Category Archives: God

Proven Innocent But Still Locked Up: Our Broken Criminal Justice System

God Wants Justice and Mercy, Not Religion,

and We’re Falling Short

by Pastor Paul J. Bern (Isaiah 58)

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For this week’s message I have been inspired to write about the true meaning of the twin brothers of the Spirit of the Lord known as justice and mercy. I saw an item of general human interest on the evening news on one of the local channels here in Atlanta about a man, one Sonny Bharadia, who has been locked up for 17 years for a crime he did not commit. It has only recently come to light that the DNA evidence in his case points to another man who is already serving a life sentence for murder in a separate case. And yet the state prison system here in Georgia is refusing to hear the evidence and release the man (to view the whole story, click here). This is injustice at its absolute worst! So I took this to the Lord in prayer, as I often do, and inquired as to what part of the Scriptures I should use to deliver a message condemning the State of Georgia’s refusal to hear the evidence that would exonerate this man. The result of my communication with the Lord will be a message on Isaiah chapter 58, and I will begin at verse 5.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58, verses 5-7)

Fasting, from a Biblical standpoint, is the voluntary abstention from all food and drink except for plain water. This usually means abstinence from sexual relations as well, and for a certain period of time, usually for anywhere from 24 hours up to an entire week or more. So, when God defined fasting through his prophet Isaiah, he meant different kinds of fasting besides simply doing without food. What can we compare this to today? In the first place, what we call ‘dieting’ today is what used to be called ‘fasting’. When we’re dieting we’re still eating, but a lot less of it. But when we’re fasting, we’re doing without everything all at once. By doing this, we rely on the Lord for our sustenance and him alone. That’s why fasting brings us closer to God. Although my fasts are of the 24 hour variety because I have medical issues, I find even little fasts like those can bring me into closer union and harmony with God.

False humility will not cut it before the Lord either. Go ahead and give your unwanted clothing and chattel furnishings to the charity of your choice, tithe your 10% to the church of your choice, and when you attend your charity gala’s, be sure to be there to see and be seen. Those are the people who gladly humble themselves when everyone is looking at them, but when they are out of sight they turn into ravenous beasts of prey. But we know who they are, don’t we? But then the Lord corrects us in verse 6: “Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and …. to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke?” To me at least, ‘loosing the chains of injustice’ would include the injustice that has been committed against men and women like Sonny Bharadia. Although the Bill of Rights contained in our still-beloved Constitution says we are all innocent until proven guilty, oftentimes in today’s American criminal in-justice system the defendants in these cases are considered guilty right from the start, which is clearly unconstitutional. This is apparently what happened to Mr. Baradia.

To “set the oppressed free” in today’s world means, to me as an American, normalizing relations between Native Americans, other minorities and people of color with the remaining majority white Anglo/Caucasian population. To ‘set the oppressed free’, then, should be defined as normalizing race relations in America. As we have seen from the police shootings of unarmed Blacks, not to mention Rosanne Barr’s racist tweets and Neo-Nazi’s openly running for political office in states like Illinois and Virginia, my country has a long way to go towards ‘setting the oppressed free’. What about this, people? Please, we have to do something about America’s race problem immediately! Otherwise, our ‘Christian faith’ becomes little more than a Sunday morning social club.

What about “breaking every yoke”? This would presumably mean yokes of bondage. Nearly 2 ½ millennia ago when these words were written, ‘bondage’ meant being sold into slavery, or living one’s life as a slave. Although human slavery still flourishes here in the 21st century, the number one form of bondage in modern times is debt, the second is very low wages and the third is taxes. Never mind the latter two – I have already written expensively on the need for a $15.00 per hour minimum wage, and I outlined a simple way to overhaul the tax system in chapter 9 of my 2011 book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, which is still available in its third edition on Amazon from here. Debt is a topic for yet another day.

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” What happens today when somebody sees a homeless person rummaging through their trash, or when a vagrant camps out on the porch of a vacant house on their street? Does anybody share food or offer any warm, dry shelter? No, they call 911 and watch triumphantly through their windows while the cops haul the homeless guy off to jail for trespassing. Provided, of course, the homeless guy survives being arrested. There are even people being put out of whole families – banished, actually – for reasons real and imaginary. The reason this condition exists to the extent that it does in American society today is because forgiveness is no longer being taught in the home. How can we expect our children to learn forgiveness and loving kindness when many of us are lacking in these qualities ourselves? One thing is for sure – this is a time of reckoning by a lot of people. It is a time of reckoning and taking stock of ourselves and the world in which we live. And when we have done these things, only then can the repair work begin. Now let’s finish up this week’s message starting at verse 9.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I’. If you do away with the yoke of oppression; with the pointing finger and the malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58, verses 9-11)

Those who practice true justice and mercy, those who show compassion and empathy, those who put others before themselves, they are the ones who, when they cry out to God for help, their prayers get answered. So, if you’re crying out to God for help and it seems he’s not listening, try doing something really nice for some people. Bake them a cake, mow their grass, babysit their child, you get the idea. Whatever you do will come back to you. But as the prophet went on to say, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression; with the pointing finger and the malicious talk….” It’s time for America to pack up her outdated and mean-spirited racial prejudices and carry them to the curb. It’s also time to clamp down hard on human trafficking – too many women and children have become sex slaves for the rich and powerful, and not enough people are talking about this. Well, I am one who is, and I want to know why there aren’t more joining with me in exposing this distasteful business! In the meantime, these same people maliciously point their fingers at others and judge them for perceived wrongs real or imagined. As you judge, so you will be judged. Never forget that.

“…. if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday.” Notice that Isaiah wrote “spend yourselves”, not ‘spend your money’. How is this accomplished? By devoting our bodies to a little work, maybe get a little sweaty, or giving our precious time to a cause greater than ourselves, such as helping the survivors of a natural disaster. You can even make a career out of this kind of work, people do it every day. “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs….” But, mind you all, only if you walk in His ways instead of your own. I know, I know, this seems counter-intuitive on the surface of things. God gave us a brain, it’s our own responsibility to use the darn thing. So making our own decisions based on our own best judgments is the responsible thing to do, and that’s right. Except, our minds can sometimes play tricks on us, causing us to see or hear things differently than they actually are, creating what we perceive as audio or visual distortions. Our emotions often give us even bigger problems than that. So consequently we take the wrong actions. Whether this is purposeful or not is besides the point when it still turns out to be wrong.

“…. he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden….” There are hidden benefits – more like bonuses, actually – to consulting with God prior to putting our plans into action. Are our plans congruent with God’s? Better yet, does that work both ways as well? Because if it does, God doesn’t just reward us. He reinforces us in ways that we cannot do ourselves. God can and will give us an overhaul – sometimes whether we ask for it or not! Trust me, I’ve been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt. But God doesn’t allow us to go through these things to be hard on us, or to be mean to us. He does it to build us up and to strengthen our character. So cheer up! Life isn’t so hard. You’re just like a well-watered garden when you consult God first. Who else would know any better except for your Maker?

