Today we start a new series on the Book of Romans

All you regular readers out there have been following for quite a few years now, having started this blog back in 2011. I wish to thank you with all my strength, my mind and my soul, each and every one of you! Since then I have reinvented this Web publication twice to make it more appealing for first-time visitors as well as my thousands of followers. The following is an excerpt from my 2017 book, “The Apostles in Plain English Vol. 1: the Apostle Paul” (c) 2017 by rev. Paul J. Bern, all rights reserved To order this or any of my other 4 titles at half price, please visit https://www.amazon.com/author/revpauljbern right away…..

Jews And Non-Jews Are One And The Same

[Romans chapter 1]

Today I will begin a series of studies on the writings of the apostle Paul in the order they appear in the New Testament. Naturally we’ll begin with the book of Romans, since this book elaborates on the apostle Paul’s ministry in great detail (others do as well, but we’ll start with this one because it is the first of Paul’s letters). Bearing that in mind, I will now begin with the first chapter:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the Gospel he promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through Him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” . (Romans 1: 1-6)

The first thing that we notice here is the phrase “ …the Gospel he promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David…”. Jesus was in fact a descendant of King David of Jerusalem, the writer of the book of Psalms. Since King David ruled ancient Israel, Jesus was also an Israelite who walked the earth as a Jewish man just as David did. But Paul doesn’t stop there. “Through Him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ”. We have received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles! Therefore, we are all apostles like Paul. Paul was a Jewish man educated in the Jewish theological centers of his day. This would be equivalent to modern-day seminaries, and Paul was definitely a Bible scholar. But Paul takes his argument a step further with this next quote.

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written ‘the righteous will live by faith’.” (Romans 1:14-17)

Now let’s compare that with the first quotation from further above. “Through Him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” ‘The obedience that comes from faith’ and “the righteous will live by faith” is the same faith that Paul calls “the salvation of everyone who believes”. Also, please note that Paul uses Greeks and Jews as well as non-Greeks and Gentiles interchangeably. Although this is no big deal to the early 21st century Bible student, this was a radical teaching for Paul’s time since the Jews, Greeks and every other nation still considered themselves to be separate nations for nationalistic as well as religious reasons. The phrase “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” can be taken with a grain of salt since much of the Gospel, including this part, were written by Jewish people.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse… (Furthermore) since they did not think it worthwhile to to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind,to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil, they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they follow God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1, verses 18-20; 28-32)

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…”. Translated into 21st century English this would read, ‘The more wicked and evil anyone may harbor in their hearts, the more God will stand against them’. People who are willfully evil, or who are just plain bad individuals for whatever reason (and sometimes for no reason at all), and who do not care whether they hurt anyone or not, aren’t being very smart because they only bring more judgment on themselves. Doing these kinds of things makes an already-miserable life even worse, but there are way too many people who completely miss this. The root cause of this seems to be a hatred of God, or a refusal to even acknowledge His existence, let alone believe in him exclusively as we should.

Paul writes a few lines defining his meaning in the next verse when he wrote, “They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil, they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” There it is again from Paul’s perspective. Evil and wicked people simply don’t have any sense, which to me is a nice way of saying someone is incurably stupid. Let’s all be on our guard against this, otherwise Satan may steer our lives in such a direction that we cross paths with one of these “ruthless” characters, all of whom are minions of Satan. Since obviously no one wants to be anywhere near to that, let’s be sure and take an internal inventory of ourselves. If any traces or issues concerning any of the things Paul mentioned is found, the best way to repent of whatever it is that presents a problem is to ask Jesus to take it from you.

Sin can sometimes be like kids getting their hands wet when playing outside in the snow, like I used to do when I was little. One day I put my wet hands on a swing-set I used to play on all those decades ago, and they got stuck. My mom had to come out and get my hands unstuck because I was unable. When we have sin in our lives, sometimes people who have been hanging on to certain behaviors and hang-ups have done so for so long that they can’t let go on their own. But if we only ask Jesus to help us get rid of whatever character flaw, personality defect, inadequacy or addiction by taking it from us, he will make up the difference. So we should voluntarily surrender our sins to Jesus by lifting them up with both hands and saying, “Lord Jesus, please take this from me. I don’t want it anymore, but I can’t seem to get rid of it. So please help me, in your holy name I pray. Amen”.

We can all be sure that He will show up, and always with perfect timing, which can often be at the last minute. But when God does that, it is to show us that He was in charge of our lives, situations and circumstances all along. No matter who we are, or who we know, or how much (or little) we know, or how much money we have, God is still in charge of all of it. Be warned that those who put their faith in any of these other things instead of faith in God is living in a state of idolatry, a clear violation of the first two commandments. To avoid eternal death, which will be the fate of all idolaters, seek Jesus Christ, because he is the only correct way to eternal life. And that’s all I want from him. Ask him and He will do the same for you.


To all the money lovers out there, and all you greedy people: You’ve got it all wrong, but it’s not too late to change things….

Is Money Evil, or Does It Just Seem That Way?

1st Timothy chapter 6, verses 6-11, 17-19

by Minister Paul J. Bern

To begin this week’s message, I will skip over the worn-out cliches about money being the root of all evil. That’s not what the Bible says about this topic. At best that time-worn phrase is a half-truth. At worst it is a calculated deception, plain and simple. Here is what the Bible really, actually says about money, from 1st Timothy chapter six in your New Testament: “6) But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7) For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8) But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9) Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”

All right people, let’s break this down, beginning at verse 6: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Let’s get this one thing straight,everyone – there will be no selfish and materialistic people living in heaven for all eternity with the rest of all the believers. (I will decline to speculate on president Trump’s chances of getting that far) Right here is where the Word of the Lord hits home for a lot of people. It’s time for everybody to grow out of their needs for glittery merchandise, as well as the need for the very latest and greatest in electronic devices and mechanical monstrosities (WTH do you need 500 horsepower? Or 600, etc.?). Our planet is gradually dying all around us, and all some people can think of is how to get more stuff delivered to their door than their neighbors have. Or, who owns the fastest car or truck. It’s high time for many of us to grow up.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it….” As the master evangelist Rev. Billy Graham once said during one of his many crusades’ “You’ll never see a U-Haul truck following a hearse in a funeral procession.” In the very next verse, the apostle Paul continued his train of thought when he added, “ Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Can I get a witness out there, somebody? People do all kinds of things to earn money. From tradesman to factory workers, restaurant workers and retail employees, numerous ways of earning a living are being worked out (and with paltry wages, I’ll say). But then there are those who do things that are unethical or illegal, the ones who don’t play by the rules. I don’t know for sure how God will sort through this cargo ship full of wayward individuals – some of whom are actually very good people, and who would give you the shirt off their back if they could. That’s why I never judge people for their economic situations.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Wealth can be addictive. Trust me, I’ve been there. Within wealth’s foundation is a mortar whose main ingredient is greed. Wealth starts off in liquid form, otherwise known as liquid assets, just like that concrete I just mentioned. As it grows in power and strength, wealth gradually solidifies until anyone who has accumulated less of it eventually gets crushed into powder by those who have so much more. Wealth, and its economic system ‘Capitalism’, are predatory in nature. The profit at one company, or one sole proprietor, invariably comes at the expense of another. Capitalism turns everyone into backstabbers – a miserable and pathetic existence for all. And then the apostle Paul continued his exhortation to Timothy:

But you, man (or woman) of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” Here in verse 11, Paul is giving direct orders to Timothy, a beloved pastor in the early Church, to pursue all the positive things that make up a life free of hate, prejudice and greed, while being filled with compassion and empathy, making all others greater than ourselves. Having said all that, let me close out the remainder of this week’s commentary, once again in 1st Timothy. “17) Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18) Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19) In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6, verses 17-19)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth….” There it is again, people. Don’t put all your hopes into wealth, or it will fade away like that new car you just bought. There’s no use in feeling more important just because you have more stuff, or a newer car, or a bigger house, or nicer clothes, etc. “… but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” If material goods are what you’re after, ask God to grant your wishes for new things, whatever they may be. But don’t be surprised if they don’t all show up at once, or if at all. God discerns the motives of anyone who asks him for anything. If you have wrong motives, don’t be surprised if you receive nothing. But if your motives are genuine, honest and pure, the Lord may decide to send you a series of blessings, as it is written: “….to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

Don’t put your faith in anything made by the hands of men and women. Don’t put your faith in anything that comes from the ground, from the red clay all the way up to the finest diamond. If you want someone to believe in, place your faith in God. Above all, stop putting your faith in money! Why put your faith in created things when you can place your faith in He who made it all (see Psalms 44:1)? Above all, God is commanding us “….to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ – remember that? If we all do this together,our love for others will replace our love of money – hands down!

Free Book Excerpt #5 from the upcoming faith-based series, “The Social Gospel Series Volume 1: the Apostle Luke”, by Minister Paul J. Bern

Peter Returns to Jerusalem With Great News

[Acts chapter 11, verses 1-18]

When we last left off at the conclusion of Acts chapter 10, Peter was staying and teaching at Caesaria at the home of newly-converted Cornelius the Roman centurion, having been sent there through a vision he had. This week as we start part 1 of Acts chapter 11, we find the apostle Peter has returned to Jerusalem some time later to tell the believers there about everything that had happened on his journey. So let’s take up where we left off starting at verse one.

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had already received the Word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter began and explained to them everything precisely as it happened: ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’. This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.” (Acts 11, verses 1-10)

Let’s all keep in mind that, to the Jews at least, their promised Messiah was a Jewish Messiah for Jews only, since that is what certain sections of the Old Testament taught. So for the Jews in Jerusalem, the very idea of salvation in Christ being available for Jew and Gentile alike was, frankly, more than some of them could stomach. The ones most vehemently opposed, of course, were the Sanhedrin (the ruling council of the Temple, the Jewish equivalent of the Vatican for Catholics), the very ones responsible for handing Christ over to the Romans for execution. This is why it reads in verse 2, “….You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter began and explained to them everything precisely as it happened….”.

So the apostle Peter relates all that had occurred to the eager, if slightly confused, Jews in Jerusalem who found themselves thinking outside the box when it came to Gentile salvation. Although many Jewish people since have come to know Jesus Christ as their Messiah, Lord and Savior, the vast majority still await Him. That is between them and God, and so because of that I refuse to condemn them. As you all know by now, the Bible warns us repeatedly not to judge others (see Matt. 7: 1-5, Romans 14: 6-13 and James 4: 11-12). But I would like to appeal to my Jewish brothers and sisters that there is still time to follow His Majesty the King! There is still time to give your heart and mind to Jesus!

But for now, and to finish up the first part of this week’s study, Peter tells his Jewish brethren “everything precisely as it happened….”. He spoke of his vision on the roof where he was in prayer, of the definition of “clean and unclean” as far as ancient Jewish customs were concerned, combined with his discovery that there are no unclean people, since Almighty God is the creator of us all. This ‘clean vs. unclean’ paradigm that had been in place for 2 millennia was done away with for good due to Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for the whole of humanity. Ever since, everyone and everything that God has made is considered clean and wholesome when they are considered equally, since God has made it all equal. And so now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s study, starting at verse 11.

“’Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.‘ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.‘” (Acts 11, verses 11-18)

So now we begin to see why this part of the Book of Acts was included, even though it may seem repetitive in places. The apostle Luke wrote this to be a teaching tool for all future generations of believers so everyone would know exactly why things unfolded as they did with respect to Peter’s ministry. And it’s all because of the words of Christ: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Notice that Holy Spirit baptism was freely given to all the people with no preconditions, and that is was distributed verbally while Peter spoke to everyone in the home of Cornelius the centurion, and so it was much the same everywhere the Twelve went (“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning”). There was no ceremony or laying on of hands such as what we see in some denominations today (primarily Protestant). The laying on of hands upon an individual by the church leadership is something normally reserved for healing, not Holy Spirit baptism.

So I think at least some of these churches, who I will decline to name, are not being Scriptural when it comes to baptism of the Holy Spirit. In order to receive the Holy Spirit, one must first receive and embrace the Word of God that is bringing that Holy Spirit word upon the entire congregation, no matter who they may be. I certainly don’t believe that Holy Spirit baptism involves standing up in church and babbling unintelligible things when there is no one present who may interpret those who are performing their version of ‘speaking in tongues’. For additional info you may want to read the first 24 verses of 1st Corinthians chapter 14, everything regarding speaking in tongues is right there. But for Peter and the other six brothers from Caesarea, the baptism of the Holy Spirit came about through the preaching of the Word, which was done in a language everyone could understand – their own!

“’So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ When they heard this, they had no further objections….” As we can all see, the Holy Spirit, together with the Father and Son, had already made his presence abundantly clear to all. This is most noteworthy, I believe, considering the fact that only six others in the group besides the apostle Peter had been there to witness all these things. Everyone else was running on raw faith, just like we are. So take heart and do not be concerned, because as true believers in Jesus you are in some pretty exceptional company!

“….they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’.” This sentence sums up the entire New Testament! Just as God has created and loves all men and women equally, so he has sent his only Son as the blood payment for our sins (as in previous studies, including my own), and this blood payment has similarly been distributed equally. This is the Gospel of Christ – that all of us are reconciled to God through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God! Formerly the Bible, which consisted of what we now call the Old Testament, was during the time of Christ the only ‘Bible’ there was. It was a Jewish book written for Jewish people, calling them God’s chosen ones.

But after the ascension of Christ into the heavens, the Gospel has been extended to all because of the positive qualities God has seen within those who call upon his name, and who profess their undying devotion to God’s only Son. So there you have it in a nutshell, people. This is just another way to explain how one may obtain eternal salvation. The first step is to hear the Word, or in this case to read it. What you do with it is entirely up to you, and I would advise you to pray before proceeding. But proceed we all must, because where our souls will spend eternity depends on it. See you all next week for the second half of Acts chapter 11.

The Gospel Spreads Like Wildfire

[Acts chapter 11, verses 19-30]

Last week as we finished up part one of Acts chapter 11, we found Peter and six other brothers from Caesarea explaining everything that had transpired at the home of Cornelius the centurion. The primary thing that caused everyone concerned to stop and do a double-take was that the Holy Spirit was being received by Jews and Gentiles alike, something that had previously been unheard of. Centuries of Jewish religious and cultural domination was crashing down all around them, which would end with the fall of Jerusalem and the entire Middle Eastern region at the hands of the Roman Empire in 70 A.D. Still, that historical occurrence was at least 30 years into the future as far as the early Church was concerned at this point in time. So, for this week’s study of the apostle Luke’s narrative, there will be a shift in the scenery as Luke moves us onward to the medium-sized city of Antioch (pronounced ant-ee-ock), which was in modern-day southern Turkey. So, let’s take up where we last left off, beginning at verse 19.

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Steven traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11, verses 19-24)

You’ll all recall back in chapter 9, when Saul had to be lowered in a basket out of a window in the wall surrounding the city of Damascus after his conversion to Christianity. The religious and legal authorities had put out a ‘kill order’ on Saul for heresy and blasphemy against the Jewish ruling council in Damascus, and for treason against Rome for siding with the Christians that he was being paid to round up to be transported back to Jerusalem. Saul is currently lying low while he awaits further instructions from the Lord. In the meantime, all those who had fled the persecution brought on by Steven’s stoning death had wound up in the places listed above in verses 19 and 20. You already know where Antioch and Cyprus are located. Phoenicia was in Greece, and Cyrene was an ancient Greek city on the North African coast in north-eastern Libya. (The precise location of the ancient city was thirteen kilometers from the coast).

“….some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Evidently a very large number, possibly a majority of the population, were being converted as a result of the testimony of the brothers from all these places, and they had all combined their spirits to come and perform Spiritual warfare on the Lord’s behalf! As it was in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, and that very morning in Jerusalem as Peter gave a sermon that brought 3,000 men to the Faith (not counting women and children), and as it was at the home of Cornelius the centurion, so it also was at Antioch as the believers and those who testified to what the Lord had done for them through his Holy Spirit retold their experiences. Their messages were received loud and clear, and the very sound of the men’s voices testifying to the crowds who gathered wherever they went, was sufficient for the Holy Spirit to baptize everyone who asked for it.

There was no formality or order of service as we understand it, because the Holy Spirit doesn’t operate that way. Although those who taught spoke in tongues, or other languages, taught and preached in those tongues, they knew those languages supernaturally. Jews taught to Greeks, Egyptians, Cypriots, Syrians and many others situated in modern Turkey, Jordan and Iraq as they taught each other. All did so supernaturally. None had any formal training in those other languages since there were no schools as we know them today. There was some rudimentary education for some, but for the majority there was none at all. So it was extraordinary that they could teach and inspire one another in each other’s native language.

But today we have churches – even whole denominations – whose idea of speaking in tongues is standing up and babbling a bunch of gibberish and what amounts to baby-talk, and that passes for ‘speaking in tongues’. Except that that’s not speaking in tongues, it’s just people putting on a show for the most part. The apostle Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 1-25, a detailed explanation of what speaking in tongues entails. You can find my study on the first half of that chapter from this link. But my point here is that the apostle Paul wrote that people shouldn’t speak in tongues out loud unless there is someone there who can interpret. You can pray in tongues in an unknown language, Paul wrote. But to paraphrase, if nobody else would understand the tongue in which you are praying, pray anyway, but only between yourself and God. Otherwise, no one will understand you and it will confuse or even drive away new believers.

News of this reached the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” You’ll recall from chapter 4 that Barnabas’ was actually a nickname which meant ‘encourager’ or ‘the son of encouragement’. Evidently he had a positive, upbeat kind of personality that is always welcome wherever it may go. So we can see that Barnabas’ arrival in Antioch was precisely what the Lord had in mind. The Holy Spirit was with Barnabas, and spoke through him to all who would sit and listen, and who were willing to be taught. So it is profitable to seek out such people today just like back then. Nothing has changed. In the world in which we live there are really positive and really negative people living side by side, and not always harmoniously. Unless, of course, you stick with only the positive people, like Barnabas was. Better yet, become one yourself! Be the change you are seeking! And now let’s finish up the second half of this week’s study starting at verse 25.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread out over the Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11, verses 25-30)

So now we have advanced within the apostle Luke’s narrative to the point where Saul, who had been cooling his heels in his home town of Tarsus after barely escaping from Damascus with his life, is brought to Antioch by Barnabas. I am struck by the great lengths people had to go to back then in order to get things accomplished. In today’s world, Saul could have been summoned with a phone call and a plane ticket. How easy things are today compared to the first century A.D.! Back then, Barnabas first had to go from Antioch to Tarsus, which was a fishing village on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean sea (this would be in southeastern Turkey today). This is a distance of approximately 123 miles by today’s standards. Then he found Saul, who didn’t have much luggage due to his clandestine escape from Damascus, and they went back to Antioch – all without a car! Now that’s what I call ‘dedication’! Could any of us walk a 250 mile round trip today just to bring someone back with them? Barnabas did exactly that.

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” So here it is evident that Saul, who shortly afterward would rename himself ‘Paul’ and who ultimately wrote one third of the New Testament, was mentored by Barnabas at Antioch prior to his performing any preaching or teaching on his own. Considering that Saul had formerly arrested, jailed and sometimes even executed Christians, his now being taught and mentored by Barnabas amounted to a radical career change for Saul. There’s no overstating that fact, that a paid executioner had been transformed into a humble and willing student! That is what the awesome power of the Holy Spirit truly looks like! As a result, others who saw visually what we are seeing here in my words on this page received, and continue to receive, the inner peace and presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, Savior and Redeemer!

Then a man named Agabus stood up and predicted a widespread famine, which actually occurred not too long after that. Consequently, the early church in Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside of Judea received an offering from the believers further north in Antioch, as it is written in verses 29-30: “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” This gift, and the others described by other apostles, was always in the form of trade-able goods or food stores. There was no cash as we know it today. So they sent gold or silver coins, nonperishable foods, and likely a sword or two. Today, they would be called “preppers” and would have to endure the humiliation of a criminal prosecution.

They sent each other assistance as they had need of. One church or group of churches would send another an offering during times of famine, which happened more frequently back then than it does today. They didn’t have to get on radio or TV to get their needs met like so many churches do in modern times They didn’t need to demand that everyone pay 10% of their income, either. All they had to do was to come together in prayer in the Spirit, with each person in the group combining the internal habitation of the Holy Spirit within themselves together with everyone else, like a team prayer, and their needs would be met. This was, and still is, especially true when all other means have been exhausted. God supplies all our needs each and every day! And next week we’ll begin part 1 of chapter 12.

This week’s ongoing Bible teaching will be part 2 of Acts chapter 28

Paul Preaches in Rome Under Guard

Acts chapter 28, verses 17-31

Last week when we left off at verse 16, the apostle Paul, together with the apostle Luke plus some other Christians who were traveling under guard, had shipwrecked in an exceptionally severe storm along with 260 additional souls. It turns out they had landed on the island of Malta, which was approximately 900 nautical miles from Rome, their original destination. Having spent the winter there, they had embarked on the last part of their journey, having arrived in Rome after some stops in several ports on the west coast of what is modern Italy today. Paul and the other Christian believers along with him, combined with a sizable group of onlookers, was about to give their testimony, along with Paul, who by this time had become the unofficial spokesman for the group. So let’s begin this week’s study of part 2 of Acts 28, starting at verse 17.

17) Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: ‘My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18) They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19) The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. 20) For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.’ 21) They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.‘” (Acts 28, verses 17-22)

“He” in verse 17 is Paul the apostle calling a meeting with his accusers just prior to his giving his testimony before Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor of that time. Paul then reiterates his innocence of the charges against him, citing the Roman governor Festus as one one who expressed a willingness to release Paul immediately, as it is written: “18) They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19) The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar…..” And so there he was, standing before his own blood relatives, pleading his case. He finishes by stating that, “20) For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.

Paul is there to testify on behalf of Christ the Lord and Savior. Moreover, he considered his accusers back in Jerusalem to be unworthy of his testimony, and said as much to the all-Jewish audience he was talking to. “21) They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.’” Owing to the fact that news traveled at a snail’s pace compared to today, many of those present were hearing about the apostle Paul and his testimony for Christ for the first time, just as it’s written: ““We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”

So Paul and his compatriots found themselves confronted with what must have seemed to be a deep mystery to the Jewish leaders who were present. They wanted to know why Christianity – or The Way, as it was known during the days of the early Church – was so controversial and reviled. The answer was, as Paul spelled it out to them that fateful morning, was that pure Christianity posed a major threat to the bases of power by presenting a much better alternative to governing and management. Up until then, these persons in charge were the deity who was also the president, and those he or she appointed to keep things running smoothly. But due in large part to there being only 1 true God, the early Church presented a viable alternative to worship of the king or queen. That part is what his audience had already concluded, and now Paul lets them have the rest of it, starting at verse 23.

23) They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24) Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25) They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: ‘The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: 26) ‘Go to this people and say, ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ 27) For this people’s hearts has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28) ‘Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’ 29) After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves. 30) For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31) He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance!

The apostle Paul, “….witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus.” So Paul was using examples from what we now call the “Old Testament” as a way to motivate his audience to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. He used something they could relate to as a means of persuasion because he already knew that is what would have worked best. “24) Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25) They disagreed among themselves and began to leave….

The rest of verses 25 and 26 are of Paul quoting Isaiah chapter 6, verses 9-10. To paraphrase Paul, ‘You have had the Word of the Lord and of the prophets for at least 1,000 years. You have read it and studied it half to death, and you have had it before you for all this time, and yet you still do not see that Jesus Christ was the Son of Almighty God?’ Paul then finishes up with, “28) ‘Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’ 29) After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves”. They were arguing, all right, but there was something even more basic than that.

Many of the Jewish accusers who were there had followed Paul in one way or another so they could refute him at every turn. It’s because they were all guilty by association of being accessories to murder in the crucifixion and death of Christ the Lord. By this time the name of Jesus had surpassed the relatively small following he had attained during the course of his life. By this time, the name of Christ was a name held sacred by untold multitudes of people, easily in the 100,000 plus range at this point, and maybe hundreds of thousands more. In short, Christianity had become – and remains – unstoppable. “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God ….with all boldness and without hindrance!”

The Book of Acts, as far as we know, ends right here. At the very least, the above passages are all we have, nor do we possess a sequel of any kind. The book ends with the main character, the apostle Paul, under house arrest in Rome, awaiting a trial before the Emperor Nero. It is not known why Paul’s companion Luke, the author of Acts, chose to end the book at this point without revealing the results of the trial. However, there is strong biblical and historical evidence that Paul was acquitted at his trial and had an additional “season” of adventures before his eventual martyrdom. For some additional background about this topic, click here.

Several lines of reasoning support the conclusion that Paul was acquitted at his trial in Rome. First of all, the case against Paul, as described in Acts, was not very strong. When Paul was initially tried before the procurator Felix in Caesarea a few years earlier, three charges had been made (Acts 24:5-6):

  • · Paul had been the cause of riots all over the (Greco-Roman) world.
  • · Paul was the ringleader of a dangerous Jewish sect.
  • · Paul had brought Gentiles closer to the Jerusalem Temple than was permitted, thereby desecrating the Temple (Acts 21:28).

Roman courts tended to show little interest in charges like the second one, figuring that the Jews could best sort out their own sectarian arguments. In Corinth, the proconsul Gallio had dismissed similar charges against Paul (see Acts 18:12-16).

The third charge had been made by some Jews from Asia Minor, who did not bother to come to Caesarea to make their case (Acts 24:19). There were also no witnesses in Caesarea to support the first charge. Paul was only kept in custody after this trial because Felix hoped to receive a bribe from him (Acts 24:26). When Paul presented his case before Agrippa II two years later, Agrippa observed, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32). After Paul arrived in Rome, he found that Jewish leaders there were unfamiliar with this case (Acts 28:17-21). This suggests that no one, as yet, had come from Jerusalem to present the accusations against Paul. If the case was not seriously prosecuted, then chances are it would have been dismissed.

Free Book Excerpt #4 from, “The Social Gospel Series Vol. 1: the Apostle Luke” by Minister Paul J. Bern

Also available in digital format on Smashwords.com or on Amazon

The Gospel of Luke chapter 7, parts 1 and 2, with ongoing commentary meant to educate and stimulate the mind while enriching the soul

On Faith, Healing, Jesus and John the Baptist

[Luke chapter 7, verses 1-23]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week when we concluded our dissection of Luke chapter 6, we left off at the parable Jesus told at the conclusion to his Sermon on the Mount about the wise and the foolish builders. One built his house on a bedrock foundation, the other homeowner built his on stilts. So much time goes by and then along comes a tropical storm with heavy rain, damaging winds and much flooding. The first house built on solid rock stood firm, but the house on stilts washed away. Jesus compared this to 2 men who heard his Word in church, but only one put those words into practice, whereas the other did not. As a result the first man’s house stood firm, but the second was destroyed. If we hear the Word of God and fail to put it into practice, we sow the seeds of our own destruction. So today let’s pick up where we left off beginning at verse 1 of chapter 7.

When Jesus has finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, who the master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue’. So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself to be worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one ‘Go’ and he goes, and to that one ‘Come’ and he comes. I say to my servant ‘Do this’ and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel’. Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” (Luke 7, verses 1-10)

This is one of the most inspiring stories in the Bible, and there are a ton of those. It’s also one of my personal favorites because it proves that faith – full-fledged, unreserved, undiluted faith – is the least common denominator to a fruitful and productive Christian walk. Without faith, everything else about our praise and worship becomes nothing more than going through the motions of religiosity, pomp and circumstance. How can we worship a god we don’t believe in? But when one becomes filled with the Spirit of the living God, which is in a class by itself, all that same-old-same-old becomes rejuvenated and invigorated into an entirely new self, which is where the phrase “born again Christian” comes from.

The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.” As you can see here, this unnamed Roman centurion was a thoughtful man. He didn’t send his own servants to ask Jesus to come and heal that sick servant. He sent elders from the Jews, presumably from the Temple at Jerusalem who would have the most influence on Jesus, to convince him to come. “So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself to be worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” As you can also see, the centurion in this parable was a very considerate man who understood that Jesus was the Promised One (“I do not deserve to have you come under my roof“) from what we now call the Old Testament. Moreover, the primary mode of transportation in those days was on foot, and the centurion had enough faith to realize that Jesus didn’t need to be there to heal that sick servant. He wanted to save Jesus some steps, and this would be even more true if this were during the merciless Middle Eastern summertime.

When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel’. Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” Evidently Jesus had the 1st century equivalent of an entourage. Moreover, Jesus pointed out to the crowd that the Roman centurion had more faith in the Jewish Messiah than many of the Jews did, particularly those in positions of leadership. But the main thing here is that Jesus was impressed by the faith of the centurion to the point of granting his wish and healing his sick servant in absentia. And now, let’s move on to the next part of our study, beginning at verse 11.

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out – the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her, and he said, ‘Don’t cry’. Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’. The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us’, they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’ This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.” (Luke 7, verses 11-17)

What has gotten lost in the translation here are the commandments of the Law of Moses regarding the handling and burying of dead people. Any deceased person was regarded as “unclean” and was not to be touched, and Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish man. So basically it was contrary to the Law of Moses for Jesus to even approach that funeral procession. And yet there he was, raising the deceased from the dead. If the Pharisees of Jesus’ time saw him do that – and they’re not mentioned here – they would have gone crazy, possibly even attempting to execute him on the spot. But just like in Luke chapter 4, which we recently studied, the Father did not allow any such thing to occur to the Son before it was time.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us’, they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’” And who are “his people”? This includes everyone who believes in and puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. They are those who believe he is the Son of God, the risen Lord, the Savior and Kinsman Redeemer of all humankind, and the blessed Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Jesus is not just a ‘great prophet’, he is the Prophet of all prophets. And he hasn’t just come to help his people, he came and died for us all so that we may live, and live forever with him! I oftentimes find myself similarly filled with awe and praise for God! And now let’s conclude today’s study beginning at verse 18.

John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ When the men came to Jesus, they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Luke 7, verses 18-23)

As you know, John the Baptist had followers too, just like Jesus did. But even John the Baptist sometimes had doubts, so he sent two of his disciples to Jesus for verification purposes. As a 3rd party observer, this seems reasonable to me, given the lack of direct communication that existed back then, such as phones and the Internet. So along comes John’s 2 disciples and they ask Jesus, “Are you the real deal or aren’t you? John the Baptist wants to know.” Jesus responds, “Don’t take my word for it – judge me by my actions!” and then he lists all the miracles he had performed and would perform as proof of his authenticity. Two thousand years later, multitudes and throngs of people of all races, nationalities, creeds and ethnicities still place their faith in this same authenticity that is the personification of Jesus Christ. It hasn’t changed one little bit during all this time! Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and the Son of the Living God!

It also says Jesus “preached the good news to the poor”. And what was that? Their lack of resources is only temporary, he told them. If you want to store up treasure for yourself and save for your future, don’t store it here on earth – store it in heaven instead, where no one can get to it (see Matthew 6, verses 19-21). Stop worrying about your lack of possessions. Stop fretting over not having enough cash on hand, it happens to all of us. No matter how much we accumulate here, we can’t take anything with us after our physical lives are over. Materialistic pursuits and the accumulation of wealth are all illusions and a complete waste of our time. The only things that will last forever are Jesus and all his followers. “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” In other words, blessed are those who prefer Christ, who is eternal, over earthly riches, which are anything but. Blessed are those who prefer Jesus over all other things, so let’s all make sure we are blessed to the hilt! And next week we’ll finish up Luke chapter seven.

Your Sins Are Forgiven

[Luke chapter 7, verses 24-50]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

For this week’s study we’ll be covering the second half of Luke chapter 7. When we left off last week, John the Baptist had sent 2 of his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he was the true Messiah, the Anointed One of the Lord. Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Jesus was telling John’s disciples they should be certain about Jesus’ true identity by his actions and not his words. Today as we take up where we left off last week, we find out what happens afterwards as Jesus addresses the ever-present crowds of admirers, followers and hangers-on, beginning at verse 24.

After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? This is the one about whom it is written, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you’. I tell you, among those who are born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the Law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)” (Luke 7, verses 24-30)

The quote Jesus used from the Old Testament, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you”, comes from Malachi chapter 3, verse 1. Jesus knew the Bible as it existed back then better than anyone who ever lived, as you can see from this relatively obscure scriptural quotation. “‘What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” I can almost hear the nervous laughter rippling through the crowd. “But what did you go out to see? A prophet?” ‘You went to see a real prophet, didn’t you’, Jesus was saying! Our Savior then answers his own question, “I tell you, among those who are born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” To receive a compliment like this from the Lord Christ Jesus was nothing short of superlative from John’s standpoint. It sure would be to myself! I’d be happy just to be John the Baptist’s maintenance man at his mansion in the sky!

“… yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” There is unconditional equality in God’s kingdom! The least in God’s kingdom to come (and soon!) are still greater than John the Baptist. How can this be? Is this because no one is considered to have any superiority over anyone else, or great authority? That’s partly true, but I think the main reason is that no one who made it to God’s kingdom did so by their own efforts. Only the shed blood of Christ qualifies any of us to be there in New Jerusalem (heaven) with him. “All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right”. They embraced Jesus’ teachings because they had embraced John’s, who had told them in advance of Jesus’ coming. There’s something to be said in favor of faith right here. When these people came to hear Jesus, that was the proof of the pudding as far as they were concerned. This was a confirmation of their faith, and of the teachings and prophecies of John the Baptist. The Pharisees and “experts” in the Old Law rejected Christ, much to their own condemnation. And now let’s move on to the second part of our study, starting at verse 31, as Jesus continues to speak.

‘To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry’. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.’ Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7, verses 36-39)

Jesus compared the religious establishment of his day, the Pharisees and Rabbi’s, to children playing who, when no one would join in their games, sat around pouting and sulking because they didn’t get their way! “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’” John the Baptist lived by himself in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey for his main diet. This gentleman was evidently a hermit of sorts who would go out and preach sporadically but frequently in the desert areas of Judea, in what is now called the West Bank area of Israel. One thing is for sure – John was not a normal, everyday kind of guy. But since the religious establishment didn’t understand him or believe what he preached, they said John was some kind of demon-possessed individual. Jesus then told his critics that day, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” The Pharisees and Rabbi’s were so arrogant that they passed judgment against both John the Baptist and Jesus without so much as a second thought. The religious establishment of today hasn’t changed a bit, no matter which faith it may be.

Then, the text does a 1st century version of ‘fast forward’ as it jumps over to the dinner at the Pharisee’s house. As the “sinful woman” weeps at the feet of Jesus, “she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.’” So it’s plain to see that the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner was judging this woman, possibly someone involved in the sex trade, and he assumed he could hide his thoughts from our Lord. But he assumed incorrectly, as we will now find out, beginning at verse 40.

Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher’, he said. Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii, the other one 50. Neither of them had the money to pay them back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’ ‘You have judged correctly’, Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’.” (Luke 7, verses 40-50)

Here again we find ourselves being confronted by Jesus who granted unconditional equality to everyone no matter who they were. As you can see, our Savior took great exception to anyone who considered themselves better than others, no matter what the reason. He was reprimanding Simon the Pharisee in a diplomatic sort of way. Simon had provided Jesus with a nice dinner in comfortable surroundings, that is true. Did Simon the Pharisee reap an eternal reward for that? I would think so, but Jesus was gently telling him that he shouldn’t think so highly of himself. The woman who wept at the feet of Jesus, although described by the apostle Luke as “sinful”, she was evidently shedding some tears of repentance. ‘You didn’t wash my feet, but she did. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she has kissed my feet nonstop since I’ve been here. You didn’t anoint me with oil, but she has doused my feet with perfume. Your dinner has been nice, Simon – very nice! But she has done more – much more!’ Jesus regarded the acts of the sinful woman as being more noble than all the religiosity that Simon could muster.

“…. her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’.” For she loved much? But he who has been forgiven little loves little? Yes, the (previously) sinful woman had been forgiven many sins, so she loved Jesus more than all the others, particularly Simon. Simon loved Jesus the least of everyone at the dinner because he held himself in high regard and probably had a ‘holier than thou’ attitude to boot. But it’s not our own efforts that can save our souls, but faith combined with our acts most definitely can! If that formerly sinful woman’s faith saved her, so can ours. Only, let’s similarly be formerly sinful like she was after she met Jesus, and let’s all do our level best to live the rest of our lives in this way. And next time we meet, well start on part one of Luke chapter eight.

Biblical studies this week with Minister Paul J. Bern will be part 3 of Acts chapter 27

The Shipwreck and Paul the Apostle’s Leadership

Acts chapter 27, verses 30-44

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at verse 29 of Acts chapter 27, the storm that was battering the ship they were traveling on had become so severe that those on board were helping the crew toss the cargo overboard in an attempt to save the ship and themselves. Had this particular vessel been equipped with even so much as a rudimentary means of propulsion, they would have stood a fairly decent chance of being able to outrun, or go around, that storm. Instead, they found themselves caught up in or near the center of the storm as they were being propelled along with it. As we begin part 3 of this week’s lesson on Acts 27, we finally find their circumstances showing signs of changing for the better, starting at verse 30.

30) In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31) Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.’ 32) So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away. 33) Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food – you haven’t eaten anything. 34) Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.’ 35) After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36) They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37) Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38) When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.” (Acts 27, verses 30-38)

Without a doubt, the ship the apostle Paul was on had just experienced a near- catastrophe at sea. So much so that Paul said in verses 31-32, “’Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.’ So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away….” By now it is clear that Paul had quite a bit of sailing experience – even to the point of knowing what to throw overboard and what to keep. Sometimes life can be like that. There are points in life where we can see to go to our intended destinations, and still others where we can’t see our hands in front of our faces. But the Bible tells us repeatedly that he or she who holds out to the very end will most certainly be saved by the Blood of the Lamb. Selah’

Once again, beginning at verse 33, the apostle Paul begins to have a greater role, not in the fate of the ship, but in the lives of those who were on-board with him. Saying and doing what needed to be said or done, as he encouraged the men on board, he urged them to stop and eat something: ‘For the last fourteen days,’ he said, ‘you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food – you haven’t eaten anything. 34) Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive….. 35) After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all…..

I don’t know about yourselves, but I don’t really see myself as being the type of personality that could endure 2 weeks at sea without eating anything. So it’s no wonder that, once Paul had baked the loaf of bread that he was about to consume, the rest of them joined in immediately, and I quote: “36) They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37) Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38) When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.” And so, even though it was evident the storm was no longer their biggest problem, they had continued in a state of heightened alert since the ship had been damaged by the storm to the extent that it could no longer carry its cargo, let alone the 276 individuals on board. And so they continued to throw heavy objects overboard. Let’s hold that thought as we continue to the second half of this week’s study, beginning at verse 39.

39) When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40) Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41) But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf. 42) The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43) But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44) The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.” (Acts 27, verses 39-44)

Those aboard what was left of that ship were being presented with a choice in verse 39. Those choices were to go for that beach or attempt to find a better one with a deeper harbor. Either way the voyage was over. One thing I have learned over the years when it comes to being a servant of the Lord Almighty is to never try and second-guess God. Sometimes when a solution to a problem is presented to us, we are to be ever thankful as we receive it, even if it doesn’t seem right at first. This inevitably leads to our own differentiation between our emotions, our logic, and our souls or spirits. The apostles Paul and Luke, together with Aristarchus of Thessalonica, Julius their Roman guard, and the other 260 or so passengers and crew, knew that if they saw land with a suitable beach, they should make for the shoreline immediately. No speculation about a better landing spot was ever considered. They simply did what needed to be done.

Life and how we live it puts us in similar predicaments today. Sometimes we are presented with a choice that doesn’t seem to fit the situation at first. Oftentimes it’s because we’ve seen better choices in our own pasts, to the point that the current choice seems inadequate. That’s what that beach may have looked like just before they hit that sand bar. But first, they had to cut loose all that was holding the ship back. Like the freight back in verse 18 from last week’s study, everything that held the ship down or kept it from moving forward was thrown overboard or cut loose from the ship. Had any of these drastic steps not been taken, they would have sank before they got to the sand bar.

By now Paul’s strong faith in Christ, combined with the prayers from the people of faith who were on board, had made a deep impression on everyone else. So taken aback with the formidable faith of Paul and the others were the rest of those on board that Julius the centurion put an end to the plans of some of those on board who wanted the prisoners executed, as we saw in verses 42-43. Instead, he organized a plan of escape so that, at the end of the chapter, everyone reached shore without the loss of one single life. This is a really great ending to the harrowing tale of being lost at sea for two weeks, only to culminate in a successful landing with no fatalities. So what’s in store for them now? First, they needed to get their bearings straight by identifying their location. But that is something I must hold in reserve until next week’s Biblical lesson. So until then, stay safe and stay in tune with God.

This week’s ongoing Biblical studies series will be part 2 of Acts chapter 27

The Apostle Paul Sails Into the Storm

[Acts chapter 27, verses 13-29]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week in our ongoing Biblical study series of the writings of the apostle Luke, the apostle Paul, together with the others with him including his guard Julius, had left the port of Caesarea and was headed to Rome with some stops along the way. But since the weather wouldn’t cooperate with the pilot’s plans (see verses 4-9 from last week’s study), the ship wound up on the southwest side of the island of Crete. At that point in the voyage, since it was getting later in the year with increasingly unfavorable weather conditions, the decision was made to finish the voyage for Rome. So Paul, Julius his Roman guard in the Alexandrian ship from the port of Lycia, along with Luke, Aristarchus plus the crew and some others, set sail for Rome. Things started out well enough, but once they left what would be near the coast of Crete, things got progressively worse. So let’s pick up where we left off last week, stating at verse 13.

13) When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14) Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15) The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16) As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17) so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18) We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19) On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20) When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” (Acts 27, verses 13-20)

Now, I’m no expert on cargo ships from that time period, but they ranged in capacity from 70-100 metric tons all the way up to 400 metric tons in capacity (for more info, just click here). While not exactly tiny, these vessels of the sea had lengths of 25-30 feet on the low end to over 100 feet for the biggest vessels. Still, these merchant ships and their crews were the kings of commerce in their day. I don’t know how big the ship was that Paul was on, but it most likely was one that was above average in size and displacement, Otherwise, the storm they were caught up in would have already sunk the ship.

From the time they left the shores of what would be modern Greece today, they had sailed on the south side of Cyprus and westward to the south side of Crete. However, their ultimate destination was Rome, so the ship, crew and passengers left once again, probably after a day’s rest. “14) Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15) The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.” If we take a look at a map of the Mediterranean sea, we can see the island of Crete situated in nearly the center of the Mediterranean. There is nothing west of there but open water until we go further towards Sicily and Malta. So the ship Paul and company were on was largely protected while they were on the south side of those two islands. But, once they came around to a northwestern bearing towards Italy, that’s when all hell broke loose.

