Thursday, June 29, 2017

This week's Bible study will be part 1 of Luke chapter 16

Jesus and the Story of the Shrewd Manager
[Luke chapter 16, verses 1-15]
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Last week when we left off at the end of chapter 15 of Luke's gospel, we concluded the story of the wayward son (or “prodigal son” with due respect to my King James readers) with my account of the triple meaning of that story Jesus told. Don't forget how I applied that as we read and shared comments about these meanings Jesus deliberately inserted for our enrichment. Only when we discover these hidden things of God do we begin to grasp the enormous scope of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! So today as we move on to chapter 16, we find ourselves at another time and place, although the Bible doesn't specify either one. So let's begin at verse 1 of Luke 16.

Jesus told his disciples, 'There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, 'What's this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg. I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' So he called in each of his master's debtors. He asked the first debtor, 'How much do you owe my master?' 'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil', he replied. The manager told him, 'Take your bill and sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.' Then he asked the second, 'How much do you owe?' 'A thousand bushels of wheat', he replied. He told him, 'Take you bill and make it eight hundred.' The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed home into eternal dwellings.'” (Luke 16, verses 1-9)

It is necessary to read in between the lines here in order to catch the first wave of this teaching of our Lord and Savior. The story is about a shrewd manager, but before that it is a tale of accountability and being responsible. In the same way as the manager's lackadaisical approach to his work ultimately cost him his job, so it is with our own service to Christ. The word of the manager's egregious mismanagement spread because it was undoubtedly affecting the morale of the workers to the point that they went over the manager's head and complained to the master, or perhaps one of his senior lieutenant's. When the master puts him on notice that he is being terminated, this manager in Jesus' story decides to get more than a little creative by doing favors for his master's creditors. Had the manager done that today he would have been charged with fraud, theft or both! That just goes to show us all how much times have changed. Today the laws are 100% in favor of the rich, which explains why the US has the world's largest prison population.

But look at what Jesus taught instead! “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” There was an old saying, “turnabout's fair play” that today can be restated as, “What goes around comes around”. This, I'm very sure, is exactly what our Lord and Savior was referring to! Back in those days there was no unemployment or even a 'job market' as we understand it. So by making sure he had a place to go after he turned in his final account – together with his resignation, if there was such a thing back then – the manager acted shrewdly by Jesus' standards. This just goes to show you how far off course today's world actually is compared to the superlative teachings and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!

For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” Evidently Jesus was telling his apostles they needed to be more shrewd in their dealings with other people, presumably to become more effective ministers to others and better servants to Christ. Jesus knew that his words would one day be in print and on the Web, so this lesson is clearly intended for ourselves as well as the apostles. We, you see, are the “people of the light”, and Jesus is admonishing us to become very shrewd individuals so we too can be better servants. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed home into eternal dwellings.” Here is yet another warning from our Lord that those who hoard wealth and material goods here on earth will have nothing left for eternity. Many people who do this very thing do so because they don't believe there is an eternity, a life after death that is totally unlike anything they have ever experienced. So getting rich is not shrewd like the world thinks. Jesus defines shrewdness as spreading the wealth around instead of keeping it all to ourselves as so many are prone to do. Selfish people are, then, by definition, small minded individuals. I can't imagine going through life like that! Having said that, let's move on to the 2nd part of our study starting at verse 10.

'Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will be dishonest with very much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one but despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.' The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, 'You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by men is detestable in God's sight.'” (Luke 16, verses 10-15)

Let's examine closely what our Lord and Redeemer was trying to say right here. Had the manager who was losing his job simply quit and walked away, headed towards an uncertain future, that would have been considered foolish or maybe even stupid in Jesus' time. Then he would have truly been considered an untrustworthy individual, ending his career. But since he curried favor with his master's creditors just prior to his dismissal, the manager's now-former master sent him away but with a good recommendation. He still lost his job, but his reputation was intact. These facts about the teachings of Christ are downplayed today because this story empowers employees to seek compensation from their soon-to-be former bosses in the event of their dismissal, which in today's business climate can happen for no reason at all. Obviously today's huge multinational corporations, the Bilderbergers and their armies of lobbyists don't want to hear this kind of talk at all since that would be viewed as a potential threat.

No servant can serve two masters... You cannot serve both God and Money.” Either materialism or spirituality will be your master and your motivator. Either you will only be devoted to that which is seen, touched and experienced in the present tense, or you will be focused solely on preparing yourself for the future tense, which is eternal. Devotion to God through Christ and devotion to self, often at the exclusion of all others, are mutually exclusive of one another. Do you drive a new car, a used one, or do you take the bus? Do you wear the latest styles or only what you can afford, even if it means checking out thrift stores? Do you live in a big fancy house or just rent or lease? You get the idea, people, you can't have it both ways. Those of you who are not yet doing these things need to change your ways! “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.” Doesn't this remind you of certain kinds of people? Like the 'elitists' as the main stream press calls them, or 'rich arrogant snobs' as I call them? They are the ones who put profits before people, when it's supposed to be the other way around. They're the ones who out-sourced your jobs, ending the careers of many prematurely. They're the ones who buried you, your kids or your grand-kids under a mountain of student loan debt, whose interest accrues faster than the principal can be repaid. They're also the ones who are turning America's classrooms into exercises in idiocy. These people must be stopped no matter what the cost! What America needs is a revolution, but that's a topic for another discussion.

