The Struggle Between Illegal Immigration and Families

Image result for illegal immigration separating families Bernie Diaz, June 20, 2018

A crack in the election foundation of the Trump Administration has surfaced in its attempts to reform America’s long-broken immigration policy, forcing an in-house debate among evangelical Christians torn between their biblical mandate to show compassion and mercy towards alien immigrants or “sojourners”, and the support for the president’s efforts to make this country’s borders safer.

In the wake of news and media reports that the White House had directed border officials to detain infants and young children in three so-called “tender age” shelters at the Mexican-U.S. border, after being separated from their families who illegally crossed into the United States, President Trump signed an executive order ending the process of separating children from parents who cross the border illegally.

“We want to keep families together. It’s very important,” the president told reporters. Though the White House had yet to release details of the order at the time of this post, earlier reports indicated the Homeland Security Secretary drafted one requiring immigration officials to detain children along with their parents, thereby keeping families together.

The new policy came amid a mounting outcry against the administration’s “zero tolerance” stance toward illegal immigrants, announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which had reportedly led to the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents since April.

Child welfare advocates decried the trauma suffered by children taken from their parents with no idea when they might see them again. “The shelters aren’t the problem, it’s taking kids from their parents that’s the problem,” said one South Texas pediatrician, who has visited the shelters. Doctors and lawyers given access to the facilities described rooms full of children crying hysterically and immigrants being caged in allegedly less than humane conditions.

The President took to Twitter of course to blast his opponents for the problem, blaming the failed policies of prior Democratic administrations for the sorry state of our immigration plight and border security (i.e. DACA-“Dreamers”).

Indeed, no rational American should dismiss the dire state of illegal immigration in the U.S, where more than 12 million undocumented aliens may be living in this country, costing taxpayers billions of dollars in welfare type aid, health care and education, to say nothing of illegal immigration’s inherent risk to national security, posing threats of international terrorism  and violence from criminals with bad intent entering into the United States.

Therefore, the conundrum which has long baffled pro-family conservatives and biblically minded Christians, is what to do about this massive problem? How do we reconcile border security and responsible immigration policy – including limits as to how many immigrants may enter this country, with compassion and ministry to illegal, God image-bearing immigrants?

On the one hand, both first lady Melania Trump and former first lady Laura Bush, questioned if not condemned the recent White House policy. “This zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart Mrs. Bush said in remarks published last week.

While on the other hand, a number of high-profile Trump officials have spoken in favor of the policy.  Last month, Attorney General Sessions said, “If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

God and Immigration

One church body had gone as far as to begin the always difficult task of executing church discipline over this issue- against America’s top lawmaker! CNN reported that more than 600 members of the United Methodist Church issued a formal complaint against the Attorney General, a fellow church member, charging that his “zero tolerance” policy on immigration violated church rules and may have constituted child abuse.

Officially, the complaint charged Sessions with violating the UMC’s Book of Discipline, its code of laws and social principles. Such charges could lead to a church trial, though few expected that to happen to the A.G.

Instead, the Methodists charging Sessions, who included both clergy and lay members, asked for a “reconciling process that will help this longtime member … step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly families and children.”

The complaint was addressed to the pastors at two churches Sessions attends, in Alabama and Virginia, and reads, “Mr. Sessions — as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position — is particularly accountable to us, his church.”

Additionally, a number of evangelical humanitarian organizations such as  World Vision, urged a “compassionate response” and “family centered and child-focused solutions to immigration detention.” Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore tweeted an article showing photos of kids being separated from their families along with a verse from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel:

“Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and widow are wronged in you.” (Eze.  22:7), which contextually comes from a passage where the prophet details the sins for which God will judge Israel.

The church is obviously torn on the issue of what exactly should be done to deal with illegal immigration. The above notwithstanding, a Pew Research poll shows that more than two out of three white evangelical Protestants (68 percent) believe that the United States is not responsible for accepting refugees (including Christians fleeing Syria).

Curiously, believers wrestle with a similar label given them by the apostle Peter (1 Pet. 1), who described disciples of Christ as aliens, foreigners, immigrants or what I referred to in a preaching series last year, as Strangers on Earth.

Immigration is both a challenging and complex issue for the worldview of Christians in part because the Bible is not explicit in detailing immigration law and status for ‘sovereign’ nations under the sovereignty of God. Although Israel did secure its borders in certain occasions as protection from its pagan enemies (Nu. 35:6-32; 2 Ki. 20:20), sovereign states are usually left to their own devices scripturally, as to how to secure themselves.

That idea is so prevalent that the U.S. Attorney General cited a passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (Ro. 13:1-7) as justification for the work of immigration authorities at the border: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Jeff Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (daughter of evangelical leader and former Governor Mike Huckabee) later also said that “it is very biblical to enforce the law.”

While there is some truth in Session’s argument, he may lifted much of that scripture’s meaning and application out of its context, since it was intended for a Christian only audience in the first century, facing great persecution and tribulation under the rule of the Roman empire.

Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with White House immigration policy, politics do not define how Christians are to view fellow “foreigners” or aliens within their midst. The question to ask of God’s word, is how should believers – sojourners themselves, live with immigrants who do reach American soil- whether they be legally documented or not?

We must first remember the Lord Jesus Christ’s admonition to disciples to love neighbor as self as the Good Samaritan did, which does not exclude immigrants- legal or otherwise.

As I posted in a somewhat parallel blog last year during the Syrian immigration crisis, “Many an immigrant and “dreamer” child – a child born in the U.S. of immigrant parents who struggle to keep their families intact, are children and families in need of Christ, His gospel and redemption. They are people who present opportunities for churches and Christians to rescue, serve, love and bless with the Spirit of Christ.”

A Biblical Policy?

What would God have us to do then with illegal aliens and this immigration issue? I’ll simply repeat three thoughts from last year’s post:

“First, I believe the Bible clearly teaches that we are to obey the laws of our land as instituted by God, including immigration law whether we personally like them or not. National security is the preeminent priority of a civilized and just government.”

Attorney General Sessions is generally right on this one if we’re talking about believers who know their scripture.

“Second, Christians are to be compassionate, merciful and evangelical whenever possible toward immigrants (Exo. 22:21; Lev. 19:33–34; Matt. 25:35), as God has always instructed his people to be from Old Testament history to New.”

