Wednesday, September 27, 2017

While You Were Distracted...

This week's Bible study with Pastor Paul J. Bern will be part 2 of Luke chapter 20

The Parable of the Tenants (part 2)
[Luke chapter 20, verses 14-26]
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Last week when we left off at verse 13, Jesus was relating his parable of the tenants in the (hypothetical) vineyard, who had rented it from its owner, who was gone on a long journey. As you recall, the owner had sent a couple of servants to try and collect “some of the fruit of the vineyard”, as my NIV Bible puts it. My NLT Bible says the owner “sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop”. But the servants get sent away empty-handed, and with a good butt-whupping to boot. So the man decides he will send his son in the mistaken belief that he will be respected because of his status as the heir to the estate. So at this point let's take up where we last concluded last week's study, beginning at verse 14.

But when they saw him, they talked the matter over. 'This is the heir', they said. 'Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 'So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.' When the people heard this, they said, 'May this never be!' Jesus looked directly at them and asked, 'Then what is the meaning of that which is written: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone'? (Psalm 118, verse 22) Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.' The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” (Luke 20, verses 14-19)

One of the first things that jumps out at me from the above quote is that there are times in life when one's social or economic status is meaningless, and the owner of the vineyard failed to realize that at first. His failure to grasp the fact that he had rented his vineyard to a gang of criminals cost his son his life. It appears to me that this is a similar situation to what the American people are facing today. If the 'vineyard' were Washington, DC, then the 'tenants' would be our elected officials, and it would not be an inaccurate statement to say we have a bunch of evil tenants that have taken over the US government. But according to the Declaration of Independence, not to mention the US Constitution, it is “we the people” who are the true landowners and stockholders of this still-great country of ours. So the moral of this part of the story is that if we as a united American people fail to act preemptively against America's thoroughly corrupt and abusive government, that government, if left unchecked, will ultimately turn on us and kill us all. There are numerous examples from history of this occurring, with Hitler's Nazi Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's Red China being three examples from just the past century alone. If we don't intervene now against the rampant corruption in our government, the American people would be next on this infamous list.

Keep in mind, too, that this whole conversation got started when the Pharisees and teachers of the Law (like modern-day instructors and professors in Yeshiva's or Seminaries) had walked up to Jesus while he was teaching at the Temple at Jerusalem and demanded to know the source of his authority. They clearly failed to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. In fact, they were downright suspicious of Jesus, just to give you an idea of just how thoroughly whacked these Pharisees really were. That's why Jesus quoted the Bible in his response when he said, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone'? (Psalm 118, verse 22) Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” Jesus is the capstone, or “cornerstone”, as my NLT calls it. “Broken to pieces”, I'm pretty sure, is a reference to our old selves being broken in the process of surrendering our lives to Christ when we come to recognize and embrace him as our Lord and Savior. But like a seed germinating, our old selves must die so the new self can be reborn. Although we will be “broken to pieces”, the new self God gives us in its place when we commit our lives to Christ is an immortal soul destined for eternity with Jesus in heaven. Those who refuse to believe, on the other hand, “will be crushed”.

The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” Isn't this exactly what the authorities do in modern times when they perceive someone as a threat? They are either arrested and jailed like what happens to street protesters and other political activists, or they are assassinated like the Kennedy brothers and Rev. Dr. King, Jr., to name just a few. This kind of deadly shenanigans has been playing out in governments for many centuries, much to the detriment of the people those governments are charged with governing. But in modern times, the ubiquitous nature of the internet is making traditional government obsolete due to the way it decentralizes everything, directly connecting people, business and organizations in a way that was never before possible. But the last sentence is something we should be taking to heart. If we want to be part of the political and economic change we seek, it's time to make the government really afraid of us, the American people. As you can see, citizen reprisal against their government is in the Bible after all, but that is a topic for another discussion entirely – so for now let's conclude this week's lesson starting at verse 20.

Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So the spies questioned him: 'Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?' He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 'Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?' 'Caesar's', they replied. He said to them, 'Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what his God's..' They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.” (Luke 20, verses 20-26)

To use modern terminology, the Pharisees hired the equivalent of private investigators to put Jesus under surveillance, presumably because they had already tried and failed to get the governing authorities to do so. This should be regarded as a testimony to the power Jesus had over the people, who clearly recognized him as the promised Messiah while the better “educated” religious establishment did not. So much for 'religious education', which in the case of the Pharisees turns out to be an oxymoron. Yet there is one truth the Pharisees and their henchmen did recognize about our Savior, even though they did so begrudgingly; “....we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth....”. I don't know about you, but the part about not showing any partiality is the first thing I notice here. They meant 'showing partiality' like the Pharisees did, because they were known for their snobbish and arrogant behavior, as well as their openly being condescending towards those they regarded as inferior to themselves. Despite their devout religiosity, these were mean and nasty people, and I'm pretty sure that's what our Lord and Savior hated most about them.

So then the “spies”, as my NIV Bible calls them, or “secret agents pretending to be honest men”, as my NLT Bible puts it, ask Jesus what we would call a 'loaded question'. “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?' He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 'Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?'” 'Since you are from God rather than from men as you claim, aren't you exempt from taxation?', is the modern equivalent of what they were asking our Lord and Savior. Technically, since Jesus was of the clergy he would have been tax exempt by law similar to today, so an affirmative answer would have been a truthful one. But then he would have been accused of being a tax evader. Had Jesus answered negatively, on the other hand, meaning Jesus would want the taxes paid to himself and not Caesar since he claimed – though not directly – to be the promised Messiah, he would have been judged as having started an insurrection and turned over to the authorities immediately.

But Jesus' response is classic Jesus as only he could be: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what his God's.' They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public....”. 'Give to each his due and leave me alone so I can work', is the modern equivalent to what our Lord and Savior was saying to the “secret agents”. Remember, all this had gotten started when the Pharisees, together with their hired henchmen, burst into the temple and interrupted our Lord while he was teaching there. But instead of tripping Jesus up like they thought they could (sometimes people do dumb things due to a lack of faith), Jesus turned the tables on his adversaries instead – and all in full view of Jesus' apostles and his many followers who were there with him. So a final lesson we can derive this week is that trying to fool God, let alone his Son, is always a really bad and pathetically dumb idea. Let's not forget that, like a marriage, our relationship with Christ must be based on honesty and accountability. So let's never forget to always remain transparent in our relationship with our Lord and Savior, because a rich reward awaits all those who execute this faithfully! And next week we'll move on to part 3 of Luke chapter 20.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Another warning from God. Perhaps they will listen this time.