God knows your hearts. What is highly valued by men is detestable in God's sight.” The people who are admired by the world for amassing great wealth are the ones most despised by God. On the other hand, I don't think this necessarily means the God hates all rich people either. The apostle Luke was a doctor prior to becoming Christ's disciple. Doctors are generally fairly prosperous people, and some get very wealthy. So clearly being destitute is not a prerequisite for being a follower of Jesus, just so everyone is clear about that. Later in this series of studies when we get into the Book of Acts, I will be better able to go into detail about that. But for now, understand that those the world despises most are the ones held in the highest esteem by God, and those held in high esteem by the world are the ones God hates, although there can be exceptions in both cases. Have you ever noticed as you live your lives for Christ that some days it seems like the whole world is against you? Also, have you noticed that oftentimes those who the world admires and fawns upon, from the greatest box office phenomenon to the richest rock star or pro athlete, turn out to be jerks in person? What you are seeing in that case is the teachings of Christ coming to life, confirming everything he ever said or taught. For the next week, I want everyone to practice making the teachings of Christ come to life in whatever way suits you best. Carrying ourselves so that others can see Jesus' living within us is a far more powerful witness for Christ than the most powerful and anointed sermon or evangelistic crusade ever could. So let's make it a point to live our lives this way every day this week until it becomes a habit. And next week we'll examine part 2 of Luke chapter 16.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

National Health Care, the Bible and President Trump: What Would Jesus Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To find books on these topics and other Christian nonfiction, please visit!books-and-donations/c17et Thanks so much!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This week's Bible study will be part 2 of Luke chapter 15

The Triple Meaning Behind the Story of the Lost Son
[Luke chapter 15, verses 11-32]
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Last week when we completed the first part of Luke 15, we found ourselves with our Lord and Savior as he was teaching a large crowd of followers and those in need of healing, together with his apostles. When the Pharisees saw all this they started muttering to each other about the Jesus' clientele and how they felt that all 'those people' didn't measure up from their religious points of view. So Jesus cites three different examples of why he preached and taught the common, everyday people that the Pharisees shunned. The first is that of a lost sheep, and the second is that of a lost coin, as you recall from last week's study. This week we'll discuss the last example of our Lord, that of a lost and wayward son or daughter. So let's begin our study starting at verse 11.

Jesus continued. 'There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate'. So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.'” (Luke 15, verses 11-19)

Although I have no doubt that most, if not nearly all, of those reading this have heard this story taught in church, or they read it as part of their school curriculum or maybe they heard it colloquially, I'm going to give this parable of the Lord's a progressive interpretation that explores this old story from a more relevant perspective. To condense this story, this guy gets his inheritance ahead of time, probably after extensive pleadings with his father and just as many 'no's to his son. Instead of following his father's example by turning his part of the estate into a profitable enterprise, this young man, probably in his teens or twenties, liquidates everything he can and sets off to the big city to seek fame and fortune. Everything goes great for a while, but when the economy turns sour, so do the young man's fortunes and he winds up broke and hungry. The financial and religious aspects of this story have already been discussed a thousand different ways, so I decline to be redundant as far as that goes. But I'm seeing other angles that you seldom hear taught in mainstream churches.

Every preacher I've ever heard, right up to Rev. Billy Graham himself, emphasizes the moral of the story as being that of the mercy of the young man's father when he allowed his wayward son to come back home. While this is a good and correct teaching, I'm also seeing that the young man had enough humility and a good enough conscience to be man enough to admit that he had erred, that he was wrong to do what he had done, and that he had made a bad decision by deciding to leave home in the first place. But he did not arrive at his decision to return home until after he had exhausted all his resources. It was the shock of falling from being the son of a prosperous farmer to that of a migrant farm worker in what must have been a relatively short period of time, perhaps only months or even weeks. The young man's drastic change of scenery and great reversal of fortune are what forced him to make his decision to make his way home. Let me also say that it is only the stubborn and the ornery who refuse to learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately, they are also the ones who end up homeless most frequently – not simply from bad addictions but also because of a poor attitude. Bearing that in mind, let's move on to the 2nd half of our study starting at verse 20.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead but is alive again; he was lost but is found.' So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come', he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'” (Luke 15, verses 20-27)

The young man's father could have reacted to his wayward son's return in any one of a number of different ways. 'I told you so', and, 'OK wise guy, have you finally learned your lesson?', are only 2 examples. His dad could also have been hard and mean, exercising his authority as head of his household and the family business to punish his son. Or he could have been smug and condescending in his rebuke, making his words hurt worse than a slap across the face. He could have acted like a drill sergeant and got up in his son's face and yelled sarcastic obscenities for being so disobedient and using such miserable judgment. Or, he could have refused to forgive his son and sent him away empty handed, and maybe with an empty stomach too. But the young man's father did none of those things. He embraced him though he did not have to. He welcomed him unconditionally without judging him. He had already forgiven him so judgment wasn't necessary as far as the father was concerned. Next, he is brought back home where the older brother learns of the younger sibling's return, starting at verse 28.

