Category Archives: Christianity

Modern Capitalism and the Bible

The New Face of Capitalism Compared to

Authentic Christianity and the Bible

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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the new face of capitalism

The capitalist, debt-based economic system that we find ourselves enslaved by for the last few decades – and even before that – has reared its ugly head yet again this past week. United Airlines had a paying passenger literally dragged off a plane, giving him a concussion, and broken nose and other cuts and bruises when he refused to give up his seat. The facts that he had prepaid his seat and that he was a doctor returning to work after a vacation who was expected to report at a preset time, made no difference to the ‘security thugs’ who treated that gentleman with callous disrespect and a total lack of regard for his personal safety. Our capitalist economic system, it turns out, has degenerated into a Mafiosi-style enforcement-at-all-costs roulette table that is tilted in favor of the house. Our economy is rigged against us, the government knows it and knows that we do too, and they don’t care because they’ve turned the country into a police state to dampen the spirit of revolution. But, as president Kennedy famously said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolt inevitable”.

There is lots more to this than just politics and overzealous enforcement. The ‘lots more’ of which I write can only be found in the Bible. Whether one believes everything in the Bible or not, and even of one does not believe in it at all, the Scripture that I am about to quote fits the economic conditions of our time nearly perfectly. Allow me to quote from the first of three passages in Scripture that back up what I am writing or speaking about today. The first comes from the Book of Exodus, the 2nd book in the Old Testament, and I quote: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to one of you among my people who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear him, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22, verses 21-27)

The above quote is an outline from God about how we are to treat disadvantaged people. We all have a moral, spiritual and social responsibility to look after those less fortunate than ourselves. That’s what this passage is all about, and it starts with foreigners. Do not, Moses wrote here, mistreat “aliens”. Today we call anyone who is known or suspected of being in our country illegally an ‘illegal alien’. Instead of following the Bible as they should, many people vilify foreign nationals whether they are here legally or not. These people coming across our borders aren’t an invading army, they’re economic and ‘drug war’ refugees from southern Mexico, at least some of Central America, plus a few from South America and Cuba. God has warned us not to mistreat these people even if we don’t like them being here. Those who do not do so are disobeying God whether they realize it or not.

Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” All the banks that refinanced anyone who wanted it and that sold houses to people who couldn’t afford it 10 or 15 years ago before the 2008 mortgage crisis – this is just one of many modern examples of this that would apply here. So called “upside down” car loans are another example, where a car or truck owner owes more on the vehicle than it’s worth. These predatory loans are often sold to unsuspecting customers who don’t know any better because no one ever took the time to show them how to navigate our predatory economic system we call ‘capitalism’. Those who take advantage of these people will be punished most severely if they do not repent of their ways!

If you lend money to one of you among my people who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.” Contrast that verse with today’s world of “compound interest”, where greed is king of the hill and militarism is what enforces this institutionalized greed. Credit and debit cards are a fixture of life, and everything in our dying world of today is driven by the profit motive, flying in the face of Scripture and even the Lord himself! Ask yourself why the bottom 99% of Americans are buried under mountains of debt? Because the system is designed that way, that’s why. So should no interest be charged on anything at all? Not necessarily, since businesses often operate with lines of credit, as do governments. They borrow from “moneylenders” as the Bible calls them. But to charge people interest for the roof over their head, or for the clothes they wear or the food they eat, is just plain wrong, according to this verse of Scripture.

If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear him, for I am compassionate.” This can be translated into modern English as a short-term loan, such as pawning an item or two or taking out a “payday loan” as they are called, among other things. Another way to interpret this would be to declare it sinful and an offense to make anyone put up everything they own as collateral. This kind of thing happens all too frequently in a world where costs continue to race ahead of people’s take-home pay. Here in the United States, 25% of our children go to bed hungry each night, and this is happening in what is allegedly the richest nation in history. This, ladies and gentlemen, is inexcusable! And now let me move on to the final part of this message and another quote from Scripture, this time from the New Testament.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet in the Temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2, verses 44-47) How about that? Everyone who joined the early churches, which were held in people’s houses rather than in large, imposing buildings such as we have today, pooled their resources! Meaning, the entirety of humankind has had the solution to poverty and hunger right in front of them while failing to see it! And why has this escaped us all for so many centuries? Because people don’t read the Bible, nor do they regard the Word of God for the societal guidelines and the human owner’s manual that it truly is.

OK, now let me give you another similar quote from the Book of Acts. “All the believers were of one heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles feet.” (Acts 4, verses 32-37)

So here we see the same thing we saw above – people pooling their resources and sharing their wealth and possessions! In the 20th century and before that, these kinds of organizations were called ‘communes’, ‘cults’ and worse, and were the target of much scorn and derision, as were the hippies that inhabited them. If we look at this from a political standpoint rather than an economic one, we would call those who practiced these things “communists” or “socialists” by today’s standards. The least common denominator here is that no one cared about how much money they had or how much profit they made in their business transactions. Although it was evidently not a problem for a head of household to see to the needs of his or her family, anything over and above that went to the church to which they belonged. Why can’t most people do this today? Greed, pure and simple. Everyone is so busy looking out for themselves that others who are in much more dire straights are being ignored. It is this very injustice that the Bible addresses, and it rightfully admonishes those who cause such circumstances to occur.

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. Here’s an example of how to tell whether the preaching or teaching of the Word is authentic or not. Is the power of God clearly present? Is that power Spiritual in nature rather than emotional? Is that power presented with grace, beauty and a peaceful spirit? If the answer to all 3 questions is ‘yes’, what you’re hearing is not only authentic, it’s coming straight from God, inspired by the Holy Spirit! There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” How many people – Christian or otherwise – would do this today? Chances are you’re a homeowner or know someone who is. Would you, your parents or whomever seriously consider selling their house, farm, condo, etc. and giving all the money to a home-based church based on nothing more than what their friends and family had told them? It can be said with certainty that less than 1% of the population would actually do this based on the world in which we are all living. Now you have an idea of just how far off base capitalism is with respect to authentic, nonreligious Christianity!

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles feet.” “Levite” means a priest in the Temple who leads worship, animal sacrifices, music, or any other function one can think of in a house of worship. Levitical priests worked for only room and board, they did not receive any payment for their services or duties. So this man Joseph, also called Barnabas (he is mentioned again in Acts chapters 9, 11, 13 and 14, plus Galatians and a couple other places) sold a field he presumably inherited since he had no money to buy it, and donated all the proceeds to the apostles. As before, nobody would do this in today’s world to the best of my knowledge. Again, this goes to show us all how far off course capitalism and its byproduct – greed – has taken us. But it’s not too late to start building a better world, and we can start by abiding by the Biblical precepts of which I have written today. So until next time, all your stuff is just that – stuff! It can be replaced, but a closer walk with Jesus through those green pastures and besides still waters, just like Psalm 23 says, is irreplaceable.

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You can have spirituality or prosperity, but not both

Wealth or Jesus: We Must Pick One or the Other

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this in a browser, click here! 🙂

wealth_or_democracy

The definition of cognitive dissonance is a person’s brain trying to reconcile two contradicting realities. One common example of this is an abusive relationship, where the man/woman obviously understands there’s abuse from their significant other, yet they love them anyway. Often their brain will then develop excuses for such action. It’s their fault or the other person has just been under a lot of stress. The reality is their brain simply cannot accept two different realities that contradict, so it creates yet another. This is never more prevalent than when it comes to wealthy conservatives and Christianity. They are the proponents of policies that contradict much of what Jesus taught.