A Word of Warning From the Lord For the USA

by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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I'm going to do something that I've done before on this website; exercising one of the chief gifts of the Spirit as taught by the apostle Paul – the gift of prophecy, one of the nine fruits of the Spirit (see 1st Corinthians 12, verses 7-11). First, for my newer readers, let me point out that prophecy doesn't mean being able to foretell the future. That's called divination, which is based on sorcery, which is of the occult. Prophecy, on the other hand, simply means affirmatively declaring the Word of God, or of conveying the will of God and letting it be known with precision and insight. For example, if I say, “Jesus will return on Christmas Eve”, that's a prediction of the future, and in this case a pretty bad one. But if I say, “Everyone act, think and live as if Jesus will return this Christmas, because it is the Lord himself who reminds you to keep yourself ready for His return – for He will return at an hour when many do not expect him” – then I have prophesied the Word of God by allowing myself to be used as a vessel for God's Word to humankind, or as a conduit for God's awesome power (which is beyond all human imagination or comprehension). Although I'm sure there will be some who will strongly disagree with my interpretations of Biblical prophecy contained herein, I feel compelled to warn all who read this that judgment is coming to the USA. Indeed, I would be derelict in my duties as a Web pastor and ambassador for Christ if I neglected to warn all who will heed my warning. And so allow me a few paragraphs and several minutes of your time to relate what I believe is this important Word from the Lord God Almighty through his Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain and yet lives!

As it was in the times of the prophets of old, so it is today – many people are perishing due to a lack of knowledge, or misinformation, about God. One thing I'm certain about – America's days as a superpower, both militarily and economically, are just about over. Don't any of you see what is happening all around you? Your government is printing money at supersonic speed to keep its rigged capitalist economic system – a system based on debt and greed that is a laughingstock up in heaven and down in hell – from imploding! Interest on America's “national debt” has been accruing at a faster rate than the principal can be paid down. It is as plain and bright as the daytime sunshine that our rigged pyramid scheme economic system has run its course. It will soon be exactly as it was written by the apostle John, “In her heart she boasts, 'I sit as queen, I am not a widow, and I will never mourn'. Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning, and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry, 'Woe! Woe, oh great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!'” (Revelation chapter 18, verses 7-10)

Is there anyone who still doubts that this passage of Scripture was written about our country, the United States? Go back and read that again, or better yet, read Revelation chapter eighteen in its entirety – it's all right there in black and white. What else could it be? The US remains the wealthiest nation on earth, and the materialism of her people is an offense to God. Moreover, Jesus condemned materialism (see Matthew 6, verses 19-21; Luke 6; 24-26)! So how else is the US government sinning against God? The US dollar, or more accurately the blistering rate the Federal Reserve is printing it, makes a major devaluation of America's currency likely, possibly even in the near future. Also, the US banking system is based on “fractional reserve lending”, which is “usury”, or money lending with interest. The Bible says unambiguously the charging of interest is a sin (see Exodus 22, verses 22-27). That means if the US does not repent of these egregious sins and get its house in order, God will punish our country with more economic hardship, natural disasters and even plagues. I know there are those who will not take my warning seriously, but I remind you that the future of our country, not to mention your very soul, is at stake. I do not speak for myself, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ speaks through me. I am merely a conduit for His awesome power.

We have taken the earth that God created and ruined it. We were originally put in charge of the earth, to “subdue it” (see Genesis 1: 28), but humankind has done an atrocious job, with the ongoing nuclear reactor leak at Fukushima, Japan being a prime example. Everything is polluted, even our own bodies. Oil residue still exists on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and western Florida, the seafood is contaminated with mercury, our livestock are catching deadly new strains of the flu, and our IQ's become ever more diminished due to ingesting fluoridated water for generations. Autism, once thought to have originated from childhood vaccines, is now being more correctly understood as having environmental rather than medical causes and origins. We're doing it to ourselves. And all the while, the world's bee population is being decimated. That in and of itself is a disaster in the making.

Hard times are coming, of that we can all be sure. God has shown me (yes He has!) that gas rationing and food rationing are both on America's horizon. Poverty will increase by leaps and bounds, creating a permanent underclass of Americans who will become the spearhead of a nonviolent Second American Revolution. Civil unrest is coming, the likes of which haven't been seen since the 1960's. Rioting may occur in (hopefully) isolated areas, and people will stay barricaded in their homes and apartments for days and weeks at a time. With 70% of America's economy dependent on consumer spending, this is an ominous possibility to say the least. If and when the dollar collapses – a frightening possibility – all these things will be much worse (God forbid). The Bible warns us that “a day is coming when no one will be able to work”.We have been taking our privileged lives for granted for too long. God is a patient and loving God who is slow to anger but swift and sure regarding his punishment for those who willfully disobey. When we take a look around us, we see our neighborhoods, subdivisions, schools, churches, businesses, and industries, and all the crumbling infrastructure associated with them. Yet I am warning you all that even the tallest tower – which here in Atlanta is just over 52 stories – will not be left standing upon the arrival of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord. It is only then, when the arrival of Christ Jesus splits the Mount of Olives in two, that every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Those who have been disregarding my warnings are just about out of time.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Rick Simpson Bizarre New Theory May Not be that Crazy

Free book sample from Progressive Christian blogger and published author Rev. Paul J. Bern

legalization cover 1

Free sample from "Cannabis Legalization and the Bible" by Rev. Paul J. Bern

This book shoots the “War On Drugs” right out of the sky while proving conclusively that the 'drug war' is actually an all-out war on the American people. Our time to rise up has come!!

Imagine if America's incarcerated population were its own country. If you look at local, state and federal prison and jail populations, the United States currently incarcerates more than three million people, a figure that constitutes roughly 25 percent of the total incarcerated population of the entire world. A population of 3 million is a lot – enough, in fact, to fill up a good-sized country. If the incarcerated population of the United States constituted a nation-state, what kind of country would it be? 