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never even gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 'My son', the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything that I have is yours. But we have to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost but is found.'” (Luke 15, verses 28-32)

The older brother in this parable of our Lord's reminds me of modern-day capitalists, especially those whose politics and economics are far to the political right. 'Hey, I've worked hard for what I've got! Let him get his own like I did!' I can practically hear the derision in the older brother's voice. It reminds me of how the rich conservatives view the poor; as lazy bums, freaking' mooches, freeloaders, plus a lot of other stuff I won't print here. 'I've got mine', they are saying by their actions and their words. 'How are you doing? Oh gee, that's too bad.'

But it is the father of that household who corrects the older son while sparing the younger any form of judgment. Notice now God's ways are very different than ours! Instead of focusing on all the things the younger son had done wrong, the father used this as a teaching moment for both sons. In much the same way, Jesus used this as a teachable moment for the crowd of listeners, followers and the Twelve. So that's one aspect of this teaching that stands out to me, and this is not something commonly heard in many contemporary churches. The most common aspect of this parable taught is that of the father forgiving the son the way Jesus forgives those who turn away from sinful and evil ways, and give the rest of their lives to him. The word often used here is 'repentance', but a modern way would be to say, “I've turned and walked away from that”, whatever 'that' might be. This act of turning and walking away from our old selves and our old natures is the very essence of repentance.

But the third and final aspect of this parable is prophetic in nature, and is seldom discussed in most theological circles. When the younger son was returning home, the father saw him while he was still very far away and he ran to him. He met his lost son while he was still a long way off, being unable to wait until his return. Then, after meeting him on the final leg of his journey, he accompanies his son the rest of the way back home. In the end times that we are currently living in, there will be many who will realize that they have lost their way and will begin making their way 'back home' to Jesus Christ. While it is true that many, many more will turn away forever, the Bible – the Word of Almighty God (see John 1: 1-5) – says that many will turn to him and have their names added to “the Lamb's Book of Life” (see Rev. 20: 11-15) during these end times. Those that do still won't be able to make it all the way to heaven (home) on our own. Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross can get us the rest of the way there, like a bridge. So the father running out to meet the son in the middle of the 'bridge' and walking him the rest of the way home symbolizes the Blood of Jesus, and the home with many fields and vineyards represents heaven. Jesus was speaking prophetically, and there's no way to tell for sure if any of the apostles picked up on the triple meaning of the Parable of the Lost Son back then, but now you know! And next week we'll start on Luke chapter 16.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Deepening Concerns for America's Future

One Step Closer to Armed Revolt: My Deepening Concerns
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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The attempted assassinations of a handful of congressional representatives, senators and their staff members this past week confirms the suspicions of many, including myself, that the fabric of our country is coming undone. Senator Scalise remains in critical condition as I write this, and I understand senator Rand Paul narrowly missed getting shot in addition to quite a few others. Perhaps Rand Paul was the real target in yet another CIA/NSA engineered false flag operation – God only knows! If it was, their mission failed, the independent alternative media will share the news (since we already know the Main Stream Media would bury that story) with the whole world, and the blow-back from the American public will be nothing short of livid vehemence! The root cause of this will be the American public's increasing exasperation with the fight between the Trump administration, the Washington establishment and the Deep State – which president Trump is in the process of trying to dismantle. That's the real source of all the back-and-forth between Trump, the MSM, and the D.C. robber barons.

The American people – all but the top 1% – have found themselves caught in the crossfire with little to do except for ducking and dodging. But in the process we are finding more and better ways of fighting back, and up until this week that excluded arming ourselves against the government in general, and conservatism in particular since that ideology benefits fewer and fewer people at the expense of many, many more. Generally speaking, this is true for the way the whole country is being run. More and more people are being oppressed by the same government that was elected to serve them. Speaking as a Web pastor, I'd like to point out that the Bible has some things to say about those who are being oppressed and about oppressors as well. “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and you will be killed with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22, verses 21-24) I like to quote verse 22 to all those who gripe and complain about “illegal immigrants”. The same thing goes for those who get played by the rigged economic and court systems, but this runs far deeper than even that. For example, under so-called “Trump-care” the mega-rich top 1% will get very large tax breaks, and 24 million lower income Americans will be dropped from the Obama-care rolls like so many hot potatoes in order to fund president Trump's AHCA, his version of national health care. You can be sure there will be retribution from the Lord for any who die as a result of losing their health insurance if “Trump-care” gets passed into law. For each of ours who die, one of theirs will die. On further thought, they will most likely die as crime victims from robberies of one kind or another. Although the word 'Karma' isn't in the Bible, I believe it would apply here.

