon in the church. The church needs disciples exercising the gifts of service and speaking throughout the life of the church: one can host and/or lead a women’s bible study, while another in fellowship can prepare and serve coffee, while another can man the sound board for the praise and worship team while one counts the offerings to the church and another sets up and breaks down equipment or helps maintain church property—the point is that others are counting on you.

When we put ourselves in a position of being relied upon, we show up—week in and week out, ready or not. That’s accountability. That’s why  weekly attendance and participation (Heb. 10:24-25) is so profitable. This community of faith is the place where real discipleship happens, or as one writer put it, the “long obedience in the same direction,” results in great dividends over time in body life.

My encouragement to young moms, or busy students, or stressed businessmen and workers, women is this: put yourself in a role that will require you to show up at your local church week after week.  Don’t be a consumer-driven Christian, who just comes, sees, sings, listens, is fed a bit and goes.

Get off the sidelines and get in the game, or as we said last week in our message to our church with respect to manifesting spiritual gifts, get out of the shallow end of the pool and dive in the deep end.

Rather than sidelining activities that will feed your spiritual growth, put yourself at the very center of them.  With both gratitude and humility, I see clearly that I owe my spiritual growth and current position of pastoral church leadership over the last two plus decades to the accountability and community of the local church. It all began with a call and answer to teach a Sunday school class.

Church is a place to come to serve and to be comforted. It’s a spiritual hospital and a place of shelter in the storms of life. Someone gave an equation that pictures it well: Gospel + safety + time.  It’s what everyone needs.  A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.

Gospel: means good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit.  Multiple exposures.  Constant immersion.  Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible. Are you in a church that gives that gospel?

Safety: a non-accusing environment.  No embarrassing anyone.  No manipulation.  No oppression.  No condescension.  But respect and sympathy and understanding, where sinners can confess and unburden their souls.  A church environment where no one seeking the Lord has anything to fear. Are you in a place like that?

Time: no pressure.  Not even self-imposed pressure.  No deadlines on growth.  Urgency, but not hurry, or as we like to say, it’s not about your perfection, but direction because no one changes overnight.  A lot of space for complicated people to repent and rethink their lives. God is patient.

This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time.  It’s where we’re finally free to grow and should – using your gifts to help build up your church and yourself, no matter what your opinion might be on the diversity of the gifts. Amen?

What is the Real Message of the Message?

Image result for eugene peterson the message Bernie Diaz, July 17, 2017

For evangelical Christians, who have long struggled with the loose and fast, originally well-intended Message translation of the Bible, many were not surprised though still disappointed to learn of the message that was publicly uttered by that Bible version’s founder, Eugene Peterson.

Peterson, 84, who as a Bible scholar first published his contemporary translation in 1993, came under intense scrutiny last week when in responding to questions about same-sex marriage and homosexuality in an interview with pro-LGBTQ ‘Christian’ author Jonathan Merritt, said:

“I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So, we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.”

While I’m thankful Peterson stated that his unbiblical though hip and politically correct view and redefinition of sin, was only as far as he “was concerned”, separating his view from the plain teaching of scripture (Ro. 1; 1 Cor. 6; 1 Tim. 1), he did become the latest, high-profile, Christian casualty of the current culture war which continues to be waged in the midst of our moral and sexual revolution.

In recounting his prior, pastoral ministry during the interview, he remembered allowing a man who had confessed in front of the congregation that he identified as gay to serve as minister of music. He even added that he was pleased that the congregation did not find it problematic that one of his ministers had just confessed to embracing sexual immorality—something that not only disqualifies from church leadership, but from church membership as well (1 Cor. 5:9-11).

Although Peterson has attempted to backtrack on these admissions in a subsequent interview, one cannot be totally shocked by such a turn from such a Christian for two reasons:

  1. This admission to the acceptance of the sin of homosexuality comes from a man who made it his mission to retranslate the scriptures to a more relevant version and to update its meaning to those who read the Bible so much that it had become “old hat” to them.

This is always the danger of paraphrasing and/or retranslating the contextual meaning of the original words from the original languages of the Bible in the hopes that the ‘message’ of the gospel would be more understandable, current, fresh and therefore socially relevant for modern  generations to come.

A primary case in point was Peterson’s translation of the 1 Cor. 6:9 text from the apostle Paul, which according to more literal translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV), clearly lists homosexuality among other sins that will condemn the unredeemed and unregenerate in judgment:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality..