Verses 18 -19 bring the severity of the storm into sharp focus, like having a front row seat at a movie or a sporting event. “18) We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19) On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands…..” As you can see, that ship was taking on water faster that it could be bailed out. Their situation was becoming increasingly urgent as the hours crawled on by even to the point of throwing the cargo overboard. “20) When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” The storm was of such intensity that everyone lost track of time itself.

I’m sure you all have noticed that life can be a lot like the sudden squall that Paul and the rest with him were experiencing. When they left the port at Crete’s western edge, everything was fine. But before that day had ended, they found themselves in the worst storm of their lives. Their situation was so dire that they began throwing the cargo overboard in an attempt to save the ship. In our own lives we too can find some sort of excess baggage of the emotional kind that we need to throw overboard, so to speak. It is my sincere hope that someone somewhere benefits from these words I write today. Jettison all that freakin’ baggage, brethren, You don’t need all that anymore. And now, let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 21.

21) After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22) But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23) Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24) and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25) So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26) Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27, verses 21-26)

Now we see in even more graphic detail that Paul’s situation, along with everyone else on board, was intensifying. The seas were too rough to fix a decent meal, and so it had been days since they had eaten anything by this point. Neither the sun nor the moon and stars had been seen for possibly as much as a week. Evidently there was enough of a lull in the weather for Paul to say what needed to be said. “Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22) But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” Centuries later, people find themselves enduring great loss due to natural disasters. When that does happen to less fortunate individuals, the response seems to be universal – we can replace the stuff we lost, but lives are irreplaceable. This truth is still the same, and always will be.

25) “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26) Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” So Paul was saying that even running the ship onto the rocky shore would be better than drowning, and he was absolutely right. Now, here comes that remaining verses of this week’s lesson. “27) On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28) They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29) Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.” (Acts 27, verses 25-29)

In verse 27 where it says the sailors “sensed they were approaching land”, it doesn’t say how they knew they were getting close to it. Add to this mystery was the fact that it was around midnight or so, yet the sailors knew they were getting close to land. It’s not until the final two verses when they realize the were closer to land than they thought. So much so, in fact, that when they took “soundings” and discovered they were getting close to the shore line. So how much closer were they by then? Would they be able to beach their ship and walk ashore, or would they drown trying? Stop on back here next week for part 3 of Acts 27, and you will find out. Until then, take good care….

This week’s ongoing Biblical study series will be part 1 of Acts chapter 27

The Apostle Paul Sets Sail For Rome

Acts chapter 27, verses 1-12,

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we put the finishing touches on our knowledge of Acts chapter 26 and what it all actually means, we saw the apostle Paul had concluded his testimony to King Agrippa in the presence of governor Festus and various officials and dignitaries of their time. About his testimony Festus had said to Agrippa, “This man could have been set free had he not appealed to Caesar” (see verse 32 of Acts chapter 26). But Paul, who was on a mission from Almighty God, undertook that journey knowing it could be a life-ending decision. But first, he must sail to Rome on a perilous journey by ship, and sailing ships were far more rudimentary than they are today. And so on that point, let’s all go to verse 1 of Acts 27.

1) When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2) We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. 3) The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4) From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5) When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6) There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7) We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8) We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.” (Acts 27, verses 1-8)

In verse 2, Adramyttium was originally located at the head of the Gulf of Adramyttium, on the River Caicus in the Plain of Thebe, approximately 4 kilometers west of the modern town of Burhaniye, but later moved 13 kilometers northeast to its current location and became known as Edremit. Also in verse 2, (Acts 20:4) “They are designated “men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel.” We learn later that Aristarchus was a native of Thessalonica (Acts 27: 2). They were probably seized to extract from them information about their leader Paul, but when they could tell nothing, and since they were Greeks, nothing further was done to them. But both men would be executed by the Romans in their not-too-distant futures.

3) The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.” Right here in this verse is ample proof that Paul posed no threat whatsoever to his Roman captors. In fact, he readily gained their trust once they realized that Paul’s faith was genuine and authentic. Paul reinforced the trust he had earned when he came back to the ship on schedule. In verse 5, “ 5) When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6) There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board.” All these seaports were located along the southern coast of modern-day Turkey.

Verses 7 and 8 further trace the directions of Paul’s Roman captors as they ultimately ended up in the seaport of Fair Havens. By now everyone realizes that traveling long distances in the 1st century AD was difficult even on a good day. On a bad day, trying to sail a boat was a pointless excersize in futility. “When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.” Fair Havens is on the south side (“leeward”) of the island nation of Crete in the central part of the Mediterranean sea. And now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s study series.

9) Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, 10) ‘Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’ 11) But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12) Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.” [Acts 27, verses 9-12]

For any persons who weren’t aware, Paul the apostle and the others with him were all Jews who had been converted to Christianity, so the Day of Atonement had deep meaning and was of major significance for each of them. All except for the Roman guards, who evidently cared nothing about the convictions of Paul, Luke and company. So much so that the ship’s captain and her owner convinced Julius the centurion to set sail ASAP. And, that meant setting sail on the morning of the first day of the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, just so Julius and his fellow soldiers could show off their sailing skills and their disdain for Christianity, not to mention their total disrespect for our risen Lord and Savior. But this is what happened in verses 9, 10 and 11.

“….But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12) Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on….” Can’t stay where they were, but couldn’t leave either? It looks like some additional planning in this case would have been beneficial for everyone concerned. But that was not to be. And so the apostles Paul and Luke, together with Aristarchus of Thessalonica who had been a member of the church at Thessalonica that the apostle Paul had founded, set sail for Rome. Will they make it despite setting sail at an inopportune time from a weather standpoint? At this juncture, there’s no way to tell. But if you will only return next week at this time for the next lesson in this series, everything will become clear to you. So, God willing, I will see you then.

An Economic Reset is Coming, and We Were Warned About It and Told How To Fix It Over 3,000 Years Ago….

The Coming Global Economic Reset and the Promises of God

Deuteronomy chapter 15, verses 1-11

by Minister Paul J. Bern

My topic for this week has to do with what will happen when our capitalist, debt-based economic system runs out of fuel – that is, hard currency. This can get people to question my motivations for preaching and teaching the Word of the Lord with economic issues intermixed with my message. My reason is fairly simple – economic justice and true faith are 2 sides of the same coin. Anyone who professes their “Christianity” and yet gets offended at the very thought of economic justice makes themselves a hypocrite. Sorry if that offends anyone, but not for the reason why. Poor people aren’t poor because they’re lazy, it’s because they are being denied any opportunity to succeed.

But, there is an even bigger problem with capitalism that is coming towards us as I write these words, and that is the very concept of compound interest. Back when I was young, I remember being taught about the “miracle of compound interest”. You know the story Start with one dollar and add a penny’s worth of interest compounded daily, and after 30 years time you would be a millionaire. So a lot of people started doing that, especially after World War 2 ended in 1945. What nobody saw coming at that time took decades to manifest itself. When you get too many governments, people and companies playing the same game, sooner or later the house is going to run out of chips. We are getting precariously close to this point as I write these words. The government’s solution is to print more money, but that will ultimately make things get even worse than they are.

What the overwhelming majority of people today fail to realize is the solution to this economic dilemma is right there in the Bible. It’s been there all long, but people have a tendency to overlook it because it doesn’t fit the paradigm of living in the early 21st century. Contrast life as we know it, which is an ever-rising spiral of financial servitude as we pay down our never-ending debts, to the way debts were handled back in the time of Moses’ leadership. To do this, we must travel back in time to the book of Deuteronomy, which was and is considered to be the fifth and final Book of the Law. Our text for this week will be Deuteronomy chapter 15, beginning at verse 1.

1) At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. 2) This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. 3) You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. 4) However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5) if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6) For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.” (Deut. 15, verses 1-6)

As everyone can clearly see in verse 1, the ‘traditional’ 30-year mortgage is a 20th century invention hatched from deep inside the hallowed office towers of Wall St The longest-term loans available under the Law of Moses was 7 years, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that capitalism as it currently exists is sinful. Not that any believers are deliberately sinning. I don’t think that’s the case at all, yet all are being led into sin by our Western economic systems as they currently exist. Verse 2 is pretty self-explanatory. In verse 3, the term “foreigner” means anyone who is a non-Jew, which meant the overwhelming majority of people in that part of the world. Jews were a tiny minority back in those days just like they are now.

The next verses are a warning and an admonition from the Lord to the ancient Israeli’s first, and then the Gentiles – don’t cheat people or take undue advantage of them. “4) However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5) if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.” See there? America, and the world that revolves around it, would be in far better shape had we simply obeyed the Book of Deuteronomy. “For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none….” This is the United States as it used to be more than 50 years ago, but sadly we have been turned inside out and become the greatest debtor nation. Personally, I’m old enough to remember those times when we were the greatest lender, and they were sure better than what we have now.

OK, so I have 5 verses to go to finish my message for this week, so let’s return to Deuteronomy one more time: “7) If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8) Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9) Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: ‘The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,’ so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10) Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11)There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deut. 15, verses 7-11)

7) If anyone is poor among you…. in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8) Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” I’ve said it before and I will once again – there will be no stingy people in heaven. No selfishness, no greed and the complete absence of malice and avarice. It’s our job as Christ followers to live up to this standard, even to the point of emulating Christ by sacrificing our lives to save others. Back in the 1st century AD, there were no government agencies that worked with the poor, there was no retirement, no disability, none of any of that. People worked for as long as they could, and then they usually died or were killed in battle. Life was extremely hard back then, and it was usually fairly short as well.

9) Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: ‘The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,’ so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10) Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” Let no one dare to use this law as a legal maneuver or an accounting method against a business customer or competitor, let alone in a house of worship or other nonprofit NGO.

Those who continue to adhere to this law are duty-bound to be as fair (just) and equitable (even handedness) as they can in all their business dealings and particularly their domestic relationships. Here in the digital age, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to maintain this spiritual state of readiness. One thing is for certain: Adherence to this code of the Spirit will result in an inheritance that is everlasting. On the other hand, refusal to adhere to this Spirit, or to profess disbelief, will result in a damnation that is equally eternal.

Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” Notice the difference here between the modern mainstream churches and the 3,000-year-old Book of Deuteronomy? When authentic Christians give, we do so expecting nothing in return. Not so with the modern “church”, who teach that to obtain what one needs, one must first give, and with high expectations. But as you just read above in verse 10, quite the opposite is true when put into practice. Yep, it’s counter-intuitive, I know. But the fact remains they have to be put into practice, and in the above sequence, to be effective.

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Poverty is a fact of life, and especially back in the time of Christ the Lord. It’s on us as to how to deal with it. Jesus taught at the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5: 3) So there’s your answer. God made the poor, the disabled, the elderly, the mentally ill, convicts, widows and orphans in His own image. The reason we have so many poor people is because too many others have hoarded far more than they need. Either that, or the disadvantaged were denied medical treatments or opportunities to further their education. Many are homeless and in need of shelter. I can’t offer much help in that regard, since I live in my own apartment and don’t own property. But others more prosperous than I could help out. until this economic reset finishes taking place. At the end of the day, the interest on all our debts is now accruing at a faster rate than it can be paid down. Only time will tell how all this plays out. I don’t think it’s going to be necessary to store a 25 year supply of freeze dried foods, like some are saying on You Tube. Some serious prayer time would be a better substitute.

Coming this fall from Author Rev. Paul J. Bern: The Social Gospel Series Volume 1: the Apostle Luke

Free excerpt below

On Faith, Healing, Jesus and John the Baptist

[Luke chapter 7, verses 1-23]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

You can find my other 5 titles on my website at https://www.authorrevpauljbern.com

Last week when we concluded our dissection of Luke chapter 6, we left off at the parable Jesus told at the conclusion to his Sermon on the Mount about the wise and the foolish builders. One built his house on a bedrock foundation, the other homeowner built his on stilts. So much time goes by and then along comes a tropical storm with heavy rain, damaging winds and much flooding. The first house built on solid rock stood firm, but the house on stilts washed away. Jesus compared this to 2 men who heard his Word in church, but only one put those words into practice, whereas the other did not. As a result the first man’s house stood firm, but the second was destroyed. If we hear the Word of God and fail to put it into practice, we sow the seeds of our own destruction. So today let’s pick up where we left off beginning at verse 1 of chapter 7.

When Jesus has finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, who the master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue’. So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself to be worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one ‘Go’ and he goes, and to that one ‘Come’ and he comes. I say to my servant ‘Do this’ and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel’. Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” (Luke 7, verses 1-10)

This is one of the most inspiring stories in the Bible, and there are a ton of those. It’s also one of my personal favorites because it proves that faith – full-fledged, unreserved, undiluted faith – is the least common denominator to a fruitful and productive Christian walk. Without faith, everything else about our praise and worship becomes nothing more than going through the motions of religiosity, pomp and circumstance. How can we worship a god we don’t believe in? But when one becomes filled with the Spirit of the living God, which is in a class by itself, all that same-old-same-old becomes rejuvenated and invigorated into an entirely new self, which is where the phrase “born again Christian” comes from.

The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.” As you can see here, this unnamed Roman centurion was a thoughtful man. He didn’t send his own servants to ask Jesus to come and heal that sick servant. He sent elders from the Jews, presumably from the Temple at Jerusalem who would have the most influence on Jesus, to convince him to come. “So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself to be worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” As you can also see, the centurion in this parable was a very considerate man who understood that Jesus was the Promised One (“I do not deserve to have you come under my roof “) from what we now call the Old Testament. Moreover, the primary mode of transportation in those days was on foot, and the centurion had enough faith to realize that Jesus didn’t need to be there to heal that sick servant. He wanted to save Jesus some steps, and this would be even more true if this were during the merciless Middle Eastern summertime.

When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel’. Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” Evidently Jesus had the 1st century equivalent of an entourage. Moreover, Jesus pointed out to the crowd that the Roman centurion had more faith in the Jewish Messiah than many of the Jews did, particularly those in positions of leadership. But the main thing here is that Jesus was impressed by the faith of the centurion to the point of granting his wish and healing his sick servant in absentia. And now, let’s move on to the next part of our study, beginning at verse 11.

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out – the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her, and he said, ‘Don’t cry’. Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’. The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us’, they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’ This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.” (Luke 7, verses 11-17)

What has gotten lost in the translation here are the commandments of the Law of Moses regarding the handling and burying of dead people. Any deceased person was regarded as “unclean” and was not to be touched, and Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish man. So basically it was contrary to the Law of Moses for Jesus to even approach that funeral procession. And yet there he was, raising the deceased from the dead. If the Pharisees of Jesus’ time saw him do that – and they’re not mentioned here – they would have gone crazy, possibly even attempting to execute him on the spot. But just like in Luke chapter 4, which we recently studied, the Father did not allow any such thing to occur to the Son before it was time.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us’, they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’” And who are “his people”? This includes everyone who believes in and puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. They are those who believe he is the Son of God, the risen Lord, the Savior and Kinsman Redeemer of all humankind, and the blessed Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Jesus is not just a ‘great prophet’, he is the Prophet of all prophets. And he hasn’t just come to help his people, he came and died for us all so that we may live, and live forever with him! I oftentimes find myself similarly filled with awe and praise for God! And now let’s conclude today’s study beginning at verse 18.

John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ When the men came to Jesus, they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Luke 7, verses 18-23)

As you know, John the Baptist had followers too, just like Jesus did. But even John the Baptist sometimes had doubts, so he sent two of his disciples to Jesus for verification purposes. As a 3rd party observer, this seems reasonable to me, given the lack of direct communication that existed back then, such as phones and the Internet. So along comes John’s 2 disciples and they ask Jesus, “Are you the real deal or aren’t you? John the Baptist wants to know.” Jesus responds, “Don’t take my word for it – judge me by my actions!” and then he lists all the miracles he had performed and would perform as proof of his authenticity. Two thousand years later, multitudes and throngs of people of all races, nationalities, creeds and ethnicities still place their faith in this same authenticity that is the personification of Jesus Christ. It hasn’t changed one little bit during all this time! Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and the Son of the Living God!

It also says Jesus “preached the good news to the poor”. And what was that? Their lack of resources is only temporary, he told them. If you want to store up treasure for yourself and save for your future, don’t store it here on earth – store it in heaven instead, where no one can get to it (see Matthew 6, verses 19-21). Stop worrying about your lack of possessions. Stop fretting over not having enough cash on hand, it happens to all of us. No matter how much we accumulate here, we can’t take anything with us after our physical lives are over. Materialistic pursuits and the accumulation of wealth are all illusions and a complete waste of our time. The only things that will last forever are Jesus and all his followers. “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” In other words, blessed are those who prefer Christ, who is eternal, over earthly riches, which are anything but. Blessed are those who prefer Jesus over all other things, so let’s all make sure we are blessed to the hilt! And next week we’ll finish up Luke chapter seven.

Your Sins Are Forgiven (Luke chapter 7, part 2 )

[Luke chapter 7, verses 24-50]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

For this week’s study we’ll be covering the second half of Luke chapter 7. When we left off last week, John the Baptist had sent 2 of his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he was the true Messiah, the Anointed One of the Lord. Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Jesus was telling John’s disciples they should be certain about Jesus’ true identity by his actions and not his words. Today as we take up where we left off last week, we find out what happens afterwards as Jesus addresses the ever-present crowds of admirers, followers and hangers-on, beginning at verse 24.

After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? This is the one about whom it is written, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you’. I tell you, among those who are born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the Law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)” (Luke 7, verses 24-30)

The quote Jesus used from the Old Testament, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you”, comes from Malachi chapter 3, verse 1. Jesus knew the Bible as it existed back then better than anyone who ever lived, as you can see from this relatively obscure scriptural quotation. “‘What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” I can almost hear the nervous laughter rippling through the crowd. “But what did you go out to see? A prophet?” ‘You went to see a real prophet, didn’t you’, Jesus was saying! Our Savior then answers his own question, “I tell you, among those who are born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” To receive a compliment like this from the Lord Christ Jesus was nothing short of superlative from John’s standpoint. It sure would be to myself! I’d be happy just to be John the Baptist’s maintenance man at his mansion in the sky!

“… yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” There is unconditional equality in God’s kingdom! The least in God’s kingdom to come (and soon!) are still greater than John the Baptist. How can this be? Is this because no one is considered to have any superiority over anyone else, or great authority? That’s partly true, but I think the main reason is that no one who made it to God’s kingdom did so by their own efforts. Only the shed blood of Christ qualifies any of us to be there in New Jerusalem (heaven) with him. “All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right”. They embraced Jesus’ teachings because they had embraced John’s, who had told them in advance of Jesus’ coming. There’s something to be said in favor of faith right here. When these people came to hear Jesus, that was the proof of the pudding as far as they were concerned. This was a confirmation of their faith, and of the teachings and prophecies of John the Baptist. The Pharisees and “experts” in the Old Law rejected Christ, much to their own condemnation. And now let’s move on to the second part of our study, starting at verse 31, as Jesus continues to speak.

‘To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry’. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.’ Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7, verses 36-39)

Jesus compared the religious establishment of his day, the Pharisees and Rabbi’s, to children playing who, when no one would join in their games, sat around pouting and sulking because they didn’t get their way! “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’” John the Baptist lived by himself in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey for his main diet. This gentleman was evidently a hermit of sorts who would go out and preach sporadically but frequently in the desert areas of Judea, in what is now called the West Bank area of Israel. One thing is for sure – John was not a normal, everyday kind of guy. But since the religious establishment didn’t understand him or believe what he preached, they said John was some kind of demon-possessed individual. Jesus then told his critics that day, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” The Pharisees and Rabbi’s were so arrogant that they passed judgment against both John the Baptist and Jesus without so much as a second thought. The religious establishment of today hasn’t changed a bit, no matter which faith it may be.

Then, the text does a 1st century version of ‘fast forward’ as it jumps over to the dinner at the Pharisee’s house. As the “sinful woman” weeps at the feet of Jesus, “she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.’” So it’s plain to see that the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner was judging this woman, possibly someone involved in the sex trade, and he assumed he could hide his thoughts from our Lord. But he assumed incorrectly, as we will now find out, beginning at verse 40.

Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher’, he said. Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii, the other one 50. Neither of them had the money to pay them back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’ ‘You have judged correctly’, Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’.” (Luke 7, verses 40-50)

Here again we find ourselves being confronted by Jesus who granted unconditional equality to everyone no matter who they were. As you can see, our Savior took great exception to anyone who considered themselves better than others, no matter what the reason. He was reprimanding Simon the Pharisee in a diplomatic sort of way. Simon had provided Jesus with a nice dinner in comfortable surroundings, that is true. Did Simon the Pharisee reap an eternal reward for that? I would think so, but Jesus was gently telling him that he shouldn’t think so highly of himself. The woman who wept at the feet of Jesus, although described by the apostle Luke as “sinful”, she was evidently shedding some tears of repentance. ‘You didn’t wash my feet, but she did. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she has kissed my feet nonstop since I’ve been here. You didn’t anoint me with oil, but she has doused my feet with perfume. Your dinner has been nice, Simon – very nice! But she has done more – much more!’ Jesus regarded the acts of the sinful woman as being more noble than all the religiosity that Simon could muster.

