Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Our Political, Business and Religious Leaders Are
Ignoring Their Taxpayers, Workers and Membership
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
Sooner or later, it happens to each of us. There always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand. Maybe you’ve been laid off from a job you've held for years. Perhaps you’ve experienced a nasty divorce (been there, done that). Or maybe the crisis is more subtle: One suddenly realizes they’ll never have the life they dreamed of living. Any life-changing moment can knock a person down. But it can also open doors if one learns how to “fall upward.”
Older Americans like myself face a two-sided problem: many religious leaders are paying more attention to the collection plate than to us, and the government has been trampling its constituency underfoot for decades while pandering to Wall Street and corporate America. President Trump has already started renegotiating trade agreements, but in many states like Georgia where I live, the minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25 hourly. Much of contemporary religion is geared toward teaching people how to navigate the first half of their lives, when they’re building careers and families, a kind of “goal-oriented” spirituality. Yet there’s less help for people dealing with the challenges of aging: age discrimination in the workplace (which is rampant), the loss of health, the death of friends, and coming to terms with mistakes that cannot be undone.
God can function as a spiritual survival guide for hard times as millions of Americans young and old struggle to cope with “falling”: losing their homes, careers and status. The phrase “falling upward” describes a paradox. Nearly everybody will fall in life because they'll be confronted with some type of catastrophic loss or abject failure. Yet failure can lead to growth if a person makes the right decisions. I’ve met people who, because of the loss of things and security, have been able to find grace, freedom and new horizons. They have learned to make the best of what can often be a bad situation.
If you’re falling in any area of your life, one of the first skills to learn is accepting surprises. It’s easy for people to turn bitter when things don’t go as planned. God sees such people all the time, whether throwing tantrums at the airport because of long lines or flocking to angry rallies in opposition to some form of social change. If one doesn’t know how to deal with exceptions, surprise and spontaneity by the time they’re my age, one become a predictable series of responses of paranoia, blame and defensiveness. These circumstances often teach similar lessons about hard times:
 Suffering is necessary,
 the “false self” must be abandoned, and –
 everything belongs, even the sad, absurd and futile parts.
People have learned these hard lessons for centuries, sometimes through myth, but most of the time by trial and error. They must first experience humiliation, loss and suffering before finding enlightenment. They are often forced on their journey by a crisis.
Events like the evaporation of a retirement fund or the death of a spouse can force us to summon strength we didn’t know we had. Forced liquidations of businesses that were once thriving enterprises is another example that comes to mind. The key is not resisting the crisis. We must learn to allow the circumstances of God and life to break us out of our egocentric responses to everything. If we allow ‘the others’ – other people, other events, other religions or cultures – to influence us, we just keep growing. That growth, though, is accompanied by death – the death of the “false self”. The false self is the part of our selves tied to our achievements and possessions. When our false self dies, we start learning how to base our happiness on more eternal sources. We start drawing from our walk with Christ. We learn to distinguish from the essential self and the self that’s only window dressing.
Those who break through the crisis and lose their false selves become different people: Less judgmental, more generous and better able to ignore the evil, selfish or stupid deeds of others. It may sound esoteric, but many of us have met older people like this. They possess what I call “a muted enlightenment” – they’ve suffered but they still smile and give. I’ve seen that in the wonderful older people in my life. There’s a kind of gravitas they have. There’s an easy smile on their faces. These are the people who laugh, who heal, who build bridges, who don’t turn bitter. This “muted enlightenment” shouldn’t be confined to older people. I've met 11-year-old children in cancer wards who are in the second half of life, and I have met 61-year-old men like me who are still in the first half of life.
I challenge the popular notion that success is a natural result of being religious. Our culture is prone to imagine that growth takes place in a sort of constant, upward movement. Even our religious culture tends to focus on success and stability as ideals for religious growth, while overlooking the grace of failure, from which far more growth originates. With Progressive Christianity tradition, loss, collapse and failure have always been seen as not only unavoidable, but even necessary on the path to wisdom, freedom and personal maturity. I know older people like myself, all of whom have vast work experience, who struggled to rebuild their identities after they poured much of their earlier lives’ energies into professional and personal success. That is what happened to me after 2008, when I found myself forced out of the technology profession after an 18-month absence due to several health issues.
Our culture tends to be youth-oriented, and a lot of spirituality is youth oriented. But our elders are the embodiment of the wisdom that life matters at a much deeper level than what we can achieve and produce. Imperfect people are sometimes more equipped than perfect people to help those who are struggling. The person who never makes a mistake and always manages to obey the rules is often a person devoid of compassion. He or she sees people for whom the wheels have fallen off and they wonder 'what’s wrong with them'. But the person who feels that he or she has ruined their life often has more capacity for humility and compassion. I’m embarrassed as I’m getting older about how much of my energy and vitality as a younger man was driven by my ego and a win-lose mentality.
As I've gotten older I find myself driven by something altogether different: The need for rest, and a need for more time for contemplation. As a teacher once told me, “The first half of life, you write the text. The second half of your life is when you write the commentary. You have to process what it all meant.” I will be challenged to follow his and my own advice, and I encourage all of you to do the same. I will spend less energy on my “false self” as my old self dissolves. It will be a relief to me when the process is over. I am ready, though, to fall upward. If I lose my position as a web minister, author and respected church member, I would still feel secure. Most of us don’t learn this until it is taken away, like losing the security of your 401K as your entire career evaporates before your eyes. Then the learning either starts or you circle the wagons.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Thursday, January 26, 2017
The Sower and the Seed With the Family of Christ
[Luke chapter 8, verses 1-21, part 1 of 3]
Good day, everyone! As we continue our in-depth study of the writings of the apostle Luke in their order of appearance in the Bible, we'll be starting on chapter 8 of Luke's gospel. Since this is a fairly lengthy chapter comprised of 56 verses containing quite a bit of subject matter, I will be breaking this chapter into 3 parts just to make sure we don't miss anything. So without any further introductions, let's begin at verse 1.
