Tag Archives: being merciful

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

God Wants Justice and Mercy, Not Religion,

and We’re Falling Short

by Pastor Paul J. Bern (Isaiah 58)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Gospel From the Inside Out

The ‘Flip Side’ of the Teachings of Christ Jesus

by pastor Paul J. Bern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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