Is it not true that believers are called upon by God and his word to care for the poor, orphans and widows regardless of their immigration status (Ja. 1:27, 2:2-15)?

Third and finally, “ … though illegal immigrants are subject to prosecution of those laws, we can respectfully petition our government to grant leniency (not to be confused with amnesty), common grace and mercy to those immigrants – particularly with children and those that have become citizens by their naturalized birth, having been, remained and/or become productive, tax-paying, law-abiding permanent residents (green-card carrying visas) and citizens of this country.”

As I wrote before, the issue is complex, curious and controversial. To achieve justice and mercy at the same time is quite a tall order for any of our nation’s lawmakers publicly and for biblically minded Christians privately.

So, may the love of God and people reign in the hearts of God’s children as lights among the darkness of our times as we struggle in the debate over immigration.

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More Suicide and Depression – What’s a Christian to Think?

Image result for bourdain and spade Bernie Diaz, June 14, 2018

The painful and sensitive topic of suicide and it’s closely associated cousin – depression, are back in the news deserving a worldview perspective for Christians who will be called to think and speak to this issue within our respective communities.

Suicide is often brought by our culture to the forefront of our attention, in the wake of high-profile celebrity suicides as evidenced by Robin Williams’ death in 2014 (“Suicide – a Way Out?”, My Captive Thought, 8-14) and more recently, the deaths of both Celebrity chef and CNN personality Anthony Bourdain (found dead in his hotel room in France), just three days after celebrity designer Kate Spade took her life the same way (hanging) in her New York City apartment, just one day after the federal government’s study was released on the rising rate of suicide in the U.S.

According to the CDC, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide in 2016, making it the 10th leading cause of death in this country, making it “a major public health problem” according to a CDC official, interviewed by Fox News.

One of the more troubling signs or findings in the report, was the big spike among U.S. teens attempting suicide in a troubling sign that anxiety and depression may be taking a greater hold of America’s youth. In fact, new research shows a doubling since 2008 in the number of kids and teens who’ve been hospitalized for attempted suicide or suicidal thoughts, two-thirds of them being females.

Furthermore, suicide is now found to be the third leading cause of death overall among American youth according to the same study.

Why?

Mental illnesses of various kinds and a corresponding link to more severe forms of depression seem to have been historically acknowledged by experts as the most common causes of suicide.

Some estimates link mental health to suicide in anywhere from 60 to as much as 90% of cases. But is the causality of suicidal tendencies that simple?

Many of us assume that people who take their own life are mentally ill, but our collective experience and observation tell us this isn’t always the case. Some mental health professionals say there are many other factors that can contribute to suicide that have nothing to do with mental illness, including loss of a relationship, loneliness, chronic illness, financial loss, history of trauma or abuse and the stigma associated with asking for help to name a few.

In an interview this year, comedian and actor Jim Carrey talked about “getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamed of and more.”

Indeed, one notable columnist just wrote of the “Fallacy of Success and Happiness”, saying that most people believe relatively rich and high-profile stars like Bourdain and Spade must have been happy given their success, but the truth is that beneath the facade often lies a grim reality.

The grim reality as scripture clearly indicates, is that worldly happiness is fleeting in a world cursed by sin, death and demonic influences: “If only we get that new job, or big raise, or a new house or have children or move, we will finally be happy.” Fellow disciple of Christ – don’t believe the devil’s lie.

In fact, as Carrey (a self-admitted new-agey type spiritual seeker) points out, in many ways achieving all your goals provides the opposite of fulfillment: It lays bare the truth that there is nothing you can purchase, possess or achieve that will make you feel fulfilled over the long term.

That thought alone could drive a person to despair or depression were it not for the opportunity we all have to find the only true happiness available for any length of time – regardless of circumstances.

Where to Go?

My own intuition, affirmed by research, is that suicidal thoughts and self-death are a form of escapism. Living life becomes so hard and painful for some individuals (mental condition notwithstanding), that losing life, seems to be the best or only escape or relief from the pain of life itself. This is the deepest and darkest well of depression.

And of course, being that we are in a society seeking to escape pain and suffering at virtually any cost- regardless of God’s will or the general welfare of families and society, we are now as a nation moving closer to the further legalization and legitimization of euthanasia, or ‘physician-assisted suicide’.

Depression believe it or not, is no sign of weakness to a Christian. Although as believers of Jesus Christ, we understand that real happiness or soul-satisfaction can only be found by the blood-bought redemption of and  ‘abiding’ in Christ (Jo.15), our souls still suffer and can slip into despair (Psa. 42).

Israel‘s great king David often battled depression as evidenced by the language of his own heart; “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?” (Psa. 56:8).

All Christians suffer. To paraphrase another theologian, either you have, you are, or you will — through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Therefore, those of us that struggle with our suffering can fall into periodic bouts of depression, or even a prolonged season of despair.

Yet, in the midst of our suffering, the Bible actually commands us to be filled with joy and praise (Phil. 4:4; Ro. 15:11; 1 Thess.5:16), so God apparently intends for us all to live joyful lives- no matter what!

Of course, this is not easy for someone suffering from situational depression, but it can be remedied through God’s means of grace in the word, prayer, the fellowship and love of the local church, confession, forgiveness, and counseling.

Moreover, as depression manifests itself through biological or physiological disorders in our minds and bodies, there may be reason under qualified health care, to seek medication as an aide to combat it.

Therefore, although being depressed is not a sin, one is still accountable for the response to the affliction, to seek God, to seek help and not take the path of suicidal escapism. We are to “fight the good fight of faith” by thinking hard on the promises of God and our future. The hope of the Christian is our confident and joyful expectation of our future glory and heaven with God.

Our future is brighter than the mind can see in our darkness and our call is to honor or glorify God with our lives here and now, not escape it, knowing he has plans and purposes in our lives here.

5 Scriptures that Shine Light into Darkness:

As you seek to battle your own despair that may come, or wish to minister to those you know and love that do, watching for troubling signs that can lead unabated to suicide (i.e. isolation, severe depression and expressions of despair), feed on scriptural medicine for starters:

  1. God Will Never Leave You

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deut. 31:8).

Just as he swore to never desert the people of Israel, he will never leave you or forsake you because you are in Christ. You are his child, and like a dad leading the way through a treacherous road for his small child, so God is going ahead of you, clearing the way.

  1. God Will Strengthen You and Uphold You

fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isa. 41:10).

