A Progress Report For All My Readers

Progress Report to All My Readers on My Blog and Social Media: the New Social Gospel Blog and Website Have Gotten Off to a Very Strong Start, Thanks to You All

by Minister Paul J. Bern

 

golgotha_christ_crossHello, everyone, it’s your on-line pastor and virtual evangelist Rev. Paul Bern, and I’m happy to send this overwhelmingly positive report here in the fall of 2020. I am writing this on a newly rebuilt computer that I acquired on Ebay. I bought it without a hard drive; just the box and that’s all. Then, I performed a hard drive transplant from my old computer to my new(er) one, installed a badly needed Windows 10 upgrade, and now, here we are, back and better than ever.





This could not have been accomplished without some dedicated followers who contributed a few small donations to get the 2 websites (I have a second one for my books at authorrevpauljbern.com) up and running, plus the money for the computer. You all have probably noticed that I only rarely ask for money, if ever. Moreover, I draw no salary from this ministry. I have some books on the market, but my monthly income is often very small. So for contingencies, there’s a little ‘donate’ button on the header of the home page for this ministry, at the top center of the page, for anyone who feels led to give.





As far as the future goes, you all have undoubtedly seen my new email campaign’s new look and feel. I have switched from a social-media driven to an email driven marketing platform, and so far it seems to be working fairly well. There’s been no dramatic increase in book sales, but the books are secondary and the ministry is of primary importance as far as my priorities are concerned. And the online ministry is what is growing the fastest. Thank you all so very much for your participation.





Other things coming up in the near future are the release of my 3-book trilogy on the writings of the apostles Luke and Paul (consisting of the books of Luke, Acts of the Apostles, and all of Paul’s letters to the churches, from Romans to Philemon, and everything in between). They will be sold either individually, or as a 3-volume set, and they will be available either from my website, or exclusively from Amazon in either print, digital (Amazon Kindle and Kindle-compatible), or audio (Amazon Audible) formats. There will also be the release of yet another nonfiction book this winter having to do with American politics and the Bible. I’m still in prayer about the right title, but the interior of the book is essentially ready for market. I had wanted to release it this month, before the elections, but there just wasn’t enough time. But, after much prayer, I am at peace with the delayed release of this latest book.





Plus, now that I am finally ready to record video’s and music, thanks to this newly acquired equipment, you will also begin to see a steady flow of video’s from yours truly, so be sure and watch for that. There are already about 15-16 videos already up on You Tube, and there will soon be plenty more where that came from. My weekly commentaries and Bible lessons will continue as always, and I have plans for a monthly newsletter on my book website too. So stick around and watch all this unfold before you all, and I intend to enjoy myself while doing all this as I possibly can. Shalom….

A Major Dose of Encouragement From the Apostle Paul to All Who Read This, Whether You Call Yourself Christian or Not

The Apostle Paul’s Final Instructions to the Corinthian Church

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 50-58; 1st Corinth. 16)

This week we will finish our chronological study of First Corinthians, having begun at chapter one 6 months ago, and ending today with chapters 15 and 16. Last week you will recall the apostle Paul comparing the first Adam with the last, who was and who is Jesus Christ. He moves on to another topic, almost as an afterthought, but it turns out to be one of the more prophetic writings of either the entire Bible. I will begin at verse 50 where we left off last week.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’. ‘Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 50 – 58)

Paul reminds the Corinthian church one more time that humankind, in its physical existence, can never enter heaven where God dwells. But then he does something interesting; He gives this early Christian church something to look forward to as far as the end of one’s physical life is concerned. He begins to prophesy about life after death, describing how the process will seem to most of us as we experience it. There are a number of ways this is being interpreted in the modern church, particularly if we go outside of the mainstream denominations. Many say and teach that these verses are a prophecy for the “rapture” of the church, which is explained as the literal taking up of the modern church during the reign of the Antichrist in the books of Matthew, Luke, Mark, Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and others.

There is much disagreement about the timing of the “rapture” that I will not write about today, since I regard that as a separate topic. On the other hand, when Paul wrote, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed…..”, there can be no doubt that he was prophesying about the dead being raised at Christ’s return. This, in case there is anyone that hasn’t been paying attention, could happen just about any time now. All you have to do is just keep following the news regarding the Middle East like I do.

My main concern about the way the “rapture” of the Church is currently being taught is how many churches are convinced that the “rapture” will come just as soon as the Antichrist comes to power. Moreover, what about those preaching a ‘pre-tribulation rapture’? You know, those are the ones who say the church will be taken up at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, and that the Bride of Christ will escape it entirely. What if the Antichrist comes to power and we’re all still here? What if the “rapture” doesn’t happen until weeks, months, or maybe up to a year or two after the Antichrist comes to power?

The Bible prophesies about that in the Book of Revelation, not once but twice. The first is in chapter 6, verses 9-11, which reads: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed”.

Then again in chapter 13 and verse 7, it reads, “He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them” (“he” being the Antichrist). What will all those who have believed in a ‘pre-tribulation rapture’ do then? I hope that some, if not all, of them will realize they may have to undergo one final time of testing by the Lord before being called home to glory. I am deeply concerned that the many who think God will just come along and scoop them up will become discouraged and fall away after the Antichrist comes to power, which could be only months away from now. Or, they might change their minds and take the “mark of the beast” to preserve their lives and the lives of their children, mistakenly believing they are ‘doing the right thing’. That would be an extreme tragedy if it were to occur, and I hope these words that I write will be sufficient warning to my brothers and sisters to be vigilant, to be prayerful with much thanks, and to remain filled with the Spirit during these tumultuous last days.

With another eloquent description of what some call the “rapture” of the church, Paul wrote, “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality”. Paul the apostle was exhorting us to draw ourselves continually closer to God by preparing ourselves as pure vessels in which an immortal being can dwell. And it is we, the transformed Believers, who will become immortal beings and live with the Lord in New Jerusalem forever and ever. By working hard at preparing ourselves to become imperishable vessels and immortal beings, we engage in a dress rehearsal of how we will spend eternity. Paul praised God for this when he wrote, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Paul ended this paragraph by encouraging the entire congregation to continue to press onward toward the goal of being one with Christ, and to let nothing stand in the way of their relationship with God through the saving power of Jesus Christ. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” These words apply to us more than ever as we navigate our way through the stormy waters of living in the last days, while we navigate our way around Covid-19. Never get tired of doing the right thing and living for Christ, because our work is never in vain. Paul then closes out the remainder of this letter with a few words about the collection of the offering at these churches that bear close scrutiny.

Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” (1st Corinthians 16: verses 1-4)

When Paul writes them to “do as I told the Galatian churches”, he is referring to a passage in the book of Galatians, but I will save that for when we get there, since we’ll be studying the 2nd book of Corinthians first (Galatians comes right afterwards, OK?). There are two things that are noteworthy here: The first being Paul’s mentioning setting aside church collections “on the first day of every week”. Keep in mind here that the calendar that we use today has only been around since the third century AD. Since Paul, a Jew and a former member of the Sanhedrin, went by the Jewish calendar, which has been in existence for 4,500 years. He used the Jewish Sabbath as his guide, which is from dusk Friday to dusk Saturday. My point is that the day on which we celebrate the Sabbath today, Sunday, is actually the wrong day of the week from a purely historical perspective when compared to the way in which the original Apostles and Jewish believers were celebrating the Sabbath 2,000 years ago. Keep this in mind each week as you attend services on Sunday morning.

The second noteworthy thing Paul mentions in these closing verses of 1st Corinthians is the amount that is to be given at each offering. Paul wrote, “ On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…….” Notice that Paul did not specify an amount to be given, nor any certain percentage of one’s income, but he only said that their gifts should be “in keeping with his income”. In other words, if you can’t afford to ‘tithe’ a full 10% of your income, like what is specified in quite a few modern churches, then that’s okay – just give whatever you can and ask the Lord to bless your offering and receive it, knowing that it will still be enough. You need not worry – there are no cash registers or pocket calculators in heaven.

God isn’t counting your change to see how much you can give. He doesn’t want our money, he doesn’t need it anyway, but God does want each and every one of us. He wants our love and devotion, our worship and our praise, and our dedication and our service to His cause. And the cause of the Lord is the salvation of souls, and a cause of eternal justice, which is a worthy cause any day of the week.

Announcing the New Website for the Social Gospel Worship and Learning Center with Minister Paul J. Bern

Welcome to my new website! Join my mailing list and get weekly commentaries, a Biblical study series, plus merchandise and videos (almost ready) https://shoutout.wix.com/so/46MqclWtE #socialgospel #realBible #Christianblogs #blogsabouttruth #wisdom

The Alleged Resurrection of Jesus Christ From the Grave

The Apostle Paul’s Teaching About the Resurrection (part 2)

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 35-49)

 

When we finished last week’s study, we were focused on the apostle Paul’s teaching to the early church about the true nature of the resurrection of Jesus Christ after being buried in a borrowed tomb for three days. After admonishing them for allowing some man-made teaching about the Resurrection to infiltrate their congregation, Paul then continues with his explanation of the resurrection from a Scriptural viewpoint by answering what is apparently yet another question the congregation had raised regarding the nature of the Resurrection. Paul continues his train of thought beginning at verse 35.

 

“But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as He has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” (1st Corinthians 15: verses 35-41)

 

I think the main thing Paul the apostle was trying to communicate here is that what kind of bodies we will have after we die is neither here nor there as far as the Word and our Faith are concerned. It is a side-issue in the form of an unhealthy diversion from Truth. Our “bodies” will be spiritual, and there is simply no comparison between spiritual beings and physical ones since they are of a completely different nature. It would be like trying to compare insects to fish (imagine that!). There are many different types of bodies of various kinds, and each has its own beauty in its own way, with each having a special uniqueness that sets it apart from the others, emulating the uniqueness of each person within the whole of humanity.

 

All of us are unique individuals, and by extension sovereign forms of life here on earth and of the heavenly and magnificent kaleidoscope of the universe. And since each was created by God, it becomes a reflection of His glory for all to see and marvel. Paul then goes on to compare all this to the last resurrection in the book of Revelation, where all those who ever lived and died will rise for one final judgment, and each will have to give an account of themselves – how did they live, who did they help, who did they protect, and above all, who did they serve.

