Don’t Waste Your Time in 2018

Image result for redeeming the time Bernie Diaz, December 26, 2017

Christmas is now behind us and as we near the close of the year of our Lord 2017, we have to admit it has been both a very interesting and challenging year. I’m sure you had many blessed moments and by the same token, some very rough ones.

In our world and more specifically, our county and our greater community, we were challenged by threats to religious liberty and rights, a controversial year of politics under the administration of the ‘Donald’ in the White House, a radical and rebellious, leftward societal and cultural turn to the left via the sexual revolution, “natural” disasters, mass shootings, violence and social unrest (e.g. Black Lives Matter vs. the Alt-Right) just to name a few of the crisis and issues we faced this year, pretty much disposing with the eschatological notion that the word is getting better.

Biblically in fact, the “last days” or what we could call, the church age, is one that progressively gets worse, before it gets better I think, with the return of King Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote his young apprentice Timothy 2,000 years ago:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power..  (2 Tim. 3:1-5a, ESV).

Lest we become overly pessimistic nor prophetic, it is safe to say that Paul was not contextually referring to our day and age per se, in the early 21st century, but in the reality, that despite mankind’s unprecedented advancement in technology and information, our hearts will continually grow devious and ‘desperately wicked,’ or as he added in his second letter to Timothy, “.. evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

So, ‘how shall we then live’, as Francis Schaffer may have asked a generation ago? What are we do about- and in the times we live?

A New Year’s Resolution next week? I’ve been making and failing at the same resolutions for the past several years, so I’m not sure that works real well or that I’ve been doing it right. Probably a little of both. Most of the time we’re our own worst judge of which resolutions we should pick anyway.

TIME

I’m going to argue here that perhaps our biggest resolution as Christians in 2018, should be to ‘redeem’ the TIME. What should you do with your time?

How Do You Value Time?

  • How do we value ONE YEAR? Ask a student who failed a grade.
  • How do we value ONE MONTH? Ask a Mother whose baby arrived prematurely or is overdue?
  • How do we value ONE HOUR? Ask someone who lies terminally ill waiting for a loved one who is late.
  • How do we value ONE MINUTE? Ask someone who missed a plane, a train, a very important meeting or event that can never be rescheduled.
  • How do we value ONE SECOND? Ask an NBA or NFL player at the end of a close game, or someone who just missed having an accident, or someone saying goodbye to a loved one they will never see again.

Most people measure their lives in years. But how would our thought processes change if we measured our lives in days? On the 20,000th day of his life, Robert D. Smith decided to put this concept to the test. He spent the next 48 hours planning his next 20,000 days—and walked away with life-changing information that became a best-selling book.

I’ve now lived over 20,000 days in my life-time and if I really think about it, I’d like to have a lot of those back- as do-overs or mulligans as they say in golf. So maybe this new year’s time, looking forward, it might be a good time for me to rethink the concept of time.

If we think about the kingdom of God, time is not ours to spend as we choose, it is a trust from our creator (the King of that kingdom) and we have to give an account to Him for how we use or invest it, as our church has been studying in some of The Greatest Stories Jesus Ever Told.

Paul may have been thinking that as he wrote Timothy at the church in Ephesus (AD 60-62) that he had planted on his third missionary journey. In the middle of the great chapter of Ephesians 5, he said that they and you, were once children of darkness and now as disciples, that you should be a child of light, walking in light and love and taking no part in the “unfruitful works of darkness”, but instead “exposing them”.

Then in Eph. 5:15-16, he gets into some nitty-gritty, or some detail of how we do that, which is so fitting for the mindset I think we can consider taking into AD 2018.

Walk Wisely

In other words, the apostle begins this passage with a call for disciples of Christ to: “Wake up! Don’t sleep-walk today. Open your eyes and make the most of your day! That is the simpler definition of that phrase you might find in your old or new King James Version, walk circumspectly.

The word and the concept has with it the idea of living in such a way as to  see and discern with skill, or simply to be wise.

