Commentary This Week On the Social Gospel Blog With Minister and Author Paul J. Bern: Those who wait around for government to help us accomplish nothing. It’s only those who take action who ultimately turn things around — https://greatestservant62.medium.com/what-the-bible-says-about-taking-care-of-each-other-instead-of-waiting-on-the-government-bad0312aa980 #government #therealBible #progressiveChristian #socialGospel #faithbased
How We Can Make God, and Each Other, Happy? By Ending Poverty
by Minister Paul J. Bern
With about 98% of the wealth in America in the hands of a little under 2% of the population, the US has a bigger and wider gap between the richest 5% of American money earners and big business owners than there is in many supposedly “third world” countries. The widespread and systemic unemployment or underemployment that currently exists in the US job market is no longer just an economic problem, it has – here in the early 21st century – become a civil rights issue. Inequality, we have found out, is the tool of choice for the 2% elites to use against the rest of us.
The US job market has been turned into a raffle, where one lucky person gets the job while entire groups of others get left out in the cold – sometimes literally. So, I am vigorously maintaining that every human being has the basic, God-given right to a livelihood and to a living wage. (to get an entire book on this topic, order a copy of my 2019 release, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto 4th Edition” from this link) Anything less becomes a civil rights violation and therefore those jobless persons are victims of systemic economic discrimination. And so I state unreservedly that restarting the civil rights era protests, demonstrations, sit-ins and the occupation of whole buildings or city blocks will be the most effective nonviolent way of addressing the rampant inequality and persistent economic hardship that currently exists in the US. We have already seen some of that with the protests in the streets because of unarmed Blacks being killed by the police. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
So I went to the internet, that bastion of knowledge from outside the classroom, and discovered the following facts:
The number of Blacks killed by police in 2014 – 2019 was 1,654. This is an average of 275 per year. In fact, 2015 saw 305 deaths for a high and 258 was the lowest number in 2018. Of these fatalities, 286 were considered unarmed. That is an average of 47 people per year. The deadliest year was 2015 with 78. Both 2018 and 2019 had the lowest totals of 28 each year.
I then looked at the number of non-blacks, particularly whites, killed by police (same years). Here is what I discovered: Whites accounted for 2,953 police involved deaths. An average of 492 per year. The deadliest year being 2015 with 544, the lowest being 2019 with 406. There were 388 unarmed whites killed in that time frame for an average of 65 per year. Most death occurring in 2015 with 91 deaths, and the low being 48 in 2018. All other races (non-white or black) accounted for 1,953 deaths (325 per year) of which 241 were unarmed (40 per year).
Conclusion: All other races combined had 4,906 people killed by police, or 817 people per year. Of that total, 629 were considered unarmed or 105 people per year. Blacks killed per year: 275, everyone else: 817.
But these protesters are behind the curve. Because, before them, there were the Yellow Vests in Europe, Occupy Wall St., “We are the 99%” and Anonymous. And before them there was the Arab Spring throughout northern Africa, the summer of 2011 in Great Britain and Greece in Europe, and Libya, Syria and Gaza in the Middle East. So from a political standpoint, the current crop of protesters here in the US have had some catching up to do. But that was before the rest of the world got on board protesting globally for all the murdered Americans from Florida to Missouri to New York. So now, like an echo from the fairly recent past, the protests over police violence has echoed across the globe and is still reaching a crescendo. The least common denominator to all this rage in the streets is that of being economically disadvantaged. People everywhere find themselves surrounded by wealth and opulence, luxury and self-indulgence, while they are themselves isolated from it. It is one thing to be rewarded for success and a job well done. But it’s an altogether different matter to have obscene riches flaunted in your face on a daily basis just because someone can. I think what we really need to do is find a way to end poverty. I can sum up the answer in one word: Education. Otherwise, those who are poor will always remain so.