And the Word of the Lord came again to Zechariah; this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts, do not think evil of each other'.” (Zechariah 7, verses 8-10) What do we have instead? A federal income tax that is unconstitutional, wars being fought without a formal declaration of war as the Constitution requires, and the world's largest prison population!! Does this seem just, merciful or compassionate to any of you? It sure doesn't to me, and you can literally bet your next paycheck that God is outraged and infuriated at America because of all of the above! Not to mention the institutionalized racism, global mass murders being committed by our military and intelligence communities, and all the rampant gambling and criminal profiteering on Wall St. and in Washington! Keep it up, all you people who are hell-bent on serving only yourselves, and see what it will get you!! Don't you believe it will happen? 'What', you ask? 'I have nearly unlimited resources, I can defend myself against anything! What can all those poor slobs do to me? I can crush them all like bugs!'

What these obscenely rich people fail to understand is that “we the people” have a singular resource that people with lots of money don't understand and who refuse to see, as it is written: “He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9, verses 8-10) Not only will the Lord Jesus Christ uphold us during our times of trouble and turmoil, he will give us the means to throw off our oppressors and then deliver them into our hands (reference: the Book of Joshua, the American Revolution of the 1700's, and the Israeli 6-day wars of 1967 and 1973). One more thing the Bible has to say about this topic (among many) comes from the Book of James, and I quote: “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 clothes 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, verses 1-5)

As you can clearly see from the above passage, the obscene amounts of wealth that has been hoarded “in the last days” – which is our current time frame – has been 'acquired' at the expense of everyone else. This closely resembles the “99% vs. 1%” paradigm that we find ourselves caught up in today. Moreover, there is much talk today about an impending economic collapse of one kind or another. As a result, there are many financial advisers today who are counseling people to cash in all their Wall St. investments and put it all in gold, silver, nonperishable food, weapons and ammunition. But the apostle James prophesied against that roughly 1,965 years or so ago when he prophesied against gold and silver in verse 3. The apostle James then prophesied yet again against the obsession of some people with wealth and financial gain when he wrote, “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.” What modern parallel with this do we have here in modern times? Just think about it for a minute – the wages the rich withheld from the poor and then pocketed themselves – doesn't this closely resemble the current battle for a livable minimum wage? Today in America, with only a few exceptions, the prevailing minimum wage is so low that wage earners must sign up for government benefits programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, child care benefits and Obama-care in order to have enough money for even the most basic expenses like food, shelter, clothing, transportation and medical care. For this to be happening in what is allegedly the “richest country in the world” is simply inexcusable! Here in Atlanta, GA where I reside, the minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25 an hour. In large parts of rural Georgia it is only $5.25 per hour. That works out to a net weekly paycheck of about $175.00 for a single individual. Try living on that, if you think you can! Does that not constitute theft, even if it's “legal”? It's tantamount to economic slavery and servitude, and the Bible condemns it!

You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” There is so much talk today about the obesity epidemic that is plaguing the entire developed world, along with much of the emerging one such as the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). There is no question in my mind that this single verse (and there are others throughout the Bible) predicted today's obesity epidemic with perfect accuracy. There is one last thing predicted for the End Times that we are currently living in which is stated in verse 5. “You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” There is an ongoing effort to prove the innocence of men and women with life sentences or very lengthy ones, and particularly those who have the death penalty. In all these cases the convictions of these individuals were done with bias against the defendants, often because they are people of color. People have been freed from death row by way of DNA testing as a result of these efforts. But for every one who is found to be innocent after the trial was over and their sentences vacated by the courts, there are untold countless others on whom the death penalty was imposed who were convicted on what amounts to false testimony.

But is that the end of the story? By no means!! What about the lynchings, and the slavery that came before all that, right here in America? What about the two million civilian casualties the US military and the Pentagon are responsible for from the Vietnam war to Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, up until today? Although I'm no fan of president Donald Trump, at least he has the guts to come into Washington with a wrecking ball aimed directly at its corrupt core while attempting to replace what doesn't work with what does. I don't know whether he's going to succeed or not, but at least he's trying to buck the status quo. Whether Trump succeeds or not remains to be seen, but when things get heated to the point of US citizens attempting to execute an entire Republican baseball team, we are getting dangerously close to all-out revolt. Yet by the same token, it's looking more and more like a revolution may not be such a bad idea after all. The overwhelming majority of Americans have little left to lose. The only remaining question is – will it be armed or peaceful? From my observation point, I'd say let's pray that it will be peaceful but continue to prepare as if it will not.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

This week's Progressive Christian Bible study will be part 1 of Luke chapter 15

Of Lost Sheep and Missing Coins
[Luke chapter 15, verses 1-10]
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When we last left off at the end of chapter 14 of Luke's gospel, Jesus had ended his teaching for that day by reminding those around him to keep their saltiness and their zeal for the life God gave us and our zest for living it. “Let him who has ears to hear hear me clearly”, Jesus had told them. Today as we move on to chapter 15, we find ourselves with the Lord and the Twelve, but at a different time and location not too far from where they had been previously. As always, a large crowd had gathered around them as Jesus taught the meaning of living a Godly life that will be pleasing to Him as we begin at verse 1:

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and teachers of the Law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.' Then Jesus told them this parable: 'Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls all his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.'” (Luke 15, verse 1-7)

