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The Immigration Debate, president Trump and Jesus

The Progressive Christian Approach

to Immigration Reform

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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

 

Then one day in the late spring of 2008, I took a contract job out in west Texas under very favorable terms for myself. So, I put most of my things in storage with the intention of coming back to Atlanta where I live after my contract job expired. I had never been to Texas before, and I found a completely different culture than what I was accustomed to back east. There were three things I noticed immediately soon after my arrival. The first was the oppressive heat and humidity, the second was that people ate burritos in place of burgers, and the third was that approximately one third of the population was Latino. The first thing I remember thinking when I saw that one third of the population spoke only Spanish was that this must be ground zero for ‘illegal immigration’, or so I thought at the time.

 

But I spent four months out there in Texas, and as my days turned into weeks I began to notice seemingly insignificant little things that began adding up to something much more. For example, I saw Latino men – and a few women as well – hanging around temp agencies, construction sites, and even at a U-haul truck rental company in the hopes of getting a job at least for that day. I remember being struck by the parallels between what those Latino folks were having to endure as they searched for work, and a piece of the so-called ‘American dream’, compared to my own previous job search experiences. Some of these workers lived at homeless shelters, others in campers or vans, and the more prosperous ones lived in rented mobile homes or apartments. I saw the same thing day after day, with hundreds of workers gathered around in groups of as few as eight or ten, and as many as several dozen. And so I found myself beginning to question my own intense dislike of these immigrant workers. I mean, all they really wanted was a chance at a new life in a safer and cleaner environment. What’s wrong with that?

 

Before I go any further with this message, I think I should point out that my basis for resenting many of these immigrant workers was economic rather than racial. Nevertheless, thanks to my “education”, my beliefs and opinions had been heavily slanted towards an American rather than a world view. So I found myself beginning to question my own motives for feeling the way I did. As I did some research on-line, what I found explained the cognitive dissonance between what I had been “taught” and what I saw. The average worker in Mexico earns the equivalent of about $50.00 per month USD. When these same workers come to the US they make minimum wage, more or less, which is currently still stuck at only $7.25 per hour here in Georgia. Since a sizable chunk of these workers make less than minimum wage while being paid in cash under the table, I’m going to use a rounded out number of $7.00 hourly for the whole country. A 40-hour work week at seven dollars an hour yields gross pretax earnings of $280.00 per week before taxes and Social Security. But since many of these workers don’t work full time their take home pay is even less. At any rate, this works out to gross earnings of $1,120.00 per month. If each worker pays a regular tax rate as we Americans do, and many don’t because their employers are cheating the tax man by paying in cash, they wind up with an average net take-home pay of approximately $740.00 per month. But when you compare that to making only $50.00 (USD) in Mexico, $740.00 must seem super-tantalizing to our Latino brothers and sisters.

 

I challenge anybody out there to try and live even for only a month on substandard pay such as this! The bottom line is that this is impossible while still meeting our monthly expenses in a timely manner. In order to better understand this, instead of Mexico and the US being the two countries involved, let’s use the US and Canada instead. If any given American working professional were offered a job in Canada, what would that be in relation to the US and Mexico? For any Mexican/Latino who emigrates to America, the jump from fifty bucks a month to 740 dollars equals a pay increase that is 11.4 times the going rate in Mexico or, for that matter, any Central or South American country. Now, let’s contrast that to an American jumping ship and leaving the US to go and work and live in Canada. With an average net earnings of $35,000.00 annually (before taxes) for American workers, if any of us were to be offered a job in Canada – or for that matter any other developed or emerging country worldwide – at 11.4 times the going rate here in the US, that would amount to an increase in take-home pay to $399,000.00 annually before taxes!

 

OK, so let’s ask ourselves a simple question: Would you or I be interested in a pay increase of 11.4 times the amount we have been earning previously? The obvious answer is, of course we would! So, now you know why the Latino folks are migrating – legally or not – to the US in search of work. It’s not because they are foreign invaders on an economic and social offensive to overrun America like certain people always say. It’s because they are economic refugees from the third world who are searching for a better life for themselves and their families! So, instead of resenting or even hating this influx of foreign workers, the Christian thing to do would be to reach out to the Latino communities in all fifty states and minister to them. I don’t mean giving them a handout, either. Like so many long-term unemployed here in America, they don’t want a handout, they simply want to go to work. But I felt convicted in the Holy Spirit for previously harboring such negative and bitter thoughts, and I have long since repented of this.

 

Showing compassion to foreigners and strangers is central to biblical teaching and morality. “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 22: 21) Moreover, there are quite a few Christians who have started joining the fight to pass immigration reform, including myself. Congress needs to pass immigration reform into law because it is the morally right thing to do. Those whose position on reform is based on political fear, unacknowledged racial prejudice or worries about losing primaries to far-left ideologues are too often the same people who trumpet their religious convictions as guiding their decisions in public life – in violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state! Politicians who are professing Christians need to consider what their faith has to say about immigration. If they oppose reform and refuse to offer shelter or compassion to our immigrant brothers and sisters, they should (hopefully) begin asking themselves why. We must join with other faith communities in asking for a moral and religious conversation about immigration reform – not just a political one. God’s passionate, abiding concern for immigrants and foreigners, strangers and travelers – and for our neighbors – is obvious to anyone reading through Scripture.

 

It is the Biblical call to “welcome the stranger” and Jesus’ concern for “the least of these” that inspires and motivates us. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:33-34). In the New Testament, the stranger, and all who are vulnerable, are at the very heart of the Gospel (Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan is just one example of many). In the book of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for them is the defining mark of God’s kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36).

 

That evangelical as well as mainstream Christians would finally act to reform the immigration system should surprise no one, and not just for theological reasons. Undocumented immigrants have joined our congregations; we understand the problem firsthand. They are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. And we know that by reforming our immigration laws, we can create a system that also reflects the best values of our nation and the highest ideals of our faith. We act because, as the book of James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.”

 

For me, I think the biggest change hasn’t been in the pulpit, it’s been in the pews and out in the streets. It’s one thing when 11 million people are a statistic. But it’s other thing altogether when one of those 11 million is your friend, a human being who you now know as a father, as a husband, as a mother, as a co-worker, or as a worshiper. Our faith has always been about love, empathy and compassion. It compels us to do something, putting others before ourselves. If we take the principle of compassion out of the Bible, it wouldn’t be the Bible any more. Compassion is indeed all over the Bible, it’s written in between every line! I pray it will also be found in the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. It’s time for Christians in Congress to stand up in support of immigration reform, or to explain why they won’t — as Christians. If they follow their faith, we will see the miracle we need. And let’s remember that there is no such thing as an illegal human being. Everybody has the right to be here.

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Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Five Hundred Dead Cannot Be Ignored

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

flowers_not_guns

The United States of America, together with the city of Chicago, has passed a gruesome and heinous milestone this past week. As of this past Friday, September 9th, 2016, 500 people have been shot to death in Chicago so far this year, and we have just over three and a half months to go before the end of the year. This damnable statistic is a scathing indictment of American “society” in general, and the city of Chicago in particular. As of this writing I do not know anyone who has relocated, or who has plans to relocate, to Chicago for the foreseeable future. It doesn’t take a blooming genius to figure out why – the average citizen living in Chicago has a greater chance of being shot than US military personnel do in Afghanistan or Iraq. Only Syria would be a scarier place to live right now, and that’s nothing for Chicago to brag about. But it’s not just Chicago, as I wrote above. These shooting deaths are an absolutely horrific portrait of American society.