These top 1% folks, who are sitting on 99% of America’s wealth, allegedly do so in order for the rest of us to enjoy the windfall of their generosity through increases in top 1% revenue. Let that sink in for a second – an economic policy based upon this notion: ‘If we subsidize greed even more than it already is, the rest of society benefits as a result.’ When has greed ever benefited a society? While we’re at it, what does the Bible say about greed? “He that loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loves abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10) It becomes a driving obsession to acquire still more. Once the acquiring has happened, then comes the need to protect what has been acquired. This is selfishness and it is sin, as it is written: “There was a man all alone, he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling’, he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless – a miserable business!”(Ecclesiastes 4:8)

Once the greed-driven have acquired and secured everything in sight, they’re still not satisfied! They are never satisfied with all they have; their eyes always search for more, as it is written, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). This coveting begets more greed, which snowballs into more selfishness, and the selfishness begets more coveting and so on – to utter madness! “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much: but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.” (Ecclesiastes 5:12) By this point, there is no room left for God. Money is now the master of the house, as it is written, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Seems pretty straight forward to me, how about you? Greed is a vicious circle that feeds on itself, generating ever increasing amounts or degrees of craving still more. The more they have the more they want. Isn’t that what we’ve seen for the last 40 years? Isn’t this what “Trickle Down Economics” has given us? In the last 40 years the top 1% has grown exponentially, never more so than in the last decade. Yet what has it brought us? Economic failure caused by a cadre of millionaires crying out that they need even more. Many of the same businesses that proved in the 90′s, even with higher taxes, that they could yield historic growth are now fighting a return to those very same tax levels. They now claim economic prosperity isn’t obtainable at those “job destroying” levels of taxation. The fact is, they’re right. Their economic prosperity cannot be sustained at a higher level of taxation. The more we fed into this myth of Trickle Down Economics, the more lower taxes benefited them, the more they expect to expand their greedy nature. To raise their taxes would mean their giant profits would probably be taken down to just, well, significant profits.

This isn’t about these businesses making profits, they can easily do that, but they want larger profits. What they had in the 90′s is no longer good enough, they want more. Of course it’s impossible to return to the very same tax rates that brought us the best economic growth in our history, because then their greed would have to return to a lower level, and as the Bible says, greed is perpetual and never ends. We gave them more and now their solution to fix our problems? You guessed it, they want even more! Isn’t that exactly what the Bible warns will happen? Did we not have wealthy Americans in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s? The answer is yes, they just weren’t as wealthy. Trickle Down Economics was the catalyst for the acceptance of greed. It gave those with the most more, and any mention of returning it to their rightful owners is met with a horrific depictions of economic Armageddon.

And there you have it, cognitive dissonance. The top 1%’s political ideology completely contradicts the realities we’ve seen and those the Bible supports. They preach Christian values at the same time they advocate a policy that says giving into greed will benefit our society. They vehemently denounce abortion while advocating war and conquest, resulting in 1.2 million civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan alone since 2001. So unborn babies get a great deal of attention in churches, but once you’re born, you’re screwed, especially if you live in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, etc., etc.! The human brain simply can’t handle two conflicting realities, so it creates one of its own. The more we allowed the wealthy to have, the more they asked us to give. We did this to the detriment of our own economy and ourselves. If trickle down economics works, shouldn’t their success and our success mirror one another? As they gain, we gain. You know, like ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’? However, that isn’t what happened because life no longer works that way thanks to the 1%. The more the 1% gains, the more they want, and they’ve made sure that everyone else chips in!

Think of a small fishing boat. If weight is equally dispersed it’ll stay buoyant and afloat. But what if the weight shifts more forward or backwards, what happens? The boat becomes unstable. Now imagine if suddenly all the weight is shifted forward, what would happen? Simple – the boat will suddenly suffer instability, capsize then sink. As our nations’ wealth rushed to the top 1% in the last decade, that’s exactly what happened – our boat capsized and then sank. Does this contradiction between faith and political ideology suggest that conservatives believe Jesus supported greed? It looks to me like they believe he condemned homosexuals and demeaned women, and considered the poor as lazy people seeking a handout. So why not perpetuate the belief that He would have supported greed? Don’t let the Bible scriptures sway your views, it’s much easier to simply allow yourself to give into and concoct a delusional reality.

What religious conservatives have done is a complete distortion of the Christian faith. The so-called “prosperity gospel” (LOL) doesn’t even fit into the very nature of what Jesus lived and died for! Every economic stance they support benefits the wealthy at the expense of the remaining 99% of us! How does it make any sense to have a portion of American society that pushes themselves as the Christian majority, the party of values and decency, and yet their entire economic stance contradicts what the Bible and Jesus says about greed? What religious conservatives claim to follow isn’t Christianity at all, and it sure doesn’t emulate Jesus. Remember what Jesus said about that, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required”, meaning those who have the means to make a difference should do so unreservedly and unselfishly. Yet, to a religious conservative this is essentially “socialism”. It’s allegedly unfair. But isn’t Christianity about giving, loving, and helping those who cannot help themselves? These are the principles I try my best to live by as a practicing Christian.

But I’m neither Republican or Democrat. I’m neither liberal nor conservative because I think there are good points to both sides. On one hand I could be considered conservative because I am in favor of small government and free enterprise. But I could also be considered liberal because I’m a firm believer in universal health care (no, not Obama-care because it seems woefully inadequate to the task), free higher education and a $14.00 per hour minimum wage. We all know that the two-party US political monopoly lacks faith and morals. They envy the rich, and all of that rhetoric the “good” Christian Republicans use against people, yet none of it is true. Yet there they sit, a walking contradiction. A party who supports faith in God above anything and policies that favor greed over everything.

The Jesus I worship is a man who we should all strive to become because he is the Son of the Living God. Jesus was a man who didn’t casually judge people, who stood up for those who couldn’t stand for themselves, who never felt slighted or that life was unfair. Jesus was wary of people who spoke of God on their lips but lacked true faith in their hearts. He was a man who embraced everyone, even those who disagreed with him. A man who personified everything mankind should be. As for those conservatives, who knows what man they worship. If the policies they support are reflective of the faith they follow, it sure isn’t Christianity and that man sure wasn’t Jesus.

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The Conservative Christians Just Got a Bloody Nose From Their Own President

The ‘Spiritual, Not Religious’ Gospel of Progressive Christianity Grows as More Become Disenchanted With Traditional Religion

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

good_deeds_R_smart

To view this in a browser, click here! 🙂

So-called “experts” call them “unaffiliated,” as in a recent Pew poll, or “nones” – or even just ‘not very religious.’ A 2013 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute divided these groups further into “unattached,” “atheists”, “agnostics,” and “seculars.” One thing is for sure; this ever-growing cohort of non-Church Americans made up, at 23 percent, the single largest segment of Barack Obama’s “religious coalition” that helped him win reelection in 2012 (compared to the 37 percent of white evangelicals who supported Mitt Romney). As a result of this, the unaffiliated clearly had their moment. Media analysis, however, did not go very deep – there was a story that went beyond these names and numbers.

I first published this website after I began to understand who the current crop of unaffiliated people are, what they believe in, and who or what inspires them. Yet we have precious little historical understanding of this critical and rapidly growing demographic. What are their roots? What religious, cultural, economic, demographic, and political processes shaped their sensibilities, habits, and makeup? In order to understand these still-believing nonreligious/unaffiliated/agnostics etc., we need to understand that much of the religious dynamism in the United States happens outside the church walls. Moreover, this has been ongoing for quite some time now. The “rise of the non-religious believers” is but the latest phase in the long transformation of religion into what we now commonly call “spirituality.” In my case and that of my peers, it is Christianity and the strongly held belief in Jesus Christ, not as a distant and mysterious god, but as the Son of God who we can develop a relationship with on a personal level. So if you want to get closer to God, just get one-on-one with Jesus. How do we accomplish that? By asking Him into your hearts, to come and dwell there forever. There is truly no other way to get to know him! By the same token, spirituality can mean many things to many people. The language of spirituality is used by traditional religious adherents as well as the religiously unaffiliated. But only the “nonreligious” have made it into a cliche: “spiritual but not religious.”