[1] Population size: As a country – as opposed to a prison system – Incarceration Nation is on the small side. Nonetheless, a population of 2.4 million is perfectly respectable: Incarceration Nation has a larger population than about 50 other countries, including Namibia, Qatar, Gambia, Bahrain and Iceland.
[2] Geographic area: There are more than 4,500 prisons in the United States. Let’s assume that each of those prisons takes up about half a square mile of land – a reasonable (and probably quite low) estimate given that most prisons are, for security reasons, surrounded by some empty space. That gives Incarceration Nation an estimated land area of about 2,250 square miles: small, but still larger than Brunei, Bahrain and Singapore.
[3] Population density: No matter how you look at it, Incarceration Nation is a crowded place. If we assume a land area of 2,250 square miles, it has a population density of roughly 1,067 people per square mile, a little higher than that of India. In 2011, federal prisons were operating 39 percent above capacity; in many state systems, overcrowding was much worse. This figure remains largely unchanged.
[4] A nation of immigrants: Like many of the smaller Gulf States, Incarceration Nation relies almost entirely on immigration to maintain its population. You might even say that Incarceration Nation is a nation of displaced persons: most of its residents were born far away from Incarceration Nation, which has a nasty habit of involuntarily transporting people hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away from their home communities, making it extraordinarily difficult for residents to maintain ties with their families.
[5] Birthright citizenship: An estimated 10,000 babies are born each year in Incarceration Nation. Most are “deported” within months, generally landing with foster families. But Incarceration Nation does have its own form of birthright citizenship, if you can call it that: as many as 70 percent of children with an incarcerated parent end up incarcerated themselves at some point.
[6] Gender balance: International attention to gender imbalances has tended to focus on China, India and other states, but Incarceration Nation has the most skewed gender ratio of any country on Earth: men outnumber women by a ratio of about 12 to 1.
[7] Racial and ethnic makeup: If Incarceration Nation were located in a geographical region matching its racial and ethnic makeup, it would probably be somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, perhaps near Brazil. Roughly 40 percent of the incarcerated population is of African descent, another 20 percent is of Hispanic descent, and the remaining 40 percent are Caucasian or mixed. For the average American, this means that one’s odds of spending time in Incarceration Nation depend greatly on gender and race: a white woman has only a one in 111 lifetime chance of ending up incarcerated, while a black man has a whopping one in three chance.
[8] Health: One study found that the incarcerated are “more likely to be afflicted with infectious disease and other illnesses associated with stress.” More than half of Incarceration Nation’s citizens are mentally ill, with depression rates roughly on a par with those experienced by citizens of Afghanistan.
[9] Per Capita Spending: Judged by per capita government spending, Incarceration Nation is a rich country: its government spends an average of about $31,000 per year on each incarcerated citizen. Internationally, only little Luxembourg spends as much on its citizens as Incarceration. Some people make a lot of money from Incarceration Nation. Incarceration Nation employs about 800,000 people as prison guards, administrators and the like – almost as many people as are employed in the entire U.S. automobile industry. But the real money goes to the operators of private prisons and the companies that make use of prison labor. Large private prison companies (such as CCA, the Geo Group, and Cornell Companies) boast impressive annual revenues. In 2015, for instance, CCA had annual revenues of about $1.79 billion.
[10] Labor Standards: If you think low labor costs in countries such as China and Bangladesh are a threat to U.S. workers and businesses, labor conditions in Incarceration Nation will dangerously raise your blood pressure. UNICOR, a.k.a. Federal Prison Industries, employs 8 percent of “work eligible” federal prisoners. Hourly wages range from 23 cents an hour – about on a par with garment workers in Bangladesh – to a princely $1.35 for “premium” prisoners, comparable to the hourly wage of Chinese garment workers. Who benefits from these low wages? The U.S. Department of Defense, for one. The DOD is UNICOR’s largest customer; in fiscal year 2011 it accounted for $357 million of UNICOR’s annual sales. UNICOR makes everything from Patriot missile components to body armor for the DOD. No one likes to talk about this, of course: “We sell products made by prison labor” isn’t the kind of slogan likely to generate consumer enthusiasm. But to those in the know – as an online video promoting UNICOR’s call-center services boasts – prison labor is “the best-kept secret in outsourcing.”

The U.S. Civil War, which was fought to abolish slavery, was not really that long ago. Having grown up in Cincinnati, I clearly recall the Ohio River was a dividing line between North and South, and so when the war was finally over, many families had veterans – and casualties – on both sides. It is a vivid reminder of the close links that bind this country to its history of slavery, which still haunts our national conscience. We maintain what can be only be called legalized slavery today – the utilization of prison labor for public and private profit. Many, if not most, of these inmates are themselves the descendants of slaves. And they are making fewer license plates and more defense electronics and oil spill cleanups. Today prison labor is a multibillion dollar business in the U.S. We also have the highest prison population in the world. Are economic incentives at the heart of our sky-high incarceration rates? Today, the U.S. prison system delivers profits to both government corporations and private enterprises in several ways:
  1. Through the use of inmate labor to produce goods and services in federal and state prisons.
  2. Through the contracting of this labor to private companies at below-market wages.
  3. By privatization of the prisons and detainment centers themselves. Given these perverse incentives to maintain a high inmate population, is it any wonder that the number of prisoners and the length of their sentences – Americans comprise 5 percent of the world's total population but 25 percent of the world's prison population – have skyrocketed since privatization began in 1984?
  4. Number of inmates. From 1920 to 2006, the general U.S. population grew only 2.8 times in the same period, but the number of inmates increased more than 20 times.
One might ask if this population surge could be due to a sudden increase in violent crime in America. A much smaller percentage of prisoners than one would imagine have histories of violence. Just three percent of those in Federal prisons, and a third of those in state prisons, have been convicted of violent crimes. A majority of those in city and county prisons are merely awaiting trial and cannot make bail. As any policeman will tell you, much criminality would be eliminated if drug laws were changed. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of the US today – perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more African-American men in the grip of the criminal-justice system – in prison, on probation, or on parole – than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under 'correctional supervision' in America – more than six million – than were in the Gulags of Siberia under Stalin at its height. America has now created its own series of Gulags and it makes much more than just license plates. Of the 2.3 million prisoners now being held, more than 100,000 work in federal and state prison industry programs. This doesn't mean the usual cooking, cleaning or peeling of potatoes, but work that produces products for sale – about $2.4 billion dollars annually. This industry even has its own trade shows! The government, particularly the Department of Defense, is the biggest customer for the federal prison labor. Most military clothing, furniture, and helmets are made by Federal inmates. It is very likely that they made the furniture at your local post office. Calling directory assistance? You might well be talking to a felon. Federal prison workers, however, are the envy of state inmates, some of whom earn nothing for 60-plus-hour weeks. Texas and Georgia offer no compensation at all. (It is no surprise that these states have highly privatized prison industries as well.)

