Category Archives: religion

Jesus keeps up with the times, but some churches are barely hanging on

Why Technology Is Reinventing

Church As We Have Known It

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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Don't Look Back
The celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible was back in 2011, and Bible publishers are still ostentatiously commemorating that landmark by producing an abundance of gorgeous hand-bound versions complete with illustrations – for a premium price, of course. The hoopla is entirely justified, since the King James Bible revolutionized Bible reading, bringing Scripture into a common vernacular for the first time for the English-speaking world. Although I personally use other versions (NIV, NLT, & Amplified), it is not too much to say that the King James Bible – mass produced as it was – democratized religion by taking it out of the hands of the clerical few and giving it to the many, thanks to a cutting edge technology from back then called the printing press.

 

Today, another much bigger revolution in the Church is underway. Today’s technology goes a giant step further, making Scripture – in any language and any translation – accessible to anyone on earth with a decent mobile phone. It need not be a “Smart-phone” anymore, just a basic one with a decent sized screen is all you need. Just like the 500-year-old Protestant Reformation, which was aided by the advent of the printing press and which helped give birth to the King James Bible, changes wrought by new Web-based technology have the ability to expand the reach and scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ like we previously never have. In the face of church leaders who claimed that only they could interpret the Bible for the common people, Reformation leaders like Martin Luther taught that nothing supersedes the authority of the Word itself. “A simple layman armed with Scripture,” Luther wrote, “is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”

 

In that vein, digital technology gives users the text, plain and simple, without the interpretive lens of established authorities. And it lets users share interpretations with other non-authorities, like family members, friends and coworkers. With the Bible on iPhone’s, iPad’s and ‘tablets’ of various kinds, believers can bypass constraining religious structures – otherwise known as denominations and brick-and-mortar churches – in favor of a more individualized connection with God. We can’t see God, and we can’t see the internet visually, yet people who have a hunger and a thirst for God – or at the very least some power greater than themselves – connect with God this way. This website is based on that fact, that there is an emerging new power outlet that we can plug in to that is like a direct link to God. Churches are getting on the Web in droves because they are discovering the same thing. There is an intensity now, a burning desire to bring ourselves as close as we can get to God, because millions of Christians all over the world are beginning to recognize that we are living in the Last Days. There is now a growing sense of urgency to get as many souls into God’s kingdom as can be because we are all running out of time! The more ways we can find to do this, the better.

 

This helps solve a problem that Christian leaders are increasingly articulating; that even among people who say that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and Savior, too many folks don’t read their Bibles. Here in the 21st century, more than a third of those who self-identify as born-again Christians rarely or never read the Bible. They don’t even own one! Among ‘unaffiliated’ people – that is, Americans who don’t belong to a religious congregation – more than two thirds say they don’t read the Bible. Especially among 18-to-29 year old’s, Bible reading has come to feel like homework, associated with “right” interpretations and “wrong ones,” and accompanied by stern lectures from the pulpit. Today’s young Christians, or “millenials” if you like, have come to expect experiences that appear unscripted and interactive, which allows them to be open and honest with their questions. To put it simply, they are hungry and thirsty for an authenticity that can only be found by reading the Bible. If anyone reading this does not own a Bible because they can’t afford it, please send me your email addresses in the responses below, or contact me directly from this link.

 

This yearning for a more directly connected faith – including Bible readings and verses to inspire or console wherever and whenever they’re needed – is being met with an enthusiastic embrace. For growing numbers of young people, a leather-bound Bible sitting like an artifact on a stand in the family living room has no allure. It’s not an invitation to exploration or questioning. Young people want to absorb their spirituality the way they do their news or their music. They want to browse on Facebook, Tweet on Twitter, link up on Linked In, and Google whatever is left. They are also streaming Christian content on their various digital devices directly off the Web, bypassing cable TV and printed media completely. Thus we now have products such as “Youversion”, a digital Bible available for free on iTunes and developed by a 34-year-old technology buff and Christian pastor from Oklahoma named Bobby Grunewald. In an interview on a Christian TV channel recently, he said he conceived of it while on a layover at Chicago O’Hara International Airport, wishing he had a Bible to read. “What we’re really trying to address is, how do we increase engagement in the Bible?” he said. Now available in 113 versions and 41 languages, including Arabic, “Youversion” has a community component that allows users to share thoughts and insights on Bible verses with friends. It has been installed on more than 20 million Smart-phones since 2008.

 

Traditionalists (and I’m definitely not one of those) worry that technology allows young believers to practice religion without committing to what many churches call “a church home” – and they’re right. What they are really afraid of is that donations will falter as a result of this development. The very idea of not having the church participants right there with them so these hireling pastors can pass around a collection basket (or two) completely unnerves these types of ‘leaders’. That’s how you can tell if a pastor is in the ministry for the right reasons. Let me give you an example. I once watched a Michigan pastor named Rob Bell on a Christian video that I streamed off the Web. It was the eve of the publication of his new bestseller “Love Wins” (I don’t recall the date on the video, but it was a couple of years ago). It was said on the show that after the book-signing, many of Pastor Bell’s acolytes said they felt they knew Rob through his sermons, which they regularly downloaded off the internet, even though they had never met him. They hailed from places like Australia, South Africa and New Jersey. They listen to Bell while they’re working out, or commuting to work. They get their religion – like their meals – on the run. Pastor Bell is going about this in the right way, and traditional churches with their comparatively high overhead are being left behind in the dust of history.