There are many who say the proliferation of guns and the gun culture in America that accompanies it is the culprit. Take all the guns off the streets, they say, and the problem of excessive gun violence will be solved. To me, quite frankly, this ‘solution’ is laughable for its naivety and ignorance of the Constitution. You might say, “What do you mean, naive?” Simply put, I find it astonishingly naive that anyone would assume that outlawing guns would solve the gun violence problem. You see, the people doing all the shooting are exhibiting criminal behavior. Criminals don’t obey laws to begin with, so the net effect of outlawing gun ownership would be that only outlaws and the police would be armed. The remainder of us, the other 98%, would be reduced to moving targets. If there is anyone out there who thinks the police shootings would stop, or that gun violence would cease, if the general public were to be disarmed, they had better think twice – and very carefully too! Moreover, with a disarmed population robberies, sex crimes, and domestic terrorism would increase exponentially since only outlaws would have weapons. A disarmed public would only embolden all the predators out there, not to mention all the trigger-crazy police. Moreover, an infamous man once famously said, “The first step to taking over a country is to disarm its citizens”. That infamous man was Adolf Hitler. Josef Stalin did the same thing in Russia from the mid-1920’s to the early 1930’s. Look it up.

Then there is the problem with the US Constitution, or more accurately the interpretation thereof. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution reads as follows: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. There it is in black and white, folks, from our supreme law of the land, the Constitution of the United States. So now we can see that the only way for the government – law enforcement in this case – to legally take away our primary means of self-protection would be to change the Constitution. That would mean calling for a Constitutional convention consisting of Congress and representatives of the President and his Cabinet, something not likely to happen without a citizen’s revolt. Yet by the same token, a revolution is exactly what America needs for such reforms to take place. While I personally do not own any firearms – something I’ve been rethinking lately – I am very much a pro-2nd-amendment kind of guy.

I can see two main reasons for all the gun violence. The first I can sum up in two words – anger management, or more accurately the lack thereof on the part of all too many Americans of all races, enthnicities and complexions. Too many people are using their emotions instead of their minds for processing thoughts and feelings. The second I can sum up in one word – greed! There are too many people trying to shake down too many others for a quick, easy profit. The fact that much of this stems from the lack of economic opportunity, combined with wages that are on par with the 1960’s, changes nothing. Allow me to share a few examples of what the Bible says about this. “My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood, let’s waylay some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse” – my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into sin, and they are swift to shed blood.” (Proverbs chapter 1, verses 8-16) These verses remind me of the gang problem here in the US, which is substantial to be sure. As you know, youth plus a sense of belonging, minus any positive role models at home, and minus any real chance at economic or educational opportunities, equals future gang members. If our youth can’t find the love, acceptance and guidance they need from home and church, they will go and get it somewhere else.

But there is more to America’s anger management issues. Much of the gun violence Chicago and other American cities are experiencing is due to hot-tempered individuals – those who don’t stop and think before they act. Once again, as a Web minister and Christian blogger, I consider it my duty as well as being part of my job description to point out what the Bible has to say about this. Rather than pontificate about this, I will let the Word of God speak for me. “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver, and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace it; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” (Proverbs chapter 3, verses 13-18) People react emotionally instead of thoughtfully because they allow evil things like greed, pride and a bad temper to rule over them, as it is written: “A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom.” (Proverbs 10: 23) But isn’t there more to it than just that, you ask? You’re right, it’s more than just a lack of understanding. Some people need to grow up and learn to control their tempers, and to cease provoking others. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”. (Proverbs 15: 1) And again it is written in that same Book of Proverbs: “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.” (Proverbs 15: 18)

But at the end of the day, the reasons for gun violence have one common denominator – a lack of love. Hatred has replaced love in a world that can’t stop hating because it doesn’t know how. The reason some people don’t know how to stop hating nor how to start loving is because they refuse to take the Bible and its teachings seriously. Moreover, there is no love because there is no trust due to fear – people are afraid to trust one another because they’re afraid if they do they might miss out on something beneficial, having forgotten that mutual trust is itself beneficial, as is mutual love. The apostle John put it best when he wrote: “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know no murderer has eternal life in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1st John chapter 3, verses 11-16) But Jesus said it best of all. “’Teacher, what is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second one is like it; love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew chapter 22, verses 36-40)

So this is how we can stop all the gun violence in Chicago and all across the country. Love your neighbor as yourself, a commandment from Christ that should be taken to heart, but sadly it is not for a disturbingly large cross-section of the population. Read the Bible and start taking it seriously! Follow Jesus instead of the desires of your belly, your sex drive, and your emotions. Use your brain for thinking, not your heart. And may the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding be with you all!

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What’s Gone Wrong With Our Churches?

Three Reasons Millennials Are Abandoning Christianity

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

live together or perish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Time for Churches to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Seven Hard Truths Pastors and Their Churches

Need to Hear

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

dead men in pulpits

There were once two parents with a little secret. They managed carefully to hold this secret down for several years. “Santa is coming!” their children sang. “It’s almost too good to believe!” With their mouths, the parents said, “How exciting!” But with their minds, they said, you’ve got the right idea: It is too good to believe. Then one day, the children came home with tear-streaks. They knew the truth. Lots of parents don’t tell their kids that Santa isn’t real. They don’t tell their kids the hard truth because they’re concerned: can their kid can handle the truth? You have undoubtedly noticed that our government teats us the same way about just about everything. Like kids that believe in Santa, people believe certain things about God because that’s what they’ve always been told – or because they want them to be true. You know, like, “God is good all the time”. But eventually, plodding through the mud of life, we discover the real truth: life is hard, and not everything is as it seems. Was God good when over 1,800 people drowned during Hurricane Katrina? Is He good when somebody’s child dies? No, but God allows tragedy and sorrow to occur because it is in the most difficult times that God uses our misfortunes and our tragedies to strengthen us and to build our character. In the same way, at some point as a parent, you have to tell your kid the hard truth that Santa isn’t real. And at some point, as pastors, we have to tell our congregations (or our readers in this case) the hard truths about God.

1) God isn’t Santa

Dr. David Pendergrass articulated this hard truth well: God is not a cosmic Santa Claus. You don’t get put on a nice list for doing the “right” things and, in turn, get whatever your heart desires from God. Whenever we feel entitled to a reward, or to “what we deserve”, we cease to view God as the King of the universe and begin to view Him as our personal Santa.

2) You Won’t Always Be Healed

There is so much good in praying for healing – healing for others and healing for ourselves. And while it’s true that God is able to heal, he’s not obligated to. (Click to Tweet) Think about it: if God were obligated to heal and answer every prayer of healing, no one would ever die. The hard truth is that at some point, this life will end. But that’s not the end of the story. There is hope. Our great hope is not that we won’t experience death, but that death is not the end of life – it’s the beginning. (Click to Tweet)

3) You Won’t Always Be “Blessed”

When someone says they’re “blessed,” they usually mean that they’re doing well financially or their kids are on the honor roll. The implicit suggestion is that they’re “blessed” because those things have happened. Conversely, if those things weren’t true, they would not be “blessed”, or at least not by human standards. Though there was a time that “blessing” and “wealth” and “good living” were tied together, I seem to recall this lesson from a Master Teacher about 2,000 years ago: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matt. 5:11, NRSV) Or when this same teacher’s cousin asked for Him to save his life, and He didn’t. But instead Jesus sent word in Matthew 11: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The hard truth is that “blessing” is not about what we have accomplished, but what God is accomplishing in & through Jesus, who resides in the hearts and minds of all who truly believe. (Click to Tweet) We’re truly blessed when we are used by God for the betterment of all.

4) Church Isn’t About You

It’s so easy for churches to become like country clubs. Not in the stuffy, elitist sense. But in the “church is for us” sense. It’s about what we want – our preferences, our comforts. It’s our little world that we control, and we determine who gets in and who stays out. But Pastor Jordan Easley says the hard truth is that church isn’t about us and our ‘holy huddles’. It’s about seeking and healing the lost. The church should be a refugee camp for the lost and those who are hurting. That in itself is a whole lot of people! Church is supposed to be a place where hurting people are brought in to be made well, and then sent out to bring others who are hurting back in. We weren’t brought in to simply socialize.

5) Silence is OK

Christians like the celebration of Sunday’s resurrection. After all, it’s the reason Christianity exists. That said, there is great value in the silent awkwardness of Saturday – you know, the time when Jesus was in the grave, his disciples were scared out of their minds, and they all thought they had wasted the last three years of their lives backing the wrong messiah. Sometimes God is going to be silent. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t “Christian enough” or that you are somehow “broken.” It means God is being silent. And the hard truth is that silence from God is OK.