Buy direct in print format ($14.95, 200 pages) at!books-and-donations/c17et 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

This week's Biblical study will be part one of Luke chapter 20

The Parable of the Tenants, part 1

[Luke chapter 20, verses 1-13]

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When we left off last week at the end of chapter 19, Jesus had just driven the money-changers out of the temple, followed by at least 3 or 4 consecutive days of teaching in the Temple – as one who had power and authority. Jesus interpreted the Scriptures as only the Son of God could, and I have no doubt that he taught them perfectly well. This week as we start chapter 20 of the gospel of Luke, we find ourselves in the Temple at Jerusalem with the Lord, together with the Twelve, as Christ is teaching. So let's get started right now at verse one.

One day as he was teaching in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 'Tell us by what authority you are doing these things', they said. 'Who gave you this authority?' He relied, 'I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John's baptism – was it from heaven, or from men?' They discussed it among themselves and said, 'If we say, 'from heaven', he will ask, 'Why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men', all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.' So they answered, 'We don't know where it was from.' Jesus said, 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.'” (Luke 20, verses 1-8)

Once again we are witnesses to Jesus' power and authority being questioned by the Pharisees and teachers of the Law (the modern equivalent of theologians, priests and other dignitaries), and once again he stops his attackers in their tracks with mere words. Our Lord and Savior barely had to move a single muscle! His response, quite frankly, was nothing short of brilliant (particularly verse 8). Jesus was being told to explain and justify himself by the elders at the Temple at Jerusalem. 'Who do you think you are, teaching here in 'our' temple'?, is essentially what the Pharisees were saying. These people simply walked right up to Jesus without so much as an 'excuse me', and interrupted his teaching to accuse him of being a counterfeit prophet. I can't speak for anyone else, but I think it took an incredibly arrogant and conceited person to accuse the Son of God of any kind of sin at all (the very definition of blasphemy)! Jesus then proceeded to throw their arrogance right back in their faces. If they were to admit that John the Baptist was a genuine prophet of Almighty God – which he most certainly was – they would lose all credibility with the people, whom they ruled over unmercifully. If they said otherwise, they would have been stoned to death by those same people, and justifiably so. “So they answered, 'We don't know where it was from'.” 'Then neither do I', is a paraphrase of Jesus' response. Classic! Our Lord's contempt for the religious establishment of his day was well earned. And now let's move on to part 2 of today's study, beginning at verse 9.

He went on to tell the people this parable: 'A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit from the vineyards. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty handed. He sent another servant, but that one they also beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty handed. He sent still a third, but they wounded him and threw him out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.'” (Luke 20, verses 9-13)

This parable is full of symbolism. Although I've seen varying explanations about its interpretation, the moral of the story remains the same. From the vantage point of Progressive Christianity, as well as some denominations who are teaching this correctly, the “vineyard” represents the greater Church, which Jesus planted, and which continues to grow to this day. The farmers who rented the farm are those responsible for the harvest. They represent church leadership in all its forms, and the 'harvest' represents the membership and the rapture of the Bride of Christ, which will take place roughly 3 ½ years before Jesus' final return (see Daniel 9, verses 20-27). The 'servants' represent the prophets who came before him, as well as those who have come after. The prophets of old include Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah, to name a few. The modern prophets include Charles Spurgeon, Rev. Billy Graham and Rev. David Wilkerson, among others (search those). All the prophets of old were put to death by their contemporaries, and a day is coming soon when Christians will be put to death right here in the US, mark my words. Prepare yourselves accordingly.

He sent still a third, but they wounded him and threw him out.” In modern terms, when the owner of the vineyard sent a third servant, presumably with some kind of security detail this time around, the servant got wounded in the shootout with the tenant farmers who had decided to simply take the vineyard for themselves since the landowner had been gone for so long. Obviously this was a deteriorating situation that was in need of some serious resolution. Unfortunately for the landowner, he was evidently very far away at a time when the primary mode of travel was on foot on by camel, with horses being reserved for commercial and military use, and as a mode of personal transportation for the wealthy. He couldn't get on a plane and fly back there like we're accustomed to today, nor could he get on the freeway and drive back since none of the above existed. So he had no easy solution to the serious dilemma he was faced with.

What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.” Here in verse 13, “my son” represents Jesus Christ, which confirms our suspicion that the vineyard's owner represents Almighty God. Now it's easy to see how the relationships line up here in this parable of the Lord's. To find out what happens when the owner's son arrives at the vineyard to collect his father's due, you'll have to come back next week for part 2 of Luke chapter 20. Until then, take good care – stay in prayer – always, everywhere!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Is End Times Prophecy the Real Deal or Isn't It?

Setting the Record Straight Regarding
the 'Pre-tribulation Rapture'
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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This week I have undertaken the task of setting the record straight about the so-called “pre-tribulation Rapture”, and how this belief is being disseminated on alternative and social media in a way that I suspect to be erroneous. Although my opening sentence may seem judgmental to some, that's not my intention at all. Any fool can mask their foolish and rash nature behind a judgmental spirit, but this week's commentary is more of an appeal and an outreach to all those who are seeking the truth about all this speculation about “the Rapture”. It turns out this is critically important information to possess.