“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna, and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told them this parable: 'A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate them up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.' When he said this, he called out, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'” (Luke 8, verses 1-8)
As I said in a previous study on Luke's gospel, Jesus had the 1st century equivalent of an entourage, many of whom Jesus had healed. At least three of them, who are listed above, were bankrolling Jesus' ministry. You can be sure that these three women and their families are in some of the choicest palaces in heaven right now! People were being healed by Jesus from all kinds of diseases and ailments, including “evil spirits”. This is a carryover from some much older translations than the New International Version used for these studies, and this phrase describes what we now call mental illness. Back then, nobody knew what else to call it, I suppose. But now the apostle Luke changes the scenery when he does a 'flash forward' to the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. Back then the economy was largely agricultural, and I'm sure Jesus chose this setting as a teaching tool because it was something everyone could relate to. So Jesus tells the crowd and the Twelve the story of the seeds and what happened when they fell where they did. When Jesus finishes his tale, the apostles ask him about the meaning of this parable of our Lord's, which is where we will now pick up, beginning at verse 9.
“His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, 'The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God have been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that 'though seeing, they may not see, though hearing, they may not understand'. This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the Word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the Word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in a time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among the thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked with life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart who hear the Word, retain it, and by persevering produce a good crop.'” (Luke 8, verses 9-15)
Jesus was quoting from the Bible as it was written back then, long before the New Testament came along. “Though seeing, they may not see, though hearing, they may not understand”, is from the Book of Isaiah chapter 6, verse 9. Our Lord and Savior was quoting this verse as a direct affront to the religious establishment of his day, and the collection of Pharisees and teachers of the law who were following Jesus' every move. This was occurring because, as we saw in an earlier study of chapter 6, verse 11, these opponents of Christ were looking for a way to refute Jesus' ministry, not realizing the impossibility of any such thing ever occurring!
I need not comment at length about the meaning of this 'parable', since Jesus was pretty specific in his explanation to the apostles. But what does need to be examined here is this – which kind of seed are we? Which seed do I want to be? Does this aspiration line up with where I am in life, and with what kind of person I aspire to be? Because, you know, if we find upon self-examination that we're anything but the seed that falls on good soil, then we have some work to do. Because the keyword in verse 15, the last sentence of the above quote, is 'persevering'. Being a follower of Jesus means that sometimes believers have to put up with derision, being excluded or rejected, and with verbal assaults, particularly on social media. To put it in a not-so-nice way, true followers of Christ sometimes have to put up with a lot of crap. It goes with the territory, so we must prepare ourselves for that. If those who worship Him in spirit and in truth happen to live in a Muslim country or in some other repressive regime such as North Korea, their faith can get them executed. You can bet the darn farm that every one of those Christians who fearlessly believe over in those countries is walking in the Spirit! On that note, let's close out today's study beginning at verse 16.
“'No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be made known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even that which he thinks he has will be taken away from them.' Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.' He replied, 'My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice.'” (Luke 8, verses 16-21)
As you probably suspect, verse 16 is where the saying “let your light shine” originated. Those who are walking in the Spirit, and who are followers of Jesus rather than main stream religion, have this light within them. I think Jesus was saying that those who are true and sincere believers have a responsibility to let others see that light shining. We are charged with the responsibility of letting the light of Christ shine through us, so that others who see may be inspired, even compelled to follow the example we set. Not all of us can be pastors or evangelists, but we don't have to win souls from a podium or a pulpit to be considered as soul winners. Leadership by example can be even more effective, and especially when mentoring people.
“There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be made known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen.” I can sum this quote up in one short sentence: There is no such thing as concealment from the Lord! If there is anyone reading this who has something from their past that any of their current family or co-workers don't know about, Jesus was telling us that one of two things will happen. That which has been hidden, whether by individuals, businesses, corporations or entire governments, will be found out either in this life or in the one to come. But, it is guaranteed to be found out. The degree of the offense, I suspect, will be directly proportional to the consequences. That's what Jesus meant by, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even that which he thinks he has will be taken away from them.” Anyone who thinks they are getting away with something in life is actually not. Enough said.
“Someone told him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.' He replied, 'My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice.” This is part of the good news of the Gospel! To be sure, Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith, by which we are justified through grace. But there is also unconditional equality! The word 'family' is no longer confined to our immediate relatives, as tradition is transmuted to include all of humanity as one gigantic family, with Jesus Christ as the head of the heavenly household! So to close out today's lesson, we become family members first by embracing the risen Christ and his shed blood for the forgiveness of sin, and second by putting our fresh new faith into practice by making sure that the light of Christ that now shines within us is seen by as many people as possible. And what is sin? A more modern synonym would be 'offense', whether intentional or otherwise. But by changing ourselves from being like that to being one from where the light of Christ shines from, we will be fulfilling our mission in life, each in his or her individual way. And that's what makes God the happiest of all.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
God's Laws Always Supersede Our Own
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
Now that Donald Trump – love him or hate him – is officially the POTUS, I am writing this week's commentary with a plea for national unity on everyone's part. I've been walking this earth for 6 decades now by the grace of God, and America is more divided today than I have ever seen. The divisions in our country from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s over the Vietnam war and racial inequality pale in comparison to America's social and economic divisions of today. What deeply concerns me is that so few people seem to be aware of the great extent that our country has been divided, but I'm going to continue to make this known in an effort to make a contribution towards doing something about this. So when I hear the phrase, “Not my president”, what I'm hearing is the voice of still more division within the US. America's citizens and those from other countries who are residing here equally need to put their differences aside and learn to work together, at least until the next election.