A wise person knows what to do with what he knows. That’s a parallel to the idea of discernment or decision making. You could be a Bible scholar and be a fool or unwise- did you know that? Wisdom is applied knowledge and is more art than science. It’s acquired and matures over time, with experience or with some trial and error sometimes. Someone said, “Experience comes from what we have done. Wisdom comes from what we have done badly.”

There’s an old story about John and Dave, who were hiking when they spotted a mountain lion staring at them. John froze in his tracks, but Dave sat down on a log, tore off his hiking boots, pulled a pair of running shoes from his backpack and hurriedly began to put them on.

“For crying out loud, you can’t outrun a mountain lion!” John yelled. “I don’t have to,” shrugged Dave. “I just have to outrun you.”  That’s wisdom!

Little wonder why we are emphasizing the doctrine of wisdom, in our small-group studies for men and women at our church right now from the book of Proverbs.

So, what’s the admonition here? That we should walk or live wisely because the days are few. The days are evil. Sin and its influence and temptation is everywhere right? Persecution was a reality for the Ephesian believers and has dawned upon America in our time.

Make the Most

Eph. 5:16 tells us that we are to ‘make the best use of the time’, which though literally is about paying a price to recover something or someone from the power of another, giving the idea of making the most of every opportunity of the time we have. That makes sense since James also reminds us in the New Testament that “life is but a vapor.” We can be here today and gone tomorrow. Try walking with that in mind.

The Psalmist puts it this way: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psa.90:12). In other words, Bernie Diaz, count those days that you’ve lived and what may be ahead, the times you’re living in, wake-up, smell the coffee, get to some serious business and live for Christ and his kingdom.

Simply stated, we are to redeem, or make the best of the opportunities and moments that God gives us for our good and for His glory. The believer who walks in wisdom knows how to make the most of his or her opportunity. The parallel passage from Colossians says it another way:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col. 4:5-6)  

Walking wisely is then knowing how to talk and share with unbelievers, giving them your reason for the hope that lies within you. It’s funny, we pray (if at all), for evangelism or witnessing opportunities for the cause of Christ, and then we wonder why we rarely share our testimony or our faith, when we keep missing the time and opportunities God keeps putting right in front of us. We as Christians, are salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16), and should preserve and shine in a world that is dying and dark every day.  Therefore, let’s not waste any more time.

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The Real Message and Mission of Christmas

Related image Bernie Diaz, December 19, 2017

Our church just celebrated this past weekend, a wonderful Christmas fellowship and “Love Feast”, as we call it, emulating the early church’s congregational gatherings, and not only did we worship God and his gift to us in Christ by  word and music, we had fun – just plain ole’ fun, as in fun and games, as well as sharing a wonderful meal together and a candlelit singing of Silent Night.

It was a real birthday party, which jives with the literal meaning of Christmas, which to take the Latin meaning of the suffix translated in English to ‘mas,’ (from mass) as a festival or celebration, we literally celebrated the birth of Christ as the ultimate birthday party.

However, I remain struck by the paradoxes of this holiday, the juxtaposition of the very first Christmas, as in the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, to the sort of secular, carnival mentality that exists today with Christmas in the western world.

It’s the humility and poverty of the stable of the first Christmas event, compared with the wealth, indulgence and hoopla surrounding all the gift giving, as in the case of hysteria seen on ‘Black Friday,’ that I find most  interesting.

So, thinking about Jesus and His birth as the real “reason for the season” begs the question, how should we observe what has become a national holiday? While it is true that there is no biblical holiday that marks the birth of Jesus, nor is there a command given to celebrate it at a later time, there is also no command found which prohibits its observance if not its celebration.

But what is often missed, is the profound theological foundation of this holiday, which goes deeper than just wishing someone a ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.’

As the recently departed theologian R. C. Sproul explained the observance of Christmas, “We’re going to celebrate the thing that’s most important in our lives, the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ. So, this is going to be a time of joyous festivities, of celebration and worship of our God and King.'”

Incarnation then is what I want to focus on in this post, being that the whole gospel story is a story of redemption, and God becoming a baby to achieve it. So, being that God owns every day of the year anyway, why not redeem a day set apart for pagan worship (as it was originally) and use it instead to glorify the Lord?