 

“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; if it is sown in dishonor, it will be raised in glory; if it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit’. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have born the likeness of an earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1st Corinthians 15: verses 42-49)

 

Paul’s commentary here is pretty clear, and so requires no explanation per-SE. But I think that it would be helpful to those readers less familiar with the Bible if I substituted some 21st century vernacular for the Biblical terms of old. We are born mere mortals, but unwavering belief in Christ makes us immortal, effectively giving us a chance for eternal life. Paul’s second comment applies directly to me and others like me, who started out in life as orphans or as unwanted “throwaway kids”: Although I was “born in dishonor” (with no real family or social standing and no inheritance of any kind), accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior back in 1992 has caused me to be “raised in glory” at His second coming because I did everything in my power to try and mold myself into someone useful for Him, leaving my old life and all the negative stuff that went with it (bad childhoods, crappy marriages, etc.) behind in the past, where it belongs. That is my personal testimony regarding this portion of Scripture, and I exhort and encourage all who read this who started out in life as being disadvantaged in any way to follow my example in this matter as I have tried to follow the example of Christ. Oh yes, you can all do this, and the Bible tells you how.

 

For example, if you are “sown in weakness”, lacking confidence and/or self esteem, belief in Christ will cause you to be “raised in power”, giving you a quiet confidence and internal peace that can only occur when we give our hearts completely over to Jesus Christ, because doing so blocks out all fear. And fear is something we should all be doing without, substituting unconditional faith in Jesus in its place. Paul then goes on by comparing Adam with Christ, with Adam being the first man and Jesus being the last in the form of a “life giving Spirit”, foreshadowing the future spiritual coexistence with God for all eternity in heaven after our physical lives are over. “And just as we have born in the likeness of an earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the Man from heaven.”

 

So, in closing, if there is anyone reading this who has not given their heart over to Christ and wishes to do so, now is as good a time as any. You don’t have to do anything dramatic or fancy, just quietly ask Jesus to come into your heart, for the purpose of Him abiding there forever, in whatever way feels comfortable to you. You can rest assured that once He enters, and He will, He will be there to stay for the duration of your life. In the process, you get a new friend in Jesus, a new dad in the form of God the Father, and millions of new brothers and sisters – as few or as many as you want. So let the peace of Christ, which is beyond human comprehension or intellectual understanding, be within you, replacing all the old negative emotions and traumas that you can now let go of. Because now you have something infinitely better to take their place, the man in the glory, Jesus Christ!

Submission to Authority, Even If It’s Abusive: When Is It OK to Push Back?

What the Bible says About Submission to Authority:

When Is It OK to Resist?

(Romans chapter 13, verses 1-5)

It’s time for us all to step up to the plate and score a base hit for our planet

I have been watching with growing dismay at the insanity that is ongoing in the oval office. Although I voted for Donald Trump in 2016, I now regret doing so when I consider Trump’s openly racist sentiments and the off-hand way he has handled his presidency. With that in mind, combined with my continuing and chronological study of the writings of the apostles, I have found a place where the two intersect within the first 5 verses of Romans 13. These verses have to do with submission to authority in the context of being a law-abiding citizen, but mainly as Paul saw it when he wrote these words roughly 2,000 years ago. At the time that this was written, all of what is now modern-day Israel was under the military occupation of the Roman empire. Paul the apostle wrote this book in that context, so I will begin at verse 1.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13, verses 1-5)

At the time that Paul wrote this, the death penalty was commonplace. Capital punishment existed as a means of intimidation and absolute control, and that punishment was carried out with utter ruthlessness and without mercy. Moreover, unlike the Jewish religious establishment of Paul’s time, Paul was a Roman citizen and as such he was given rights and privileges that were not shared equally with other non-citizens. So we can all clearly see from this example that inequality is something that has been with us for thousands of years. But how does this compare with life in the early 21st century? Although the death penalty is still administered for capital crimes such as murder and treason, it is carried out with relative infrequency compared to the days of the Roman empire.

There were also debtors prisons in Paul’s day. People who ran into financial trouble back in those days were routinely imprisoned until their debts were paid. Contrast that with today, when and if one gets into financial difficulty, bankruptcy laws exist that are much more fair and equitable than prison. Compared to the times in which the apostle Paul lived, we get a complete picture of a much more fair, equitable and even lenient world. Let me now make some comparisons between Paul’s world and ours using this passage of scripture as a backdrop to the picture that I will now paint for you with my words.

The authorities that exist have been established by God”. Although Paul sincerely believed at the time that he wrote these words that he was absolutely correct, he was speaking more as a Roman citizen than he was as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a modern American, our rule of law is the Constitution of the United States, and so I am writing today in that context as an American citizen. We have the right to free speech in modern times, not to mention bankruptcy laws, that did not exist in Paul’s time. That right which is established under the US Constitution allows me to write these words without fear of punishment. As such I am within the law and I will remain so for as long as the law is fair. It’s when it’s unfair that things can get a bit dicey.

Paul continues with this same theme as he writes further: “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” The same applies today. Organizing an armed revolt in modern-day America is an idea that I am very much against, preaching and teaching as a man of peace who tries his best to emulate Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Besides, the police have well-armed SWAT teams, and there is always the National Guard that exists within any given state, and so I think one would be foolhardy at best to try and take on authority in this manner. On the other hand, it is perfectly legal, and I would also say that it is truly necessary, to engage in peaceful protest against laws and policies that we disagree with. The First Amendment gives us that right, and the Second one gives us the right to defend the first – two more things that did not exist during Paul’s time all those centuries ago. In this regard, we can interpret this passage of scripture somewhat differently than Paul the apostle.

Paul then continues making his point, and so will I. “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.” It is sad to say that this is no longer true in the modern world. Trying as I do to do what is right, I often find myself looked down on by the many godless people who live in the world of today. I put up with the occasional ridicule, but I do so knowing that God is watching everything I do and He is listening to everything I say. But to get back to the topic at hand, it is wise to be “free from fear of the one in authority”. The best way to follow this principle is to obey the ten commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Just by doing these 2 things, we can keep ourselves out of much trouble. Besides, the Bible says in the Old Testament to “obey the laws of the land, that it may go well with you in the place you are abiding”. Those words were written at least three thousand years ago, and they are still just as true today as they were back then.

By the same token, there are things happening and situations unfolding within the US government that are completely contrary to God’s laws. Take the ten commandments as an example. The eighth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”, which can be expanded to include this simple command: ‘You shall not lie’. Yet America found itself embroiled in a war in Iraq that was based on a lie. Specifically, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was still in power. Of course, those WMD’s turned out to be non-existent, and it took 4,400 US fatalities – and over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths – to find that out.

The same applies to Afghanistan. Our troops have been there for 19 years, first to find Osama Bin Laden even though everybody knew he was in Pakistan, and now for a withdrawal of US troops that will take the rest of this century at the rate it’s going. The US government is spending $6 billion dollars a week on this war, a thoroughly obscene sum of money by any standard. Yet all the while, there is unemployment here in the USA that is around 9%, and that doesn’t count all the millions of long-term unemployed who have stopped looking for work, as well as those who are working part-time when full-time work is what is needed. There is no money to create over a million badly needed jobs in our country, but there is an unlimited supply of cash for multiple illegal military occupations and drone strikes all around the globe. This is a moral outrage, and anybody with even a little bit of a conscience should be out in the streets protesting against the US military-industrial complex. That’s not in the letter of the Bible, but it most certainly is in the Spirit thereof.

Paul then writes in verse 5, “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” This is just as true today as it was when it was first written. Being an outlaw will only get us into trouble, and jail is no place for anybody to be except for the worst criminals. It is a bad idea to drive your car at 90 miles an hour because it is against the law, and because it is dangerous. Likewise, the ten commandments must be obeyed. We should not steal, lie or commit adultery, nor should we have any false gods in our lives. We can and should worship the one true God and him alone, who sent his only Son to die for our sins and then to rise from the dead on the third day after he was crucified. In the same way that we submit ourselves to God, we should, as far as it is possible, submit to authority here on earth. And we should do so not only “because of possible punishment but also because of conscience”. But here in the 21st century, we can and should oppose and protest against the government similarly because of matters of conscience. It is a part of the laws of our land, and we should exercise this right because our rule of law says we can. This is also in keeping with God’s commands, and I hope and pray that it always remains so.

A Reinforcement in the Faith of Believers In Christ, and An Appeal To Those Who Do Not

Why Be a Christian in the First Place?

Is There Really a Point to It All?

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 1-19)

Since the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians is noticeably longer than the one we just completed, I will be dividing chapter 15 into 4 lessons to allow me to get into some serious depth regarding the apostle Paul’s letters to the early churches. As we begin to read at verse 1, we find Paul reminding the early Corinthian church of the reasons for the faith of the whole congregation, which is unconditional belief and unshakable confidence in the saving power of the shed Blood of Christ. I would liken this portion of Scripture to a coach going over some of the basic fundamentals of the game during a team meeting, reminding the players that if they stick to the basics consistently, they will ultimately win. Being a follower of Jesus is a lot like that, and so you may think of Christ as your Spiritual coach. Here is an example of that from Scripture.

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 1-11)

The basis of Christianity and of belief in Christ as the Son of God is summed up in Paul’s words “ …Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…….” So we have basic fundamental teaching and instruction here from Paul the apostle to the brethren in the early Church, which is the ultimate sacrificial offering of Jesus himself for the sins of all humankind who freely accept His eternal salvation.

Without this faith, all the good deeds and personal sacrifice in the world will do us no good at all, and we will have “believed in vain”. Based on this portion of scripture I would say that one of our primary tasks as practicing Christians is to make sure our belief is genuine – that is, that we exercise our faith in such a way that our passion for Christ strives to approach and imitate His passion for all humankind when He died upon the cross. As He gave his all for us, so we must be willing to give our very best for Him. In fact, a time is coming soon to North America when Christians will begin to be slain for their faith. The apostles saw the risen Lord in person, but we believe having not seen Him (yet).

At this point I would ask that all those reading this who are knowledgeable about the Bible, or who have been Christians for a very long time like I have, to bear with me for a few moments while I explain something to the newer believers regarding what Paul wrote about himself towards the end of the above passage. Paul wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to even be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”. Paul is referring to his initial meeting with the Spirit of Christ on the road to Damascus, which is documented in chapter 9 of the book of Acts in the New Testament. He was blinded for 3 days and instructed to go to a certain house where he met the apostle Peter, who laid his hands on Paul and healed his blindness.