Yet by the same token, the reasons for the lack of unity throughout America are quite valid in the eyes of those who cherish these beliefs in their hearts. But to refuse to cooperate or declining to support the new president is equal to holding the laws created by the new presidential administration in contempt. To this some may say, “Good, that's just what I intend to do!”, while others may say, “Hold on, not so fast until we think this through.” Both points of view have their own merit for different reasons. This led me to wonder whether God's Word has anything to say about this, so I started searching. What I came away with was proof positive that, while it is wise and usually prudent to cooperate with and obey earthly authorities, if we pass any laws that are contrary to God's Word, we (not just devout Christians – everybody!) are not duty-bound to obey those laws. In a worst case scenario, we would be obligated to disobey an unjust law. To document this I will be quoting from the Book of Acts chapter 5.
“Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the door of the jail and brought them out. 'Go, stand in the Temple courts', he said, 'and tell the people the full message of this new life'. At daybreak, they entered the Temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin – the full assembly of the elders of Israel – and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 'We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.' On hearing this report, the captain of the Temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this. Then someone came and said, 'Look! The men you put in jail are in the Temple courts teaching the people!' At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they were afraid the people would stone them.” (Acts 5, verses 17-26)
The background on how this whole affair started was that the apostles, led by Peter, were having notable success in their efforts to spread Christianity throughout the known world at that time. The time frame is about three months after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is a matter of days, or a week or two at the most, after the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 apostles who were in the upper room on what we now call Pentecost. Peter and the other 119 apostles were quickly developing quite a following, and the ruling religious establishment over the Supreme Council at Jerusalem (equivalent to the Vatican of today for Catholics, or maybe Oral Roberts or Bob Jones universities for Protestants) had begun viewing the apostles as a threat. As a result, they had some of the apostles arrested and jailed like common criminals.
The next thing that happens is the arrival of an angel of the Lord's – it doesn't say which one – who sets them free in the middle of the night. These apostles, led by Peter, are then instructed to go and teach and bear witness in the Temple what the Lord did for them. That must have been quite a sermon! “The Lord Jesus Christ will set you free from sin”, Peter must have said, “and sometimes he will literally set you free! We were in jail for preaching the Gospel yesterday and last night, but look! Here we are today! God want to do this for you, too, through the saving grace and shed blood of his only Son!” Just about this time, the Temple guard, together with their captain, arrive to arrest Peter and the others who had been let out of jail. Notice here that Peter and the others willingly cooperated with the captain and his officers. Had they not done so, the outcome here would have been completely different, much to the detriment of the Gospel, and as this passage documents. Let's continue now at verse 27.
“Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name', he said. 'Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty for this man's blood.' Peter and the other apostles replied, 'We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand, as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.' When they heard this they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.” (Acts 5, verses 27-34)
The apostles had previously been brought before the Sanhedrin, and had been given the equivalent of probation, for the same 'offense'. So here they were, back a second time, and some of those present among the Pharisees and Sadducees were calling for the death penalty! Sometimes missionaries who work in countries where Christianity has its enemies, or where the teaching of Christianity or possession of a Bible are outlawed, pay the ultimate penalty for their faith too. “ Peter and the other apostles replied, 'We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead – whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.... We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him”. So here is a clear-cut case where the laws of God supersede the laws of humankind because man's laws contradicted those of God. Jesus' very crucifixion is the ultimate example of this. Jesus may have been crucified as a common criminal, but that didn't change the fact that he was a Savior for the souls of all humankind. Peter and the other apostles tell the Sanhedrin that they are all accessories to the murder of the Son of God. This enrages the ruling council to the point of (not surprisingly) wanting the apostles to be executed on the spot. But that is just before Gamaliel gets up to give his little speech. So now let's find out what he had to say as I begin to close out this week's message, beginning at verse 35.
“Then he addressed them: 'Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.... in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of men, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourself fighting against God.' His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the Temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped preaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 5, verses 35, 36, and 38-42)
As you can see, Gamaliel was probably the smartest man in the room at this point. He cites examples in verse 37 of 2 men who had fomented revolt in the recent past, only to get themselves killed for their trouble. So Gamaliel was telling them that if that new religion known as 'the Way' was a human effort, it would come to nothing. But Gamaliel must have suspected there was something more to Christianity than mere ideology or philosophy. I think that's why he told the other members of the ruling council that if Christianity was ordained of God, there would be no possible way to ever stop them from spreading the Gospel. And of course, he was right, and the rest is history – Christian history! So at the end, the apostles get flogged, or beaten with whips, as punishment for their 'crime'. And, they're happy about it despite enduring the extreme pain! Overjoyed, in fact! “Day after day, in the Temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped preaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ.” If being persecuted and criminalized for their faith made the apostles overjoyed, it's time we all got this same tough attitude.
We need to get an equally tough attitude about the laws of God versus those of humankind. It is in our own best interest to be law abiding citizens, there is no question in my mind about that. But it is even more so with God's laws, the law of Jesus, the law of salvation by faith through the grace of God. If the government starts telling you to go and get an identification chip implanted in your right forearm or on your forehead, you know we should disobey that law because it's the Mark of the Beast in the Book of Revelation. If anyone is suffering from seizures, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or going through chemotherapy, and the only effective thing they're tried is cannabis oil or medical marijuana to alleviate their symptoms – which God made anyway (see Genesis chapter 1, verse 11) – then no government has the right to tell any citizen they may not use or ingest cannabis or its byproducts, nor do any laws passed against medical cannabis or cannabidiol have any validity whatsoever. I could cite more examples, but you get the idea. It's our responsibility to use our brains about these matters. That what God gave us one for. Choose rightly, but always choose God.