The babe in the manger – God in a manger, is the Godhead’s means by which our redemption is secured, so what really drew me to the reality of the incarnation (God becoming man) of Christ –  a revelation of sorts I discovered several years ago, was the discovery of the real message and mission of Christmas among the most unlikely of biblical places – Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  It was spiritually serendipitous, which for us is the work of the Holy Spirit.

What’s remarkable about the message of Christmas- a real significant part of it, may be boiled down to one word- humility. That word as the message and mission of Christmas is really a stark contrast to the modern idea of this holiday. Where does this idea or theme come from and how can we apply it? What does it have to do with us?

Philippians features the apostle as a peacekeeper determined to mediate a conflict in this letter from his prison cell in Rome as he appeals to harmony and reconciliation to come from two sisters in the church, from the high motive of love pictured in one word- humility (2:3-4). But again, what does this have to do with Christmas?

Philippians 2:5-11 is a theological masterpiece on Christ- Who HE is, and why HE came and what the triune God-head was thinking about in defining this Christmas holiday in two big ways through a call to humility. The Message of Christmas comes..

By the Incarnation of Christ (Phil. 2:5-7)  

Paul introduces this grand idea and presentation of Christ with a call to all of us to be understanding and wise like Jesus (v. 5). In other words, we are to have a single-minded attitude like Christ which he repeats in Romans and the Corinthian letters all over the place.

That mind of Christ he wants us to have is be: selfless, sacrificial and serving. So, what does Paul do to illustrate that? He points us to Jesus of course and by extension, Christmas.  The Son of God did the single most selfless thing he could do in his incarnation-  he abandoned his sovereign position on earth to benefit those less worthy- us.

.. though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Phil. 2:6, ESV),

Jesus did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or seized by man. Paul is saying clearly that Jesus is God in the flesh (incarnate)- the God/man- 100% God and 100% man.  In other words, If God the Father would choose to come to earth as a man in the flesh, He would look like this…Jesus.  “He being in the form of God.”

Just think about the word, “being” for a moment. Being denotes the person’s essential nature, essence and the outward expression of the inward nature. The nature of Christ is that of God. It describes that part of a person that can’t be changed, it is essential to His very existence and it always remains the same.  I and my Father are one (Jo. 10:30).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (Jo. 1:1-2, 14).

Jesus Christ was selfless in his Christmas incarnation, in that while retaining His personhood as God the Son, He gave up equality with God in His position or role for his mission on earth. This is why the New Living Translation (NLT) renders Phil. 2:6 as, Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God.

That should clear up the idea by the way for the cults and others that struggle with Jesus referring to God the Father as his ‘Father.’

In Humility and for the Worship of Christ (Phil. 2:8-11)

Lots of people are willing to serve others if it doesn’t cost anything or a lot. If there’s a big price to pay like sacrifice, they may lose interest but not Jesus.  He humbled himself by sacrificing his life- that’s the ultimate price to pay. He died the worst possible death on the cross. Some historians have said, “Anybody who died on a cross, died a thousand deaths.”

Why is that? Death on the cross was painful and shameful. You were accursed, Deut. 1:23 says, “Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.” Christ became a curse for us – his church, absorbing the wrath of God on our behalf. This was the most shameful form of execution, like the electric chair or gas chamber more recently would be reserved for the worst criminals.

Make no mistake, this baby was born to die- to die unjustly, so sinners wouldn’t have to eternally.

The whole message of Christmas- the motive behind it- behind everything to us lies in this passage from Paul’s pen. The whole purpose of the incarnation and humiliation of Jesus is the glory of God in and through God His Son.  As Christ prepared to go to the cross for his church, he prayed this to his father..

…”Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You (Jo. 17:1).

How? Phil. 2:9 tells us that God exalts or lifts up Jesus, not only in the resurrection after his cross work, but by giving him “the” name. It’s the name “Lord” (Kurios). It’s not just the name Jesus – that’s an earthly name. many other people name their sons Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew (the Lord saves). It’s this name above every name that is this Jesus, who is Lord.

