Category Archives: religion

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 , , , , , ,

This just arrived at the White House and every church in America, all at once…..

If God Sent An Email To Our Leaders

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

food-not-war

Given the state of affairs of leadership in general throughout the world, and particularly here in the US with the current crop of Christian “leaders” such as Sarah Pailin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckaby and Michelle Bachman, I can’t help but wonder what God must be thinking about all this. As you recall, Mr. Romney stated during the closing days of his 2012 presidential campaign that, if elected president, his first act as chief executive would be to launch an airstrike on Iran. Keep in mind that this is the same guy who is opposed to abortion and who calls himself “pro-life”. He fights for the rights of the unborn, but if you’re already alive and living in Iran, you’re toast. Go figure.

Of course, if you live in Syria, where the government is slaughtering the governed and where there is no oil, you’re on your own. Yet in Iraq, where there is plenty of oil, we have occupied that country since 2003 while killing over 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians, over half of whom were women and children. But that war was supposed to be different because we toppled a terrible dictator. Never mind that that same dictator, none other than Saddam Hussein himself, was a former CIA collaborator and “asset”. So much for loyalty among allies. Yes, that’s what our country has been doing in the Middle East since Gulf War 1 in 1990-91. And it is the American military-industrial-incarceration complex that has been doing this same thing throughout the globe since the Cold War of the 20th century.

Meanwhile here at home, one person in five depends on SNAP benefits to eat. Lots of people can’t afford medical care or insurance so they show up at emergency rooms, only when they absolutely have to, knowing that the medical bills they are about to incur will bankrupt them. Twenty four million Americans can’t find sufficient work (if any), but since they can’t afford to go back to school and get retrained because of the staggering cost of America’s for-profit higher education system, they remain stuck in their situation with no relief in sight. As I wrote in my first book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto” (scroll down after clicking the link), our country has more than enough money to pay for lifetime medical care and higher education for every single American who wants either or both. All they have to do is call off all the endless wars and bring our troops home.

As I explained in this 2011 book, if the US government took all the money that is spent in just one day on the wars/occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and put it into an interest-bearing bank account, there would be ample funding for 4-year college educations for every school kid in America from pre-K through high school, including tuition, books, housing, food and transportation. Internet too. Yeah, just one day’s war expenditures would do that. Besides, there is sufficient legal precedent in doing this very thing in the form of the GI Bill that was passed by Congress after the end of World War 2. If they could reeducate G.I.’s back then (and that law remains in effect), they can do it for everybody now.

But what do we have instead? Overseas military adventures purely for the sake of economic domination by the US against any country regardless of cost. This is not just unsustainable, it is sheer madness! Our government has been taken over by a bunch of psychopaths. They operate from behind the scenes bent on world conquest at any cost, failing to understand that the “superpower” era is over, and they are an integral part of the so-called “new world order”. Unless they are stopped they will take the world over the brink of the abyss of World War 3. Yet these people are, by and large, religious conservatives of one church denomination or another. Their counterparts in the Muslim world are similarly conservative religious fundamentalists. Only their names for God are different. Yet, as far as I am concerned, there is only one true God who is undoubtedly far greater than the sum of all the world’s different religious faiths combined. If this very same almighty God, who is “The Great I Am”, sent us an email about all this mess down here on earth, I think it would be worded something like this:

“My children, I appear before you now to bestow upon you a supplemental to the New Testament. I offer this directly to the peoples of earth, without intermediary, cleric, or agent of any kind. Circumstances have compelled me to sever all ties, contracts and assignments with my earthly representatives. I have been, in fact, very dissatisfied with their performance of their duties for some time. Children get molested in some churches, adultery runs rampant in others, while still others have turned their churches into businesses and have enriched themselves with material possessions beyond all reason. You pastors and evangelists who drive around in cars with six-figure price tags while flying around in your own jets, you know who you are. There’s nothing wrong with having a nice car and a comfortable house, but a good bit of that plane money should have been used to feed the poor and house the homeless, whom you are ignoring. But the rape of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and other crimes committed in my name by the USA, not counting the additional war plans they have made, has forced my hand. All my earthly representatives are now terminated! They no longer speak for me.”