Friday, January 20, 2017
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Your Sins Are Forgiven
[Luke chapter 7, verses 24-50]
For this week's study we'll be covering the second half of Luke chapter 7. When we left off last week, John the Baptist had sent 2 of his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he was the true Messiah, the Anointed One of the Lord. Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Jesus was telling John's disciples they should be certain about Jesus' true identity by his actions and not his words. Today as we take up where we left off last week, we find out what happens afterwards as Jesus addresses the ever-present crowds of admirers, followers and hangers-on, beginning at verse 24.
“After John's messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: 'What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? This is the one about whom it is written, 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'. I tell you, among those who are born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.' (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the Law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)” (Luke 7, verses 24-30)
The quote Jesus used from the Old Testament, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you”, comes from Malachi chapter 3, verse 1. Jesus knew the Bible as it existed back then better than anyone who ever lived, as you can see from this relatively obscure scriptural quotation. “'What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” I can almost hear the nervous laughter rippling through the crowd. “But what did you go out to see? A prophet?” 'You went to see a real prophet, didn't you', Jesus was saying! Our Savior then answers his own question, “I tell you, among those who are born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” To receive a compliment like this from the Lord Christ Jesus was nothing short of superlative from John's standpoint. It sure would be to myself! I'd be happy just to be John the Baptist's maintenance man at his mansion in the sky!
“... yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” There is unconditional equality in God's kingdom! The least in God's kingdom to come (and soon!) are still greater than John the Baptist. How can this be? Is this because no one is considered to have any superiority over anyone else, or great authority? That's partly true, but I think the main reason is that no one who made it to God's kingdom did so by their own efforts. Only the shed blood of Christ qualifies any of us to be there in New Jerusalem (heaven) with him. “All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right”. They embraced Jesus' teachings because they had embraced John's, who had told them in advance of Jesus' coming. There's something to be said in favor of faith right here. When these people came to hear Jesus, that was the proof of the pudding as far as they were concerned. This was a confirmation of their faith, and of the teachings and prophecies of John the Baptist. The Pharisees and “experts” in the Old Law rejected Christ, much to their own condemnation. And now let's move on to the second part of our study, starting at verse 31, as Jesus continues to speak.
“'To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry'. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners'. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.' Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7, verses 36-39)
Jesus compared the religious establishment of his day, the Pharisees and Rabbi's, to children playing who, when no one would join in their games, sat around pouting and sulking because they didn't get their way! “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.'” John the Baptist lived by himself in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey for his main diet. This gentleman was evidently a hermit of sorts who would go out and preach sporadically but frequently in the desert areas of Judea, in what is now called the West Bank area of Israel. One thing is for sure – John was not a normal, everyday kind of guy. But since the religious establishment didn't understand him or believe what he preached, they said John was some kind of demon-possessed individual. Jesus then told his critics that day, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners'. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” The Pharisees and Rabbi's were so arrogant that they passed judgment against both John the Baptist and Jesus without so much as a second thought. The religious establishment of today hasn't changed a bit, no matter which faith it may be.
Then, the text does a 1st century version of 'fast forward' as it jumps over to the dinner at the Pharisee's house. As the “sinful woman” weeps at the feet of Jesus, “she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.'” So it's plain to see that the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner was judging this woman, possibly someone involved in the sex trade, and he assumed he could hide his thoughts from our Lord. But he assumed incorrectly, as we will now find out, beginning at verse 40.
“Jesus answered him, 'Simon, I have something to tell you.' 'Tell me, teacher', he said. Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii, the other one 50. Neither of them had the money to pay them back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?' Simon replied, 'I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.' 'You have judged correctly', Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.' Then Jesus said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' The other guests began to say among themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?' Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace'.” (Luke 7, verses 40-50)
Here again we find ourselves being confronted by Jesus who granted unconditional equality to everyone no matter who they were. As you can see, our Savior took great exception to anyone who considered themselves better than others, no matter what the reason. He was reprimanding Simon the Pharisee in a diplomatic sort of way. Simon had provided Jesus with a nice dinner in comfortable surroundings, that is true. Did Simon the Pharisee reap an eternal reward for that? I would think so, but Jesus was gently telling him that he shouldn't think so highly of himself. The woman who wept at the feet of Jesus, although described by the apostle Luke as “sinful”, she was evidently shedding some tears of repentance. 'You didn't wash my feet, but she did. You didn't greet me with a kiss, but she has kissed my feet nonstop since I've been here. You didn't anoint me with oil, but she has doused my feet with perfume. Your dinner has been nice, Simon – very nice! But she has done more – much more!' Jesus regarded the acts of the sinful woman as being more noble than all the religiosity that Simon could muster.
“.... her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.' Then Jesus said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' The other guests began to say among themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?' Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace'.” For she loved much? But he who has been forgiven little loves little? Yes, the (previously) sinful woman had been forgiven many sins, so she loved Jesus more than all the others, particularly Simon. Simon loved Jesus the least of everyone at the dinner because he held himself in high regard and probably had a 'holier than thou' attitude to boot. But it's not our own efforts that can save our souls, but faith combined with our acts most definitely can! If that formerly sinful woman's faith saved her, so can ours. Only, let's similarly be formerly sinful like she was after she met Jesus, and let's all do our level best to live the rest of our lives in this way. And next time we meet, well start on part one of Luke chapter eight.