There is coming a time- maybe sooner than we think, in which everyone on or under the earth will confess Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father.  Don’t think for a minute that the people in hell don’t know Jesus is Lord. He is the Lord of hell and they now know it.

People who have denied or rejected Christ will actually confess His Lordship now, or later. If I were given the power to choose, I would rather confess him now and take those blessings that come with the opportunity to confess him as Lord forever in heaven than to have to do it forever in the torment that is hell.

This passage from Philippians explains then the goal of ministry and missions. That is, the universal worship of God and His Christ. As John Piper has said, ‘Missions is not even the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is.’

The idea to share in this final week of Christmas preparation with your lost family or friends and co-workers is, “Do they want to join this hallelujah chorus the redeemed church is in, or the confessors that are condemned? This is the real message of Christmas. It came by the incarnation of Christ, by the humility of Christ, and for the worship of Christ.

Tell them, to join in the worship, to really enjoy Christmas, tell them, “Merry Christmas”, and do what Ro. 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“Conversion” Is Not Therapy or a Dirty Word

Related image Bernie Diaz, December 14, 2017

If you ever doubted as to whether or not mainstream media is secular and ignorant, if not antagonistic to orthodox Christianity and its values, note this recent South Florida Sun-Sentinel lead in a story published about a local initiative that would criminalize counsel that would offer hope and change to professing homosexuals:

LGBT youngsters living in Boynton Beach are free to be themselves and love who they want to love without worrying about medical efforts to change them.

Talk about editorializing in a news article! The story goes on to say, “The city on Tuesday became the latest municipality in South Florida to outlaw ‘conversion therapy,’ a method aimed at converting a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”

And of course, in this worldview battle, talk of changing a behavior that God in particular and many still in general, believe to be aberrant, sinful or wrong, is deemed to be nothing more than a proselytizing form of “conversion therapy,” which includes religious based efforts for people to abandon lifestyles that those religions deem to be immoral.

The story added; “The Boynton Beach Commission gave initial approval to an ordinance banning licensed professionals from trying to convert the gender identity or sexual orientation of LGBT youth. Violators can be fined $500 or sued by the city, according to language in the ordinance.”

One Commissioner Justin Katz, voiced his support for the ban by saying: “It’s just an absurd idea that in 2016 — going on 2017 now — that people could believe that you could change someone’s sexuality through chastising them and berating them and making them hate themselves,” he said. “I’m happy that this ordinance has been trickling its way down Palm Beach County, and we’re able to solidify that we are protecting children regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Biblical Christians will juxtapose or compare that comment with God’s word and commands which read:

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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (2 Cor. 6:9-11, ESV; see Gen. 19:1-13; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Ro. 1:26-27).

The gospel of God mediated in and through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is all about conversion- not as “therapy” mind you, which is generally somewhat of a humanistic and mental ‘band-aid’ for some afflicted with emotional and or physiological issues, but rather a conversion of the heart- body and soul of a person, so that by a new nature and will, a person struggling with sin is called and equipped by the Holy Spirt to please God by faith in obedience to his commands and revelation, and to reject their sin.

That is what Christian conversion means, which is to be born again (Jo. 3; 1 Pet. 1) and as Romans 6 puts it, a new life in which the disciple can,   ‘consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.’ In other words, a sinner (homosexual or otherwise) does not need societal or governmental permission to remain in their sin, nor a band-aid for that sin once they recognize it, but what they need is heart surgery. They need redemption.

Once justified and redeemed, the new man or woman in Christ is then able to in more Pauline language, stop sin from ‘reigning in their mortal body, to make them obey its passions.’

Despite what this morally relativistic culture feeds us, God does not create a person with homosexual desires as such. The Bible tells us that people become homosexuals because of sin (Ro. 1:24-27) and their rebellious nature, and ultimately because of their own choice, which may be influenced by certain environmental factors, as in one’s personal history.

A person may be born with a greater susceptibility to homosexuality, just as some people are born with a tendency to violence and other sins or addictions. That does not excuse the person’s choosing to sin by giving in to sinful desires.