Whereas Peterson in the Message version, chose this rather benign translation: “Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom…..”

This message conveys a more palatable form of a kingdom exclusion of sorts, to those generally abusing or misappropriating sexual behavior and even the environment (“abuse the earth”), in such as a way as to avoid the very mention of the more specific and accurate term, ‘homosexuality.’

  1. Lest we are accused of ganging up on Peterson and his ‘message’, his current view of the sexual revolution has permeated western society in general and seems to be making headway in the American church in particular.

According to a new Gallup survey, a record number of Americans now consider behaviors that the Bible condemns to be “morally acceptable.” In fact, Gallup notes, the moral acceptability ratings for eight of the 19 issues measured since the early 2000s are at record highs.

The first number in each category list the number who consider the behavior to be “morally acceptable,” while the second number is the percentage that consider it to be “morally wrong.” The third number is the percent change from 2001 to 2017. An asterisk indicates an issue that is at a record high level of acceptance.

  • Sex between an unmarried man and woman* — 69 / 28 (16 percent)
  • Gay or lesbian relations* — 63 / 33 (23 percent)
  • Having a baby outside of marriage* — 62 / 33 (17 percent since 2002)
  • Sex between teenagers — 36 / 59 (4 percent since 2013)
  • Suicide — 18 / 76 (6 percent)
  • Polygamy* (marriage to multiple partners) — 17 / 80 (9 percent)
  • Married men and women having an affair — 9 / 88 (2 percent)
  • Pornography* — 36 / 61 (6 percent)

This data matters because it reveals that a majority of Americans now believe that fornication between adults, homosexual behavior and having a child outside of marriage are to be considered “morally acceptable.” These numbers are unprecedented in American history and are signs that the sexual revolution marches on in the U.S.

What Message Matters Most?

Pondering the spectacle of gay pride month parades and the ever increasing persecution towards Christians in the market place of both ideas and commerce right now, Christians may be led to wonder why a growing number of  people find the gospel to be more offensive than a pride parade?

As one Christian blogger has asked, “Why is gospel pride scorned while gay (and lesbian and trans and…) pride is cheered? After all, the parade, its floats, its participants, its nudity, its blatant sexuality—these things could easily be offensive to many people.”

There is little doubt that American culture is celebrating the LGBTQ..etc., etc. movement as never before and mocks the gospel message. That which I dreamed could never be thought of as normative in my lifetime has become so. In a world of crazy ideas, the gospel sounds like the craziest one of all. Why?

For the reasons that the ‘good news’ that is the gospel is good in the midst of bad news and impending doom. The gospel is as one writer put it, “The one message that counters everything we want to believe about ourselves and about God.”

Jesus and the salvation he procured and offers, counters the message of “Gay Pride” – pride in general, and counters the message of liberal Christianity, the message of atheism, it counters the message of Islam and Mormonism, it counters the message of secular humanism, and counters every message outside of the gospel itself.

We want to believe that we are independent creatures, islands unto ourselves and the captains of our own ship. Whereas, the gospel tells lost mankind that we can’t even find our own ship, and that we’re totally dependent upon God for his mercy and grace, in order to live, breathe and avoid the justice we surely deserve.

We want to believe that we are good at heart, but the gospel says our hearts are ‘deceitful and desperately wicked’ – that means fatally flawed- flat out bad.  We want to believe we are wise, but the gospel says we are foolish.

We want to believe that we can do whatever we want with whomever we want and however we want today without fear of consequences- now and forever, but the gospel unapologetically declares that we are doomed now and forever to suffer the just punishment of those consequences, should we remain God’s rebels, under the sentence of cosmic treason.

Furthermore, we want our own guidebook to life where the Bible claims to be infallible, all-authoritative and all-sufficient in its gospel claim that Jesus Christ as the only, incarnate Son of God is the only resource and recourse to what ails us and to eternal joy.

That my friends, is an intensely offensive message to this lost and dying world. The gospel in its unadulterated, correctly translated form, is the most offensive message that can be declared today.

The sexual revolution is as much as like ear candy to the children of Satan, as weed and meth are to addicts. Abnormal sexuality simply gives some people what they crave, masking as self-medication. Sexual sin such as the secularism that often precedes it, gives cover to those that seek legitimacy and even the celebration of that which they already love and instinctively know to be harmful to both body and soul.