Monday, January 16, 2017
What are these law enforcement folks protecting to begin with? The assets, infrastructure and personal privacy and security of the top 1%, that's what! The problem with that is the top 1% regard everything in sight as theirs, as if all the people in the lower income brackets – the other 99% – didn't deserve one stinking thing. In short, its all a game of acquiring the most stuff, the biggest collection of material goods of one kind or another, the fastest or most luxurious car, the most powerful truck and the biggest house. And for what? If one of us should die tomorrow, he or she can take absolutely none of it with them. As Rev. Billy Graham used to preach, “nobody ever saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer behind it”. It's all temporary, left behind when we are dead and gone, as all of us eventually will be, including me. It's what we leave behind that counts. Maybe we should ask ourselves – if you haven't done so already – what kind of legacy do we want to leave? Not someone who did great things in the sight of others or who made a great fortune, but someone who took care of the needs of the people on a case by case basis. Not someone who is lauded with praise by men and women, but one who seeks the praise and approval of Almighty God as I and others like me do. I love giving some homeless guy a couple of dollars, paying an elderly widow's electric bill to keep it from being turned off, donating a used computer to an inner city school kid who needs one, and never mind their skin color either. Performing volunteer work, giving generously to your church (it doesn't have to be financial aid, there are many ways to help), sponsoring a hungry kid overseas, or adopting one here at home are the things people remember about us after we have passed, and so will God. We are to be leaving behind the things that people remember about us long after we are gone, and they must be positive things that build people up, not negative things that tear us down. We are to be contributors, being sure to give wherever possible and not living just to see how much we can earn, or even take. Takers are losers who leave holes in time.
What if we didn't need money at all? What if we had an alternative way to buy things without using traditional cash, checks or plastic? What if we didn't have to work at all, or maybe not nearly as much? Using profit as a mechanism for the control of liquid assets by and for the top 1% when the overwhelming majority of Americans have no access to those assets is obviously an economic barrier that keeps the remaining 99% of us in a bare subsistence mode that is clearly unethical and discriminatory and therefore illegal. Eliminating the need for money instantly wipes out poverty while putting the 99% in a favorable position to have all their basic needs met (never mind all the fancy BS stuff, just the basics of life). The replacement of money, and of the work that is necessary in order to earn it, are already being accomplished by computers and robots.
Technology has eliminated jobs across the board on an alarming scale – from secretarial positions to auto workers. The resulting crisis is compounded by our culture's deep denial of the basic problem. I'm old enough to remember the '60s and '70s when so many pundits described the coming glories of the "cybernetic age." Then computers would at last liberate us, they promised, from the drudgery of 9-5 jobs. Back then the worry was, what would we do with all that leisure time? Leisure time has proven frustratingly elusive. Instead, most of us are working harder than ever as our employing firms "downsize." Alternatively, we're pounding the pavement looking for non-existent jobs to replace those that have been "outsourced" to Asia somewhere. Additionally, so many of the "jobs" available to the more recently laid off labor force are extremely low-paying to a humiliating degree (such as the current and pathetic minimum wage of $7.25 hourly). In the end, they are nothing more than useless make-work projects that are not only completely unnecessary, but positively destructive. Things like weapons manufacturing, the military itself, the advertising industry and telemarketers, insurance companies, fast food, and (above all!) Wall Street jobs connected with financial speculation. None of these occupations are truly productive. And naming them as I have represents only the tip of the iceberg.
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Hennie Jackson's Thoughts: America is A Modern Day Babylonia : Statue of Libe...: She is spoken about in the Bible. Jeremiah 46:24 New International Version (NIV) 2 4 Daughter Egypt will be put to shame, ...
Sunday, January 15, 2017
The Book of Revelation: the Seven Trumpets Explained
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
I have decided to take time out this week to comment on part of the Book of Revelation that has to do with a series of end time events known as “The Seven Trumpets”. I will be quoting from chapters 8, 9 and 11 as I do my level best to explain the meaning of all these future events as they were written down more than 1,900 years ago. But I'm also going to dispel some myths and refocus some misunderstanding about the Book of Revelation and its meaning. There are widely varied interpretations of Revelation being disseminated by an equally varied spectrum of pastors and teachers, as you well know. Many of these various explanations are very accurate and scriptural, but many others not so much, and a few are downright silly. I will bypass commenting on any of these other interpretations for right now. All I'm going to do is explain the Seven Trumpets as best I can, and I have chosen this part of the Revelation because it is very relevant to the times in which we live. I will begin at chapter 8 and verse 6.
“Then the seven angels who had the 7 trumpets began to sound them. The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees was burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” (Revelation 8, verses 6-9)
Regarding the first trumpet, the majority of clergy and theologians believe this event has not yet occurred, but I disagree. Once before in human history a similar calamity overtook Egypt during the seventh plague (see Exodus 7, verses 14-24). The difference being that the Egyptian calamity was local, but this judgment will be worldwide. It will most certainly be so unusual that mankind will be forced to recognize that it is a divine judgment. As with all the seals, trumpet and bowl judgments, since the results are literal, the judgments will be literal also. The same can be said for the second trumpet, which describes an apparent meteor or comet striking the earth and landing in the ocean.
A word of caution here – this is not a prophecy of a planet colliding with the earth! Unlike what some are saying on You Tube and other social media, this is not a prophecy of “planet X” or “planet nine”, also called Nibiru (Who dreamed up that name? Sounds like a brand of Japanese car). While this planet does exist, its current location is estimated to be somewhere between Neptune and Pluto, the 2 outermost planets in our solar system. Since it takes approximately 165 years for Neptune to orbit the sun, if Planet Nine is that far out it will take at least half that time or longer to reach earth, if it reaches us at all. So you can all stop worrying about “Nibiru” – it is very, very far away and will do us no harm. Let's move along now to the 3rd trumpet.