If a person is born with a greater susceptibility to anger/rage, does that make it right for him to give into those desires? To legalize or legitimize them? Of course not! The same is true with homosexuality, which is why homosexuals or those identifying with LGTBQ lifestyles need conversion to Christ, as opposed to mere conversion therapy, which at least can offer a struggling sinner a choice to seek change from whatever source they deem worthy, as opposed to having to be exiled or trapped in a lifestyle they wish to escape from.

Thankfully, this ban which members of our church in Palm Beach have spoken against at a public hearing, will apply only to state-licensed therapists. To ensure its constitutionality, the law still allows unlicensed professionals, such as religious leaders (e.g. pastors), to engage in “conversion therapy”, the city said.

Last month, the Lake Worth City Commission in Florida voted unanimously to ban the practice, joining other cities that enacted such bans, including: Miami, Miami Beach, Bay Harbor Islands and Wilton Manors. The Key West City Commission was scheduled to vote on and likely approve it as Palm Beach county likely will, after its final hearing on December 9th. Broward County, where much of our church congregation resides, will hold its first public hearing on the measure on January 9th of the new year.

Make no mistake, this issue such as the related legal battles concerning people of faith and their liberty to refrain from endorsing if not advocating homosexual rights and the sexual revolution in their vocation, taking place in our country (e.g. wedding bakers, florists and photographers), is one of religious freedom.

Either licensed counselors – including Christians, will retain their long-held legal right to help homosexuals with gospel hope, or they will be denied that freedom, keeping many enslaved to sexual sin who seek moral and spiritual freedom.

Interestingly enough, The Palm Beach County Human Rights Coalition (a pro-homosexual rights activist group) believes that the county government by adopting the ordinance, will be ” … About protecting children.”

The opposite of that could never be more true, as evidenced by the number of young people I know and am in contact with, who are torn and confused by their sexual identity and conviction of conscience over the sin of sexual immorality and may have few options left by law to turn to for hope.

Hope in Christ and conversion- repentance by a regenerated faith in Jesus, is precisely what these poor young souls need. According to the Bible, God’s forgiveness is just as available to a homosexual as it is to an adulterer, idol worshipper, murderer, thief, etc. God also promises the strength for victory over sin, including homosexuality, to all those who will believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).

May the Christian community be willing to argue for the right for these sinners to have the freedom to escape from the prison of their sin.

 

Mother Mary’s Christmas Carol

Image result for pregnant mary mother of jesus Bernie Diaz, December 5, 2017

A Spanish proverb reads “An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest.”

As secular proverbs go, that’s not bad. Though I am the first to criticize Roman Catholicism’s blasphemous worship and veneration of Mary, earthly mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, many protestants in their backlash to Roman doctrine, fail to give Mary the credit she is due in the legacy she left the church with her life, particularly with the birth story of King Jesus, which gave us perhaps the first biblical, Christmas carol ever written- Mary’s ‘Magnificat.’

‘Manificat’ is a Latin word referring to the magnificent song of praise that Mary offered up to God for His grace, goodness, power and mercy in not only choosing her for salvation, and for her people of Israel and for all believers to come, but for her being chosen, to actually give birth to the Lord and Savior of mankind as recorded in Luke’s gospel (Lu.1:46-55).

The story behind this song or inaugural ‘Christmas Carol,’ is that Mary and Elizabeth her cousin, were pregnant and got together for a chat as pregnant women often do, comparing notes.

Elizabeth, a very mature woman at the time, was in her sixth month carrying none other than John the Baptist, who would be the relative (second cousin) of our King and she realized just looking at Mary and speaking with her, that she was carrying God in the flesh, which by the way, is an acknowledgment in a real good illustration of the sanctity of the unborn life in God’s economy. Just saying.

I wonder if the ladies reading this post might reflect on their reaction had they been chosen for the role of biological mother of the incarnate, creator and sustainer of all life in the universe today? What would be their prevailing emotion? Anxiety? Overwhelming joy?