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Free book excerpt #24 from Author & Web Pastor Paul J. Bern

The Apostles In Plain English Vol. 1: the Apostle Paul” by Rev. Paul J. Bern

An in-depth analysis of the writings of the apostle Paul in their order of appearance in the Bible. Watch the video at https://youtu.be/N4RXD3iOnxI

 

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Contributing To One Another

[Romans chapter 12]

Today in our continuing series of studies of the book of Romans, we move on to chapter 12. In this chapter, the apostle Paul talks about how we can initiate fundamental change for the better from within ourselves. He then explains how this renewal of self can affect our place within the community of believers as well as for the good of everyone else. He then goes on to outline how this personal renewal in Christ for the sake of our relationship with Christ applies to our everyday lives and what we as responsible Christians can do to cause this personal renewal manifest itself. I will begin with verse one.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12: 1-2)

We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God in the same way that Christ offered Himself up on the cross of Calvary. Furthermore, we are to be living in the world while remaining separate from it. We can live here as usual but not be caught up in the materialistic and vain trappings of the world as it currently exists. We can accomplish this by what Paul calls “mind renewal”. This means being a modern Christian requires a new and different way of thinking that sets us apart from the rest of humanity. It is only when we do this that we can find out for ourselves what God’s will is for our lives. And His will is always perfect for us whether we realize it or not. And if we don’t yet do so, we can still accomplish this by the renewal of our minds in Christ Jesus.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith that God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it to the proportion of his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12: 3-8)

The first point Paul makes is that there is no room for big egos in God’s family. Everyone has a place in God’s family “in accordance with the measure of faith that God has given you”. Everyone has a function within God’s family, and Paul names these functions without any particular order of importance. Notice that he mentions money only briefly (“if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously”). This is in stark contrast to the erroneous teachings of the modern church, which emphasizes tithing 10% of one’s income. This is a teaching that goes all the way back to the Old Testament, well before the time of Christ. As I said in one of my recent Sunday commentaries, we should definitely contribute to churches and other charities as we see fit. However, the harsh economic realities of the modern world in which we live make giving 10% a prohibitively expensive proposition, especially for the poor and middle class. Let the rich give 15% to their churches in our place. Besides, when Jesus died on the cross, the old law was sacrificed with Him and He became the new law. Paul then goes on from there.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those that mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12: 9-16)

The timely advice that is in these few verses is just as relevant now as it was nearly 2,000 years ago when it was first written. Love must be genuine, and never abusive. Stand up to evil and oppose it at every turn. Be a truly selfless person who thinks of themselves last, who puts others first, rarely complaining. Now comes the hardest part, because it’s a quote from Christ himself. “Bless those who curse you…”, be kind to those who oppose you or who have personal vendettas. You will be surprised (based on my own experience) at how quickly this tactic can disarm those who oppose you. Be willing to associate with people of low position, such as the homeless. I was once homeless myself for about four months, and I didn’t think such a thing could happen to me back then until it did. I’m retired from IT after over 20 years in the computer business. But when you’re self-employed and the demand for your product dries up, your income dries up too. Never be conceited, and be wary of all the class warfare that’s going on in America. And how do we accomplish this and other similar things, such as our relationship with Christ? By being “transformed by the renewing of our minds”. Paul then continues on with these closing verses.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written. ‘it is mine to avenge, I will repay, says the Lord’. (Deuteronomy 32:35) On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 17-21)

As far as it is possible, live at peace with everyone. If any of your enemies refuses to act peaceably toward you, avoid them and don’t associate with them. Take it to the Lord in prayer and let God deal with them, and you can be sure that He will. God will deal with your enemies in His good and perfect will according to His perfect timing. That is the way of the Lord, and we are to emulate Him every chance we get. And the peace of God which is beyond all human understanding will be with you all. Let’s start putting these teachings into practice on a daily basis. You will be surprised at how much your quality of life will improve, as well as how many doors of opportunity this will open for you. Living God’s way through Jesus Christ really is the best way to live our lives. Try it and see for yourself, you will be pleased with the outcome. Enjoy your day!

Get the print edition on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D154606011&field-keywords=the+apostles+in+plain+english+vol+1%3A+the+apostle+paul&rh=n%3A133140011%2Cn%3A154606011%2Ck%3Athe+apostles+in+plain+english+vol+1%3A+the+apostle+paul

Get the digital edition on Kindle ($9.99) at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D154606011&field-keywords=the+apostles+in+plain+english+1%3A+the+apostle+Paul

Get it in audio format on Amazon Audible at https://www.amazon.com/Apostles-Plain-English-Vol-Appearance/dp/B0746TTGBN/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503076680&sr=1-1&keywords=the+apostles+in+plain+english+vol.+1%3A+the+apostle+Paul

Watch the video at https://youtu.be/N4RXD3iOnxI 

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The “Tax Cuts” Just Passed by the Trump White House Are a Gross Injustice

Fair Warning to All Rich Oppressors;

Not From Myself, But From God

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

For better small screen viewing, click here 🙂

threat_from_washington I am finding myself witnessing once again what amounts to the enforced liquidation of America’s middle class, coming in the form of president Trump’s new tax bill. This recently-passed piece of legislation cuts funding for the poorest, most vulnerable of Americans and gives it all to the richest 10% of US taxpayers. These funds will be distributed in the form of various tax breaks for individuals and corporations who don’t need them because they already pay too little – with the bulk of the tax burden shouldered by America’s middle and working classes. Even though our tax refunds will be bigger next year, so will the tax rate for the bottom 50% of all Americans. This week I want to share with you all a quotation from the Bible that ties in with this topic very well.

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice for my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain except to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand still upraised.” (Isaiah chapter 10, verses 1-4)

What’s a modern example of what the prophet Isaiah wrote about here, which was roughly 2,700 years ago? The pathetic state of wages, globally speaking, is the first thing that comes to my mind. If any one of you has ever had to take a minimum wage job – and I would define anything under $12.00 per hour to be a ‘minimal wage’ – then you know exactly what I mean. Here in Atlanta, Ga. the minimum is still set at a paltry $7.25 per hour. There are lots of homeless shelters in and near downtown Atlanta, and they all stay full, and with ‘waiting lists’ to boot. Georgia’s ultra-low minimum wage is the reason why. Do the math and it’s easy to see why these hapless individuals can’t rent apartments.

Another example of a modern-day “unjust law” is most definitely the Drug War, which is actually a massive race-based roundup of the poor. These are mostly people of color, mainly Black and Latino(a), and it is no coincidence that they are the ones who can least afford to hire a lawyer. Moreover, as I proved conclusively in my 2016 book, “Cannabis Legalization and the Bible: Compatible or Not?”, the Marijuana plant was made by God on the third day of Creation (see Genesis 1: 11). Cigarettes are legal, they kill over 50,000 people annually, and everybody’s just fine with that, particularly law enforcement (“You will smoke these and you will like them”). But marijuana, which is classified as a dangerous drug when it is not, remains illegal. This is a whole series of laws designed to prosecute those who use a substance that can’t be taxed. The Drug War is all about the money, including the huge profits being “earned” by the private prison industry. It has nothing to do with justice whatsoever!

What’s an example of an “oppressive decree”? One example would be the federal income tax, which was passed in 1919 so America could pay her debts incurred by the First World War. This was a law passed at 3AM and signed by only a handful of people. By the time Congress found out about it when they convened around the first of the following week, and since news traveled so slowly back then, there was nothing they could do even though a lot of lawmakers were very upset at that time. Another example of an “oppressive decree” would be the Patriot Act, which has been renewed 3 times since 2001 even though it is being used against American citizens as well as foreign nationals. In this respect, the Patriot Act as it is currently written and being implemented is unconstitutional!