 

The family Bible has long been given as a gift on graduation day or other big occasions and inscribed with special dates such as births, marriages, or deaths. Some of these Bibles would go on to become collector’s items that are treasured, protected and preserved. I can see a world in the not-too-distant future when the Bible may exist primarily online, or on a ‘thumb-drive’, especially due to the number of trees we must otherwise cut down to make the paper on which to print them. For right now, worship services and Bible studies are still done almost exclusively as public gatherings in a house of worship, or sometimes in a “home church”. But more and more people are beginning to trend towards Web-based Churches that offers a more personalized experience. As a result for some, the necessity of physically gathering each week in the same place with the same people becomes a traditional form of worship that has begun to fade into the past. Moreover, more and more people are getting by without the expense of owning and insuring (and fixing!) a motor vehicle. Without a doubt, these two trends represent a new crisis for organized religion if it has difficulty adapting to these new technologies that can reach audiences that number in the millions. This question already has organized religion seeking to redefine what it means to be a body of believers. Besides, with all this new technology, the faithful can now have church as little or as often as they want (but often is definitely better, even if it’s for only 5 minutes each time). Just remember to make sure your worship is as authentic as the Lord and Savior you worship! Search your hearts for the answer to this question. God sees all and He knows all. Above all, never stop praying and praising Jesus, because he’s coming back real soon.

 

 

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Free book excerpt #12 from pastor and Progressive Christian author Rev. Paul J. Bern

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

Find out more by clicking here

Which Is Better, Being Lawful Or Being Faithful?

[Galatians chapter 3, verses 1-14]

As we begin this week’s study we’ll be looking at the first half of Galatians chapter three. In it the apostle Paul continues to take the church at Galatia to task because of certain heretical teachings that were going on at the time. Newly converted Gentile Christians were intermingling with newly converted Jews who embraced Christ as the Jewish messiah. Evidently the non-Jews were being instructed by unnamed Jewish converts to practice and live their new faith while also adopting the Jewish customs of their new brethren in Christ Jesus. Paul continues with his blistering criticism of this practice as we begin at verse one.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing – if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’. [Genesis 15:6] Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance of Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you’. [Genesis 12:3] So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Gal. 3, verses 1-9)

Here we see Paul summing up his point in one sentence when he wrote, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Since the observation of the Law of Moses – the first five books of the Old Testament – was fulfilled by the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Paul is simply stating that to continue observing the Old Law and its customs is both pointless and unnecessary. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ is the embodiment of the new law, replacing the old. After spending all the time converting them and teaching them and founding a church, Paul is clearly exasperated with the church at Galatia because they had strayed from what he taught them was the Spiritual foundation of that church, none other than Jesus himself. It is not possible to obtain salvation through Christ by our good works alone, although it is good that we all do so whenever and wherever we can. We can do so only two ways according to Scripture; the first is by maintaining a totally committed faith in Christ and his Salvation, and the second is by grace that God bestows upon us through his Son. Grace is defined as unmerited favor, the spiritual equivalent of a free pass. Even though none of us deserves it due to our sins, grace is given to us freely as a token of God’s love for us when we accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. So if you ever need evidence that God really does love you, just think about His grace as you bask in its warm light. If you are already a believer, just focus on that in your mind. And if you aren’t yet a believer, now would be a good time to become one. Simply ask Jesus to come and live inside your heart, and to stay there forever.

The other thing the apostle Paul explains (or more likely reiterated) to the church at Galatia is the concept of unity between Jew and Gentile when he wrote, “Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith”… Paul is clearly citing this as another reason to put away the traditions of old and replacing them with the then-new concept of Jesus Christ as the Jewish and Gentile messiah and as the Son of God. If any of you read my studies on the book of Romans, Paul touched on that same topic when he wrote, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of Son-ship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ …” (Romans 8: 15-17) So you see, Paul was literally telling the Galatian congregation that they were already adopted into the family of God, and that there was nothing extra or special that they needed to do to join the family. Moreover, since our adoption into God’s eternal family is through Jesus Christ, whose lineage can be traced all the way back to God, that makes us all Jewish by adoption just as it says in Romans. I don’t know about you, but I find the prospect of being an adopted Jew quite appealing. If that is the genealogy of my Lord and Savior, then that is good enough for me. Let’s continue now and conclude today’s study beginning at verse ten.

All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ [Deut. 27:26] Clearly no one is justified before God by the Law, because ‘the righteous will live by faith’. [Habakkuk 2:4] The Law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them’. [Lev. 18:5] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.‘ [Deut. 21:23] He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3, verses 10-14)

The apostle Paul repeatedly quotes the Old Testament – or more accurately the Law of Moses, which was still very much the religious tradition of that time in that part of the world – in order to finish making his point. Paul’s literacy was the exception rather than the rule in those days, and he uses his educational level to his advantage right here. Clearly, Paul writes, “ … no one is justified before God by the Law, because ‘the righteous will live by faith’…”. This is the crux of the matter, which is that no one can enter into God’s kingdom – or the third heaven, as Paul called it – based on their good deeds and legalistic achievements. The only way to salvation is through our uncompromising and undiluted faith in the saving power of the blood of Christ. There is no other way by which any of us may enter heaven, and there are no exceptions allowed based on the teachings of Christ. If anyone tries to tell you any different, get away from those people and those churches because they are teaching a false doctrine, and they will be held accountable. But it is the truth, Jesus said, that will make you free, and anyone who is free in Him is truly and irrevocably free. And that’s the best news of all.