Who’s responsible for the poor? “The poor you will always have”, Jesus once said, “but you will not always have me”. Back in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st, English lawmakers said it was the government and taxpayers who are responsible. They introduced the compulsory “poor tax” of 1572 to provide peasants with cash and a “parish loaf.” The world’s first-ever public relief system did more than feed the poor: It helped fuel economic growth because peasants could risk leaving the land to look for work in town. By the early 19th century, though, a backlash had set in. English spending on the poor was slashed from 2 percent to 1 percent of national income, and indigent families were locked up in parish workhouses. In 1839, the fictional hero of Oliver Twist, a child laborer who became a symbol of the neglect and exploitation of the times, famously raised his bowl of gruel and said, “Please, sir, I want some more.” Today, child benefits, winter fuel payments, housing support and guaranteed minimum pensions for the elderly are common practice in Britain and other industrialized countries. But it’s only recently that the right to an adequate standard of living has begun to be extended to the poor of the developing world. Here in the US, a guaranteed minimum income was at first viewed as a novelty. But lately it has begun to be seen as an alternative to welfare, SNAP benefits, AFDC and collecting unemployment.
At least 45 developing nations in Africa and south Asia now provide social pensions or grants to 110 million impoverished families — not in the form of charitable donations or emergency handouts or temporary safety nets, but as a kind of social security. A quiet revolution is taking place based on the realization that you cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots. And giving ‘boots’ to people with little money does not make them lazy or reluctant to work; rather, just the opposite happens. A small guaranteed income provides a foundation that enables people to transform their own lives. Give people – any group of people regardless of skin color – an opportunity to improve themselves, and then stand back and watch what happens next.
Without any advice from aid agencies, government, or nongovernmental organizations, poor people already know how to make profitable investments. They simply did not have the cash and could not borrow the small amounts of money they needed. A good way for donor countries to help is to give aid as “general budget support,” funneling cash for the poor directly into government coffers. To truly lift the poor out of poverty, governments also must tackle discrimination and invest in health, education and infrastructure.
The notion that the poor are to blame for their poverty persists in affluent nations today and has been especially strong in the United States. Studies by the World Values Survey between 1995 and 2000 showed that 61 percent of Americans believed the poor were lazy and lacked willpower. Only 13 percent said an unfair society was to blame. But what would Americans say now, in the wake of the housing market collapse and the bailout of the banks? The jobs-creating stimulus bill, the expansion of food stamp programs and unemployment benefits — these are all forms of cash transfers to the needy. I would say that cash helps people see a way out, no matter where they live.
In closing, the icing on the cake with regards to having a livelihood by acquiring a trade or skill, is documented in Scripture in multiple places, such as Ecclesiastes 5:19, “Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil — this is a gift of God.” Luke chapter 10, verse 7 reads, “….for the worker is worth his wages”. But the Word of the Lord takes this topic of work even farther. In Colossians 3:23, it reads, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”. Although everyone is entitled to a livelihood, a certain kind of work ethic is required in return, as it says in 1st Thessalonians 5, verse12, “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.” Among other things, this means we take the responsibility to pull our own weight. We do this to honor Almighty God, our heavenly Creator, as it is written in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
What is our purpose? Why are we here? As you just read, the answers can be found in the Good Book. There’s no big mystery here. Everything has been right in front us the whole time. All we have to do is to start living this out as a lifestyle. So let’s all start right now to improve ourselves and the entire planet for the benefit of all.
Still More Reasons Why God Hates Inequality
by Minister Paul J. Bern
For the last several weeks, I have been commenting at length about the wholesale police killings of unarmed Black men. If you’re Black in the US, you can forget about receiving any justice or equal treatment under the law as they are currently written and enforced. Of this there can be no question whatsoever. Formerly middle class people, and a whole lot of poor folks including people of color, are having their most basic rights taken away by runaway government and their out-of-control police departments. The Bible says in the Book of Proverbs chapter 29, verse 7, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern”. That’s God’s take on poverty in a nutshell. “The poor you will always have”, Jesus said not long before His crucifixion, “but you will not always have me”. The poor are humankind’s responsibility, starting with the churches. It’s our fault collectively as an allegedly civilized society that there are so many homeless people – and even entire families – living on American streets. Let me repeat that with a flourish – the multitudes of homeless are out in the streets and sleeping in their cars because somebody somewhere didn’t give a damn because they were all too stingy to care.
