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

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

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Which Is Better, Being Lawful Or Being Faithful?

[Galatians chapter 3, verses 1-14]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those Who Sugarcoat the Bible Dilute Its Message.

They Will Be Judged by God!

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

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wake_up

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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National Health Care, Trump and the Bible: They’re Doing This All Wrong

President Trump, National Health Care and Jesus

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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The ongoing debate here in America ever since Donald Trump announced he was a presidential candidate back in 2015, and that he was going to “repeal and replace Obama-care”, has reached a crescendo as of this past week as everybody knows. Moreover, the resulting infighting and partisanship, all of which is manufactured, amounts to little more than a systematic division of the American people by design. What many do not yet realize, however, is that this manufactured division of the people has already become weaponized. We see evidence of this glaring anomaly in American society every time Republican goes against Democrat, liberals butt heads with conservatives, and where ever hate groups of various kinds clash with each other. This is also evident whenever we see citizens clashing with the police. I’ve got some surprising news for those who hate the police, and especially those who shoot police officers – the police aren’t the problem, they’re merely part of the symptoms. The real problem is with those at the top. Put your guns down before they kill you!

The Bible has things to say about treating people brutally and government oppression of its citizens, as well as the enslavement of people for financial gain. The Bible says in the Book of Proverbs chapter 29, verse 7, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. That’s God’s take on poverty in a nutshell. “The poor you will always have”, Jesus said not long before His crucifixion, “but you will not always have me”. The poor are humankind’s responsibility, starting with the churches, and the churches have shirked their responsibility to render assistance to their surrounding communities by allowing the government to step in. This is the exact opposite of Christ, who healed thousands. During the early part of his 3 ½ year ministry his immediate predecessor, John the Baptist, had become imprisoned for refusing to stop preaching about Jesus. While awaiting sentencing for his “crime”, for which he received the death penalty, he inquired about his cousin Jesus and the status of his ministry, as the Bible relates it. “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’” (Matthew 11, verses 2-6)

Jesus didn’t merely take responsibility for his ministry, he seized on it as if each one of us is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform great works on his behalf. Because, you see, that’s exactly who He is, and Jesus continues to do everything in the above 4 verses. Although we have state of the art medical care here in the US, even so the US has – globally speaking – by far the most expensive medical care and the highest priced prescription drugs. American medical care generates the highest profits because America charges its citizens the highest prices by far. Jesus, on the other hand, never charged anybody one stinking penny! Moreover, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the very people who call national health care “socialism” are the ones who are profiting off the existing system the most. They’re afraid they’ll lose their cash cow.

Jesus also had lots to say about these same rich people and their cash cows (such as Wall St. and the Federal Reserve). But, one of his most famous and beloved comments comes from the Sermon on the Mount when the Redeemer of our souls said: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6, verses 19-21) The more attached we become to our material stuff and our accumulated wealth, the farther away we get from God. But it’s more than just stuff. We can become more attached to our spouse or significant other, to our children, to our careers, and even to recreational activities like water skiing, snow boarding, our boats and motorcycles, or fitness training. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above. But we must always put our personal relationship with Christ first (which should not be confused with religious belief) because it’s invariably the most important! I cannot overemphasize this crucial point!

But God gave all of us brains to think and reason with, and we know when we’re being had. No more will working Americans, together with its multitudes of unemployed, stand and stare or sit and grumble about having upside down loans on our houses and cars, and being the only developed nation on earth that refuses to provide national health care and higher education to its citizens! Exactly the opposite occurs in America, where financial institutions extract an ever greater portion of American wealth (in the form of student loans, unconstitutional taxes, etc.) and concentrate it into the hands of a small minority of multimillionaires! It is time for the middle and working classes to put our collective foot down and say ”no more”! The time has arrived for us to take back our country by any and all means possible! Yes, I know the Bible says we must obey the laws of our land (see Romans 13, verses 1-7). I am not suggesting for even one moment that we should stop doing this. But nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus expects us to be doormats for everybody, either (see Mark 11, verses 15-18). Didn’t God force Pharaoh to let the Israelites go from their captivity? Did God not motivate Rahab the prostitute to hide the spies sent from the Israelite encampment from the king of Jericho (see Joshua chapter 2)?