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Many ministers need to re-read their Bibles if they want to be effective

Those Who Sugarcoat the Bible Dilute Its Message.

They Will Be Judged by God!

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

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wake_up

The Bible is a gritty book. It’s very raw and very real. It deals with people just like us, just as needy and screwed up as we are, encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without us. That’s exactly why Jesus died for each of us, only to rise again from death and the grave on the morning of the 3rd day. Yet despite that, it seems like some Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really can be. Although the factuality of the Bible through the belief in the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit is the foundation of all the Scriptures (with Jesus being the cornerstone), the Bible has a way of being just as earthy as a day of doing yard work around the house (if you’re lucky enough to still have one of those after the real estate crash of 2008). But there are others who feel the need to sanitize God by making His Word politically correct. God has already instilled true correctness within each of us because He alone is our source and our strength. Which is why any true Jesus follower has no time or patience for political correctness. I’m told that’s one reason why my weekly blog is becoming so popular.

 

For example, look in any modern translation of Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags”, as the more sanitized King James says. But the original Greek and Hebrew didn’t say “filthy rags”; it said “menstrual rags.” But that sounded a little too gross to the Bible’s 17th century English translators, so they just relabeled it ‘filthy’ instead. And while churches avoiding talking much about Jesus being naked when He was on the cross, let’s pretend Paul said that he considered his good deeds “a pile of garbage” in Philippians 3:8 rather than a pile of crap, as the original Hebrew and Greek would have more accurately been translated. Oh yeah, and let’s definitely not mention the ten commandments in the Old Testament. That might be unpopular. Never mind that between the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy there are a total of 630 of them. That could expose people as being the sinners that we all truly are. God forbid they should be so ‘offended’!

 

What’s the point to this rant? God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. God couldn’t care less about political correctness, and I feel the same way. When I open my mouth, I don’t care if anybody ‘likes’ me or not, and so it is with God.
After all, it’s better to command respect than to desire popularity. God intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured and dying planet. There are dozens of Psalms that are complaints and heart-wrenching cries of despair to God – not holy-sounding, reverently worded soliloquies. Take Psalm 77:1-3: “I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help”.

 

And rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes vivid descriptions of murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. According to the apostle Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us, as he wrote: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”(1st Corinthians 10, verses11-13). So obviously they were meant to be retold without editing out all the things we don’t consider nice or agreeable. I have gradually arrived at the conclusion over time that the Scriptures include such graphic material to show how far we as the sum of humanity have fallen and how far God is willing to come to rescue us from ourselves. God is much more interested in honesty than piety, and in our Spiritual state rather than in how religious we are. And that’s what He gives us throughout Scripture by telling the stories of people who struggled with the same issues, questions and temptations we face today.

 

Peter struggled with doubt and with a bad temper. We read all about it when Jesus is arrested at Gethsemane (Luke 22, verses 49-51). Elijah dealt with depression; Naomi raged with bitterness against God; Hannah struggled for years under the burden of her unanswered prayers. David had an affair and then arranged to have his lover’s husband killed. Noah was a drunk and Moses was on the run from a murder charge. Even Job came to a place where he found it necessary to make a covenant with his eyes not to lust after young girls (Job 31:1). Was it not Jesus who said, “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”? It’s all a matter of priorities. “I desire mercy”, Jesus said, “not sacrifice”. Let’s not boast to God about how often we attend church, or how much one may “tithe” each week. Never mind your rituals, Jesus was saying. ‘Tell me about how much you did for others whether they deserved it or not. I want to know how well you treated others, and I want to know what you did to make a positive difference in their lives’. That’s all that matters to Jesus in the end! We either kept his commandments or we didn’t.

 

It’s easy to make “Bible heroes” (as Protestants might say) or “saints” (as Catholics might refer to them) out to be bigger than life, immune from the temptations that everyone faces. I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as being pious or condescending. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton because he was perceived as associating with “sinners” (Matthew 11:19). His first miracle was changing water into wine, and it is documented in all four gospels that wine was served and consumed at the Last Supper. (So, people who insist that one must be a teetotaler to go to heaven when they die are not only incorrect, they are judging people they don’t even know.)

 

Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” Following Jesus is more than just being dutiful or subservient, but instead it is richly rewarding to the point of being exhilarating! Our church services can’t hold a candle to what heaven will be like. Jesus promised us that heaven would be like a homecoming celebration, an enormous block party, and a wedding feast to which all are invited, all at the same time! This idea was too radical for the religious leaders during the time of Christ, and in some cases it still is. There are too many churches today who are more concerned about vain traditions and pompous religious rituals that aren’t even in the Bible than they are about partying with Jesus. And that’s why they keep missing out! That’s why many of us miss out. Pardon me, pastor, but did you say ‘party with Jesus’? Yeah, I sure did! However, before I go any further I am well aware that there are some individuals who simply cannot touch alcoholic beverages at all, but I’m sure that the eternal party in heaven will be far better than that. There are still others who abstain by choice, and I have no problem with that whatsoever. I’m only saying that I don’t think it’s a sin to drink unless it is done to excess.