Here in the city of Atlanta where I live, there are lots of boarded up and abandoned houses (there’s plenty in the suburbs, too, but most of those aren’t on the bus line). There are also a lot of homeless people, mainly because Georgia is one of those states whose minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25 an hour. Any way you slice and dice it, a single person who makes minimum wage can’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in Georgia. So there are a slowly growing number of squatters who are living in these abandoned houses, nearly all without the benefit of water or electric hook-up. When the police catch them, and they do routinely, they are taken to jail. OK, now let’s review this. The cops catch some luckless squatter, who is living in a house that nobody wants. Since that person is considered to be a trespasser under Georgia law, and since the majority of the squatters are also usually black, they are taken immediately to a county jail where it will cost the taxpayers upwards of $60.00 per day to detain them.
So, there are some who think it’s better to spend $60.00 a day to house otherwise harmless petty criminals than it is to let them sleep in abandoned structures at night where they are bothering no one. No one seems to care about the fact that incarcerating these people is an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers. I understand that they’re trespassing on someone’s property, but if that is something that must be enforced then why is the structure abandoned and in disrepair? The answer, brothers and sisters, is greed. The property owners, many of whom live out of state and who want nothing to do with these properties because they owe back property taxes on them, will not hesitate to press charges against some poor homeless man, or a homeless single parent with small children, for sleeping on a front porch on a rainy night.
Indeed, the circumstances and situations that the middle and working classes in the US find themselves in today are a series of gross social injustices that demands a sharply focused and well-coordinated response from the entire populace. What is needed is a rebuttal and decisive counterattack designed and intended to right, correct and re-balance US political power back into the hands of the overwhelming majority of American citizens to whom it rightfully belongs. There can be no doubt that class warfare has been declared in the US, perpetrated by the wealthy top 1% against the middle and working classes for the sole express purpose of eliminating from society the Constitutional majority of working Americans, with the end result being the complete and merciless liquidation of middle and working class wealth, general prosperity, and even our health.
This has been accomplished by the largest transfer of wealth in all of human history, and it has been manifested in three different ways. First, the employment of working Americans, particularly of the US working class, has been decimated by closing down manufacturing facilities and shipping jobs overseas to the third world for pennies on the dollar. Second, the retirement savings of the middle and working classes have been severely compromised or even liquidated altogether by the crooked and devious manipulations of Wall Street bankers, market speculators, hedge fund managers and corporate boards of directors who engineered the largest swindle in human history back in 2008. This criminal act resulted in the US government bailout know as TARP, an $850 billion bank robbery of the US Treasury conceived and carried out by the same ‘Ponzi schemers’ who ran the US economy into the ground in the first place. Third, the largest transfer of wealth in human history is being enforced by runaway prices for motor vehicles and college and university tuition that are being deliberately engineered by wealthy elitists for the sole express purpose of putting higher education financially out of reach for an increasing majority of the ever-vanishing American middle class.
There are tens of millions of formerly middle class people – of whom I am one, I was in IT for 20 years – from all across the country who find themselves in similar circumstances to varying degrees of severity. Many have not been as fortunate as me. They have lost jobs or entire careers like I did, been forced out into the street due to the epidemic of foreclosures throughout the land, had their cars repossessed, leaving them with no way to get to work assuming that they are lucky enough to still have jobs, and are hounded by collection agencies for debts great and small. They have no access to health care except to show up at the local emergency room with no way to pay the bill, putting them even deeper into debt than they already are. They have watched their pensions and their retirement savings evaporate due to market manipulations by unscrupulous “financial managers” who earn obscene bonuses whether they succeed or fail, and all at the expense of the small investors who have the most to lose.