In your depression, you feel like you can’t hang on to God. Sometimes you can’t even get out of bed.

Good news! You don’t have to hold on to God because he is holding on to you. The reality is, you and me are weak, and we may just be feeling it more now. Take heart, because God loves to sustain the weak (2 Cor. 12).

  1. The Lord is Your Shield

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head (Psa. 3:3).

God is your rock, refuge and shield when you are weak, helpless, and hopeless. He is standing over you, guarding you, protecting you, keeping watch over you even when you feel broken by depression.

  1. God Is Near to The Brokenhearted

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit and he is close enough to deliver you (Psa. 34:18-19).

  1. The Lord Will Renew Your Strength

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isa. 40:31).

Few things sap your strength like depression. Everything seems overwhelming and impossible. Even the most mundane acts of life require massive amounts of effort.

The good news is that God is in the business of giving strength to those who have none. He loves to hold us those who are falling and revive those who feel like they can’t go on. Wait for the Lord and he will give you life. He has promised to renew your strength even though you don’t feel it now. He has good things in store for you.

When people are down, there’s a battle going on for their soul. They must will to battle and fight for it. May they find and preach the gospel to themselves and say, Life is hard, God is good and Christ is coming again!

The #MeToo Movement and Domestic Abuse as Grounds for Divorce

Image result for #metoo movement Image result for paige patterson Bernie Diaz, May 29, 2018

No organization today or even church can be thought of as exempt from the #MeToo movement which has been shaking loose American culture and society since 2016.

Allegations of sexual abuse, indecency, impropriety and the harassment of women by mostly men in roles of celebrity and leadership, continue to grow, from the most powerful in Hollywood, to elected officials and now pastors, preachers and ministry administrators as evidenced by the recent turn of events which has rocked the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) of which the church I pastor is a member of.

Fresh off the heels of Frank Page’s resignation as president and CEO of that denomination’s Executive Committee in March, over what was described as “a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past,” Paige Patterson, a longtime SBC leader was just removed from his job as president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary due largely to the pressure of an evangelical #MeToo moment: a massive backlash from Christian women upset over comments he made in the past that are newly perceived as sexist and demeaning.

Though specific reasons for Patterson’s ouster were not made explicitly clear, it is thought that the widespread criticism in recent weeks for remarks he has made in the past, including a discussion of divorce in cases of abuse and multiple comments on women’s appearances were the likely cause of his departure.

A letter signed by more than 3,000 Southern Baptist women, including high-profile ministry leaders and Bible teachers, demanded that the seminary remove Patterson for his “unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality.”

In actuality, Patterson’s stated doctrinal views of the biblical equality of men and women, with the differing roles and responsibilities God has ordained for each gender (Gen. 2; 1 Cor. 11; Eph. 5; Col. 4; 1 Tim. 2), otherwise known as complementarianism, should not cause as much grief among true disciples of Christ and serious Bible students, as much as his own personal views, as found in circulated archival clips of the 76-year-old former SBC chief saying whether a woman should leave an abusive husband “depends on the level of abuse” and that divorce is “always wrong counsel.”

It is the latter issue of which we will dedicate more of our space in this post to in a moment. Sufficed to say, regardless of the excesses of the #MeToo movement, which has and will continue to result in occasional false charges and accusations of inappropriate conduct made by opportunistic accusers, too many men of power in positions of leadership and influence have taken advantage of too many women for far too long.

The pendulum of sinful and inexcusable dominance exercised by many males- including professing Christians and leaders, has historically swung too far in their favor and men in our American society will now have to suffer for a time the backlash of the corrective pendulum swinging the other way.

Two of God’s Common Grace Lessons from #MeToo:

  1. #MeToo is shedding light

Sin and darkness hate the light, (Jo. 3), even common-grace light. Look to now convicted ‘sports doctor’ Larry Nassar and his 150 plus victims to see the personification of the predatory nature of sexual evil and assault.

The current wave of accusations of sexual misconduct is revealing the dark side of misogyny present among too many men, which unchecked can result in the physical and psychological harm of women, contradicting God’s command for men to respectfully and gently treat females as the “weaker vessel” (see 1 Cor. 13:4-7; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7).

  1. #MeToo is bringing awareness.

As one blogger posted, “The Internet has changed the game. If HR won’t take me seriously, then I can go to Twitter where my voice will be heard.” Everywhere we look, victims and survivors in some cases, are sharing their stories of abuse and calling for accountability.

The male objectification of women is ‘out of the closet’ and is being called the sin and moral failure that it is.

Men are being forced to talk with women and other men, confessing sin and asking uncomfortable questions (e.g., “Am I doing or saying anything that makes women feel vulnerable and unsafe?”). This is part of what we in the church call repentance and sanctification. That’s a good thing.

The Bible and the Church still has the Answers

It’s been estimated that #MeToo has given a voice to nearly 18 million sexual assault victims over the last 20 years. But what now? There are millions of women who need more than a voice. They need hope and healing. In other words, they need the blood-bought church of Jesus Christ.

Which also means that there are millions of men who have perpetrated many crimes and misdemeanors of sexual sin and harassment of women who need a new-birth. They need forgiveness, beginning with the prayer of grace for them to turn to the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation and justification by faith alone.

Whereas many churches may struggle to provide ample counseling resources to bear on the issue – resources alone are not the answer, as evidenced by the continuing sexual misdeeds of the Roman Catholic church. It is God’s local body of believers who must step up and be ready to come to the aid of victims among them, helping to bear their burdens (Gal. 6:1-2).

Domestic Abuse and Divorce

The Page Patterson scandal in the SBC, which has called into question his views about scripture’s position on domestic abuse and divorce, has again raised the issue either long ignored or delicately avoided by church and ministry leaders being, “Does God and his word allow for the dissolution or divorce of a marriage when one spouse is abusing the other- most notably in the physical sense”?

Evangelicals have long been in debate over their biblical interpretations and views about divorce – particularly in an age like ours, where divorce is rampant and rarely frowned upon in public or our culture.

Some believe that the Bible disallows divorce altogether – the “permanence of marriage” view (Matt. 19:9). Others believe that the Bible allows for divorce or the dissolution of a marriage in certain situations.

I am among those preachers and ministers who has taught that a marriage may dissolve for three different reasons: death, depravity (sexual) and desertion.