Before all this happened, Paul was one of the leaders of Judaism at that time who actively persecuted Christians prior to his own conversion. The Book of Acts also documents Paul’s being present at the execution of St. Stephen in chapter 6. And yet ever since meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus, Paul had been converted and was actively preaching and teaching throughout the known world of that time. This is why Paul calls himself “the least of the apostles”, but Paul does one thing here that we all should learn to emulate. He gives all the credit for his conversion to his faith in God through His grace, taking none for himself. He even mentions working harder in his new ministry than anyone else in an attempt to make up for his previous life as a persecutor of the followers of Christ.

God gets all the credit for our own conversions because He loved us first, not the other way around. Remember what Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”. Therefore, if we humble ourselves in our faith by giving all the credit for our salvation and well-being to Jesus, and to God’s grace (which means unmerited favor), we will be rewarded with higher places in heaven when our physical lives are over and our eternal Spiritual lives begin. I will teach more on this topic at some point in the future. But for now, I will continue today’s study at verse 12.

But if it has been preached that Christ was raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1st Corinthians 15, verses 12-19)

Based on what the apostle Paul wrote just above, perhaps there was some disagreement among the members of the early Churches regarding whether the resurrection of Christ was real or a myth. What we are seeing here is one of the first indicators of denominational teaching. Paul clearly wanted this practice stopped immediately, but history teaches us that not only did this not occur, but the fragmentation of the original church into divisions that were set against one another is an unfortunate reality that continues into modern times. But Paul responded back then by pointing out an obvious truth, which is that being a Christian while not believing in the resurrection of Christ, along with all who have believed on and trusted in His name, defeats the very purpose of our beliefs.

The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the morning of the third day is the very basis for all Christian faith. Even the two greatest commandments as they were taught by Jesus in the four gospels – love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself – are impossible to follow without a belief in the deity of God through Christ. And a belief in God through Jesus Christ is unworkable without the strongly held belief that Jesus rose from the dead, and that in so doing, He gave all of humankind a chance to have the same opportunity to have eternal life without end, which He already has. None of us can ever achieve immortality on our own, but we can all have it through Christ, the Son of God. And that’s a goal worth shooting for every single day of the year.

Our Trigger-Happy Police, Unarmed Civilians, and What God Has Said About All This

I Wonder What Would God Say About

All These Police Killings In the US?

(Jeremiah 7: 1-11)

By Minister Paul J. Bern

 

The United States of America is evidently coming apart at the seams. That’s an observation of current events in America, not just my opinion. Police shootings of unarmed Black men and youths – and some white folks too – are epidemic and increasingly notorious. Lately I have been seeing and learning, much to my own horror, that civilians are taking matters into their own hands by assassinating police officers while they are on duty. We’ve had at least two such incidents this year so far – one where a cop was shot execution style while fueling up his patrol car, and the other where an officer was dragged for several miles and was later pronounced ‘DOA’ at the hospital. So does this mean we have descended into a deadly game of tit-for-tat on American streets? Does a state of civil war now exist between African-Americans and law enforcement?

 

Of course, there are always two sides to every story. In several of the shootings of unarmed Black men, police officers have just recently been charged with murder, as you know. Yet by the same token, there was a nationally reported incident earlier this year where a white man who had carjacked someone started shooting at the police when they cornered him, for which the perpetrator paid with his life. In cases like that, I believe police shootings are without question fully justifiable regardless of race. God gave me a passage of Scripture earlier today that fits this very well. It is a prophetic bit of Scripture taken from the first 11 verses of Jeremiah chapter 7 in the Old Testament. For those who don’t know where this is in the Bible, it’s between Jeremiah and Ezekiel. I am going to take this just a verse or two at a time, because there is so much of the Holy Spirit in here that one cannot simply breeze through this and quickly move on.

 

This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message. Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.‘” (Jeremiah 7, verses 1-2) How would we say this in 21st century English? Allow me to paraphrase: ‘Stand at the entrance to the church, right in the middle of the doorway, and tell all the people who come here to wait outside and hear this message before entering the sanctuary.’ Church services, it seems, will be starting a little late today. God is telling the modern north American churches to stop what they are doing and hear these words. Otherwise, He is saying, you have no business coming in here, into my Father’s house. You would then become invaders in my house, encroaching on My holy territory, says the Lord. This, says the Bible and the prophet Jeremiah, is extremely serious and at the top of God’s priorities.

 

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 7, verses 3-4) “Reform…and I will let you live in this place”. What place is this? When it was first written by the prophet Jeremiah, it was a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem in the years leading up to ancient Israel being taken into captivity by the Babylonian Empire. But in a modern context, it is a prophecy from the past that is equally applicable to the near future. Applicable to Israel just like in days of old, you ask? Partly, but also equally applicable to Israel’s chief protector and ally in modern times, the USA. Prophecy, you see, is multidimensional – just like the God who we prophesy about.

 

If you really want to change your ways and your actions and to treat each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless, and the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers forever and ever.” (Jeremiah 7, verses 5-7) Do we treat each other justly when we’re shooting at each other like it’s the end of the world? Who is worse, the cops who are killing the unarmed Blacks, the Blacks who are killing each other, or everybody else who is shooting and ripping off everything and everybody else? Is there anybody reading this who seriously believes that God is pleased with America in its current state of affairs? I should think not! If nobody is right, then everybody’s wrong.

 

Does America oppress the alien? As long as racial profiling is allowed to continue within the ranks of law enforcement, this will continue to be the case. Moreover, all those people crossing our southern border into our country are not an invading hostile army such as the likes of Donald Trump have implied. The ugly truth is that they are economic and war refugees from Mexico and Central America. The war refugees are escaping the civil wars being waged by the drug cartels of Central America and Southern Mexico – wars that are being fomented by America’s very own CIA. The economic refugees come here looking for work – work that is simply unavailable in their former countries.

 

Also, there is a huge wage disparity between those countries and the US. According to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, a factory worker in Mexico has an average take-home pay of about $55.00 per month USD (as of 2018). A person in the US working full time at a minimum wage job takes home approximately $640.00 monthly after taxes (which is why the current US minimum wage must be increased). So these “illegal” immigrants, as they’re called by all the right-wingers (many of whom identify as being Christian) see immigrant take-home pay increase ten or 11 times just by relocating to America. Is it any wonder they are coming to America in droves? If the US used its foreign aid that it so freely distributes to create enough new jobs down there in Mexico or Guatemala, etc., those people wouldn’t have to come to the US looking for work. Instead, US taxpayers spent $35 billion last year alone on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a plane America does not need.

 

Can I go on? Does America oppress the “fatherless”? All one has to do is visit America’s jails and prisons. Eight out of every ten people who are incarcerated either grew up without a dad, or are estranged from their fathers – often because of prior abuse. It’s a cycle that can often get passed down from one generation to another, a cycle that runs in families. Does America “oppress the widow”? Is there evidence of this ever occurring? All over America we see boarded up old houses in blighted neighborhoods, houses that people used to live in. But some smooth-talking mortgage broker came along one day and talked the homeowner, who was usually elderly and minimally educated, into taking out a new mortgage on a home that was decades old and sometimes in need of repair, only to have the homeowners fall behind on the payments, and they ultimately found themselves homeless.

 

For another example, visit any nursing home in America, and you will find multitudes of elderly people who have been long forgotten by their families. In many cases, they have outlived everyone they ever knew and loved. America’s elderly have become a disposable people just like America’s workers, its former middle class. Is God pleased with this? On the contrary, He is deeply offended! God is filled with rage against humans who oppress other humans for profit. Can I get an AMEN, y’all?

 

What about “shedding innocent blood?” Does America currently, or has America ever, shed innocent blood? For me, a guy who genuinely loves his country but despises and fears his government, the answer is hard to look at and still more difficult to receive, but look I must. America has shed innocent blood in the form of millions of civilian casualties in the two Iraq wars, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Vietnam, Korea and both world wars. But there is more – America has shed innocent blood right here at home. We have killed innocent men on death row, men who were not guilty of their crimes, but who were executed because they were presumed guilty because they were African-American. So many more Blacks have been executed in lynchings since the end of the US Civil War that the country has lost count. So yes, most definitely, America has shed much innocent blood.

 

Does anyone seriously believe that God has not noticed, or that He was looking the other way at the time? What about that last one? Have we “followed other gods to our own harm”? This is evidently talking about addictions, although this can have to do with substance abuse just as easily as it could addiction to a spouse, sports hero, career, or getting a bigger house whether you needed one or not, the latest computer and electronic gear, yet another new car that you really didn’t need, always wearing the latest fashions, and so on. Try unplugging from the world. Disconnect from your cable TV and save money, watch Christian stuff on the Internet instead (no, not “Christian TV”), and become a minimalist. Despise materialism, shun worldly wealth and those who crave it. ‘Go green’ or live ‘off the grid’. Do something! Please don’t just sit there playing your pointless video games. Sorry if that offended anyone, but that still needed to be said. And now I’ll conclude this message, beginning at verse 8.

 

But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come before me and stand in this house, which bears my name, and say ‘we are safe’ – safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!’, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 7, verses 8-11) How are we trusting in deceptive words that are worthless, you ask? What is God talking about here to each of us through the prophet Jeremiah? I strongly believe this has a double meaning. In one sense, God is telling us our country’s leaders can no longer be trusted because they have their own interests at heart instead of, or ahead of, “we the people”.

 

Undoubtedly this is one point I need not explain to anyone. But why aren’t we more outraged about all the waste and corruption in Washington? To me, if we are not opposing it then we are condoning this criminal behavior of our nations leadership. That makes us accomplices, and under no circumstances do I ever want to be seen that way by God. If this were to ever occur, that would be the day I would begin to pray in vain. Since I “work out my own salvation with fear and trembling”, I could never in my right mind go there or do that anyway.

 

But what is the second part of the meaning? This time, instead of talking about political and corporate leadership, God is speaking to us through the Prophet about the leadership within our churches. The Bible says, “Judgment begins in the house of the Lord”. That’s us, people. It’s talking about us. Those who teach falsely and know it, and there are a dismaying number of “preachers” who do, will pay the ultimate penalty in eternity. Will we continue to commit sin after sin, hop from one affair to another, mating like rabbits as we lie, cheat and steal and think we got away with it because nobody saw us?

 

Those who do any of those things are only kidding themselves. Have our churches become a den of robbers? As long as certain preachers continue to demand 10% of everyone’s income, whether they can afford it or not, then the answer is yes. The money-changers have once again occupied the temple, and Jesus will soon return to throw them out again. Apparently these corrupt religious people didn’t learn their lesson the last time our Lord administered it 2,000 years ago. “But I have been watching, says the Lord”!