Either that, or they have spent their savings during interminably lengthy periods of unemployment after their jobs were downsized or out-sourced overseas to the third world, never to return again. And their children, the ones lucky enough to be able to go to college, are graduating with crushing student loan debts that will take decades to repay if they can be repaid at all, depending on whether they can find suitable work or not. What good is a four-year degree if you wind up flipping hamburgers, selling shoes or digging ditches? Meanwhile, the best jobs, the best educations, and the best incomes are reserved for the wealthiest people and their families.
No more will we stand and stare or sit and grumble about having our houses, jobs, cars, savings, health, higher education and our retirements forcibly taken away while an ever greater portion of American wealth is concentrated into the hands of a small minority of multimillionaires. It is time for the middle and working classes to put our collective foot down and say ”no more”. The twin pandemics of police violence and racial inequality should be the places to start. The time has arrived for us to take back our country by any and all means possible.
It is time for political power to be taken out of the hands of corporate America and their invading hordes of lobbyists who would presume to take over our country by means of economic warfare, and to place it back into the hands of “we the people”, the true owners of this great country of ours. And we will do so knowing that God, history and our founding fathers will be on our side, because they left us with a sacred document known as the Constitution of the United States. It is that very document that guarantees us that right. Our free speech and freedom of expression that are guaranteed under the First Amendment, as well as our right to keep and bear arms and to form militias that are guaranteed under the Second Amendment, will not be compromised or trampled upon. We will demonstrate in the streets, we will besiege government buildings, we will bombard our congressmen and women with phone calls and emails, we will form new political parties, we will organize and build labor unions, we will blockade wealthy neighborhoods, we will organize peaceful public events and non-violent sit-ins, we will call general strikes and consumer boycotts, and we will not stop until the balance of power in this country undergoes a paradigm shift back into the hands of hard-working Americans, as well as the millions of people who want jobs and can’t find them. Moreover, we the people will accomplish this without the use of firearms, but we also claim the right to defend ourselves if we are attacked.
Let there be no mistake, America is ripe for mass civil disobedience, even for outright revolution. The conditions and circumstances in which the middle and working classes find themselves has become intolerable. Personally, I am a very patient and thoughtful man. I work hard each day to be slow to speak and quick to listen because I know from experience that there is much wisdom to be derived from living my life this way. But by the same token, I am a Christian man and Web evangelist who stands against social injustice and economic inequality, and whose patience is at its end. Just as surely as Jesus preached against the political and religious establishment of His day, in like manner I will do the same in the present day in order to emulate the man I regard as my personal Savior.
So, if you truly care about the deteriorating state of our nation, if you are really concerned about the issues that we are faced with collectively as a people, and if you want to make a stand against police violence, social injustice and economic inequality – and since it’s in all our best interests to do so – you owe it to yourselves to stand up in the face of power and say, “That’s it! You’re done!!” You know why? Because if Jesus Christ were to return this very day, that’s what He’d say. And the ones who are having the homeless thrown in jail for trespassing on their dilapidated properties would be the first ones Christ would send straight to hell.
America’s Hidden Sickness, and What Must Be Done to Eradicate it
by Minister Paul J. Bern
People of good conscience everywhere are still processing what has happened in Brunswick, GA. this past week or two. Much has been said and written about this already, so I will be careful to not be redundant. What is not being emphasized anywhere nearly enough is the gravity, the scope and the depth of the unprovoked and calculated shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. To call this a ‘hate crime’ only scratches the surface of what actually transpired this past week. Many of my African-American friends on and off the Web are accurately calling the events in Brunswick ‘cold blooded murder’ as well as being a hate crime. The McMicheal’s, the father and son who committed this murder are an offense, an embarrassment and a humiliation to every white/Caucasian American citizen and/or legally residing foreign national. That includes myself.
