Category Archives: religion

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!

 Available in print at

http://www.pcmatl.org/#!books-and-donations/c17et

Get the Kindle version by clicking here 

Or, get it for Apple/Mac or Kobo.com from here

Get the audio version on Amazon Audible from here

Many thanks to all!

Tagged , , , , ,

The Immigration Debate, president Trump and Jesus

The Progressive Christian Approach

to Immigration Reform

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this in any browser, click here! 🙂

MLK1

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.

Tagged , , , , ,

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

Hard to read? Click here! 🙂

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.

Tagged , , , , ,

An American Microcosm

A Microcosm of the USA and Christianity

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this in your browser, click here! 🙂

Featured Image -- 1097

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.

Tagged , , , ,

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

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

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

good_deeds_R_smart

To view this in a browser, click here! 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , ,

The Laws of God and Those of Men

God’s Laws Always Supersede Our Own

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this on my website, click here! 🙂

open_minds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , ,

Explaining the Seven Trumpets in Bible Prophecy

The Book of Revelation: the Seven Trumpets Explained

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this on my website, click here! 🙂

rise up - public domain picture

I have decided to take time out this week to comment on part of the Book of Revelation that has to do with a series of end time events known as “The Seven Trumpets”. I will be quoting from chapters 8, 9 and 11 as I do my level best to explain the meaning of all these future events as they were written down more than 1,900 years ago. But I’m also going to dispel some myths and refocus some misunderstanding about the Book of Revelation and its meaning. There are widely varied interpretations of Revelation being disseminated by an equally varied spectrum of pastors and teachers, as you well know. Many of these various explanations are very accurate and scriptural, but many others not so much, and a few are downright silly. I will bypass commenting on any of these other interpretations for right now. All I’m going to do is explain the Seven Trumpets as best I can, and I have chosen this part of the Revelation because it is very relevant to the times in which we live. I will begin at chapter 8 and verse 6.

Then the seven angels who had the 7 trumpets began to sound them. The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees was burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” (Revelation 8, verses 6-9)

Regarding the first trumpet, the majority of clergy and theologians believe this event has not yet occurred, but I disagree. Once before in human history a similar calamity overtook Egypt during the seventh plague (see Exodus 7, verses 14-24). The difference being that the Egyptian calamity was local, but this judgment will be worldwide. It will most certainly be so unusual that mankind will be forced to recognize that it is a divine judgment. As with all the seals, trumpet and bowl judgments, since the results are literal, the judgments will be literal also. The same can be said for the second trumpet, which describes an apparent meteor or comet striking the earth and landing in the ocean.

A word of caution here – this is not a prophecy of a planet colliding with the earth! Unlike what some are saying on You Tube and other social media, this is not a prophecy of “planet X” or “planet nine”, also called Nibiru (Who dreamed up that name? Sounds like a brand of Japanese car). While this planet does exist, its current location is estimated to be somewhere between Neptune and Pluto, the 2 outermost planets in our solar system. Since it takes approximately 165 years for Neptune to orbit the sun, if Planet Nine is that far out it will take at least half that time or longer to reach earth, if it reaches us at all. So you can all stop worrying about “Nibiru” – it is very, very far away and will do us no harm. Let’s move along now to the 3rd trumpet.

The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water – and the name of the star is wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night. As I watched I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice, ‘Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!’”. (Revelation 8, verses 10-13)

Contrary to what some are saying on social media like You Tube, etc, this is not a description of a second meteor or comet. It is a description of an event all right, but this is completely different. You will recall the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Soviet Russia, where a nuclear power plant overheated and exploded, blowing the roof off the facility. As some of you already know, ‘Chernobyl’ translates into English as ‘Wormwood’ (read more about that here), although the translation is not the same word-for-word. Since the Asian continent where Russia is located takes up one third of the land mass on earth, the references to “one-third of the rivers and springs of water” makes sense to me. The description of the fourth trumpet is different, however. Something is going to cause 1/3 of the planet to have no sunlight in the daytime, and no stars at night either. The best explanation seems to be a large volcanic eruption big enough to cover a third of the skies with dust, soot, ash and smoke, although I can only speculate about how long this will last because Revelation doesn’t say what duration this will be for. But if Revelation says it’s going to occur, you had best believe it will! What about the eagle, you ask? It is symbolism, most likely for the United States who emerges as the Cold War victor only several years following the Chernobyl/wormwood disaster. And now let’s have a look at the fifth trumpet, beginning at chapter 9 verse 1.