In much the same way, I believe the American people are being motivated by God in our modern times. Our ride to being set free from the slavery of low wages and high debt is now boarding at the gate. It is time for political power to be taken out of the hands of corporate America and their invading hordes of lobbyists and to place it back into the hands of “we the people”, the true owners of this great country of ours (talk about obeying the laws!). And we will do so knowing that God, history and our founding fathers are all on our side, because they left us with a sacred document known as the Constitution of the United States that guarantees us that right. Our free speech and freedom of expression that are guaranteed under the First Amendment, as well as our right to keep and bear arms and to form militias that are guaranteed under the Second Amendment, will not be compromised or trampled upon. Neither will our rights in the court systems, which are routinely violated for the sake of profit. We will demonstrate in the streets, we will besiege government buildings, we will bombard our congressional representatives with phone calls and emails, we will form new political parties, we will organize and build more labor unions, we will blockade wealthy neighborhoods, we will organize peaceful public events and non-violent sit-ins, we will call general strikes and consumer boycotts, and we will not stop until the balance of power in this country undergoes a paradigm shift back into the hands of hard-working Americans, as well as the millions of people who want jobs, health care or higher education but can’t get any of them!

 

Let there be no mistake, America is ripe for mass civil disobedience, even for outright revolution, and I say it’s about time. The conditions and circumstances in which the middle and working classes find themselves has become intolerable! Personally, I am a very patient and thoughtful man. I work hard each day to be slow to speak and quick to listen because I know from experience that there is much wisdom to be derived from living my life this way. But by the same token, I am a Christian man and Web evangelist who stands against oppression, social injustice and economic inequality, and whose patience is at its end. Just as surely as Jesus preached against the political and religious establishment of His day, in like manner I will do the same in the present day in order to emulate the man I regard as my personal Savior. So, if you truly care about the deteriorating state of our nation, if you are really concerned about the issues that we are faced with collectively as a people, and if you want to make a stand against social and economic injustice, and since it’s in all our best interests to do so, you owe it to yourself to stand up in the face of power and say, “That’s it! You’re done!!” You know why? Because if Jesus Christ were to return this very day, that’s what He’d say. And the ones who are having the homeless thrown in jail for begging for spare change would be the first ones Christ would send straight to hell!

To find books on these topics and other Christian nonfiction, please visit http://www.pcmatl.org/#!books-and-donations/c17et Thanks so much!

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The Laws of God and Those of Men

God’s Laws Always Supersede Our Own

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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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.

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Monthly partners needed for a good and worthy cause

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Banks are criminal enterprises. US government involved in dozens of wars globally. Police gone berserk. Children slaughtered in Syria. A world going insane. One man, one ministry confronting the madness, standing against war, social or economic injustice, crooked banks and every kind of corruption. Help us help America win this fight while standing up unashamedly for Jesus Christ. With a recurring monthly donation starting at only $10.00, you can help keep us on the Internet, fund some office expenses, help us buy a new or used van, and cover the monthly expenses of buying double cheese sandwiches and fries for the multitudes of homeless individuals and families in and around greater Atlanta. Please help Progressive Christian Ministries of Greater Atlanta, Inc. (State of Georgia control # 15066742) by becoming a monthly partner today! http://www.pcmatl.org/donations-and-partners

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To All My Haters, This Bud’s For You

My Open Letter to All Offended “Christians”

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

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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

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Colin Kaepernick, Patriotism, and the Star Spangled Banner

The Star Spangled Banner, Colin Kaepernick,

and the Christian Anti-patriot Movement

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

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Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem this past week – twice so far as of this writing, and I’m observing others who are starting to join him – is something that bears careful thought and quiet contemplation on the part of all Americans. Kaepernick has enraged many, but there are even more people who are saying, “It’s about time” with regard to his actions. Since the feelings and reasons run deep on both sides, so do my own. Like the vast majority of other Americans, I truly love my country. The US is and always will be the land of opportunity where free enterprise and private ownership reign supreme. But I am profoundly ashamed of my government. Let me count the reasons why.