What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?” I have already shown that the prophet was referring to the End Times, or Last Days, which I have clearly depicted in previous weekly commentary’s. I have also proven conclusively that the United States is Mystery Babylon in Ezekiel chapter 7, Zechariah chapter 12, and Revelation chapter18. I fully realize that what I’m about to write here is not a popular topic, but the Bible clearly states that the USA is going to endure a nuclear attack at some point in the not-too-distant future. Whether this attack comes in the form of a lone terrorist bomb or from a nuclear tactical first strike from Russia and China combined, I can’t say. I do not have access to any such information except that which God gives me, or that He helps me deduce on my own. So the conclusion here in verse 3 is that the “day of reckoning” is a day in the fairly near future when the Nuclear Age, which was started by the USA with the twin nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, will soon come back and bite America in the backside. This ‘blow-back’ from 73 years ago will be absolutely devastating to America! Personally, I have become concerned enough about my country’s future that I just went and got myself a passport!

Nothing will remain except to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand still upraised.” As I mentioned before, there are still a lot of people who get infuriated when I write or tell them that this verse and others like it throughout the Bible are talking about the United States. But it’s true! Just look around you. America’s military is stretched dangerously thin in a number of places around the globe. America now has over 750 military bases scattered around the world in about 160 countries at last count. It takes lots and lots of people to man those bases. Many of them are costly and simply unneeded.

But before any of them can be shut down, the Deep State itself must first be shut down. But is it moral for Christians to participate in such seditious activities? Not normally, but in cases where the government is corrupt to the core, and in cases where the government threatens the livelihood and personal safety of its citizens, then yes – it is not only OK, but such activities should be encouraged whether in or out of church. There are a number of nonviolent ways this can be accomplished, like hack attacks on their computer infrastructure or ransomware attacks, to name 2 examples. Similar attacks on its ‘players’ would be still another. I’m sure you can think of more, and then implement them. But by all means, do something! Because if we don’t, what little is left of civil liberties in America, like the freedom of speech that makes my writing this Web posting possible, will be gone forever.

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People chase after lots of different ‘gods’, but there’s only One that’s real

The Only God That’s Real

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

For better small screen viewing, click here 🙂

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Like nearly everyone else, with the exception of the ‘war hawks’ in the Pentagon who obey without questioning, I too am appalled by the fighting in the Middle East and northeastern Africa over natural resources, politics and religion. The missile strike ordered by president Trump this past Friday night, although probably justified, does nothing at all to improve the situation there. Moreover, I find all the bickering between the peaceful 90%, which is us, and the war hawks (the top 10%) to be little more than a sideshow considering what’s at stake. I am equally put off by all the sniping and infighting here in North America between religious denominations over man-made dogma and traditions steeped in pomp and circumstance while they remind everyone constantly to “support our troops”. They are all in favor of combating and killing Muslims while calling themselves “pro-life”.

 

I will use the Scriptures to prove that the one true God is above and beyond all wars, churches and organized religions, in keeping with the theme of this website. The first thing that I want to remind you of is that there are many false gods in the modern world. The most egregious example that comes to mind is the worship of money and material goods and all the evils that come with them. In the apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”. That means money in and of itself is not always evil, but greed and the insatiable lust for money most definitely are. Jesus said in the four Gospels, “No one can serve two masters. He/she will either love one and reject the other, or cling to the latter while despising the former. You cannot serve both God and materialism.” (Luke 16: 13) I think this would apply to, among other things, the sales of military armaments.

 

 

The “love of money” appears in many forms. Let’s ask ourselves these questions – do we sometimes find ourselves in automotive dealerships every time a new model comes out? Do we shop for new clothes, electronics, mobile or “smart” phones, the latest computers, and new decor for our homes whether we need them or not, just because they’re “on sale”? Do we sometimes find ourselves shopping for a new house whether we need one or not? Are any of us in debt up to our eyeballs (not counting student loans) because we owe too much on our credit cards and everything else? If anyone answered “yes” to any of these questions, and particularly if you prioritize these things at the expense of your Spiritual lives, then you are worshiping a false god(s). It is Jesus Christ and he alone that must be at the top of our priorities. Anything else takes a back seat to Jesus in the order of our lives. Most of the things I just mentioned (excluding greed) are not evil in and of themselves. But false and futile worship of anything other than God, while bypassing or not including Jesus Christ as our Savior, amounts to idol worship. A similar line of questioning was presented to the apostle Paul nearly 2,000 years ago, and it is well documented in the book of Acts in the New Testament. I will begin with a quote from chapter 17, beginning at verse 16.

 

 

While Paul was in Athens…. he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of….. philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, ‘What is this babbler trying to say?’ Others remarked, ‘He seems to be advocating foreign Gods.’ They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus (which was basically a temple for idol worship and a town meeting place), where they said to him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean’…. Then Paul stood up at the meeting of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives life and breath and everything else. From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth…. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps to reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each of us…. as some of your own poets have said, “we are his offspring”. Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent….when they heard about [Jesus] resurrection from the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “we want to hear from you again on this subject”. (Acts 17, verses 16-32)

 

 

This passage is just one of numerous examples of the apostle Paul’s teaching about the one true God. I especially appreciate that Paul made two distinct points about God. The first is that God is above and beyond all nationalities, races and religions because he preached the same message equally to Jews, Greeks and other Gentiles. The one true God is also above and beyond all the material possessions money can buy. These things were considered to be radical teachings at the time because all these groups believed that their version of God was the correct one to the exclusion of everything and everybody else. This very mistake continues to be made today by certain church denominations who I will decline to name. Nobody has the exclusive path to God. No one has the right to claim that they are any closer to God than anyone else. It’s just not true and it never was. Moreover, nobody has the right to condemn another person’s religion, so long as their beliefs don’t hurt or restrict the freedom of anyone else. And we can’t buy our way into heaven either.

 

 

The second point that catches the human eye and captures my imagination is what Paul said about where God lives. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives life and breath and everything else.” What an awesome statement! Think about how many religions there are in the world. There are over 4000 Protestant denominations alone, and that’s just in the USA. All are called churches or houses of worship regardless of which religion they represent. And yet God doesn’t live in any of them. Instead, for the true believer God lives in the minds and hearts of all individual believers. Never mind all the spiritual sophistry that’s being “taught” in some modern churches, because it’s largely based on money.

 

 

God doesn’t care who you are, where you live, what you have done (or not), what country you are from or what church you are connected with (or not). He doesn’t care where you have been, and He doesn’t care about what is in your past. Unlike many men and women who attend church regularly, God doesn’t care what you look like, or how much money you give to your church or to charities, or what your social or economic status is. God couldn’t care less what church you go to, or even if you go at all. The one true God doesn’t even live in church, although a lot of phony religious leaders and related clergy will no doubt insist that He does. Instead, God wants to live and breathe in our hearts and minds. He wants you to become a church in and of yourself, a church that walks and talks. Not only does God want to live inside you, He wants us all to pay that forward by unconditionally sharing our faith with others. That means that He wants us all to have a sound conscience and to learn how to use it most effectively. Also, to quote the apostle Paul, God wants us to “continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord” (Philippians 2: 12).