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 'Look at him!', those Pharisees were saying quietly to each other – probably cupping their hands around their mouths as they whispered slanderous things about the Son of God to one another. 'He claims to be 'king of the Jews' and yet he consorts with disreputable people! He's no king at all! He's a fake! A fake king!' You know, like something our current president might say if he were confronted by Christ. As usual, the most religious people in the whole crowd were the ones who were the most critical – even to the point of sarcasm – of our Lord and Savior. But Jesus cuts short their snickering and muttering in his usual way – with a rebuke that doesn't sound like a rebuke. 'If you were a shepherd with 100 sheep and you discovered one of your flock was missing, wouldn't you go and get it?', Jesus was asking them. Jesus was comparing himself to the good shepherd of Psalm 23, and not a single one of the Pharisees and “teachers” of the Law caught it! Our Kinsman Redeemer blew that one right by them, and these “religious leaders” were completely clueless! Most of them still are.

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.” One thing we can infer from this statement (aside from the paramount importance of repentance) is that we should continue to be humble and never assume we have found righteousness in God's sight based on our own belief or efforts. While I would be quick to agree that faith accompanied with our good works is always a good thing, in much the same way it is always best for us to assume we're not quite there as of yet in our walk with the Lord. Salvation by the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins happened only once at the cross when our Savior was crucified, but our own salvation comes with a combination of justification by faith and an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord. So the former is a singular event, whereas the latter is an ongoing process which we must remain committed to for the remainder of our entire lives. Our Lord and Savior requires a 100% commitment from each and every one of us in this regard, and anyone who aspires to greatness must themselves become the greatest servant (see Mark 9, verse 35). Those who underestimate the importance of humility, voluntary servitude, and turning away from their sins (repentance) will find themselves locked out of the wedding feast for the Bride, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Bearing that in mind, let's conclude this week's study with verses 8-10 of Luke chapter 15.

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and then loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.'”

Notice that Jesus considered the salvation of sinners through repentance for their evil and selfish acts so important that he used a second example in order to give the greatest emphasis on the importance of turning away from our old ways, which is what repentance means in more modern vernacular. Only occasionally does Jesus ever repeat himself, such as the time when he said, “It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle that it is for a rich man to get into heaven”. (Matthew 19: 23-24) Conversely, those who do not repent, or who profess their belief in Christ while continuing in their sinful ways, are risking everything by not changing their ways – and let me add that time is rapidly running out. The time to turn from our old ways, our addictions (which can be just about anything), our thievery, and all the other things that keep us apart from God when we were all meant to be together with Him, is rapidly running out. Turn from your old ways while you still have time, and while you still have the choice! Don't just “accept” Jesus like the TV evangelists say – pay no attention to any of those people! Embrace him, embrace your Savior and Kinsman Redeemer! The only evangelist you need is Jesus Christ! Give your heart to Him today – and if you already have, renew that promise you made to serve only Him, and do it right now! The end is approaching fast. It is time to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ and the unconditional salvation he brings. And next week we'll go over part 2 of Luke 15.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

It Looks Like Washington Has Some Growing Up to Do

Regarding Judging or Accusing Other People:
Those Who Call Us Liars Should Examine Themselves
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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Watching this past week's spectacle in Washington surrounding Russia-gate, former FBI director James Comey's firing, and his subsequent testimony under oath has reminded me once again about the folly of judging others. President Trump and Mr. Comey calling each other liars on national TV has only solidified my opinion that both are equally guilty of much dishonesty and at-times downright childish behavior. What does the Bible say about judging, accusing and name-calling other people? This goes way beyond mere physical appearances such as race, unaccustomed mannerisms or various idiosyncrasies. It surpasses all concepts of right and wrong. The Bible defines judging others as having contempt for, looking down on, or possessing an arrogance towards people who are different than ourselves. It means considering ourselves better than others for racial, moral, economic, age, ethnic, religious or gender related reasons, and ditto for sexual preferences and gender identity. It is morally wrong to do all these things because we are all made in the image and likeness of the very same God, and God bestows his gifts and attributes to us on an equal basis. Moreover, the Bible teaches us that equality is ordained by God, as it is written: “Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22: 2) Therefore, we are all equals in God's sight, and I could write a whole sermon on that topic alone (in fact, I think I will). There are several good quotes from the Bible that I am going to use to make my point. The first is from the gospel of Matthew chapter 7, verses 1-5.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

What this verse also says is the more harshly we judge other people, the more harshly we will be judged when it is our turn. Make no mistake, every one of us will get his or her turn at being judged by God when our lives are over. The only exceptions will be those who will be caught up in the rapture of the Church during the Great Tribulation that is prophesied by the book of Revelation, as well as by the apostle Paul in his letters to the Thessalonian church. And that, my dear readers, will only be a select few people. So what is the criteria for this? It will simply be how we treated other people, and by how good we made them feel. It's going to be about how much unconditional love, kindness and patience we showed others. That's why Jesus said during his sermon on the mountain, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5: 7). We are to be practicing gentleness when making discernment about others, otherwise our harshness and being judgmental will come back around and bite us in the tail.