The origin of the 'pre-tribulation Rapture' can be found in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 13-18, and continuing into 1st Thessalonians 5, verses 1-3. It reads as follows: “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 the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are left alive, who are left by the coming of the Lord, will certainly not proceed those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with 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 the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. Now, brothers, about times and dates we need not write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “peace and safety”, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

Like the apostle Paul who wrote the quote above, I too am unwilling that anyone should lack knowledge of the truth, knowing that the Bible is in fact the ultimate definition of truth. By the way, the apostle Paul's term “those who fall asleep”, is an ancient expression of the dying process. Paul's next sentence is telling – “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.” This, my dear readers, is the very essence of the Christian faith, and it defines the payoff for unwavering faith in Jesus. Anyone who does not believe Jesus died on the cross and then rose again on the morning of the third day does not have eternal life in and through him. Period, end of story!! Those of you reading this who do not yet believe, well, you have yourselves a decision to make – an affirmative decision for Christ Jesus our Lord!! Don't take too long thinking it over, either, because – as you all will soon see by reading this – we are rapidly running out of time.

While people are saying, “peace and safety”, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Interestingly enough, the United Nations has decreed the year 2017-2018 as the “Year of Peace”. Now let me share another quote about the Great Tribulation period from the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, and I quote: “The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolation's have been decreed. 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.” As you can see by the text I used, the Book of Daniel is a deeply prophetic book, one of the most prophetic in the entire Bible IMHO. Although it is a complex book on several levels, let me cut to the chase right here for the sake of brevity and simplicity. “One 'seven'” is a reference to a command given by the Lord to the ancient Israelites who had taken possession of the Land of Canaan, to let the land lie fallow every seventh year in order to give it a chance to replenish itself of minerals and other nutrients (see Leviticus 25, verses 1-7). This was, after all, an entirely agrarian economy.

The “ruler who will come” is none other than the Antichrist himself. His confirmation of a “covenant for one 'seven'” is the stipulation of his 'authority' for the seven years that he will rule the earth. Although there is insufficient space here to explain this, the 7-year rule of the Antichrist will commence at the end of World War Three (see Ezekiel chapters 7, 38 and 39, as well as Revelation 18 for the full story on that). The Antichrist, not surprisingly, will rule from Jerusalem, since America will have been attacked but not entirely destroyed (see again Ezekiel 7 and Revelation 18). But at this point the USA will have ceased from being a world power, and the US dollar will no longer be the world's reserve currency. He will rule for the first half of his seven-year reign because he will build the Third Temple and allow Old Testament-style animal sacrifices to be performed there. But due to many loud objections to the sacrifices of helpless animals, at the mid-point of his reign the Antichrist will order the sacrifices to be stopped so that he should be worshiped as God in the Third Temple. This is the “abomination that causes desolation” Daniel wrote about, and Jesus quotes from that very verse in Matthew 24, which we'll get to in just a minute.

In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” The Bible specified this because it is at this mid-point in the Great Tribulation period that the Rapture of the true Church, which is also called 'the Bride of Christ', actually takes place. To prove that we're all still going to be here for the first part of the Great Tribulation, allow me to show you several verses from Revelation, the last book in the Bible, and I quote: “Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, 'Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?' The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for 42 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 are not 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.” (Revelation 13, verses 4-9)

“Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” If military operations are going on in the Last Days we live in, and they certainly are today, this most likely is a reference to a global military force that has no boundaries in a world where the sovereignty of nations is no longer observed. I can't speak for anyone else, but this sounds and reads like global government to me. 'The Beast', then, is obviously the enforcement arm of the military forces of the Antichrist. “The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for 42 months.” Forty two months is exactly 3 and a half years, representing the final period of rule by the Antichrist, the infamous world dictator who will declare himself to be God incarnate. What he will be instead is the devil incarnate, someone to be despised and vigorously opposed by all the true Christian believers of the world! Conversely, the length of Jesus' ministry here on earth was also 3 ½ years.

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.” OK people, right here is the first example of the proof I mentioned above regarding the timing of the Rapture of the Bride of Christ. If the Church has already been 'raptured' away before the Tribulation starts, or at its beginning, then how come the Antichrist can make “war against the saints”? He can't make war against the true believers if they're no longer here, so obviously during the earlier part of the 7-year Tribulation period the Christian believers will still be on earth. This also means that, as a result of the refusal of the True Believers to accept the mark of the beast, the number of his name or to worship his image, Christians will have to set up large underground networks to obtain food, shelter, and in many cases for their own safety. Christianity as a Church and as a belief system will have to go underground in order to survive during this extraordinarily dangerous time, and all the children will have to be home-schooled. But if the parents explain these things to their children, the children will understand they are part of something much bigger than themselves, and they will embrace it wholeheartedly if encouraged. The Spirit of the Lord will make it so!

And now for the third and last part of this week's commentary, to find out if Christian believers will have to endure part of the Great Tribulation – and the persecution that will surely accompany it – let's go straight to the source and read what Jesus had to say about this very topic, and I quote: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and be put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24, verses 9-14)

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and be put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” OK, if the Rapture of the Church is supposed to happen before the Great Tribulation starts, then why did Jesus tell the apostles we (including themselves) will be persecuted and put to death? Obviously both can't be happening at once, that makes no sense. The answer is exactly what the prophet Daniel foretold. At the midpoint of the 7-year reign of the Antichrist, when the sacrifices to God are forcibly stopped and he sets himself up in the yet-to-be-built Third Temple as the personification of God, that's when God puts his foot down and says, “That's it!! I am finished with you!!”. But before he initiates the punishment of humankind for worshiping the beast, his image or the number of his name, and for following the False Prophet, he will first take his Bride out of harm's way. That's when the True Church will be taken up, and so to be with the Lord forever. Therefore, as the apostle Paul wrote, “encourage one another with these words”.

Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Is there an increase in wickedness today? You better believe there is! Has the love of many grown cold as a result? Without a doubt – people today often stay single because they have a hard time trusting others due to negative experiences in their past relationships. By the same token, people's love for God, for Jesus and all he represents, and their compassion and empathy for others has also run cold. Besides the reasons I already stated, this is because everyone today is so financially strapped that they don't even have the ability to help the less fortunate even if they really want to – as they should. So everyone is scared of giving, scared of loving, and scared of trusting. This truly is a sorry state of affairs for us to be in. But as verse 14 says, once the Gospel is preached throughout the earth, then – and only then – the end of the age will come. Not the end of the world, mind you. The earth isn't going to collide with another planet, so you can put those fears to rest! But the end of the world as we have known it will end. This will be a world without wars, a world where companies operate as either nonprofits, co-ops or employee-owned businesses, a world where higher education and medical care are all free of charge, and where economic parity or equality will be the law of the land! And Jesus will be in charge of it all from the world's new capital city, Jerusalem! But we have to go through a storm first, the likes of which none of us has ever seen before. But if we hold on together and ride this storm out, eternal peace and tranquility awaits us on the other side!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

This week's Bible study will be part 3 of Luke chapter 19

Jesus Gets Treated Like a Rock Star
[Luke chapter 19, verses 28-48]
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Last week when we left off at verse 27 of Luke's gospel chapter 19, Jesus had just finished telling the parable of the ten 'minas' as he spoke about using that which God has instilled within us since before we were born. We as followers of Christ are charged with the responsibility of being diligent stewards and serving Christ with as much distinction as we can as we journey through life with our Savior towards our ultimate goal, which is to spend eternity with him. This week as we move on to part 3 of Luke 19, Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem with the Twelve as they were on their way to celebrate Passover at the main Temple there. As we will see, Jesus' arrival on the outskirts of Jerusalem as he made his way into town was met with a tumultuous welcome. So let's go there with Jesus and his apostles as they make their way through two small villages just north of Jerusalem, starting at verse 28.

After Jesus said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 'Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?', tell him, 'The Lord needs it.' Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked, 'Why are you untying the colt?' They replied, 'The Lord needs it.' They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt, and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Peace in heaven and glory to the highest!'” (Luke 19, verses 28-38)

Jesus was coming south from Jericho towards Jerusalem. The straight-line distance from Jericho to Jerusalem is 15 miles; however, the precipitous mountain road between the two cities takes the traveler much further. Embedded within this text, specifically verses 30-35, we find additional proof that Jesus was the Son of God. He sent at least two or three of his followers ahead to a village, presumably either Bethphage or Bethany, to fetch the colt mentioned in Luke's gospel. Only a man with supernatural powers could have known in advance that the colt was tied up where it was, there is simply no other way this could have occurred. Nor do I think Jesus had ESP, or was clairvoyant in any way. Neither of those even scratches the surface as far as the infinite powers possessed by the Son of God. After all, he is the only Son of an omniscient God. Moreover, the unidentified owner of the colt clearly knew who Jesus was, most likely by his impeccable reputation.

So, let's take in the full scope of what was occurring in real time back then. Jesus and the Twelve, together with an entourage that must have been in the hundreds at least, and could have been as high as several thousand, are journeying en masse to Jerusalem. At this point Jesus' ministry has been active for the last three and a half years, and his following has grown immeasurably during all that time. All the miracles, the healing and the eviction of evil or unclean spirits – which today we would likely call mental illness – for all that time had made Jesus a celebrity, something our Lord and Savior would never have called himself.

As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!'” Keep in mind that for the entire duration of Jesus' ministry, a few of the Pharisees and experts in the Law of Moses – which was the entire Bible at that time – had been shadowing him and the Twelve, looking for a way to catch Jesus in a contradiction or some kind of mental lapse with regard to what our Lord and Savior had been teaching. They were looking for anything they could find because Jesus had really gotten into their business for their hypocrisy, and they hated that! But all the people were sure of exactly who Jesus was, or so they thought. The Old Testament they were using at the time spoke reverently of a messiah that would save the Jewish people from their Roman captors, and those in the crowd were sure that Jesus was that man. Instead, his fate was far worse, as everyone would soon find out. But for now, let's go to the second half of our study, beginning at verse 39.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples!'. 'I tell you', he replied, 'if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.' As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you.' Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. 'It is written', he said to them, 'My house will be a house of prayer', but you have made it, 'a den of robbers'. Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.” (Luke 19, verses 39-48)

Here in verse 39 we have yet another example of the Pharisees trying to rebuke Jesus and the Twelve for their manner of teaching, only to be rebuked themselves by the Savior of the world! I find Jesus' range of emotions interesting right here, with him showing anger mixed with a little sarcasm in one sentence, and being reduced to tears in the next one. Jesus also prophesied against Jerusalem and its inhabitants when he said, “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you.” Jesus was referring to a time nearly 40 years into the future, when the Roman Empire overran Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 70 A.D. Thousands of people perished in this attack, and the Jewish people were scattered from their homeland across the entire known world at that time, and very likely beyond that. So great was their sin against God Almighty – handing his Son over to be crucified – that the Jewish people stayed scattered abroad until Israel was made a sovereign nation by the United Nations on May 14, 1948. And that, good people, is what happens to those who make Jesus cry!

Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. 'It is written', he said to them, 'My house will be a house of prayer', but you have made it, 'a den of robbers'. Every day he was teaching at the temple.” I want you all to picture this in your mind. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus made a whip and physically drove the money changers out of the temple courts, but Luke doesn't mention that, I'm not sure why to be perfectly honest with you. Still, Jesus is overturning the tables as he physically forced these 'Shylocks' out of what was supposed to be a sacred area, throwing some of the chairs in the process! These tables and chairs didn't come from a store because there were no furniture stores back then. Everything was made by hand. Since these tables and chairs were made of solid wood, they were likely fairly heavy, with each table topping 100 pounds or more, maybe much more if they were of solid hardwood construction. These were not card tables and folding chairs, you can be sure of that! And Jesus' rage and indignation at his Father's house being turned into a virtual flea market was equally solid, you can be sure of that as well!