 

 

In closing, let me add that there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to church no matter what religion you identify with. If you currently attend, I’m certain that God wants you to continue to go so long as you keep hearing messages from the pulpit that are encouraging, uplifting and positive, and most importantly based on Scripture. I don’t want this message to be a reason for those who are attending church to stop going. God forbid! On the other hand, please keep in mind that the church is just a building and nothing more. I acknowledge that churches are built as meeting places for like-minded believers and that they should remain so. But now that you have read today’s message I hope I have given everyone a better perspective, whether in church or out. You can look at organized religion with skepticism as I do, but do not let that compromise your most deeply held beliefs. The one true God is greater that all the religions in the world combined. He is truly above and beyond it all.

 

 

Let me bring up one more thing before I go, and I really wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point this out. If we are going to have God living inside of each of us then we should be living and acting as if He did. Watch what you say and how you say it. Clean up your life and the language that you use. Be mindful of anything that you are doing to excess because this is the root of all addictive behavior. Live your life as if God is watching what you do and listening to everything you say because He really is. Until next time, then, be a believer that walks and talks the good example of Christ for others to follow, especially those who look up to you. And the almost incomprehensible peace that is the very embodiment of Jesus Christ – the Savior of the world – will remain with you all permanently. Amen.

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Putin’s re-election, Bible prophecy, and the impending war in the Middle East

Putin’s Re-election and Bible Prophecy:

Closing In on Armageddon

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

[Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39, part 3]

For better small screen viewing click here 🙂

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Last week as we finished part 2 of this 3 part series on the Biblical significance of Vladimir Putin’s re-election as president of Russia, we left off at Ezekiel chapter 39 and verse 6 (for anyone who missed part one, click here). In the first 6 verses of chapter 39, God declared through his servant Ezekiel that all the military forces that would swoop down from the far north, as well as most of the Islamic nations of the horn of Africa and Libya, will be stopped in their tracks by a series of natural disasters, starting with the troops being pelted by huge hail stones as well as by fire sent from God. The Bible doesn’t specify the origin or nature of this fire. It only says in verse 6, “I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coast lands….” This could be anything from being trapped in a wildfire, or series of wildfires, to a huge fire-fight of some kind or another, all the way up to nuclear warfare. There’s simply no way to tell for sure, but I would not be surprised at all if this war were to go nuclear.

This week as we move on to the third and final part of this series on current events juxtaposed with Biblical prophecy, we’ll be starting at verse 8 of chapter 39. “It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of. Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use their weapons for fuel and burn them up – the large and small shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. And they will plunder those who plundered them and loot those who looted them, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezekiel 39, verses 8-10)

This massive war is most assuredly coming, definitely and without question! Although a first-time reader may not believe this, if God says it’s going to occur, then it’s going to occur; it’s only a question of timing. Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, together with mercenaries from the Russian Islamic republics, will attack Israel from the north and the east in a gigantic pincer attack. But they will be driven back, and Russia will have to come and bail them out since Iran and Syria are Russian allies. It is that precise day that the prophet Ezekiel was writing about! When Russia comes to the aid of Syria and Iran, they will fall back to a mutually agreed upon rendezvous point before mounting a huge counterattack on Israel and her people. Again, as before, they will be defeated, but this time by the forces of nature as described in detail in these passages of Scripture.

Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use their weapons for fuel and burn them up – the large and small shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel.” Now let’s understand right here that this is written from the viewpoint of a man who lived at least 2,600 years ago. So he is writing to his contemporaries as well as for posterity and, most of all, out of obedience to God. Ezekiel is describing weapons as he understood them from his own time frame. Shields, bows and arrows and spears were the weapons of his day. Today, everything is motorized and digitized, so it appears the fuel from all the tanks, amphibious assault vehicles and all kinds of trucks of various sizes and purposes will be used instead. Tires will be burned in big piles to enforce road blocks and in small ones for cooking and burning trash. This is a likely scenario that fits with what Ezekiel wrote, as dictated to him by the “Sovereign Lord”, or Almighty God.

They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. And they will plunder those who plundered them and loot those who looted them, declares the Sovereign Lord.” In this verse, I’m fairly sure that Ezekiel is referring to the wooden gun stocks on all the rifles the troops from the Russian confederation carried with them into battle. Since the homes of many will have been destroyed by the war, the wooden gun stocks of the Russian, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian troops will be used for campfires, along with the tires and fuel from their vehicles. In this way, the comfort of the Israeli people will be seen to even during this traumatic time to come, because that is what God will do for his people Israel. Their every need will be met, even in the rubble of an earthquake and a military invasion. And now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s message, starting at verse 11.

On that day I will give Gog a burial place in Israel, in the valley of those who travel toward the sea. It will block the way of travelers, because Gog and all his hordes will be buried there. So it will be called the Valley of Hamon Gog. For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them, and the day I am glorified will be a memorable day for them, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezekiel 39, verses 11-13)

This will be the fate of all the troops from Russia, her allies, and the other countries I mentioned who would presume to attack Israel. “The valley of those who travel towards the sea” is an ancient expression for the Jordan valley that runs between the Sea of Galilee southward towards the Dead Sea. And so according to the Scriptures, this is where the armies of the Gog-Magog War of Ezekiel 38 and 39 will be buried. It will take 7 months to bury all the dead because there will be so many of them, and the entire populace will be pressed into service for this arduous task, presumably to expedite things for health reasons. But what is so understated is that the tiny little nation of Israel, a country the size of New Jersey with a population of 8.4 million people, just defeated the combined armies and air forces of Russia, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, and you may as well include Iraq and Jordan in the fray. Their combined military forces will be decimated by Israel and her ally, the Sovereign Lord!

There is one more thing that needs to be said about this, and that is regarding the country of Israel itself, together with her people. There are many individuals who, frankly, despise the nation of Israel and her people. Some say that this is because of the conflict between the Palestinian and Israeli people, but there is more to it than that, and it has a long history. It was the newly created universal church of King Constantine 1st, from which the modern name ‘Catholic’ originates, that began teaching around the year 300AD that it was the Jews and not the Romans who crucified Christ, when in fact it was the other way around. Nevertheless, this wrong teaching has persisted to this day. While the first reason for hatred of the Jews was religious in origin, the second reason was and still is racial. Antisemitism – the extreme hatred of Jewish people and all things Jewish, including her homeland Israel – is raw racism, pure and simple. But more than that, since Jesus Christ walked the earth as a Jewish man, to express antisemitism is tantamount to having contempt for Jesus Christ. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany is one of the most glaring examples in human history of what happens when antisemitism is carried to its utmost extreme.

This inevitably brings up the debate about what the fate of the Palestinian people should be. Should they get their own homeland? Of course they should, but so should the Kurdish people just a few hundred miles to the north, but they’re not having any luck either. Arbitration is the only fair way to settle both these disputes, that much is certain, and both conflicts must be peacefully resolved. One other thing is certain – the Gog-Magog War of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 (of which I only used select portions for the sake of brevity and focus) will occur. But more than that, the stage is being set even as I write this for this massive and incredibly deadly war. Russia has forward bases in Syria and Iran, plus a critically important naval port in Syria, and has still more troops – many more – just to the north in Georgia and the Ukraine. I think we’ll have to see what happens once the American embassy moves from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the nation of Israel on May 14th, 1948. I would be quite surprised if this anniversary comes and goes without incident. You know, like a 7-year peace treaty that divides Jerusalem?