6) Christianity Isn’t About a Feeling – It’s About Choices

How many times have you been asked, “How can I get that fire back? I just want that awesome feeling of being connected to God!” That question usually follows some awesome spiritual experience. This question isn’t all bad – it just misses the point. When we pursue and desire the “feeling” of being on fire for God, we begin to worship that, and not God. (Click to Tweet) The hard truth is that being a Christian isn’t about getting warm fuzzies when the band is rocking, or the pastor preaches an exciting sermon. It’s about daily choosing to pick up our cross, even when we don’t feel like it.

7) There is No 3-Step Formula to Guarantee a Certain Outcome

I get it: it’s easy to help people remember and understand things by formulas and clever mnemonics. They have their place. But we must be clear: there’s no guarantee to happiness, success, a great prayer life, or anything else. The Bible doesn’t offer “a good/efficient/successful/rich life”, but “new life.” And the hard truth is that that “new life” might look different than what we might expect. We might do everything the Scriptures say and have a business fail, be poor (which is no sin), struggle with depression, and/or not become the “next big thing.” What Scripture does say is God will not leave us as orphans (John 14:18). That whatever we have to go through in life, we won’t have to go through it alone. That’s the kind of guarantee we can count on.

In closing, parents make excuses for not telling their kids about Santa – and they feel good about it. But the hard truth is this: they are lying to their kids. ? And pastors, no matter what reasons they have for not telling their people these hard truths – the end is the same: we’re lying to them. They’re going to find out eventually. The question is this: Do you want to tell them the hard truth? Or do you want them to be blindsided by it?

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These rigged elections are the last straw. Should we go on strike?

Should The American People Go On Strike?

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

we-the-corporations

Osama bin Laden has been dead for about 4 years by now, maybe more. Meanwhile, ever greater numbers of our senior citizens are living into their 100’s. America evidently is having an obesity epidemic, while 50,000 children ages 5 and under die from starvation globally each year. Imagine your child, grandchild, niece or nephew, and then multiply that by 50,000, and you get an idea of the scope of the problem. There’s life and death, positive and negative, good and bad in all kinds of folks, circumstances and situations. One priest saves lepers, another abuses altar boys; one Nazi ran the ovens at Auschwitz while another hid the Jews, saving them from certain death (remember a movie called “Schindler’s List”?). And when we marvel at those contradictions we have a ready explanation. There’s good and bad everywhere, in all races, nations, and societies. We have yet to bridge our differences in race or culture or nationality or faith, but at least we can all agree on that simple truth while we continue to work on all the others.

We live in a ‘George Jetson’-like time of instant communication, jumbo jets, digital TV and all that goes with it, social media and even (thank God!) this blog, where I can pass on to everyone what God has put on my mind and heart in the hopes of helping someone, somewhere, somehow. Nations are beginning to blur; races, ethnicities and various nationalities are mixing, our globe has shrunk to an overheated marble, yet the world seems more fractured than ever. So much divides us. What unites us? Religion? It could, but having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ unites us all under his holy banner, meaning that Jesus, not religion, is the answer for me. The maximum number of plausible Gods is one (all you atheists may simply skip this sentence) as far as I’m concerned. Yet we’ve been waging wars for millennium over what to call Him and whether he wants his picture shown or not. But while religions can’t agree on God, they’re remarkably close when it comes to people. There is near universal agreement on what makes a good person.

Be kind to people, treat your neighbors well, be hospitable to strangers, love one another, live honestly, and a dozen other virtues seem to comprise some universal truth about humanity. And all societies agree on them. It’s as plain as daytime in the Bible. Humankind has been speaking those words since the first philosopher carved cuneiform into clay. We must have an instinctive sense of goodness instilled into us, because we are not born that way. We also agree on what makes a bad person: The murderer, the rapist, the traitor, the manipulator, the cheat, the bully, the taker, the liar, the thief. “Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matt. 6:12 NLT) We know who we are. We don’t like to hurt people. We try not to cheat, lie and steal and we’re ashamed of ourselves when life drives us to those ends because we have a conscience. We believe in peace on earth and goodwill towards men. And for ten thousand years we’ve let the bad people push us around and tell us what to do and to whom to do it. We’ve let them because they were bad enough to make us and we were too soft to stop them until they did terrible damage – until they simply had to be stopped, usually involuntarily.

Bad people are very hard to ignore. You can’t avoid a bad person if he or she happens to be your boss at work, for example. And that happens a lot, because bad people seem disproportionately to occupy corner offices. They’re the bosses, and they know how to play the cold-hearted, cynical game of office politics. That can be rough on you if you work with them (been there, done that). But bad people also know how to play the high-stakes game of national politics, and that’s rough on the entire population. Bad people hate, and they convince ordinary good people to hate the same things. Oh sure, there are always a few saints who rise above the evil that bad people do, and they usually die for it. We know about them posthumously from the Bible, starting with Jesus himself, and then with 11 of the 12 apostles, followed by the stoning of Steven in Acts chapters 6-7, plus part of chapter 8.

But those weren’t good people, they were great people, and we can’t count on them all the time because they don’t come along every day. But there are always plain old good people around, because there’s good and bad in all kinds. And so this is a call to arms for good people everywhere! We have to stop following the bad people immediately. Without us, bad people have little power, they’re merely annoying. Good people everywhere, I’m speaking to you even as you read this. We need to go on strike against the bad people! Let’s tell the bullies and haters to leave us alone, because we don’t want to have to kill any more of them. After all, that’s what it takes to stop one of them. Let’s laugh at their rigged economy and crooked government, reject their poisoning our environment and pumping up our kids with drugs they mostly don’t need, and refuse to be provoked by their aggression. Let’s tell them we won’t play their deadly games anymore; let’s tell them it’s over! We’re not sending our sons and daughters off to fight their wars anymore. We’re not going to tolerate any more FBI and CIA-instigated false flag terror attacks in our cities, such as what happened in Orlando last week (it turns out at least 4 or 5 of the Orlando shooting victims, up to as many as 10 or 12, were actually shot outside the club while the shooter was still inside. Hmmm…). Don’t forget, these are agent provocateurs for the same people that assassinated the Kennedy brothers and Rev. Dr. King. These are the same people who’ve been slowly poisoning us and our kids by fluoridating our nation’s water supply for the last 75 years. If the Dark Side, Satan and his forces of evil, will do this to our nation’s finest, what do you think they would do to you if you gave them the chance? Or if they took it upon themselves to come after you or your assets, such as a law enforcement or IRS operation? The average American stands a better than even chance of being killed by the police in such situations!

Maybe what we should do is give all these gun-toting, war-mongering (war mongrels?) maniacal psychopaths a large island or land mass somewhere so they can fight it out to their evil hearts’ content. Eventually they will all kill each other off, and die enjoying doing so. Let’s see, I’m thinking Siberia, Antarctica or maybe Greenland if it’s not too small. But you know, it would apply even there, that pet theory of mine, in this hypothetical land of the damned. Some evil SOB would do something nice for some other evil SOB, probably without even realizing it. Because there’s good and bad in all kinds of people. But when God made us he gave us all a free will – freedom to choose our own destinies. Why do I choose God when others don’t? Why do I place my complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ? Because, although I could just go my own way and take my own chances, although I could call my own shots and make my own way, I choose Christ. I’d rather believe in Jesus and take a chance on being wrong about it, then I would not believe and take a chance on being wrong about that. Because if I or any of us is wrong about that, if we refuse to believe only to discover our mistake later, there is redemption and salvation in the former choice, but neither in the latter. Please devote your week to thinking carefully about this ultimate choice we must make. Where we spend eternity after our physical lives end will surely depend upon it.