“Humankind, however, remains in my affections and always shall. But it would be remiss of me not to explain why I have taken such drastic measures. War displeases me. Five thousand years of war among the humans over the right way to pronounce my name, not to mention the earth’s resources which I gave you, has exhausted my patience. I will no longer be responsible for any more murders committed under color of my authority. Although I do not require that you worship me in any certain way, I much prefer that you who claim to believe in me should put some legs on your faith. It’s good when you fast and pray, but it’s far better to go and find someone in need and doing whatever you can to help him or her.”

“Someone who goes to church every Sunday but does nothing more during the week is not as faithful in my eyes as someone who donates to charity, who volunteers their free time, who is a role model for the fatherless, or who visits the sick, the elderly and the prisoner, and someone who is a defender of the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the mentally ill, and other vulnerable individuals. I created you with a divine spark, in my image. But you persist in snuffing out that spark and destroying that image in those who don’t agree with you about whether or not it is permitted to draw my face. Until you prove you can worship the divine spark I put in all of you, and desist from the mayhem and slaughter that you love more than me, I will summarily reject and disallow all your claims to my providence.”

“You have banded yourselves into tribes, nations and races and the results have not been pleasing to my eye. I take some responsibility for this distressing development; I should not have given you an earth so large. But had I started with a smaller Eden, you would have corrupted and polluted it until it became uninhabitable millenia ago. You have proven your refusal to understand the panoply of laws and wisdom I laid down for you when I set you upon the earth. I have been mistranslated by your spirit guides and abused by your leaders. Perhaps I was too complex. Let us try to simplify. Respect my creation and all the inhabitants thereof. Any so-called religious leader who tells you otherwise is a false prophet and does not represent me, my brethren or any part of my Kingdom which is to surely come.”

“Those of you who find comfort in organized religion may continue to do so. I understand – I created you as vessels for love and love rejoices in the presence of others. Keep your churches, mosques and synagogues, but cease your bickering. And remember, when you engage in bloodletting in My name, you commit blasphemy. I realize that in severing my ties with so many of the sects, denominations and “holy men” that you rely upon for moral guidance, I have created confusion where there was once certainty in your souls. But that cannot be helped. Your certainties were almost certainly wrong and most certainly misapplied.”

“But do not despair, my children, for I have not abandoned you. There is a little piece of me inside all of you, a fail-safe guide to good and evil, a moral compass that never leaves you, a true voice you can hear amid the storms of fire that drive you mad with hatred and confusion. It is called your conscience and it always points upward. Follow it and you will be walking in my light. Ignore it and you’ll be lost in the darkness cast by your own shadow. Here is your New, New Testament, starting with Commandment One:”

I have given you a conscience. Use it.”

Sort that out to my satisfaction and maybe next millennium we can talk about the dietary laws.”

Tagged , , , , , , ,

To All My Haters, This Bud’s For You

My Open Letter to All Offended “Christians”

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

open_minds

Dear Offended Christians,

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

A Very Tired Christian

Tagged , , , , , , ,

What’s Gone Wrong With Our Churches?

Three Reasons Millennials Are Abandoning Christianity

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

live together or perish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged , , , , , ,

Bogus Prophets and the Truth

Wars, Rumors of Wars, and the Truth

by Pastor Paul J Bern

new-world-order

One of the things I did on my own behalf five years ago as I was looking for ways to cut my expenses was canceling my cable TV subscription. My reasons were partly economic, partly practical, and partly because of my Christian faith. I also had practical reasons. I was just getting started with my writing and blogging, so I no longer had time to watch TV. To me at least, there’s really nothing much on there worth watching, so why bother? Plus, the news and information channels such as Fox, CNN, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and so many others are filled with misinformation at best, and propaganda at worst. So, I started streaming videos off the Web, mainly from You Tube, Mypeace.tv and a few others. I have intentionally cut myself off from much of the world, just as it is written: “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world….” [John chapter 18, verse 36]. It is also a fact mainly known to Jesus followers that real Christians define intelligence differently than anyone else, as it is written: “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight…..” [1st Corinthians chapter 3, verses 18-19]. The apostle John, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, also had a comment or two in this regard when he wrote, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” [1st John chapter 2, verses 15-17, NIV]