So, this is why the gospel is the only message that matters. Because it is the only message that is counter-cultural and gives people what they need most, above and beyond what their flesh temporarily wants most.

The gospel of Jesus cuts against the grain with a message that counters it all: You unredeemed American, are as I once was: disobedient, spiritually dead, deaf, dumb, blind and therefore doomed to an eternity of torment.

Yeah that’s the bad, yet true news of the gospel message that is so offensive yet necessary to read or hear, so that by God’s divine and sovereign grace, the greatest news in all the world – a message of hope and forgiveness and freedom can come to those who turn to God and trust in Jesus Christ by faith to receive his gift of salvation in a new birth.

This is the only message that matters today, offensive as it may be, and Christians must prayerfully and lovingly continue to take it to our communities every day as God gives us opportunity and the liberty here remains to still do so.

Happy Birthday IPhone! A Gift or a Shackle?

Related image Bernie Diaz, July 11, 2017

Ten years ago last week, a new technological device was born and I don’t know what I’d do without it today. That’s a scary thought and quite a bold statement to make isn’t it?

Of course, I must be referring to the smartphone, which for all intents and purposes as the very mobile computer that it is in our hands – thanks to its creators (Apple), is a ubiquitous device that has become so ingrained into western civilization and culture, that any adult that doesn’t possess and constantly use one is thought to be slow if not dim-whited or stuck in an ancient world of long, long ago.

If you don’t own and use a smartphone you must have been cryogenically frozen like Captain American, from an age where ‘mobile’ phone calls were restricted to phone booths on street corners, music was played in the car on 8 track and cassette tapes and computers were the size of studio apartments containing data on punch cards and reel to reel tapes.

That could’ve been me. I’m 56 years old, and therefore old enough to remember a simpler time and place without today’s beloved technology and gadgets. Yes, I had to once write down appointments by hand in a book with paper- imagine that, and hours would go by in a day without my having to search for and respond to information and contacts and reactions day and night.

However, I must admit I enjoy and take advantage of the convenience and accessibility of this device. If I have a question or felt-need to be met, a click or touch of my phone through Google, Wikipedia or any one of several hundred applications can seemingly solve every dilemma or question I have.

So, what does my IPhone use say about me? If everything I do and say is to reflect or glorify God as a Christian, and if God gives me good gifts from above that we are to enjoy but not idolize, how am I to view my smartphone?

The smartphone can be delightful and dutiful, but dangerous in some ways by virtue of what it is and can do and it can do virtually everything and everywhere. Truth be told, such a device can be a gift or a shackle – that which can hold us in bondage to an electronic master.  A 14-year old Texas teen died this past Sunday morning while using her cellphone in a bathtub, according to news reports.

Relatives told a local TV station that the accident was caused either when this Middle-school graduate plugged in her phone while in the bathtub or grabbing the phone as it was being charged. Is there any lesson to be learned from that tragedy?

As Tony Reinke writes in his new gook, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You:

We now check our smartphones every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives. Since I got my first iPhone, a smartphone has been within my reach 24/7: to wake me in the morning, to deejay my music library, to entertain me with videos, movies, and live television, to capture my life in digital pictures and video, to allow me to play the latest video game, to guide me down foreign streets, to broadcast my social media, and to reassure me every night that it will wake me again (as long as I feed it electricity).

In addition, I know I use my phone to keep my ever-changing work and family schedules in real-time sync, calculate numbers and use it to research and write emails and texts. Ironically, the thing I do the least with this phone, is actually make or take phone calls. I am now largely free from having to actually listen to the voice of another human being and relate to them in conversation, because I can control the intake and outtake of communication and content in texting.

This thing goes with me wherever I go, from bedroom to bathroom and every place in between, and as a result I have seen my young adult children as well as my peer adults and myself go into panic mode at the thought of having misplaced this device somewhere. Can you relate?

What are the repercussions or consequences of our relationship if not our possible addiction to, the smartphone- Apple or Android?  What price do we pay? What are the supposed “dangers” that some sociologists and Christian leaders fear?