“The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water – and the name of the star is wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night. As I watched I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice, 'Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!'”. (Revelation 8, verses 10-13)
Contrary to what some are saying on social media like You Tube, etc, this is not a description of a second meteor or comet. It is a description of an event all right, but this is completely different. You will recall the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Soviet Russia, where a nuclear power plant overheated and exploded, blowing the roof off the facility. As some of you already know, 'Chernobyl' translates into English as 'Wormwood' (read more about that here), although the translation is not the same word-for-word. Since the Asian continent where Russia is located takes up one third of the land mass on earth, the references to “one-third of the rivers and springs of water” makes sense to me. The description of the fourth trumpet is different, however. Something is going to cause 1/3 of the planet to have no sunlight in the daytime, and no stars at night either. The best explanation seems to be a large volcanic eruption big enough to cover a third of the skies with dust, soot, ash and smoke, although I can only speculate about how long this will last because Revelation doesn't say what duration this will be for. But if Revelation says it's going to occur, you had best believe it will! What about the eagle, you ask? It is symbolism, most likely for the United States who emerges as the Cold War victor only several years following the Chernobyl/wormwood disaster. And now let's have a look at the fifth trumpet, beginning at chapter 9 verse 1.
“The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and the sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not given the power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of a sting from a scorpion when it strikes a man. During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.” (Revelation 9, verses 1-6)
There is a lot of symbolism here, starting with the 'fallen star', which is Satan or Lucifer. As you know, Lucifer and his band of demons, who were formerly one third of the angels in heaven prior to their insurrection against God and his place of supreme leadership, were kicked out of heaven for their rebellion against God. They were sent to hell or Hades, or the Abyss here in Revelation, to be punished eternally – forever banished from God's presence! When the shaft of the Abyss is unlocked, smoke comes pouring out in prodigious amounts and demons in the form of locusts appear. These locusts are demons that rise with the smoke of spiritual error that ascends from the bottomless pit. As scorpions sting by raising their tails over their heads but do not kill, these exercise power to hurt men spiritually by raising religious tales contrary to faith and elevate false prophets above their rejected Head, Christ the Word. Their stings spiritually paralyze unstable souls with doctrine, which, like the bottomless pit, has no foundation in God's Word. Lost souls become demons, like the 200,000,000 horsemen found in the next trumpet.
“They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” This is a dual reference – first to those who have the “mark of the beast” or seal of the Antichrist on their foreheads (see Revelation 13, verses 16-18), but also to the 144,000 who receive the seal of God upon their foreheads (see Revelation 7, verses 1-8). “They were not given the power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months.... During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.” Clearly, out of all the judgments – handed down in the form of trumpets which symbolize shofar horns, the ones the ancient Israelites used to call people to battle – this one is the most severe. These scorpions will inflict pain so extreme, people will want to die. They may even attempt suicide, but those efforts will be unsuccessful. They will all spend five full months writhing and screaming in agony. They will pump themselves up with opiates to deal with the pain, and most if not all will wind up being addicted as a result. And now let's move on to the sixth of these seven trumpets, starting at verse 13.
“The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice that was coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates'. And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.” (Revelation 9, verses 13-18)
In short, the 6th trumpet is World War Three. This should not be confused with the war of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 and 39. That is a separate middle eastern war that will occur just prior to WW3, and a topic for a separate discussion for the sake of brevity. The “horns of the golden altar that is before God” is a reference to the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament (see Exodus 25 for a description of the ark). “'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates'. And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.” There are widely varying opinions on the meaning of this, but I happen to believe that the Bible is ultimate Truth. The fact of the matter is that the only nation in the world capable of raising an army of 200,000,000 is mainland China. And yet the “great river Euphrates” empties into the Arabian sea right on the border between Iraq and Iran. So the Chinese army will march to the west, cross the Euphrates river, and presumably march to the Mediterranean sea. The obvious reason is oil. This will be at a time when oil has become too expensive, too scarce, or both, and we're nearly there now. But as to the exact timing of these series of events, no one knows for sure, and anyone who claims to know should be viewed with suspicion. And now let's close out this week's message with one final passage.
“The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.' And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, 'We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for the judging of the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great – and for destroying those who destroy the earth'.” (Revelation 11, verses 15-18)
Hooray! The kingdom of the world has been replaced by the kingdom of God, administered by none other than Jesus Christ himself! No more rich elitist top one-tenth of one per center's, no more brutal dictatorships, no more multinational corporations who are financially raping and pillaging the earth and their employees, no more military and no more pollution either. Now that's what I call an ideal world! But who are the twenty-four elders? They represent the twelve tribes of Israel (the 12 sons of Jacob) plus the twelve apostles, with Judas Iscariot replaced by the apostle Paul. All the wars that will be fought have been fought by this point in time, and it is an era of complete peace throughout the earth. It is time for Judgment Day, beginning with those who destroy the earth through war and pollution, and ending with those who destroy other people – murderers, sex offenders, and other abusers. Even if they believe in Jesus, it will be just as bad for them on that day as it will be for those who don't believe at all! So until next time, let's keep ourselves together for Christ, acknowledging that one day soon, he will rule the earth and we will be his subjects as well as his peers. Enjoy your week, everyone!
Thursday, January 12, 2017
On Faith, Healing, Jesus and John the Baptist
[Luke chapter 7, verses 1-23]
Last week when we concluded our dissection of Luke chapter 6, we left off at the parable Jesus told at the conclusion to his Sermon on the Mount about the wise and the foolish builders. One built his house on a bedrock foundation, the other homeowner built his on stilts. So much time goes by and then along comes a tropical storm with heavy rain, damaging winds and much flooding. The first house built on solid rock stood firm, but the house on stilts washed away. Jesus compared this to 2 men who heard his Word in church, but only one put those words into practice, whereas the other did not. As a result the first man's house stood firm, but the second was destroyed. If we hear the Word of God and fail to put it into practice, we sow the seeds of our own destruction. So today let's pick up where we left off beginning at verse 1 of chapter 7.