  • Death

This one is pretty much a given that widows could remarry according to the apostle Paul (Ro. 7:2-3). This is the idea from Eden that because marriage is a physical union it can only be separated or broken by a physical cause- death (e.g. Ruth).

  • Depravity

As in sexual and impenitent sin, as defined by the word, fornication. Which we translate from the Greek word pornia, transliterated in English to the word, pornography. This is one of two seemingly permissible grounds of divorce that we find in scripture (Matt. 5; 19). The other being…

  • Desertion

Why is this permissible? This became a relatively new marital situation Jesus did not directly dealt with, being that new Christians including Gentiles (non-Jews) and their marriages to unbelieving spouses, occurred after his teaching in the gospels and the church’s birth at Pentecost.

Most of the time an unbelieving or even professing spouse that deserts a believer, is doing so for adulterous or self-gratifying, sinful purposes. So, after a season of unsuccessful reconciliation and unforgiveness, God’s word seems to indicate (1 Cor. 7:10-16), that he would not want a believer who was a victim of marital desertion to forgo the blessings of marriage and family should that be God’s will or call on that disciples’ life.

But what about domestic abuse, which we know is punishable by law and physically dangerous but yet omitted from the pages of holy scripture in the context of marriage and divorce?

I have taught and now reassert regardless of the #MeToo movement that under great caution and wisdom we add the 4th category of marital dissolution …

  • Domestic Abuse  

If physical if not severe psychological domestic abuse is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, how can I as an exegete (biblical investigator and student) declare it as a rationale for divorce? Fair question.

I think there are other principles to bring to bear on this factor that have to do with love, protection and separation. For instance, Pastor and author Denny Burk, another SBC leader, in his 2013 book on sexual ethics (What Is the Meaning of Sex), argued that

Abused spouses should separate from abusive situations in order to protect themselves and their children”. That separation is a necessity for the safety and welfare of the family. An abusive spouse has made choices that force a separation, and the abuse therefore can become tantamount to desertion. That is why I conclude that when the abuser “leaves” the marriage in this way, the “exception for desertion comes into play (1 Cor. 7:15). In any case, the victim must be protected and the abuser sanctioned.

Where the Bible does not offer us direct or plain commands or precepts to follow, as is often the case in dealing with more modern ethical dilemmas, we should then appeal to scripture’s principles, holy patterns and practices of conduct which we can apply to such difficult issues in order to properly discern God’s will for our lives.

Domestic abusers are law-breakers first and foremost. They break man’s law ordained by God’s administration to protect victims of physical assault (Ro.13:1). In addition, husbands are commanded by God to love, cherish and nourish their wives (Eph. 5:25, 28-29) and are guilty of not loving their wives as Christ loved the church.

Furthermore, God’s people have fled and are justified in fleeing to save their own lives (i.e. Exo. 2:15; 2 Cor. 11:33). A spouse whose life is being threatened by the presence of her husband would have every right to flee from that danger and remain separated from that husband so long as the threat continues.

I affirm Burks argument that the apostle Paul in his desertion text of 1 Cor. 7:15, may be allowing for divorce on the grounds of domestic abuse, based upon the principle of a victim being forced to separate from an abusive spouse due to a permanent and impenitent state of sin and risk of life:

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. (ESV).

Separation is a sometimes necessary part of the Christian church experience. In fact, as in other cases of clear and unrepentant sin, abuse can and often should be grounds for the excommunication of an abusive member from the church

As Burk added, “When it comes to abuse, one’s view of divorce is not the immediate issue. Those who hold the ‘exceptions’ view and those who hold the “no divorce ever” view must agree on this: No matter what one’s view on divorce is, all faithful Christians must be absolutely clear that abuse is a sin and a crime.”

Therefore, I think the church’s faithfulness to Christ means confronting abusers and protecting the abused—which will include removing the abused from the presence of the abuser, understanding the need to possibly and prayerfully dissolve such a marriage, report the abuse to civil authorities and do all we can to avoid being part of the #MeToo movement.

Uncomfortable Truths for a Nation Grieving Over School Shootings

Image result for santa fe school shooting Bernie Diaz, May 22, 2018

Just when the gun-control movement thought they had it all figured out in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting here in February –  ‘just ban assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons and all will be well and students will be safe’ …..

Problem: mass murders are not exclusively committed with particular weapons as again evidenced by last week’s tragedy, in which a 17 year-old shooter and a student at a high-school in Santa Fe Texas, gunned down 20 plus victims, killing 10, among them students and teachers. His weapons of choice? A shotgun, such as the double-action kind that millions of law-abiding Americans safely use for hunting and self-defense purposes and a .38 caliber pistol. Those are not massive, high-powered automatic type weapons folks.

So, what now? Ban every gun or weapon in the United States (of which tens of millions are already in circulation)? Is that the ‘silver bullet’ or magic pill to curbing school campus violence? How will that happen? What about the second amendment of the U.S. constitution which permits gun ownership and is a right that has been affirmed again and again by even the most liberal of Supreme Courts?

This is not to say that local and state governments should sit idly by and do nothing to combat school violence. After all, airports, courthouses, public and private buildings have taken serious steps over the past few years to secure their buildings. Why shouldn’t school districts do the same?

As Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, a professing evangelical Christian said after this most recent event, “In the midst of such tragedy, we pray for the victims and those mourning in Santa Fe, while we work to ensure swift and meaningful action to protect our students in schools across our state.”

Pray and Work. As a wise theologian said many years ago, we of all people as disciples of Jesus Christ should, “Pray as if everything depends on God (which it does) and do as if everything depends on us.”

That said, we fallen and fleshly beings depend more than a bit too much on the latter effort.

Although there are many prudent steps that schools could take to better safeguard students nationwide (i.e. metal detectors and plenty of armed security), the greatest emphasis has been placed on legislating away guns or concentrating on mental health diagnosis and the sharing of background information.

While such actions are well-intended and a few may even be sensical, they are far from full-proof. While the Stoneman Douglas shooter from our local community, carried a load of red-flags pointing to mental health issues and dysfunctional behavior that was not properly dealt with by authorities, the Texas shooter and the Fed-ex package bomber for instance, came from relatively stable homes and environments and had not exhibited any significant, previous abnormal behavior that was documented.