[1] One million dead Iraqi civilians. Since 1991, the US military – or the American Empire, as I call it – has “accidentally” killed a million Iraqi civilians. That’s twice as many people as there are within the city limits of Atlanta where I live and work. If another country were to so much as attempt to do the same to a million US civilians, we’d be at war!

[2] 25%. That’s the number of American school children who go to bed hungry each night. For a country that is allegedly the greatest country in the world, that is simply inexcusable!

[3] One out of five. That’s the number of US military personnel who return home after their tour of duty who suffer from permanent psychiatric disabilities as a result of the performance of their duties. Everybody is dancing around the question that needs to be asked – WHY?? Why do 20% of those who go off to fight the American Empire’s wars come home with their minds permanently broken and their souls shattered?? Maybe it’s from killing people. Ever think of that? What if I’m right, and I think I am in at least some of the cases? There would be one good way to end all that, to put it to a stop permanently. Stop all the wars. End all the bloodshed. Besides, we Americans need those troops here at home to help protect us from the federal government.

[4] Nine Hundred Eighty Six. That’s the number of unarmed civilians that were killed by the police in 2015 (source: Washington Post). This has been going on for decades, but the Lame Stream Media had been deliberately suppressing these stories until they became so numerous it was no longer possible to do so. When we add up the number of unarmed persons shot, ‘tasered’ and killed by the police over the last three decades, the numbers run well into the tens of thousands.

[5] America excels at incarceration. There are more people in jails or prisons here in the United States than there are in the rest of the world combined! To say this is nothing to be proud of would be a gross understatement. Moreover, 56% of all those incarcerated are there for nonviolent drug offenses. The ‘war on drugs’ is a farce, it can’t be won, and it is based on racism and prison for profit, not ‘law and order’. As such, the Drug War deserves to fail.

So what do we do to turn all these ugly facts into past history? End all the wars and covert meddling (which the CIA seems to be addicted to) and bring home whatever troops we can. Close entire military bases whenever possible. Shut down and disband NATO, since it no longer serves any purpose (unless, of course, you’re part of the top 1% of the economic class). Raise the minimum wage to get our children fed, to lift people out of poverty, and to empty the welfare and SNAP benefits rosters. End the drug war – legalize, regulate and tax cannabis for medical and personal use (although several currently illegal drugs should stay that way, such as heroin). There are so many things we can do differently for the betterment of ourselves and our country. But how do we approach it on a personal level? What’s the starting point? Allow me to elaborate on a couple examples.

Mennonite Worker Communities in places like Minnesota, Pennsylvania and others hold worship services and a picnic every Fourth of July. But, instead of extolling the virtues of America, they called attention to its faults. Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” is out. Reflecting on the contradictions between the Gospel of Christ and the American Dream are in. “We thank you, O God, for the good things we enjoy in our lives,” reads a prayer the Mennonite community recites each year, “but lament that our abundance has brought destitution to sisters and brothers throughout the Earth.” These people are, basically, Christian Anti-patriots. Their movement, which has grown more vocal in recent years, is simply an honest way to read – and live out – Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. But it’s hard to look at groups like The Mennonite Community and not see an implicit criticism of God-and-country cheer-leading by mainstream Christians and ripples of centuries-old church-state tensions. Some anti-patriots come from pacifist Anabaptist traditions, such as the Mennonite Church. Others come from evangelical backgrounds but have rejected their counterparts’ often unreserved patriotism and embraced liberal-leaning communities like Red Letter Christians and JesusRadicals.com. They may differ on theological details, but they hold at least two beliefs in common: You cannot serve both God and country, and you cannot serve both God and money.

Anabaptists such as Mennonites and the Amish were persecuted by state churches in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, and their descendants bear a lasting suspicion of human authorities. Many an Amish and Mennonite home keeps a copy of “The Martyr’s Mirror,” a book thick with testimonies of Anabaptists burned at the stake of orthodoxy. The book’s subtitle refers to the martyrs as “defenseless Christians,” a nod to Anabaptists’ belief that when Jesus called on Christians to turn the other cheek, he was quite serious. None of the Anabaptist groups are anti-American. They are typically grateful for the religious freedom permitted in the United States. Still, in 2011, Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Indiana, banned the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events because, according to the college’s president, the lyrics were too violent. It may be difficult for some Americans to understand why their countrymen would disassociate themselves from patriotism. What’s the harm in celebrating Independence Day, anyway?