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Putin’s Russian re-election and Bible prophecy: what the future holds

Putin’s Re-election and Bible Prophecy:

Closing In on Armageddon

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

[Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39, part 2]

For better small screen viewing click here 🙂

img_6039 For this week’s message, we’ll be moving on to part 2 of the recent re-election of Russian president Vladimir Putin and what this means for us in term of our understanding of Biblical prophecy about the End Times in which we are living. Previously in part 1, I went over the first 16 verses of Ezekiel chapter 38 as they apply to the modern era. As I wrote last week (you can view that message from here) concerning the “Gog-Magog War” of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39, based on what is contained in the text, Gog is Vladimir Putin and Magog is Russia. And Russia, at some point in the fairly near future, together with the armies of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Somalia, will attack Israel. This is exactly the portrait that the prophet Ezekiel paints of this End Times scenario known as the “Gog-Magog War”. And so today we’ll continue near where we left off last week, starting at verse 18.

This is what will happen in that day; When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the sovereign Lord. In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble, and every wall will fall to the ground. I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign Lord. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. I will execute upon him plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur upon him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.” (Ezekiel 38, verses 18-23)

Notice in the first sentences (verses 18-19), two things: First, God never lets anger get the best of him, but anyone who attacks His land and its people (see Joshua 1: 2-4 and chapters 13-20) enrages the Lord! Second, when the Holy Land and its people are attacked by a foreign invader, God exercises his vigilance on behalf of his people. Israel does not have to call out its army to defeat the Russian and Arab armies. This is one that God will handle personally. I suspect the reason will be to come to Israel’s defense, possibly because her chief ally, the US, may be unable to at this point for reasons that I have written about fairly extensively in the past (see my blogs on either Blogger, Goodreads or WordPress.) So instead of the IDF marching off to war, look what God does instead! “In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble, and every wall will fall to the ground.

Evidently there is going to be a big enough earthquake to stop the invading armies in their tracks. That would have to entail an extremely violent earthquake, a magnitude 9.0 or above on the Richter scale, and maybe as much as a 10 plus. The extreme violence of the temblor will scare the daylights out of the entire population, and even the animal kingdom will be affected. Apparently a lot of camels will be thrown off their feet, that’s for sure. Mountains will collapse, towering cliffs will be turned into hills, and the walls of every structure will be leveled. The casualties will number in the hundreds of thousands dead and millions injured. “I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign Lord. Every man’s sword will be against his brother.” To restate those last two sentences in modern English, “It’s on!!” Nobody is going to get left out of this fight, sometimes whether they like it or not!

I will execute upon him plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur upon him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.” This battle is not going to stop just because of an earthquake. Moreover, this doesn’t appear to be an ordinary earthquake, but rather one of a supernatural nature. That’s God’s signature right there, an authentic supernatural occurrence of very mysterious origin. Besides the bloodshed of battle, Gog of Magog’s troops will be struck with a plague, with torrential rain and giant hailstones and with burning sulfur that will presumably be the by-product of the prophesied earthquake of Biblical proportions, although I’m not entirely sure how that will come about. We’ll just have to wait and see when the time comes, and I doubt that we’re going to have a very long time to wait. And now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s message, starting at Ezekiel 39 and verse 1.

Son of man, prophesy against Gog and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshach and Tubal. I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all the carrion birds and to the wild animals. You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coast lands, and they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 39, verses 1-6)

As I wrote in part 1 from last week, ‘Meshech’ in the original Hebrew roughly translates as the area around Moscow, Russia today. Not just the city, but the entire surrounding countryside, probably an area comprising hundreds of square miles. “Tubal” is generally considered to be the geographical area around modern Tobolsk, Russia. There are some who say that Meshech and Tubal are in modern Turkey. They could be right, but then why does Ezekiel include both Turkey and Russia in his prophecy? “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshach and Tubal. I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel.

Russia is nearly twice as far from Israel than Turkey is, and yet both are prophesied to be part of the multi-pronged military assault on Israel. Moreover, Russia has 2 allies in the Middle East – Iran and Syria. And so it appears that the Gog-Magog War will go down something like this – the confederation of nations and peoples, all of whom are mentioned by Ezekiel in this prophecy as it was dictated to him by God, will launch a full scale military assault on Israel. Iran and Syria, the two Russian allies, together with Turkey, Iraq, the Muslim countries of southwestern Russia (Kazakhstan, etc.), plus Somalia and Libya (and possibly Ethiopia), will all be included in this vast army. Curiously, Egypt is not mentioned at all by Ezekiel, nor does it say how Libya and Somalia will get their troops to the battlefield. In my opinion – this part isn’t in the Bible – neither of those last two countries will be able to get their troops to the battlefield without some professional assistance. Undoubtedly they will be able to get the help they need – it could come from Russia, or more likely Iran, there’s no way to tell for sure at this point.

Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you.” Those who purport to attack Israel and its people will be disarmed – not by Israel, but by God! The attack for which Israel’s enemies have meticulously prepared will never finish being carried out. It will start off strongly enough, that’s for sure, but the well-planned and hyper-coordinated military assault of the combined nations will evaporate like a puddle of water on an August afternoon. At this point, Russia will come to the aid of its allies Iran and Syria, probably aided by Turkey and possibly other countries as well. I’m pretty sure that’s what Ezekiel meant when he wrote, “I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north…. against the mountains of Israel…..” “The far north”, I conclude, could only be Russia.

You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coast lands, and they will know that I am the Lord.” In the open fields on their way to “the mountains of Israel” and coming back again in retreat, the armies of Russia, Iran, Syria, Turkey and all the remaining armies with them, they will all perish. God will send “fire on Magog”, which appears to be a nuclear attack, presumably coming from Israeli military forces as part of the counterattack that drives back all the nations I have mentioned here. But it won’t just be Israel all by herself. She will have divine intervention from the Lord, as we have already seen. I’m sure you all would like to know how in the world can itsy-bitsy little Israel, a country roughly the size of New Jersey, defeat all those armies when it will be pitifully outnumbered, right? OK, then you will have to come back for the conclusion to this 3-part series next Sunday. In the meantime, enjoy your Easter weekend….

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Free book excerpt #22 from Web pastor, author and blogger Paul J. Bern

The Apostles In Plain English Vol. 1: the Apostle Paul” by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Five years in the making, this first of a series is a lot more than just a compilation of Bible studies. This collection of Paul’s writings presents them from a broader perspective that are much more applicable to modern life than one might expect. Each study is limited to a few pages for the sake of brevity. This study of Paul’s writings is done from a whole new 21st century perspective that is sure to educate while making the process enjoyable. Over 550 pages of enlightenment! A must-read for believers, whether they attend church or not! An inspirational guide for secular folks too! Watch the video at https://youtu.be/N4RXD3iOnxI

35a5e-apostlepaul2b1

Building On The Foundation Of Christ

[1st Corinth. chapter 3]

This week’s Bible study of the writings of the apostle Paul will be on the third chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In this passage of Scripture, Paul is teaching about building on the foundation of Christ as a way to avoid divisions within the church, and he is doing so in the context of the state of the early Church at that time. Paul is addressing specific issues that had been brought up previously by this congregation, presumably regarding certain disagreements and arguments that had sprung up among them. In the early part of this chapter Paul finds himself having to rebuke this congregation for their lack of unity due to disputes among them concerning their views on what it meant to be Christian. We will begin at the first verse as usual.