This next Old Testament quote from Scripture is the basis for my quotations from the new one. “I will deal with them according to their conduct, and by their own standards I will judge them. Then they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 7, verse 27). The more poorly we treat others, the meaner God will be towards us when our lives are over. If we treat people better and a lot more gently, being compassionate and considerate towards others even if they're strangers, God will be gentle with us to the point where it shows up in the lives of those who habitually perform this good deed. Meaning, those who live their lives this way won't have to wait until their physical lives are over to get rewarded for their good deeds and acts of random kindness. How then should we be living? We should be living as if God is watching everything we do and listening to everything we say (because, you know, He actually is). This means we should be taking care of others, nurturing and encouraging each other instead of criticizing and rejecting just because they don't meet our lofty standards. We are not at the center of the universe, not are we meant to be! Remember that for every person who seems to come up short as far as we are concerned, there is another that feels the same way about us whether they tell us or not. People who are in the habit of acting this way toward others are always people who dislike themselves. They see something about themselves that they don't like in the personality or character of someone else, so they go after that person tooth and nail. As long as they are attacking someone else, they don't have to look at themselves.

The next 2 quotes are from the book of James in the New Testament. They take judging of others a step further by getting at the roots of passing judgment. “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 3: 11-12) Well said, James, my dear brother! Who do we think we are? Since everyone is a sinner in God's sight, God can only save us if we are merciful towards one another. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. The Bible commands us to love one another, and Jesus taught us to “love your neighbor as yourself”. We cannot simultaneously judge others and still be merciful towards them. We can't claim to love others while sitting in judgment of them. Judgment and mercy are exact opposites, they are mutually exclusive of one another. The same goes for slander and love. There is no way to talk badly about your neighbor, friend, co-worker or relative and then profess your love for them. The apostle James then taught us what we should do instead when he wrote: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2: 12-13)

True judgment gives freedom according to James. Restrictive judgment says to those around us, 'I think I'm better than you'. That kind of talk is never from God! It is man-made and it is derived from excessive pride, arrogance and conceit! Being merciful towards others no matter what they have said or done tends to motivate those people to want to do better, to seek ways of improving themselves and each other. Judging others, on the other hand, implies that they can't do any better, so why not just write them off? It's taking the easy way out, and that is never God's way, either! Some Christians honestly believe that it is their duty to run around judging people, digging up dirt and spreading rumors. They think for them there will be some reward. But this is what Jesus says to these people: When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Did you notice that those who were welcomed by Jesus were wondering why they were welcomed and those who were not welcomed thought that they should have been? Modern-day evangelists and preachers often teach that if you are saved then you know it, but what Jesus teaches here is the complete opposite. If you are a Christian as you claim, you should be following the advice of your Lord and Savior and not be running around judging people. According to Jesus, if you are saved, you are running around feeding the hungry, quenching the thirst of those thirsty and clothing the naked. Many hunger for love and acceptance and thirst for justice and some feel shamed as if they were naked. We are supposed to be helping them, not judging them! But if you yourself are hungry for attention while loving and thirsting for justice, then you will in your own defense judge other people. Seek salvation for yourself rather than distributing judgment unto others. We know who you are, and so do you!

There is one more aspect of passing judgment that I think I should mention, and that is the often controversial subject of racism. Hatred, bigotry and intolerance directed towards others are the polar opposites of being merciful. The best way to achieve peace on earth is for everybody to start showing mercy and tolerance towards one another (provided that that mercy and tolerance is not abused by its recipient). The Bible says any time we display racism, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice towards one another, it is the same as hating God who made them all, as it is written: “If anyone says, 'I love God', yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1st John 4, verses 20-21) Who are we to question the handiwork of the Lord? Besides, when we devalue others we ultimately devalue ourselves since God created everyone equally. These are simple truths, yet they seem to elude us the majority of the time. Imagine a world without hate or harsh judgment that is filled compassion and mercy for everyone. What a wonderful place to live that would be! The Bible already tells us how. It's just that too few people are putting it into practice.

God has given each of us the responsibility of not being so quick to pass judgment on each other. Instead, we are to be merciful towards each other because “mercy triumphs over judgment”. Ask yourself this question right now. Am I too judgmental? Am I a prejudiced individual? Do I find certain groups of people distasteful just because I don't like them? If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, it's time to repent, to turn away from this behavior pattern, and to turn to God. Only God can provide all the answers you need. If you feel that you may not be strong enough to change, pray to God and ask Him to help you change into a better person. You will be surprised at how willing He actually is. Let's practice together to not be judgmental towards one another, and to be merciful instead. It's a much better way of life.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This week's Bible study will be part 2 of Luke chapter 14

The Great Banquet and Discipleship's Price Tag
[Luke 14, verses 15-34]
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For today's study we'll be moving on to the 2nd half of chapter 14 of Luke's gospel, where Jesus is a guest at a banquet that has been given in his honor. Our Savior and Redeemer had noted how others who had been invited had taken their prearranged places of honor at the table(s). Jesus remarked to his host that, if it were up to him (at that place and time), those with the least social, political or economic standing, as well as the most vulnerable groups of people such as the disabled and the homeless, would have the places of honor currently occupied by the others. As we start today's in-depth analysis of this portion of Luke's Gospel, that same conversation takes up where it left off, beginning at verse 14.