The history of American spirituality reveals that our commonplace understanding of spirituality — as the individual, experiential dimension of human encounter with the sacred — arose from the clash of American Protestantism with the forces of modern life back in the nineteenth century. While religious conservatives fought to stem the tide, giving rise to fundamentalism, religious Progressives like myself have adapted their faith to the 21st century, often by discarding orthodoxies (such as my strict Catholic upbringing) in favor of maintaining one’s mental health just as anyone would do for a physical ailment, combined with or as a supplement to a personal relationship with our risen Savior. It looks to me like the majority of today’s nonreligious individuals – those who claim no religion but still embrace some form of spirituality – are engaged in the same task of renovating their faith for a new historical moment of major awakening! I am convinced that this moment has in fact arrived in the form of resistance to the Donald Trump presidency. Because this has occurred, right-wing conservatism and the religious right are being dealt a blow from which it will take them a long time to recover, if ever. The Progressive Christians, as I have been calling folks like us (not “liberal”!), will get the football the first time something goes horribly wrong in the Trump White House (only time will tell). It will be up to us to score when that happens, so let’s start planning now!

Today’s unaffiliated and nonreligious, like the liberals of previous generations, typically shun dogma and creed in favor of a faith that is truthful, genuine, practical, psychologically attuned, ecumenical and ethically oriented. Of course, Americans of all religious varieties have allowed themselves to be deeply influenced by consumerism, but media and markets are shaping the religious lives of those without formal institutional or community ties. The religiously unaffiliated might not attend services, but they “have” their religion in many other ways: they watch religion on TV and listen to it on the radio; find inspiration on the web; attend retreats, seminars, workshops, and classes; buy candles and statues, bumper stickers and yoga pants; take spiritually motivated trips; and, perhaps most significantly, buy and read books. Books have been the most important conduit for spreading the ‘spiritual but not religious’ gospel.

This dependency on the consumer marketplace, and especially books, has had significant consequences for the religious lives of all Americans, especially the unaffiliated. First, it has enhanced the tendencies within American religion toward a therapeutic understanding of life from a spiritual vantage point. The profit-oriented commercial presses that came to dominate religious publishing naturally pursued the largest market possible for their goods, and seized on the nondenominational, nonsectarian, and psychologically modern forms of faith advanced by the religious left as a common American Christian vernacular. These trends have only accelerated from the 1920s to the present, so that now the line between religion and self-help sometimes disappears in the spirituality section of Amazon. Second, spiritual consumerism has fostered books that allow some readers entry into religious worlds to which they have not been previously exposed. Since the invention of the printing press, the lines of denomination and tradition have gradually mattered less and less. This process has accelerated greatly with the relatively recent invention of the Internet.

Progressive Christianity’s rise and liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that the Republican party has recently won the White House and Congress. The cultural victory that is the anti-Trump backlash is happening now because more Americans have been driven away by conservatism in light of a Trump presidency. In other words, leftist religious values and sensibilities became more and more normalized culturally speaking. The recent chapter 7 bankruptcy of Family Christian Stores is only the latest example of the decline of “Religion, Inc.” Even as religious affiliations continue to decline, on-line churches combined with Christian but nondenominational book sales and TV shows are continuing to proliferate. In the process, Christianity is becoming as interconnected as the rest of the world, which can only result in more rapid growth. This is very encouraging news for people like me who wish to spread the Gospel as widely and effectively as they can!

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Our modern world in prophecy from long ago

A Description of Our Modern World From 2,700 Years Ago

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this on my website, click here! 🙂

For my first posting of this new year I’m feeling God nudging me – well okay, I mean encouraging me – to compose another warning about the tumultuous times that are rapidly approaching. I always get attacked on the Web for these kinds of postings. Some compare it to yelling “fire!” in a movie theater, and I’ve been called worse than that, but I don’t care. This is the mission God has given me, this is what I am doing with my life, and I will let nothing stand in my way! I can’t – it’s critically important that I bring you all up to speed, spiritually speaking, about the events that are currently unfolding, and what the Bible has to say about it all.

What I’m going to write about today will be the first 9 verses out of the 4th chapter of the Book of Hosea in the Old Testament (that’s right between Daniel and Joel in the latter part of the O.T.). So let me quote the first 5 verses for everyone, and it reads as follows: “Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying. But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another, for your people are like those who bring a charge against a priest. You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you.”

The Book of Hosea was written in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century BC, during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC). Hosea (הושֵעַ) prophesied during a dark and melancholic era of Israel‘s history, the period of the Northern Kingdom’s decline and fall in the 8th century BCE. The apostasy of the people was rampant, having turned away from God in order to serve both the calves of Jeroboam and Baal, a Canaanite god. During Hosea’s lifetime, the kings of the Northern Kingdom, their aristocratic supporters, and the priests had led the people away from the Law of God, as given in the Pentateuch. Forsaking the worship of God, they worshiped other gods, especially Baal, the Canaanite storm god, and Asherah, a Canaanite fertility god. Other sins followed, including homicide, perjury, theft, and sexual sin. Hosea declares that unless they repent of these sins, God will allow their nation to be destroyed, and the people will be taken into captivity by Assyria, the greatest nation of the time. The prophecy of Hosea centers around God’s unending love towards a sinful Israel. In this text, God’s agony is expressed over the betrayal of Israel.

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.” There are two schools of thought regarding this first verse. The first are the traditionalists, who believe that the warnings are only for the Jewish nation (“you Israelites”). The second school of thought, of which I am a part, extrapolates this first verse, and by extension the entire Old Testament, as being applicable to both Jew and Gentile alike, since the apostle Paul wrote that “salvation is first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile”. So even though this is from a relatively obscure book of the Old Testament, it is still just as applicable today as it was in the 8th century BCE when this was written.

There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God…”. Isn’t that our very situation today? We lack faithfulness towards God and other people to whom we owe faithfulness, such as our families, our bosses and co-workers. So many of us are living only for ourselves, oblivious to their surroundings and those they are supposed to interact with, and ultimately oblivious to God. And, to put it bluntly, there are too many who refuse to acknowledge God. Many of these people (but not all!) are set in their ways to the point that I have stopped talking to them. All I can do is warn them. But those who go on being atheists or agnostics, I will not stand in your way any longer, so please continue as you are. Or those individuals who worship Satan, well, you’re on the wrong track in life, but God can and will bring you back if you are both willing. That’s all I care to say about that for now.

There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.” Watch a Hollywood action movie and this is exactly what you see. There’s lots of cursing and killing, adultery and bloodshed, lying and stealing. Sadly, this is a reflection of American society in the early 21st century. The lyrics in much of popular music breaks all bounds. “Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.” What does this look like to you? I’ll tell you all what this is, it’s the mysterious animal, fish and bird deaths that are occurring globally for seemingly no reason. Dead fish washing up on beaches by the tens of thousands, birds dropping out of the air literally out of the blue, and vanishing species like the polar bear, the honey bee, the elephant and many more – all these are the hallmarks of our generation, a generation where humankind’s rampant pollution of our environment is literally poisoning the earth to death. It’s all our fault!

The Bible says clearly in Genesis chapter 1, verse 28, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’.” So it clearly states right here that God put us in charge of the earth, to properly conserve its resources and preserve all the life contained in the earth, and to manage it in a clean and orderly fashion. Well, we’ve trashed it instead! Even now as I write this, there is a sea of plastic bobbing up and down in the middle of the Pacific ocean that is literally the size of Texas! Our ground water has been polluted, the oceans have been poisoned, and the air contaminated. We have done this to ourselves, and even where we haven’t, this systemic poisoning has been done with our consent through our silence about the matter. It seems there have been too many people who are unwilling to stand up and fight the powers controlling our world. This too has to come to an end. Stand up and fight for your right to quality of life, because if you don’t we will lose it forever!