 

According to Jesus, the truly spiritual life is one marked by freedom rather than compulsion (“So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” John 8:36), and by love rather than ritual (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. ‘Well said, teacher’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices’.” (Mark 12:30-33).

 

Another hallmark of a truly Spiritual life is one focused on peace rather than guilt (“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27). I don’t believe some will ever recognize their need for the light until they have seen the depths of darkness. So God isn’t afraid to get down and dirty with us about life and temptation and forgiveness and grace. Only when the Bible seems relevant to us (which it is), only when the characters seem real to us (which they were), and only then will the message of redemption become personal for us (which it was always meant to be). Jesus saves us from the dry, dusty duties of religion and tradition and frees us to cut loose and celebrate! We don’t need to edit God. It’s our brains and our hearts that need a good editing. We need to let Him be the author of our new lives and the construction superintendent for our growing and expanding faith. The time is getting short, people! It’s time for all of us to lead more Spiritual lives, because Jesus will be returning soon, and at a time when you do not expect him. What’s at stake is where we will spend eternity, and there is no more serious subject than that.

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Free book excerpt #8 from Author and Pastor Paul J. Bern

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

To watch a short video about the book, click here

 

 Preparing Ourselves For the Day of the Lord

[1st Thessalonians chapter 5]

When I closed out 1st Thessalonians chapter four last week, you no doubt recall my interpretation that we are to be living each day of our lives as if it will be our last. I cannot overemphasize this important truth, nor is it possible to diminish its importance. God is watching everything we do and listening to everything we say, and for a man like myself being in a position of Christian leadership, I am held to a higher standard by the Lord, because what applies to church members applies to me twice as much. Plus, as our Lord’s return for his Church continues to get ever closer, I fervently hope that others will follow my example and be continually readying themselves for His coming. And this, my dear readers, is a goal worth attaining at any time. It is at this point that the apostle Paul takes up where he left off, starting at the beginning of chapter five.

Now, brothers, about times and dates we need not write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying ‘Peace and Safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation from our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1st Thessalonians 5, verses 1-11)

Paul paints a vivid picture of the coming of the Lord. Of course, one might ask if this is pertaining to the rapture of the church, or to the Lord’s triumphant return three and a half years later (see the Book of Daniel chapter 12, etc). If you are one of those who has studied the rapture, the tribulation and the signs that we are living in the end times (never mind what you may have seen on TV or at the movies), then it is essential that we understand what Paul meant here. When he wrote, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”, I believe this warning was meant primarily for the Church. Be ready, watch and pray that we receive purification from the Holy Spirit, so that as members of the Bride of Christ we may be found “without spot or blemish”.

While people are saying ‘Peace and Safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly…”. According to prophecy, before the Antichrist can come to power, World War 3 will have to occur first (also known as the Gog-Magog war of Ezekiel 39 and 39). There will also have been a series of natural disasters that will have occurred by this point in time (I don’t have time to explain that part in detail, so please bear with me). People will be clamoring globally to be free to live in peace, and to be safe from natural disasters; “… and they will not escape” can be translated into modern English as saying, “Total destruction will overpower them without warning, and they won’t stand a chance”. Nobody knows exactly what this means since all those other events have not yet occurred, and speculation would be counterproductive. All I can tell you is that the Antichrist will be in power for a total of seven years, and that one of his first acts will be to negotiate the peace treaty that ends World War 3. All the countries involved will adhere to this peace agreement for three and a half years. At that point the Antichrist will do something that breaks that same peace deal while elevating himself to something supposedly equivalent to God, as if there were such a thing. It is at this point that the persecution of Christians will greatly increase, and this will be happening in the US as well. This will be the “acid test” for all of those who identify themselves as being Christians. Either we take the mark of the beast and worship the Antichrist as god here on earth, or we refuse and continue to worship Jesus as the Son of God in heaven. Those who do worship Jesus will find themselves being martyred by the forces of the Antichrist. A time is coming when our Christianity will cost us our life. What will you choose? To quote the prophet Jeremiah, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. Since the Lord died on the cross for my sins, I would not have any problem returning the favor, knowing that like himself, he will raise me from the dead to eternal life. We should all be willing to do the same.

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” Remember who we are in Christ! We are the adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We were bought at a very steep price, one that no man would be willing to pay. We were adopted as sons and daughters of Jesus our Kinsman Redeemer, making all of us Jewish by adoption (see Romans 8: 15-17 or Galatians 4: 4-7, among others). We don’t belong to the night and we never did, we were born for the day and for the light from our very conception. “Let’s be alert and self-controlled”, Paul wrote. You won’t be ready to meet the Lord at the rapture if you’re in bed sleeping off a hangover, or after playing video games all night long. As I have said before, it’s time for us all to get our priorities straight. Jesus first, worship him first and always give him top priority in your daily living and you’ll find yourself living with an internal peace that was neither present nor possible before. I’m speaking from experience, and if God can do this for me then he can do so for you too. But we must ask Him first. Sitting around waiting for God to give any of us a hand-out will accomplish nothing, unless one considers wasting time an accomplishment. I most definitely don’t!