But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.” Right here is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to our Lord and Savior! Even though Jesus came into the Temple area and began driving out the Shylock money changers, physically assaulting all of them who were unable to get out of his way – although the religious establishment wanted to kill Jesus, the overwhelming power of the people dissuaded them. We could and should take a lesson from just that, for in today's crazy times where so many are unhappy with the status quo it would be in the best interests of the American people to rise up against this monstrosity known as the Federal Government before we all find ourselves being liquidated and slaughtered by it (think nuclear war, climate change, FEMA camps, etc.). There is an additional lesson that we can all take from the last of Luke 19, which is that “all the people hung on his words”. How about you, is that what you've been doing? Are we all 'hanging on his words' as we learn from Christ? Not on my words, I'm just the teacher, so let's put me aside for the moment even though I personally write all these Progressive Christian Bible studies and my weekly commentaries. I'm just the messenger, but Jesus is the message. The only effective way we can “hang on his words” is by reading our Bibles daily. If you don't have a print edition, consider one of the many Bible apps there are out there and just pick one. You don't get the message of Jesus just by reading this blog, although I take heart in the fact that I perform this ministry for my Lord and Savior. You get it by reading his Word, and “hanging onto every word”. He's the Author and the architect of our minds, hearts, and faiths! Cling to Jesus and you can't go wrong! And next week we'll start on Luke chapter 20.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Of Hurricanes and the Fury of the Lord

Hurricanes Are In the Bible, and So Is America's Judgment
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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Hurricanes are arriving as twins! Soon they may arrive in three's, I don't know. Hopefully we should be reminded to stop and see what the Bible says about things like this. After all, to have so many storms happening at once is most unusual. Here are a few scriptures to seek God about, starting with two of the major prophets from the Old Testament, Jeremiah and Isaiah. In this first example from Jeremiah 23, verses 17-20 it says, “They keep saying to those who despise me, ' The Lord says, 'You will have peace' , and to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts, they say, 'No harm will come to you.' But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord, to see or hear his word? Who has listened and heard his Word? See, the storm of the Lord will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purpose of his heart. In the days to come you will understand it clearly.”

Here in the 2nd example from Isaiah 40, verses 21-24 the Word of the Lord reads, “Have you never heard or understood? Are you deaf to the words of God – the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant? It is God who sits above the circle of the earth. The people below must seem to him like grasshoppers! He is the one who spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent before them. He judges the people of the world and brings them all to nothing. They barely get started, barely taking root, when he blows on them and their work withers. The wind carries them off like straw.” Every few years, or maybe another decade or so, another hurricane comes along and really clobbers the southeastern and Gulf coasts of the US. Soon after, the rebuilding process starts, often taking many years, and everything is fine until the next one comes along, which restarts the whole cycle yet again. Isn't this exactly what the Bible was talking about? Of course it is!

Jeremiah 25: 32 says, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Look! A disaster is spreading from nation to nation; a mighty storm is rising from the ends of the earth.” Storms have come and gone before, America is only the latest target selected by God. But why America, and why now? Just think about it for a minute – even if some disagree with what I'm about to write. This is not going to be a popular thing to say, but the ugly truth is that America as a country stands judged by God. Our country is the world's largest exporter of armaments and weapons of every kind, we produce by far the most pornography, and we have the largest rates of murder and incarceration in the world. We are the world's largest polluter of the air, water and soil. In fact, the United States is systematically poisoning the entire planet! We have by far the world's largest and most formidable military, and when we send our sons and daughters overseas to fight America's illicit wars, fully 20% of them return as psychiatric basket cases. The reason for this is that they have witnessed killing on a scale so massive that it is beyond their comprehension. Forced outside the scope of their experiences, some of these well-meaning individuals simply never make it back home again. Their brains are still off somewhere else, fighting a battle that only exists in between their ears. This, my dear readers, is what war does to people! It shatters the human psyche beyond repair, which is why we must be vigorously opposed to warfare! Ban war forever!

So it is for these reasons that God has brought, and will continue to bring, judgment upon this country for its crimes, and judgment on those people who stand with her as she does so! Is this insufficient for anyone? Does anybody need still more reasons why God would punish America? We have more abortions than any other country. One fourth of our children are currently homeless. For most of them, their free school lunch is the only food they have access to. Institutionalized racism still abounds in the US and nothing is being done about it. Our banking system is completely fraudulent and flies in the face of Scriptures (see Exodus 22: 25-27, etc.). 99% of America's wealth is in the hands of the top 1% of its citizens, and inequality is out of control as a result. Our country is populated by materialistic people who are addicted to their phones, to drugs or alcohol, or to pornography, gambling, or binge watching their big screen TV's while they sit on their couches mesmerized by trite events outside the scope of reality. And if that's not enough for them, there's always Virtual Reality that they can play instead. We have become like demanding little spoiled brats who insist on being entertained 24-7!

Unfortunately for all these people, and what the majority of them haven't even stopped to consider, is that when we are engaged in all these activities our attention is turned away from the One who made us, who watches over us daily while being like a dad for those who have none, and who loves us intensely – believe it or not! Our attention to all the things I mentioned above diverts us away from paying attention to God. Moreover, those who are doing any or all the other things I mentioned are ignoring God and his guidance, and have no relationship with Jesus Christ who saved their very souls! These intense and powerful hurricanes – and there will be plenty more, mark my words – are a warning and a judgment from God! We are to stop living only for ourselves and start living for others! Otherwise, America will be struck by still more disasters in the weeks, months and years to come. What we should be doing instead is devoting all our spare time to serving Christ by service to others. Jesus did just that in Matthew's gospel chapter 8, verses 23-27, and I quote: “Then he got into the boat, and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We're going to drown!' He replied, 'You of little faith, why are you so afraid?' Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, 'What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!'

The disciples knew they were in a situation with no clear exit, that they were caught in a storm from which they could not escape. Like those currently stuck in Florida without the means to escape hurricane Irma, or those in Texas with Harvey, all they can do is seek help from the Lord, and to ask for his mercy upon us. Notice that Jesus was asleep during all but the last few moments of the fierce storm before saying, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”, before he calmed the storm. I think that's what Jesus wants to tell everyone in Florida and Georgia. Only He can rebuke the wind and the waves. Even the wind and the waves have sense enough to obey Him. Shouldn't we?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

This week's Bible study with Pastor Paul J. Bern will be part 2 of Luke chapter 19

Of Lost Coins and Harsh Judgments
[Luke chapter 19, verses 11-27]
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When we last paused our studies of the writings of the apostle Luke, we were in chapter 19 of Luke's gospel at the 10th verse. In the first portion of chapter 19 Luke relates the story of Zacchaeus, who was the biggest crook in town and who, upon encountering our Lord and Savior found himself hosting Him for dinner, and probably an overnight stay as well. Zacchaeus went from being thoroughly despised to having an audience with the Messiah, our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, in the span of just a minute or so. How did this occur? It was because Zacchaeus repented of his sins before the Lord and then made restitution to anyone he had cheated. So here we have repentance combined with following through, even if it's nothing more than issuing some major apologies (nope, no halfhearted ones, we all have to really mean it). This is how repentance is done, people, these are the guidelines we are to be following. First comes repentance, followed by genuine sorrow, then we put our words and intentions into action. With this in mind, let's begin part 2 of Luke chapter 19 starting at verse 11.