 

This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message. Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.‘” (Jeremiah 7, verses 1-2) How would we say this in 21st century English? Allow me to paraphrase: ‘Stand at the entrance to the church, right in the middle of the doorway, and tell all the people who come here to wait outside and hear this message before entering the sanctuary.’ Church services, it seems, will be starting a little late today. God is telling the modern north American churches to stop what they are doing and hear these words. Otherwise, He is saying, you have no business coming in here, into my Father’s house. You would then become invaders in my house, encroaching on My holy territory, says the Lord. This, says the Bible and the prophet Jeremiah, is extremely serious and at the top of God’s priorities.

 

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 7, verses 3-4) “Reform…and I will let you live in this place”. What place is this? When it was first written by the prophet Jeremiah, it was a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem in the years leading up to ancient Israel being taken into captivity by the Babylonian Empire. But in a modern context, it is a prophecy from the past that is equally applicable to the near future. Applicable to Israel just like in days of old, you ask? Partly, but also equally applicable to Israel’s chief protector and ally in modern times, the USA. Prophecy, you see, is multidimensional – just like the God who we prophesy about.

 

If you really want to change your ways and your actions and to treat each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless, and the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers forever and ever.” (Jeremiah 7, verses 5-7) Do we treat each other justly when we’re shooting at each other like it’s the end of the world? Who is worse, the cops who are killing the unarmed Blacks, the Blacks who are killing each other, or everybody else who is shooting and ripping off everything and everybody else? Is there anybody reading this who seriously believes that God is pleased with America in its current state of affairs? I should think not! If nobody is right, then everybody’s wrong.

 

Does America oppress the alien? As long as racial profiling is allowed to continue within the ranks of law enforcement, this will continue to be the case. Moreover, all those people crossing our southern border into our country are not an invading hostile army such as the likes of Donald Trump have implied. The ugly truth is that they are economic and war refugees from Mexico and Central America. The war refugees are escaping the civil wars being waged by the drug cartels of Central America and Southern Mexico – wars that are being fomented by America’s very own CIA. The economic refugees come here looking for work – work that is simply unavailable in their former countries.

 

Also, there is a huge wage disparity between those countries and the US. According to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, a factory worker in Mexico has an average take-home pay of about $55.00 per month USD (as of 2018). A person in the US working full time at a minimum wage job takes home approximately $640.00 monthly after taxes (which is why the current US minimum wage must be increased). So these “illegal” immigrants, as they’re called by all the right-wingers (many of whom identify as being Christian) see immigrant take-home pay increase ten or 11 times just by relocating to America. Is it any wonder they are coming to America in droves? If the US used its foreign aid that it so freely distributes to create enough new jobs down there in Mexico or Guatemala, etc., those people wouldn’t have to come to the US looking for work. Instead, US taxpayers spent $35 billion last year alone on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a plane America does not need.

 

Can I go on? Does America oppress the “fatherless”? All one has to do is visit America’s jails and prisons. Eight out of every ten people who are incarcerated either grew up without a dad, or are estranged from their fathers – often because of prior abuse. It’s a cycle that can often get passed down from one generation to another, a cycle that runs in families. Does America “oppress the widow”? Is there evidence of this ever occurring? All over America we see boarded up old houses in blighted neighborhoods, houses that people used to live in. But some smooth-talking mortgage broker came along one day and talked the homeowner, who was usually elderly and minimally educated, into taking out a new mortgage on a home that was decades old and sometimes in need of repair, only to have the homeowners fall behind on the payments, and they ultimately found themselves homeless.

 

For another example, visit any nursing home in America, and you will find multitudes of elderly people who have been long forgotten by their families. In many cases, they have outlived everyone they ever knew and loved. America’s elderly have become a disposable people just like America’s workers, its former middle class. Is God pleased with this? On the contrary, He is deeply offended! God is filled with rage against humans who oppress other humans for profit. Can I get an AMEN, y’all?

 

What about “shedding innocent blood?” Does America currently, or has America ever, shed innocent blood? For me, a guy who genuinely loves his country but despises and fears his government, the answer is hard to look at and still more difficult to receive, but look I must. America has shed innocent blood in the form of millions of civilian casualties in the two Iraq wars, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Vietnam, Korea and both world wars. But there is more – America has shed innocent blood right here at home. We have killed innocent men on death row, men who were not guilty of their crimes, but who were executed because they were presumed guilty because they were African-American. So many more Blacks have been executed in lynchings since the end of the US Civil War that the country has lost count. So yes, most definitely, America has shed much innocent blood.

 

Does anyone seriously believe that God has not noticed, or that He was looking the other way at the time? What about that last one? Have we “followed other gods to our own harm”? This is evidently talking about addictions, although this can have to do with substance abuse just as easily as it could addiction to a spouse, sports hero, career, or getting a bigger house whether you needed one or not, the latest computer and electronic gear, yet another new car that you really didn’t need, always wearing the latest fashions, and so on. Try unplugging from the world. Disconnect from your cable TV and save money, watch Christian stuff on the Internet instead (no, not “Christian TV”), and become a minimalist. Despise materialism, shun worldly wealth and those who crave it. ‘Go green’ or live ‘off the grid’. Do something! Please don’t just sit there playing your pointless video games. Sorry if that offended anyone, but that still needed to be said. And now I’ll conclude this message, beginning at verse 8.

 

But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come before me and stand in this house, which bears my name, and say ‘we are safe’ – safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!’, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 7, verses 8-11) How are we trusting in deceptive words that are worthless, you ask? What is God talking about here to each of us through the prophet Jeremiah? I strongly believe this has a double meaning. In one sense, God is telling us our country’s leaders can no longer be trusted because they have their own interests at heart instead of, or ahead of, “we the people”.

 

Undoubtedly this is one point I need not explain to anyone. But why aren’t we more outraged about all the waste and corruption in Washington? To me, if we are not opposing it then we are condoning this criminal behavior of our nations leadership. That makes us accomplices, and under no circumstances do I ever want to be seen that way by God. If this were to ever occur, that would be the day I would begin to pray in vain. Since I “work out my own salvation with fear and trembling”, I could never in my right mind go there or do that anyway.

 

But what is the second part of the meaning? This time, instead of talking about political and corporate leadership, God is speaking to us through the Prophet about the leadership within our churches. The Bible says, “Judgment begins in the house of the Lord”. That’s us, people. It’s talking about us. Those who teach falsely and know it, and there are a dismaying number of “preachers” who do, will pay the ultimate penalty in eternity. Will we continue to commit sin after sin, hop from one affair to another, mating like rabbits as we lie, cheat and steal and think we got away with it because nobody saw us?

 

Those who do any of those things are only kidding themselves. Have our churches become a den of robbers? As long as certain preachers continue to demand 10% of everyone’s income, whether they can afford it or not, then the answer is yes. The money-changers have once again occupied the temple, and Jesus will soon return to throw them out again. Apparently these corrupt religious people didn’t learn their lesson the last time our Lord administered it 2,000 years ago. “But I have been watching, says the Lord”!

 

I prophesy right here and now to each and every one of you – God sees all of what I have just written about. He is totally fed up with everything, as am I, and judgment is coming to America and the rest of the world as a result. As I write this in the late summer of 2020, the Judgment will be forthcoming, mark my words. I can’t say when because I have not been given that much information. But I can say with certainty that hard times are coming to America. They will arrive in the forms of natural disasters, economic crashes, disease and pestilence, and numerous wars that will kill about three fifths of the global population (see Revelation 9, verses 13-16). The global wars that America has been waging for decades will come home to roost. Let’s just hope that those inside the Beltway in Washington will be the most affected by all these things, instead of the majority of the country’s population.

Mumbling In the Sanctuary, and the Truth of It All

Clarifying Speaking in Tongues (part 2)

(1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 18-40)

In last week’s lesson we managed to get through the first portion of First Corinthians 14, and so today I will take up where I left off. You will recall my pointing out certain “teachings” within certain denominations, sects and “Christian” cults regarding ‘speaking in tongues’ that are incorrectly being taught and disseminated within and (to a lesser extent) outside of the greater Christian church. Today, I will continue to use the apostle Paul’s own words, so help me God, to instruct you all as to what is and is not considered to be an orderly and reverent worship of Christ as the Son of God. This includes the original and correct definitions of two of the Spiritual gifts. I will begin at verse 18.

“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written: ‘Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord’. Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everybody speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 18-25)

To put this in a nutshell (if that’s even possible with Paul’s writings), churches are not going to get any new converts or believers by speaking in tongues. They will gain new converts by prophesying first and foremost, which means to accurately and decisively declare the Word of God. But, we can gain new believers and additional saved souls by speaking in the native language of those who are listening. A non-believer or first-time visitor will be able to clearly see and hear the Spirit of the Lord, with the Spirit being manifested in any one of a number of different ways according to the “gifts of the Spirit” that we went over last week. On the other hand, I have actually been in churches where people stood up and prayed in tongues all at once, with no one there to interpret, assuming that what they were saying actually made some sense in another language. I thought it was rather strange that up to several dozen people or more would be speaking in tongues all at the same time as if they were competing with each other in some childish game of spiritual leapfrog. This is nowhere near what the Bible says about speaking in tongues!

Needless to say, I did not go back to any of those churches, and if you stumble onto one of them in your search for a church home, don’t be shy about getting out of there at your earliest opportunity. Many of these speak-only-in-tongues-and-nothing-else churches, upon closer examination, turn out to be cults. I have had the misfortune of learning this the hard way, because it was just such a church that broke up my first marriage. So now you have been warned so you don’t make the same mistakes I made all those decades ago.

It is quite apparent from Paul’s writing in these few verses of chapter 14 that the Church has had a problem with these kind of denominations almost from the start. It’s just that Paul’s words so closely parallel my own experience with many of these so-called “charismatic” churches during my 28 years as a born-again Christian. The Word of God is not something to be taken lightly or trivialized over. The Bible is not just another book sold at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Each and every word within it is sacred, holy and sanctified and must be taken very seriously.

Therefore I say that any teaching of the Bible that is inaccurate or misleading – assuming that the incorrect teaching is being done unknowingly – is a very serious matter indeed. And anyone who teaches the Bible in such a premeditated way so as to control and manipulate people, such as in a cult pretending to be a church – and unfortunately there are a disconcerting number of those as well – will be found guilty of apostasy at best, or blasphemy of the Holy Spirit at worst, when it comes their time to stand before the Throne of Judgment. And Jesus said that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – where someone deliberately defames God or twists and perverts the Bible’s teachings in such a way as to enrich themselves or to do damage within the church, or who refuses to believe that Jesus was the Son of God – these are the only sins that cannot be forgiven. And if Jesus said it, you had better believe it, because He cannot lie. I will now continue at verse 26.