“…. her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’.” For she loved much? But he who has been forgiven little loves little? Yes, the (previously) sinful woman had been forgiven many sins, so she loved Jesus more than all the others, particularly Simon. Simon loved Jesus the least of everyone at the dinner because he held himself in high regard and probably had a ‘holier than thou’ attitude to boot. But it’s not our own efforts that can save our souls, but faith combined with our acts most definitely can! If that formerly sinful woman’s faith saved her, so can ours. Only, let’s similarly be formerly sinful like she was after she met Jesus, and let’s all do our level best to live the rest of our lives in this way. And next time we meet, well start on part one of Luke chapter eight…..

This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching series will be part 2 of Acts chapter 26

Paul the Apostle Continues His Testimony Before King Agrippa

[Acts chapter 26, verses 19-32]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at part 1 of Acts chapter 26, the apostle Paul was giving his testimony before King Agrippa, in the presence of many of those who had imprisoned Paul previously. Moreover, the majority of those individuals seated before Paul, Festus and king Agrippa were accessories to the murder of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead on the morning of the 3rd day, much to their humiliation. As the apostle Luke wrote, Paul had not yet finished his defense, so let’s start where we last ended on verse 19. “19) So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20) First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21) That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22) But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – 23) that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” 24) At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.‘” (Acts 26, verses 19-24)

Since the first half of Paul’s testimony to Festus and the king was covered last week, this week we find Paul the apostle beginning to turn up the intensity of his rhetoric. He testified vigorously against the Jews from Jerusalem, and especially to those who were denigrating the sacred Name of the Lord. In verses 20-21 Paul said, “20) First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21) That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.” ‘I remind them’, to paraphrase Paul regarding his Jewish accusers and former brethren, ‘of the very thing that they lack, which is Christ’s Salvation’. All they had to do was

Moving on to verse 22, the apostle Paul would not allow himself to be separated from Christ in any way, and compares his faith to that of Moses from centuries before: “But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen….” Paul was testifying on the Lord’s behalf what His intentions were, and that those intentions manifested themselves through Paul. Those who saw or were touched could be saved by embracing the Gospel, and by being healed (in that order). It was not until the following sentence was uttered that the real purpose of Paul’s testimony came forth: “23) ,,,,that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” Immediately, King Agrippa stops the proceedings at verse 24, as he accuses the apostle Paul of insanity. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” I don’t know about you, but if anyone is called ‘insane’ because of their Christian beliefs, that’s a huge compliment to a real believer.

So here we have the apostle Paul being called a madman in full view of everyone, and how does Paul respond? “25) ‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26) The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27) King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ 28) Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ 29) Paul replied, ‘Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’ 30) The king rose, and with him, the governor and Bernice, and those sitting with them. 31) After they left the room, they began saying to one another, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ 32) Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”(Acts 26, verses 25-32)

Somehow, in some way, Paul seems to have found an opening in the heart of king Agrippa. Maybe it was something the king had been taught or otherwise had exposure to in his youth, who can say for sure? But his response gives away his true belief when Paul asks this question in verse 27: “The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27) King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ 28) Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’” The sarcasm in Agrippa’s tone of voice was likely unmistakable by this time. He was telling Paul to take a look around and notice that he was surrounded by his enemies. So to paraphrase Agrippa, he was asking Paul, ‘if you can’t make converts out of your own people, what makes you think you can convert me?’

Paul’s reply was classic Christendom: “…I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” Although Paul was in chains during these proceedings, he was more free than many of those who had no chains and walked around as free men. Seeing this as being a potential rallying cry for Paul’s supporters, King Agrippa – with Festus’ agreement – immediately adjourns the proceedings so they can discuss the matter privately starting at verse 31. “After they left the room, they began saying to one another, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ “. Nobody knew what to do with Paul, except for the one thing Paul sought, which was to have this case dismissed so he could be set free, even if he had to go all the way to Caesar to do so. And even then, he stipulated, only for the cause of the risen Christ, with nothing held back for himself.

32) Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’” To everyone there, what Paul the apostle was doing didn’t make any sense. He could have been set free, but Paul couldn’t allow that to occur just yet. He was mindful of what the Spirit of the Lord had told him in Acts 23, verse 11: “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” This right here is the real motivator for Paul – the opportunity to speak to Caesar himself. That would be the modern-day equivalent of setting up a meeting with president Trump.

Paul had been told by the Spirit of the risen Lord, who had appeared to him after he had been apprehended by the Roman guards at Jerusalem, that he would testify in Rome as to the good news of the Gospel of the risen Christ. Paul had also been told that he would testify before governors and officials, and the Lord had taken the most painstaking care to make sure that everything occurred precisely where and when it is intended. Paul the apostle continued to follow in the Lord’s footsteps, as the other prophets did before him dating all the way back to Abraham. The next stop on his journey of faith will be Rome and an audience with Caesar, but the journey to Rome will take a few unexpected turns. So be sure and return next week at this time for Part One of Acts chapter 27, where Paul sets sail under guard for his audience with the Emperor. Everyone have a splendid week.

An open letter to Jeffrey Epstein, and all other predators and abusers

To Jeffrey Epstein and All Other Sex Predators

and Abusers, From a Former Victim and Survivor

[Matt. chapter 7, verses 16-23; Luke 6, verses 24-26]

by Web Minister Paul J. Bern

Dear (or not) Mr. Epstein: Allow me to introduce myself. I am Minister Paul J. Bern, an independent, nondenominational Web preacher, published author, and occasional public speaker based in Atlanta, GA. I am also a survivor of abuse due to being on the receiving end of much emotional, psychological and occasionally sexual abuse as I was growing up. I was abused to such an extent that found myself hospitalized and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) back in 1995. It is a set of circumstances that I am, and have been, stuck with throughout much my life.

As I write this, you have at least two women who have become your accusers, and I expect there will be plenty more by the time this gets posted tomorrow. Sex in 21st century America means it occurs between two consenting adults. The meaning here is fairly explicit. So, Mr. Epstein, just because your sex partners(s) are willing and able, the law says that this is not permissible if one of the partners is not yet of legal age. The same goes for a boxing ring, or a wrestling match. The match is official, refereed, and always gets the match on pay TV at a preset time and place. So that type of competition, and by extension contact sports, are fine as long they are legally operated. But when the ‘play-by-play’ involves persons who are young enough to be their grand-children, that’s where the line needs to be drawn in the sand.

When 60-year-old men and women turn having sex with teen-aged girls and boys into a hobby, they devastate the young minds they abuse for their own pleasure. The psychological effects of being a victim of abuse, and especially of having nowhere else to turn, are incalculable and can often last for an entire lifetime. To get an extent of how serious legal authorities and mental health professionals take this, please go to this page. Another aspect to this is your wealth, Mr. Epstein. If you are guilty of any of these charges, you should receive appropriate punishment, and I don’t think your massive wealth will save you either. Not this time, sir.

What does the Bible say (that’s right – the Word of God) about those who abuse their power and authority? Here’s one example from Luke’s gospel: “24) But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25) Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26) Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” Hear that, Mr. Epstein? That means people like yourself, who spent their whole lives accumulating as much wealth as they could, and usually at the expense of scores, or thousands, of workers. People like yourself, Mr. Epstein, should be pursued and punished to the greatest extent the law allows.

Would you like more proof of what the Word says? “16) By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17) Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20) Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21) Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22) Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23) Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 6, verses 16-23)

Rich philanthropists like Jeffrey Epstein – they know who they are – cannot buy their way into heaven, nor can they do enough good deeds on their own to get them into Paradise. And, if any one of these individuals professes to be ‘Christian’, no matter how much they “tithe” at church, those tithes won’t do the job either. Showing up and dropping your designated 10% won’t cut it. All one has to do is stand back and watch one of these mega-rich billionaires on the street when a homeless man asks them for a dollar, or even some spare change. They turn and run, or call 911, and it’s usually both. When I ask them why, they always say they felt “threatened” by some hapless street dweller. By reacting that way, those mega-rich individuals place themselves in the same category as the police officers who are gunning down unarmed people of color. So it’s no wonder when I see guys like Jeffrey Epstein, I experience what I would call a big knot in my stomach, like some old wounds that have been reopened. My doctor says that it’s part of the healing that has already begun. I can only hope and pray that she’s right.

This week’s ongoing Biblical studies series will be part one of Acts chapter 26

Paul the Apostle Defends Himself in the Presence of King Agrippa

[Acts chapter 26, verses 1-18]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at the conclusion of Acts 25, Paul the apostle was continuing to deal with his difficult circumstances of being jailed for preaching the Gospel. He had also begun the process of defending himself before a courtroom filled with his former peers, who wanted Paul to be given the death penalty for his conversion to Christianity. Paul’s former peers considered Christianity to be heretical and subversive. Moreover, those who were prosecuting Paul that morning were the same people who had handed Christ over to the Romans for his own crucifixion. So the Pharisees, Sadducee’s and the teachers of the Law couldn’t afford to simply let Paul go about his business, since doing so would be tantamount to their own admission of guilt in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. This week as we take up where we left off at the latter part of chapter 25, we find Paul’s accusers having just concluded their testimony against him, and Paul’s rebuttal to the ‘charges’ of the Jewish religious establishment. So let’s take up this week’s lesson at Part One of Acts chapter 26.

(1) Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.’ So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2) ‘King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3) and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently. 4) ‘The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5) They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. 6) And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7) This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8) Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” In this passage, verse 8 is a clear reference to the crucifixion of Christ Jesus, and his triumphal resurrection. It also contrasts Paul’s own zeal in persecuting the early Church.

Paul then chronicled how his life had been completely transformed by his newfound faith, as we see in verses 9 -14: 9) ‘I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10) And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11) Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities. 12) ‘On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13) About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14) We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’“ As you recall from my previous studies, Paul is reliving his confrontation on the road to Damascus that we studied back in chapter 9.

Paul was making sure that King Agrippa and the Jews from Jerusalem remembered how Paul had lived prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul had pursued and persecuted Christians from Jerusalem to Damascus, an all points in between. Many of the early Christians who were put to death in the first years of the greater Church were ‘brought to justice’ by Paul, either directly or indirectly. 15) “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16) ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17) I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me…..’”

So it is at this point in Paul’s testimony before the king, the Sanhedrin and the chief priests, together with all the onlookers, that Paul’s speech changes from the past to the present tense. Paul was doing this to make an important point, and that point was the great extent of his obedience to the voice of the Lord. This one point alone contradicted the charges and allegations of the Pharisees, who wanted Paul killed for heresy. So, would the Pharisees and chief priests finally get their wish? Or would Paul escape their kangaroo courts once again? At this point, Paul the apostle is still testifying, so be sure to return next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 26. Shalom….

This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching will be part 2 of Acts chapter 25

The Apostle Paul Appeals to King Agrippa

[Acts chapter 25, verses 16-27]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at part one of Acts chapter 25, we found Paul defending himself once again in the presence of his former compatriots in the Sanhedrin, as well as the Temple priests at Jerusalem. First, it was Lysias at the barracks at Jerusalem, then Felix and Festus in that order. Paul could have been set free had he not appealed to Caesar as he did, but the Lord had already told him in a dream that he would testify before kings and governors. That would include Caesar himself, but before that he would testify before King Agrippa. His full name was Herod Agrippa II, (born 27 Ce—died c. 93), king of Chalcis in southern Lebanon from 50 Ce and tetrarch of Batanaea and Trachonitis in south Syria from 53 Ce, who unsuccessfully mediated with the rebels in the First Jewish Revolt (66–70 Ce). He was a great-grandson of Herod I the Great. For additional info simply click this link.

This week as we kick off the second half of Acts 25, Paul continues to defend himself – and the Christian faith – with fervor and the greatest of vigor. In this first portion of the text, there is a conversation between Festus and king Agrippa that takes place 1 day prior to Paul’s chance to testify. So lets take up where we left off starting at verse 16. “16) ‘I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. 17) When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. 18) When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19) Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20) I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21) But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.’ 22) Then Agrippa said to Festus, I would like to hear this man myself.’ He replied, ‘Tomorrow you will hear him.’”. (Acts 25, verses 16-22)

In verse 16, it is Festus, who has already heard Paul’s testimony, speaking to King Agrippa about the matter. Evidently Festus, who was Felix’s successor, had some misgivings about continuing to hold Paul prisoner. But he had still more misgivings about releasing Paul to the Jews who wanted to kill him, since Paul the apostle was a Roman citizen. If such a thing ever occurred, there could be political repercussions as well. So Festus accelerated the proceedings, since he had no legitimate reason to hold Paul from the standpoint of Roman law. And, since the entire Middle East was Roman territory at that time, Roman law was the last word, no matter how much the Jews in Jerusalem said otherwise. That’s why those first 3 verses read the way they do. In verses 18 and 19, it is clear that Festus had no knowledge of, and probably lacked belief in the risen Lord and Savior. And so, said Festus to the king, that was how Paul had ended up in his care.

Festus continues to relate to King Agrippa how things ended up as a result of the hearing that had recently occurred, as we see in verse 20 and 21. That is when he decided to allow Paul to appeal to Caesar. But, as we see in the following verse, when king Agrippa says he wants to hear Paul’s testimony, he gets his wish granted to him right away (see verse 22). One good thing about Festus, he was all about business and keeping things moving. So now let’s finish up this week’s lesson starting at verse 23. “23) The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24) Festus said: ‘King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25) I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26) But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. 27) For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him‘.”

Festus, having hastily convened that morning’s hearing, opened the proceedings by addressing king Agrippa to ask for a ruling in this matter of Paul the apostle versus the Hebrew religious establishment. This was the rough equivalent of asking the court for a “summary judgment” in today’s legalese. To explain himself to those who didn’t know the whole story of Paul’s conversion, Festus opened with this statement: “24) ….’King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25) I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26) But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him….

The apostle Paul’s accusers, who were the Jewish religious establishment of that day, had managed to put Festus in a pickle, to borrow a baseball term. If he ruled in favor of the Jews and gave Paul over to them, the Roman authorities might begin to question his loyalties. If Festus ruled in favor of Paul, the Jews would be furious and may well foment revolt against him for setting Paul free. That could potentially make him look bad to his Roman paymasters, as it could well portray Festus as a weak and ineffective leader who was not always able to control the population. “Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him‘.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” So, what will Paul say, and how will he say it? To find the answer to this question, plus hopefully at least one or two more from my audience, be sure and come on back next week for part one of Acts chapter 26. See you then!

The Problems With Hierarchy in a 21st Century World

Global Rivalries Condensed: Who Is the Greatest?

by Minister Paul J. Bern – Luke 22: 24-30

When I’m home watching TV with ‘Cloey’, my recently-adopted cat, I limit my viewing to an hour, two at the very most. So I look at about half local news and half national and international news, and all that without cable TV. I really don’t bother with anything else that’s on before the news or afterwards. Even then, every time a commercial pops up on my screen, I ‘mute’ it. But I do watch the news to keep up with current events since they are moving so fast. This is particularly true when it pertains to Bible prophecy.

Speaking of which, the global showdown between Iran and the US over Iran’s alleged nuclear warfare capability is looking more and more like a war between the combined forces of Iran with her allies Turkey and Russia, against Israel, the US and their allies Great Britain, France, and possibly Germany. It’s all in the Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament, chapters 38 and 39, which I covered in a 2-part series that I posted last year. It is also known as the “Gog-Magog war”. As things are currently situated in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab nations, not to mention between Iran and the US, the world is sitting on a powder keg in the form of a major war, perhaps even a world war – God forbid!

All these confrontations, without exception, have to do with the natural resources of these nations the world’s elites fight over constantly. In the case of Venezuela, for example, the fighting isn’t over the country, it’s the oil contained within the country, with the largest known oil reserves found anywhere to this day. Right after Venezuela comes Israel, with oil and natural gas reserves that rival Saudi Arabia’s, except that Israel’s oil and gas is under the eastern Mediterranean sea instead of under a vast desert. And, it is the leadership of these countries that is working against each other at the expense of their own people, so that the needs of a small minority of ever-wealthier individuals and their families can be met first and foremost.

“America First!’, is the current battle cry of president Trump. America is the #1 country in the world in more ways than one. That would be a true statement. When it comes to economic opportunity and the freedoms we still have (although just barely), America is most definitely number one. But the US is also the murder capital of the world, the pornography capital, and the weapons capital globally speaking. But before I go any further on that topic, allow me to return to the original one. The disagreement among those apostles as to who would be the greatest – without the intervention of the Holy Spirit – would quickly deteriorate into an argument at best, physical violence at worst. This is what happened among the (original) 12 apostles at the Last Supper, and I quote:

24) A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25) Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26) But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27) For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28) You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29) And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30) so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.‘ “ (Luke 22, verses 24-30)

Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26) But you are not to be like that…..’” Jesus was telling the apostles in no uncertain terms that God doesn’t operate the way we do. Real followers of Christ never “lord it over” people because they know they don’t have to. Authentic Christ-followers are never bossy or domineering people, nor are they ever overbearing in their dealings with others. The Spirit of the risen Lord exercises all the authority that is needed. No additional input is ever required if God is right in the thick of things. Jesus then continued, “Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27) For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves….

So you want to be the greatest? Then you must become the greatest servant. This applies to all the people in government, in the business world, and especially in education. This means lazy people will never last in a healthy business climate. They’ll never last in the kingdom of God, either. Only the most dedicated, the most determined and the most passionate will make it into His kingdom. “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” The ones at the table represent the kings of verse 22, and the ones who serve represent the people of the Gentile kingdoms in the same verse. But in God’s kingdom which is soon coming, it will be the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords who will serve those who performed a good service and never wavered in their faith, or in their devotion to their Savior.

28) You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29) And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30) so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom….” OK then, since the Twelve had been with Jesus for the entire 3 ½ years of his ministry, their eternities had been sealed from long ago. So much so, in fact, that they would “sit on thrones” and judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This was probably not strictly for Israel only, but Jesus was speaking of the believers of all the nations combined. So for us today, as we live our lives like Christ would have wanted us to, and if we devote each and every day to loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and with all our strength; then we must – now more than ever – love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The entire Law and all the combined prophets can be summed up in those two commandments.

So we can now see that in the divine Kingdom soon to come, the way of things and how they operate, combined with an absence of hierarchy, would be the hallmarks of this entirely new system of government. Competition would be replaced with cooperation under such a Christ-like system like this if only it could be implemented. We need to organize as a united people to generate the political will to get these things done. The future of our country, like our own eternities in heaven, may well depend on it.

This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching will move on to part 2 of Acts chapter 24

The Apostle Paul Concludes His Testimony Before Felix

[Acts chapter 24, verses 17-27]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we concluded part 1 of Acts chapter 24, the apostle Paul had begun to testify in his trial before governor Felix in Caesarea on charges of incitement, plus a bunch of religious charges relating to the Jewish law of Moses. Paul’s accusers, who were his own fellow Jews, had gone to extremes to try and get the apostle Paul to incriminate himself. But Paul’s rebuttal was evidently more than Paul’s accusers were prepared for. Despite the best efforts of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisee’s and the Sadducee’s, they had been unable to convict Paul of any crime, whether real or imagined. So today as we continue our ongoing series concerning the writings of the apostle Luke, let’s all move on to part 2 of Acts 24, beginning at verse 17.

17) ‘After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18) I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19) But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20) Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin – 21) unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’ 22) Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. ‘When Lysias the commander comes,’ he said, ‘I will decide your case.’ 23) He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.” (Acts 24, verses 17-23)

After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.” What a contrast between that which is Scriptural to modern ‘Christianity’! Paul the apostle has been on the road preaching and teaching for about 2 ½ years at the time the apostle Luke wrote these words. Over the course of that time, Paul had been the recipient of a fair amount of offerings from those he taught and ministered to. Some of it he undoubtedly redistributed along the way as Paul carried out his mission, but some he had not. So when he arrived at Jerusalem, Paul came to give gifts and present offerings there at the Temple. This indicates that Paul only kept enough for his own personal needs, and gave away the rest. There was enough to take care of the needs of the poor throughout the city. Today when this happens, the “evangelist” keeps whatever is left after the expenses have been paid off and when the payroll has been met. So churches today operate as ‘winner take all’. The early Church, together with Spirit-led leaders like Paul, was the polar opposite of modern Christianity.

The early Church was also populated by gracious and merciful people, as verse 18 attests to: “I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance.” Real Christianity is never forceful, nor is it ever pushy. The Social Gospel that is the namesake of this blog is always merciful, always gentle (excluding matters of self defense), and it is always just. Moreover, it can be depended upon to be truthful. Anything less is really no gospel at all. The only weapon Satan has to deal with truth is untruth, half-truth, or lies of omission. Paul brings this up in the very next verse: “….there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20) Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin….” Paul’s accusers never came to his hearing before the governor. They knew better by this time.

“….unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’ 22) Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings….” So here is the crux of the matter. The reason the Hebrew leadership at the Temple at Jerusalem – the same people who handed Christ over to the Romans to be crucified – were so upset and offended by the resurrection of Christ, was because Jesus was nowhere in the Old Law except for being promised through his prophets. When Christ did come, the leadership failed to recognize him for who he was. Since this subject was so controversial, Felix adjourned the hearing right then and there in order to maintain control over the proceedings. And now let’s finish up this week’s message with the rest of chapter 24.

24) Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25) As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’ 26) At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. 27) When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.