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The positive side of error

Human Error And What It Can Teach Us

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

without sin

It has been my observation that people take a great deal of pride and personal satisfaction, not to mention their professional identity, in their educations and professional training. The existence of the Internet constantly reminds us that knowledge is power, but more importantly that knowledge is instantly available. Some self-righteous – even belligerent – individuals take this fact to its outer extreme by going through life with the attitude that unlimited Web access equals unlimited personal power and knowledge. This philosophy of no limitations is the seed from which human failure sprouts, having failed to recognize that human intelligence has its limits despite a wealth of available knowledge. King Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, “The Lord catches the wise in their craftiness”, and the prophet Isaiah wrote, “The intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”, and, “God had chosen the foolish things of the world, and the simple, to confound the wise”. So much for human intelligence.

The fact of the matter is that we do not learn anywhere near as much from formal education as we do from our own mistakes. For example, I will use the household cleaner known commercially as “Formula 409”. How did the inventor come up with this name? He had to make 408 different formulas that didn’t work in order to come up with one that did. That means he/she had to make 408 mistakes in order to come up with the winning formula that we know today. Life experiences work exactly the same way. We learn and adapt from our experiences as we go along in life because that is how the human brain is wired. Our brains learn from constant modification based on our surroundings, our environment and the sum of our experiences. On the other hand, being right can also have its benefits. As pleasures go, it is, after all, a second-order one at best. Unlike many of life’s other delights – chocolate, the great outdoors, movies, books – it doesn’t enjoy any mainline access to our biochemistry: to our appetites, our adrenal glands, our sex drive, our emotions. And yet, the thrill of being right is undeniable, universal, and (perhaps most oddly) almost entirely undiscriminating. Nor does subject matter; we can be just as pleased about correctly identifying the model year of a vintage Corvette, or correctly identifying the sexual orientation of our co-worker. Stranger still, we’re perfectly capable of deriving satisfaction from being right about disagreeable things: the downturn in the stock market, say, or the demise of a friend’s relationship.

Like most delectable experiences, rightness isn’t ours to enjoy all the time. As the apostle John wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and his Word has no place in our lives.” (1st John chapter 1, verses 8-10, NIV) Clearly, humankind is prone to error because we’re made that way. The time-worn phrase, “Nobody’s perfect”, continues to be a gross understatement, and it always will. I think the biggest reason we enjoy being right is because it happens so relatively infrequently. Because when we’re not, we’re the one who loses the bet. And sometimes, too, we suffer grave doubts about the correct answer or course of action – an anxiety that, itself, reflects our desire to be right.

On the whole, though, and notwithstanding these lapses and qualms, our indiscriminate enjoyment of being right is matched by an almost equally indiscriminate and sometimes irrational feeling that we are right. At times, this feeling spills into the foreground, such as when we argue, evangelize, or make predictions. Often, though, it is just psychological backdrop. Most of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to infallible. Most of us navigate day-to-day life fairly well, after all, which suggests that we are routinely right about a great many things. And sometimes we are not just routinely right but spectacularly right: right about the orbit of the planets (mathematically derived long before the technology existed to track them); right about the healing properties of aspirin (known since at least 3000 BC); right to track down that woman who smiled at you in the cafe (now your wife of 20 years). Taken together, these moments of rightness represent both the high-water marks of human endeavor and the source of countless small joys. They affirm our sense of being smart, competent, trustworthy, and in tune with our environment. More important, they keep us alive.

Individually and collectively, our very existence depends on our ability to reach accurate conclusions about the world around us. In short, the experience of being right is imperative for our survival, gratifying for our ego, and, overall, one of life’s cheapest and keenest satisfactions. Yet even that can be an illusion (or a delusion, take your pick) as the apostle James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote: “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” (James chapter 1, verses 9-11, NIV) But the ministry of Christ was aimed towards those who were willing to acknowledge their imperfections, just as Jesus said: “I have not called the righteous, but sinners to repentance”. As a minister myself, I am glad when I’m right, but more interested in how we as a culture think about error, what the Word of God says about it, and how we as individuals cope when our convictions collapse out from under us. If we relish being right and regard it as our natural state, then our feelings about being wrong are the exact opposite. For one thing, we tend to view it as rare and bizarre – an inexplicable aberration in the normal order of things. For another, it leaves us feeling idiotic and ashamed. Like the term paper returned to us covered in red ink, being wrong makes us cringe and slouch down in our seats; it makes our heart sink and our resentment rise. At best we regard it as a nuisance, at worst a nightmare, but in either case – and quite unlike the gleeful little rush of being right – we experience our errors as deflating and embarrassing. And it gets worse. In our collective imagination, error is associated not just with shame and stupidity but also with ignorance, lazyness, psychopathology, and moral degeneracy. It is the common view of oneself that our errors are evidence of our gravest social, intellectual, and moral failings.

Of all the things we are wrong about, this view of human error might well top the list. It is our mega-mistake: We are wrong about what it means to be wrong. Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction and courage. And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world. For those who refuse to acknowledge their errors, King Solomon wrote about people like them in the Book of Proverbs, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death”. (Proverbs 14: 12) People who insist on going their own way end up getting consumed by it. The lucky survivors wind up in jails, mental hospitals, rehab, or any combination thereof. Given this centrality to both our intellectual and emotional development, error shouldn’t be an embarrassment, and cannot be an aberration. On the contrary, as Benjamin Franklin once observed, “the history of the errors of mankind, all things considered, is more valuable and interesting than that of their discoveries.” I believe the healthiest and most productive attitude we can have about sin and error is that however disorienting, difficult or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are. And in the end, it is that recognition of our own sinful, mistake-prone nature that ultimately leads us to the sole solution – Jesus Christ. Ask Him into your hearts today. Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the full. Go ahead, just do it.

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An Email From God. Seriously.

What If God Sent an Email To Organized Religion?

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Donald Trump took my lunch money for his presidential campaign. My dad is gonna be pissed!!

Donald Trump took my lunch money for his presidential campaign. My dad is gonna be pissed!!

Given the state of affairs of organized religion throughout the world, and particularly here in the US with Johnny-come-lately “Christian” presidential candidates such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, I can’t help but wonder what God must be thinking about all this. As you likely recall, Mitt Romney stated during his 2012 presidential bid that, if elected president, his first act as chief executive would be to launch an airstrike on Iran. Keep in mind that this is the same guy who is opposed to abortion and who calls himself “pro-life”. He fights for the rights of the unborn, but if you’re already alive and living in Iran, you’re toast. That doesn’t seem quite right to me. On the other hand, if you live in Syria, where the government is slaughtering the governed, you’re on your own. Yet in Iraq, where there is plenty of oil, we occupied that country while killing over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, over half of whom were women and children. But that war was supposed to be different because we toppled a terrible dictator. Never mind that that same dictator, none other than Saddam Hussein himself, was a former CIA collaborator and “asset”. So much for loyalty among allies. Yes, that’s what our country has been doing in the Middle East since Gulf War 1 back in 1990-91. And it is the American military-industrial-incarceration complex that has been doing this same thing throughout the globe since the end of World War Two.

Meanwhile here at home, one person in five depends on food stamps to eat due to unemployment or inability to earn a living wage. People can’t afford to get sick or hurt in an accident because if they do, the medical bills they are about to incur will bankrupt them. Twenty four million Americans can’t find a job – but since they can’t afford to go back to school and get retrained because of the staggering cost of America’s for-profit higher education system, they remain stuck in their situation with no relief in sight. As I wrote in my first book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, our country has more than enough money to pay for lifetime medical care and higher education for every single American who wants either or both. All they have to do is call off all the wars and bring our troops home. As I explained in that same book, if the US government took all the money that is spent in just one day on the wars/occupations in the Middle East and Afghanistan and put it all into an interest-bearing bank account, there would be ample funding for 4-year college educations for every school kid in America from pre-K through high school, including tuition, books, housing, food and transportation. Yeah, just one day’s war expenditures would do that. Besides, there is sufficient legal precedent doing this very thing in the form of the GI Bill that was passed by Congress after the end of World War 2. If they could reeducate us then, they can do it now. All that Congress has to do is make the G.I. Bill available to everyone.