America’s race problem dates back 400 years to before there was a country called the United States of America. Slavery in the ‘land of the free’ was and always will be what some historians call “America’s peculiar institution”. The ugly truth of the matter is that today’s African Americans are the descendants of slaves who arrived here by being forcibly removed from their homeland. To put it in modern terms, those African slaves were victims of human trafficking. African Americans are the descendants of kidnapping victims who had no way to call home. They had no phones, no internet, nothing at all. One day they are at home, wherever that was, and the next they’re in chains on a ship bound for North America.
After that, they were enslaved for 300 years and endured another 100 years of Jim Crow. And we wonder why some black folks mistrust white people to this very day, or why they’re seemingly so “uppity” towards whites. If my ancestors were enslaved, humiliated, terrorized and murdered for 400 years, I’d be mad as hell too! It’s ultimately white people’s fault that the state of race relations has gone backward instead of forward so far in the 21st century. We brought the black folks over here to begin with. Even after slavery was abolished by Abraham Lincoln with the passage by Congress of the Thirteenth Amendment, former slaves lacked the skills and the resources to build ships to return to their homeland. So, even after the emancipation of former slaves, the brutal reality is that they were all stuck here, stranded, and they’ve been here ever since. This, I am convinced, is the true source of white rage towards black folks – their rage exists to hide their inescapable guilt.
What did Jesus say about hatred between races? How many people know that the Bible has several things to say about racial hatred? The first example comes from Christ himself, who stated, “You have heard it said to the people of long ago, ‘do not murder’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew chapter 5, verses 21-22) “Raca” was an Aramaic word of contempt expressed towards those who were somehow deemed inferior, such as Samaritans back in those days.
So Jesus was telling us that human equality is in fact ordained by God, and so there is no such thing as an inferior or defective human being. But then Jesus took it a step further when He said, “…anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Simply put, any human being who considers another to be worthless, nonredeemable, inferior or useless – or who considers others as enemies based on bigotry, hatred, contemptuousness and condescension because of race, creed, nationality, heritage, or just plain conceit and maliciousness – could very well wind up in hell in the very place of those who he or she condemns as being allegedly of lesser worth than themselves. Anyone who holds in contempt that which God has created holds their Creator in contempt as well. This is the exact reason that racial bigotry is so evil. Who do we think we are; questioning God’s motives or rationale, as if rationalization were even possible for the Lord to begin with?
The apostle John, the younger half brother of Jesus, summed hate up in one little sentence in 1st John chapter 3, verse 15 and I quote, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” Jesus once said, “It is written, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I tell you that if you even so much as look at a married woman with lustful eyes, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart”. (Matthew 5, verse 27) As it is with adultery, so it is with hate in the eyes of the Lord your God. If anyone hates another without just cause, or hates because he/she holds a grudge or refuses to forgive someone, they have already committed murder in their heart. Morally, in God’s sight, such a person is no better than an unrepentant death row inmate in a maximum security prison.
The apostle John resounded this theme again later in chapter 4 when he wrote in verses 20 and 21, “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” My dear readers, it doesn’t get any clearer than this. As for me, John’s point here is well taken. You either love the One who made you or you don’t. If you don’t, then you despise God, meaning you ultimately despise yourself. If anyone reading this is wearing those kind of shoes, it’s high time for a new pair.
Here in the early 21st century there is simply no excuse for racial hatred towards any person by any other individual. Those who continue to harbor hatred, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice towards others – who are allegedly inferior to themselves – causes us all to devolve into a lesser form of human being. Such people devolve into those who has not yet developed an open mind, or who refuse to repent from being closed-minded, hateful individuals. Under no circumstances are these things any just cause to murder another human being. Once again the McMicheal’s’ father and son from Brunswick, GA. have exposed racism for what it truly is – one group of people wanting to commit genocide against another based on skin color and their continent of origin.