By this time, Paul was so compelling a witness for Christ that his reputation as an evangelist and apostle was very well known. Felix and his wife Drusilla were no exceptions. So much so that Felix stopped Paul, as if he could stand no more,. telling him, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you’. Whether Drusilla had the same view of Paul’s testimony as her husband isn’t revealed here. But as it is written in verse 26, Felix was secretly hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, just like what happens in government today. Everyone is in it for the money, and government has always been that way. That and politics, let’s not forget that since they go hand in hand. But, as we see in verse 27, Paul spends the next two years in prison. But that two years was nothing compared to the 3 hours Jesus hung on the cross at Golgotha until he died.

Next, Luke wrote, “….but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.” So when Felix was replaced by Festus in approximately 60 AD, Paul was kept locked up for political reasons. As long as Paul was locked up, there would be peace among the Jewish population of Jerusalem, and Jews were the majority who lived there. So at this point, the captivity of one man ensured there would be no further domestic unrest throughout all the countries that comprise the Middle Eastern nations today. This was a perfect plan for everybody except Paul. But at least he was being held in Herod’s palace under guard instead of prison.

But by this time, Felix’s term in office had expired, and he was replaced by governor Festus. A few weeks after he had entered on his office the case of Paul, then a prisoner at Caesarea, was reported to him. The “next day,” after he had gone down to Caesarea, he heard Paul defend himself in the presence of Herod Agrippa II. and his sister Bernice, and not finding in him anything worthy of death or of bonds, would have set him free had he not appealed unto Caesar (Acts 25:11, 12). In consequence of this appeal Paul was sent to Rome. Festus, after being in office less than two years, died in Judea. So everyone be sure and return next week as we move on to Acts chapter 25. Have a great week!

This week’s ongoing Bible teaching will be part 1 of Acts chapter 24

The Apostle Paul Goes On Trial Before Governor Felix

[Acts chapter 24, verses 1-16]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week when we were finishing our 3-part in-depth teaching of Acts chapter 23, the apostle Paul had been quietly transferred overnight to Caesarea from Jerusalem under guard under orders of the Roman commander there. And so as we begin part one of Acts 24, we find Paul being kept under guard in Herod’s palace. There has been a five-day wait for Paul’s accusers to arrive. After all, this was around 2,000 years ago, but there was no more than about 63 miles that separated Paul from his accusers. That would have been roughly 3 days on foot even for older people, so Paul’s accusers clearly took their sweet time getting to their destination. And so this week as we move on to part one of chapter 24, five days have gone by, Paul’s accusers have finally arrived, and Paul’s trial is about to begin. So here we go, starting from verse 1:

“1)Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. 2) When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. 3) Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4) But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly. 5) We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6) and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7) But the commander Lysias came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands 8) and ordered his accusers to come before you. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.’ 9) The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.” (Acts 24, verses 1-9)

Right there in verse one, we see an immediate problem with the Sanhedrin’s case. They had hired an attorney to present their case who may have known little concerning their law, which we know today as the Mosaic Law. In point of fact, it is likely that counselor Tertullus was ambivalent at best regarding his view of the Law of Moses. Had it not been for his representing the Hebrew religious body in that particular matter, he was probably an agnostic or pagan individual busying himself with getting rich. My point here is that the Sanhedrin and all those with them had hired a nonreligious man to represent them concerning a religious matter, and all this before governor Felix, another notorious pagan of his day. So these super-religious Jews weren’t making very good choices. Choices notwithstanding, their lawyer presents their case, and then come the accusations, which begin at verse 5.

5) We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6) and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7) But the commander Lysias came and with the use of much force snatched him from our hands 8) and ordered his accusers to come before you….” As you just read, these utterances under oath were exaggerations at best, but isn’t this what happens when people get accused of circumventing the political, economic, or in this case religious establishment? Precisely the same thing happened to Jesus Christ when he was crucified. President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. King, Jr. came cent5uries after that. Let’s not forget the Spanish Inquisition, who slaughtered untold multitudes of people who refused to pledge allegiance to the Vatican, and the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600’s here in America, etc.

The phony charges the Jews lodged against Paul are especially apparent in verse 7. That’s where Tertullus states that the Roman commander had taken Paul by force illegally, when in fact the Roman forces were present to keep Paul from getting killed by his accusers. This was clearly perjury (compare this to Acts 23, verses 9-10). Then in verse 9 of chapter 24, all those present from the Jerusalem delegation solemnly swore that what Tertullus had presented was the truth. At this point it was Paul’s turn to defend himself in front of his bogus accusers, and so let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson, starting at verse 10.

10) When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11) You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12) My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13) And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14) However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15) and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16) So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.’” (Acts 24, verses 10-16)

In verse 10, the apostle Paul’s term “a judge over this nation” was a reference to the Jewish nation whom we know today as Israel, and whose lineage can be traced back at least 4,000 years. It was also a public acknowledgment of the common heritage that Paul shared with his accusers, an observation that certainly did not escape Governor Felix. “11) You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12) My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13) And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me….” Scenes like this have been playing out wherever there is religious persecution, and this has been especially true for Christianity. More Christians died for their faith during the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined.

I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets….:” In no way did Paul ever say he was anything other than a follower of Jesus Christ and the Salvation of his shed Blood. The Way was truly the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one can stand in God’s presence without the covering – yes, a literal covering – of the Blood from the cross at Calvary. Absolutely no one.

I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16) So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” So here we have Paul saying in open court that he is certain of his innocence, far more so than the faith of his ‘religious’ accusers. All who were Jews at these proceedings had the Mosaic Law that was handed down by Moses, and Paul made sure everyone knew that he shared that same faith. Besides, the members of the Sanhedrin and the Temple Council who were present had known Paul since before his conversion, back when he was still known as ‘Saul of Tarsus’. So even though they pretended not to, they all knew exactly what Paul was talking about as he testified. But Paul still had more to say, and we will find out exactly what that was when we return next week for part 2 of Acts chapter 24. I look forward to seeing you back here again!

This week’s ongoing Bible teaching will be part 3 of Acts chapter 23

The Apostle Paul Is Transferred to Caesarea

[Acts chapter 23, verses 23-35]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at verse 22 of chapter 23, the Roman commander of the squadron in charge of making sure Paul remained in their custody has just received some new intelligence. Paul’s nephew had overheard a conversation between some members of the Sanhedrin. These men were going to kill Paul themselves with no middlemen involved. The plot to kill Paul was an inside job right from the start. This is precisely what Paul’s nephew (see verse 16 from last week’s study) had came to him and told him.

As you recall, Paul then sent his nephew directly to his Roman captors, to alert the commander of the murder plot against him, and that the commander was about to get played by the religious elect of Jerusalem. To this day, I am convinced that Paul’s nephew being in the right place at the right time to gather that critical piece of intelligence about the plot against his uncle was not coincidental. The Lord God Almighty can sometimes work in very mysterious ways. And so as we begin this week’s lesson, the Roman commander wastes no time in making his decision as to what to do with Paul next, beginning in verse 23.

23) Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spear-men to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24) Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.’ 25) He wrote a letter as follows: 26) ‘Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. 27) This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. 28) I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. 29) I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. 30) When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.’” (Acts 23, verses 23-30)

There can be no doubt that the Roman commander at Jerusalem was very serious about making sure his orders were carried out with finesse, as you saw in verse 23. He was also a man who believed in taking care of details. So he amassed a formidable force to escort the apostle Paul to Caesarea on the assumption that the Sanhedrin would hire mercenaries to kill Paul by attacking those escorting him, and put Paul on a horse for his own safety as well. While the troops are being assembled, the commander pens, or dictates, a letter of explanation to Felix, the Roman governor of Caesaria and the surrounding territory. Verses 26-30 comprise the letter sent there by the Roman commander. So now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 31.

31) So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. 32) The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. 33) When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. 34) The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, 35) he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.” (Acts 23, verses 31-35)

So we see in verses 31-32 that Paul was escorted to Antipatris, a little town about halfway to their destination. He was held there until daylight for his own safety, until he could be escorted the rest of the way to Caesarea by the armed Roman contingent (Caesarea was about 100Km, or about 63 miles, north of Jerusalem). They presumably needed more soldiers during the night for security reasons. Even the Judea-based contingent of guards sent by their commander waited until the following morning before returning to their barracks in Jerusalem (see verse 32). Life back then was very dangerous indeed, so it’s no wonder that the human lifespan was so much shorter than now.

In verses 33-34, governor Felix receives the 2 centurions and their complements of troops from Jerusalem along with the apostle Paul. Reading the letter from the Roman commander, he asks Paul what province he is from. “Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, ‘I will hear your case when your accusers get here.’ Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.” So evidently governor Felix had previous experience with the clique within the Temple at Jerusalem’s hierarchy, based on his response to Paul. Claudius had taken a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude about the whole affair, knowing full well that Paul’s accusers were a bunch of hypocrites (see Matthew 23). Paul is placed under guard at Herod’s palace in verse 35. It was likely a much better place than the soldier’s barracks at Jerusalem.

So the apostle Paul remains in Roman custody pending his hearing with Felix and his former compatriots from Jerusalem. What will be said and how will the hearing proceed? While the Jewish Temple delegation is presenting their case, what new evidence for any new charges does the Sanhedrin-affiliated consortium have against Paul? If they have no new evidence, Paul walks away a free man. If the Sanhedrin affiliates have new evidence against Paul, what is its nature? To find out Paul’s fate, be sure and return next week for part 1 of Acts chapter 24, as my ongoing series on the writings of the apostle Luke continue.

We Can Stop Workplace Violence. So Why Haven’t We Done So?

There Is a Cure for This Week’s Workplace Violence: But Are We Willing to Administer It?

by Minister Paul J. Bern

The latest and ever more disturbing workplace shooting happened this past week in Virginia Beach, Va., and it has come to my attention that there is a lot more to these shootings than the evil deeds of some lone, deranged gunman. To be sure, the majority of the responsibility for this past week’s Virginia carnage is the gunman’s, who was killed by the police. Here was a man who was eaten up with hate, anger and bitterness to such an extreme that he killed or wounded 12 people before being killed himself by law enforcement personnel. So today I’m going to divide my message to you all, my dear readers and viewers, into 2 parts. The first will be the main part, which is what the Bible says about anger management and patience. The second will be equally as important – what are the root causes of workplace shootings, are why are they happening mostly in the United States?

To find these answers, the first place we look to is the Bible – the owner’s manual of humanity which is none other than the Word of God. We can start by finding the opposite, which is the complete absence of anger. “4) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5) It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1Cor. 13: 4-5) The lone gunmen in all workplace shootings had this very thing in common – there was a complete absence of love within themselves. To put it another way, these were individuals who were likely devoid of love since long before these various mass shootings ever occurred. They also had a propensity to keep score on their perceived enemies, like a game of emotional tit-for-tat. This is probably what happened this past week in Virginia, and it’s precisely the opposite of what verse 5 calls for.

God’s Word warns us against associating with those who are motivated by hate and unfocused rage that storms within them like a category 5 hurricane, as it is written: “24) Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered….” If anyone is not currently making an effort to disassociate from all hot-tempered people in their lives – and especially if it’s a spouse or parent – let today be the day you start. Violent people are toxic people, and it is up to ourselves to eliminate toxicity and toxic people from our lives. You can rest assured that there will be no toxic people or personalities in heaven! His Word also states quite clearly that righteous anger can only come from God. “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalms 30, verse 5) God can be stirred to irrevocable rage. Just ask one of those who lived in Sodom or Gomorrah when God destroyed their cities.

So only God can take life, since it is he who created it. When people take lives, they are playing god, and He holds in reserve the most severe punishment for those individuals who presume to do so. Those individuals who cannot, or who refuse to, keep their anger in check are held in the lowest possible esteem by God, as it is written, “11) Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” (Proverbs 29:11) Mass shooters are stone fools and pathetic morons according to Scripture. Those words were written roughly 3,000 years ago by King Solomon, son of David, of Jerusalem. King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived according to the Bible. His words are to be taken very seriously.

OK, now I want to move on to my conclusion for today. The culpability of the Virginia gunman is inescapable, and I would surmise that he is in an impossibly horrible place right now. But aside from his own guilt, what were, and what are, the root causes of workplace violence? For the answers to this and other questions like it, we need only look at American culture in the present. Everywhere we look on TV, the movies and particularly certain video games, we find ourselves bombarded with violent imagery that caters to our most basic instincts. Combine that with marriages that never last, which results in families being scattered all over the country and beyond. The twin safety nets of family and job security are both gone forever. As a result, life here in America can be downright terrifying at times. People are snapping under the pressure.

And, you can be fired for no reason if you’re in what’s called a ‘right-to-work’ state like Virginia. My own state of Georgia is the same way. According to Wikipedia, “In the context of U.S. labor politics, “right-to-work laws” refers to state laws that prohibit union security agreements between companies and labor unions. Under these laws, employees in unionized workplaces are banned from negotiating contracts which require all members who benefit from the union contract to contribute to the costs of union representation.” To view the entire page, click here. Of course, the flip side of ‘right-to-work’ laws is that wages are maintained at substandard levels in the absence of labor unions. While our wages are kept at an artificially low level, the American people find themselves boxed into student loans, mortgages and car payments they can’t afford. Actually, we can afford our loans. It’s the exorbitant compounded interest rates; that’s what we can no longer afford. And that very thing, this enforced inequality, that we must rise up against as a united people, while we still have time. And, that is what I have been trying to get people to do for the last 8 years that I’ve been blogging and writing nonfiction books.

Rise up against the powers that enslave you! Work your way out of the traps you are ensnared in – traps of the financial kind. Robots will be taking all our jobs soon. When that happens, we will have no resources left to fight with. Mass shootings solve nothing. These workplace shootings – I addressed school shootings in a separate blog post some time ago – are being perpetrated by deranged gunmen all right, but there is a root cause – like a least common denominator – for their rage to the point of insanity, even to the point of committing mass murder. Besides the evil natures of many, that root cause is America’s gun culture and the capitalist economic system that feeds this human craving for violence. Although I am still in favor of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution that give us the “right to keep and bear arms”, under no circumstances does the 2nd Amendment give any American the right to gun people down ad lib. A national gun licensing system similar to our current vehicle registration system would work quite nicely. Gun owners would be licensed too, concealed carry or not.

This latest episode of violence in an American workplace shows the entire world what a bunch of trigger-happy crazies we’re all turning out to be. I say this to America’s shame! Stop watching TV, the programming is filled with all kinds of subliminal messaging, especially the commercials. If you’re a parent, most of that subliminal messaging is aimed directly at your children, and the networks don’t care if you know that fact or not. The TV networks are trying to brainwash your children, and they are doing a frighteningly effective job. Stop playing those ultra-violent video games, and stop giving them as gifts. Looking at all those TV, computer and phone screens is hard on your eyes. Try listening to an audio-book instead. I have 4 out, with 2 more slated for release later this year. To find out more, just click here. And, I hope I’ll have something better to write about by this time next week.

This week’s ongoing Biblical study will be part 2 of Acts chapter 23

The Apostle Paul’s Life is Spared by the Romans

[Acts chapter 23, verses 12-24]

by Minister Paul J Bern

Last week as we left off at verse 12 of Acts 23, Paul had continued to be in the custody of Roman troops, who doubled as the police force throughout the Middle East at that time. This had resulted in the riot in Jerusalem back in chapter 21, which Paul had found himself in the middle of, whether he objected or not. As soon as the Roman enforcement troops found out about the great disturbance in Jerusalem, they were were dispatched to the scene. Upon their arrival a great disturbance was under way that was religious in nature – a worst case scenario for the Romans. Since the well-established Jews who had started the whole thing bore false witness against Paul by convincing the Romans of Paul’s alleged culpability, this was why Paul was in custody. That, and to keep him from being murdered by rogue elements in the crowd.

This week as we continue on to part 2 of Acts 23, Paul’s accusers have hatched a plot to kill him. To get this into its proper context, I will be starting with the final verse from last week’s lesson. So let’s begin at verse 12. “12) The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13) More than forty men were involved in this plot. 14) They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, ‘We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15) Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.’ 16) But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. 17) Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.’ 18) So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, ‘Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.’” (Acts 23, verses 12-18)

So we observe a Biblical parallel, or a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures, right here in this passage, and that is the number 40. Jesus Christ walked the earth for 40 days and 40 nights after he was raised from the dead. Moses was 40 years old when he fled Egypt (see Exodus chapter 2), 80 years old when he returned to lead the ancient Israelite’s out of Egypt, and endured with them the entire 40 years in the desert. Moses finally died in forty more years at age 120, having seen the Promised Land from the mountain top, but he was forbidden from entering it because of his sin of doubt during his time in the desert with the whole Jewish nation (see Exodus 17). But that sin was nothing compared to what the Jews – these men were actually priests, believe it or not – were about to attempt to do.

So these ‘religious people’, these ‘hyper-devout’ Jews, approached the chief priests and others in positions of leadership in houses of worship. The Word tells us that this was done so Paul could be set up to take a nasty fall that would terminate his very life, as we see in verses 14-15. “They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, ‘We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15) Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.” Clearly, some of the most corrupt people can be found positions of leadership. Whether it’s a house of worship, any business or any government, there you’ll find them, and the religious Jews were no different. These kinds of people can still be found in churches of today, now more prevalent than ever. Turn and get away from such individuals. Their evil desires are poison to the human spirit, and they are the polar opposite to the Spirit of the risen Lord.

16) But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. 17) Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” So now we see it was Paul’s nephew who came and told him of the plot against his life. The Bible doesn’t say why Paul’s nephew was monitoring the goings-on of the Sanhedrin – the same people who had handed Christ over to the Romans – but I think I know. Paul had family who helped protect him, and what his nephew did is proof. Upon hearing of this scheme, Paul calls over a Roman soldier and gives careful instructions of what to do: “So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, ‘Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.’” So now everyone involved is in front of the Roman commander, excluding Paul, who remains locked up, as we move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson.

19) The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, ‘What is it you want to tell me?’ 20) He said: ‘Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. 21) Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.’ 22) The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: ‘Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.‘” (Acts 23, verses 19-22)

OK, let’s take in the big picture for a moment, like sitting up high in the cab of a tractor-trailer watching the traffic flowing around and in front of you. Paul was a former member of the Sanhedrin prior to his conversion to the Way of Christ. He was viewed as a traitor by his former peers, and as a criminal by the Roman authorities. But now we can also see that Paul’s Roman captors had begun to suspect there was a lot more to this man who called himself Paul than they had first thought. The Roman commander, after discussing things briefly, has a decision to make about how to proceed against Paul. He dared not allow him to post bail. It would have been like a death sentence had he done so. So for the short term, the apostle Paul would remain in the protective custody of the Roman Empire for the sake of his own safety. What will happen with Paul with respect to his being charged in the riot? For the moment, Paul is in jail without any bail. To find out what happens next, be sure and return next week for third and final part of Acts chapter 23.

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Free book excerpt from this fall’s release of a new set of titles by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Coming this October from Author & Web Minister Paul J. Bern — “The Social Gospel Series”, which is an extensive and very detailed series of Biblical studies Volumes 1 and 2. This week’s excerpt is part 2 of Luke’s gospel chapter 3, taken from volume 1 of the series titled “The Apostle Luke”. Volume 2 consists of the writings of the apostle Paul, and these two will be released together as a set. Work on volume 3, the writings of the apostle John, will begin in early 2020.

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John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus

[Luke chapter 3, verses 15-37]

This week we will be studying the 2nd half of chapter 3 of the apostle Luke’s gospel, which will include a minor detour into the gospel of Matthew. I am adding this to today’s Biblical teaching because I think it’s necessary in order to better understand why John the Baptist became the last Old Testament prophet and the very first martyr for Christ in the New Testament all at once. I will explain more about this as we go along, so hang in there while we enter into the remainder of Luke chapter three. We’ll begin at verse 15.

The people were all waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” (Luke 3: 15-18)

The phrase “the Christ” is a Greek word for “messiah”, which translates into Hebrew as ‘salvation’ (the Hebrew pronunciation is “Yeshua”). I find it noteworthy that John could have told the people he was the Messiah and could have profited greatly. Yet he chose not to do so. It apparently made a deep impression with those who came to see him and be baptized by him, and that positive indication of his character and integrity reverberates throughout Christianity to this day. But then John mentions two different baptisms, which is explained in the gospel of John chapter 3, where Jesus was responding to Nicodemus, and I quote: “…’I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born again when he is old?’, Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely a man cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth ,no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of the water and of the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’” (John 3: 3-6)

Further down in this same chapter, Jesus clarifies what he was trying to explain to Nicodemus, who held a high-ranking position as a religious leader of that day. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in God’s one and only Son.” (John 3: 17-18) I see no way this passage of Scripture could be misunderstood! If you truly and sincerely believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, you will be saved, or more explicitly your soul will be redeemed, when your physical or temporal life is over. Anyone who refuses to believe, or who places their faith in something other than Jesus Christ for their soul’s salvation, will be condemned at the end of their physical or temporal lives. Period, end of story, and there will be no exceptions! So, everyone who reads this has been warned! Belief in Jesus, combined with the practicing of our faith, is very serious business!

In the same way John warned all the people, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John was talking about the conversation I mentioned between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a Jewish rabbi. The only thing is, that conversation had not yet taken place. Talk about being spot-on with prophecy! This is one way we can tell that John the Baptist was an authentic prophet. There was nothing phony about him! John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with fire on the day of Pentecost, which is not mentioned in the Bible until much later in Acts chapter two. John prophesied this more than 3 decades before the fact!