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

“My children, I appeal to you all to return to what you call the New Testament, the chronicles of the life of my only Son and the instructions he left behind. I offer this directly to the peoples of earth, without intermediary, cleric, or agent of any kind. Circumstances have compelled me to sever all ties, contracts and assignments with my representatives on this planet. You see, I have been completely dissatisfied with their performance of their duties for some time. Children get molested in some churches, adultery runs rampant in others, while still others have turned their churches into businesses and have enriched themselves with material possessions beyond all reason. You pastors and evangelists who drive around in cars with six-figure price tags while flying around in your own jets, you know who you are. There’s nothing wrong with having a nice car and a comfortable house, but a good bit of that other money should have been used to feed the poor and house the homeless. But the rape of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, crimes committed in my name by the USA, not counting the additional war plans they have made, has forced my hand. The perversion of my will displayed by these despicable acts, and so many others, has left me no choice. I hereby fire my earthly representatives, they no longer speak for me.”

“Humankind, however, remains in my affections and you always will. We need to start again with the New Testament (not to discount or devalue the old) and work towards better days. But it would be remiss of me not to explain why I have taken such drastic measures. To put it bluntly, war displeases me. Five thousand years of war among the humans over the right way to pronounce my name has exhausted my patience. I will no longer be responsible for any murders committed under color of my authority. I much prefer that you who claim to believe in me should put some legs on your faith. It’s good when you fast and pray, but it’s far better to go and find someone in need and doing whatever you can to help him or her.”

“Someone who goes to church every Sunday but does nothing more during the week is a Christian in name only in my eyes. Someone who donates for a good cause to charity, who volunteers their free time without expectation of compensation or who is a role model for the fatherless, that person will find favor with me. Those who visit the sick, the elderly and the prisoner, and someone who is a defender of the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the mentally ill, and other vulnerable individuals, it is they who are truly following in my Son’s footsteps. I created you with a divine Spirit in my image. But you persist in bastardizing that Spirit and ruining my image when those who don’t agree with you about whether or not it is permitted to draw my face find themselves bombed back to the stone age! Until you prove you can worship the divine Spirit I put in all of you, and desist from the mayhem and slaughter that you love more than me, I shall summarily reject and disallow all claims to my providence.”

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

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

“But do not despair, my children, for I have not abandoned you. There is a little piece of me inside all of you, a fail-safe guide to good and evil, a moral compass that never leaves you, a true voice you can hear amid the storms of fire that drive you mad with hatred and confusion. It is called your conscience and it always points towards my Son; follow it and you will be walking in my Light, ignore it and you’ll be lost in the darkness cast by your own shadow. So here is my ‘new’ first commandment to you: I have given you a conscience. Use it.”

Sort that out to my satisfaction and maybe in another decade or so we can talk about the dietary laws.”

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Watch out that nobody deceives you

Bogus Doomsday’s, False Prophecies,

and the Real Returning of Christ

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Over the last several years I have seen a lot of blog postings and also viewed a number of video’s regarding Biblical end times prophecies, doomsday reports such as the impending start of World War Three, as well as predictions about catastrophes such as monstrous killer earthquakes and the planet Nibiru and so on. For example, just this past week I saw a video on You-tube titled, “Nibiru enters earth’s orbit”. Undoubtedly the majority of you have already heard of this wayward planet, also called “Planet X”, or more recently “Planet 9”. Although it is factual that the presence of a large planet has been detected on the outer rim of the known solar system, NASA estimates this planet to be somewhere between Neptune and Pluto, or well over two and a quarter billion miles away. Moreover, this hypothetical new planet is estimated to be roughly two thirds the size of Jupiter, or approximately 60,000 miles in diameter. If this 9th planet were to enter the earth’s orbit, or be as close to earth as the earth is from the sun, it would be clearly visible in the sky, even during daytime. Enough said about Nibiru.

A California pastor and radio host named Harold Camping made what turned out to be a series of false prophecies dating back to the 1980’s, the most recent (before his “retirement”) being that the “rapture of the church” would occur on Saturday May 21, 2011 at exactly 6PM. “Rev.” Camping and others like him have brought judgment down on themselves and their congregations (except for those individuals who left) by uttering prophecies that have turned out to be without substance. Such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible. In another example, many secularists dismiss the Bible because they assume that it teaches the world is only 6,000 years old. In reality, the Bible never makes such a claim about the Earth’s age. Instead, some well meaning Christians have misused the genealogies in the Bible to attempt to ascertain the date of creation. Second, predictions about the end of the world always lead some people to make foolish decisions. Just as every teacher knows how unproductive and unfocused students are the week before school lets out, God knows how tempted we would be to neglect the responsibilities he has entrusted to us if we knew the date we would be “raptured” into heaven. That is why God refuses to show us his calendar and instead instructs us to focus on our assignments. But the most harmful consequence of false predictions is that it discourages people from making the necessary preparation for the real event when it actually occurs. But some will be tempted to join the chorus of cynics whom the Bible predicts will mockingly say, “Where is the promise of Christ’s coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4). Let’s not forget that it was Jesus himself who said to his apostles that no one knows when he is coming back to the earth, not even himself, but only his heavenly Father. Let’s pause and look up what He said about that. “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us’, they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come, claiming, ‘I am the Christ’, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” [Matthew chapter 24, verses 3-8, NIV]

I’m sure you noticed the very first sentence of Christ’s response, “Watch out that no one deceives you”. At this point it is easy to see that Jesus was talking about the times in which we are currently living. The increased number of earthquakes that have been recorded over the last decade or more are in the news almost on a daily basis. When it comes to famines, humankind has them in spades, starting with a 2014 United Nations report saying that 50,000 children per day, ages 5 and under, die from starvation globally. But these things, our Lord said, are just the beginning. There will be a lot of “false Christs” who will deceive an awful lot of people. Jesus wasn’t only talking about people claiming to be Jesus Christ in the flesh, he was talking about entire churches or even denominations. ‘Ours is the true way’, one church might say, and yet another different from the first may say the same thing. Jesus was talking about divisions within the body of believers, as well as phony con artists operating without.

At this point, I really should add some additional background to add more clarity to this week’s message. I’m going to mention three things here – the Great Tribulation, the coming of the Antichrist, and the “rapture” of the church. Whatever anyone has read or heard elsewhere, get ready to enjoy hearing and be warned about the truth about the world’s future as the Bible tells it. Most everybody knows about the 7-year Great Tribulation that is prophesied elsewhere in the Bible, mainly in the books of Daniel and Revelation, and which were written many hundreds of years apart. This 7-year period will be the final seven years leading up to the return of Jesus Christ, who will proceed to rule the world from its new capital in Jerusalem for 1,000 years. The main argument revolves around the timing of this 7-year period. Some say it hasn’t started yet, others insist we ‘re already in it. There are many details I could delve into regarding this matter, but it all boils down to what Jesus told his apostles: “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father”. [Matthew 24: 32-36, NIV] Based on that last sentence, if anyone tells you orally, in writing, or on a You Tube video the exact date of Christ’s return, you can be certain they are lying, and that’s the nicest way I can put it. Many Biblical scholars and pastors, unfortunately, take the phrase, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened” and try to add something that isn’t there. You probably know that the nation of Israel as founded on May 14, 1948. You likely also know that a ‘generation’ in the Bible was considered to be 40 years when it was originally written. For all you long-time Christians like myself, it was widely prophesied on the then-relatively-new Christian TV stations that Jesus would return one generation later on May 14, 1988. Much to the discredit of main stream Christianity, we all know what happened back then, and one of the purposes of this week’s posting is to try and prevent this from happening a second time during these last days.