The Practical

At least one emerging pattern that has become evident from the recent epidemic of school shootings, is the ‘copycat problem.’ In a provocative post, Samuel D. James wrote, “… Literally hours after the deaths of 10 people, cable news outlets are promoting (yes, promoting) the alleged murderer’s Facebook profile, interviewing his classmates and friends, pasting his name atop the internet, and doing in-depth psychological profiles of his clothing and music.

Let’s face it: This stuff is either a ‘celebritization’ or else it’s a form of pornography, a soft-core concoction of tantalizing details and insinuations that titillate the imagination. Either way, this is a carb-rich media diet for desperate and violent men.

Yes, let’s face it- people in America- youth in particular, love and want fame. According to one statistician, many young people want fame more than they want success, meaning, or even family.

Think about it, if you’re not the most physically or intellectually gifted young adult among your peers, or if you’re a lonely, rejected and isolated teenager in your community, what would be the best way to become infamous overnight? Audition for American Idol or commit a sensationally heinous act of mass murder that would ensure your name and face’s exposure to millions around the world? Doesn’t everybody know and remember the monsters among us?

Writer Malcom Gladwell hit on a key component of the “copycat” problem in 2015, when he argued that the Columbine high-school shooting in Colorado from 1997 changed the paradigm:

The first seven of the “major” modern school-shooting incidents were “disconnected and idiosyncratic.”

Then came Columbine. The sociologist Ralph Larkin argues that Harris and Klebold laid down the “cultural script” for the next generation of shooters. They had a Web site. They made home movies starring themselves as hit men. They wrote lengthy manifestos. They recorded their “basement tapes.” Their motivations were spelled out with grandiose specificity: Harris said he wanted to “kick-start a revolution.” Larkin looked at the twelve major school shootings in the United States in the eight years after Columbine, and he found that in eight of those subsequent cases the shooters made explicit reference to Harris and Klebold. Of the eleven school shootings outside the U. S. between 1999 and 2007, Larkin says six were plainly versions of Columbine; of the eleven cases of thwarted shootings in the same period, Larkin says all were Columbine-inspired.

Here’s Gladwell’s chilling conclusion:

In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

According to early reports, there are indications that the Texas shooter engaged in behavior that sounds eerily like the Columbine shooting. He allegedly was regularly wearing a trench coat to school and his choice of weapons and explosives looked like the hallmarks of the Colorado massacre. In thinking about Columbine and Santa Fe, I can connect dots to Gladwell’s essay.

Therefore, another practical step that could perhaps stem the tide of this wave of school shootings is to de-personalize the criminal to the extent that his name would not be mentioned in the mainstream media in effect removing some of the copycat’s motive to commit the crime.

However, whatever the treatment may be, Gladwell points to the fact we are still dealing largely with young men in the grip of a terrible infection, with no cure in sight. Or is there?

The Spiritual

Once we come to grips as some officials already have with the idea that these acts are inherently evil, only then can we begin to deal long-term in the cure of this violent infection, which is the eradication of evil itself.

In fact, a recently published interview with the brother of the Parkland shooter – who apparently is an unbeliever, confirmed the notion I hold to that such despicable acts of evil are influenced or tempted by the enemy of our souls.

Zachary, the shooter’s older brother, described a sibling who self-admittedly was wracked with demonic oppression and was unable to overcome his opponent of demonic warfare; “He was listening to music really loud,” Zachary said. “He said something about demons. I hate saying it but I shrugged it off.”

Obviously, the acknowledgement of man’s depravity and a world of evil, implies the spiritual dimension of life and is not a place in which mainstream media is willing to go. As Christians with a biblical worldview,  we know better (Matt 10:1; Lu. 8:2).

According to a recent newspaper article, a guardian of the Parkland shooter noticed that his behavior became increasingly bizarre, almost as if “possessed,” she said. “He lost it. He went through a phase. He got crazy. Got weird, cold, distant; his face got mean,” she added. “Someone took over.”

Around Christmas of last year, shortly after his adopted mother’s death, the shooter began to act out in new ways according to the guardian, “He began making demon noises through the night. It lasted a few days”. She spoke of something like the sound of a dark, screeching, squealing horse that would echo through their trailer home. “Me and my mom were so afraid that we slept together, blocked the door with the dresser, machete in hand,” she said. “His fascination with demons continued to grow.

Whereas such testimony may not be conclusive, it is nonetheless informative and compelling for those that know that the heart of man as the prophet Jeremiah said, is, “deceitful and desperately wicked.”

Being that our world is cursed and infected by sin and evil (Ro. 5:12; 8:22) until Jesus returns to restore and redeem his creation, what then are we to pray and do about school shootings?

Working backwards, we understand the need to take common-sense steps or initiatives that better safeguard our children at school that do not infringe on the rights of people to protect themselves. That’s doing. That course of action though, is fraught with rhetorical and legislative landmines.

For Christians who understand the kingdom of God and heaven, as well as the great commission, we understand that now more than ever is the time to introduce people to the person and gospel of Jesus Christ, as the only way, truth and life and that can transform a demonically oppressed if not possessed killer, into a repentant, forgiven and born-again child of God.

Now is the time for the real American church of Christ to kneel down and ask for a movement of the Holy Spirit that will capture the hearts and minds of Christians to pray and undertake the armor of spiritual warfare on the behalf of others and those that are lost and trapped in a world filled with evil manifest in mass murder (Eph. 6:10-20). That’s praying and God talk.

May God begin to wield his cure to rid this world of the infection of evil by growing his kingdom and church in a fresh way. Let’s Pray and do.

A Milestone for Israel and Christian Bigotry

Image result for Jerusalem embassy dedicationBernie Diaz, May 15, 2018

This week was a landmark one, if not a milestone in the history of the nation of Israel, when the United States participated in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence (May 14), at the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Just the moving of the embassy itself from Tel Aviv to the holy city (“Mt. Zion”) is a controversial move, that has been hailed by a number of evangelicals but has also led to mass protests and violence.

In fact, 60 Palestinians were killed in an armed skirmish with Israeli forces this week near some of the contested border areas inflaming tensions in a historically simmering region of the world.

Whereas this space does not allow for a comprehensive explanation and context of Israeli-Arab relations, sufficed to say the holy land is a relatively small and narrow piece of land of massive interest to the ‘three great religions of the world’ (Christianity, Judaism and Islam).