But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another…. You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you.” This is why nothing is being done about the pollution of the earth and the trashing of our own environment. Those in charge in government aren’t governing, and the leaders in the churches aren’t leading. Everyone is wallowing in their own complacency – and sometimes outright laziness – as they cash their paychecks every week or month or whatever while doing only the bare minimum of work required. The leaders we have selected are no better than ourselves, and are often worse! It’s all our own fault, we did this to ourselves – so let’s not accuse one another, for we are all just as guilty – meaning we have all got some repenting to do. And now let me conclude this week’s message, starting at verse 6:

So I will destroy your mother – my people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I have rejected you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I will also ignore your children. The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.” (Hosea 4, verses 6-9)

I will destroy your mother? Is God going to kill all our moms because we’ve all been bad? “Your mother” refers to ‘mother earth’, our planet! The prophet Hosea was warning us that if we persist in destroying the earth, God may decide to lend us a helping hand, so to speak. That ‘helping hand’s’ name is World War Three, and that is what God is going to send us if we don’t straighten up and mend our ways. “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge”. Ignorance and complacency are not blissful, they are what happens when we choose to disconnect ourselves from the world around us and the people in it. Ignorance and complacency are the negative results of not wanting to know, or of not caring enough to want to help initiate change for the better. Ignorance and complacency are the status quo.

Because you have rejected knowledge, I have rejected you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I will also ignore your children.” Rejected knowledge? Just look at all the mumbo-jumbo that passes for school textbook curriculum these days! Look at all the runaway kids and the ones who get kidnapped and sold to sex traffickers. What about the ones addicted to video games, online porn, drugs and alcohol? The list goes on and on, and it’s up to us to straighten this mess out. It’s about a reboot of our leadership from the bottom up, starting with the parents in the home. “They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.” If America does not repent of her sins against God, of her adulteries, thefts, murders and other crimes against one another, God is going to destroy this land the same way he destroyed ancient Israel during the time of Hosea the prophet – by military conquest! So repent, all you people who are living sinfully as I have just described, or America will soon be no more. The land will still be here, I think, but the country will be gone forever. What a sad day that will be! We’re running out of time, people. Let’s all band together and begin doing wonderful and laudable things with our lives. Who knows? Maybe we can change God’s mind if we try hard enough. Until next time.

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The Laws of God and Those of Men

God’s Laws Always Supersede Our Own

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this on my website, click here! 🙂

open_minds

Now that Donald Trump – love him or hate him – is officially the POTUS, I am writing this week’s commentary with a plea for national unity on everyone’s part. I’ve been walking this earth for 6 decades now by the grace of God, and America is more divided today than I have ever seen. The divisions in our country from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s over the Vietnam war and racial inequality pale in comparison to America’s social and economic divisions of today. What deeply concerns me is that so few people seem to be aware of the great extent that our country has been divided, but I’m going to continue to make this known in an effort to make a contribution towards doing something about this. So when I hear the phrase, “Not my president”, what I’m hearing is the voice of still more division within the US. America’s citizens and those from other countries who are residing here equally need to put their differences aside and learn to work together, at least until the next election.

Yet by the same token, the reasons for the lack of unity throughout America are quite valid in the eyes of those who cherish these beliefs in their hearts. But to refuse to cooperate or declining to support the new president is equal to holding the laws created by the new presidential administration in contempt. To this some may say, “Good, that’s just what I intend to do!”, while others may say, “Hold on, not so fast until we think this through.” Both points of view have their own merit for different reasons. This led me to wonder whether God’s Word has anything to say about this, so I started searching. What I came away with was proof positive that, while it is wise and usually prudent to cooperate with and obey earthly authorities, if we pass any laws that are contrary to God’s Word, we (not just devout Christians – everybody!) are not duty-bound to obey those laws. In a worst case scenario, we would be obligated to disobey an unjust law. To document this I will be quoting from the Book of Acts chapter 5.

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the door of the jail and brought them out. ‘Go, stand in the Temple courts’, he said, ‘and tell the people the full message of this new life’. At daybreak, they entered the Temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin – the full assembly of the elders of Israel – and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, ‘We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ On hearing this report, the captain of the Temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this. Then someone came and said, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are in the Temple courts teaching the people!’ At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they were afraid the people would stone them.” (Acts 5, verses 17-26)

The background on how this whole affair started was that the apostles, led by Peter, were having notable success in their efforts to spread Christianity throughout the known world at that time. The time frame is about three months after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is a matter of days, or a week or two at the most, after the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 apostles who were in the upper room on what we now call Pentecost. Peter and the other 119 apostles were quickly developing quite a following, and the ruling religious establishment over the Supreme Council at Jerusalem (equivalent to the Vatican of today for Catholics, or maybe Oral Roberts or Bob Jones universities for Protestants) had begun viewing the apostles as a threat. As a result, they had some of the apostles arrested and jailed like common criminals.

The next thing that happens is the arrival of an angel of the Lord’s – it doesn’t say which one – who sets them free in the middle of the night. These apostles, led by Peter, are then instructed to go and teach and bear witness in the Temple what the Lord did for them. That must have been quite a sermon! “The Lord Jesus Christ will set you free from sin”, Peter must have said, “and sometimes he will literally set you free! We were in jail for preaching the Gospel yesterday and last night, but look! Here we are today! God want to do this for you, too, through the saving grace and shed blood of his only Son!” Just about this time, the Temple guard, together with their captain, arrive to arrest Peter and the others who had been let out of jail. Notice here that Peter and the others willingly cooperated with the captain and his officers. Had they not done so, the outcome here would have been completely different, much to the detriment of the Gospel, and as this passage documents. Let’s continue now at verse 27.

Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name’, he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty for this man’s blood.’ Peter and the other apostles replied, ‘We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand, as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’ When they heard this they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. (Acts 5, verses 27-34)

The apostles had previously been brought before the Sanhedrin, and had been given the equivalent of probation, for the same ‘offense’. So here they were, back a second time, and some of those present among the Pharisees and Sadducees were calling for the death penalty! Sometimes missionaries who work in countries where Christianity has its enemies, or where the teaching of Christianity or possession of a Bible are outlawed, pay the ultimate penalty for their faith too. “ Peter and the other apostles replied, ‘We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree…. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him”. So here is a clear-cut case where the laws of God supersede the laws of humankind because man’s laws contradicted those of God. Jesus’ very crucifixion is the ultimate example of this. Jesus may have been crucified as a common criminal, but that didn’t change the fact that he was a Savior for the souls of all humankind. Peter and the other apostles tell the Sanhedrin that they are all accessories to the murder of the Son of God. This enrages the ruling council to the point of (not surprisingly) wanting the apostles to be executed on the spot. But that is just before Gamaliel gets up to give his little speech. So now let’s find out what he had to say as I begin to close out this week’s message, beginning at verse 35.

Then he addressed them: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men…. in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of men, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourself fighting against God.’ His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the Temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped preaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 5, verses 35, 36, and 38-42)

As you can see, Gamaliel was probably the smartest man in the room at this point. He cites examples in verse 37 of 2 men who had fomented revolt in the recent past, only to get themselves killed for their trouble. So Gamaliel was telling them that if that new religion known as ‘the Way’ was a human effort, it would come to nothing. But Gamaliel must have suspected there was something more to Christianity than mere ideology or philosophy. I think that’s why he told the other members of the ruling council that if Christianity was ordained of God, there would be no possible way to ever stop them from spreading the Gospel. And of course, he was right, and the rest is history – Christian history! So at the end, the apostles get flogged, or beaten with whips, as punishment for their ‘crime’. And, they’re happy about it despite enduring the extreme pain! Overjoyed, in fact! “Day after day, in the Temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped preaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ.” If being persecuted and criminalized for their faith made the apostles overjoyed, it’s time we all got this same tough attitude.

We need to get an equally tough attitude about the laws of God versus those of humankind. It is in our own best interest to be law abiding citizens, there is no question in my mind about that. But it is even more so with God’s laws, the law of Jesus, the law of salvation by faith through the grace of God. If the government starts telling you to go and get an identification chip implanted in your right forearm or on your forehead, you know we should disobey that law because it’s the Mark of the Beast in the Book of Revelation. If anyone is suffering from seizures, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or going through chemotherapy, and the only effective thing they’re tried is cannabis oil or medical marijuana to alleviate their symptoms – which God made anyway (see Genesis chapter 1, verse 11) – then no government has the right to tell any citizen they may not use or ingest cannabis or its byproducts, nor do any laws passed against medical cannabis or cannabidiol have any validity whatsoever. I could cite more examples, but you get the idea. It’s our responsibility to use our brains about these matters. That what God gave us one for. Choose rightly, but always choose God.