These are the underlying reasons, my dear readers, why I have disconnected from the world (I no longer own a radio for the same reasons). There is one very noticeable difference between cable and network television and what’s being shown on the internet, besides the fact that much of it is free. I can sum it up in one word – truth!! The contrast between the news, information and even the entertainment on the Web compared to commercial TV and the movies is pretty stark. One of the most worrisome trends I’m seeing on the internet, however, is those who go overboard in search of the truth to such an extent that they damage their own credibility due to excess speculation about humankind’s future. The wild speculation about the timing of World War Three and with regard to End Times Prophecy are the two examples of what I mean by “worrisome trends”. Never mind all the misinformation. Let me set a few things straight.

First, and much to the discredit of organized religion, or “Christianity, Inc”, I often wonder why some of the answers to these questions are not being discussed in churches. All I hear in the majority of them are false doctrines such as the “pre-tribulation rapture” and the bizarre idea that Jesus wants us all to be rich. I can hardly find a church these days that teaches the truth of all these things except on the internet. The ugly truth is far worse than what is currently being ‘taught’. No wonder the church is not mentioned in Revelation directly, just the tribulation saints (see Rev. chapter 7, verses 9-14). The rest are being consumed in the great apostasy that will hit a peak once the Antichrist governmental system gets into full swing, and that will be happening in the near future. Have any of you other Christians brought up these subjects in church? I have and it does not go over well, but that doesn’t matter to me. Now is the time to speak out and expose false teaching on these subjects. One prime example of what I mean can be found in scripture in Revelation chapter 13, verses 1-5: “And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. Men worshiped the dragon because he gave great authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, ‘Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?’ The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months.”

Don’t worry, I’m not going to confuse or confound anyone with any long, drawn out explanations because none is necessary. “The Beast” symbolizes an extremely powerful nation. “The Sea” is a biblical metaphor for the sea of humanity. The “10 horns, 7 heads and 10 crowns” refers to a large international organization, most likely the countries that are the primary or founding members of the United Nations. “The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion.” What modern countries use those animals as their national symbols? Germany, Russia and Great Britain, in that order. The “fatal wound that had been healed” is presumably Germany, who lost WW2 but has since been rebuilt and revitalized. “The Dragon” is a synonym for the devil, or Satan. And who is “The Beast”? What does it say? “‘Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” This is a clear reference to the largest and by far most powerful military force the world has ever known – the United States!

What else could this be? “The beast” in the Book of Revelation is none other than the United States military, the American Empire, the US military-industrial-incarceration complex, or all of the above! I mean, it does not take a seminary or a university graduate to figure this stuff out!!

There is much talk today about war being imminent. Granted, when it comes to the Middle East, war could break out at any time, nobody knows for sure. So you can forget about those who say they know the date of Jesus’ return, or that WW3 or a colossal economic crash is going to occur on a certain day. They either don’t know what they’re talking about, or they have ulterior motives for saying such things (like selling books, for example). Let’s not forget what Jesus taught: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels of heaven, or the Son, but only the Father”. (Matt. 24:36) But there are several other quotes directly from our Savior that may offer a clue about a certain time frame regarding Christ’s return. Jesus also said, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”, and, “The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him”. Moreover, when Jesus taught the parable of the wedding feast (see Matthew 22, verses 1 to 14), the groom arrived at midnight, and everyone had fallen asleep. When I combine the above quotes, the message is clear. He will arrive in the middle of the night to take his Bride home, and the world will have fallen asleep because it’s taking 2,000 years for this scenario to play itself out so that all prophecy can be fulfilled. Problem is – and this is where it gets interesting – if Christ comes in the middle of the night in Jerusalem, when I add up the time zone changes from Israel to the US, He would arrive here during afternoon rush hour. Wouldn’t that be something!

Tagged , , , , ,