What am I talking about here? If 40 years isn’t what Jesus meant, many Christians are saying, and the average life expectancy here in the ‘end times’ is a little over 70 for men, then 1948 plus 70 years equals 2018. Aha!! So that’s when our Lord will return! Got it, now let’s get ready! Wait, wait – stop. With slightly less than two years to go until this date, I can tell you without reservation that, like 1988, May 14, 2018 will most likely come and go without any major incidents. “No one knows the day or the hour”. Isn’t that what the Lord said? Not even himself, He stated. Now let’s look at this from another angle. If May 14th, 2018 is the day of Christ’s return, and since the Great Tribulation is of 7 years duration, then the ‘tribulation’ should have started back in the Spring of 2011, and the Antichrist should have come to power sometime last summer or so. Clearly, since none of these has occurred, those other “predictions” won’t come true either. So, now let me move on to the second topic, and that is the coming of the Antichrist, who will come upon the world scene according to the prophet Daniel (see Daniel chapter 12 in the Old Testament), as well as the book of Revelation chapter 13. As before, without having you all plunge headfirst into the murky pool of end times prophecy, let me make a generalization or two. In the first place, World War Three and the Gog-Magog war of Ezekiel chapter 38 and 39 in the Old Testament are one and the same. Moreover, the Antichrist will not come to power until just after this war’s conclusion. While I would be quick to agree that the stage for WW3 is currently being set, we aren’t there just yet – but, continue to watch events unfold in the Middle East very closely, because that’s where it’s going to start. It will not be until the conclusion of that war that the Antichrist will come to power to enforce his own brand of peace, and that is when the countdown to the final 3.5 years will commence before Christ’s return. The final event before our Savior’s return in this context is the Battle of Armageddon, which is not the same as the God-Magog war of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. So, to dispel another myth or false teaching (take your pick), World War Three and Armageddon are two different battles set approximately seven years apart.

The final end-times issue I want to discuss is the so-called “rapture” of the church (I’m using quotes because the word ‘rapture’ isn’t in the Bible). The “rapture” of the church is the abrupt taking away of Christ’s Church, allegedly at the beginning of the 7-year tribulation prophesied in the Bible. Many modern pastors and nearly all TV evangelists are teaching this as being factual. Only our heavenly Father knows for sure, just as Jesus said above. A generation or two ago, few mainline Protestant churches discussed the second coming of Jesus Christ. Fifty years later, however, televangelists, network television programs, movies and books like the “Left Behind” series — which has sold more than 60 million copies — have succeeded in placing the return of Jesus Christ in the public consciousness. A 2004 Newsweek poll revealed that 55 percent of Americans believe in the “rapture”, the snatching away of all Christians prior to the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ. Speaking as a Web pastor who preaches often about Bible prophecy, I am grateful for the general awareness people have of the promised return of Jesus Christ. My hunch is that the date God ultimately has chosen is one that will not be plastered on billboards around the country. Make no mistake about it, Jesus is coming back some day. Over 1,800 verses in the Old Testament and 300 verses in the New Testament prophesy of the Lord’s return. But I sometimes find some modern interpretations of Scripture leaving something to be desired, and the teaching about the “rapture” is one of them. To find out the truth, all we have to do is read a little farther in Matthew’s gospel beyond where we were when we started. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and be put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” [Matthew 24: 9-14, NIV]

Now let’s go back to the Book of Revelation for some similar scripture: “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given the power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. He who has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patience and endurance on the part of the saints.” [Revelation chapter 13, verses 5-10, NIV]

After reading through these two carefully chosen passages of Scripture, there should be no remaining doubt in the mind of every reader that there will be no ‘get out of jail free’ card for any of us. If you’re watching a preacher on TV, or at the church you attend, and you find yourself hearing about a “pre-tribulation rapture”, stop watching that preacher or find a better church in your area, because I just proved with the two passages above that there is no “rapture”. I let the Bible do the talking for me, this isn’t just my opinion. The rapture is a false teaching!! Of course, there will be many people who will cite 1st Thessalonians chapter 4 (“behold, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall all be changed”). Problem is, that chapter isn’t talking about the second coming of Christ, the apostle Paul was writing about what happens when we die. Go back and read First Thessalonians chapter four, verses 13-18, and chapter five, verses 1-6 in any Bible version you want, and you’ll see what I mean. Those verses are about what happens when we die! The church will not escape the brutal rule of the Antichrist or the horrors of World War Three. We’re going to be right in the middle of it, and many of us could even get killed. Moreover, this will be happening on a global scale, meaning the United States will not escape what’s coming upon the whole world – the real Tribulation yet to come. I don’t think we’ll have much longer to wait. Prepare yourselves accordingly.

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America is sick with greed, and I’m just plain sick of it

America’s Sick Culture of Greed – the 7 Warning Signs

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

wealth_or_democracy

The apostle Paul, in his first letter to his deacon Timothy, admonished him to be wary of the pursuit of money and material wealth. About 1,950 years ago, Paul wrote, “But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1st Timothy chapter six, verses 6-10, NIV) The love of money for money’s sake, as in the days of the early Church, remains the social and societal disease of our time. We see it all around us; in the celebration of ill-gotten financial gain, public admiration for the heads of criminal banks, the lyrics to some popular songs, and in the commercialization of charity and spirituality. This adoration of wealth isn’t a new thing, of course. Back in elementary school I remember being sent to the principal’s office for being moody, unfocused and temperamental – in other words, for being either a rebellious revolutionary, a writer in the making, or a trouble-maker. I still remember my report cards from elementary school that said I “failed to concentrate on the task at hand”, and that I had “too casual an attitude”. In other words, I was a misfit deemed to be a failure in life. That, of course, depends on how one defines the words ‘misfit’ and ‘failure’.

In defense of my childhood self, the Beatles were famous for their Rolls-Royce’s at that time and the Beatles seemed happy. A group called the “Dave Clark Five” went out and bought five matching Jaguar XKE convertibles (anybody else remember that?). Like any good consumer in the making, I had internalized these images of wealth and had come to equate them with happiness. The United States of the 1960s was a nation filled with optimism. For many (though definitely not all) Americans, it was a time of unparalleled opportunity. Education was affordable, families could live comfortably on a single adult income, and the country seem to be on an endless upward trajectory of prosperity. We were expanding in every way, so rapidly that only the depths of space seemed able to contain the people we were about to become. The fantasy of wealth seemed somehow different in that context. Today, we’re a nation being preached to by “bipartisan” corporate politicians who lecture us on the impossibility of expecting a livable Social Security income in our old age. Or a living wage in our working years. Or an affordable education, so our children can live a better life economically than we did. Yet we’re more infatuated with the fruits of unproductive greed today, it seems, then we were back then. Here are seven signs that American culture is sick with greed.

1.) There’s still no public shame in profiting off Wall Street fraud.

Wall Street has been celebrating the investment opportunities created by the wave of criminality and fraud which has overtaken JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and others. JP Morgan Chase’s epidemic of internal fraud has led to tens of billions in fines during the tenure of CEO Jamie Dimon. The investigation’s report goes on to describe how JP Morgan’s stock has risen despite the record fraud settlements against the bank and multiple ongoing civil and criminal investigations. What the report is saying is that banks are essential to the functioning of society, like a public utility. But unlike traditional public utilities, they’re entrusted to profit-driven executives with a long history of documented criminality. And yet there have been no indictments of senior Wall Street executives to date because senior government officials have made it clear they don’t want to endanger the banks by enforcing the law. Legal and political implications aside, what’s astonishing to me is the complete lack of shame associated with being a bank executive whose organization has committed so many crimes — or an investment analyst to openly celebrate those crimes as an opportunity to make money at society’s expense.

Even as the world was still learning of Wall Street’s extensive criminality, Dimon was the subject of a fawning profile several years ago in the New York Times Sunday magazine, which detailed at length Dimon’s hurt feelings and irritation toward those audacious enough to criticize him. Andrew Ross Sorkin did the same thing for the same newspaper three years later, dismissing as “blood lust” calls for Dimon’s resignation in the wake of yet more billion-dollar fraud revelations about his bank. Even now, after all the revelations of crimes which include investor fraud, shareholder fraud, perjury, forgery, violation of international sanctions laws and laws designed to protect members of the US Armed Forces — even now it’s possible to treat bank CEOs as victims in the pages of our country’s newspaper of record. Condemning that record isn’t blood lust. It’s morality.

2.) Greedy CEOs still have credibility in the media.