Well, as verse 37 of Luke’s opening chapter states, mother Mary understood that “nothing will be impossible with God”.

So, this young Jewish adult- perhaps a teenager in our vernacular today,  delivered a great song of praise and joy – a magnificat that centers on four things that we can be worshipping about and singing praises to God for, as carols during this Christmas season:

A Joyful Song of Salvation (Lu. 1:46-47)

“Christ was content with a stable when he was born so that we could have a mansion when we die.”

When was the last time you sang a thanksgiving song of praise to God for your salvation? Christian, aren’t you happy or blessed, thrilled and awed that God called you and chose you to be born-again at the just the right moment in time and space?

I think about and do periodically pray thanks to God for the wonderous work of salvation he has wrought in me, by virtue of his sovereign and divine grace. The theological ‘ordis salutis’ (order of salvation) not only tells me that God saved me in Christ, but my ‘Abba Father’ also adopted me as his own, justified me, sanctified me, redeemed me and reconciled me to himself in peace. Mary gratefully rejoiced in that (1:47).

A Joyful Song About God’s Grace (1:48)  

If you’re not overjoyed about your salvation today as a Christian- you ought to be. You should be joyful because you know that God loves, perfects and disciplines a humble servant as necessary. That’s grace, which is literally a gift of favor, an unmerited favor. There is nothing, we have in us that deserves such grace and there is nothing we can do to earn it.

Do you know that you stand in front of a holy and just God? Does that humble you? It humbles me – even at jolly Christmas time. I fear God, I have great respect for Him and am in awe of Him as Mary was. And, I know He loves me and gave me the greatest Christmas gift anyone could ever have or even imagine – Himself, the gift of God wrapped up in a manger to die for me. That humbles me and gives me Joy at the same time!

A Joyful Song About God’s Power (1:49, 51-53)

God is unconventionally supernatural isn’t he? If there is anything predictable about God, it’s the fact that he’s unpredictable.  Isaiah said ‘his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts.’ Praise God for that. Paul tells us in Romans 11 that His judgments are unsearchable and His ways are inscrutable.

Who else but God, could conceive of and then providentially carry out such a Christmas plan? God incarnates himself as his son, through his Holy Spirit by way of a virgin birth in a relatively indiscriminate little town called Bethlehem. Really? Yes. To ‘him be glory forever amen.’

A Joyful Song About God’s Mercy (1:50,54)

Mary’s Christmas carol pays tribute to God’s loving mercy as a parallel to his grace and as opposed to what we might expect as unredeemed rebels- justice. She sings about the mercy of God, emanating from his perfectly holy and righteous character to not give us what we deserve.

What do sinners, moral lawbreakers that offend a holy and just God everyday deserve? The Bible tells us that the “wages of sin is death, and we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Ro. 6:23; 3:23). “None is righteous” the scripture says, “no not one.”  Yet, God is still good and merciful to us.  Might that deserve a vocal chorus or two in a godly Christmas carol?

Do you want a reason or reasons to get really excited about Christmas – something that will last longer than the dress or shirt you have to take back to the store in January?

How about Christmas joy for: God’s gifts of salvation; grace, power and mercy? All that and more God chose to give us in the flesh, through a godly and courageous young woman named Mary.

I think some of the best gifts are those that meet needs- don’t you? Ponder this one in this Christmas season:

 If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist;

If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer;

But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

That news- the greatest ever given to mankind in the history of this world, deserves songs of joy does it not?

I thank God for giving us Mary this Christmas, not for being a ‘Queen of the Universe,’ or some sort of super-saint or co-mediator of the gospel as some others teach, but for simply being a faithful woman and vessel for carrying and then wisely caring for, God in the flesh, our ultimate Christmas gift.

The Roots and Revolution of Today’s Sex Scandals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Back to the Basics

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do We Go from Here?

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

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

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

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

Giving Thanks For…. Pain and Suffering?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God to the Rescue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

The “New” and Dark Side of the Sexual Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

What do Christians make of the Harvey Weinstein scandal?

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Moore – Does Character Count?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned from the Dark Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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