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, 'Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.' Jesus replied, 'A certain man was giving a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready'. But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.' Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.' The servant came back and reported this to his master. The owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the crippled, the poor, the blind and the lame.' 'Sir', the servant replied, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and the country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'” (Luke 14, verses 15-24)

'Blessed is the man (or lady)', one of the guests who was seated near Jesus and his host at the luncheon, 'who gets a seat at the banquet you just described.' Then Jesus tells them a parable about another banquet – one far, far larger than the one they were presently attending. Jesus was talking about the wedding feast of the Bride of Christ (see Revelation 19, verses 6-10), although those attending the luncheon had no idea what our Savior was referring to because Jesus was speaking prophetically. The whole of humanity is invited to this wedding feast, but many will refuse to go. A lot of those already have, but it's not too late for the rest of us. I find myself reaffirming my faith pretty much on a daily basis to ensure my own invitation remains intact. The reader would be well advised to do the same. Notice too, how Jesus alluded to the fact that our possessions are worthless compared to our being ready to be a part of the Bride at the great 'wedding feast'. Even the guy with a new wife was shut out of the great banquet described by the Lord, and he had what many would regard as a legitimate reason for excusing himself. Jesus, it seems, is the groom for the Bride.

Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the crippled, the poor, the blind and the lame.' 'Sir', the servant replied, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room'.” What a huge difference there will be between the little luncheon Jesus was invited to and the great wedding feast of the Bride! At the luncheon with Christ that day were many people who held positions of prominence. But at the wedding feast of the Bride, those with positions of prominence will be those who were formerly considered to be of little or no account. I'm talking about the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, the homeless, the mentally ill, the outcast and all the others that so-called “respectable” people will have nothing to do with. These are the people who will be present at the wedding feast of the Bride. There may also be a sizable number of “religious” people who will be excluded from this Feast. “Go out to the roads and the country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” Let all those who count themselves unworthy, as well as the nonreligious who showed much mercy and generosity towards others despite their own lack of faith, be let in. Those will be the ones who were obedient to the Lord even though they were not directly commanded to. And now let's take on the 2nd half of this week's study, beginning at verse 25.

Large crowds were following Jesus, and turning to them he said: 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not sit down first to estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' “ (Luke 14, verses 25-30)

As I have previously written, large crowds followed Jesus and the Twelve everywhere they went. This must have seemed somewhat annoying to the apostles, but Jesus simply took it all in stride. Yet at this moment Jesus abruptly turns and says to as many of the crowd as could hear him that none of them are truly followers of our Lord's at all. Unless we value our relationship with Christ above and beyond all else – more than family, friends, business associates, church associates, or even our very lives – we're not real followers. We are, in that case, merely wannabe apostles or followers. Those who value all their other relationships, their money and careers, and their other material goods such as their cars, houses and clothes, on an equal or greater footing relative to their faith in Christ – Jesus said those people aren't real followers at all. I think Jesus was asking the crowd how sincere their faith was, and how genuine was their determination to serve the Lord no matter what! Jesus also warned them to count the cost before they begin to follow him, because being a real follower of Jesus is not an easy thing to do. I've been a believer for over 24 years, and I too sometimes have to inventory my own heart, mind and soul, lest I be found unworthy by the Lord to be at the wedding feast of the Bride. An now let's conclude today's study beginning at verse 31.

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit for neither the soil or the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14, 31-35)

At first glance, this appears to be a retelling of the previous example Jesus had cited about building a tower, but let's look closer to see the deeper meaning here. The king with 10,000 men in Jesus' parable is humankind. The king with 20,000 men represents the Lord's kingdom. Foolish people who think they can go it alone in life – that they don't need God, nor do they want the slightest hint of religious or Spiritual faith or any kind of relationship with Jesus Christ – would be wise to count the cost before proceeding. Because if they did, those individuals would find themselves outnumbered and outclassed each and every time! “...he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” These two sentences symbolize embracing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior combined with repenting of our sinful ways that are contrary to God, laying our sinful natures at the foot of the cross upon which Jesus died. This is the only way we can be saved, and it's the only way to follow Christ and have an ongoing relationship with him. There is no such thing as an easy way out with the Lord!

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit for neither the soil or the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Salt that loses its salty flavor is no longer salt. In fact, it's really not anything at all except something pretending to be salt. So it is with people and their alleged Christian faith – saying you're a Christian is one thing, performing good works as evidence of our faith is still another. But the only way to be a genuine, authentic follower of Christ is to give up everything so Jesus can become your everything. He is the only replacement that exceeds all our expectations and results. Unless we are willing to give up family, friends, careers, and even spouses and children, we cannot call ourselves followers of Christ and really mean it. Although this does not necessarily mean we are all to become monks and hermits, nor do I think that is God's will for our lives, Jesus made it abundantly clear that our relationship with him supersedes all others. And so we must cause it to always remain so. Enjoy your day/week!