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To All My Haters, This Bud’s For You

My Open Letter to All Offended “Christians”

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

open_minds

Dear Offended Christians,

 

All of my regular weekly readers know by now that I can – and have – posted commentaries on my blogs, my website, and social media that has been sharply critical of the mainstream churches – both Protestant and Catholic – here in the US. While I have received praise from many of my readers for these postings, I have also been on the receiving end of no small amount of vehement condemnation from numerous ‘religious’ individuals, combined with weathering criticism from many (but not all) atheists. I’ve been told I’m going to hell when I die, I’ve been accused of voluntary stupidity, I’ve been verbally assaulted and abused on social media, and I’ve even had my personal safety threatened. So far, nobody has made good on any of those threats, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Still in all, I’m terribly sorry that I hurt your feelings. None of us likes to be criticized, so I totally get it. I feel badly about that. I know I’ve said some pretty hard words to many of you “Christian” folks, and maybe I’ve been somewhat less than gentle in my delivery, but that happens when you’re tired. And I am really freaking tired! Allow me to list all of the ways I am fed up to here with the hypocrisy shown by so many ‘religious’ people!

[1] You wrap yourselves up in the cross, your piety is second to none, and yet you have seemingly forgotten to read the Book you proclaim to set your moral compass to. I’m tired of hearing you telling gay people that they can’t simultaneously be both gay and followers of Christ. You quote Romans chapter 1, verses 26-27 and Levitical law when you condemn gay people, but you forget the counsel of the apostle James when he wrote: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2: 12-13) Instead of judging gay people, why not show them some mercy and compassion? Moreover, I’m tired of you regularly dispensing damnation on the queer community, and then offering empty “thoughts and prayers” before resuming your normal schedule.

[2] I’m tired of arrogant pulpit bullies who believe they’re entitled to tell people where they can pee, who they can marry, and whether they really love Jesus or not. I’m particularly tired of your demands for 10% of my income. You’re not going to get one stinking penny from me! After all, you preachers spend much of your churches’ proceeds on yourselves and your wicked and vain desires. You buy luxury cars for yourselves and your wives and live in extravagant homes while people sleep in their cars as they and their children go hungry. Rest assured that your punishment is coming, and it will be most severe!!

[3] I’m tired of you being more outraged by red coffee cups at Starbucks, or school and department store restrooms, than by poverty, racism and America’s crumbling school systems. Ditto for the hypocrisy of your homophobia, all that institutionalized racism, and the anti-science sentiments of many Christian groups. God gave you a brain! Try using the damn thing once in a while! You’d be surprised at how well it works. Thinking with your emotions instead of your brain always ends badly for you anyway. If you were using your head, you would be able to remember that.

[4] I am thoroughly exasperated with your simultaneous condemnation of abortion while you beat your war drums. The US military has killed 2 million people in the Vietnam War and 1 million more innocent civilians in Iraq. The fact that all those dead Iraqis were Muslim is besides the point. Have you forgotten what Jesus said at the Sermon On the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God”? (Matt. 5: 9) Yes, it’s true, there are roughly 50,000 abortions performed each year in the US alone, not counting the rest of the world. While I am by no means pro-abortion, I refuse to condemn those women who have abortions for the same reasons as #1 above. Why? Because there are two main reasons why women are having abortions. First, the last time I checked, a month’s supply of birth control pills costs many hundreds of dollars here in America thanks to our greed-based medical care system. Second, if America’s employers paid a living wage, a lot more women could afford to use birth control, hence fewer abortions. Oh that’s right – America doesn’t have any more jobs that pay a living wage because our brilliant leaders outsourced all the good-paying jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar so they could make a whole lot more money!!

Please excuse me, I just realized I probably hurt your feelings yet again, Mr. and Mrs. Churchperson. So I really do get that your feelings are hurt. I understand that you’re offended, and that’s not my intention. The thing is, if you’re going to tell an entire segment of the population that they’re going to Hell simply for existing, and if you’re going to continually target those people through the Church and the Law and your social media accounts, don’t get angry with me when I tell you you’re being hateful and judgmental and ignorant. It could be worse. At least I’m not damning you for all eternity. You know, like you do to others every day of the year?

Sincerely,

A Very Tired Christian

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What’s Gone Wrong With Our Churches?

Three Reasons Millennials Are Abandoning Christianity

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

live together or perish

Chances are that if you are in your 20’s or 30’s, you are not a church member. Polling is now a highly sophisticated industry, and religious organizations are being fed some irrefutable numbers about what is happening among their congregations. In a single generation, the Catholic and Christian church dropout rate across all denominations has increased five-fold. The Barna Group, a leading research evangelical Christian organization based in Ventura, California that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, says 80 percent of the young people raised in a church will be “disengaged” before they are 30. The fault for this lies with those same denominations, and particularly their leadership as far as I am concerned. These churches – and I’m not going to name any denomination in particular – and their members spend every Sunday morning being religious for an hour, and then spend the rest of the week doing whatever suits them. They call themselves Christians while isolating themselves from the very people they are supposed to be ministering to! We as believers are charged with this very duty, as Jesus has taught us: “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark chapter 16, verses 15-16) As to whether one believes or not, that is between them and God. My responsibility lies with teaching about Jesus Christ and the Bible. I cannot force anyone to believe, since force is never the way of Christ anyway. But the outcome of disbelief is clearly spelled out.

In the past 20 years, the number of American people who say they have no religion has doubled and now exceeds 15 percent. Those numbers are concentrated in the under-30 population. The polling data continues to show that a dramatic exit is taking place from Christian churches, both in America and globally. Is it any wonder? There are too many churches I have been to that look more like fashion shows than places of worship. Many others insist that the members must “tithe” 10% of their income as specified in the Old Testament. Never mind what Jesus taught us, which was that he was the fulfillment of the Old Law (see Matthew 5: 17), the sacred Law of Moses, and that He continuously represents a new covenant between God and mankind. Yes, we should give to our churches as much as we can, when we can, but I disagree with the teaching that one’s donations must be exactly 10% each and every week. If that were the case, then only rich Christians could obey the law. That’s why I came to the conclusion many years ago that this teaching is a distortion of what the Bible says on this subject, meaning so-called tithing is a thinly veiled excuse for procuring the maximum amount of donations to church coffers. It’s all about the money. Then there are the Christian TV stations (speaking of money), which I used to watch some of them, where some of the women have enough makeup on for three people, and where some of the musicians are obviously gay and doing a poor job of hiding it. Still others are preaching the so-called “prosperity gospel”, which is a bogus teaching if there ever was one, and a gross distortion of what the Bible actually says about that topic.

While denominations across the board are acknowledging loss of membership, it is worse than they are reporting. Many churches report numbers based on baptized members, yet actual Sunday morning attendance doesn’t come close to those numbers. Once baptized, always a ‘listed’ Christian! Simply put, denominations are no longer a reliable source of membership information. If they can’t even be trusted for something as basic as accurate reporting regarding their attendance, is it any wonder good Christ-seeking people are leaving in disgust? The mega-church movement also has flattened, with people leaving as fast as they are recruited. The only real growth among Christians appears to be in the home church movement in which small groups of independent believers gather in a house to worship. While the polling numbers are in, the debate about the reasons for lack of attendance is only just beginning. When a pollster asks if a person has left the Christian Faith and a church, the answer is answered “yes” or “no.” However, when the pollster asks “why?,” the answers become mushy and the numbers lose their significance. Why, then, are people leaving churches so fast?