Biblically, we find that God promised this land to his chosen nation of Israel as part and parcel of the covenant he made with Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3). In this covenant or agreement with the “father of faith”, God not only promised the land of Canaan to the Jews forever, He also promised to bless those who blessed the Jews and curse those who cursed the Jews.

Consequently, millions of evangelical Christians believe that if they want God to bless them individually, and America collectively as a nation, then they need to bless the Jews. More importantly, Christians want to love those God loves and vice versa.

If that weren’t enough, millions of dispensational or pre-millennial disciples of Christ of which I count myself as one, believe that the remnant of Israel which remains during a future time of ‘great tribulation’ on the earth, will be redeemed by Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies pointing towards an earthly, Messianic kingdom reigning from Jerusalem.

This is why we need to explain to others, and to remind ourselves, why many Christians fervently support Israel and the Jewish people while others in the faith do so with varying opinions of the end times, on strictly moral grounds.

However, we must also remind ourselves that Israeli-Arab relations are more than a bit sensitive, due to complex geo-political events and diplomatic initiatives which have been enacted over the centuries, granting portions of the holy land to Palestinian refugees prior to Israel’s rebirth, further complicating matters.

Nonetheless, one of this country’s most worthwhile accomplishments has been its consistent support of the Jewish nation. No nation in the history of the world has a better record of treating individual Jews with respect than America. In 1948, it was President Harry Truman who helped persuade the United Nations to recognize Israel as a nation. Since then, the U.S. has contributed billions of dollars in aid to the democratically minded nation of Israel.

Christian Bigotry?

On a related note, former Governor of Massachusetts and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, condemned First Baptist of Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, for his past comments on Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and Hell, arguing that he is a “religious bigot” who should not have been delivering a prayer at the new American embassy in Jerusalem.

“Robert Jeffress says ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.’ He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem,” tweeted Romney, who is also a Utah Senate candidate and a Mormon.

Beginning with the follwoing two disclaimers, I would understand why Romney an allegedly devout Mormon, might take issue with Pastor Jeffress’ prayer and comments. Furthermore, Jeffress, an avid supporter and spiritual advisor to President Trump, has made more than a few controversial if not inappropriate statements in the past.

However, what Jeffress has stated is nothing more than classic, orthodox and historic Christian theology and doctrine with respect to salvation and redemption. “Historical Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith alone in Jesus Christ,” Jeffress declared. “The fact that I, along with millions of evangelical Christians around the world, espouse that belief is neither bigoted or newsworthy.”

Despite my past disagreements with Jeffress’ political involvement from the pulpit, I stand with his Biblically based position for the exclusivity and truth of the gospel.

When Romney ran for president in 2012, Jeffress caused some controversy by claiming during the primaries that Christians shouldn’t support Romney because Mormonism is a “cult.” After Romney became the Republican nominee, Jeffress revealed that he backed Romney as the “lesser of two evils” when Romney challenged former President Barack Obama for the White House.

Separately, Jeffress has said that although he finds Romney to be a “good and moral family man,” as a Mormon, he would not be considered to be a born-again follower of Jesus Christ.

From the biblical worldview or perspective, it must be said no matter how politically incorrect or unpopular it may be, Jeffress’s analysis of Romney’s faith is spot on, as it would be for any other Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, Jew or even a Roman Catholic –  anyone that would deny the deity of Jesus Christ, salvation by God’s grace alone, in Christ alone, based upon the scriptures alone. Therefore, if those doctrinal beliefs make Robert Jeffress out to be a religious bigot, then we can join him in wearing that label.

By the way, we would be in good company with true believers like the apostle Paul, who called out and cursed false gospels in his time (Gal.1:8-9). What virtually every false gospel or ‘cult,’ which is a religion claiming Christ though denying the essential elements of his life, gospel, mission and ministry, differ on in particular, are their views in contrast to Christianity on: revelation (scripture), man, God, Christ and the nature of salvation.

Aside from that, we can all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

But seriously, serious biblical disciples of Christ must love their unchurched, unsaved friends and family whether they are in a cult or not, and as such tell the truth to them “in love” with grace, courage and without compromise, as prayerful opportunity presents itself.

A notable Baptist leader told of a witnessing encounter with a Jewish rabbi who said to him, with some exasperation, ” I know that is what you believe, but do you have to say it?”

The preacher replied, “Yes, I do. My faith has in it something called The Great Commission, which is a divine command to share the Gospel with everyone. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul commanded Christians to go ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Rom. 1:16).

So, as a disciple of Jesus I am specifically commanded and called to witness to the Jews, God’s chosen people, that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah and Savior. If the price of respecting your faith is to disregard the commands of my faith, then the price is too high.”

Are you willing to pay that price Christian? The price of being called a bigot? I am.

Today’s Pictures of Life and Death – from Womb to Tomb

Related image Image result for alife evans and david goodall Bernie Diaz, May 8, 2018

Life and death controversies dominated a recent and busy news cycle over a fortnight (that’s two weeks) with ideas that challenge us to better understand how our worldview on end of life issues are just a logical extension of our beginning of life views. What do I mean by that?

Two headline stories intersected recently, illustrating for us how the culture of death in our society is not limited to the abortion debate, but consistently flows into how we view the end of life. At both ends- from womb to tomb with the cradle and the coming of age in between, our world continues to devalue the sanctity of life and the inherent dignity given it, by its creator and sustainer, God himself.

A Picture of the Grave

A 104-year-old Australian– a relatively healthy one –  as healthy as a centurion can be, started his journey to end his life in Switzerland, saying he “greatly regrets” living to his advanced age.

Botanist and ecologist David Goodall is traveling to the Life Circle clinic in Basel, accompanied by a nurse from the pro-euthanasia organization Exit International, the group’s founder said.

Speaking on his 104th birthday, Goodall said if he had one birthday wish it would be to die. “No I’m not happy. I want to die… It’s not sad particularly, what is sad is if one is prevented (from dying),” he told an Australian broadcaster.

The question of whether people should be able to legally seek help to die, what may be better referred to as, “medical or doctor assisted suicide” is a subject of fierce debate here and around the world.

Euthanasia, interestingly enough, is still illegal in Australia, including in Goodall’s home state although another region there plans to allow it next year. On our ‘side of the pond’, seven U.S. states now have a form of physician-assisted suicide, the most recent being Hawaii, joining a small number of countries including Japan, Belgium and Switzerland.