Reinke list 12 such dangers or repercussions in his book from our phones:

  1. We Are Addicted to Distraction
  2. We Ignore Our Flesh and Blood
  3. We Crave Immediate Approval
  4. We Lose Our Literacy
  5. We Feed on the Produced
  6. We Become Like What We “Like”
  7. We Get Lonely
  8. We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices
  9. We Lose Meaning
  10. We Fear Missing Out
  11. We Become Harsh to One Another
  12. We Lose Our Place in Time

I can’t argue with any or even all of those risks or repercussions from our phone use. Anyone of us can say we have paid a price of having fallen victim to at least half if not many more of these consequences, none more so than the impact and influence it has had on a generation of children from the earliest pre-teen age, to adolescents and adults in their 20s and 30s.

For instance, I am grateful for my IPhone’s contribution to the edification of my soul, through the listening of sermons during my bike rides and dog walks, scriptural readings and reflections on the road via my You Version Bible app, and ability to share and partake of texts and Facebook messages of encouragement and exhortation.

On the other hand, I am often concerned about my time spent holding onto and looking at this device, as if it were an extra appendage to my body. I fear its hold on my attention to the point of distraction and dependence- particularly with regard to finding and compiling information.

I miss the peace of a lifestyle that is absent of constant notifications and a pace in which one can slow down and ‘be still and know God.’ How much better would my prayer and biblical mediation time in daily devotions be, if I weren’t so aware of this device and my ‘to do list’ found on it, that awaits me with every little peek.

There is little doubt that the smartphone and its digital father, the internet, can bring both the blessing of efficiency in technology as well as the danger of entertainment- both constant and illicit, no better illustrated than by the explosion of pornography use and abuse over the worldwide web, facilitated by its accessibility and connectability on our PCs, pads and phones.

The apostle Paul wrote to Christians who struggled with their liberty or freedom to partake of or reject societal activities in the world that could include our smartphone use with these wise words:

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any .. All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23)

My IPhone has helped and hindered me in some ways. My smartphone has built me up and brought me down in some other ways. I like my phone and attempt to use it in the most profitable and God-glorifying ways I can and yet, still yearn for the time when they weren’t around.

My final reflection on the IPhone and its decade old anniversary of becoming one of the most influential technological advances of the digital age, is bittersweet and the struggle with it can be best summarized I think in the form of the question I pose to use all from Tony Reinke, “Do you control your phone- or does your phone control you?” God’s word has much to say to us there as we look to the conviction of our conscience.

Independence Day Thoughts: The SBC and the “Alt.-Right”

Related image Bernie Diaz, July 5, 2017

I’ve always been fascinated by the magnificence of the language of this nation’s Declaration of Independence, which was signed and approved 241 years ago Tuesday, signifying the birth of these United States of America, which we celebrate every July 4th.

The prose, penned mostly by Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, spoke of individual and universal human rights for all Americans, being:

“.. truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That extraordinary and revolutionary sentence encompasses ideals that are almost self-consciously rooted in the truth of the existence of the sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing and always present God of the Bible, being the source of true liberty and rights for the image-bearers of his creation.

What is equally fascinating but troubling, is how these prideful and sinful image bearers in general (including ourselves), it’s elected officials and societal and cultural elites in particular, have misunderstood or abused if not ignored the plain meaning of the application of the Declaration text with respect to the treatment of others thought of as being somehow inferior, or less than themselves, such as the case of African-Americans and more recently over the past generation or so, the pre or unborn children of America.

Declaration Stains

Slavery and abortion in my view have been the two greatest stains of blood which have appeared on the face of the Declaration, but thankfully, reformation and the restoration of such rights came to the born men and women of color in this country, better late than never, though still painfully slow, in parts of evangelical, American Christianity, as was the case of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Protestant denomination to which my church is a member of and is America’s largest, with reportedly 16 million members.

Amazingly if not paradoxically, the SBC, long a voice of Biblical fidelity and Great Commission ministry, stood arm in arm in southern sensibilities and with segregationists, intent on regarding black Christians as less deserving of fellowship and full integration into the church.

While space here does not allow for a review of SBC history and Afro-American Christianity, the denomination in its recently concluded annual convention, adopted a resolution “On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right Supremacy.”

The resolution which won nearly unanimous support after a tumultuous 24 hours of debate among delegates, in essence segregates or separates Southern Baptist churches from a political movement that is neither Christian nor conservative despite its claims to be so.

The term “alt-right”—short-hand for “alternative right”—was coined by Paul Gottfried in the title of an address he delivered in 2008, whereby the term came to refer to a type of white identity politics that believes in racialism, meaning that at its core, like other forms of identity politics, emphasizes the fact that people belong to specific races and tribes, and that these races and tribes have shared cultures that members of the race must preserve and defend.