It is easy to judge Islam for the actions of a relative few ‘jihadists’. Yet when millions of Americans — a vast majority of them claiming the Christian faith — were complicit with slavery, indigenous genocide, and continued economic exploitation, we suddenly see them as separate from our faith. Jesus called his followers to Christian service and humility, which are the opposite of nationalistic rituals performed on the Fourth of July. A heightened devotion to the nation can cause a lot of confusion abroad when people see claims of a Christian America alongside a long American history of slavery, economic inequality and overheated Hollywood sexuality and violence. I have received quite a few comments about how I should leave this country if I ‘hate’ it so much, even to the point of calling me a ‘traitor’. And yet I love America, but I’m not willing to compromise my values as a servant of my only King, the nonviolent revolutionary — Christ Jesus. My train of thought on patriotic things would be: A love for the people of our country is not a bad thing, but why should we stop at America’s border?

There have been some other non-patriotic gatherings in major cities, such as the Los Angeles Catholic Worker’s “Mourn on the Fourth of July” peace march in 2008. Still, the non-patriot movement remains small. Everyone knows that other folks think like them, but it isn’t like there are a lot of congregations that self-identify as being non-patriotic. That’s especially true for evangelicals, who lead the country in patriotic fervor. More than 80% of white evangelicals believe that God has granted the United States a “special role” in history, according to a survey released June 27 of this year by the Public Religion Research Institute. More than two-thirds of white evangelicals say they are “very proud” to be an American, outstripping every other religious group polled. So it’s not surprising that some conservative Christians find the alliance of progressive evangelicals and non-patriotic Americans troubling, or even dangerous.

But, I disagree with the ‘conservative’, patriotic Christians on US military force, which they insist is required to maintain order worldwide. Non-patriot Christians, they point out, are naive not to consider the ill effects should the United States abdicate its military power. They would argue, “What would the alternatives be if the USA didn’t exist or withdrew from the world stage? Almost certainly a more dangerous, more anarchic, more repressive, less prosperous world with less opportunity for the poor to escape poverty”. Do I agree with every major policy of our government? No way! Jesus’ identification with the poor, the sick, his teaching, “Love your enemies”, and his refusal to take power when he was here on earth the first time are incompatible with the utterly corrupt political and economic system of the United States. Let’s face it — the Sermon on the Mount makes for lousy foreign or public policy. We can’t have it both ways. That’s why I too choose the ways of peace while standing against war and its inherent immorality. We are all faced with the choice of taking sides with Christ, or of annihilation. Just like Colin Kaepernick chose to stand on the side of justice.

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Bogus Prophets and the Truth

Wars, Rumors of Wars, and the Truth

by Pastor Paul J Bern

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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!

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What Does the Bible Say About the Role of Government?

Dispensing Justice and Promoting Healing

Are the Government’s Biblical Obligations

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

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This week I want to write about why implementing single-payer national health care is so important, and what the Bible says about that. The passage of so-called “Obama-care” a couple years ago makes this issue worse, not better. All the US government had to do was put the whole country on Medicare, and include all those on Medicaid as well. Then, we could just do away with Medicaid, saving the country roughly $650 billion per year! There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that swirling around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: How big, how small should it be? But I want to suggest that what size the government should be is the wrong question. A more useful discussion would be about the purposes of government and whether America’s is fulfilling them in a Christlike manner. So let’s put the politics to the side for the moment and look at what the Bible has to say about this topic.