“What shall we say then, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the Church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 26 thru 33)

It is clear from this quotation that the apostle Paul is giving the early church an example of what a church service should look like and how it should proceed. Everyone is to use the Spiritual gift that God gave them to the best of their ability, and as they feel led by the Spirit. If someone is speaking in tongues, they should do so quietly to themselves unless there is another there to interpret. Prophecy, or proclaiming the Word of God as it applies at that moment in time, can be done without 2nd party interpretation, but praying in tongues aloud cannot, nor should it ever be done in a disruptive or distracting manner.

The next two verses the apostle Paul mentions that, in his opinion, women should be silent in the church, with the conducting of the service being the exclusive domain of the men. First, let us keep in mind that these words were written nearly 2,000 years ago, and the world back then was a very different place – downright primitive by today’s standards, as were many of the people. But let’s also keep in mind that part of the message of the Gospel of Christ was that all humankind enjoyed unconditional equality in the sight of God. Jesus ministered to, healed and cured men and women alike, as it is well documented throughout all four gospels. So, I am going to respectfully (in God’s sight) decline to cover these two verses in this lesson on the basis that I, another follower of Jesus, do not share Paul’s opinion on this subject.

I try to treat both genders equally as I live my daily life so that I might better emulate Christ who has saved my soul and who rules my life. Gender equality is more than an idealistic goal. It’s scriptural, as it is written: “You are all sons/daughters of Christ through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3, verses 26-29). And now I will finish up this lesson with the final few verses of chapter 14.

“Did the Word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, then he himself will be ignored. Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 37-40)

So, Paul the apostle was saying that what he was writing is the truth because he was led by the Spirit as he wrote his letters to the Corinthians, the Romans, Galatians and others. Anyone who refuses to go along with the order of worship as Paul has explained it will be ignored if they try to speak out of turn or otherwise unduly dominate the discussion within the service. “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”. We are all adults and so we should know what it means to be fitting and orderly in a service. And we should always do so out of a reverence for God that is highlighted by a sense of awe and worship. But there is one more important thing to consider. We don’t have to be in a church to pray to God, or to praise him, or to worship him. We as believers and followers of Jesus Christ can praise, worship or pray to him anytime and anywhere. To be at worship and to be giving God praise is the very essence of a Spirit-filled worship service, and it’s a frame of mind that we should try to be in every day. So let’s all work on this starting today, and use what we learn as we grow to live a better life for Jesus.

The Forced Resignation of Jerry Falwell, Jr. Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg When It Comes to Malfeasance In the Ministry

My Prophecy Against Phony Churches

and Their False Teachings

by Minister Paul J. Bern

This past week on the Lame Stream Media, I noticed that Jerry Falwell, Jr., son of the TV evangelist Jerry Falwell, was forced to resign his position as head of Liberty University in South Carolina after evidently getting caught up in a bisexual love triangle with his wife and another younger man. You probably know by now that this little incident is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to corruption in the ministry in modern Christian churches of today. Having written a Sunday message about financial corruption in government and the churches just a few months ago, I will skip over that for now. Today, I want to alert everyone who reads this to be aware of certain other teachings that are being taught in some churches as being factual and prophetic when in fact they are neither. These three erroneous teachings, in no particular order, are the ‘prosperity gospel’, the “pre-tribulation rapture”, and tithing”. Allow me a little of your time to sort through these because this is stuff that people, be they Christian or otherwise, need to be made aware of. Otherwise one may find themselves on the wrong road, forcing them to back-track. I cannot stand idly by and allow this to occur, so here we go.

First and foremost, in the “prosperity gospel”, also known as the “Word of Faith,” the believer is told to use God, whereas the truth of biblical Christianity is just the opposite – God uses the believer. Word of Faith, or ‘prosperity theology’, sees the Holy Spirit as a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wills. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a Person who enables the believer to do God’s will. The prosperity gospel movement closely resembles some of the destructive greed sects that infiltrated the early church. Paul and the other apostles were not accommodating to or conciliatory with the false teachers who propagated such heresy. They identified them as dangerous false teachers and urged Christians to avoid them. The pursuit of wealth is a dangerous path for Christians and one which God warns about: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1st Timothy 6:10). If riches were a reasonable goal for the godly, Jesus would have pursued it. But He did not, preferring instead to have no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20), and teaching His disciples to do the same. Let’s also not forget that the only disciple concerned with wealth was Judas, and we all know what happened to him.

James chapter 4, verses 13-15 clearly contradicts the prosperity gospel: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Far from speaking things into existence in the future, we do not even know what tomorrow will bring or even whether we will be alive. Instead of stressing the importance of wealth, the Bible warns against pursuing it. Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In sharp contrast to the Word of Faith emphasis on gaining money and possessions in this life, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The irreconcilable contradictions between prosperity teaching and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is best summed up in the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

The second of the 3 false teachings is the so-called “pre-tribulation rapture”, which is based on the rapture of the Church as written in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 15-18, among other places. In this passage of Scripture, the Lord returns for His people, his Church, and for His Bride, which are one and the same. The ‘rapture’, as it’s called, coincides with the Great Tribulation as foretold in the books of Revelation, Daniel, Zechariah and others in the old and new testaments. The reign of the Antichrist, as foretold in Daniel chapter 12, will last for exactly three and a half years.

But in the very next sentence it says that prior to that, there will be a period of 1,335 days (about 3.6 years) of turmoil upon the earth, with wars, plagues, pestilences and much death being inflicted on humankind. It is this period of time that signifies the first part of the Great Tribulation (as prophesied in Matthew chapter 24 and Luke chapter 21), that is in question by these “pre-tribulation” believers. The “pre-tribulation” rapture simply says that all followers of Christ will be taken up at the very beginning of the combined 7-year tribulation period (that is, the 1,335 days plus the 3.5-year reign of the Antichrist just before Jesus’ return).

But this implies that Christians – particularly American Christians – will (allegedly) not have to endure any of the Great Tribulation period. Brothers and sisters, nothing could be further from the truth! The Bible clearly states in Revelation 13, verses 6-7, “He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander His name and His dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.” “He” in this passage refers to the Antichrist, and he clearly will wage war against Christianity – and the Antichrist will win up until his end comes, which it most certainly will.

Any Christian – including Catholic, Protestant and Jewish Christians – who think they will escape persecution in the terrible times soon to come is ill-informed and dangerously naive. If any US resident who is in the top 2% income bracket is reading this thinks they can stay safely barricaded in their gated and walled communities during the time of the Great Tribulation – which according to prophecy will likely begin any time now – I’m sorry but you are all sadly mistaken. I realize I’m not going to be winning any popularity contests (especially here in the US) for making that statement, but it is in your own best interests that the truth be told.

The rule of the Antichrist will be global, meaning he’ll be running the North American continent just like everywhere else. And yes indeed, some American Christians are going to wind up getting killed for refusing to worship the image of the Antichrist or take his mark. I fully expect to be one of these fortunate individuals. Yes, I wrote “fortunate” out of due deference to the apostle James, who wrote: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promise to those who love him.” (James chapter 1 verse 12) Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for their righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5, verses 11-12) So I tell you boldly that we are not to fear persecution when it comes, and it is surely coming! Instead, the Bible commands us to embrace it.

The last thing I need to mention here is ‘titheing’. The word ‘titheing’ has its roots all the way back in the Old Testament to the books of Moses, in this case to Leviticus – it can also be found elsewhere too, but for the sake of brevity let me side-step that for now. The definition of titheing is the giving of 10% of one’s net worth, or in ancient times one’s crops or livestock, to the Lord. This had two purposes. The first and most important was as an atonement for sin, and the second was as a donation towards the upkeep of the Temple in Jerusalem as well as to the High Priests for their sustenance. But that was the Old Law, or Law of Moses as it is still called in synagogues to this very day. Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice which fulfilled Levitical law, which says there must be shedding of blood for our sins. Sorry if that seems too graphic for some people, but I didn’t write any part of the Bible, I’m only a messenger.

But on Resurrection Sunday when Jesus rose from the grave to live forever and to be seated eternally at his Father’s right hand, the New Testament, or law of Christ, not only supplanted but entirely replaced the Law of Moses. A new deal took effect – a fresh covenant. Jesus Christ is the new sacrifice, He is the new covenant and the fulfillment of the old one – all at the same time. Only Jesus can do that. What does the Bible tell us about this? “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who are baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3, verses 26-29)

OK, so if we are all heirs due to the sacrifice of Christ, then we are also all equals, am I right? At the very least, we would be Jewish by adoption in the eyes of God, but not so in the eyes of men. So, it no longer matters how much we put into the offering basket, because Jesus has paid the price for us all. This teaching about tithing is cut from the same cloth as the ‘pre-tribulation rapture’ and the ‘prosperity gospel’. Virtually all of the modern churches are teaching the Old Testament concept of tithing, the giving of 10% of the profits, or of one’s income, for the support of the Temple at Jerusalem and all the Levitical priests.

Today in most churches, its members are still expected to “tithe” 10% of their income because the pastors haven’t read their Bibles in so long they have forgotten what’s in it. Sacrifice can also be done in far more ways than merely giving money. The apostle Paul wrote something that I think is very timely concerning the modern Christian church and its “teachings” about titheing. “If the willingness is there”, Paul wrote, “the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” And again it is written, “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth’, he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21, verses 1-4)

Notice that this is exactly the opposite of what most of the modern evangelical/Christian churches are teaching, especially those with a strong television presence. Instead of sending our money to the TV evangelists, donate it to your own churches where you congregate, or to the charity of your choice. Give what you can to others first, and to the church second, according to your ability. “I desire mercy”, Jesus said, “not sacrifice”. The size of your offering does not matter. Real Christians will not judge your offering. Only the bogus ones will size you up. The one true God won’t judge your offering either.