God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation from our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”. I will sum this up in one sentence – we’re not here to be on the receiving end of the tribulation that Jesus spoke about, but rather we will be protected from it if only we remain faithful to his Word. “If you love me”, Jesus said, “keep my commandments”. Jesus died so that we may have eternal life with him in heaven, a new dwelling place that we have not yet seen. Obeying His commandments is the second prerequisite, believing that he is the Son of God is the first. Having written that, let’s conclude our study starting at verse twelve.

Now we ask you brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (1st Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 12-28)

Respect the value of hard work, Paul is saying, and especially those who do so. Dirty hands and sweat can turn an otherwise boring day into a really fun one. This is especially true of the younger men and women who are still able-bodied enough to do so (unfortunately, that is no longer the case with me). Hard physical work is dignified provided that it is done constructively. “Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Build each other up, don’t tear each other down! Make the idle people either get off their butts and get to work or move on and stop standing in the way. It is written in the law of Moses, “If a man will not work he shall not eat”. Yet by the same token we are commanded to “be patient with everyone”. Give the slower people a chance to catch up. Better yet, why not donate your time and tutor a few to help them along? Now that would be in keeping with the Holy Spirit of Christ!

“ …always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” Sometimes I think the secular world understands this better than modern churches do today. Immediately after recent natural disasters here in America, there were armies on volunteers that descended on these devastated areas and helped clean up, doing whatever needed to be done. What surprised me was when I found out that up to half of these volunteers don’t bother going to church. Yet they understood the command and answered the calling that God obviously put on them. “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” Let the Holy Spirit always be in control of everyone, every life, in every situation and in all circumstances. Check out everything you see, hear or read to determine its value, or the lack thereof. Put problem people completely out of your life if that’s what it takes to get free from negative influences and all forms of evil. Hold on to the good and simply let everything else go. Such timeless wisdom!

May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Paul closes out by replaying that theme of being found holy and blameless before the Lord, with the understanding that this is only possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. No one can do this by themselves, but only through complete reliance on the Holy Spirit can such a noble goal as this be achieved. The key is in the last sentence, “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Total reliance on Christ will enable him to cause us to be holy, pure and blameless in the sight of God. Instead of being self-reliant as we are in most situations, we are to step aside and let Christ do the work, not for us but through us as we become willing conduits for his unequaled Spiritual power. That is the ultimate meaning of unity through Christ. Shalom!

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The Immigration Debate, president Trump and Jesus

The Progressive Christian Approach

to Immigration Reform

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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My message for today revolves around what the media and our politicians are saying regarding the topic of immigration reform, as opposed to what the Bible says. We have all heard both sides of this issue from Republicans and Democrats, from conservative to progressive to liberal, as well as independent voters like myself. President Trump went on the record earlier this week to advocate for even tighter immigration requirements than those already in place. I myself 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 foreign workers despite the fact that I was more qualified.

 

Then one day in the late spring of 2008, I took a contract job out in west Texas under very favorable terms for myself. So, I put most of my things in storage with the intention of coming back to Atlanta where I live after my contract job expired. I had never been to Texas before, and I found a completely different culture than what I was accustomed to back east. There were three things I noticed immediately soon after my arrival. The first was the oppressive heat and humidity, the second was that people ate burritos in place of burgers, and the third was that approximately one third of the population was Latino. The first thing I remember thinking when I saw that one third of the population spoke only Spanish was that this must be ground zero for ‘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 seemingly insignificant little things that began adding up to something much more. 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 Latino folks were having to endure as they searched for work, and a piece of the so-called ‘American dream’, compared to my own previous 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. And so I found myself beginning to question my own intense dislike of these immigrant workers. I mean, all they really wanted was a chance at a new life in a safer and cleaner environment. What’s wrong with that?

 

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. Nevertheless, thanks to my “education”, my beliefs and opinions had been heavily slanted towards an American rather than a world view. So I found myself beginning to question my own motives for feeling the way I did. As I did some research on-line, what I found explained the cognitive dissonance between what I had been “taught” and what I saw. The average worker in Mexico earns the equivalent of about $50.00 per month USD. 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 here in Georgia. 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 for the whole country. 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. 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. But when you compare that to making only $50.00 (USD) in Mexico, $740.00 must seem super-tantalizing to our Latino brothers and sisters.

 

I challenge anybody out there to try and live even for only a month on substandard pay such as this! The bottom line is that this is impossible while still meeting our monthly expenses in a timely manner. 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? 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 or South 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 $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? The obvious answer is, of course we would! So, now you know why the Latino 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 like certain people always say. 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 Latino communities in all fifty states and minister to them. I don’t mean giving them a handout, either. 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 previously harboring such negative and bitter thoughts, and I have long since repented of this.

 

Showing compassion to foreigners and strangers is central to biblical teaching and morality. “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 22: 21) Moreover, there are quite a few Christians who have started joining the fight to pass immigration reform, including myself. Congress needs to pass immigration reform into law because it is the morally right thing to do. Those whose position on reform is based on political fear, unacknowledged racial prejudice or worries about losing primaries to far-left ideologues are too often the same people who trumpet their religious convictions as guiding their decisions in public life – 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 oppose reform and refuse to offer shelter or compassion to our immigrant brothers and sisters, they should (hopefully) begin asking themselves why. We must 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). 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 is just one example of many). In the book of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for them 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).