Therefore, white identity proponents are especially concerned to oppose interracial adoption, interracial marriage, and non-European immigrants. According to Christian scholar and author Bruce Ashford, “The alt-right possesses an idolatrous ideology.” He notes that the alt-right, “.. identifies as saviors those leaders who can liberate them from being influenced by or ruled by other ethnic groups and cultures, and desires a future in which clear lines of demarcation exist between ethnic groups.”

This movement, plainly refuted by scripture (e.g. Acts 17:26-27; Gal. 3:28; Rev. 7:9-10), has exerted an inordinate amount of influence among certain “conservative” circles in America, including some who have identified as being Baptist, which is why it was so heartening to hear that Southern Baptist Church pastor Dwight McKissic, who is African-American, said he was encouraged “to see so many Southern Baptists take a courageous stand” and for a generation of them to say, “We will not take this sitting down,” in the aftermath of the just passed resolution by the SBC.

Future Independence

As I think about our Independence Day and its roots, I am gladdened by the fact that the American church of Jesus Christ- the SBC included, can repent and reform of its past sinful transgressions and begin to proclaim true liberty and independence for all image bearers of God.

If the only the church would now rise up and proclaim in one unified voice, freedom for the millions of unborn captives to the hideous holocaust of abortion, and that the nation would hear and heed that call, and grant independence and those “unalienable rights”, among them being “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” to the most innocent and vulnerable among us.

Should that day come in my lifetime should Jesus tarry, or delay his second coming in judgment, it will be the best Independence Day and 4th of July I could ever dream of.

Gay Rights – Now “Out of the Closet”

Image result for gay pride month Bernie Diaz, June 27, 2017

A U.S.A. Today article citing the results of a recently released study, has basically and unintentionally “outed” the gay rights movement for what it is, by breaking through the quarter century old foundation upon which it stands, as the turning point leading to today’s sexual revolution.

As the article notes, “For nearly three decades, ‘born this way’ has been the rallying cry of the mainstream gay rights movement, a simple slogan cited as the basis for both political change and cultural acceptance. Gay rights advocates used it to make the case for legal equality.”

That movement which has continued to gather unprecedented societal momentum, of course reached its zenith, with the landmark Obergefell Supreme Court decision of 2015, which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.

But now as “Gay Pride Month” comes to a conclusion, the truth has been told, affirming the long-held speculation that LGTBQ activists successfully hood-winked a now majority of Americans, that people are ‘born gay’ — that it’s a biological orientation, and not something that can be chosen or ever changed any more than they can change the color of their skin, or gender, therefore leading to the logic that denying them certain rights would be wrong.

“Born Gay”? Really?

The homosexual movement, spearheaded by a strategic and carefully orchestrated public relations campaign launched in 1989, began to appeal to the collective conscience of American compassion, by co-opting the earlier suffragette and civil rights movements in arguing that ‘born that way’ gays were being discriminated against like females and African-Americans, similarly possessing an immutable (or unchanging) characteristic. Rather than gender or skin color, the ‘gay gene’ of innate sexual orientation, buoyed by poor social science, became the clarion call of pro-gay activists and legislators.

But now, many members of the LGBTQ community reject this narrative, saying it only benefits people who feel their sexuality and gender are fixed rather than fluid, and questioning why the dignity of gay people should rest on the notion that they were gay from their very first breath.

Indeed, the transgender movement now thrust upon this nation, according to its very adherents, plainly states that sexuality and gender is fluid and subject to change as often as a particular person’s feelings or preference on any given day or moment.

The new sexual norm, being trailblazed by ‘trans’ activists, is that sexual freedom must reject even obvious biological norms established at birth (i.e. DNA, hormones and genitalia), in favor of gender fluidity and self-proclaimed sexual identity, so one can be free to express who they really think they are. It’s all a matter of…. choice.

That’s right, the very same argument that gay rights leaders rejected less than a generation ago, that sexual orientation and identity could be chosen, but was rather a fixed biological reality, has now been rendered null and void by the new voices of the moral revolution.

Now, people can custom make their own sexuality and identity- by choice, and should still be afforded the same civil rights as people with truly immutable characteristics, as the original civil rights laws intended.