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul’, and another, ‘I follow Apollos’, are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (I Corinthians 3: verses 1-9)

As you can see, Paul is telling the early Corinthian church to grow up, stop fighting among themselves and to quit acting like children in the faith. Paul is admonishing them to become more mature in their faith as God first intended. But he is also saying that it doesn’t matter how they first heard the Gospel being preached or from who they heard it. What is important is that the Gospel originates from God, not from mere men. Jesus is the message, and we are the messengers. Paul then refers to a well-known Old Testament verse, “One man plants, another man waters, but it is God who gives the increase”, stating, “…for we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building”, with another translation of ‘building’ in this context being ‘storehouse’ or ‘barn’. Paul is saying that all blessings come from God, and He can send even enough to fill up any storehouse. Paul then continues in verse 10.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (I Corinthians 3: 10-17)

When Paul says “I laid a foundation as an expert builder”, he is speaking in the context of himself being the founder of the church at Corinth. He then states definitively that anyone building on his foundation had better not use any combustible materials, referring to the Old Testament, which calls God a “consuming fire”. This was written as a warning to the church against the pursuit of material gain and the hoarding of money and goods. This same warning is just as valid to the church today as it was when those words were first written nearly 2,000 years ago. Paul then adds that putting too much faith in our earthly works and treasures won’t necessarily prevent us from getting to heaven when we die, but it will be the same as escaping from a fire with nothing but the clothes on our backs. It was also a warning that Christ is the only true foundation upon which the Church is built, and that anything less is impure at best, and heresy at worst. Finally, Paul compares the early church to a new temple of the Lord in which He can dwell, and he reminds us that, “…God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” Paul then concludes the chapter beginning at verse 18 by completing his warning to keep the church on the foundation of Christ.

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile’. So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (I Corinthians 3: verses 18-23)

To put this into 21st century English, Paul is warning the church, “Don’t kid yourselves. People who think they are smart aren’t as smart as they would like to think. In the end, everything belongs to God. Anything that is not consumed in His consuming fire, will stand the test of time and be permanent. Everything else is just temporary anyway.” And I believe Paul is telling us these things to make sure we keep our values in perspective, so we can be more spiritual and less superficial. This is a good thing for all of us to put into practice, so let’s all start to do this today. That way we’ll be able to advance the state of all our lives as we transition into tomorrow.

Get the digital edition on Kindle ($9.99) at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D154606011&field-keywords=the+apostles+in+plain+english+1%3A+the+apostle+Paul

To buy direct from the author ($19.95) go to http://www.pcmatl.org/#!books-and-donations/c17et

Get it in audio format on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Apostles-Plain-English-Vol-Appearance/dp/B0746TTGBN/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503076680&sr=1-1&keywords=the+apostles+in+plain+english+vol.+1%3A+the+apostle+Paul

Watch the video at https://youtu.be/N4RXD3iOnxI

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My Reasons for Declining Church Attendance, and Why They Differ from Main Stream Christianity

Why Are the World’s

Young Adults Leaving Churches?

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

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life's hardest battlesSomeone asked my opinion earlier this week about why so many millennial’s are leaving church, and what can be done about it. After doing some reflection, prayer and meditating, and based on some personal observations, there are quite a few reasons why this is so. To begin with, the fact of the matter is that young Christians often feel forced to choose between their logic and their faith, between evolution and Creation, and between compassion and piety, as if they are mutually exclusive of each other. Meaning, churches who are losing members do so due to politics and religion undergoing a merger while missing any semblance of the awesome power of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This attitude dates all the way back to the time of Christ, when the temple high priests and the Hebrew religious establishment of that time were expecting the Jewish Messiah to arrive as a conqueror who would set up his Kingdom in Jerusalem – in opposition to the Roman Empire, echoing the “patriot movement” of today – and rule the entire world. That day is coming, but not on those terms, until all the Scriptures have been fulfilled. Jesus said about such people, “Woe to you, Pharisees, because you give a tenth of your mint, rue and all kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11: 42) God is running out of patience with those who “tithe” weekly while doing nothing for the less fortunate!

 

A second and equally noteworthy reason that churches are losing America’s young professionals is that young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be either too political, too exclusive, too old-fashioned to the point of being and thinking backwards, too unconcerned with social justice and hostile to liberal, progressive, environmentalist and LGBTQ people, among others. Most of all, I have met modern Christians who refuse to congregate and worship with anyone other than their own race. Rev. Dr. King said it best back in the 1960’s when he stated, “The most segregated place in America is at church on Sunday morning”. To a large extent, this has not changed much over the last 50 years or so. Does organized religion think that young adults don’t see this for the hypocrisy that it is? Who, after all these decades, still does not understand that there will be no bigots in heaven??

 

A third reason that some well-established churches are driving millennial’s and young adults away is the time-honored yet non-scriptural tradition of abstinence from alcoholic beverages. There are at least a few well-known Christian denominations – which I will decline to name – who “teach” that abstinence from alcohol is essential to salvation in Christ. But they have forgotten all about the twin facts concerning this subject; the first is that Jesus’ first miracle was changing water into wine, and the second is that there were at least two glasses of wine – and probably more – that were served at the Last Supper on the night before he was crucified. Even the apostle Paul advised Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1st Timothy 5: 23) Earlier in this same book, Paul advised, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.” (Timothy 4: 4) Since this includes the grapes that make the wine, Paul’s teaching also extends to other natural substances, like medical marijuana and ‘polysyllabic’ mushrooms, both of which are proven to treat or cure bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, chronic alcoholism, seizures and even certain forms of cancer. That’s why America’s young adults look at the entire ‘abstinence-is-godliness’ issue and see it for the spiritual BS that it truly is.

 

Then there is another one of my pet peeves, that Old Testament-based “teaching” about giving a tenth of your income each and every week, otherwise known as tithing. It is based on two verses of Scripture, the first from the book of Deuteronomy chapter 14, verse 22, which says, “Be sure and set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year”. According to Scripture, tithing only occurred on certain feast days; Passover, First Fruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23, verses 4-44). But modern churches take this much further than that. Their pastors, deacons and other elders will use a well-known verse from the book of Malachi, the very last book of the Old Testament. It reads as follows: “’Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me’. But you ask, ‘But how do we rob you?’. ‘In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me’” (Malachi chapter three, verses 8-9).

Yet the Bible tells us that the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Law, as it is written, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5: 17). So when certain pastors quote from the Book of Malachi, they are taking it out of context. Still, modern-day preachers and evangelists use these verses to convince their congregations to keep giving more money and other donations as if the above verses were directed at the faithful. In reality, these passages were severe admonishments from God, not towards members of the Church, but rather directed at the leadership. Evidently there was some embezzlement going on because the priests kept too much of the offerings for themselves. This had nothing to do with the offerings of the faithful, and it still doesn’t!

 

The evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules. The world’s young adults long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt. We are taught to abstain from sex before marriage and not to commit adultery, yet all the while those who teach this commit the same sins in secret, as if God doesn’t know what they are doing. These are the same people who condemn same-sex marriage while committing their own immoral sexual behavior, such as being addicted to pornography. According to statistics provided by the National Council on Churches, combined with statistics from the CDC right here in Atlanta, roughly one half of Christian men, and about 40% of Christian women, are addicted to porn. That’s why I’m saying those who teach ‘abstinence’ are a bunch of hypocrites!