 

That evangelical as well as mainstream Christians would finally act to reform the immigration system should surprise no one, and not just for theological 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 other thing altogether when one of those 11 million is your friend, a human being who you now know as a father, as a husband, as a mother, as a co-worker, or as a worshiper. Our faith has always been about love, empathy and compassion. It compels us to do something, putting others before ourselves. 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, it’s written in between every line! I pray it will also be found in the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. It’s time for Christians in Congress to stand up in support of immigration reform, 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. Everybody has the right to be here.

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Another free book excerpt from Rev. Paul J. Bern

“Sole Survivor” by Rev. Paul J. Bern

A free sample from the book’s author!

Watch the video at http://youtu.be/5Bxi7x0nUc0

Available in print, digital or audio formats on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, Apple and Goodreads. To learn more, go to www.pcmatl.org/books-and-donations 

 

 

From that day forward, the relationship between my adoptive father and myself was continually adversarial.

My parents both became nearly impossible to please, and I absolutely hated school anyway, so there we were at an impasse. They were always insisting that I get better grades, and I would respond by doing just enough work to get a passing grade. So every so often I would get another whipping with a belt, particularly around report card time. Sometimes it was because I had a lot of behavioral problems at school, other times it was for an unsatisfactory report card, and once for going over to the house of someone I knew from church to listen to their Beatles records (the Beatles were a very big deal during this time). I remember one day I just sat in my room after enduring yet another beating – I don’t remember what it was for but that no longer matters – and cried to the point of sobbing uncontrollably about my whole situation. I was saying, “Why me, Lord? Why does it always have to be me that gets beat with a belt? Is my whole life going to be like this? Is there no way it can get any better?” It was at just that point that I heard what seemed like a soft, low voice. Although not audible in the human sense, it was just barely audible deep down from within me, and it said, “You can’t possibly imagine the things I have in store for you”. I did not realize it at the time, but I had just had my first encounter with the true God. Although I understood the words well enough, I failed to grasp their meaning because I was only about eight years old. But I have always remembered what happened when I was alone in my room that day.

The next time I had an encounter with God – which interestingly enough never occurred when I was in church – was about a year later. By this time the abuse that had been going on had gradually gotten worse. The animosity between my parents and myself had grown a lot right along with it, and the beatings had become more frequent. I remember hating not just my parents, but my entire family situation as well as detesting school. Quite frankly, I was bored nearly to the point of insanity with school. Second grade was a rehashing of first grade, third grade a rehashing of the second, and so on, as if we needed to learn everything twice in order to grasp its meaning. I have heard some talk and read on the Internet about the “dumbing down” of America primary and secondary schools. Well, this has been going on ever since the 1960’s at least, and probably even before that. It’s just that no one noticed it at first because it began so gradually. To this day, education reform has been one of the causes I have undertaken in my adult life.

When Is Jesus Coming Back? Nobody Knows!

Clarifying the “Rapture” of the Church

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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Jesus in the clouds

For as long as I have been alive, which is just over 6 decades, there has been endless talk and rampant speculation about the ‘rapture’, or literally snatching away, of all the real followers of Christ within 3-7 years of the return, or Second Coming, of our Lord and Savior. There are 3 versions or explanations of the “rapture” of the Church, also known in the Book of Revelation as the Bride of Christ. But before we get into that, let’s have a look at one of several passages in the New Testament about the ‘rapture’ so we can get a little background. “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to God’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet our Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1st Thessalonians 4, verses 13-18)

There is considerable symbolism being used here by the apostle Paul, the man who wrote the above passage of Scripture, but its nature is not complex. The phrase “those who fall asleep” is an ancient expression for what we now call ‘the deceased’ or ‘the dearly departed’ or ‘the late whoever’ and so on. But Paul then comes right back and sums up the essence of Christianity in one simple sentence: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” So right here Paul establishes that all who were sincere believers in Christ Jesus while they were living will rise again just as Jesus did, when he returns for us. Despite those who doubt or make fun of Biblical teachings such as these, they will all come to pass exactly as the Bible says, of that you can be sure!

The apostle Paul then closes out this train of thought with: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet our Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” Notice that when the Lord returns, he will not descend to the earth. We’re going to meet Him in the air instead. I suspect that one main reason could be due to an excess of radiation due to nuclear fallout from a catastrophic war. Like, say, World War Three, for instance. Hold that thought, because I’m going to tell you why in just a minute. But first, I need to explain the difference between pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, and post-tribulation “raptures”. Please stay with me, everyone, this will be easy to understand, but I have to be careful how I explain all this.