Mischief In the Sanctuary; Why Churches Who “Speak In Tongues” Are Getting It All Wrong

Settling the Controversy, and Dispelling the Myths, of ‘Speaking in Tongues’ In Church and In Prayer

(1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 1-17)

 

 

In this week’s lesson we will begin the 14th chapter of First Corinthians which I will break up into 2 parts for the sake of brevity. There is considerable confusion within the Christian church as a whole regarding the issue of speaking and praying in tongues. Some believe speaking in tongues is evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and this is essentially true. But there is an erroneous teaching that presents speaking in tongues as the primary – or worse yet the only – evidence of being a ‘born again Christian’. As you are about to read, this teaching is incorrect and misleading because it is based on verses of Scripture being taken out of context. In a worst case scenario, it drives away new believers who mistakenly think that since they do not have the gift of speaking in tongues, then they must be falling short when it comes to their level of faith. This kind of teaching is damaging and ultimately destructive to the propagation of the Gospel. That’s why I stand against it. Let’s now read what the apostle Paul wrote about it, beginning at verse 1.

 

 

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 1-5)

 

 

In verse 1, the first five words are written in the form of a command to the first century Corinthian church, and that command is equally applicable today as it was when Paul the apostle wrote these words nearly 2,000 years ago. The words “follow the way of love” refer to the two Great Commandments Jesus gave in the 4 gospels: “Love the Lord your God with all your might, with all your soul, with all your heart and with all your strength. And the second command is like it; love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments rest all the law and the prophets.” This is ‘commandment number one’ for not only the church, but for the entire world.

 

 

The apostle Paul is also stating that it is not possible to truly serve God through our relationship with Christ unless we first practice and obey these first two crucial commandments. Anyone who does not obey them rejects Christ, and by extension God. Only after that does Paul write, “eagerly desire Spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy”. This intense desire for Spiritual gifts is evidence of our devotion and loyalty to Christ and to the saving power of his Blood. Paul then goes on to explain why he believes prophecy to be the most important Spiritual gift.

 

 

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit…. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues…..” In this verse of scripture Paul makes it abundantly clear that, while all gifts of the Spirit have their place and their importance, the gift of prophecy trumps speaking in tongues (and all the other gifts), and therefore gets precedence within the true Church. Paul then continues with this train of thought beginning at verse 6.

 

 

Now brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager to have Spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 6-12)

 

 

As you can clearly see here, the apostle Paul is stating emphatically that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about exercising the Spiritual gifts, and especially that of speaking in tongues. Abruptly speaking in tongues in the middle of a service, for example, would be a distraction at best and an interruption at worst, ruining the spirit of the moment during the act of worship. Not only is there a time and a place for it, it would be out of place for someone who does not have the gift of speaking in tongues to attempt to imitate those who do. If you see others that have this gift and realize that you do not, there is no shame in this at all, and let no one tell you otherwise! No one can rightfully fault you for your silence in that case.

 

 

Silence in church can be a kind of reverence, provided that our thoughts are directed towards Jesus. God simply has a different place for you within the Bride of Christ, and a different gift that suits you best. Let go and let God. Allow the gifts of the Spirit to come to you through prayer, persistence and faithfulness, and do not attempt to blindly pursue it on your own. The Holy Spirit will lead you down the correct path, so do not concern yourselves with that. Paul then continues in verse 13.

 

 

For this reason anyone who speaks with a tongue should pray that he interpret what he says. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 13-17)

 

 

Although I can and do pray in tongues, it is not my main spiritual gift and it’s not something I do on a daily basis. When I do I am usually in church and I pray quietly to myself, but if I am in public and alone, such as walking down a street or waiting for a bus or subway, I also sometimes pray in tongues when the Spirit moves me to do so. I would not pray out loud with others present unless I can interpret what I am saying (and I often can’t), otherwise bystanders on the street or other folks in church would be mystified and bewildered at best. There is such a thing as one person in church being able to interpret what another is saying in tongues, but I have only seen one such church where this gift of the Spirit was present in over 27 years of being a born again Christian.

 

 

Do not allow the topic of speaking and praying in tongues to distract you in your walk with Christ. Jesus is the Savior and kinsman redeemer of all humankind and it is by His blood that we are saved – that and grace, which is a separate topic. Continue to make sure He is the center of your life and the focus of your faith. And when this is all over some day, we will be united in heaven with Him forever and ever with one language, the elegant language of praise in Spirit and in Truth. So be sure and praise Him and be thankful every day, and next week we’ll cover the rest of 1st Corinthians 14.

Of Right Wing Nuts, Illiterate Bible Scholars, and What the Real Bible Actually Says

The ‘Christian Right’ Would Disagree With Me If I Told Them What Was Really In the Bible

by Minister Paul J. Bern

 

I met someone this past week who insisted that the King James Bible is the only legitimate version available. As far as he was concerned, all other Bible versions currently in print, including my New International Version and my New Living Translation Bible, were “not from God”. I don’t care to elaborate on this much except to say that I don’t agree with that at all. But I’m using this example to make the point that there are a lot of “conservative” right-wing nuts like that guy who have some views about the Bible and Christianity that are totally contrary to the Scriptures. If indeed these people’s beliefs are inconsistent with Scripture, then the question becomes – why do religious extremists on the right (and Christianity has them just like the Muslims do) get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support (such as endless wars)?

 

 

The answer is simple: Conservatives have not read the Bible. Of the ones who do, an overwhelming number of “Christians” are astonishingly illiterate when it comes to understanding the Bible. On hot-button social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, Biblical passages are invoked without any real understanding of the context or true meaning. What America needs is Christianity without the dogma, and faith without the spiritual pollution of conservative politics. Nondenominational Christianity with the commandments of Jesus Christ being first and foremost, viewed from a liberal or leftist perspective, would be far closer to what Jesus originally taught than the ultra-conservative slant being espoused all over the right-wing media today. That’s why it’s vital as we live in these last days to help the helpless whenever possible. In so doing, we become ambassadors for Christ while living our lives in complete accordance with God’s will.

 

 

It’s surprising how little Christians know of what is still the world’s most popular book. The political Right have successfully re-branded liberals who gave away free health care, higher education, and were in favor of redistributing wealth into a white-skinned-only, trickle-down, union-busting conservatives. So how much do secular Americans know of the Book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true (like I do)? Surveys that I pulled up on the Internet show that 60 percent of Christians can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A 2013 Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse.

 

 

So, if Americans get an ‘F’ in the basic fundamentals of the Bible, what hope do they have in knowing what Jesus would say about labor unions, taxes on the rich, universal health care, and food stamps? It becomes easy to spread a lie when no one knows what the truth is. That’s why the Right has successfully re-branded liberals who gave away free healthcare and were pro-redistributing wealth into a white-skinned-only, trickle-down, union-busting conservative.

 

 

The truth, whether conservatives like it or not, is not only that Jesus was a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors – except when He threw the money changers out of the Temple in Matthew 21, verses 12-13 – but when one reads down a couple more chapters in any of the 4 Gospels, it was the religious conservatives who had Jesus killed. The fact that He rose again on the morning of the third day tells us everything we need to know about Jesus’ view of so-called “conservatives”. The American conservative establishment, however, have morphed Jesus into a muscular, masculine he-man warrior, in much the same way the Nazis did with their “Aryan nation”, as a means of combating “terrorism”, which has become a synonym for American world domination.

 

 

Knowing the Bible requires a contextual understanding of authorship, history and interpretation. For instance, when Republicans were justifying their cuts to the food stamp program back in 2013, they quoted the 2nd book of Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” One poll showed that more than 90 percent of Christians believe this New Testament quote is attributed to Jesus. It’s not! This was taken from a letter written by the apostle Paul to his church in Thessalonica back in the 1st century AD. Paul wrote to this specific congregation to remind them that there were too many people in the congregation that were freeloading off that church. Only a few were doing all the work and making the majority of the financial contributions, and everybody else was just hanging around for the free food. What Paul did say is that anyone too lazy to contribute anything shouldn’t expect anything at dinner time, and that’s just common sense.

 

 

What often comes as a surprise to your average Sunday wine-and-cracker Christian is the New Testament did not fall from the sky the day Jesus ascended to Heaven. The New Testament is a collection of writings, 27 in total, of which 12 are credited to the authorship of the apostle Paul, four to the Gospels (Luke also wrote Acts), and the balance with the remaining apostles. What we do know about Jesus, at least according to the respective gospels, is that Jesus’ sentiments closely echoed the social and economic policies of the political left in the 21st century. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount read like the mission statement for the ministry: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is kingdom of heaven,” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called ‘Sons of the living God’.” Jesus also said, “Judge not, or else you shall be judged, for you who pass judgment do the same things yourselves”, and “Sell what you have and give it to the poor” (I’m paraphrasing here). So, when Republicans accused president Obama of being a Black socialist who wants to redistribute the wealth, they were actually thinking of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Biblical illiteracy is what has allowed political conservatives to get away with shaping Jesus into their image. That’s why politicians on the right can get away with saying ‘the Lord commands’ that our healthcare, prisons, schools, retirement, transport, and all the rest should be run by corporations for profit. When the Christian Right believes it’s channeling Jesus when they say ‘it’s immoral for government to tax billionaires to help pay for healthcare, education and the poor’, they’re actually channeling atheism. When Bill O’Reilly claimed the poor are immoral and lazy, that’s not Jesus, it’s atheism! The price this country has paid for Biblical illiteracy is measured by how far we’ve moved toward atheism’s “utopia”. In the past three decades.

 

 

We’ve slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy, destroyed labor unions, deregulated financial markets, eroded public safety nets, and committed to one globalist corporate free-trade agreement after another. With the far-right, Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United, the flow of billions of dollars from anonymous donors to the most reliable voting bloc of the Republican Party — the Christian Right — will continue to perpetuate the Biblical incompatible, anti-government, pro-deregulation-of-business, anti-healthcare-for-all American version of Christianity, and I for one have had more than enough.

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!

Free excerpt from, “The Social Gospel Teaching Series Vol. 2: the Book of Acts”

This book is now available in softback, digital and audio format on Amazon from this link. Get the softback from my website for 50% off from this link.

The Writings of the Apostle Luke Part 2: the Book of Acts

by Minister Paul J. Bern

(Acts chapter 1, verses 1-11)

Last week we concluded Part One of this series of Biblical teachings as written by the apostle Luke, none other than the Gospel according to Luke. This week we will commence Part Two with an exhaustive study on the Book of Acts. This is one of the most important books in the Bible because it chronicles everything that happened once Jesus had ascended into Heaven. The entire history of the early church is contained in these 28 chapters, which were written somewhere around 50-65 AD, since Luke died for his faith and was martyred in approximately 75 AD. No one knows the exact year of Luke’s martyrdom to the best of my knowledge, but the fact that Luke gave his life for Christ’s memory commands my respect; and so let that command the respect of us all. With that in mind, let’s begin at verse 1 of chapter 1, and I quote:

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote all about what Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a total of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 1, verses 1-5)

When we think back to the very first Bible study on the writings of the apostle Luke I published online a little over a year ago, you will recall I pointed out that the gospel of Luke was comprised of a letter to Theophilus, an individual of apparent nobility about whom little else is known. The fact that Luke’s gospel and the Book of Acts start out in exactly the same way proves fairly conclusively that the two books have the same author. Notice the very next thing Luke points out is that Christ was alive, and had in point of fact literally risen from the grave after being there for three full days. This has not happened before or since in all of human history, proving even more conclusively that Christ Jesus was in fact the Son of God. Moreover, Jesus stayed behind for a total of 40 days after his resurrection just so there could be no misunderstanding about who this man truly was.