I am not a pollster, but rather an observer of the religious scene looking in from the outside. Speaking as an independent minister who is unaffiliated with any denominations, entirely too many churches today – from the pastor on down – have a credibility problem because of all the things that I mentioned above. My impressions are anecdotal and in no way scientific. I receive personal responses to my blogs and other postings, and I carry on conversations with a steady flow of people by e-mail. I strongly believe we Jesus worshipers and especially the clergy need to look at ourselves for at least some of the reasons for the decline in membership, and probably most of them. Allow me to offer three observations:

[1] Churches are no longer intellectually challenging, if they ever really were to start with. I can still remember being sent to Catholic school as a child and being “taught” not to think for myself, or to just obey. Christians who think for themselves are considered weird at best, or dangerous at worst in today’s churches. Obedience is good and personal independence is (allegedly) bad. Organized religion has always been like this and critical, independent thinkers like myself are shown the door without just cause way too often. More and more of our young people are college-educated, and in the future an overwhelming majority and will accept the challenge of post-high school education. They are thinking people who are expanding the limits of their curiosity and knowledge. Some of them will be the first American generation to establish outposts throughout our solar system, and eventually beyond. I have often wondered what will happen to organized religion when life is inevitably discovered on other planets and their moons. It is no surprise to me that these young people often conclude that they are not willing to accept the Church’s rigid catechism, an educational method that teaches all the right religious questions and the correct answers. As an educational tool, private religious schooling has become outdated and provides no challenge to students eager to question and discuss. Ministers must take the responsibility to re-establish themselves among the leaders of the intellectual community.

[2] Churches are no longer leaders in moral and ethical discussions. Young people have grown weary of churches that cannot get past issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Although I personally am not in favor of either abortion or gay marriage, God has given me enough wisdom to know I can’t persuade everybody to think like myself. Instead, I choose to follow the Bible, which warns us not to judge others (see Matthew 7: 1-5; James 2: 12-13; James 4: 11-12) and to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2: 12)! My job is to bring the good news message of Jesus Christ to everyone I can. I cannot ‘save’ souls, only Christ can do that. Once I have presented the message of the Gospel, I have fulfilled my responsibility. If the Gospel is presented any other way but that, it starts to sound like a sales pitch. Moreover, millennial Christian drop-outs are still very interested in alternatives to the selfish, hedonistic and violent society we live in. More and more, they are catching on to something I have been preaching and teaching for years – namely the unilateral rejection of materialism and the trappings of wealth, and a rejection of violence and hate. Success in life is not defined by how much money and possessions we have accumulated! That type of “success” is only an illusion. Instead, success in life depends on what kind of legacy we leave behind when we’re gone. Justice, fairness and compassion are supposed to be high on our agendas, and looking for opportunities to serve as a way of worshiping God should be the priority of people of good conscience. Life is all about how we treat other people as well as how devoted we are to serving the less fortunate. It’s not just about religion. Today’s generation of young people want to be involved in solving environmental problems, ending poverty and homelessness and their root causes, and in peacemaking. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus said, “for they shall be called ‘sons of the living God’.” (Matthew 5: 9)

In contrast, pizza parties and rock concerts – techniques that have been used to make churches appear more relevant to the young – are not high on the agenda of young people concerned about society’s deep-seated problems. In other words, too many churches are concerned about the hot-button issues of today, such as same-sex marriage or abortion, when the preachers should be talking about the extreme immorality of waging war! Or, how about pointing out the extreme immorality of 50,000 children per day dying of starvation globally? What about the fact that fully one fourth of the world’s population has no access to clean drinking water or electricity?? If the same amount of passion were devoted to protecting and upholding the living as has been said and written about protecting the unborn, the world would be a markedly better place in which to live. As for same-sex marriage or abortion, Jesus never said anything about either. The Bible does teach that being gay or bisexual is wrong, but it also warns us repeatedly not to judge other people. I don’t hang around gay people, nor do I approve of their “lifestyle” – as they call it – but that does not give me the right to hate gay people, nor is it an excuse to hold them in contempt, and never to condemn them. “Love your neighbor as yourself”. By showing disdain for gay people, I would lose all hope of ever persuading them to believe in Jesus and all he stands for.

[3] Churches are no longer visionary for the reasons I have stated above. They have remained focused on offering rituals, dogma, pomp and circumstance, tied to perpetuating theologies while not bothering to explain to people how they should live once they have left church for yet another week. That’s because many of these theologies aren’t based on what the Bible says, and can even contradict it, and people who take the time to pick up their Bible and read it see right through that. Too much religion today is taught from the perspective and viewpoint of the extreme right-wing of American politics, and as before it is a glaring contradiction of the teachings of Christ. If the teachings of Jesus could be compared to modern political ideology, its closest comparison would be to what we call socialism today (see Acts. 2: 42-47; Acts 4: 32-37; 2nd Corinthians 8: 13-15). This is one Biblical fact that invariably infuriates the conservative extremists who have invaded America’s pulpits. Read the above passages of Scripture and you’ll see what I mean (If you have no Bible and want one, send your email address to webpreacher@pcmatl.org and I’ll send you a free one. Seriously.) People are figuring out that God is not a conservative Republican, and that he never was. For all these reasons, churches are no longer significant players in shaping the life of our communities. If priests, ministers and their churches will not lay out what the kingdom of God on earth might actually look like, young people will continue to look elsewhere for other models. In that sense, I don’t know who to be concerned about more – the young adults who are leaving churches, or the churches they are leaving behind. In the meantime, the rest of the world is rushing at top speed towards World War 3. Millions will be killed instantly in what is bound to be a nuclear conflagration, and then they’ll be out of time. Maybe we all will, who knows? The best we can do for now is to start praying – a lot – for peace.

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What Does the Bible Say About the Role of Government?

Dispensing Justice and Promoting Healing

Are the Government’s Biblical Obligations

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

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This week I want to write about why implementing single-payer national health care is so important, and what the Bible says about that. The passage of so-called “Obama-care” a couple years ago makes this issue worse, not better. All the US government had to do was put the whole country on Medicare, and include all those on Medicaid as well. Then, we could just do away with Medicaid, saving the country roughly $650 billion per year! There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that swirling around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: How big, how small should it be? But I want to suggest that what size the government should be is the wrong question. A more useful discussion would be about the purposes of government and whether America’s is fulfilling them in a Christlike manner. So let’s put the politics to the side for the moment and look at what the Bible has to say about this topic.

The words of the apostle Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans are perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government. Paul says those purposes are twofold: to restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior. Civil authority is designed to be “God’s servant to do you good” as it is written: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from the fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13, verses 3-5, NIV)

Today we might say ‘the common good’ is to be the focus and function of government. The Declaration of Independence defines this as being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson famously said, “The primary function of government is the care and welfare of its citizens”. According to the apostle Paul, the purpose of government is to protect from evil and promote the good, to punish the ‘takers’ while rewarding those who freely give. We are also obligated by law to pay taxes for those purposes. So to disobey, disrespect or circumvent good government is simply not a biblical position. Jesus summed this up very well during his ministry, as it is written: “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap Him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher’, they said, ‘we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used to pay the tax’. They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s’, they replied. Then He said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God’s.’ When they heard this they were amazed. So they left Him and went away”. (Matthew 22, verses 15-22)

First, government is supposed to protect its citizens’ safety and security. Crime and violence will always be a real and present danger in this world, and that’s why we have the police, who are meant to keep our streets, neighborhoods, and homes safe. Governments also need to protect their people judicially, and make sure our legal and court systems are procedural, just and fair. The biblical prophets regularly railed against corrupt court decisions and systems, in which the wealthy and powerful manipulate the legal processes for their own benefit and put the poor into greater debt or distress. The prophet Amos speaks directly to the courts (and government) when he says, “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5:15 NIV). Again it is written, “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an honest or innocent person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 23, verses 6-9)

But along with protecting, what should governments promote? The Law of Moses holds kings, rulers, judges, and employers accountable to the demands of justice and fairness, therefore promoting those values. And the Scriptures say that governmental authority is to protect the poor in particular. The biblical prophets are consistent and adamant in their condemnation of injustice to the poor, and frequently follow their statements by requiring the government to act justly. That prophetic expectation applies today to the governments of all lands and peoples. Jeremiah, speaking of King Josiah, said, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.” Psalm 72 begins with a prayer for political leaders and the entire population: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.”