‘Pre-tribulation’ means the dead believers in Christ, along with all who are alive at the time of their resurrection, will be taken up at the beginning of the 7 year Tribulation period. ‘Mid-tribulation’ means at the halfway point, or roughly 3.5 years after it starts, and ‘post-tribulation means we’ll all be stuck here until it’s over and Jesus returns to rule the earth. First, allow me to reference 2 short passages of Scripture that completely disproves the first scenario, the ‘pre-tribulation rapture’. The first is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 24, beginning at verse 3: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, some of the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us’, they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the Christ’, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end shall be saved. And this gospel will be preached to the whole world, and then the end will come.’” (Matt. 24, verses 3-14)

When asked about this series of events by his apostles, the very first thing out of the mouth of our Lord and Savior was, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” That sums up everything we need to know about all those who claim to predict the future. Anyone who claims to know the date of Christ’s return, or who says they know exactly when the ‘rapture’ of the Church will occur, simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Moreover, they bring divine Judgment on themselves for claiming to speak on God’s behalf, when in fact they are only speaking for themselves. But right after that is when Jesus gets to the point when he said, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” These four little sentences straight from the mouth of our Savior and Redeemer eliminate any possibility that the “pre-tribulation rapture” is the correct interpretation regarding its timing. After all, we can’t be taken up to heaven prior to the start of the tribulation period if some of us will be put to death for our faith, and for refusing to take the “Mark of the Beast” from the Antichrist and his soldiers and minions! It is not possible to be at two different points in time simultaneously! I rest my case – but wait (sorry for the cliche here)! There’s more, and it can be found in Revelation chapter 13, and I quote:

The beast was given power to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Revelation 13, verses 5-8)

“The beast” symbolizes the Antichrist, who was “given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation.” How can the Antichrist conquer the saints, evidently by the use of the military, if they were “raptured” at the start of the 7 year tribulation? This is my second and final reason for my case against the “pre-tribulation rapture”. But for my final part of this week’s message and Biblical teaching, we need to go back to Daniel chapter 9 and verse 27: “He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven’. In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the Temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

Rather than quote the entire 7-verse paragraph the above verse is taken from, let me define “seven” as a year, although this is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘weeks’, depending on which version of the Bible you prefer. So we can see here that the “covenant with many” will be most likely of 7 years duration. Based on my own intensive studies, as well as the commentaries and teachings of those more qualified than I, this most likely symbolizes a Mideast peace agreement that is about to be fulfilled. But then, in the middle of the ‘seven’ described by Daniel, the “beast” – or Antichrist – “will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” And so all religious worship involving anything other than the Mark of the Beast will be outlawed, as it is written: “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. He who has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is going into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Revelation 13, verses 8-10) Does this read like there’s going to be a “pre-tribulation rapture”? On the contrary – some of us will be imprisoned for our faith, still more of us will be killed. This is because their names are all found in the “book of life belonging to the Lamb”, who is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who has removed the sins of the world, but only for those who believe in Him and call upon his name. But the rest of humanity who worships the beast, which will be the majority of people from that time soon to come, will seal their own doom by doing so. None of us has any way of knowing when the ‘rapture’ will occur. It’s time to stop wasting time speculating about it, and to live our lives as if Jesus were coming that very night to take us home. Because, you know, one of these nights he really will.

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An American Microcosm

A Microcosm of the USA and Christianity

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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The events of this past week have left the office of the American presidency in shambles, made the US the laughingstock of the world, and I – for one – am appalled at the state of my country. President Donald Trump – or at least so long as he remains president – has left all of Washington in disarray from the presidency on down. He is also proving once again, as president George W. Bush did after September 2001 and especially after March 2003, that those who vote straight conservative every election have very short memories. It is the Republican party who, prior to Bush 43, brought us endless wars, the 1995 government shutdown, Iran Contra, the Drug War, president Nixon and Watergate, and the Vietnam War and the phony “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” that started that war. They are also indirectly responsible for the assassinations of Rev. Dr. King and the Kennedy brothers, which makes them accessories to murder.

President Donald Trump is a microcosm of America because he represents what America represents, and as such is someone who is admired by many. Donald Trump represents the American dream of becoming wealthy from a capitalist economic system that allegedly gives everyone a fair shot at becoming a rich businessman or real estate tycoon like Donald Trump. But president Trump is finding out the hard way that being president of the United States is nothing at all like running a real estate empire! When he ran for election last year, he wanted a job that he wasn’t prepared to take on. Worse yet, he failed to appreciate the difficulty and long hours of being the US president. His assumption of the office of the President was poorly planned and is still being poorly executed. When it comes to the presidency, it appears that Donald Trump is a fish out of water. Our country, therefore, is in serious trouble, and this situation is serious enough to warrant our undivided attention.

So president Trump is more than a microcosm of America, he represents a microcosm of capitalism. As such, Trump represents everything that is wrong with America, and everything that is wrong with capitalism. The ugly truth is that Donald Trump didn’t become a mega-billionaire because he is an exceptionally shrewd individual, or because he has some kind of inside track in the business world. Donald Trump got rich by screwing people every chance he got. Since Donald Trump has been elected president, he has been sued 134 times, according to the Boston Globe. He has reportedly filed bankruptcy at least 4 times since the 1980’s, evidently for the sole express purpose of stiffing his creditors while short-selling the property(s) in question. Donald Trump is a human shark, and a big, menacing “great white” at that! He reveals capitalism for the essentially predatory economic system that it truly is. Trump is also a perfect example of the fact that, in a capitalist economy where everything is organized in a hierarchical manner, there are only a handful who end up at the top of the heap, just like Donald Trump. Everyone else winds up underneath, where many of them get financially crushed without mercy.

Moreover, Donald Trump represents all that is corrupt with Washington, D.C. Washington is overburdened with corruption from within, and crushing debt from without. In fact, Washington is so heavily laden with debt and corruption that it is slowly sinking into the soil it sits on. Not only that, but the entire District of Columbia is literally sinking, according to the US Geological Survey named in a 2015 article from CNN.com:

Washington, D.C. Has a ‘Fore-bulge’ Problem

By Jareen Imam, CNN, Updated Sat. August 1, 2015

 

(CNN) Washington, D.C., where the powers that reign over the United States reside, is sinking into the ocean.