 

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders is that the key to drawing people in their twenties and thirties back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving via texting. But here’s the thing: Christians of all ages have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re turned off by anything that smacks of consumerism. What millennial’s really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance, and much more of it. We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

 

People today want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation. We want to be challenged to live simply, care for the poor and oppressed, pursue reconciliation, and become peacemakers. What people today don’t want are anti-abortion, “pro-life activists” who happen to be war hawks who are anti-national-health-care. In other words, they want authenticity, and millennial’s aren’t finding it in the churches. Millennial’s aren’t leaving churches because they don’t find the ‘cool factor’ there; they’re leaving the church because they don’t find Jesus there. Like every generation before ours and so every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus Christ the Son of God and everything he brings, which is life everlasting through his Holy Spirit! But I would encourage church leaders eager to win back young adults to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community. The immorality of fighting wars, of extreme inequality, of the race-based drug wars while opiates are legal, and caring for the fatherless, widows and orphans would be good places to start. The point is, we must all start somewhere, or we will all end up nowhere. Better get going….

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The Gospel From the Inside Out

The ‘Flip Side’ of the Teachings of Christ Jesus

by pastor Paul J. Bern

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Jesus1For this week’s commentary I will, once again but from a different angle, demonstrate that the teachings and presence of the Lord in Spirit and in Truth are more relevant today than ever before. I’m not talking religion and I’m not talking about doctrine, I’m just writing today about Jesus Christ and what he taught, because people everywhere seem to be hungry and thirsty for real truth and authenticity. So today I am once again putting Jesus up on a pedestal where he belongs. My topic is what we now call the Beatitudes of Christ, or just ‘the Beatitudes’ for short. I’m going to give you 2 different sets of quotes, the first from the apostle Matthew’s gospel and the second from Luke’s. These are very powerful instructions from our Lord and Savior, so let’s examine what happens when we obey them, followed by what can happen if we don’t. So let me begin with Matthew chapter 5 and verse 2.

….He began to teach them, saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who came before you.’” (Matthew 5, verses 3-12)

“Poor in spirit” could mean a couple of things. Besides those who are dispirited and disenfranchised, it could also mean people who are mentally depressed, and so by extension Jesus could have been taking about the mentally ill or mentally challenged individuals. Most likely it’s all of the above. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Most often this verse is associated with those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, particularly a spouse or a child. But this can also mean those who have suffered catastrophic losses, like the survivors of hurricanes and wildfires who have nothing but the clothes they’re wearing. They too will be comforted, because they will regain much of what they have lost. Moreover, those who have lost loved ones will see them again, and maybe sooner than we all think.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Why? Because at some point in the fairly near future, all the warlike people will kill each other off because of their addiction to fighting and conflict. They thrive on it, so let it consume them. The meek, mild, compassionate, loving and gentle people will be the only ones left. Let those whose only motivations are anger and rage roast in hell! “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Notice that it reads, “for they will be filled”. That means those who get filled with righteousness will derive theirs from God, through his only Son Jesus Christ. Those whose righteousness is self-generated – this is, generated by the human ego instead relying on the Holy Spirit – is egocentric by nature and is derived from human emotions. So we can conclude that righteousness that is received from above is from God, but self-righteousness is of Satan and is Luciferian in nature. So the two are totally incompatible.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Be forgiving and merciful towards others, and you will get the same in return. Likewise, when we show mercy and kindness towards God’s creations – other people – we can expect the same from God. Conversely, mean people – particularly those with violent tempers and those who seem to be always angry – and those who commit violent crimes such as murder (like school shootings!!) and forcible rape, should expect no mercy from God whatsoever unless they repent of their ways once and for good! “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Since we all have a sinful nature that we must work hard to control (see Romans 3, verses 9-18), people who are “pure in heart” are those who don’t partake in the corrupt nature of the world in which we live. That is, it is not possible for any human being to keep his/her heart pure while they allow themselves to be surrounded by the gross impurities of this world. Greed, malice, hate and prejudice, wall-to-wall sex all the time, pornography, every kind of addiction you can imagine, subliminal messaging and imagery designed to program the human mind are just a sampling of what’s out there. All you “Christians” who look at porn, party at clubs all night, use dangerous drugs like heroin and meth and so-called “spice” (“artificial marijuana” that is neither), you had better take a step or two away from what you’re doing, and from the person you have become, and take a good long look at yourselves. You don’t have much time left to get yourselves right with God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” While this needs no explanation, it also says, ‘Cursed are the mercenaries who kill for profit, the politicians who send our sons and daughters off to fight and die in wars that benefit only a few people and their families. Cursed are those who pollute the earth that God created and divert its resources exclusively for themselves, causing hardship and starvation for hundreds of millions. Cursed are they who deny electricity and clean drinking water to 25% of the planet so they can keep it all for themselves. Cursed are they, for they will be called the sons of the devil! “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” All the Christians who have died or who will die for their faith, fall into this category. So do all whistle-blowers within government and industry, all of whom see, to die mysterious deaths under equally mysterious circumstances. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., presidents Kennedy and Lincoln, as well as Malcolm X all fall into this category.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” If you have ever been cussed out, threatened, or physically attacked by Christian haters, you know exactly what I mean. What’s the flip side of this one? Simple – if one has never had to defend one’s faith, the depth of one’s belief is directly proportional to the vigor with which one is compelled to defend one’s faith. Conversely, if we never talk to anyone about our faith and what Christ has done in your life, our faith lacks depth, which limits how we interact with the Risen Spirit of Christ the Lord. Never be afraid to talk to others about your faith, because you never know when you can help someone. You could even help lead a soul to their Savior, of whom they were previously unaware. Jesus has already saved your soul, hasn’t he (but if not PLEASE ask him now!!)? So go and pay it forward, that’s your job! And now let me briefly quote from Luke’s gospel.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6, verses 24-26) So there you go, that sums things up rather nicely, exactly what God’s Word is saying to us, spoken through his Son Jesus (or ‘Yeshua’ in Hebrew, the native language of Christ). There are two sides to every teaching of Jesus, and sometimes more than that. This is just one of dozens of examples throughout the Bible where God’s Word can mean more than one thing and still be consistent. In the meantime, and in closing, everyone please continue to pray for peace in our nation’s schools, as well as in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula. Shalom….

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Passing the Dream Act and Progressive Christianity Go Together Very Well

Immigration Reform, the Dream Act,

and Progressive Christianity

by pastor Paul J. Bern

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food-not-warThis week’s message revolves around the current topic of immigration reform, a.k.a. the “dreamers”, as opposed to what the Bible says. Not any particular government, faith or denomination, mind you, but none other than the Word of God! We have all heard more than enough from the American media ‘presstitutes’ regarding both sides of this issue as dictated by their Republican and Democrat masters. From conservative to progressive to liberal, as well as independent voters like myself who do not follow the crowd, the issue of ‘illegal immigration’ festers like an open wound across America without any first aid being applied. Like any other kind of serious wound, illegal immigration is an American political issue that needs immediate attention.

 

First let me say that I was formerly on the conservative side of this issue due to the fact that had once lost a good job in the computer/IT profession due to my being replaced by workers who had just arrived on H1B work visas. So, I was understandably bitter because I had lost my job to an imported worker despite the fact that I was more qualified. Actually it wasn’t just myself either. The company I was working for at that time had laid off everyone in the branch office where I worked and replaced us all with a batch of workers from the Philippines with green cards. At the time I felt like my career had been stolen right out from under me, and all attempts to replace this job of mine had yielded only temporary jobs that lasted from several months duration to as little as one day.