The words of the apostle Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans are perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government. Paul says those purposes are twofold: to restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior. Civil authority is designed to be “God’s servant to do you good” as it is written: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from the fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13, verses 3-5, NIV)

Today we might say ‘the common good’ is to be the focus and function of government. The Declaration of Independence defines this as being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson famously said, “The primary function of government is the care and welfare of its citizens”. According to the apostle Paul, the purpose of government is to protect from evil and promote the good, to punish the ‘takers’ while rewarding those who freely give. We are also obligated by law to pay taxes for those purposes. So to disobey, disrespect or circumvent good government is simply not a biblical position. Jesus summed this up very well during his ministry, as it is written: “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap Him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher’, they said, ‘we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used to pay the tax’. They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s’, they replied. Then He said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God’s.’ When they heard this they were amazed. So they left Him and went away”. (Matthew 22, verses 15-22)

First, government is supposed to protect its citizens’ safety and security. Crime and violence will always be a real and present danger in this world, and that’s why we have the police, who are meant to keep our streets, neighborhoods, and homes safe. Governments also need to protect their people judicially, and make sure our legal and court systems are procedural, just and fair. The biblical prophets regularly railed against corrupt court decisions and systems, in which the wealthy and powerful manipulate the legal processes for their own benefit and put the poor into greater debt or distress. The prophet Amos speaks directly to the courts (and government) when he says, “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5:15 NIV). Again it is written, “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an honest or innocent person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 23, verses 6-9)

But along with protecting, what should governments promote? The Law of Moses holds kings, rulers, judges, and employers accountable to the demands of justice and fairness, therefore promoting those values. And the Scriptures say that governmental authority is to protect the poor in particular. The biblical prophets are consistent and adamant in their condemnation of injustice to the poor, and frequently follow their statements by requiring the government to act justly. That prophetic expectation applies today to the governments of all lands and peoples. Jeremiah, speaking of King Josiah, said, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.” Psalm 72 begins with a prayer for political leaders and the entire population: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.”

There is a powerful vision here for promoting the common good — a vision of “righteous” prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy, and even a concern for the land. The biblical understanding of justice is that the procedures must be fair and it demands unbiased courts (Exodus 23:2-8; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; 10:17-19). Immediately after denouncing Israel and Judah for the absence of justice, the prophet Isaiah condemned the way rich and powerful landowners have acquired all the land by pushing out small farmers when he wrote: “Now I will tell you what I am going to do in my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it. The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: ‘Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants.’ (Isaiah 5:7-9, NIV). It is important to note that even though in this text the prophet does not say the powerful acted illegally, he nevertheless denounces the unfair outcome.

The real truth is that fair outcomes do not always match equal outcomes. The historical attempts by many communist governments to create equal outcomes in terms of social and economic status have dramatically shown the great dangers of how the concentration of power in a few government hands leads to totalitarian results. The theological reason for that is the presence and power of sin, and the inability of such fallible human creatures to create social utopias on earth. Yet the biblical prophets do hold their rulers, courts, judges, landowners and employers (even slave owners!) accountable to the values of fairness, justice, and even mercy. The theological reasons for that are, in fact, the same: the reality of evil and sin in the concentration of power — both political and economic — and the need to hold that power accountable, especially for the protection of the poor and the sick. So fair outcomes, and not necessarily equal ones, are the goal of governments. Governments should provide a check on powerful people, institutions, and interests in the society that, if left unchecked, might run over their fellow citizens, the economy, and certainly the poor. And coming to a better moral balance in achieving fiscal responsibility, while protecting the poor, should be a bipartisan effort. The radically anti-government ideology of the current right wing Tea Party/Republican ideology is simply contrary to a more biblical view of government. The need for checks and balances, the sinfulness of too much concentrated power in either the government or the market, and the responsibilities we have for serving the common good, are all the Biblical definitions of good and just government. Anything less is the same as poking your finger in God’s eye.

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The National Election and the American People — On the Same Page?

One Web Pastor’s Biblical Argument on Why Sanders

Should Have Won, and What Would Have Happened

If He Did

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

U_R_socialist

With both of the conventions that nominated America’s next presidential candidates having concluded, I have already come to the conclusion that this year’s choice for presidential candidates is really no choice at all. We the 99% have two candidates to choose from who are both from the top .1% in America’s economic pecking order, candidates who are clearly bought and paid for by Wall Street, corporate America, and the military-industrial-incarceration complex. “We the people” have the worst choice of candidates since Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson way back in 1964! When Bernie Sanders ran for president he was hoping to initiate what he called a “civil discourse.” He has done far more than that. He inspired a cross-section of American generations who plainly see that our country can do far better than it is, and he inspired this Web pastor, published author and blogger to write this week’s message stating such because I stand with Jesus Christ, and I also stand with Bernie Sanders. My biblical argument lies with two rather unconventional Jews. When I saw Bernie Sanders on stage, I saw someone akin to John the Baptist. I saw the wild-haired, roughly-clothed John the Baptist, eating honey and wearing camel’s hair, and crying out to the religious leaders, the Pharisees of his day, calling them corrupt and complicit with those who have all the power and all the money and all the wealth, and for abandoning the people that God loves, that God cares about.