The founder of Exit International, said the option of traveling to Switzerland to seek medically assisted suicide was open to anyone, provided they had sound reason and fulfilled certain criteria. “My belief is that any rational adult should have the ability to access the drugs which would give them a peaceful, reliable death,” he said.

Here in America, the usual method of causing that death is via a prescription of lethal drugs to terminally ill patients. As you might imagine, evidenced by the case of the above Australian scientist, the criteria no matter how well intended is subjective, ripe for abuse and makes a complete end around the sovereignty of God, of who the Psalmist said,

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
(Psa. 139:15-16, ESV).

Goodall said in his interview ahead of his departure, that although he was still technically healthy, his physical condition and quality of life was deteriorating. “I might as well not have (my health) getting worse and worse, making me unhappy as it goes,” he said. There we have it. Quality of life (“happiness”) – as subjective a category as there is, should determine our time of death.

Who then is to number our days? God or us? Who decides on who is to live or die? You? Your parents? The state? All of those options are on the table when discussing a domain that had been left exclusively to God for centuries.

Hawaii’s assisted suicide bill’s opponents note it makes the elderly and disabled vulnerable to pressure to end their lives early for reasons other than extreme suffering. One of only two senators to vote against the bill, said he could never approve something that would create “an environment of hopelessness” for those already struggling with agonizing circumstances.

“My faith in God, prayers, and sense of hope got me through this,” the Senator said of his own battle with cancer.

“Because of this personal experience, I feel so strongly that we must always have hope and never give up.”

So, how did we arrive at a point and place in life where peoples and governments made subjective value judgments on life and death?

A Picture of the Cradle

If just stands to reason that if we attribute little value to the end of life, we probably began to pave that road to death at the beginning of it- namely, with abortion.

If we believe that human beings are expendable in a utilitarian vision which determines value based on relative usefulness and independence, then we have come to the theological conclusion that how you live determines if you are to live at all, because God cannot have much to do with life if anything.

Alfie Evans’s parents just lost their fight when their son died last week, after lingering for days at Liverpool England’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital without life support. Doctors, who didn’t expect Alfie to live that long once the plug was pulled, insisted his brain had degenerated beyond recovery and declared he should die.

In February, a High Court Judge there concluded from the doctors’ testimonies that severe brain deterioration due to an unknown disorder had left Alfie unable to see, hear, or respond to any stimuli. He admitted that “life itself has intrinsic value, however tenuous or vestigial its hold,” and a visit to Alfie’s hospital room, filled with toys and gifts from supporters, convinced him the child’s “life has true dignity.”

But paradoxically and hypocritically, that same judge ultimately decided Alfie would benefit most from having his ventilator disconnected. The U.K. Supreme Court upheld the decision in March, citing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Britain ratified in 1991. Under this treaty, the court ruled, a child’s rights “will, if inconsistent with the rights of his parents, prevail over them.”

An expert of legal studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights, said the courts have used the “free-floating principle” of a child’s best interest to trump parental rights in cases like Alfie’s, instead of using it “when parents have failed to provide protection for their children.”

Far from failing to provide protection, Alfie’s parents sought to transfer him to a hospital in Rome at the paid expense of the Pope with guaranteed Italian citizenship as a bonus. However, Britain’s High Court again rejected the couple’s appeal, and hours later, the hospital removed Alfie’s ventilator.

It’s not the first time British courts have overruled parents’ wishes to continue fighting for a disabled child’s life, and it’s unlikely to be the last. “It happens on a daily basis,” another official said. Last year, the world watched as parents Chris Gard and Connie Yates fought for their son, Charlie Gard. They took his case to the highest level of the British judicial system in an unsuccessful bid to stop staff at a Hospital in London from switching off his life support.

Alfie’s parents continued to fight for his life after he started breathing on his own last week. Despite Italy putting an air ambulance on standby to take Alfie to Rome, the court stood by his initial ruling that death was in Alfie’s “best interest.” Alfie’s parents then stood by and watched Alfie’s condition deteriorate until he died at about 2:30 a.m. on that Saturday morning.

The staunch refusal to release Alfie to another hospital’s care and his ultimate demise, serves as an example and warning for us who like to think that God and parents in that order, hold the proper authority for the care of their children.

This event pictures of course a seemingly unbelievable level of human arrogance, vanity and for all intents and purposes, idolatry, where “the enlightened” among us play God in a now Orwellian like dystopian world illustrated in more modern books and films like the Hunger Games and Divergent.

A New Picture?

Indeed, our once civilized society and its political systems are locked in a backroom battle over life itself. Iowa is on the verge of passing the strictest abortion ban in the United States, outlawing the procedure when a fetal heartbeat is detected, though some pro-life groups have said that they are disappointed that exceptions were allowed for cases of rape and incest.

The legislation passed by state officials, is now in the hands of Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.

Although Iowa already has a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks, this new bill looks to forbid doctors from performing the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can come as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Opponents to the bill, predominantly Planned Parenthood of course, described the effort as an “intentionally unconstitutional ban on 99 percent of safe, legal abortion, designed to challenge Roe v. Wade.” I always wondered what is safe about murder.

“The bill weaponizes fetal heartbeat, which is by all accounts an arbitrary standard that bans abortion long before the point of fetal viability,” said a PP spokeswoman. A-ha. “Viability” is the issue? What is that and who decides? Well, when it doubt (and inconvenient), terminating the life seems to be their idea.

Thus, according to a Republican state Senator from Iowa, the bill is “100 percent” aimed at challenging the 1973 Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.

How will that go? God only knows. I do admire however, the courage of this state legislative body that is willing to go where few lawmakers have and will go to recognize the sanctity of life and protect the lives of the unborn just as we should also argue passionately to protect the lives of the born, particularly the elderly and ill among us.

A Picture of Hope

Former first lady Barbara Bush, wife of President George H.W. and mother of President George W. Bush, passed away at age 92 after her own gutsy and God-glorifying battle with pain and suffering, was visited by her son and former Florida Governor Jeb, just prior to her earthly death.

It was then according to news reports that mother and son talked about their Christian faith. “Jeb, I believe in Jesus and he is my savior,” she told him when he asked her about her feelings on death.” She added, “I don’t want to leave your dad, but I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.”

My personal and theologically based conviction and hope is that the preborn among us who have been aborted are there in that “beautiful place” already.