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said, 'A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work', he said, 'until I come back'. But the servants hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.' He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what he had gained with it. The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' 'Well done, my good servant!', his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has gained five more.' His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.' “ (Luke 19, verses 11-19)

First of all, a 'mina' is equivalent to roughly 3 months wages in US dollars. Also called a “talent” in the King James version, whereas this quote is from the NIV Bible, my New Living Translation calls it “10 pounds of silver”, the point being that nobody today knows exactly how much this was, but suffice it to say it was a substantial sum. Notice the backdrop for this passage in verse 11. Jesus, the Twelve, and the large crowd that followed after them were following him to Jerusalem because they thought that – since he was the Messiah and they were all sure of that by now – he was going to establish his Kingdom upon his arrival. In reality, he was walking towards his crucifixion and death, and Jesus was the only one who understood that. He was also talking about himself in this parable. Jesus is the man born of nobility who would go away on a long journey, meaning, after he met his fate in Jerusalem on Passover, he would rise from the dead on the morning of the third day. Shortly thereafter, he would be taken up to heaven and would not return for a very long time.

This is exactly what Christianity faces today – Jesus has been gone for nearly 2,000 years, and it's been a long wait, let's face it. But that's because this has been a test – a very long, arduous test. But, as Jesus said in Matthew chapter 24, “He who stands firm to the end shall be saved.” The 'money' in this parable symbolizes the good news of the Gospel, something that has more value than any amount of money could possibly buy! In the same way that the nobleman consigned ten 'minas' (or 10 pounds of silver each in the NLT Bible) to the 10 servants, Jesus gives all his followers a generous portion of the Holy Spirit to live inside them, dwelling there like the perfect roommate for each of us. But when Jesus returns he will be expecting us to have been faithful and productive to the best of our abilities. Those who faithfully discharge their duties as servants of the Risen Savior will be rewarded accordingly. Those who fail to do so, on the other hand, will be dealt with severely, as we will see in part 2 of today's study, beginning at verse 20.

Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept away hidden in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Then why did you not put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?' Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away and give it to the one who has ten minas.' 'Sir', they replied, 'he already has ten!' He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.'” (Luke 19, verses 20-27)

The third servant, who evidently had only received one 'mina' for an unspecified reason, did nothing whatsoever with what he had been entrusted with. The master got zero results from this third servant despite his expectations. This servant feared his master and found him difficult to work for. He didn't invest his 'mina' out of fear of failure and the consequences if he did fail. So he took the easy way out, or the safe way if you like, making only a minimal effort to do only what was required and nothing more. This earned the servant the harshest possible rebuke short of physical punishment – at least for then. He would get his due later, as we shall see. So why, you're probably wondering, did the master in Jesus' story give that single 'mina' to the servant who had ten? Because that servant had been the most productive of them all, so it was to the master's benefit that the servant received more.

“... to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away...”. Use faithfully what the Lord has given you and he will reward you with more. But as for the lazy, the fearful and those who are idle, whatever they have will be taken away from them and given to someone who isn't the least bit timid about using whatever talent the Lord has given them to the best of their abilities. This reminds me of a lady who went to the same church I did quite some time ago. I played keyboards there with the band, as I have done with nearly every church I've been a member of. This lady's husband was one of the guitar players and the lead vocalist. She had a beautiful singing voice, but she refused to sing with the band, pleading 'stage fright' and shyness as the reasons why. But there was more to it than that. This lady simply didn't want to serve. She was content to just sit in the background, soaking up the service and the preaching while contributing nothing. Her husband gave freely of his musical talent every Sunday – we were not paid – but she would not. She was like the servant with the single 'mina', keeping her talent, which was considerable, all to herself. I don't know if she ever repented of that or not, but I hope for her sake she did.

But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.” Remember, these 'enemies' were the remaining servants who had been entrusted with all those pounds of silver. It goes without saying none of them did anything with their 'minas' either. I mean, since they sent a delegation to the place of the nobleman's coronation requesting that he not be made king, this gentleman knew of that and had spent the entire return trip plotting his revenge! In much the same way, there are many today who don't want to make Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior, and who scoff at the very idea of anyone besides themselves being in charge of their lives. They self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as being non-religious, mistaking religion for faith in Christ. But whereas religion is adherence to dogma, tradition and laws, faith in Christ is Spiritual in nature, transcending books, laws and traditions. This is the 'spiritual capital' God has given each of us to work with. Moreover, if we don't spend it in a way that is pleasing to him, God reserves the right to seize that 'spiritual capital' and give it to one who deserves it. And, He will be forceful about it as well, of that we can all be sure!

There is one final detail that bears examination, and that is the 2nd part of verse 27. This was the ultimate punishment for eight out of the original ten servants. Only two of them gave their master a good return on his investment. The other eight squandered their opportunity, and for all the wrong reasons, and it ultimately cost them all everything right down to their very lives. The nobleman had all eight, including the one who returned the solitary coin, put to death. Plus, he had them killed right in front of him. The nobleman was so incensed at their behavior, especially the part about the delegation the servants had sent behind his back, that he wanted to watch them all die. Remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man from chapter 16? The rich man called out to Lazarus from the fires of hell, asking for a cup of water to cool his tongue. But Lazarus saw the rich man in hell and took no pity on him. Lazarus stood there and watched the formerly rich man burn, and it must have felt good to him. In the same way, those in heaven, beginning with Christ on downward, will be able to see the fires of hell and those suffering therein. So it will be with all those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. And next week we'll move on to part 3 of Luke chapter 19.