In fact, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan who studies how social behavior affects testosterone in men and women, admitted that the science on sexual orientation is limited.at best, when she wrote, “Who counts as gay, who counts as lesbian, who counts as bisexual — assumes we can draw bright lines, when we can’t. Are you gay if you have same-sex desire, but never act on it? What if you’re a man who has had sex with other men, but you’re married to a woman and don’t identify as gay”?

In other words, science still cannot objectively make the case that homosexuality is a fixed biological orientation, and furthermore, a growing number of its advocates no longer wish to, preferring a complete and unadulterated sexuality, with no limits, no lines drawn, no immutable characteristics of any kind, only a complete freedom to engage in whatever identity or sexual behavior may come to mind at any given moment, all the while demanding legal protections, rights and even mandating complete societal acceptance of its ideology.

What is wrong with that picture? The prophet Isaiah identified somewhat of a parallel scenario, when pronouncing God’s woes on a rebellious generation of Jews hundreds of years ago, when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light  and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20, ESV).

In other words, Isaiah understood that a sinful and rebellious generation would turn the world and conventional wisdom upside down. More directly, the apostle Paul warned the church at Rome and succeeding generations to come, that rebellion against God, seen in a failure to honor and give him his proper thanks, would result in his wrath against unrighteousness in a society that would manifest itself in homosexuality among a slew of other sins and debaucheries:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Ro. 1:26-27)

What natural science has not and will not come to grips with any time soon, is the simple truth that homosexuality and gender dysphoria or confusion, are dysfunctional aberrations and perversions of God’s original created order for sexual relationships, which have always been intended to be restricted to the marital bed of one man and one woman for a lifetime. Any other expression of sexuality other than in heterosexual marriage, is a distortion of God’s intelligent and purposeful design.

Or to put it another way, homosexuality like any other sinful behavior, is to be condemned for what it is and it’s practioners to be loved, prayed for and called to repentance, rather than celebrated in parades.

Born What Way?

In what way is all mankind born? Homosexuality and gender dysphoria do point to a genetic and fatal orientation know to every man, woman and child that has ever been born since the fall of man in the garden (Gen. 3).

That being of course, sin, which if left unforgiven by God, results in the terminal disease of separation from him in a place of torment forever in eternity.

The Christian worldview and response to gay pride month and the sexual revolution, is to lovingly confront evil with truth, to show and share the redemptive life transformation available to anyone placing their repentant faith in f Jesus Christ – including those trapped in the LGBTQ lifestyle, who wish to be free from the curse of the birth defect we have all been born with; sin and its consequence of death.

May God have mercy on a society still “putting darkness for light”, and may he by his divine and sovereign grace, give opportunity for many more of these lost souls and image bearers to make the only real ‘choice’ that counts, salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

The Gifts of the Spirit: ‘To Go Where No Church Has Gone Before’?

Image result for starship enterprise  Related image

Bernie Diaz, June 20, 2017

Controversy and Ecclesiology (the study of the church): the nerve-wracking frontier. These are the voyages of the My Captive Thoughts blog, echoing the ministry of my local church in South Florida. Its current six-year long and on-going mission: to explore strange new world-views, “questions and controversies of the day”: to seek out God-glorifying, Christ-exalting understanding of contentious doctrines and theological issues, to boldly go where few if any pastors and preachers have gone before……!

If the above prologue sounds to you like Captain Kirk’s introduction to the Star Trek television and film series, you’re spot on. I can’t think of a more fitting way to re-introduce as contentious and controversial a church issue in western civilization today, than that of the charismatic movement and its impact on evangelicalism.

The following post, which I originally published in August of last year, broached the question of whether or not a true, born-again disciple of Jesus Christ, could be both Calvinistic and Charismatic in theology.

That juxtaposition came to my mind then, and even more so today, by the fact that our church leadership with much fear and trembling, is launching this coming weekend, a new summer series, The Power and Gifts of the Spirit from 1 Corinthians, which aims to dissect, clarify and teach the true meaning of the miraculous, signs and wonders gifts of the Holy Spirit, and by implication, if they are meant to be shared today in the church of Jesus Christ and if so, how?