Never mind that Sanders supports a woman’s right to choose, to have control over her own body, as well as supporting gay rights and cannabis legalization. Those evangelicals who would have others believe that that’s what Jesus cared about most have simply have never read the Bible. If they had, they wouldn’t dare say such things about our Savior. Sanders said: “The great irony is if you read the red letters of Jesus, there are no statements on abortion. There are no statements on gay marriage. Now, that’s not to say the Bible doesn’t speak about these things, but it certainly is to say that Jesus, founder and master of our faith, did not see fit to make these high-priority topics.” There is one thing — one major thing — that Jesus did care about. The Jewish prophet John the Baptist cried out in the desert to warn the Pharisees, “ Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, and make straight paths for him” (Matt. 3: 2-3) I have often tried, sometimes fruitlessly, to point out to the religious right that they have strayed far from the path, and the words, of Jesus. I make a point of bluntly confronting them with Jesus’ own words and have lately begun to equate that with Bernie Sanders’ words, or maybe vice-verse. Sanders said on stage during a speech at Liberty University, “I believe that my views are 100% consistent. And so I think that the shock value for that comes in beginning to appreciate that the Bible and Jesus, in my opinion and in my very moderate reading of the Bible and the words of Christ, leads us to a Progressive worldview.” The words of Jesus resonate in the words of Bernie Sanders. He quotes Jesus from the Book of Luke: “I have come to bring Gospel — good news — to the poor.”

But there is more, so much more! Jesus taught in all four gospels, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” But He didn’t stop there, he went after the religious leaders. “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them’…..’Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.’” (Matthew chapter 23, verses 1-4; verses 23-24)

Those were the words that came to my mind when I watched Sanders on stage, calling out evangelical leaders for abandoning the poor. It was a trans-formative moment for American politics! We commit to the mental gymnastics necessary that allows us to abandon “the least of my brethren”, to abandon the poor, to abandon the immigrants, to abandon those who are in prison, to abandon those who suffer from mental illness or addiction. As I watched Bernie Sanders, he said he wanted to welcome the immigrants and give them dignity. He said he wanted to care for the sick children, and their mothers and fathers, who do not have health care. He said he wanted to decrease the amount of human beings who are corralled like cattle in our for-profit prisons. He said he wanted to end this extortion racket known as for-profit education, and make higher education freely available to all without qualification. He said he wanted to do justice for those who have nothing and live homeless. All these things are the things Christ would be doing if he returned today. The wonder for the rest of us may be that it has taken so long – not for an evangelical to come to this moment, but a Jewish gentleman to realize that the poor, the sick, the homeless are the true mission of Christianity and of America. “The first job of any government”, said Thomas Jefferson, “is for the care and well-being of its citizens.” But those layers of defense, those mental gymnastics that the faithful have labored under for decades are heavy and thick. It’s no wonder, after all the reinforcement from their so-called ‘leaders’, that the light of realization has failed to penetrate.

This kind of breakthrough and willingness to speak out are not only invaluable, but demonstrate the ability of Bernie Sanders to draw together a diverse base of support. That base had, and still has, one thing in common. Religious or not, its members have heart, and compassion, and want the country to be a compassionate, loving, and forgiving place. When we choose to follow Jesus we decide that the Kingdom of God, and the men and women and children of this world contained therein, are more important than the individual. Moreover, that accidentally makes us all Progressives. The day we decided to follow Christ, and the day we decided that we value other human beings more than ourselves, we accidentally became Progressives, or maybe social democrats like in Europe. Accidental perhaps, but we are all Progressive Christians as a result of our faith as well as our politics. It’s a concept whose time has most definitely arrived.

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