But what did he mean by “the thongs of his sandals”? Someone reading the Bible from beginning to end would not have that question answered until that individual gets to the story of the Last Supper, where Jesus washed the feet of his apostles as an act of humility, and to set a good example for all generations to come. Back then people wore sandals because there were no shoes like we have today. That technology had not been invented yet as far as I know. So people’s feet got really dirty, and foot washing was a sign of being welcoming and accommodating for visitors. This was work that was usually done by slaves, a clear indication of John’s awareness that Jesus, the one to follow him in prophecy, was the true Messiah. It is also further evidence of John’s humility and of his reverence for his cousin, Jesus Christ.

“’His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” A winnowing fork is similar to a pitch fork except it’s shaped a little different, and it was used for wheat rather than for straw, although it may have been used for both. ‘Chaff’, of course, is the byproduct of wheat processing as we would call it today. John describes the chaff being burned up with ‘unquenchable fire’, which is a metaphor for those who are condemned like Jesus mentioned in John chapter three. “And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” John exhorted and encouraged those he baptized to live their lives as those who were being saved by the Messiah, like a good coach, while warning them of the consequences if they did not. Bearing that in mind, let’s move on to the second part of today’s lesson.

But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodius, his brother’ wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He had John locked up in prison. When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, or so it was thought, of Joseph….” (Luke 3: 19-37)

What was the apostle Luke referring to here? As I explained back in chapter one, Herod the tetrarch was the ruler of what was then called Judea, which is in the general area of Israel’s West Bank territory today. Herod has an affair with Herodius, his sister-in-law, as it is documented further in Matthew’s gospel chapter 14, verses 1 through 12, and I quote: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodius, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: ‘It is not lawful for you to have her’. Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodius danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give him whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist’. The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that his request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”

As you can see by reading in between the lines, this was a really sick and despicable bunch of people who were in charge of ruling Judea. When king Herod heard about Jesus, he thought people were seeing John the Baptist, and that he had risen from the dead. Why did Herod think this? He had a guilty conscience because he had John beheaded. Like any good prophet, John had pointed out the evil that Herod was engaged in, which was his affair with his sister-in-law. This ultimately cost John his life. One night while John was languishing in prison, king Herod had a birthday party. I can only speculate on how much everyone had had to drink, but you can be sure it was quite a bit, and Herodius’ teenage daughter evidently had helped herself to no small portion of the wine. At some point she apparently performed the equivalent of a table dance for the king, except the king soon found out there was a very high price tag that went along with her dance that Herod apparently loved so much.

As you read, when Herod told Herodius’ daughter to name whatever gift she wanted for the lewd dance she had performed for king Herod, the price was the head of John the Baptist on a platter. As you have similarly seen, this was a really twisted group of people. The prophet John gets his head cut off, and the severed head is delivered to Herodius’ daughter, who gives it to her mother (“mommy, here’s the severed human head you wanted”). So there is the background for this story within a story in Scripture, and this is how John became a martyr for Christ. I also say that there is a time coming, which for some has already arrived, when some of us may have to pay the ultimate price for our own faith. But don’t be discouraged, because that ultimate price is immediately followed by the ultimate payoff for that investment, which is eternal life with Jesus our Lord and Savior. The true scope of that payoff is so great as to be beyond our wildest dreams or our most elaborate imagination!

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” There is no avoiding the symbolism here! The water baptism and Spirit baptism of Jesus occurred all at once. This can happen with new believers too, I have met a few of them, although this was not my own experience. My experience was that there was a 16 year gap between my water baptism and my Holy Spirit baptism. I can truthfully say here that I don’t know why this was what it was, but God works in different ways with all who believe so that he can achieve his perfection through those who become one with him in Spirit!

From here onward, Luke chapter 3 devotes itself to tracing the genealogy of Jesus from his earthly father Joseph (“He was the son, or so it was thought, of Joseph….”) all the way back to Adam, and so back to God. Since this is rather lengthy, let me just ask the reader to give these last 13 verses of Luke chapter 3 a quick read on your own time for the sake of brevity. Along the way, certain people are mentioned who are prominent in the Old Testament (or the Law of Moses if you’re Jewish), such as the fact that Jesus claims King David, his son Solomon, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from before that, all the way back to God the Father, as his direct ancestors. The point Luke is making here is that Jesus is unquestionably and without a doubt the Son of God. This is an indisputable fact that the Bible proves right here, right now. And we can all take heart in that fact, that our worship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God will never be in vain. On that note, I think we’ve reached a comfortable place to close, and next week we’ll move on to chapter four.

“The Social Gospel Series Volumes 1 and 2”, by Rev. Paul J. Bern will be on sale this October on my website at https://www.authorrevpauljbern.com

The Real Jesus Would Seem Offensive to Many Religious People

Some of the The Most Offensive Things Jesus Ever Said

by Web Minister Paul J. Bern

We remember the grace-filled and loving things Jesus said. But there’s an other side of Jesus that we often ignore. In fact, Jesus has to be one of the most controversial people to have ever lived. Take away His divinity for a minute (Just a few seconds, I promise) and look at his life. Whether you identify as a Jesus follower and believer or not, you have to admit that his life was utterly fascinating. The words he said, the stories he told, and the way he told them had this polarizing effect on people. Today we often like to focus on the grace and the love that he showed others as he taught them. We seem particularly drawn to the instances where Jesus condemned the actions of those who were ostracizing others. I get it, I’m drawn to those stories too. I love it when Jesus turns the temple upside down and throws those taking advantage of the poor out. I love that Jesus makes space for women at his table. One of my favorite stories is Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4

But that’s only one side of Jesus. He also said a lot of offensive things. So much so that by the end of one of his teachings many of his followers just left. Let that sink in. Jesus taught a message so offensive that the majority of people listening said ‘No way’, got up, and walked away. By no means am I trying to downplay the inclusive, loving, grace-filled side of Jesus. But we must hold firmly to grace AND truth. Just like Jesus did. Jesus could say the most loving, accepting, and inclusive things. But he also said some of the hardest truths that stung. Sometimes we ignore those hard things Jesus said; at least I know I do. So I want to highlight some of the most offensive things Jesus said. I don’t want to downplay His grace, but rather encourage us to hold onto the tension between grace and truth.

Hate Your Father and Mother

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26 In the larger context of this passage Jesus is talking about the cost of following Him. While salvation is free for us to receive, there is a cost associated with following Him. In the following verse Jesus says that if we follow him we must pick up our cross, an instrument of death, and follow him. Bottom line of this passage: if we want to be a disciple of Jesus we must submit everything to him. This message stands in stark contrast to the message our culture tries to “teach” us today.

You Can’t Love God and Money

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) But we like to try, don’t we? That’s the mantra of our culture, to get more, more, more. Jesus gives our lives a totally different trajectory. Jesus tells his followers to die to our desires daily and to live generously. You cannot live a generous life and live to get more for yourself, it just doesn’t work.

Stop Your Silly Worrying

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25) Okay, maybe this one isn’t directly offensive. But it certainly goes against our culture’s worrying nature. We obsess over just about anything, particularly things that are totally out of our control. But then again, it often merely seems that way. It’s not like you can just flip a switch and stop worrying. But Jesus tells us to do exactly that, which implies that we do have this ability after all. Otherwise, he would not have said so.

He Called a Woman a Dog

21) “Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22) A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.’ 23) Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ 24) He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ 25) The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. 26 He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’ 27) ‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ 28) Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 15:24-26)

Jesus would be fired if he said this today. Dogs were not the loved family pet they are today. They were dirty, disease ridden scavengers that you kept away from you. Many scholars believe Jesus was testing his disciples to see how they would respond. The woman doesn’t seem in the least bit fazed by Jesus’ comment. Maybe Jesus winked and let her in on what was happening. Or maybe she was just used to hearing those words from the Jews. Either way this is an incredible story of the faith of a Canaanite woman. He also called his own mother “woman”… But that’s another story.

He Took Sin VERY Seriously (whereas, we usually don’t)

And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matthew 18:8-9) I’ve heard of a (sane) person actually living this verse out. We could go back and forth whether this is literal or not. I would lean toward this being a figure of speech. However the point is still there: Jesus takes sin very seriously. We should do everything in our power to pursue Jesus and not be slaves to sin any longer. In my own opinion, we don’t take sin in our lives anywhere near as serious as Jesus does.

Love Your Enemies

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) More often than not I hear a message of condemnation towards our enemies coming from many churches. And I get that, that’s the way I’m naturally wired too. When somebody does something against me I want to fight back. But Jesus points us to a different way. Jesus taught us that we should all love the coworker that gossips, pray for the people that try to kill us, listen to the people who vote differently than us, and help those that stand opposed to us. Imagine the impact the Gospel could have if it’s followers actually lived like this.

Claimed He Was THE way

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) This is the most exclusive thing Jesus ever said. Often today we breeze by this. To the first century listening ears this was an inflammatory statement. Unless, of course, you believed he was God. But for those that didn’t believe, this was severely offensive. Jesus is stating that every other way that claims to lead to eternal life is false. He is THE only way. This is a claim that we must still wrestle with today as we live in a culture that proclaims many ways to get to heaven. Jesus doesn’t leave any room for that.

There’s a point in all of this. We like to focus on the grace-filled, loving, side of Jesus. And I’m not trying to downplay that. But we cannot ignore the high expectations Jesus has for us. We don’t have to do these things SO THAT we might be saved. No. We live this way BECAUSE Jesus saved us. It’s our response to God’s love and grace. Not merely to receive his favor. Jesus was full of grace and truth. He would forgive some of the worst sins, hang out with society’s worst people, and even die for every single person. Jesus did these things before they, and us today, even deserved. We didn’t have to do anything. That’s grace. But he didn’t stop there. He also called his followers to a much higher standard of living. That’s truth. We’ve got to hold these two in tension with each other every waking moment of every day.

This week’s ongoing Biblical study will be part 3 of Acts chapter 22

Paul’s Captors Discover Their Serious Mistake

[Acts chapter 22, verses 21-30]

by Web Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at verse 21 of Acts 22, the apostle Paul had obtained permission from the Roman commander to speak to the crowd. Having done this, he began what amounted to a two or three minute speech explaining his actions, with particular emphasis on Paul’s own conversion experience. Paul gave what amounted to a testimony about how Christ had transformed him, and for a short while the crowd listened with rapt attention. But that was before Paul then said he had been sent to “the Gentiles” to preach the Word about Jesus. When Paul, a Jewish man, told the crowd God had assigned himself to them, and that this was the very reason he was there, people took offense at him. They probably mistook Paul’s zeal and good intentions as condescending behavior towards them. Here, they probably reasoned, is this ex-Sanhedrin member who has been ousted by his own people, and he wants to tell us how we should live our lives? No way. Now, let me give the apostle Luke’s account of what unfolded that day, as we begin this week’s lesson at verse 21.

21) Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” 22) The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!’ 23) As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24) the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25) As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?’ 26) When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. ‘What are you going to do?’ he asked. ‘This man is a Roman citizen.’” (Acts 22: 21-26)

Notice, as I wrote above, how Paul’s words infuriated the crowd even as he was trying to placate them by explaining himself, while taking the opportunity to evangelize the throngs before him. But as we all know, you cannot reason with unreasonable people, and that’s what the apostle Paul had run into. Each and every one of those closest to Paul were taking their cloaks of and throwing them to the ground. I guess you know that anytime two men remove their coats, a real physical fight is about to begin. Same goes for throwing dust and dirt up into the air, which is always flung in the direction of an opponent. Thousands of people wanted a fist fight with Paul, meaning he had a real problem on his hands. Had it not been for the Roman officers present, Paul would surely have been killed right then and there. But God spared him, because He had work for Paul to do.

At this point the Roman commander is fed up with the entire situation, especially all the disorderly conduct of the mob surrounding Paul. Concluding that the risk to the deputies there was too great to remain where they were, “the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this.” Beat the truth out of him, said the Roman commander. He was demanding to know how the mob scene they had just barely escaped from had gotten so out of hand. It was his job to know everything about it so he would know who he could charge with a criminal offense. Up to this point, Paul was the prime candidate as far as the commander was concerned. Unfortunately for the Roman commander, he was lacking a critical piece of information.

But it doesn’t take long at all for him to discover his error, as we see in verses 25-26. “25) As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?’ 26) When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. ‘What are you going to do?’ he asked. ‘This man is a Roman citizen.’” Now in those days, the Roman Empire encompassed the entire land area surrounding the Mediterranean sea. At the height of its power in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the Roman Empire was a huge expanse of land covering some 2.2 million square miles (5.7 million sq. km), according to answers.com (you may view that page from here, if you like).

Anyone working in the Empire’s far-flung provinces in the employment of the Empire acted as Roman representatives and as its citizens, in that order. As such, it was lawful to place a non-citizen under arrest without being charged. Roman citizens, on the other hand, had the benefit of the Roman court system. And Paul was a citizen. But he is innocent until proven guilty under Roman law, as we will now see as we move on to part 2 of this week’s lesson.

27) The commander went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ he answered. 28) Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.’ ‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied. 29) Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains. 30) The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.” (Acts 22, verses 27-30)

So the Roman commander, who has grown impatient with the near-riot outside, demands information from Paul. When he finds out Paul is a citizen, he retorts, “‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ he answered. 28) Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.’ ‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied. 29) Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately…..” Up until this point, obviously no one believed a word Paul had told them from back in part 2 of Acts 22, which we went over last week. Their discovery of Paul’s Roman citizenship changed their minds in a hurry, because nobody ignored the absolute authority of Rome. They didn’t dare, due to a carefully orchestrated brutality that only the Roman Empire could mete out to its subjects. By arresting Paul without a formal charge, they had committed the Roman equivalent of a felony offense.

Still, the Roman commander had yet to have a clear reason, in his own mind, of how and why the riot had started. After all, “The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains. The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews.” This was because the Roman commander knew he would have to give an account to his superior officers of his arrest of a Roman citizen. It’s not that Paul was above the law – far from it! Roman citizens who committed crimes were subject to the same harsh punishment as non-citizens. Rather than risk making an arbitrary ruling that could reflect badly on himself, the Word describes what the Roman commander does next.

The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble….” The Romans were taking no chances with Paul, so to the jail he went to spend the night. But he was released the following day to appear before the assembly – the Sanhedrin. So the entire Sanhedrin together with the Temple Chief Priests – our equivalent of a joint session of Congress – were called to convene that very morning, at which point Paul was called to testify before them. It is likely that unfamiliarity with Jewish customs was one of the main reasons the commander did as he did. If the Jews were right, then he would be thanked and maybe rewarded for turning Paul over to them. But if Paul was innocent, he could then bring charges against the Asian provincial Jews who had incited the whole incident back in chapter 21. That would make him look good to his Roman superior officers, so it was a win-win situation for the commander.

Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.” I suspect this may have been the Roman commander’s way of letting Paul know exactly who was in charge of things. ‘So’, the commander may have thought, ‘this guy wants to give speeches? OK, let’s see him give one now’. And so the apostle Paul finds himself on the spot once again, having been thrust into the limelight before a hostile audience, many of whom had been Paul’s former peers prior to his salvation in Christ, which he encountered on the road to Damascus back in chapter 9. I find myself writing something similar to how I closed out last week’s message, wondering what Paul will say, and more importantly how he will say it when confronted by over 100 of his own accusers. To find out what happens next, be sure and come on back next week as we move on to part one of Acts 23.

This week’s Ongoing Bible study will be part 2 of Acts chapter 22

Paul Speaks to the Crowd to Explain Himself

[Acts chapter 22, verses 12-21]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at verse 11 of Acts 22, the apostle Paul, who had just been apprehended by Roman authorities, had been given the opportunity to speak with the crowd in the presence of the Roman equivalent of the SWAT team, with the permission of the Roman commander. So Paul is under quite a bit of pressure here, since he has just been put ‘on the spot’ in front of the whole crowd, which numbered in the tens of thousands. But first, Paul gets a gift from the Holy Spirit through his own inner presence, which is silence from the entire crowd at long last. He then begins his explanation, as well as his own testimony about his conversion to The Way, to the crowd.

This week, as we continue on to part 2 of Acts 22, Paul continues to relate a very condensed version of his explanation of his own salvation. That is where we’ll start, beginning at verse 12. “12) A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13) He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. 14) Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15) You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16) And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’”

So at this point in the chain of events, Paul has just told them about being struck blind on the road to Damascus. Notice that this corresponds almost exactly with Acts chapter 9, verses 3-9, and I quote: “3) As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4) He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 5) ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 6) ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ 7) The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8) Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9) For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Paul is trying to tell the crowd, without the benefit of an amplifier and microphone, about his conversion and his sight being restored by Ananias in verses 12-13. It is at this dramatic moment that Paul found he had a new employer. Instead of being deputized by the Sanhedrin to round up Christians, since Christianity had been criminalized by the Jews, Paul found himself pressed into the service of the Risen Lord and Savior Christ Jesus! As it is written, “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15) You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.” So Paul was telling the crowd, in a roundabout way, that God had sent him back to Jerusalem, and by his being there, he was only following God’s orders, sent through Jesus Christ his Son.

Paul then continues: “17) When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18) and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19) ‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20) And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ 21) Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” (Acts 22, verses 17-21)

So now we can see here in verses 17-18 that, at the beginning of Paul’s conversion, he was warned away from the very place where he was now standing. This is followed by a full confession from Paul, acknowledging his role in the wholesale slaughter of followers of The Way, including the stoning of Steven back in Acts chapter 8. To paraphrase, ‘I was once just like you’, was what Paul was saying directly to the Jewish men who had been the ‘agents provocateur’ of the whole affair. Paul had done all that and a whole lot more, and he was challenging anyone in the crowd to prove him wrong. Evidently nobody did, so he continued to verse 21. “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” In this last sentence, Paul is no longer addressing the Jews, who were actually a minority then, and they still are. Paul was addressing everybody else, the other 80-90% of the people present there.

What will the response be? Will Paul’s explanation of his actions up to this point be accepted or ridiculed? Or, even worse, will the crowd turn on him, overwhelm the Roman officers by their sheer numbers, and kill Paul? What will the Roman officers do next? To find out the answers to all these questions, be sure and return next week for the third and final part of Acts 22. Until then, all of you will be in my prayers…..

The Story Behind This Blog, and Why It Replaces Two Older Ones

Announcing the Social Gospel Blog by Rev. Paul J. Bern: the Evolution of the Message

As the title says, I wish to announce the initializing of my new blog, “The Social Gospel Blog” (or Vlog on Patreon.com, video’s will be forthcoming). This new blog replaces both of my old ones, “The 99% Blog” and, “The Progressive Christian Blog”. Under my former setup, the Progressive Christian blog was aimed at Christian believers who aren’t necessarily conservatives (and there’s a lot of believers like that). The 99% Blog had a more secular overtone. This was in order to invite nonbelievers, agnostics and even atheists to read what I have to say as well as how I say it. Both blogs had the same content, but with slightly different titles, different graphics, and often using different keywords in their tagging and categorization since they were aimed at different audiences.

But I also have a rich prayer life, and I’m telling you truthfully that God is having me to change the emphasis of this ministry. Not the direction, you understand, just the emphasis – specifically, the removal of Progressive politics from my blogs, which formerly had been prominent. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not turning into a conservative war hawk either – no way, in fact. Those of you who have been reading my blogs know that I am very much anti-war, and that part pf me will likely never change. Inspired by the example and legacy of Rev. Dr. ML King, I too am very much a proponent of nonviolence, excluding matters where self-defense becomes necessary.

While I have plenty of respect for my conservative readers – I wouldn’t add this paragraph if I didn’t – many of them seem to want to blend their politics with their faith. First, let me say that for those of you who do, so long as you feel no conviction by blending faith and your political convictions, or so long as your politics do not become a distraction to your faith, then by all means continue. It’s the war hawks, and especially the racists, that I disagree with completely. I remember growing up in a family that glorified war, especially when the “enemy” weren’t profiteering capitalists like themselves. And it was especially true if the “enemy” didn’t have white skin. So I have always had a distaste for that line of thinking.

So back in 2015, I started the 2 blogs I mentioned at the top of this article as a response to Christianity as it exists in many churches here in North America, which seems to have an ultraconservative slant to it that I was never comfortable with. But only recently, it has come to my attention that Progressive Christianity’s newest definition of itself includes those who no longer believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the morning of the third day of his burial. Do they think Jesus didn’t really raise Lazarus from the dead John’s gospel either? (John chapter 12, if you care to look that up) This is an heretical teaching if I ever heard one, and I’ve heard some crazy teaching coming from supposedly Christian denominational churches. So deeply concerned am I about this “new teaching”, which is grossly in error, that I have made the decision – again, after much prayer and meditation – to drop the name ‘progressive’ from this on-line ministry permanently. Even the website is going to be replaced, although that won’t happen immediately. When we read any of the four Gospels, we discover that Jesus was apolitical (“give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”).

There will also be videos, something I have done a few of over the years, but I never had time to produce a lot of them because I was either tied up with my writing or shuffling back and forth for medical appointments. But I have recently obtained a new camcorder and microphone, and soon the videos will be flowing on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/revpauljbern, and on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3HP9J1ObPZdQ2WJEsR5X6A

As some of you know, I’m considered ‘disabled’ as far as my doctors and Social Security are concerned. I don’t work at a regular job, although I’d love to get a part time gig somewhere; I live on a very small disability check. Here in Atlanta, employers simply won’t hire older workers like myself, even though I have felt healthy enough to return to work for some time now. I do without a car because I can’t afford one right now, so I ride Atlanta’s public transit system – or Lyft as of late – to get around. But those who are able and who wish to help out can pledge one dollar per month as a follower on Patreon.com at the address listed above, or you may visit me at Medium.com at https://medium.com/@greatestservant62, where you can give me some “claps” if you like; they are located in the form of an icon in the left hand margin. I don’t get much for the digitized ‘applause’, but please give me 5 or 10 claps over there instead of the dollar on Patreon, if you prefer. It’s just that’s it’s a way for me to make a small part-time income without having to ask for a donation or a sale. I understand that a lot of people have no other way to patronize an artist, so this is an alternative for you.