There is a powerful vision here for promoting the common good — a vision of “righteous” prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy, and even a concern for the land. The biblical understanding of justice is that the procedures must be fair and it demands unbiased courts (Exodus 23:2-8; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; 10:17-19). Immediately after denouncing Israel and Judah for the absence of justice, the prophet Isaiah condemned the way rich and powerful landowners have acquired all the land by pushing out small farmers when he wrote: “Now I will tell you what I am going to do in my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it. The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: ‘Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants.’ (Isaiah 5:7-9, NIV). It is important to note that even though in this text the prophet does not say the powerful acted illegally, he nevertheless denounces the unfair outcome.

The real truth is that fair outcomes do not always match equal outcomes. The historical attempts by many communist governments to create equal outcomes in terms of social and economic status have dramatically shown the great dangers of how the concentration of power in a few government hands leads to totalitarian results. The theological reason for that is the presence and power of sin, and the inability of such fallible human creatures to create social utopias on earth. Yet the biblical prophets do hold their rulers, courts, judges, landowners and employers (even slave owners!) accountable to the values of fairness, justice, and even mercy. The theological reasons for that are, in fact, the same: the reality of evil and sin in the concentration of power — both political and economic — and the need to hold that power accountable, especially for the protection of the poor and the sick. So fair outcomes, and not necessarily equal ones, are the goal of governments. Governments should provide a check on powerful people, institutions, and interests in the society that, if left unchecked, might run over their fellow citizens, the economy, and certainly the poor. And coming to a better moral balance in achieving fiscal responsibility, while protecting the poor, should be a bipartisan effort. The radically anti-government ideology of the current right wing Tea Party/Republican ideology is simply contrary to a more biblical view of government. The need for checks and balances, the sinfulness of too much concentrated power in either the government or the market, and the responsibilities we have for serving the common good, are all the Biblical definitions of good and just government. Anything less is the same as poking your finger in God’s eye.

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A Memo From Jesus to the USA

If Jesus Wrote A Letter To America, I Wonder What He’d Say?

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

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If Jesus wrote a letter to America, and particularly its leadership (I’m using ‘leadership’ in the loosest possible terms), I wonder what would He say to us? Would He give America two thumbs up for being the richest country in the world, or for having the most powerful military? Would He congratulate us for a job well done when it comes to race relations in our country? Would He praise America’s business community for its shrewdness and cunning for shipping all our middle class jobs overseas, leaving its constituency destitute, or in some cases homeless? Or, how about the fact that 1 in 4 US school children goes to bed hungry each night? Would we receive accolades galore? On the contrary – it would go something like this: Woe to you American Christians! You say I’m the “Son of God” and yet you bully the defenseless, shoot unarmed civilians, wage religious wars disguised as anti-terror campaigns, and trample the vulnerable underfoot in my name. Do you not understand the parable of the Good Samaritan? Allow me to refresh your memory.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then replied with what I’ll call a modernized version of the parable of the good Samaritan:

“A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Washington to New York when he was attacked by carjackers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road after driving off in his car. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A rich man walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then an African-American came along, one who had just been released from prison, and when he saw the man he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the ex-con soothed his wounds with hydrogen peroxide and bandaged them. Then he used his transit card and took him by bus to the homeless shelter where he was staying, where he took care of him. The next day he paid for a single night, telling the folks running the shelter, ‘Here is the money for a night’s stay here. I’m going to work as a day laborer early tomorrow morning, so please take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by thugs?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

In case you missed the point of that parable as I’m quoted as telling it in the Book of Luke (see chapter 10, verses 25-37), it was that the theologically correct evangelical born-again “saved” person passed by on the other side of the road when confronted with a human being in need. Ditto for the priest. It was the “unsaved” theologically incorrect Samaritan, today’s equivalent of agnostics, Muslims, gay men and women, minorities and people of color, the unloved and the outcast who stopped and did my Father’s will and took care of the injured man. To put it another way as only Jesus could have: “Did you miss the point when I said that those who come to me saying ‘Lord, Lord we followed you and believed correctly’ are the very ones that I will cast out of the Kingdom of Heaven, since they did not care for the least of these, the downtrodden, the poor and the oppressed? Didn’t you get it when I said that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the humble, and the outcasts; those who mourn and to the poor in spirit? Who do you think will inherit the earth: the wealthy leaders of your colossal mega-churches, or the downtrodden gay people, minorities and people of color, peace activists, “occupiers”, foster kids, ex-cons, the mentally ill, and others who are scorned and mocked by society? Whose side do you think God is on: the bullied and outcast or the powerful religious leaders with their false smiles? Who will qualify for calling themselves my sons and daughters: The meek who mourn or the proud who say: ‘Lord, I thank you that I’m not like these gay men and women and these illegal immigrants, and these lazy poor people who deserve no health care and these Muslims?’ You hypocrites! Don’t you get it?”

“You say you take everything in the Bible seriously and yet you ignore all the many verses about loving each other, divorce and adultery, and somehow paper that over because a majority of America buys into divorce now and you don’t want to lose your congregations! And half your pastors and religious leaders are divorced and remarried. But you stick it to gays and minorities because they are easy to pick on! Why wax moralistic about one thing you call sin and yet stick it to a minority? For instance, I actually broke the biblical law when I said that the people who brought me the adulterous woman should not stone her to death. In other words I said: ‘forget what the Bible says, only kill her if you’re perfect.’ Well, no one was such, so they quit picking on her and left her alone. Then I did the most important part – I forgave her and told her to sin no more. Since then I’ve given my followers that very thing as a reason to ignore the harsh, and sometimes mistranslated, parts of the Bible. Didn’t you get it when I said that if you lust in your heart towards a married woman or man that it’s the same as committing adultery? You twisted my words to make it seem as if I’m a moralistic “church goer” like you idiots, but I intended the exact opposite! What I meant was that since everyone lusts anyway, the difference between how we think and feel regarding temptation and what we do is painfully obvious in terms of how God sees us. The whole point was that we’re not to judge other people because we ourselves think the same thoughts. So no one is better than anyone else. Remember what I said in my sermon on the mount? “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7, verses 1-2, NIV)

You judgmental holy rollers are like banks always making a mistake in their own favor! Why do so-called religious conservative Americans always pick on the little guy, the disenfranchised, blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, women or gay people? I’ll tell you why! Because you are bullies! You are the Pharisees passing by on the other side of the road, those who are so sure they’re saved because of some nonsense that they believe in my name. Wrong! You American Christians utterly deface the name of Christianity with your racism, your economic slavery and your discrimination against women! And now you’re doing it again in your war against gays and Muslims, your bogus, hypocritical drug war, and in your economic war against the poor and working class people. Some of you even have had it as part of your wicked program to reestablish the Biblical law demanding death to gay people that I clearly showed must be broken by the greater law of love. Well, as you judge so you will be judged. Good luck with that!

Do you think the Kingdom of God is more likely to belong to a wealthy “Christian” leader who preaches hate and exclusion (even when saying “hate the sin but love the sinner”) or to the least of these, the poor and disenfranchised who want nothing more than to enjoy the same rights of other citizens? Do you think God does not see that the poor have no care and die because your greedy (lying) insurance lobby has your so- called Congress in their pockets? You hypocrites and liars! You say you’re preaching my gospel when my Gospel never was about correct belief or correct behavior. My gospel was about loving God, not judging others, making room for everyone at the table, and loving your neighbor as you love yourself. If gays and minorities are your enemy then, as you know, I commanded you to love them! And if they are asking to be allowed to marry I commanded you to give to him who asks of you! Besides, you don’t own America. This is a democracy and yours is just one opinion. How did it come to this?