The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and the sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not given the power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of a sting from a scorpion when it strikes a man. During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.” (Revelation 9, verses 1-6)

There is a lot of symbolism here, starting with the ‘fallen star’, which is Satan or Lucifer. As you know, Lucifer and his band of demons, who were formerly one third of the angels in heaven prior to their insurrection against God and his place of supreme leadership, were kicked out of heaven for their rebellion against God. They were sent to hell or Hades, or the Abyss here in Revelation, to be punished eternally – forever banished from God’s presence! When the shaft of the Abyss is unlocked, smoke comes pouring out in prodigious amounts and demons in the form of locusts appear. These locusts are demons that rise with the smoke of spiritual error that ascends from the bottomless pit. As scorpions sting by raising their tails over their heads but do not kill, these exercise power to hurt men spiritually by raising religious tales contrary to faith and elevate false prophets above their rejected Head, Christ the Word. Their stings spiritually paralyze unstable souls with doctrine, which, like the bottomless pit, has no foundation in God’s Word. Lost souls become demons, like the 200,000,000 horsemen found in the next trumpet.

They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” This is a dual reference – first to those who have the “mark of the beast” or seal of the Antichrist on their foreheads (see Revelation 13, verses 16-18), but also to the 144,000 who receive the seal of God upon their foreheads (see Revelation 7, verses 1-8). “They were not given the power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months…. During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.” Clearly, out of all the judgments – handed down in the form of trumpets which symbolize shofar horns, the ones the ancient Israelites used to call people to battle – this one is the most severe. These scorpions will inflict pain so extreme, people will want to die. They may even attempt suicide, but those efforts will be unsuccessful. They will all spend five full months writhing and screaming in agony. They will pump themselves up with opiates to deal with the pain, and most if not all will wind up being addicted as a result. And now let’s move on to the sixth of these seven trumpets, starting at verse 13.

The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice that was coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates’. And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.” (Revelation 9, verses 13-18)

In short, the 6th trumpet is World War Three. This should not be confused with the war of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 and 39. That is a separate middle eastern war that will occur just prior to WW3, and a topic for a separate discussion for the sake of brevity. The “horns of the golden altar that is before God” is a reference to the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament (see Exodus 25 for a description of the ark). “’Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates’. And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.” There are widely varying opinions on the meaning of this, but I happen to believe that the Bible is ultimate Truth. The fact of the matter is that the only nation in the world capable of raising an army of 200,000,000 is mainland China. And yet the “great river Euphrates” empties into the Arabian sea right on the border between Iraq and Iran. So the Chinese army will march to the west, cross the Euphrates river, and presumably march to the Mediterranean sea. The obvious reason is oil. This will be at a time when oil has become too expensive, too scarce, or both, and we’re nearly there now. But as to the exact timing of these series of events, no one knows for sure, and anyone who claims to know should be viewed with suspicion. And now let’s close out this week’s message with one final passage.

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’ And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for the judging of the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great – and for destroying those who destroy the earth’.” (Revelation 11, verses 15-18)

Hooray! The kingdom of the world has been replaced by the kingdom of God, administered by none other than Jesus Christ himself! No more rich elitist top one-tenth of one per center’s, no more brutal dictatorships, no more multinational corporations who are financially raping and pillaging the earth and their employees, no more military and no more pollution either. Now that’s what I call an ideal world! But who are the twenty-four elders? They represent the twelve tribes of Israel (the 12 sons of Jacob) plus the twelve apostles, with Judas Iscariot replaced by the apostle Paul. All the wars that will be fought have been fought by this point in time, and it is an era of complete peace throughout the earth. It is time for Judgment Day, beginning with those who destroy the earth through war and pollution, and ending with those who destroy other people – murderers, sex offenders, and other abusers. Even if they believe in Jesus, it will be just as bad for them on that day as it will be for those who don’t believe at all! So until next time, let’s keep ourselves together for Christ, acknowledging that one day soon, he will rule the earth and we will be his subjects as well as his peers. Enjoy your week, everyone!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Giving thanks for a fresh start in 2017

Go Ahead! Hug That Tree and Give Thanks This Holiday

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

the-beginning-is-near2

It’s true. I hug people, pets, and trees. I have no children of my own, but I dote on everybody else’s. I go out of my way to treat them all well. I make no bones about it. Call me a ‘tree hugger’ and I’ll thank you for the compliment. If you would rather not hug me right about now, it’s OK, I understand. I don’t expect people to reciprocate anyway.