It’s not just Jamie Dimon, of course. Having shattered the middle class through their accumulation of wealth, the devastation they inflicted on the global economy, and their mistreatment of employee pension funds, Wall Street CEO’s apparently still have enough credibility in some quarters to be treated as experts in fiscal responsibility. They’re using that credibility to suggest that America’s middle-class accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare, two of the few programs left to protect them from the effects of runaway corporate greed. American news outlets accord these CEOs an extraordinary and unearned measure of respectability and authority. Very few articles about ‘Fix the Debt’ mention the massive fraud settlements and fines levied against these CEO’s institutions. Although CEO’s aren’t greedy by definition, most of the ones on ‘Fix the Debt’s’ list fit that description. Most of the ones who aren’t running Wall Street banks lead defense contracting firms that earn excessive profits from the US taxpayer, while lecturing those same taxpayers on the need for the middle class to cut back on its expectations of financial security when it reaches retirement age. ‘Fix the Debt’ is one of a number of interlocking organizations which are largely financed by right-wing billionaire Pete Peterson, who made his money in the hedge fund business and yet is treated by many journalists as if he were Mother Teresa.

3.) Corporate executives are now trained to rip people off.

This writer spent a number of years in the business world during the 1990s, as the owner of a small technology-based retail storefront operation. During this time, corporate America was transforming itself from a customer-driven set of industries to a greed-driven and conscience-less wealth extraction machine for the investor class. Let me use the Gillette Company as an example. As most bearded men know, the Gillette business model is a sneaky one. The company ropes customers in with low-cost razors and then charges an outrageous amount for replacement blades. This is obviously a deceptive business model. Another example from the 1990’s and (to a lesser degree) 2000’s is that of the pay phone industry, which wanted to increase turnover in the use of its phones. The allegedly ‘brilliant’ thinking of a junior executive taken directly from the minutes of board meetings (I will decline to name the company) proposed that bricks be put in the handsets of all their phones. In the same “brainstorming” session, which sometimes are innocuously called “meetings”, another executive suggested making the surfaces underneath the phones slanted, so that people couldn’t leave their things there while they spoke on the phone. The net result was that people paid a quarter to use a pay phone, but then grew uncomfortable and were unable to complete their calls. The beauty of it – from the company’s point of view – was that they didn’t even know why they were hanging up. They merely had an unsatisfying customer experience, while the phone company got to turn over customers more quickly and collect more quarters. Again, nobody back then objected that this was poor customer service, and an underhanded way to deal with customers. If you multiply those experiences ten thousandfold, you have an idea of the culture of corruption which is taking place every day in companies all across the country. That’s not to say there aren’t companies that still believe in customer service; there are, and I’m grateful every time I encounter one. But the corporate culture of America has become a culture of cheating, manipulation and greed. (The pay phone industry in this country is dead, by the way. Karma, as they say, is a bitch.)

4.) And then there’s the music recording industry.

Our idealization of greed isn’t confined to the business section of our newspapers. While white liberals decry the idealization of wealth, that’s not a new phenomenon either. In fact, it can be found in both lifestyles and the recordings of their own childhood musical heroes. “Money can’t buy everything it’s true, but what it can’t buy I can’t use…” There has always been a tension in popular music between the comfortable idealism of those who come from wealthy backgrounds and the aspiring materialism of pop musicians who were raised in poverty and/or financial insecurity. That latter list includes Elvis Presley, the Beatles, James Brown, and many of today’s hip-hop artists. As the seminal R&B producer, songwriter and performer Swamp Dogg put it in the 1970’s: “I’m not selling out, I’m buying in.” The best of those artists — the Beatles, Brown, and more recently Kanye West — have struggled to reconcile the drive which helped them escape poverty with the idealism that made them gifted artists. Kanye ran into some controversy with his track “New Slaves.” Many people were offended that he equated his own wealth with slavery and Jim Crow laws. It’s Kanye’s charm, as well as his curse, to speak everything that comes into his mind. But I think he was onto something with his line about “throwing back the Maybach keys” and his lyrics about the expectation that African-American celebrities will be excessive spenders.

Self-made celebrities often act as ritualized consumers on behalf of the general public. Their job is to swallow up the most excessive luxuries the wealthy lifestyle has to offer. They inadvertently use their power and influence to reinforce the corporate-driven, consumerist tropes that keep us enslaved to our own material desires. By naming the phenomenon and ritually “throwing the keys,” Kanye West is trying to break a pattern that has stretched from Tupelo in Mississippi to Compton in California, from Liverpool in England to Bed-Sty and Brownsville in New York.

5.) Insight and spirituality are being commercialized.

One of the most notorious examples of the commercialization of faith and spirituality is the “prosperity gospel”, which is being propagated primarily in Protestant, catholic, and non- or- interdenominational churches here in the US. As the late and well-known televangelist pioneer Oral Roberts once said, “If you have a need, you must plant a seed”. In order to obtain, we must first give, or so they say. But when we examine the Scriptures, we find this is quite the reverse of what Christ taught us in the Sermon on the Mount: “So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’, or ‘What shall we drink?’, or ‘What shall we wear’? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 31-33, NIV) So, instead of “planting a seed” to get our needs met, if we have a need we should be on our knees in prayer, not giving some crooked televangelist all your grocery money. Even Eastern spiritual traditions like Buddhism are being co-mingled with idealized visions of what it means to be a billionaire. From TED talks to mindfulness conferences like the Wisdom 2.0 conference, the search for individual and collective insight is becoming increasingly identified with the desire to accumulate wealth. “You can have it all,” these events seem to say. “You can gain peace of mind, unlock the mysteries of human existence, and become a billionaire, all at the same time.” Some of these events even seem to argue that they are one and the same journey, which is a complete fallacy. It’s heaven and Nirvana, all in one ‘special’ package — with corporate sponsorship.

6.) Kindness and thoughtfulness toward our fellow human beings has become a commodity.

The Clinton Global Initiative has continued to promote misleading deficit-reduction materials in partnership with the hedge fund billionaires. It featured a leader from Morgan Stanley — one of the institutions which was instrumental in causing the 2008 financial crisis — talking about how to recover from the financial crisis. It’s not just Bill and Hillary. In the midst of negotiating yet another multi-billion dollar fraud settlement, JP Morgan Chase was given the honor (and the public relations coup) of sponsoring the fund raising concert for victims of Hurricane Sandy headlined by the Rolling Stones. But then, the Stones have a relationship with big banks that goes back to their sponsorship deal with AmeriQuest, the mortgage company which was slammed for deceitful practices and discriminatory lending toward minorities. That’s not to say corporate charity, or for that matter the charity of billionaires, is a bad thing. Everyone should incorporate charity into their way of life, and those who are most fortunate should give the most in return. Nobody argues with that. The sickness comes when we allow certain types of charity to glorify the giver, or when it’s considered impolite to mention any relationship between, say, the excessive wealth accumulation of the givers and the need for charity in the first place.

7.) America’s Soul Sickness

Today there are countless signs that our culture is sick with greed. You don’t need to be told that. Just look around. I never was able to afford the Rolls-Royce’s and Jaguar roadsters of my childhood fantasies. But then, those things were only an expression of pain. They reflected a deep yearning to be somewhere else, to be someone else, to escape the daily trials of everyday existence and replace them with a fantasy bubble that kept me at a glittering distance from the sufferings of the real world. Today’s national culture of greed is also an expression of pain and fear. It’s more terrifying than ever to try to survive on a middle-class income. Most people live one or two paychecks away from utter disaster. Very few of us feel that we have any real control over our own fate. The lives of reality show stars, the Hollywood tabloids and dangerous drugs like ‘meth’ and ‘spice’ are some of the most obvious of our escapist fantasies. But as long as we live in a fantasy world, we won’t be working to change the real one. True happiness is found in a life lived with meaning. It’s not just that I can’t afford that car. We can’t afford it. We can’t afford to live in a world where our only aspiration is to accumulate wealth, regardless of how it’s accumulated – while ignoring the flourishing of the human spirit in its artistic, idealistic and intellectual aspects. The love of possessions is a sickness. People are losing their lives in the pursuit of wealth and possessions. They’re dying from gunshot wounds and heart attacks, in gang battles and in solitary hospital beds. And it’s getting worse. The symptoms are appearing, not just in ourselves, but in the planet we call home. If we don’t cure it soon, it could prove fatal for all of us.