I want all my black brothers and sisters to know that Gregory and Travis McMichael are an offense, an embarrassment, and a humiliation to white people everywhere. Racism is deeply ingrained into American culture, but it has its roots in slavery and in human trafficking. Although this has been going on for four hundred years, America could do away with its race problem in a single generation. How can we accomplish this noble task? There are two ways to approach this problem long term. The first is what every American needs – free higher education at the public college or university of their choice. Education is not a privilege, it’s a basic human right. Knowledge is power, and no one has the right or the authority to deny that power to anyone no matter what the reason.
The other way to level the playing field for all people of color is already underway. To sum it up, it’s computer and information technology. Even poor black kids have smart phones. Within 10-15 years we will see all minorities catching up to, and sometimes surpassing, their white counterparts because of access to technology and the Internet. This in turn will be the trigger for an entirely new industry of space exploration, colonization and commerce, and that’s just for starters.
Of course, this is all well and good for the future, but what can we do right now? What’s the least common denominator that all races, creeds and nationalities have in common? Remember what the apostle John said? “Any man who says, ‘I love God’, and yet hates his brother is a liar.” God is our least common denominator. We all bleed the same shade of red, and we all have five quarts of that same blood pumping through our veins and arteries 24/7, that is also true. But Almighty God made all of it, just as King David wrote in his psalms, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalms 24:1).
So, in solving America’s race problem, what’s the first step? Here is what I’d like to see accomplished. There needs to be more houses of worship somewhere – anywhere! A dozen here, ten more somewhere else, or just take your family down into the inner city, find a church and find a parking place. After all, the healing process must begin within ourselves, and the process of being able to forgive also must begin within ourselves. If they ask you what made you pick that particular church simply tell them, “I want to help heal the wounds of slavery we have inflicted on your people, and I’m/we’re here to ask your forgiveness, and if you would mind if we came and worshiped with you this morning”.
I’d actually be surprised if anyone turns you away, my ‘fellow’ Caucasians. So go ahead! I challenge you white folks to worship in a black church if you’re white, or vice versa if you’re black. Go ahead, what are you afraid of, all you well-to-do white folks? I think I know – it’s acknowledging the sins of our ancestors. But it’s got to be done. It’s long past time for America to begin to heal from slavery, and the best place to start the healing process is at church on Sunday morning. And let’s keep on doing that until there are no more Brunswick, Ga.’s, or Charleston South Carolina’s, ever again. The unity of our country as being ‘one nation under God” otherwise hangs in the balance.
Poverty and Inequality Continue to Be Everybody’s Problem, and Everybody Is Part of the Solution
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
This week, as I continue to follow the progress and calculate the damage to the world’s economy caused by the Corona virus pandemic, I find myself concerned – but not afraid – about its unfolding outcome. In about 2 more weeks, the overall death toll is projected to exceed the 100,000 mark. Parents have lost children and children their parents, and those who remain behind have their hearts, minds and souls permanently scarred by their experiences. But the biggest issue by far that will have lasting repercussions is the aggravation of the preexisting scourge of economic inequality. Workers from all walks of life are watching helplessly as their loved ones, not to mention their jobs and savings, slip away. This situation is much the same throughout the world.
According to statistics published by the Economic Policy Institute, and backed up by the CDC, 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 and economic inequality are everyone’s problem because when one person is marginalized, then society as a whole becomes marginalized. I submit to you that we are all made in the image and likeness of the same Almighty God (see Genesis chapter 1, verses 26-28).
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 of our jobs are being out-sourced overseas, and many more that still remain will be replaced with robots and artificial intelligence within 10 or 15 more 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. People are beginning to see the only way to survive is by taking care of one another, and by renewing our relationships to each other. Contrast this with today’s economy, where we have created a society where each of us is pursuing only our self-interest. We have devolved as human beings by what I see is an enforced kind of inequality.
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 so we can get our own needs met. Let’s all get plugged into volunteer programs in our communities. That would be one good place to start. Do this knowing that by helping to pick others up, you ultimately pick yourself up too. And do it all knowing that God is watching over us as we go about our daily business. So, do not put God out of your life because of misfortune, 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 made 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 the principal as well. Your entire portfolio is decimated. 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 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 because it’s invariably the most important. I cannot overemphasize this one main point!