I want to thank each and every one of you, my new as well as my longtime readers, for being here with me for all these years. With the exception of a few trolls, the feedback I have been getting from you all has been mostly positive. When all my followers on all the social media where this Web-based ministry and I have a presence are added up, they exceeded 11,100 as of the end of 2017. With the addition of accounts on MeWe, Booksie, Social Cross, Instagram plus the other two listed above, you can be sure these numbers are going to increase significantly throughout the rest of this year despite the demise of Google+. I look forward to continuing to grow our relationships together, as we grow our relationships with Christ, who is the only Thing that matters!

Paul the Apostle’s Farewell to the Church At Rome, With Stark Warnings About False Teachers

Paul the Apostle, His Love for His Believers,

and His Plans to Visit Rome

(Romans 15, verses 14-33; Romans 16)

no-challenge-no-change

Today I will complete the study of the book of Romans that I started some weeks ago. I will conclude this series starting with the end of chapter 15 through all of chapter 16. The following quotes from Scripture are a summary of the apostle Paul’s closing thoughts as he finished up his letter to the early Roman church. I will begin by taking up where I left off last week in chapter 15, beginning at verse 14.

“I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15: verses 14-16)

“I myself am convinced … that you yourselves are full of goodness...”. As it was with the apostle Paul when he wrote this letter to the early Christian church at Rome, so it is with this Bible study that I send over the Internet today. All of you who are reading this must be doing so because you are seeking Spiritual knowledge and growth, realizing that the empty pursuit of material possessions and meaningless wealth has no bearing on where you stand with God. So let me take this opportunity to encourage you to continue in your faithful studies of God’s Word, and to never let up in your quest for still more higher learning of the deeper mysteries of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. By getting to know Jesus Christ personally as Savior, teacher, mentor and best friend, he then causes us to literally gravitate toward him as we are drawn ever closer to our dear Lord Jesus.

“…the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God…” Paul was a Jewish man and a Roman citizen. The audience Paul spoke to and the class of people Paul wrote to were neither Jews nor were they Roman citizens. Although this may seem insignificant to the modern Bible student, it was a really big deal in Paul’s day because, being raised and educated as a traditional Jew, he would normally have had nothing to do with non-Jews.

The religious Jews of Paul’s day regarded themselves as being superior to non-Jews because of their allegedly superior faith, traditions and especially their formal training. If this sounds familiar to you, it is because this same attitude of spiritual snobbery and religious “superiority” has infected parts of the modern church just as it did back in the day when the book of Romans was written by Paul. That is what Paul meant when he mentioned his “priestly duty” in his letter to the early church at Rome. He was referring to the Levite priesthood described in detail in the first five books of the Old Testament, known to the Jews at that time as the Book of Leviticus. Paul then continues with this train of thought starting in verse 17.

“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Holy Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written, ‘Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand’. This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.” (Romans 15: verses 17-22)

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…”. I strive to do what Paul the apostle did when he wrote these words nearly two thousand years ago. You have noticed as you have read these weekly Bible studies that I rarely mention anything from my own past, nor do I cite any of my own experiences in life. Instead, I have always stuck with God’s Word and I have taught solely from that frame of reference. I do this so that what I am teaching and writing about conforms to the Word of God and to the teachings of Christ Jesus.

In point of fact, as a teacher and minister I am held to a higher standard in God’s eyes, and He expects me to live up to it. Since this is my Christian responsibility, I “study the word to show myself approved” and I make myself “transformed by the renewing of my mind”. There are those who teach the Word of God but who do so from their own frame of reference, based on their experiences in the secular world outside the Church. Paul warned the early Christians about this in chapter 16 as he was finishing his letter to the early Roman church.

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Romans 16: verses 17-19)

When Paul implored the early church at Rome to “watch out for those who cause divisions”, he was actually prophesying about the advent of church denominations that were beginning at the time these words were being written. In the first century AD, various churches were already proclaiming themselves to be followers of Paul, Peter, James and other apostles who were the Twelve during Christ’s ministry on earth.

As you read the New Testament you will notice numerous occasions where Paul and the other apostles preached against this very thing. The above example is only one of many throughout the Bible. In the early 21st century here in America, there are over 4,000 Protestant denominations not counting the rest of the world. That’s just here in the US. You have no doubt heard or read about examples of this sort of thing happening either in churches or in print. One denomination preaches against another as they try to convince other people that their pastor’s point of view is the only correct one. In the worst cases, different churches from the same denomination preach and teach against each other, no doubt to the complete chagrin of Almighty God.

What will God do with these churches? Let me alert you ahead of time: When the real rapture of the Church occurs in the next few years or so (and we’re not there yet), these churches will find themselves left behind to endure the latter half of the Great Tribulation prophesied in the Book of Revelation, Matthew’s gospel chapters 24 and 25, and in a fair number of other places in the Bible. Let’s not go there, people! Instead of following one denomination or another, let us instead be followers of Jesus Christ and him alone.

Watch out for and steer clear of churches such as these. It is for this very reason that this web site is not connected with or affiliated with any one particular denomination. If you find yourself in a brick-and-mortar church and you hear hate or intolerance being preached against any other church or group of people, get out of there immediately. You can be sure God has led you to this virtual church in its place, a good on-line church where the preaching and teaching comes straight out of the Bible, and one where the baptism by water and by the Holy Spirit is being taught. I am or have already done these things This is how you know you are on the right track.

Always stay in the Word, reading and studying your Bible diligently, because you reinforce your own faith whenever you do so. And next week we will begin our study of the first of Paul’s 2 letters to the church at Corinth, known as the Corinthian epistles. Until then, keep Jesus in your hearts and minds, and live your faith like He was there inside you, inhabiting your hearts and mind..

What the Corona Virus Has In Common With a Little-Known Old Testament Prophet

A Description of Our Modern World

From 2,700 Years Ago

(Biblical prophecy series part 9 of 12) by Minister Paul J. Bern

walk-on-water For my next posting of this 12 part series on Biblical prophecy as it applies to modern life, I’m feeling God encouraging me to compose still another warning concerning the tumultuous times in which we are living. I sometimes get attacked on the Web for these kinds of postings. Some compare it to yelling “fire!” in a movie theater, and I’ve been called worse than that, but I don’t care. This is the mission God has given me, this is what I am doing with my life, and I will let nothing stand in my way. I can’t – it’s critically important that I bring you all up to speed, spiritually speaking, about the events that are currently unfolding, and what the Bible has to say about it all.

What I’m going to write about for this week’s commentary will be the first 9 verses out of the 4th chapter of the Book of Hosea in the Old Testament (that’s right between Daniel and Joel in the latter part of the O.T.). So let me quote the first 5 of those verses for everyone, and they read as follows: “Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelite’s, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying. But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another, for your people are like those who bring a charge against a priest. You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you.”

The Book of Hosea was written in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century BC, during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC). Hosea (הושֵעַ) prophesied during a dark and melancholic era of Israel‘s history, the period of the Northern Kingdom’s decline and fall in the 8th century BCE. The apostasy of the people was rampant, having turned away from God in order to serve both the calves of Jeroboam and Baal, a Canaanite god. During Hosea’s lifetime, the kings of the Northern Kingdom, their aristocratic supporters, and the priests had led the people away from the Law of God, as given in the Pentateuch.

Forsaking the worship of God, they worshiped other gods, especially Baal, the Canaanite storm god, and Asherah, a Canaanite fertility god. Other sins followed, including homicide, perjury, theft, and sexual sin. Hosea declares that unless they repent of these sins, God will allow their nation to be destroyed, and the people will be taken into captivity by Assyria, the greatest nation of the time. The prophecy of Hosea centers around God’s unending love towards a sinful Israel. In this text, God’s agony is expressed over the betrayal of Israel.

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelite’s, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.” There are two schools of thought regarding this first verse. The first are the traditionalists, who believe that the warnings are only for the Jewish nation (“you Israelite’s”). The second school of thought, of which I am a part, extrapolates this first verse as being applicable to Jew and Gentile alike as it unites those 2 faiths, since the apostle Paul wrote that “salvation is first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile”. So even though this is from a relatively obscure book of the Old Testament, it is still just as applicable today as it was in the 8th century BCE when this was written.

There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God…”. Isn’t that our very situation today? We lack faithfulness towards God and other people to whom we owe faithfulness, such as our families, our bosses and co-workers. So many of us are living only for ourselves, oblivious to their surroundings and those they are supposed to interact with, and so ultimately they are oblivious to God. And, to put it bluntly, there are too many who refuse to acknowledge God. Many of these people (but not all) are set in their ways to the point that I have stopped talking to them. All I can do is warn them and pray for them. But those who go on being atheists or agnostics, I will not stand in your way any longer, so please continue as you are. Or those individuals who worship Satan – well, you’re on the wrong track in life, but God can and will bring you back if you are willing. That’s all I care to say about that for now.

There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.” Watch a Hollywood action movie and this is exactly what you see. There’s lots of cursing and killing, adultery and bloodshed, lying and stealing. Sadly, this is a reflection of American society in the early 21st century. The lyrics in much of popular music breaks all bounds. “Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.

What does this look like to you? I’ll tell you all what this is, it’s the mysterious animal, fish and bird deaths that are occurring globally for seemingly no reason. Dead fish washing up on beaches by the tens of thousands, birds dropping out of the air literally out of the blue, and vanishing species like the polar bear, the honey bee, the elephant and many more – all these are the hallmarks of our generation, a generation where humankind’s rampant pollution of our environment is literally poisoning the earth to death. It’s all our fault!

The Bible says clearly in Genesis chapter 1, verse 28, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’.” So it clearly states right here that God put us in charge of the earth, to properly conserve its resources and preserve all the life contained in the earth, and to manage it in a clean and orderly fashion. Well, we’ve trashed the place instead!

Even now as I write this, there is a sea of plastic bobbing up and down in the middle of the Pacific ocean that is literally twice the size of Texas. Our ground water has been polluted, the oceans have been poisoned, and the air contaminated. We have done this to ourselves in the name of profit. Even where we haven’t, this systematic poisoning has been done with our consent through our silence about the matter. It seems there have been too many people who are unwilling to stand up and fight the powers controlling our world. This too has to come to an end. Stand up and fight for your right to quality of life, because if you don’t we will lose it forever.

But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another…. You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you.” This is why nothing is being done about the pollution of the earth and the trashing of our own environment. Those in charge in government aren’t governing, and the leaders in the churches aren’t leading. Everyone is wallowing in their own complacency – and sometimes outright laziness – as they cash their paychecks every week or month or whatever while doing only the bare minimum of work required. The leaders we have selected are no better than ourselves, and are often worse! It’s all our own fault, we did this to ourselves, so let’s not accuse one another. Since we are all just as guilty, we have all got some repenting to do, and this must start immediately. And now let me conclude this week’s message, starting at verse 6:

So I will destroy your mother – my people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I have rejected you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I will also ignore your children. The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.” (Hosea 4, verses 6-9)

I will destroy your mother, it reads? Is God going to kill all our moms because we’ve all been bad little boys and girls? No, “your mother” refers to ‘mother earth’, our planet. The prophet Hosea was warning us that if we persist in destroying the earth, God may decide to lend us a helping hand, so to speak. That ‘helping hand’s’ name will be World War Three, and that is what God is going to send us if we don’t straighten up and mend our ways. “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge”. Ignorance and complacency are not blissful, they are what happens when we choose to disconnect ourselves from the world around us and the people in it. Ignorance and complacency are the negative results of not wanting to know, or of not caring enough to want to help initiate change for the better. Ignorance and complacency are the status quo.

Because you have rejected knowledge, I have rejected you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I will also ignore your children.” Rejected knowledge? Just look at all the ‘mumbo-jumbo’ that passes for school textbook curriculum these days. Look at all the runaway kids and the ones who get kidnapped and sold to sex traffickers. What about the ones addicted to video games, online porn, drugs and alcohol? The list goes on and on, and it’s up to us to straighten this mess out.

It’s about a reboot of our leadership from the bottom up, starting with the parents in the home. “They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.” If America does not repent of her sins against God, of her adulteries, thefts, murders and other crimes against one another, God is going to destroy this land the same way he destroyed ancient Israel during the time of Hosea the prophet – by military conquest! So repent, all you people who are living sinfully as I have just described, or America will soon be no more. The land will still be here, I think, but the country will be gone forever. What a sad day that will be! We’re running out of time, people. Let’s all band together and begin doing wonderful and laudable things with our lives on behalf of ourselves and our societies, and all in the name of the Lord.. Who knows? Maybe we can change God’s mind if we try hard enough. Until next time….

The End of the World As We Know It Isn’t Proceeding As We Thought, But That Is About to Change

Setting the Record Straight on End Times Prophecy

and the Great Tribulation Period

by Minister Paul J. Bern

(Matthew chapter 24, verses 4-13, 32-35; Daniel chapter 12, verses 5-9)

coming back soon
I was recently made aware – thanks to the alternative media on You-Tube and other social media sites – that president Trump’s former chief of staff from 2017, Steve Bannon, has formed an alliance with a Chinese Christian organization. All of them, excluding myself, are convinced that Donald Trump will bring on the End Times Biblical prophecies of Matthew chapter 24 (or Luke chapter 21, or Mark chapter 13, take your pick). It is vitally important that we all understand the true meaning of the Bible verses that these beliefs are based on. It is equally important that we understand the timing of these events, while at the same time destroying some old myths about Christianity in general. So to get things started today, let’s go to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 24, verses 4-13.

4) Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. 5) For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6) 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. 7) Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8) All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9) Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10) At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11) and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12) Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13) but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

To put this in its proper context, this conversation took place just a few days before Jesus Christ was crucified, literally just before the start of the Feast of Passover. The Twelve, together with Jesus, had just left the heart of Jerusalem after attending an invitation-only banquet which had a noticeable number of Pharisees in attendance. This group of people, at the height of festivities, found themselves berated by our Lord and Savior in the previous chapter of Matthew’s gospel. This event in Matthew chapter 23 (verses 1-39) is known in theological circles as the ‘seven woes’. Afterwards, the apostles came to Jesus and asked him about the coming of the Jewish messiah, or the return of Jesus to claim the souls of all his followers – which would mean the end of the world as we have known it.

Notice the very first thing Jesus said in verses 4-5: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.” I can name at least a handful of these ‘cult churches’, most of which are comprised of entire denominations, but I do not want to digress at this time. In fact, I would regard that as a separate topic to be addressed in the future, and done in such a manner as to be as non-offensive as possible. But for now, verses 6 and 7 concern the times we have been living in, with 2 world wars having already occurred, and a third one sure to follow.

9) Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10) At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other….” How many of my readers have heard or read about, or have watched videos about the return of Jesus that is supposed to take place just before the start of the “seven year tribulation”? Yet that is quite the opposite of what Jesus said as he explained himself just above in verse 9. There is no ambiguity whatsoever in Jesus’ response to the questions posed to him by the Twelve. A time is coming when our Christian faith will be severely tested, even to the point of death. So do not be afraid when you see Christians persecuted or even killed, even if this extends into your own church. No matter where you had been accustomed to attending Sunday services, and even if it happens in your own family, anyone who thinks this can’t happen right here in North America had better think again.

OK, now let’s fast forward in Matthew 24 to verses 32-35, and I quote: “32) Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33) Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34) Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Just as surely as the seasons come and go, so it will be at the time of our Lord’s return. “ ….this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened…” With respect to this verse, there are some Bibles being used by certain reprobate Christians that translate the word ‘generation’ as having to do with race. So-called “white nationalist” and other similar groups of bigots who regard themselves as being superior to people of color twist this verse around as they bend it over backwards to make it fit their needs and conform to their closed-minded view of things and particularly other people. Have nothing to do with them. No one can love God while despising his creations all at once.

But, to finish the thought, if the word ‘generation’ was meant literally, that would count as about 40 years – the average human lifespan when Christ walked the earth. Notice verses 32-33, “32) Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33) Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door….” This first part of Christ’s instructions that day had to do with the birth of the nation of Israel on May 12, 1948, but it is told in parable format. However, the religious establishment at that time tried to make this teaching of our Lord to conform to their ideas. So it was taught that since a generation spanned about 40 years at the time our Savior and Redeemer was here with us, when we add 40 years to the date of the founding of Israel, we get My 12, 1988, except that date came and went without incident.

So these cult churches and slick TV preachers said at that point, ‘Well then, if our date for the Lord’s return is one generation, then Jesus must have been talking about 70 years, not 40, closer to a modern lifespan. Unfortunately for all those phony prophets and bogus fortune-tellers out there, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding as a sovereign nation, which was May 12th, 2018, also came and went without incident. So there is either something wrong with God’s Word – and there’s simply no way that can be the case – or there is something amiss with the translation. As you all know from your history classes from back when, the original Hebrew Bible was translated to Greek at right around the year 100AD, and these translations still exist today. But it was not until some 200 years later at the Council of Nicea that the Bible was extensively changed, and substantial damage was done to God’s Word. The Holy Spirit of the risen Lord fought back against those forces of darkness, and it has prevailed ever since.

12) Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13) but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” In these last days, people will often grow weary of serving God, since these ministries operate without pay. In modern terms, those who preach and teach the Word, as well as those who support them, are going to experience burn-out. Another aspect of this is those who have supported ministries in the past may withdraw their sponsorship and leave, often for financial reasons. But those who tough it out will make it to a state of everlasting life.

So what are we to do in the meantime? For this we must go to the last chapter of the Book of Daniel, and I quote: “5) Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. 6) One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, ‘How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?’ 7) The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, ‘It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.’ 8) I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, ‘My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?’ 9) He replied, ‘Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end.‘” (Daniel 12, verses 5-9)

For the context of this exchange between the prophet Daniel and what were evidently 2 angels, Daniel was been shown through the Spirit what will happen at the Battle of Armageddon, and how at least some of the events of that era will play out. Judging from the conversation that took place in the Spirit, the exchange between the two angels was for Daniel’s benefit. After all, there will be no ignorant persons in heaven, I’m very sure about that. But Daniel saw or perceived what may have been bits and pieces of information about whatever it was that he was viewing.

But at the end comes the truth, as it is written: “8) I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, ‘My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?’ 9) He replied, ‘Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end.” “The End” in this verse of scripture, is probably still some years in the future, even for us. If the largely Protestant teaching as I have learned it about a “rapture” of the holy and separate Church has still not come to pass over 17 months after it was “forecast” to occur by certain ‘men of god’, then there is nothing left for the remainder of us to do except going back to daily prayers, and some of them are sure to become more fervent and intense as time as we know it marches on. Shalom…

How to Embrace Each Others Diversity As An Alternative Lifestyle

Embracing Each Other’s Faith Despite Our Differences

(Romans chapter 14, verses 13-23)

For this week’s Bible study we will finish Romans chapter 14, as we continue to learn the meaning of tolerance among ourselves as it applies to our faith. In today’s lesson we’ll be concluding the apostle Paul’s train of thought from the first 12 verses that we studied last week concerning judging one another. Paul was talking about passing judgment on “disputable matters” of faith, using eating certain types of foods as an example. Some folks eat only certain types of foods, such as different kinds of meat, whereas others do not. Still others are vegetarians. Paul is not preaching on what or what not to eat, he is only using this as an example of what he is trying to teach us. Paul states unequivocally that “each one should be convinced in his (or her) own mind”. He then continues in this train of thought as he finishes making his point, beginning in verse 13.

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14: verses 13-18)

“Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way”. Here Paul is exhorting us not to do anything that could compromise or call into question the faith of someone else, whether they are a believer or not. If you are a Protestant then don’t be putting down Catholics. If you’re a Catholic, then don’t express hate for a Muslim or a Jew just because they believe differently than you do (except, of course, for those who blow themselves up while in large crowds of other people). We can and do disagree, that is true. But that does not give us an excuse to look down on someone who we erroneously regard as being not as good as we are. If you are so far up in the clouds spiritually that your feet are no longer touching the ground, then you have lost touch with the very people to whom you are supposed to be witnessing to and setting a good example for. Muslims and Jews do not eat pork. I happen to like pork, I eat it about once a week. Under no circumstances does that allow me to look down upon someone who abstains from pork. And that works both ways.

This also brings up the issue of antisemitism, which is a sugar-coated term for hatred of the Jews. If you are a Christian and worship Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth, then it is impossible to hate Jewish people because Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish man. You cannot simultaneously hate the Jews and claim to love Christ, who died for all our sins. You either love Christ or you don’t. And if you don’t believe in Christ, then the Bible says you will be condemned to hell when your life on earth is over. On the other hand, you can change your mind right now and ask Jesus, “If you’re really real, then come and become the Lord of my life”. If you love Christ, a Jewish man, then you presumably love all Jews as well. Anything less is completely contradictory and doesn’t hold up under serious examination. Furthermore, while I certainly don’t wish to scold or otherwise cause offense with my readers, I think it’s better to tell the truth and be unpopular than to be well liked for merely telling people the things they like to hear. As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is part of my job to point out these things.