Scientists predict that the land underneath the nation’s capital will drop more than 6 inches in the next 100 years, according to new research from the University of Vermont and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Surprisingly though, Washington’s sinking land is an entirely independent phenomenon from the rising sea levels, which scientists have attributed to climate change in the past.

For this study, researchers examined the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most rapidly subsiding and lowest-elevation surfaces, which borders the Chesapeake Bay.

The area is going through what geologists call a “fore-bulge collapse,” also known as the reason for many of Washington’s foreseeable geological woes. During the last ice age, a mile-high ice sheet pushed the land under the Chesapeake Bay region up. When the ice sheet melted 20,000 years ago, the bulging land began to settle back down.

“It’s a bit like sitting on one side of a water bed filled with very thick honey… when you stand, the bulge comes down again,” said former USGS geologist Ben DeJong, one of the lead authors on the study, who conducted the research at University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.”

President Trump is also a microcosm of the current state of mainstream Christianity, whether denominational or otherwise. In spite of doing all the things I already wrote about, president Trump is a regular churchgoer. President Trump, like much of the rest of America, seems to think he can do whatever is expedient for himself and his family real estate empire, and he undoubtedly calls himself ‘blessed’ because of it all. Well-to-do mainstream Christians are filled with people just like that every Sunday morning, believing God has blessed them when all they really did was to help themselves to all they could carry away from the ‘negotiating table’. Or sometimes, whatever they can take by force, it happens every day. They go to church every Sunday as a token of acknowledging their sinful natures and professing their devout beliefs, but then they go back to doing the same things the following week! Jesus had something to say about this issue, and I quote: “Looking at his disciples he said, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you who hunger, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” (Luke chapter 6, verses 20-22)

But then Jesus continues: “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 based on this quote from our Lord and Savior, those who think they are richly blessed by God are actually on their way to hell! These are the people who think life is all about accumulating as much as we can, when in fact life is all about the legacy we leave behind. Instead of being focused on ourselves, we’re supposed to be focused on Christ and the blood he shed for us all! But what are today’s churches focused on? The bottom line, which is propelled by church membership and the money those members donate! Christianity isn’t about Christ at all; Jesus is more of an afterthought than anything else, and this is wrong!

Pulitzer prize winning author Chris Hedges was asked about corruption in churches during a forum with Mr. Robert Scheer, who said of Mr. Hedges, “There’s a complexity to your view. You come out of the mainstream Protestant Church. Your father, who is a minister, is a man you had enormous respect for, championed gay rights, civil rights when it was not popular. And I just wonder, and I know you resent when I say you have a prophetic voice, since I know nothing about scripture I probably don’t know anything about prophetic voices, but nonetheless it does seem to me your strength and clarity comes out of your Christian background.”

Chris Hedges responded, “Yeah, without question. And what I’m willing to do, which the mainstream church is not, is to denounce the Christian right as Christian heretics [applause]. You don’t have to, as I did, spend three years at Harvard Divinity School to realize that Jesus didn’t come to make us rich [laughter]. And he certainly didn’t come to make Pat Robertson and Joel Osteen rich. And what they have done is acculturate the worst aspects of American imperialism, capitalism, chauvinism, violence and bigotry into the Christian religion. And again let’s go back to Wiemar and the rise of Nazism. We saw the same thing in the so-called German Christian Church, which fused the iconography and language of Christianity with Nazism. It’s not a new phenomenon. It was the minority within that church, Bonhoeffer, Niemoller, Karl Barth, Schweizer who created the underground Confessing Church. And my great mentor at Harvard Divinity School, James Luther Adams [applause], was at the University of Heidelberg in 1935 and 1936 and dropped out and joined the Confessing Church. And when I had him in the early ’80s at Harvard, he used to tell us that when we were his age we would all be fighting the Christian fascists. Because, he understood that the Weimarization of the American working class, essentially pushing (America’s) working population into utter despair and hopelessness, coupled with a religious movement that fused national and religious symbols, was a recipe for fascism. And I think the great failure of the liberal tradition that I come out of is they were too frightened and too timid to stand up. I don’t know why they spent all the years in seminary if they didn’t realize that when they walked out the door they were going to have to fight for it. And they didn’t fight for it.”

Jesus said it, the apostle Paul wrote it, and I still believe it: There will be no cowards in heaven. Period, end of story! We as Christians have a moral obligation to stand up to tyranny, and to oppose greed and materialism as being the very antithesis of what it truly means to be an authentic follower of Jesus Christ, the Son of God! Moreover, the Bible has a few other things to say about rich people who are obsessed with obtaining even more wealth, just like president Trump, and I quote just a few of the many examples in the Bible:

Hebrews 13:5

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

1 Timothy 6:10

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Matthew 6:19-21

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:33-34

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

As you all can see, the above quotes, combined with the farcical nature of the Trump presidency and the corrupt nature of America’s political and economic systems, are a microcosm of what is wrong with America, capitalism and Christianity. I’m trying to sound the alarm about this because I see danger ahead, and we had better begin preparing for it now while we still have a little time left. Better hurry, too, or it will be too late.

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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

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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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