“When Jesus has finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion's servant, who the master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, 'This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue'. So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him, 'Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself to be worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one 'Go' and he goes, and to that one 'Come' and he comes. I say to my servant 'Do this' and he does it.' When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, 'I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel'. Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” (Luke 7, verses 1-10)
This is one of the most inspiring stories in the Bible, and there are a ton of those. It's also one of my personal favorites because it proves that faith – full-fledged, unreserved, undiluted faith – is the least common denominator to a fruitful and productive Christian walk. Without faith, everything else about our praise and worship becomes nothing more than going through the motions of religiosity, pomp and circumstance. How can we worship a god we don't believe in? But when one becomes filled with the Spirit of the living God, which is in a class by itself, all that same-old-same-old becomes rejuvenated and invigorated into an entirely new self, which is where the phrase “born again Christian” comes from.
“The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.” As you can see here, this unnamed Roman centurion was a thoughtful man. He didn't send his own servants to ask Jesus to come and heal that sick servant. He sent elders from the Jews, presumably from the Temple at Jerusalem who would have the most influence on Jesus, to convince him to come. “So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him, 'Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself to be worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” As you can also see, the centurion in this parable was a very considerate man who understood that Jesus was the Promised One (“I do not deserve to have you come under my roof “) from what we now call the Old Testament. Moreover, the primary mode of transportation in those days was on foot, and the centurion had enough faith to realize that Jesus didn't need to be there to heal that sick servant. He wanted to save Jesus some steps, and this would be even more true if this were during the merciless Middle Eastern summertime.
“When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, 'I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel'. Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” Evidently Jesus had the 1st century equivalent of an entourage. Moreover, Jesus pointed out to the crowd that the Roman centurion had more faith in the Jewish Messiah than many of the Jews did, particularly those in positions of leadership. But the main thing here is that Jesus was impressed by the faith of the centurion to the point of granting his wish and healing his sick servant in absentia. And now, let's move on to the next part of our study, beginning at verse 11.
“Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out – the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her, and he said, 'Don't cry'. Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, 'Young man, I say to you, get up!'. The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. 'A great prophet has appeared among us', they said. 'God has come to help his people.' This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.” (Luke 7, verses 11-17)
What has gotten lost in the translation here are the commandments of the Law of Moses regarding the handling and burying of dead people. Any deceased person was regarded as “unclean” and was not to be touched, and Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish man. So basically it was contrary to the Law of Moses for Jesus to even approach that funeral procession. And yet there he was, raising the deceased from the dead. If the Pharisees of Jesus' time saw him do that – and they're not mentioned here – they would have gone crazy, possibly even attempting to execute him on the spot. But just like in Luke chapter 4, which we recently studied, the Father did not allow any such thing to occur to the Son before it was time.
“They were all filled with awe and praised God. 'A great prophet has appeared among us', they said. 'God has come to help his people.'” And who are “his people”? This includes everyone who believes in and puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. They are those who believe he is the Son of God, the risen Lord, the Savior and Kinsman Redeemer of all humankind, and the blessed Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Jesus is not just a 'great prophet', he is the Prophet of all prophets. And he hasn't just come to help his people, he came and died for us all so that we may live, and live forever with him! I oftentimes find myself similarly filled with awe and praise for God! And now let's conclude today's study beginning at verse 18.
“John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' When the men came to Jesus, they said, 'John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, 'Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Luke 7, verses 18-23)
As you know, John the Baptist had followers too, just like Jesus did. But even John the Baptist sometimes had doubts, so he sent two of his disciples to Jesus for verification purposes. As a 3rd party observer, this seems reasonable to me, given the lack of direct communication that existed back then, such as phones and the Internet. So along comes John's 2 disciples and they ask Jesus, “Are you the real deal or aren't you? John the Baptist wants to know.” Jesus responds, “Don't take my word for it – judge me by my actions!” and then he lists all the miracles he had performed and would perform as proof of his authenticity. Two thousand years later, multitudes and throngs of people of all races, nationalities, creeds and ethnicities still place their faith in this same authenticity that is the personification of Jesus Christ. It hasn't changed one little bit during all this time! Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and the Son of the Living God!
It also says Jesus “preached the good news to the poor”. And what was that? Their lack of resources is only temporary, he told them. If you want to store up treasure for yourself and save for your future, don't store it here on earth – store it in heaven instead, where no one can get to it (see Matthew 6, verses 19-21). Stop worrying about your lack of possessions. Stop fretting over not having enough cash on hand, it happens to all of us. No matter how much we accumulate here, we can't take anything with us after our physical lives are over. Materialistic pursuits and the accumulation of wealth are all illusions and a complete waste of our time. The only things that will last forever are Jesus and all his followers. “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” In other words, blessed are those who prefer Christ, who is eternal, over earthly riches, which are anything but. Blessed are those who prefer Jesus over all other things, so let's all make sure we are blessed to the hilt! And next week we'll finish up Luke chapter seven.
Sunday, January 8, 2017
A Description of Our Modern World From 2,700 Years Ago
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
For my first posting of this new year I'm feeling God nudging me – well okay, I mean encouraging me – to compose another warning about the tumultuous times that are rapidly approaching. I always get attacked on the Web for these kinds of postings. Some compare it to yelling “fire!” in a movie theater, and I've been called worse than that, but I don't care. This is the mission God has given me, this is what I am doing with my life, and I will let nothing stand in my way! I can't – it's critically important that I bring you all up to speed, spiritually speaking, about the events that are currently unfolding, and what the Bible has to say about it all.
What I'm going to write about today will be the first 9 verses out of the 4th chapter of the Book of Hosea in the Old Testament (that's right between Daniel and Joel in the latter part of the O.T.). So let me quote the first 5 verses for everyone, and it reads as follows: “Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying. But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another, for your people are like those who bring a charge against a priest. You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you.”