As part of his final instructions, our Lord and Savior told the Eleven, together with all the others, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised”. This gift, as our Risen Savior said in the very next sentence, was that of the Holy Spirit, or simply the risen Spirit of our departed Lord, who is now seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding on behalf of all who believe, so that our souls may all be saved after our bodies wear out and die. Those who refused to believe will not be included in those numbers. Let that sink in for a minute. I mean, this isn’t just my opinion, that fact is written all through the Bible (see Psalm 37: 39-40; Isaiah 25: 9; Matthew 1: 21; Acts 16: 31; Ephesians 2: 8; Hebrews 7: 25). I encourage each of you to read those verses in your Bibles, or pull them up on the Internet if you don’t own or can’t afford to buy a Bible. After doing so, let’s conclude this week’s Bible study starting at verse 6.

So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he had said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee’, they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way in which you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1, verses 6-11)

As the apostle Luke demonstrates, the apostles were still thinking very much in human terms rather than in the Spirit of Christ. After all, their question was based on what we would call Old Testament theology today. Rather than directly answering their questions about Israel’s future at that time – since Christ had already told the apostles all about Israel’s fate back in Luke chapter 21 – our Savior pointedly told the apostles that the times and dates they asked about were on a need-to-know basis, and that none of them needed to know. That, by extension, includes ourselves. So if anybody puts a video up on You Tube, or if some TV preacher comes right out and says that they know the day of the return of the Lord, do not listen to those people! Have nothing whatsoever to do with any such self-appointed “prophet” or “apostle”. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” The phony prophets I just mentioned derive their power from their intellects and their personalities, which are often highly practiced – you know, like a sales pitch. It is derived from the world around us. But the Holy Spirit of the risen Lord and Savior is derived from Almighty God. That’s why the nature of the Holy Spirit is so radically different than that of the world.

“….you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is a process that is still going on 2,000 years later. Never in the entire history of humankind has one single man left such a gigantic legacy! I myself, in my humble little way as I try to emulate my Savior, try to reach as many people as I can with the Gospel of Christ via the Internet. Though I am disabled and work primarily from home, particularly since I don’t currently own a car, I still try and reach as many as I can with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

After he had said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Just as Jesus rose from his borrowed grave supernaturally, so he rose up from the earth until he was out of sight. I can barely imagine the perplexity the apostles must have felt as they watched Jesus slowly lifting up and out of sight. There is no way of knowing how Christ did that with no visible means to do so, but the very next sentence ties it all together very nicely, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way in which you have seen him go into heaven.” Unlike today’s space program, Jesus needed no count-down nor a launch pad, nor any fanfare. He simply ascended into heaven in a matter-of-fact way, but his return will be accompanied by some pretty dramatic telltale signs.

Those signs are all around us today. All we have to do is look. Earthquake activity is at an all-time high, climate change poses a genuine threat to the long-term viability of humankind in general – including how and where we can grow our food and livestock. Much of the world today is a political and economic powder keg, with economic inequality at an all-time high. Meanwhile, our debt-based, predatory capitalist economic system has pretty much run its course because it is running out of debt it can generate, combined with the encroachment of “cryptocurrencies” on to its territory. The world as we have known it at least since we’ve been alive is in a state of flux, and where it stops to rest is anyone’s guess. It is for these reasons and more that it is ever more important to stay grounded in the Word of God. And next week we’ll move on to part 2 of Acts chapter 1.

The Resurrection of Christ: Did It Happen or Not? (part 1 of 2)

The Apostle Paul’s Teachings About the Resurrection of Christ (part 1)

(1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 20-33)

book cover volume 3
This posting is taken from this book, of which I am the author. To get a copy, visit authorrevpauljbern.com Enjoy!

During last week’s study of the first 19 verses of First Corinthians chapter 15, we left off where the apostle Paul was reminding the early Church of the truthfulness and authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the morning of the third day after he was crucified. You will recall that Paul asked pointedly how anyone could not believe in Christ’s resurrection, followed by his emphatic statement that those Christians who don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection believe in vain, and they will thus die in their sins, with their souls unable to be saved. I’d say that’s pretty blunt and direct, wouldn’t you? Frankly, I couldn’t agree more on this point. Any ‘Christian’ who doesn’t believe in a personal, 1-on-1 relationship with Jesus Christ, and that Jesus was crucified, died on a cross, only to be raised from the dead 3 days later, is wasting their time attending church on Sunday mornings. They should stay home and wax their vehicles instead. And now I will take up Paul’s train of thought where he left off as he wrote it, beginning in verse 20.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn; Christ, the first-fruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him. Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he has ‘put everything under His feet’. Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When He has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1st Corinthians chapter 15, verses 20 thru 28)

When Paul called Christ “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep”, he was referring to an ancient tradition of Judaism that is based on the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The ‘festival of first fruits’ involved the farmers and livestock herders bringing one tenth of their initial harvest or their mature livestock to the temple as a living sacrifice to be given unto God for atonement for their sins. And so Jesus was, in effect, the first-fruits offering for all of humankind. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ was a pure atonement offering made unto God consisting of Christ himself as a living sacrifice for sin. In the course of making this offering, Jesus became the new covenant between God and humankind and the new sacrificial sin offering, taking the place of the old, which was the law of Moses.

Unfortunately, there pervades a teaching of sorts within the modern churches that says – quite presumptuously – that both laws are in effect, and that although Christ died and was resurrected on the third day and so saved us from our sins, we are still obligated to give a tenth of what we earn, or own, or a combination of the two, at every service. This is NOT what the Bible says at all, and if those within the church who are demanding 10% of everyone’s wages would bother to read it, they would see that they are seriously in error. Unfortunately for the greater Church, the ones who are disseminating this wrong teaching are the same “ministers” who have turned their houses of worship into profitable enterprises. Such pastors and evangelists, if they do not repent of this, are not saved by the blood of Christ like they think they are. At the end of their lives, their expectation of eternal reward because their churches were “successful” will turn to terror when they learn their fate. And then it will be too late. How tragic for them. If only they would have read their Bibles once in a while instead of preaching about ‘tithing’, or abortion, or homosexuality to the exclusion of nearly everything else, their error would then become apparent to them. And yes, that’s still another prophecy.

The tithe, as the Word calls it, was offered as the sacrifices that were made on the feast days that God directed the ancient Israelite’s to celebrate, such as Passover, first fruits, and the Feast of Tabernacles, among others. They were also offered on the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week according to the book of Genesis. Interestingly enough, that would mean we are supposed to be going to church on Saturdays instead of Sunday as we do now, if our calendar were to be strictly followed by the modern church. Sacrifices on the feast days instituted in the Law of Moses were mandatory. However, it is doubtful that sacrifices had to be made by every single person at every Sabbath since there were approximately one million Israelite’s encamped in the Sinai desert at its high point before they were given the land of Canaan. In that case, there would still be sacrifices waiting to be offered from the previous Sabbath by the time of the following one, making the offering of so many sacrifices impractical. But the festivals and holy days celebrated from the time of Moses up until now were many days in length, enabling ample time to be made for so many sacrifices.

But the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ changed all that when He made himself the new atonement, the everlasting sacrifice and the propitiation for the numerous sins of all humankind. Jesus is the embodiment of the new covenant, the New Testament and the new offering for us all. So there is no more need to bring a sacrifice to the altar – Jesus has already offered up Himself. To teach and preach that the 10% sacrificial offering must continue to be made brings into question the very reason for Christ’s death and resurrection. How many times must He shed his blood for us all? Without a doubt, once was enough.

So the claim being made by some modern churches that all who congregate must tithe 10% of what they make every single week is not only untrue and unnecessary, it also comes across as a thinly disguised grab for funds by the pastor and senior leadership. This would presumably be for the enrichment of those “in charge”, making God and the monthly electric bill to be little more than afterthoughts. Since only a fraction of the Sunday offerings at churches throughout North America are actually allocated for charitable purposes – with most of the remainder spent on “administrative” expenses like salaries – what we have are an entire host of houses of worship posing as non-profits or as charities that are actually being run like businesses. You know, just like the money-changers in the Temple who were physically removed by Christ himself?

Of course, the flip side of this coin is that this does not excuse us from giving to the church of our choice. Giving at least a little something each week is required for the church to stay in operation. Only those who are unemployed, disabled, or retired for any reason would be exempt from this tradition. The churches have rent or a mortgage to pay, the power bill, and garbage pickup, etc, plus sufficient salaries so the pastor and his/her family may be reasonably provided for, and it all costs money. But as it was in the days when Jesus walked the earth, so it is today with organized religion, as Jesus said when He threw the money-changers out of the temple, “You have taken my Father’s house and turned it into a den of robbers.” That rebuke from Jesus himself still holds true today.

So take my advice, which is based on my own previous experiences with these so-called “churches”. If when visiting a church, or after having joined a church, you hear preaching and teaching about how everyone must give 10% of their earnings each and every week, get out of there at the first opportunity and go find a better church, preferably one whose teachings are grounded in the Word as it is written, rather than those which are taught by men for men. I will now continue at verse 29.

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day – I mean that, brothers – just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’. Do not be mislead: Bad company corrupts good character. Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God – I say this to your shame.” (1st Corinthians 15, verses 29-34)

To clarify this passage of scripture, there was within the early church a practice of being baptized in the place of dead relatives and other loved ones who had died having not had an opportunity to be baptized and to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. The idea behind this was to make sure that all those with whom we had gone through life’s journey would not be condemned to hell, and that we would someday see our loved ones again when we all get to heaven together. To the best of my knowledge, only the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches still practice this ancient tradition, and then only in the forms of having a service, or a “mass” for the dead, such as on the celebration of All Saint’s Day every fall by those denominations.