The reason that our church- never prone to duck hard if not controversial issues of theology, doctrine and world-view, is taking on such a tall-order – a potentially explosive, if not divisive doctrine for a local church to tackle, is three-fold:

First, we are a church which reflects the cultural and historically religious diversity of its surrounding communities, chock-full of Pentecostals, Catholics and Protestants in a major-metropolitan center. We have several people in our congregation who have been converted to Christ out of Catholicism and Pentecostal or Charismatic institutions, and others seeking to grow as disciples who are confused or have misunderstood the doctrine of the Spirit and others, who wish to learn more about it.

Second and similarly, we have not only taken on verse by verse expositions of books of the Bible, but also sensitive, topical-expositional series, ranging from world religions (Christianity vs. the World), to marriage and divorce (A Christian Life, from the Sermon on the Mount), to last fall’s Presidential election.

Because we value the fact that God’s Word is inerrant and infallible- every word, and is therefore all-credible, all-authoritative and all-sufficient and necessary to live out the Christian faith in every facet of its practice in this life, we feel it will be sufficient enough for us to better understand this doctrine of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, the word of God is the strongest pillar of truth that we stand on- the foundation of our faith, anchored by the cornerstone of it, Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

We believe there is nothing in or out of the Bible that the scriptures cannot answer or address and clarify- lead us in sanctification on, including this issue, which is the third reason we are ‘going where no church has gone before’ (others I’m sure have- but not to my knowledge in our community).

That being, that we have Christians in our church as do many others, who yearn to personally experience more fully, the power and presence of the Spirit in their lives, without compromising the fidelity to, or integrity of, God’s word and sound doctrine. So, we covet your prayers sa we begin our new series – “beam us up Lord!”

Why Christians Can be Calvinistic and Charismatic (originally posted, August 9, 2016)

As a pastor and preacher I’ve been greatly blessed and influenced by the diversity of writings, preaching and teaching ministries of many of the giants of the faith over the ages and speaking more contemporarily, none more so than my ‘first and second John;’ meaning pastor, theologian and authors, MacArthur and Piper.

Both are friends and peers who have been faithful Bible expositors and under-shepherds of great influence in the kingdom of Christ for more than four decades.

I once told Dr. MacArthur in a live, Christian radio interview that I don’t think I would have been equipped to serve in the pastoral ministry had it not been for the massive influence of his ministry on me, going back to when I began listening to his Grace to You daily broadcasts more than 20 years ago, and then digesting his sermons and studies via cassettes and books, most notably his classics, Ashamed of the Gospel and The Gospel According to Jesus.

Similarly, the ‘second John’ has served as a great long-distance mentor to me via his preaching on the sovereignty of God and his outstanding literary work in the acclaimed Desiring God and The Pleasures of God.

Both of these men love Jesus, love the Bible and are ardent and revered exegetes of the same book and have been greatly blessed by the Lord in their ministries, yet are on the opposite sides of a controversial doctrine that continues to fascinate and divide much of evangelicalism – that being the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the nature of the gifts the Godhead imparts to his church.

Can a Christian be both a Calvinist and a Charismatic?

Although both ‘Johns’ are Calvinistic in their soteriology, simply meaning they understand (rightly I believe) that God is sovereign with His divine grace in salvation, they differ as to the gifts of the Spirit present in the church.

First John (MacArthur) is a strict cessationist, meaning that he, like many other Biblicists, are of the view that the miraculous signs and wonders gifts (e.g. tongues, prophecy, healings) made present by the Spirit in the early, post-Pentecost church (Acts 2 and onward) “ceased” to exist (1 Cor. 13:8-11) when the apostolic church age ended and the cannon of scripture, the complete written record of the Bible- all 66 books were delivered to the church.

Second John (Piper) is a continuationist, meaning that he, like many other Biblicists, are of the view that the miraculous signs and wonders gifts have always ‘continued’ to this day in the church, though perhaps to varying and even lesser degrees as per scriptural texts, most notably the most extensive section found in the New Testament on the issue, 1 Corinthians 12-14.

First and Second John have already exchanged significant and loving volleys back and forth on the issues surrounding this doctrine in the aftermath of MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and book, which takes aim at the charismatic and Pentecostal movement and all its excess, which while growing at the fastest rate of any other Christian ‘denomination’ or sect in the country, if not much of the world, has been found to be rife with abuse and scandal.

We won’t revisit their friendly debate nor examine the doctrine and controversies at any length here, suffice it to say, that there are solid and biblically based arguments that support the position of both sides. The finality of this doctrine has not been settled unequivocally to the satisfaction of the church as a whole.