I once tried to hug a tree in California that was alive during the time of Christ. I couldn’t resist. I had to get next to such ancient life. To walk among that grove of redwoods was to walk in the hush of a cathedral, only one far more ancient, more holy, than any church. An ancient habitat still alive with flowing juices while busy sucking moisture from the ground and giving it back to the sky. One busy drawing energy down from the sun and giving it to the earth. I couldn’t help looking up in the presence of such enormous trees. If God creates living things of such magnificence as these trees, how much more will he do for those who ask Him for his help?

But California isn’t my home, Atlanta is. While Georgia may not be California, we also have trees that are worthy of hugging. If you’ve ever hiked to the north Georgia mountains, there are ancient and gigantic pine, poplar and magnolia trees. Although much younger than California’s redwoods, and only about half as tall at the most, I can’t help but be amazed at the majesty of His Majesty and of that which He has created continually since before time began.

You too have hugged trees, admit it or not. When you were a child, you hugged lots of trees if you were a climber, or you may have used trees as ‘home’ during games of hide-and-seek. Carrying a load of firewood is a way of tree hugging, if it’s done with the right attitude. On the other hand, I’ve been known to wrap both arms around a scruffy old oak and utter thanks and blessings for what it’s meant to the scenery and the air and the critters of this garden-spot of the universe. It’s a way of giving thanks, and giving thanks is the key to happiness and balance in our lives. Too many people see the holidays as a time to swap gifts around and to see how much they can get. Far too many more are having the leanest and most depressing Christmas they have ever had, and that is a social injustice!

It may be impossible to write anything truer than this about happiness, so let’s say it again. Giving thanks is the key to happiness. It’s a way of affirming life, of choosing hope over despair, faith over cynicism, if you’ll pardon a detour. I promise to bring this round again, so bear with me.

Abraham Lincoln, a man who sometimes suffered from what today is called clinical depression – a man who suffered personal tragedies and incredible stress, said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” It’s ever so true. To assess life by starting with your misfortunes is a sucker’s game. There’s no end to the misery you can catalog. One of the primary principles of Buddhism is that “All is Suffering.” While recognizing there’s some truth there, I don’t embrace that philosophy. I know it must seem true to some, but I’ve been blessed in so many ways, it would be chintzy and dishonest to pretend otherwise. For the privilege of being alive, I start each day with an attitude of gratitude and a prayer of praise and thanks unto God. How lucky am I, Lord, to still be alive and to have survived all that I have been through? Sixty-one years it’s been, and I’ve took a nasty licking but my clock is still ticking!

I would say the odds of my still being here would otherwise be all but impossible. Life is such a luck of the draw as it is. It’s like winning the lottery each year of our lives to have such an existence at all. That’s how much luck is required. It took all the crazy detours of history to bring my parents together. If a million different ancestors over thousands or millions of years hadn’t done exactly as they did most every day of their lives—and partook of the blessings and curses of life in just the right order, down to feeling romantic or lusty in the right moments, I wouldn’t be here now. If a billion bits of space debris hadn’t interacted in just the right ways to send a giant meteor crashing into the earth about 65 million years ago, eradicating the dinosaurs and making way for us mammals, none of us would be here.

If the Big Bang (“Let there be light”, Genesis 1: 3) had occurred with just a fraction of one percent more velocity, the planets and stars could not have formed. A fraction of a percent less velocity, and the whole universe would have collapsed back on itself. If seawater were a little saltier, if the earth weren’t tilted on its axis just so, if the sun were a few miles farther off or closer in, or if gravity were a few degrees stronger, we wouldn’t exist. All of these so-called coincidences don’t scratch the surface of things that had to go just right to make our lives possible. We are incredibly blessed to be alive and riding this silken beast called breathing – inhale, exhale – from the moment of birth until the instant of death.

And all those trees, exhaling oxygen and inhaling the poisonous carbon dioxide from our own breath, exist in a relationship to us that is at once symbolic of the fragile web of life and a crucial part of it. That fantastic web of life is a feature of this awesome universe we must love and adore. It is reason enough to thank God in this Christmas and New Year season, and every day of our lives. And reason enough to hug a tree.

Tagged , , , , , ,