May we continue to speak up for those that can’t, so their families may preserve that right to stand upon God’s truth and fight for life from womb to tomb.

The Spiritual State of the Union

Image result for bible reading group Bernie Diaz, May 1, 2018

Two major surveys polling attitudes of Americans towards their views of God and the Bible have been released indicating if not clarifying the spiritual condition of this nation. There is both good and bad news in the findings presenting interesting opportunities for the church.

The Good News?

80% of Americans Believe in God! According to the just released survey by the Pew Research Center, 4 out of 5 Americans say they believe in God. Really?

Well, God regularly gets mentioned in prayer, platitudes, and phrases like “God bless America” and “in God we trust” doesn’t he? Our kids in many schools still pledge allegiance to a nation that recites the slogan therein, “one nation under God…”, but according to the polls —even within ‘Christianity’—people have different conceptions of who God is and how he operates. Does God judge? Does God love all? Does God control what happens on Earth?

The Bad News?

The research seems to indicate that the way people view God—and how they believe God interacts with them—shifts by religious affiliation, gender, and political party.

Even in an era where more of the nation doesn’t ascribe to a higher power at all (10% – atheism) or believes in some sort of higher power or spiritual force (33%), a slim majority of Americans (56%) still believe in God “as described in the Bible” according to the Pew report.

But even belief in God can lead to different conclusions as evidenced by the disparity of views within the major religions or faith systems around the world, including what Protestants, Catholics, and Jews believe about God.

For instance, take two of the “People of the Book”: Christians and Jews. American Christians (80%) are most likely to believe in a biblical God, a minority position among Jews (33%).

A majority of American Jews view God as a higher power or spiritual force instead. Jews are less than half as likely (30%) as Christians (74%) to describe God as all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving all people regardless of their faults.

That result confirms the fact that many if not most Jews we come in contact with have rejected their religious roots and are more secular and ethnic than anything else. Seemingly, what counts for religion today is really nothing more than an indication that mankind is inherently spiritual.

That reality shouldn’t surprise us. Indeed, Solomon wrote that God ‘has put eternity in the hearts of man.’ The apostle Paul discovered as much on Mars Hill in Greece (Acts 17), when he observed the Athenian philosophers acknowledgement of the “unknown god,” which he used as an opportunity to present the gospel by introducing them to the one and only God of the Bible.

Higher or Lower View of the Bible

Generally speaking, a higher or lower view of the Bible itself as the divinely inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God will dictate one’s view of God, man and the world.

The Christian based Barna Research firm and the American Bible Society just released new research on behaviors and beliefs about the Bible among U.S. adults. The report issued three findings of note:

  1. Most Americans appreciate the Bible and wish they read it more often.

The largest segment of Americans fall into the “friendly” to the Bible category. They don’t engage the Bible regularly, but neither are they neutral, skeptical, or hostile. They see the Bible as an important book that has the potential to improve their lives, even if it’s not a source of wisdom they regularly tap into.

The Good News: Because they have a relatively high view of the Bible, the majority of Americans (58%) wish they read it more often. Of those who are friendly toward the Bible (the largest segment), a striking 78% wish they engaged it more often.

The research shows that every segment of Americans expressed a desire for more Bible reading, including one in five Skeptics and one in five non-Christians.

The Big Idea: although far too many Americans look to the Bible as a self-help and “me book,” as the best thing we’ve got going for us, we can at least take heart in that most people outside the church today are not as  hostile or skeptical or even neutral toward the Bible as we thought.

If we can assume some people appreciate God’s word as a source of wisdom and yes, even truth, then they may be more likely to appreciate our suggestions or input in helping them make Bible reading an ongoing part of their lives. After all, It is with that hope that the lost will find Christ (Psa.19:7).

  1. It’s likely that American views of the Bible are therapeutically motivated.

Older people read the Bible more than younger people, and women read the Bible more than men. – no surprise there. And many people say that they’ve gone to the Bible because of a difficult life experience or because they’ve seen the Bible improve someone else’s life.

Again, based on data from other surveys, it’s safe to assume that American appreciation for the Bible is not so much because it communicates truth, as much as its information and guidance to a ‘better life now.’ Many an agnostic or spiritual buffet consumer has looked to the Bible as a good source of morals.

The Good News: more Americans than you may have thought are still going to the Bible. Shouldn’t we build on this? If people have a somewhat ‘high view’ of scripture-  even for the wrong reason, we ought to meet them at that starting point and then invite them to learn more.

A Christian disciple attempting to make another disciple by sharing their testimony in light of this information might say, “Since I know that you appreciate the Bible, you may want to get into it more and find out if it’s more about life transformation than just information.”

Or, “You probably have big questions you need answered about life don’t you? There are four big ones people have been wrestling with for centuries:

  • Creation (How did we get here?)
  • Meaning (Why am I here?)
  • Morals (Why am I the way I am?)
  • Destiny (Where am I going after I die?)

Do you want to go on a journey with me to find out the answers?” I tell people I did over 25 years ago and God used the Bible to change my life forever.

  1. Printed Bibles aren’t going away anytime soon.

Perhaps the most startling takeaway in the research is that readers of the Bible overwhelmingly prefer a printed Bible (91%), even though they access the word of God in other formats (online, smart phone, and apps). Clearly, electronic forms of Bible reading are on the rise, but the arrival of the digital age has not changed Americans’ preference for reading the Bible in print instead of digital.

The Good News: I know for me personally nothing electronic or digital can replace the feel and sound of the word on printed pages, THE BOOK in the form of a book- all 66 books in all, where I can easily scribble in notes, highlight pages and thumb to other parts and cross-references quickly.

A printed and marked Bible as greater minds than myself have noted, also leaves a legacy to be handed down to future generations. That said, I thank God for my Kindle which holds an ever increasing part of my library of associated Bible material (i.e. commentaries, biographies, theology).

When all is said and done, as LifeWay’s Trevin Wax wrote, We’ve got our work cut out for us if we want to increase Bible engagement across America. Thankfully, we’ve got the opportunity to build on widespread appreciation for the Bible in our evangelistic efforts. We’ve got the opportunity to preach and teach in ways that exposit and explain the biblical text. And we’ve got the opportunity to show people why this Book has stood the test of time and how it can still change lives today.

At least that workload according to the data may get a little easier with God’s help, as we strive to help people turn their first Bible question from, ‘Who am I’, to ‘Who is I AM?’