Do not by your eating (or drinking) destroy your brother for whom Christ died”. Many Christians, especially Evangelicals, abstain from alcoholic beverages for reasons of faith. Although I was raised as a Catholic, I have been a Progressive Christian since 1992 when I first gave my life to the Lord. As such, I occasionally enjoy alcoholic beverages, but I always do so in moderation. By the same token, if I went out to dinner with Evangelicals I would order a soft drink instead of beer or a mixed drink. By the same token, if I went out to dinner with a Muslim or a Jew, I would not order pork and risk offending that person. That would be no better than showing up at an AA meeting with a six pack of beer. I have been fortunate to never have had a problem with alcohol or drugs, but by opening up a six pack of beer at that AA meeting I would be offending all others there who must by necessity abstain from all forms of alcohol. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil”. Instead, we are to strive to set a good Christian example for all to see, and our every word and action will be watched closely by others, especially non-believers. Since Christ died and was risen from the dead on the third day for us all, we are to treat everyone equally in these matters and not cause someone’s conscience to be bothered or compromised by our own actions. Anyone who does would be sinning against that person and against God. Paul then goes on starting at verse 19.

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” (Romans 14: verses 19-21)

The main point of Christianity is belief in Christ Jesus as the risen Son of God. All other issues of faith, such as what to eat or drink, or for that matter how we worship as an individual, becomes a side issue and as such are besides the point. Abortion is another example. Although I personally think abortion is wrong, I refuse to pass judgment on those who do not, or who may have actually had an abortion sometime in the past. That is between them and God. Judging other people is God’s job, not mine, and therefore I never presume to do God’s job for Him – as if I were somehow capable of doing that in a righteous manner in the first place!

For the Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. And again it is written by the apostle James, “Be careful how you judge one another, for with the same measure that you judge others, it will be measured back to you”. It is far better to follow what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. So if I bring a six pack of beer to an AA meeting, and my actions cause one of the people at that meeting to relapse and wind up back in rehab, that sin is not on that person’s soul; it would in that case actually be on mine. Let it be far from me to cause my brother or sister to stumble and fall because of my actions, because God is watching everything I do and He is listening to every word that I say. So it is for all of us. Paul then concludes in verse 22 as follows.

“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14: verses 22-23)

We are to keep everything we believe, every bit of our faith, between ourselves and God. Paul wrote elsewhere in the Book of Philippians that we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling between ourselves and the Lord”. That is exactly what Paul was talking about here. I may not believe what others do, and I may have a different nature of faith than my brother or my sister. But under no circumstances does that give me any right to condemn what anyone else believes, or to look down on them, believing that my faith is somehow better than theirs. God made us all in His image and likeness, so says the Bible. Therefore if we have questions or doubts about what someone else believes, we are actually passing judgment on that which God has made, and no one has any right to question the judgment and intentions of God. That is the ultimate form of blasphemy, a damnable sin if ever there was one.

Let us all start doing this today, and going forward. By doing so we can all become better Christians and have a better walk with Christ. Remember that the closer we walk with Christ the closer we are to God. As we become closer to God, we grow stronger and better through Him by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. And this is a noble and worthy goal for all of us to achieve and to live by. By doing so we become a better Christian and a better person, and that should be the goal of everyone who truly believes. Besides, by doing so, you never know when our actions can influence a non-believer and win them over to Christ. And that is something that is always worthwhile.

The Future of Humanity, Biblical Prophecy, and How They Will Soon Coincide

An Additional Message to Clarify My Previous Warnings About the Future of America and the Western World

by Minister Paul J. Bern

For the last 6 straight weeks, as my regular readers know – and a hearty ‘welcome’ to all you newcomers – I published a post about how there could be a massive economic reset in the world’s future, starting with the United States. I also used a lot of Bible scripture to back up my words. I have received a lot of strong positive feedback about my series of postings on my blogs, but there was a fair amount of the negative kind too, primarily from atheists and religious ‘conservatives’. I have found myself on the receiving end of open derision from a small but highly vocal minority because of my “radical” views, as one man called it. ‘How could there ever be an economic reset when capitalism works so well’, was just one of the replies I received (heavily edited, of course). Apparently many of those individuals did not bother to read the entire article or, worse yet, just glanced at the title and the picture, and jumped to whatever conclusion suited them for that moment.

The Bible has a lot to say about nonbelievers, but I’m going to quote this week from the Book of 2nd Peter, something I don’t often get a chance to do. Peter may have been an illiterate fisherman who dictated the two small books named after him, but he was filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts chapter 2), and as such he “wrote” some beautiful stuff, and I quote: “3) Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4) They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ 5) But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6) By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7) By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” (2 Peter 3, verses 3-7)

Where is Jesus? I thought he would have come back by now. What’s the holdup? These three questions are on the lips and minds of agnostics and scoffers alike. After all, Jesus said about the End Times of today, “32) Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33) Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34) Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24, verses 32-35) For those of you who may not know, ‘the fig tree’ is a Biblical symbol for the nation of Israel. So these words of Jesus, spoken when he was speaking to the Twelve about the End Times, refer to the rebirth of the nation of Israel, which happened in May of 1948.

“….when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” So from these words of our Lord and Savior we can safely conclude that the End Times that Christ spoke about in Matthew chapter 24 have arrived, most likely beginning with the first two world wars. Since the nation of Israel was ‘born’ on May 14, 1948, one could normally conclude that one generation – roughly 70 years – away from the nation of Israel’s birth could be assumed to be 2018. But it’s 2020, people, and nothing having to do with a Second Coming of Christ is on the horizon. It’s been over 70 years, a generation plus 2 more years, and still – nothing yet.

People are beginning to have doubts because Christ’s return is taking longer than anticipated by many true believers, not to mention the skeptics. But the apostle Peter knew through the indwelling of the Spirit within him that this would occur. That’s why he dictated the following words as he continued in 2nd Peter chapter 3: “8) But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11) Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12) as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13) But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” (2nd Peter 3, verses 8-13)

It is perfectly normal to have generally doubtful or even pessimistic thoughts enter our minds. It’s even perfectly normal to have doubts about the Bible, about God, and even about the purpose and meaning of life itself. But I think Peter was saying right here to stop wasting time worrying about these matters, because they are often beyond our control – but not necessarily all the time. In verse 8, Peter was saying as best as he could that God is timeless, and that He operates in a higher dimension of existence than ourselves. Since God does not experience the passage of time like we do, his schedule, his timing, and that of humanity often don’t coincide. Often this can appear to us as if a certain prayer to the Lord has not been answered. But oftentimes, it’s not that God isn’t going to answer our prayers. He’s just waiting for an opportunity to give you even more than you asked for.

In the very next verse, the Bible tells us plainly why Jesus will be late in returning. “Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Jesus is waiting to return so that as many who want to enter into his Kingdom, and who want to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, can be brought into it. The apostle Paul wrote, “God is not willing that anyone should perish, but that all people come to repentance.” So there you have it from the apostles Peter and Paul. God is going to wait for as long as he can before shutting the door. But once that door is shut, it will be shut forever, and then massive destruction will come.

“….the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” Whatever nature this colossal event is going to be will be unknown right up until the moment it happens, there can be no doubt about that based on what I’m reading in verse 10. All indications are that – based on how this passage of Scripture is worded – Peter was speaking about some kind of massive cosmic event, either a large asteroid or comet striking the earth. I’m sorry to disappoint some of you, it isn’t going to be Nibiru which, if it does indeed exist, is somewhere beyond Neptune right now. That’s past Uranus, past Saturn and Jupiter too. It takes Neptune, the outermost planet of the four, 80 years to go around the sun. If Nibiru is beyond that, even if it were headed straight for us it would take 40 or 50 years to get here. Think about it, and do the darned math while you’re at it so all you people can stop worrying about ‘Nibiru’.

11) Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12) as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming….” God is watching each and every one of us. Not to whack us on the tops of our heads every time we’re ‘bad’, but because he cares for us like a parent would their little children. If you were raising kids, would you give them candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Out of the question! Would you take them to Six Flags or Disney World every weekend, whether they deserved to go or not? As before, completely out of the question. We are raising responsible adults, not spoiled brats and car thieves. Notice the part where Peter states that we “look forward” to Christ’s return and that we are to “speed its coming”? The reason Christ has yet to return is because we are not ready for him to do so. And that’s just for the believers. The nonbelievers would simply be swept away if Christ returned overnight. They would all be gone, and all their belongings with them, before morning light.

So Peter is clearly telling us that we need to clean up our act, and that we are rapidly running out of time to do so. Otherwise, “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat…..” “The heavens” presumably means the skies above us, implying a natural disaster of such Biblical proportions that the earth’s atmosphere may be completely burned away, similar to what apparently happened on Mars sometime in the distant past. In that event, the earth’s surface would be unlivable, but it would be possible to have large pockets of breathable air underground in caves. Maybe the cave men of 100,000 years ago lived there for the same reasons, having themselves escaped a similar calamity. Could this have been what Peter was trying to warn us about? Nobody knows for sure, but we all had better live each day as if that one is our last.

Real Love vs. Superficial Affection

Loving One Another Without Being Judgmental

Romans chapter 14, verses 1-12

salt of the earth

Today in our ongoing study of the book of Romans, I will move on to chapter 14. Since there is a lot of subject matter to discuss, I am going to divide this portion of the study into 2 halves for all the new believers who are reading this posting. After all, I would not want to give you too much information all at once and risk losing anyone from ‘information overload’. Instead, I will lead this study with the first half of chapter 14, beginning at verse 1.

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14, verses 1-4)

We are not supposed to be passing judgment on those whose beliefs and values are different from our own. Those who behave this way do so because they are motivated by pride or jealousy, and sometimes due to their own deep-seated contempt. Some folks such as myself can eat and thoroughly enjoy all kinds of food without feeling any particular sense of guilt or conviction. Others, on the other hand, are vegetarians, and they behave this way because of their convictions, which may well be entirely different than ours. Jews and Muslims do not eat pork. Neither do some Christians, although I personally am not one of those, but neither do I judge those who abstain. But what the apostle Paul was saying when he wrote these words is that we have no right to pass judgment on one another because of our differences, be they real or perceived, and particularly when they are baseless and without foundation (such as racial hatred). Judgment is God’s job – it’s not ours and it never was.

When God made each of us, when He formed us in our mother’s womb, He made every one of us to be a completely unique individual. God did this because He knew that there is much richness in diversity. But God also did this to teach us tolerance and mutual respect for each other. There are no two people exactly alike, and this was God’s good and perfect intention for us all. So we can conclude from this simple truth that God intends for each of us to be tolerant of people from different religions, cultures, races, national origins, genders, sexual orientations and generations. He also commands us to show more understanding and empathy towards others who may be different from ourselves in a variety of ways. And we are to be continually doing this no matter where we are from, or what we have said or done in the past. God isn’t interested in where we have been in the past, He is far more interested of where we may be going in the future. That’s because where we are headed is far more important than where we have been, and what we are presently doing is also far more important than what we have done in the past. The past needs to be left where it is. Paul continues this train of thought in the next verses of this chapter of Scripture.

“One man considers one day to be more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14, verses 5-8)

Jews celebrate Hanukkah and the Day of Atonement (among other holy days) while others do not. Muslims celebrate the month of Ramadan while others rarely do. Gentiles, which are basically everybody else, do not celebrate any of those. Christians have days of fasting (hopefully, and if not, why not?). Non-Christians do not fast as a general rule, but some fast for personal reasons. No matter what each of us is doing with the intention of pleasing God and glorifying His holy name, we do so with our minds and hearts directed towards God because we worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Each person does so in their own special way, and none of us may pass judgment or be critical towards one another because of it. As Paul the apostle said in verse 5, “each one should be convinced in their own mind”. Paul then continues in verse 9.

“For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me, every tongue will confess to God’. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14, verses 9-12)

Here Paul is reiterating the single most central point of the Christian faith, which is that Jesus died by crucifixion and was then raised from the dead on the morning of the third day. Jesus rose to everlasting life so that we too, who worship Him in Spirit and in truth, might have everlasting life with Him. Therefore we are not to be wasting time and energy judging our brother and our sister because all who believe have already been judged, and they who do not believe have similarly been judged, except with a different outcome. Those who believe in Christ have the Father’s promise of everlasting life, and we pray for those who do not, so that they too may come to a realization of the Truth. After all, the Bible is very clear about this particular point, and the teachings of Jesus also state this with absolute clarity. And that teaching, which is found in all four Gospels and in numerous other places in the Bible as well, is that those who believe sincerely in the shed blood of Christ will be saved, but those who refuse to believe will face eternal condemnation in the fires of hell, and there for all eternity without end in just the same way as those who go to heaven when they die will also be there without end.

In conclusion, we are not to be judging and second-guessing other people no matter who they are. Judging others is God’s job, it is not ours. We are to leave God’s work to him alone. We are not to go dabbling in it because it is none of our business. But instead, as the Bible says in the book of Philippians, we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord” (Philippians chapter 2, verses 12-13). Yes, we are to do so armed with the knowledge that it is God Almighty and God alone who judges, and in so doing, “each of us will give an account of himself (or herself) to God”. Therefore we are to fear God’s holy judgment because it is He alone who gives us everlasting life according to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for each and every one of us. As such we are to conduct ourselves accordingly, knowing full well that we will adhere to this teaching according to the measure of faith that the risen Lord Jesus has implanted in every one of us. And we are to do so because as Christians we are to obey the commandments of God. In this case the commandment is that we are to be loving, charitable, tolerant and empathetic towards one another, knowing that we are going to be judged accordingly. Let us all resolve to do this to the best of our ability each day, and in so doing to make a better world in which to live. After all, a better world is what we all want, for that is what God intended. Ans next week we’ll go over part 2 of Romans 14.

Some Additional Warnings About the Future of the US in Biblical Prophecy, According to a Little-Known Prophet Named Zephanaiah

Warnings About America’s Future: a

Supplemental to Last Week’s Message

by Minister Paul J. Bern

capitalism

I have decided to write this week’s commentary as a kind of addendum to my messages from the last several weeks. After getting even stronger than usual responses from my readers, and I humbly thank you all for that, I am inspired to write this prophetic word. For anyone who missed the postings, you can read it on Patreon here or on Medium from here. Hundreds of views, not counting hits of course, plus dozens of comments have compelled me to do a follow-up piece for this week in that same vein. One of the comments came from an acquaintance of mine who is also a Web pastor and street preacher. This gentleman referred me to a certain book in the Old Testament, but when I read it a while ago and contemplated it as I prayed about its suitability for God’s purposes, I found myself turning just two pages further to the quote I’m going to use this week to give ample warning that the USA is in far more serious trouble than it collectively realizes, regardless of who is currently president.

There is one other thing that bears mentioning here before I get into the meat and potatoes of this week’s commentary. Although the reaction to last week’s post was positive by far, the negative responses fell into two categories – religious and patriotic. Some “Christian” responses were deeply critical of my alleged quoting of the Book of Revelation, calling it “out of context”, among other things. It never ceases to amaze me how well-meaning yet misguided religious people can be. Unfortunately, many of them are also mean and ill-tempered, which makes me wonder why they bother going to church to begin with. They sure as hell don’t practice what they preach! A few other responses accused me of being unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst, along with other things I can’t print here. If you don’t love America with no questions asked like they do, then they maintain there is something morally lacking about that individual. I, on the other hand, maintain that it’s the other way around.

So for this week, having put on my Armor of God (see Ephesians 6, verses 10-18) to shield me from the flaming arrows and malicious words of those who are hostile to the authentic cause of Christ, allow me to present a few verses from the prophet Zephaniah. In Zephaniah 1:1, the author introduces himself as “Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah.” Among the prophets, this is a unique introduction with its long list of fathers back to Zephaniah’s great-great grandfather, Hezekiah. So why stop with Hezekiah? Most likely, the prophet wanted to highlight his royal lineage as a descendant of one of Judah’s good kings.

We can begin to pinpoint exactly when Zephaniah prophesied by accounting for a few details in the text. First, in 2:13 the prophet predicted the fall of Nineveh, an event which occurred in 612 BC. Further, Zephaniah made frequent quotations from the Law (for example, compare Zephaniah 1:13 to Deuteronomy 28:30, 39), a document that remained lost in Judah for much of Josiah’s reign. Therefore, Zephaniah more than likely prophesied in the latter part of Josiah’s rule, after the king discovered the scrolls of the Law in 622 BC (2 Chronicles 34:3–7). The first part of chapter 1 dealt with the apostasy of and impending destruction of Judah, which is a large part of the nation of Israel today. But the following section of this small Old Testament book – it’s just 3 chapters, about a 4 minute read – is the one that prophesies about what it calls, “The Great Day of the Lord”. We can take this to mean something far off into the distant future, which would be our modern times since this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled.

The text I’m going to use for this week’s commentary begins in Zephaniah chapter 1 and verse 14, and I quote: “The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth. Gather together, gather together, oh shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you, before the day of our Lord’s wrath comes upon you. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” (Zephaniah 1, verses 14-18; chapter 2, verses 1-3)

The first thing that needs to be pointed out here is that this passage is not directed only at individuals. God is not up in anybody’s face accusing them because that’s not how God works, although there are multitudes of ‘religious’ people who would love to have an opportunity to sway your opinions about that. One of the names that Satan goes by in the Bible is “the accuser of the brethren”, so it is for that reason that I do not believe this is directed at individual people, nor necessarily at groups of people. This is not directed at nationalities or ethnic groups either. This is directed at countries, or more accurately one particular country, the United States. Why do I think this? Hey, there are clues all over the place as to why this is so, so let me address these one at a time. But first comes a dire warning starting in verse 14. “The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there.” ‘The shouting of the warrior’ tells us that this “Great Day of the Lord” in the above passage has to do with a great military conquest, causing a bitter cry to come up out of the land that is conquered. This also tells us that only a portion of the populace will be wiped out by this calamity to make sure there are enough people for that bitter cry that is prophesied in this passage.

Then the prophecy gets very specific about what will happen on this ‘day of the Lord’: “That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.” It is conceivable that this could be a prophecy for some type of terrorist activity, but from the wording of Zephaniah’s narrative the ‘day of the Lord’ appears to be a widespread event. Although the prophecy doesn’t specify anything, it is evident when we read in between the words. A ‘day of wrath’ would be a day when Mother Nature, and God by extension, goes completely haywire. A mega-storm or typhoon, an exceptional tornado outbreak, an enormous earthquake or some other kind of natural disaster all come to mind. A killer impact from a comet or asteroid is another distinct possibility, and such things are predicted to occur in the second and fifth Trumpets in Revelation chapter 8. Moving along in Zephaniah verse 16, the “battle cry against the fortified cities” signifies an attack on a major military power. Since this prediction occurs in our time frame (I will finish proving this as I go along, so please stay with me), the “corner towers”, which once signified the outer fortifications of a city, could be roughly translated as ‘tall towers’, or today’s skyscrapers.

Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.” Blood turning into dust is a reference to the book of Genesis. To find out more about the mention of human blood being “poured out like dust” please click here. For now, let’s move on to the next phrase, “entrails…poured out like filth”. On the surface, this seems to be a metaphor for people being turned inside out, but it could also mean people being cooked from the inside out. In that event, their insides would be liquefied; not a pleasant thought, to say the least. There are only two things in existence that will do such a horrible thing to a human being – a thermonuclear explosion or microwave weapons. Nothing else I’m aware of would fill the bill, not in this case. The silver and gold hoarded by all these people will be worthless, since it will be melted in the nuclear blast or microwave attack along with everything and everybody else. So you can all forget about investing in gold or silver, and don’t believe the sales pitches of the ubiquitous precious metals dealers either! They’re all trying to milk you for a fast buck, which in itself is shortsighted since the US dollar is going to be devalued soon as well!

In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.” The “fire of his jealousy” will consume the whole world! The “fire of his jealousy” will make manifest a “sudden end of all who live on the earth.” One of the names the Bible has for God is “a consuming fire”, something that dates back to the Book of Exodus, when the Israelite’s followed a pillar of fire out of Egypt. But we’re not wandering in the desert anymore, nor are we on our way out of Egypt. Moreover, of all the descendants of those ancient Israelite’s, well over half of them now live in the United States. So, although the “fire of His jealousy” will consume Israel, it will consume America as well since Israel’s #1 ally is the USA. “….gather together, oh shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you….” “Shameful nation” is another major clue, since it alludes to a world power or super-power that wages war continuously and oppresses its people. Any American who does not think Americans are not oppressed by their government – constant surveillance, systemic corruption, economic inequality, abuse of authority at all levels, the abuse of our own children by brainwashing them with materialism – where have you all been? Wake up! Is it any wonder that God has such “fierce anger”?

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” Seek the Lord, and him personally! This means we are charged with the responsibility of forming and maintaining a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We can’t have a personal relationship with God, I don’t think, but we can approach him through his Son. Do what Jesus commands; seek righteousness and humility. Wear them on your shirt sleeves right next to your heart. If we do all these things, loving the Lord our God “with all our mind and all our heart and all our strength” and “loving our neighbors as ourselves”, we just might stand a decent chance to escape the calamity to come. Will this calamity be a series of natural disasters and devastating wars? Yes, it will be both. Do I know when these things will occur? Absolutely not! But I’m certain that it will, and that’s why I’m getting ready. Are you?