How do those who claim that they serve and represent me misuse the Bible to the extent that they make bumper stickers and coffee mugs calling for the death of the President by misquoting Psalm 109 verse 8? (By the way, in case you want to know, he’s doing his best to follow the law of love right now, even though it’s almost impossible to do that because the fool who ruled before him – talk about a burning Bush! – left the biggest mess since the fall of Roman Empire!) Do you think I am on the side of a those who want to make the First Lady of the United States (who happens to be a daughter of mine!) a widow and the daughters of the President orphans as this Psalm is misconstrued to “call for”? You American Christians utterly deface the name of Christianity with your racism, economic slavery and your bigotry against women and minorities. And now you’re doing it again in your war against gays and minorities, your “drug war” which is little more than open warfare against your own citizens, and in your economic war against the poor, the homeless, the elderly and particularly your children. You are like the Pharisees I used to know and who strained out the smallest gnat of others’ so-called misbehavior while turning a blind eye to their own wickedness, hypocrisy and lies! Remember what I said about taking the beam out of your own eye before removing the speck from your brother’s?

Quit worrying about gays and minorities and start worrying about your so-called churches, those ash heaps of stinking bigotry and hate. The way you hate your first black president is all I need to know about you. So is the fact that your courts dish out life sentences to people who trade in the marijuana plant my Father created! So stop worrying about other people’s “sins” and start worrying about all the lies you are telling your children in my name! And all your talk about patriotism will do you no good unless you love every American as you love yourself – including gay Americans, poor people, the mentally ill, the disenfranchised and yes, women who have abortions and the “illegal” immigrants. And who do you think you are criminalizing my Father’s creations in the first place? They ask mercy of you! Give to them! Or did you miss that part of my teaching too?

Do you really think I’m on the side of those who hate others? Have you forgotten what my Apostle John wrote? “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1st John 4,:20, NIV) It’s as if you are crucifying me again! The point is to have a chance to sanctify love in every generation – unconditionally! If I walked here on Earth again with you, you’d kill me again, just as you are going to kill all that is good in my name, just as some of you are praying for the death of your president who you even call “Anti-Christ.” Let me tell you who is Anti-Christ: Christian “saved” America, meaning those who are too busy taking care of themselves to have time for anyone else (see Revelation chapter 18). You are so religious on Sunday mornings, and yet you all turn into selfish, demonic pigs during the week. So depart from me, come up with a new name for whatever you are, and drop the word “Christ” out of your name. You’ve destroyed my reputation!

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It’s Time for Churches to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Seven Hard Truths Pastors and Their Churches

Need to Hear

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

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There were once two parents with a little secret. They managed carefully to hold this secret down for several years. “Santa is coming!” their children sang. “It’s almost too good to believe!” With their mouths, the parents said, “How exciting!” But with their minds, they said, you’ve got the right idea: It is too good to believe. Then one day, the children came home with tear-streaks. They knew the truth. Lots of parents don’t tell their kids that Santa isn’t real. They don’t tell their kids the hard truth because they’re concerned: can their kid can handle the truth? You have undoubtedly noticed that our government teats us the same way about just about everything. Like kids that believe in Santa, people believe certain things about God because that’s what they’ve always been told – or because they want them to be true. You know, like, “God is good all the time”. But eventually, plodding through the mud of life, we discover the real truth: life is hard, and not everything is as it seems. Was God good when over 1,800 people drowned during Hurricane Katrina? Is He good when somebody’s child dies? No, but God allows tragedy and sorrow to occur because it is in the most difficult times that God uses our misfortunes and our tragedies to strengthen us and to build our character. In the same way, at some point as a parent, you have to tell your kid the hard truth that Santa isn’t real. And at some point, as pastors, we have to tell our congregations (or our readers in this case) the hard truths about God.

1) God isn’t Santa

Dr. David Pendergrass articulated this hard truth well: God is not a cosmic Santa Claus. You don’t get put on a nice list for doing the “right” things and, in turn, get whatever your heart desires from God. Whenever we feel entitled to a reward, or to “what we deserve”, we cease to view God as the King of the universe and begin to view Him as our personal Santa.

2) You Won’t Always Be Healed

There is so much good in praying for healing – healing for others and healing for ourselves. And while it’s true that God is able to heal, he’s not obligated to. (Click to Tweet) Think about it: if God were obligated to heal and answer every prayer of healing, no one would ever die. The hard truth is that at some point, this life will end. But that’s not the end of the story. There is hope. Our great hope is not that we won’t experience death, but that death is not the end of life – it’s the beginning. (Click to Tweet)

3) You Won’t Always Be “Blessed”

When someone says they’re “blessed,” they usually mean that they’re doing well financially or their kids are on the honor roll. The implicit suggestion is that they’re “blessed” because those things have happened. Conversely, if those things weren’t true, they would not be “blessed”, or at least not by human standards. Though there was a time that “blessing” and “wealth” and “good living” were tied together, I seem to recall this lesson from a Master Teacher about 2,000 years ago: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matt. 5:11, NRSV) Or when this same teacher’s cousin asked for Him to save his life, and He didn’t. But instead Jesus sent word in Matthew 11: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The hard truth is that “blessing” is not about what we have accomplished, but what God is accomplishing in & through Jesus, who resides in the hearts and minds of all who truly believe. (Click to Tweet) We’re truly blessed when we are used by God for the betterment of all.

4) Church Isn’t About You

It’s so easy for churches to become like country clubs. Not in the stuffy, elitist sense. But in the “church is for us” sense. It’s about what we want – our preferences, our comforts. It’s our little world that we control, and we determine who gets in and who stays out. But Pastor Jordan Easley says the hard truth is that church isn’t about us and our ‘holy huddles’. It’s about seeking and healing the lost. The church should be a refugee camp for the lost and those who are hurting. That in itself is a whole lot of people! Church is supposed to be a place where hurting people are brought in to be made well, and then sent out to bring others who are hurting back in. We weren’t brought in to simply socialize.

5) Silence is OK

Christians like the celebration of Sunday’s resurrection. After all, it’s the reason Christianity exists. That said, there is great value in the silent awkwardness of Saturday – you know, the time when Jesus was in the grave, his disciples were scared out of their minds, and they all thought they had wasted the last three years of their lives backing the wrong messiah. Sometimes God is going to be silent. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t “Christian enough” or that you are somehow “broken.” It means God is being silent. And the hard truth is that silence from God is OK.

6) Christianity Isn’t About a Feeling – It’s About Choices

How many times have you been asked, “How can I get that fire back? I just want that awesome feeling of being connected to God!” That question usually follows some awesome spiritual experience. This question isn’t all bad – it just misses the point. When we pursue and desire the “feeling” of being on fire for God, we begin to worship that, and not God. (Click to Tweet) The hard truth is that being a Christian isn’t about getting warm fuzzies when the band is rocking, or the pastor preaches an exciting sermon. It’s about daily choosing to pick up our cross, even when we don’t feel like it.

7) There is No 3-Step Formula to Guarantee a Certain Outcome

I get it: it’s easy to help people remember and understand things by formulas and clever mnemonics. They have their place. But we must be clear: there’s no guarantee to happiness, success, a great prayer life, or anything else. The Bible doesn’t offer “a good/efficient/successful/rich life”, but “new life.” And the hard truth is that that “new life” might look different than what we might expect. We might do everything the Scriptures say and have a business fail, be poor (which is no sin), struggle with depression, and/or not become the “next big thing.” What Scripture does say is God will not leave us as orphans (John 14:18). That whatever we have to go through in life, we won’t have to go through it alone. That’s the kind of guarantee we can count on.

In closing, parents make excuses for not telling their kids about Santa – and they feel good about it. But the hard truth is this: they are lying to their kids. ? And pastors, no matter what reasons they have for not telling their people these hard truths – the end is the same: we’re lying to them. They’re going to find out eventually. The question is this: Do you want to tell them the hard truth? Or do you want them to be blindsided by it?

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