But can there be a middle ground? We already know that repentant faith in Christ alone, by grace and faith alone for God’s glory alone, are the only prerequisites for sinners to attain salvation from God. A fundamental and correct understanding of the charismata (spiritual gifts) is not a precondition of becoming a born-again Christian and follower of Jesus.

Therefore, it is safe to say that the kingdom of God and heaven will be occupied by both Calvinistic cessationists (other notables include many of the reformers, R.C. Sproul today) and Calvinistic continuationists (D.A. Carson, David Platt, Wayne Grudem) and everyone else in between.

This issue is what one current theologian would call, a “Picket-Fence” debate or family argument among brothers and sisters in the faith.

But as for me and my house, we have learned somehow as many other believers have, to navigate this divide with a foot firmly planted in each camp, so as to not unnecessarily break fellowship with those in the church we may disagree with on a particular nuance of the doctrine.

This is not a compromise of our convictions. As a preacher who loves, preaches and teaches the Doctrines of Grace as they appear in scripture, the Bible is replete with at least two dozen direct references to God’s predestinating, electing, regenerating, justifying and saving grace towards sinners.

Calvinists if nothing else, are prone to lean on the side of Biblical fidelity, truth and the all-sufficiency and authority of scripture (Sola scriptura). These are hallmarks of the reformed faith, yet many of our brothers in this camp (Presbyterianism keeps coming to mind) struggle with the very notion of a present, working and living Spirit manifesting himself in and through disciples of Christ.

For our charismatic and Pentecostal friends who lean more on the experiential and emotional side of their Christian faith and practice, the fact of God’s divine grace is inescapable for those that literally have ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’ the truth, as I laid that out for my church in great detail this past Sunday, when we launched our new series from 1 Peter with the message, “Elected to be Exiles”, which was that apostle’s direct, matter of fact reference to Christians who are Strangers on Earth, being ‘elect’ or chosen by God – unconditionally, unto salvation.

‘Charismania’ aside as I call it, so evident among so many ministries on the TBN network, the modern, global Pentecostal and charismatic movement has produced great missionary zeal among Christians over the last generation and an appreciation for the power and on-going ministry of the Holy Spirit, reminding us of our Lord’s desire to seek and save worshippers in ‘spirit and in truth.’

Calvinists Can Use More Spirit   

 According to The Gospel Coalition, the fastest-growing religious movement in the history of the human race is the modern Pentecostal one, which now may number 1 out of every 3 professing believers around the world. Just to put it into perspective, TGC notes that’s more than the total number of Buddhists (around 500 million), Jews (around 14 million), and all folk religions (around 400 million) in the world. Pentecostalism or continuationsim isn’t going away any time soon.

Why? It’s not growing because they’re all heretics (many are, to be sure, but not nearly all). They’re growing because they’re making disciples and many are living transformed, gospel-oriented lives. Is their “fire” strange? Yes, it can be but not for all (Piper).

Calvinists and other cessationist leaning Christians would do well to sit and break bread with a charismatic and while discerning truth from error in what they hear, attempt to realize what it is they may be missing when it comes to a complete or comprehensive understanding or perspective of the Spirit.

Charismatics Can Use More Truth                                    

The abuses and excess of the charismatic movement have been well-documented. It’s all too common ‘word of faith,’ name it and claim it prosperity gospel theology is heretical if not blasphemous on its face, and does no good to the cause of Christ, when the latest Pentecostal minister claims to have received direct and new revelation from God, having just arrived at a faux healing event in a multi-million dollar private jet.

That said, the doctrines of grace and the gifts of grace can and should co-exist in a proper, Biblically grounded theology. Charismatics and yes even the charismaniacs, would do well to study scripture with their Calvinistic or more doctrinally sound brothers to better understand the Bible’s being the ground or pillar of truth, the truth “once and for all delivered to the saints” that explains and guides our hearts and ministries.

Real, regenerate Calvinists and charismatics can and should co-exist within the universal body of Christ. The church that Christ birthed and that the apostles nurtured did. We can agree to disagree with particular (non-salvific) doctrines, and fellowship together without sacrificing our convictions, so long as our greatest conviction is love and the unity of the body within its diversity.

That’s the truth- the Bible says so. It seems that we can be both Calvinistic and Charismatic ….

1 Cor. 12:27-31 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way (love).