 

Then one day in the early summer of 2008, I took yet another temporary job out in west Texas, and so I put most of my things in storage and left Atlanta for parts previously unknown to me. I had never been to Texas before, and I found a completely different culture than what I was accustomed to back in Atlanta. There were three things I noticed immediately soon after my arrival. The first was the oppressive heat and humidity, which made Atlanta seem mild by comparison. The second was that people ate burritos in place of burgers. There were burrito joints on nearly every corner and a few McDonald’s, and that was just about it. The third thing I noticed was that approximately one third of the population was Hispanic (or Latino/Latina, take your pick). One of the first things I remember thinking when I realized that one third of the population spoke only Spanish was that this must be ground zero for so-called illegal immigration, or so I thought at the time.

 

But I spent four months out there in Texas, and as my days turned into weeks I began to notice little things that seemed insignificant in and of themselves. For example, I saw Latino men – and a few women as well – hanging around temp agencies, construction sites, and even at a U-haul truck rental company in the hopes of getting a job at least for that day. I remember being struck by the parallels between what those immigrants were having to endure as they searched for work and a piece of the so-called American dream compared to my own job search experiences. Some of these workers lived at homeless shelters, others in campers or vans, and the more prosperous ones lived in rented mobile homes or apartments. I saw the same thing day after day, with hundreds of workers gathered around in groups of as few as eight or ten, and as many as several dozen men and women. And so I found myself beginning to question my own intense dislike of these immigrant workers.

 

Before I go any further with this message, I think I should point out that my basis for resenting many of these immigrant workers was economic rather than racial, and more social than cultural. Nevertheless, my beliefs and opinions were heavily slanted towards an American rather than a more realistic world view, and so I found myself beginning to question my motives for feeling the way I did. One day soon after I did some research on-line and at the local library regarding this issue, and here is what I found out. The average worker in Mexico earns the equivalent of about $50.00 per month USD, and this is so because of reasons that I was previously only generally aware of – namely, the differences in currency valuation between the two countries, and the fact that Mexico is by and large a third world country that happens to border the United States. When you live in a third world country,m the workers earn third world level ‘wages’.

When these same workers come to the US they make minimum wage, more or less, which is currently still stuck at only $7.25 per hour in Texas as well as Georgia. Some are paid substantially less while those who enforce the rules look the other way. Since a sizable chunk of these workers make less than minimum wage while being paid in cash under the table, I’m going to use a rounded out number of $7.00 hourly. A 40-hour work week at seven dollars an hour yields gross pretax earnings of $280.00 per week before taxes and Social Security. But since many of these workers don’t work full time their take home pay is even less. At any rate, this works out to gross earnings of $1,120.00 per month for a 40 hour week. If each worker pays a regular tax rate as we Americans do, and many don’t because their employers are cheating the tax man by paying in cash, they wind up with an average net take-home pay of approximately $740.00 per month.

 

I challenge anybody out there to try and live even for only a month on such substandard pay as this! Seven hundred stinking dollars – go ahead and try that! I challenge anybody who thinks they can live on such an absurdly small amount of money for an entire month, especially if you’re a homeowner. In order to better understand this, instead of Mexico and the US being the two countries involved, let’s use the US and Canada instead. If any given American working professional were offered a job in Canada, what would that be in relation to the US and Mexico? When we do the math, for any Mexican/Latino who emigrates to America, the jump from fifty bucks a month to 740 dollars equals a pay increase that is 11.4 times the going rate in Mexico or, for that matter, any central American country.

 

Now, let’s contrast that to an American jumping ship and leaving the US to go and work and live in Canada. With an average net earnings of roughly $35,000.00 annually (before taxes) for American workers, if any of us were to be offered a job in Canada – or for that matter any other developed or emerging country worldwide – at 11.4 times the going rate here in the US, that would amount to an increase in take-home pay to $399,000.00 annually before taxes. OK, so let’s ask ourselves a simple question: Would you or I be interested in a pay increase of 11.4 times the amount we have been earning previously? Without a doubt!! So, now you know why the Latino/Latina folks are migrating – legally or not – to the US in search of work. It’s not because they are foreign invaders on an economic and social offensive to overrun America. It’s because they are economic refugees from the third world who are searching for a better life for themselves and their families! So, instead of resenting or even hating this influx of foreign workers, the Christian thing to do would be to reach out to the Hispanic communities in all fifty states and minister to them. Like so many long-term unemployed here in America, they don’t want a handout, they simply want to go to work. But I felt convicted in the Holy Spirit for harboring such negative and bitter thoughts, and I repented immediately and have never looked back. Sometimes it’s best to simply admit we’re wrong and move on. So let this be a cautionary lesson for everyone.

 

Showing compassion to foreigners and strangers is central to biblical teaching and morality, and there are quite a few people of faith who have started joining the fight to pass immigration reform, including myself. Congress needs to pass this into law because it is the morally right thing to do. Those who base their position on immigration reform on unacknowledged or hidden racial prejudice, irrational fear, or worries about losing elections to far-right ideologues are too often the same people who loudly proclaim their religious convictions as guiding their political decisions in violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. Politicians who are professing Christians need to consider what their faith has to say about immigration if they want to be considered authentic. If they oppose reform and refuse to offer compassion to our immigrant brothers and sisters, they should justify their positions on moral grounds (if they can). We join with other faith communities in asking for a moral and religious conversation about immigration reform – not just a political one. God’s passionate, abiding concern for immigrants and foreigners, strangers and travelers – and for our neighbors – is obvious to anyone reading through Scripture.

 

It is the biblical call to “welcome the stranger” and Jesus’ concern for “the least of these” that inspires and motivates us. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself … ” (Leviticus 19:33-34). The biblical word “ger” for the foreigners in our midst occurs an astounding 92 times in the Hebrew scriptures, with the consistent instruction to protect them. In the New Testament, the stranger, and all who are vulnerable, are at the very heart of the Gospel (Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10, verses 25-37) is just one example of many). In the book of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for foreigners is the defining mark of God’s kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36). Now let me ask you all – when’s the last time you did that for somebody? When’s the last time you did any of the above for a stranger?

 

That evangelical as well as mainstream Christians would finally act to reform the immigration system should surprise no one who has a conscience, not just for theological reasons, but also for moral reasons. Undocumented immigrants have joined our congregations; we understand the problem firsthand. They are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. And we know that by reforming our immigration laws, we can create a system that also reflects the best values of our nation and the highest ideals of our faith. We act because, as the book of James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.”

 

For me, I think the biggest change hasn’t been in the pulpit, it’s been in the pews and out in the streets. It’s one thing when 11 million people are a statistic. But it’s an entirely different matter when one of those 11 million is your friend, a human being who you now know as a neighbor, or as a co-worker or a worshiper. Our faith has always been about compassion and it compels us to do something. If we take the principle of compassion out of the Bible, it wouldn’t be the Bible any more. Compassion is indeed all over the Bible. I pray it will also be found in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and in the workplace and our neighborhoods and subdivisions. It’s time for Christians in and out of Congress to stand up in support of immigration reform, and for the Dreamers, or to explain why they won’t — as Christians. If they follow their faith, we will see the miracle we need. And let’s remember that there is no such thing as an illegal human being.

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