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Prophetic Impact of North Korea

When Will Jesus Return? Does Anybody Really Know?

Clarifying the “Rapture” of the Church
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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For as long as I have been alive, which is just over 6 decades, there has been endless talk and rampant speculation about the 'rapture', or literally snatching away, of all the real followers of Christ within 3-7 years of the return, or Second Coming, of our Lord and Savior. There are 3 versions or explanations of the “rapture” of the Church, also known in the Book of Revelation as the Bride of Christ. But before we get into that, let's have a look at one of several passages in the New Testament about the 'rapture' so we can get a little background. “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to God's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet our Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1st Thessalonians 4, verses 13-18)

There is considerable symbolism being used here by the apostle Paul, the man who wrote the above passage of Scripture, but its nature is not complex. The phrase “those who fall asleep” is an ancient expression for what we now call 'the deceased' or 'the dearly departed' or 'the late whoever' and so on. But Paul then comes right back and sums up the essence of Christianity in one simple sentence: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” So right here Paul establishes that all who were sincere believers in Christ Jesus while they were living will rise again just as Jesus did, when he returns for us. Despite those who doubt or make fun of Biblical teachings such as these, they will all come to pass exactly as the Bible says, of that you can be sure!

The apostle Paul then closes out this train of thought with: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet our Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” Notice that when the Lord returns, he will not descend to the earth. We're going to meet Him in the air instead. I suspect that one main reason could be due to an excess of radiation due to nuclear fallout from a catastrophic war. Like, say, World War Three, for instance. Hold that thought, because I'm going to tell you why in just a minute. But first, I need to explain the difference between pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, and post-tribulation “raptures”. Please stay with me, everyone, this will be easy to understand, but I have to be careful how I explain all this.

'Pre-tribulation' means the dead believers in Christ, along with all who are alive at the time of their resurrection, will be taken up at the beginning of the 7 year Tribulation period. 'Mid-tribulation' means at the halfway point, or roughly 3.5 years after it starts, and 'post-tribulation means we'll all be stuck here until it's over and Jesus returns to rule the earth. First, allow me to reference 2 short passages of Scripture that completely disproves the first scenario, the 'pre-tribulation rapture'. The first is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 24, beginning at verse 3: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, some of 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 in my name saying, '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. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and 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 most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end shall be saved. And this gospel will be preached to the whole world, and then the end will come.'” (Matt. 24, verses 3-14)

When asked about this series of events by his apostles, the very first thing out of the mouth of our Lord and Savior was, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” That sums up everything we need to know about all those who claim to predict the future. Anyone who claims to know the date of Christ's return, or who says they know exactly when the 'rapture' of the Church will occur, simply doesn't know what they're talking about. Moreover, they bring divine Judgment on themselves for claiming to speak on God's behalf, when in fact they are only speaking for themselves. But right after that is when Jesus gets to the point when he said, “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. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” These four little sentences straight from the mouth of our Savior and Redeemer eliminate any possibility that the “pre-tribulation rapture” is the correct interpretation regarding its timing. After all, we can't be taken up to heaven prior to the start of the tribulation period if some of us will be put to death for our faith, and for refusing to take the “Mark of the Beast” from the Antichrist and his soldiers and minions! It is not possible to be at two different points in time simultaneously! I rest my case – but wait (sorry for the cliche here)! There's more, and it can be found in Revelation chapter 13, and I quote:

The beast was given power to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for 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 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.” (Revelation 13, verses 5-8)

“The beast” symbolizes the Antichrist, who was “given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation.” How can the Antichrist conquer the saints, evidently by the use of the military, if they were “raptured” at the start of the 7 year tribulation? This is my second and final reason for my case against the “pre-tribulation rapture”. But for my final part of this week's message and Biblical teaching, we need to go back to Daniel chapter 9 and verse 27: “He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven'. In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the Temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

Rather than quote the entire 7-verse paragraph the above verse is taken from, let me define “seven” as a year, although this is sometimes used interchangeably with 'weeks', depending on which version of the Bible you prefer. So we can see here that the “covenant with many” will be most likely of 7 years duration. Based on my own intensive studies, as well as the commentaries and teachings of those more qualified than I, this most likely symbolizes a Mideast peace agreement that is about to be fulfilled. But then, in the middle of the 'seven' described by Daniel, the “beast” – or Antichrist – “will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” And so all religious worship involving anything other than the Mark of the Beast will be outlawed, as it is written: “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 going into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Revelation 13, verses 8-10) Does this read like there's going to be a “pre-tribulation rapture”? On the contrary – some of us will be imprisoned for our faith, still more of us will be killed. This is because their names are all found in the “book of life belonging to the Lamb”, who is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who has removed the sins of the world, but only for those who believe in Him and call upon his name. But the rest of humanity who worships the beast, which will be the majority of people from that time soon to come, will seal their own doom by doing so. None of us has any way of knowing when the 'rapture' will occur. It's time to stop wasting time speculating about it, and to live our lives as if Jesus were coming that very night to take us home. Because, you know, one of these nights he really will.