The Book of Hosea was written in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century BC, during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC). Hosea (הושֵעַ) prophesied during a dark and melancholic era of Israel's history, the period of the Northern Kingdom's decline and fall in the 8th century BCE. The apostasy of the people was rampant, having turned away from God in order to serve both the calves of Jeroboam and Baal, a Canaanite god. During Hosea's lifetime, the kings of the Northern Kingdom, their aristocratic supporters, and the priests had led the people away from the Law of God, as given in the Pentateuch. Forsaking the worship of God, they worshiped other gods, especially Baal, the Canaanite storm god, and Asherah, a Canaanite fertility god. Other sins followed, including homicide, perjury, theft, and sexual sin. Hosea declares that unless they repent of these sins, God will allow their nation to be destroyed, and the people will be taken into captivity by Assyria, the greatest nation of the time. The prophecy of Hosea centers around God's unending love towards a sinful Israel. In this text, God's agony is expressed over the betrayal of Israel.
“Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.” There are two schools of thought regarding this first verse. The first are the traditionalists, who believe that the warnings are only for the Jewish nation (“you Israelites”). The second school of thought, of which I am a part, extrapolates this first verse, and by extension the entire Old Testament, as being applicable to both Jew and Gentile alike, since the apostle Paul wrote that “salvation is first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile”. So even though this is from a relatively obscure book of the Old Testament, it is still just as applicable today as it was in the 8th century BCE when this was written.
“ There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God...”. Isn't that our very situation today? We lack faithfulness towards God and other people to whom we owe faithfulness, such as our families, our bosses and co-workers. So many of us are living only for ourselves, oblivious to their surroundings and those they are supposed to interact with, and ultimately oblivious to God. And, to put it bluntly, there are too many who refuse to acknowledge God. Many of these people (but not all!) are set in their ways to the point that I have stopped talking to them. All I can do is warn them. But those who go on being atheists or agnostics, I will not stand in your way any longer, so please continue as you are. Or those individuals who worship Satan, well, you're on the wrong track in life, but God can and will bring you back if you are both willing. That's all I care to say about that for now.
“There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.” Watch a Hollywood action movie and this is exactly what you see. There's lots of cursing and killing, adultery and bloodshed, lying and stealing. Sadly, this is a reflection of American society in the early 21st century. The lyrics in much of popular music breaks all bounds. “Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.” What does this look like to you? I'll tell you all what this is, it's the mysterious animal, fish and bird deaths that are occurring globally for seemingly no reason. Dead fish washing up on beaches by the tens of thousands, birds dropping out of the air literally out of the blue, and vanishing species like the polar bear, the honey bee, the elephant and many more – all these are the hallmarks of our generation, a generation where humankind's rampant pollution of our environment is literally poisoning the earth to death. It's all our fault!
The Bible says clearly in Genesis chapter 1, verse 28, “God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground'.” So it clearly states right here that God put us in charge of the earth, to properly conserve its resources and preserve all the life contained in the earth, and to manage it in a clean and orderly fashion. Well, we've trashed it instead! Even now as I write this, there is a sea of plastic bobbing up and down in the middle of the Pacific ocean that is literally the size of Texas! Our ground water has been polluted, the oceans have been poisoned, and the air contaminated. We have done this to ourselves, and even where we haven't, this systemic poisoning has been done with our consent through our silence about the matter. It seems there have been too many people who are unwilling to stand up and fight the powers controlling our world. This too has to come to an end. Stand up and fight for your right to quality of life, because if you don't we will lose it forever!
“But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another.... You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you.” This is why nothing is being done about the pollution of the earth and the trashing of our own environment. Those in charge in government aren't governing, and the leaders in the churches aren't leading. Everyone is wallowing in their own complacency – and sometimes outright laziness – as they cash their paychecks every week or month or whatever while doing only the bare minimum of work required. The leaders we have selected are no better than ourselves, and are often worse! It's all our own fault, we did this to ourselves – so let's not accuse one another, for we are all just as guilty – meaning we have all got some repenting to do. And now let me conclude this week's message, starting at verse 6:
“So I will destroy your mother – my people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I have rejected you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I will also ignore your children. The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.” (Hosea 4, verses 6-9)
I will destroy your mother? Is God going to kill all our moms because we've all been bad? “Your mother” refers to 'mother earth', our planet! The prophet Hosea was warning us that if we persist in destroying the earth, God may decide to lend us a helping hand, so to speak. That 'helping hand's' name is World War Three, and that is what God is going to send us if we don't straighten up and mend our ways. “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge”. Ignorance and complacency are not blissful, they are what happens when we choose to disconnect ourselves from the world around us and the people in it. Ignorance and complacency are the negative results of not wanting to know, or of not caring enough to want to help initiate change for the better. Ignorance and complacency are the status quo.
“Because you have rejected knowledge, I have rejected you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I will also ignore your children.” Rejected knowledge? Just look at all the mumbo-jumbo that passes for school textbook curriculum these days! Look at all the runaway kids and the ones who get kidnapped and sold to sex traffickers. What about the ones addicted to video games, online porn, drugs and alcohol? The list goes on and on, and it's up to us to straighten this mess out. It's about a reboot of our leadership from the bottom up, starting with the parents in the home. “They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.” If America does not repent of her sins against God, of her adulteries, thefts, murders and other crimes against one another, God is going to destroy this land the same way he destroyed ancient Israel during the time of Hosea the prophet – by military conquest! So repent, all you people who are living sinfully as I have just described, or America will soon be no more. The land will still be here, I think, but the country will be gone forever. What a sad day that will be! We're running out of time, people. Let's all band together and begin doing wonderful and laudable things with our lives. Who knows? Maybe we can change God's mind if we try hard enough. Until next time.