Paul the apostle continued by making the point that true believers should be adhering to the Word of God as they have read and learned it, and he is telling them in blunt terms that they needed to stop listening to false doctrines being taught by phony “teachers” of the Bible. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ, as I pointed out earlier, are completely sufficient for the salvation and redemption of humankind. To not believe in the resurrection of Christ, therefore, is heretical and blasphemous. Ditto for getting baptized in place of someone else, which Christ also made unnecessary. None of these man-made ideas are anywhere in the 4 gospels. But instead, if we stick to God’s word, who lived among us in the form of Jesus Christ, we can’t go wrong. So study the Bible, read what’s in it and put it into practice. It’s the one sure way to know that you are on the right track in life. And when we return next week we’ll go over the second part of Paul’s writings on the resurrection as we move on to part 3 of chapter 15.

Jesus and the Apostles Preached Against Wealth and Materialism, and I’m Repeating the Message

My Prophecy Against the Rich

(Matt. 22, 37-40; James 1, verses 26-27; James 5, verses 1-6)

by Minister Paul J. Bern

I have been struck lately by the fact that several key issues are being completely ignored in the 2020 US presidential race. One is the urgent need for development of clean energy and a green economy. Another big one that is being brushed aside is climate change and what we can do about it, not to mention what I view as the urgency of that situation. But the biggest issue by far that is being ignored is economic inequality, the fact that 98% of America’s wealth is in the hands of 2% of the population. This situation is much the same throughout the world. It is not something that is peculiar to America at all – far from it.

Both of the candidates running for the top office in the land are in the top 2% who own nearly everything, and who lord it over everybody else. Although I’m not naming names, it seems that these same people who are part of the problem are putting themselves forth as being the engineers of the solution. President Donald Trump is, without question, the best example of this so far. The fact that he’s another billionaire from New York underscores the rampant and often extreme economic inequality that exists in America today. The primary reason that working Americans are being ignored is because there is someone from the top 1/10 of 1% who is occupying the oval office.

According to statistics published by the Economic Policy Institute, and backed up by data from the US Office of Management and Budget, one in every seven persons currently living in the USA lives at or below the poverty line. One in seven sometimes goes hungry, especially children. For over one forth of America’s school children, lunch at school is their only meal of the day. One in seven pregnant women don’t get enough food for themselves and their unborn child. One person in every seven lives in a household with a gross income of under $14,000.00 per year for a single person, allowing only slightly more for children. Poverty devalues the individual in such a way that it can damage the mind or crush the spirit of anyone in its path. The hunger pangs are only what’s on the surface. Poverty is everyone’s problem because when one person is marginalized, then society as a whole becomes marginalized, and this is compounded the more that person becomes devalued. I submit to you all that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image and likeness of the same Almighty God who made us all (see Genesis chapter 1, verses 26-27).

It is our capitalist economic system that is broken, and we are all feeling the effects of it. More and more people are being thrown out of work, often losing their homes, their transportation and their dignity as corporate America continues to re-size downward. The more that American business downsizes, the more people will be affected. Life can sometimes be like a game of musical chairs, and people are starting to notice that the music has stopped playing and there are no chairs left. Many US jobs were out-sourced overseas, and many more American workers that still remain will be replaced with robots and artificial intelligence within 10 or 15 years. The US economy, plus the job market or what’s left of it, is in much worse shape than we’re being told (surprise, surprise). People are banding together by family or by neighborhood to ensure each other’s well-being. In Detroit, in particular, people are beginning to say the only way to survive is by taking care of one another, by recreating our relationships to one another, that we have created a society, over the last period, in particular, where each of us is pursuing self-interest. We have devolved as human beings.

We have been focused on taking care of ourselves for so long that we have forgotten how to take care of each other. Now that hard economic times have hit us right between the eyes, we need to do more to take care of each other. Get plugged into a volunteer program in your community. That would be one good place to start. Do this knowing that by helping to pick others up, you ultimately pick yourself up with it. And do it all knowing that God is watching over you as you go about your business. So, do not put God out of your life but rather keep Him within your heart and allow Him to dwell there. That is when you will know for sure that you are on the right track.

Jesus summed this up perfectly when He defined the two greatest commandments, “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22, verses 37-40) The apostle James similarly wrote, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James chapter 1, verses 26-27)

That’s not all the apostle James had to say about the loving the world as opposed to loving God. He connected it with the same mass inequality that we see today when he wrote, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6)

Your wealth has lost its value! Your investments have divested themselves of their own worth! Not just their net worth either. Not only have you lost all your interest, you have lost your principal as well! Your entire portfolio is forfeit! Total disaster will overtake all of you who put yourselves into your careers and climbed the corporate ladder to the exclusion of everything and everyone else! In so doing, you have fallen into idolatry. ‘Idolatry, you ask? But how?’ By prioritizing your careers over your worship, and by valuing your material goods over the supreme sacrifice Christ made for you on the cross. Make no mistake about it, the shed blood of Jesus Christ is more valuable than anything else on the planet – period! The biggest mansion, the most expensive yacht, the fastest car or truck and the trendiest clothes and night clubs are rubbish when compared to the purity of Christ. Besides Him stands no other! Jesus stands alone, heads above the rest!

Speaking of Jesus, he had lots to say about rich people. But, one of His most famous comments comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew chapter 6, verses 19-21) The more attached we become to our material stuff, the farther away we get from God. But it’s about more than just stuff. We can become more attached to our spouse or significant other, to our children, to our careers, and even to recreational activities like water skiing, snow boarding, our boats and motorcycles, or fitness training. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above. But we must always put our personal relationship with Christ first and foremost, because it’s invariably the most important. I cannot overemphasize this one main point!

Both of the candidates running for the top office in the land are in the top 2% who own nearly everything, and who lord it over everybody else. Although I’m not naming names, it seems that these same people who are part of the problem are putting themselves forth as being the engineers of the solution. President Donald Trump is, without question, the best example of this so far. The fact that he’s another billionaire from New York underscores the rampant and often extreme economic inequality that exists in America today. The primary reason that working Americans are being ignored is because there is someone from the top 1/10 of 1% who is occupying the oval office.

According to statistics published by the Economic Policy Institute, and backed up by data from the US Office of Management and Budget, one in every seven persons currently living in the USA lives at or below the poverty line. One in seven sometimes goes hungry, especially children. For over one forth of America’s school children, lunch at school is their only meal of the day. One in seven pregnant women don’t get enough food for themselves and their unborn child. One person in every seven lives in a household with a gross income of under $14,000.00 per year for a single person, allowing only slightly more for children. Poverty devalues the individual in such a way that it can damage the mind or crush the spirit of anyone in its path. The hunger pangs are only what’s on the surface. Poverty is everyone’s problem because when one person is marginalized, then society as a whole becomes marginalized, and this is compounded the more that person becomes devalued. I submit to you all that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image and likeness of the same Almighty God who made us all (see Genesis chapter 1, verses 26-27).

It is our capitalist economic system that is broken, and we are all feeling the effects of it. More and more people are being thrown out of work, often losing their homes, their transportation and their dignity as corporate America continues to re-size downward. The more that American business downsizes, the more people will be affected. Life can sometimes be like a game of musical chairs, and people are starting to notice that the music has stopped playing and there are no chairs left. Many US jobs were out-sourced overseas, and many more American workers that still remain will be replaced with robots and artificial intelligence within 10 or 15 years. The US economy, plus the job market or what’s left of it, is in much worse shape than we’re being told (surprise, surprise). People are banding together by family or by neighborhood to ensure each other’s well-being. In Detroit, in particular, people are beginning to say the only way to survive is by taking care of one another, by recreating our relationships to one another, that we have created a society, over the last period, in particular, where each of us is pursuing self-interest. We have devolved as human beings.

We have been focused on taking care of ourselves for so long that we have forgotten how to take care of each other. Now that hard economic times have hit us right between the eyes, we need to do more to take care of each other. Get plugged into a volunteer program in your community. That would be one good place to start. Do this knowing that by helping to pick others up, you ultimately pick yourself up with it. And do it all knowing that God is watching over you as you go about your business. So, do not put God out of your life but rather keep Him within your heart and allow Him to dwell there. That is when you will know for sure that you are on the right track.

Jesus summed this up perfectly when He defined the two greatest commandments, “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22, verses 37-40) The apostle James similarly wrote, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James chapter 1, verses 26-27)

That’s not all the apostle James had to say about the loving the world as opposed to loving God. He connected it with the same mass inequality that we see today when he wrote, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6)

Your wealth has lost its value! Your investments have divested themselves of their own worth! Not just their net worth either. Not only have you lost all your interest, you have lost your principal as well! Your entire portfolio is forfeit! Total disaster will overtake all of you who put yourselves into your careers and climbed the corporate ladder to the exclusion of everything and everyone else! In so doing, you have fallen into idolatry. ‘Idolatry, you ask? But how?’ By prioritizing your careers over your worship, and by valuing your material goods over the supreme sacrifice Christ made for you on the cross. Make no mistake about it, the shed blood of Jesus Christ is more valuable than anything else on the planet – period! The biggest mansion, the most expensive yacht, the fastest car or truck and the trendiest clothes and night clubs are rubbish when compared to the purity of Christ. Besides Him stands no other! Jesus stands alone, heads above the rest!

Speaking of Jesus, he had lots to say about rich people. But, one of His most famous comments comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew chapter 6, verses 19-21) The more attached we become to our material stuff, the farther away we get from God. But it’s about more than just stuff. We can become more attached to our spouse or significant other, to our children, to our careers, and even to recreational activities like water skiing, snow boarding, our boats and motorcycles, or fitness training. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above. But we must always put our personal relationship with Christ first and foremost, because it’s invariably the most important. I cannot overemphasize this one main point!

In closing, the fact that Donald Trump may still be considered the front-runner in the early part of the 2020 presidential race to the White House says a lot about the state of our country. The most eligible candidate, if the Republicans get their way, would be President Trump, the one with the most money. But Joe Biden has also raised very large amounts of cash, even to the point where he and Trump are currently in a dead heat. So, the bottom line here is that the two presidential candidates in the 2020 election are both top 2%’rs who profess to have the solutions to the plight of the remaining 98% of us, when it’s already an established fact that no matter who wins, the winner is beholden to the mega rich who bought the election in the first place. Capitalism – and the materialistic, consumer lifestyle that goes along with it – has conquered the world without firing a single shot. In so doing, the top 2% are in charge of, and in many cases own, just about everything, right down to the land every building is built upon. But when Jesus returns, all power and authority will be given to Him on earth as it is in heaven, and the rich will find themselves destitute.