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How Badly Have Our Politicians Lost Touch? This bad.

Five Biblical Concepts Our Political

Leaders Just Don’t Understand

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

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Right-wing Evangelical Fundamentalism, as well as much of America’s conservative political leadership, claims to return to the roots of Christianity. Few of these fundamentalists care much about the early church, the four Gospels, the apostle Paul’s letters, or St. Augustine. Rather, they blend Southern Conservatism, bastardized Protestantism, Aryan heresies, gross nationalism and a heavy dose of naive anti-intellectualism for a peculiar American strain of what I will tactfully call spiritual sophistry. As a pastor by the name of Reverend Cornell West has noted, “the fundamentalist Christians want to be fundamental about everything, except ‘love thy neighbor.’” I couldn’t agree more. So, I decided to make that this week’s commentary (I never liked the word ‘sermon’, it seems too stiff and formal to me). Here are some verses we liberal Christians wish they would get more “fundamentalist” about:

1. Immigration: The verse: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34, KJV.

Bogus ‘Christians’ hate this verse because fundamentalists are almost universally xenophobic. The truth of the matter is religious fundamentalism is only a reaction to the multiculturalism of a liberal democracy, and particularly in multicultural churches. Rather than seeking a “brotherhood of man,” religious fundamentalism longs for a colonial community, without the necessary friction from those with foreign beliefs, cultures and customs, and especially with different skin colors. We are called to discern among “sojourners”. The original meaning of this word in this context is ‘those who move about from place to place’. This looks to me like a euphemism for what some call ‘illegal immigrants’. People looking for a home have been around ever since humankind began to explore the earth. (the New International version translates ‘sojourners’ as “aliens”, which has a more familiar right to it) There are currently 11 million illegal immigrants who want to become citizens, with likely an additional 20 million family members as new citizens within about a decade. What does God say about those who hate without cause and mistreat foreigners? “I will be a swift witness against… those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against … those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:5., KJV

2. Poverty: The Verses: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:24, NIV.

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” James 5: 1-6, NIV

To myself, at least, one of the most absolutely hilarious aspects of modern-day, far-right Christianity is its reverence of capitalism. That’s because Christ could be considered anti-capitalist, as well as Moses (see Exodus 22: 25-27, in any Biblical version you like). Consider that there is some version of the story of the rich man approaching Jesus that appears in every Gospel. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells the rich man, “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Mark 10:21) The story of Lazarus should similarly terrify modern day fundamentalists. Lazarus is a beggar who waits outside of a rich man’s house and begs for scraps. When both Lazarus and the rich man die, Lazarus ends up in heaven, while the rich man ends up in hell. When the rich man begs for water, Abraham says, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” Luke 19:25.

So-called “conservative Christians” (the very term is an oxymoron) hate these verses because the only thing fundamentalists dislike more than immigrants is poor people. Seriously. A former Tea Party congressman once said he thought the government should cut food stamps entirely, “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.” Former congressional representative Michelle Bachmann has also made a similar statement. The entire Tea Party movement is based on the idea that a huge portion of Americans are “takers” who suck the lifeblood out of the economy. Never mind the fact that the reason all those people aren’t working is because their jobs got exported overseas for pennies on the dollar, leaving them destitute. The majority of Christian “fundamentalists” insist that poverty be explained in terms of a personal moral failure, or even mass incompetence. They therefore hold that success should be described in terms of morality, when in fact the Bible says quite the opposite: “In the last days many will compare godliness with gain”. The poor are considered culpable so that they can be punished – like today’s cuts to food stamps or the public shaming of those on disability, welfare or unemployment.

3: The Environment The Verses: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:27-28

By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16-17

Why do so many fundamentalists twist and distort these verses? In Genesis, man is given stewardship of the Earth, God’s creation. Stewardship in the Christian tradition implies protection. Man should exist in harmony with the earth, not work against it. Jesus Christ once told his followers: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Luke 16:13. Increasingly, the religious right (which is neither, by the way) is trying to do exactly that, intertwining Evangelical fundamentalism with unfettered capitalism — with disastrous results for the earth’s environment and the US job market. Thus, American political life is increasingly dominated by Christians from the extreme right who reject the religious ethos in favor of capitalist ethos. It is these same Christian right wing nuts who seeks to discredit the threat of global warming. It also claims the threat of climate change is “alarmist” and fears that efforts to clamp down on emissions will hurt the poor (read: Fortune 500 corporations). In reality, climate change will have its greatest effect on people living on less than a dollar a day who can not adapt to higher temperatures. Conservative Evangelicals are not concerned with dwindling biodiversity, the destruction of ecosystem, rampant pollution, global warming and the numerous other environmental challenges we face. Rather they, with the business community, are only concerned with the bottom line. The future is irrelevant (unless we’re talking about government debt). Thus, the Biblical command to protect the environment is quietly swept under the rug.

4. War The Verses: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” – Matthew 5: 38-42, NIV “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5: 43–45.

As a religious and political movement, fundamentalists have defined themselves as a party of opposition, rather than of love, grace and mercy. Some scholars are erroneously calling this a “third great awakening”, even though it is different from the other two. This one is full of contempt disguised as piety toward those whose understanding of religion fails to meet their lofty standards. While past “Great Awakenings” have looked inward, seeing sin within the conflicted self, this new awakening looks outward, seeing sin in the wider culture. The culture, which is secular, is evil, while the church is sacred. This is why modern religious fundamentalism gravitates towards xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, etc. Fear and disgust are its motivating factors. This fundamentalism inclines some religious people toward a preemptive “war of religion” and a strong disgust (that sometimes culminates in violence) toward Muslims and gay people. Oddly enough, the Christian tradition has developed a theory of “Just War” (developed by Thomas Aquinas) which condemns war except when all other options have been exhausted and there is just treatment of prisoners (with a specific condemnation of torture). If only one of the past two “Christian” presidents had listened.

5. Women The Verse: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28

Although the right often claims the Bible supports their absurd ideas about gender roles, such sexist claims have been thoroughly debunked by theologians. Generally, when you’ll hear an explanation of why women belong in the home, it’ll rely on a misreading of one of Paul’s doctrines. In contrast to Paul, Christ rarely concerned himself with sexual mores, although he clearly was against divorce. He was far more concerned with fighting oppression and injustice. Fundamentalists want to keep women submissive and subservient, but Jesus won’t let them. In Luke, for instance, Jesus is blessed by a priestess named Anna. He praises a woman who stands up to a judge and demands justice. It’s worth noting that in a time when women could not testify in a court of law, all four resurrection stories have women arriving first to Jesus’ tomb. Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman at a well even though Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans, and he praises Mary Magdalene for listening to his words (see Luke 10:38-42). These verses are powerful and I believe that they should be carefully considered.

I’m becoming increasingly concerned that Christianity and religion in general is represented by its most ultra-conservative, fundamentalist elements. Remember that Karl Marx drew his inspiration for the famous quote “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” from the example of the early church (Acts 4:32-35). But once the moral potshots are finished, we all have to face the fundamental and aching deprivation of having been born. We can continue to have a fun time berating those who believe the Bible explains science. The Christian message doesn’t contradict science, and nor is it concerned with American politics. Ultimately, Christianity is about transcending politics and fighting for social and economic justice. Think of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Malcolm X – all of whom were influenced by their religion to change the world. Jesus saw how oppression and oppressors consumed the world. He has, as always, sided with the oppressed. This Johnny-come-lately of skewed fundamentalism I’m writing about is radically new and far removed from true Christianity. True Christianity offers us a far superior doctrine — one of social justice, love and equality. When we practice all of these, we are following Christ regardless of religious denomination.

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