In closing, the fact that there are over 20 million people in the US alone who have lost their careers and the businesses they owned says a lot about the real state of our country. The bottom line, then, is that the only ones not affected by this pandemic are in the top 1% of US households. Many rich people profess to have the solutions to the plight of the remaining 99% of us. When it comes to the presidential election this fall, 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 1% 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 be destitute. That’s what I would call poetic justice.
Taking Care Of One Another During the Pandemic Has Been Teaching Many People the Real Meaning of Life
by Minister Paul J. Bern
It goes without saying that we are now living in a world which seems to be imploding on itself. As I write this, well over 20 million Americans have become unemployed thanks to the ever-present Corona-virus, which is wreaking havoc on the American economy. Before that, back in the 1990’s and 2000’s, US workers were dealt another low blow by having all the middle class jobs exported overseas to the third world – headed up by China – and they are never coming back. An increasing number of these workers were juggling 2 or 3 part-time jobs just to make ends meet. The US government’s official unemployment rate, according to the mainstream news media, is said to be around 15 percent as I write this. This is a complete joke to those persons like myself who have been following current events, because many US workers who had already used their unemployment benefits prior to the Corona-virus are not being counted. This includes are so-called “discouraged” workers who have dropped out of the job market and are sharing living quarters with immediate family, or sometimes sleeping in tents or motor vehicles.
Without any family safety net in place, some unlucky people wind up homeless through no fault of their own sooner or later. I know this to be true because I was once one of those unfortunate individuals a few years back. Despite my best efforts to find full-time work in my field, which was computer/IT, I could only find temporary jobs of short-term duration. I spent roughly a third of my time searching for more work. By the time I finally wound up homeless my health soon simply collapsed, and I wound up being forced to take early retirement. I have learned the hard way that being homeless and on the street with no transportation or income permanently damages people. Becoming homeless breaks one’s spirit, it wounds the soul, and it fractures the mind in ways that most people aren’t even able to imagine. The one positive thing about my homelessness is that it brought me closer to Christ, just like Jesus said: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt. Chapter 8, verse 20)
The evaporation of these millions of US jobs is having severe repercussions for the overwhelming majority of Americans. There were about 5 million foreclosures in the US between 2008 and the end of 2012, and about 3 million more annually since then. Cars and trucks are being repossessed at record rates, and an increasingly larger number of college graduates who cannot find any jobs at all are simply walking away from their student loans. Record numbers of these unemployed college graduates, some of them in their 30’s and 40’s, are moving back in with parents or siblings due to their being victims of foreclosures or evictions. They simply have no where else to go. Except maybe the streets.
All the rest, the multitudes of disillusioned, disenchanted and disenfranchised US workers who lost their jobs and careers, their housing and their transportation are winding up in homeless shelters or sleeping under bridges. The more fortunate ones in this group of people that capitalism has discarded still have their vehicles, so that’s where they sleep. Yet if we study the four Gospels, we find that it was to this very group of poor people that Jesus gravitated towards the most. Houses of worship and charities are supposed to be helping these most unfortunate people, but too many of them use their ‘501c3’ tax status to remain tax-exempt, and so they can get grants from the government. Who are they worshiping first, Jesus or the IRS? Jesus prophesied against these kinds of organizations in Matthew chapter 23, verse 23 when He said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.”
Since we are living in these last days before Christ’s return, we would do well to emulate Jesus’ compassion and unconditional love for us all. It used to be that when I encountered a homeless person asking for money, I would walk on by them without saying a word. Having since experienced homelessness myself for a few months, I find that I can no longer walk on by without stopping and witnessing to them about Christ, and how He has brought me all the way back from the brink of oblivion. As I talk to them I inquire of the Spirit whether I should help them or not. Usually I give them whatever spare change I have, and sometimes more if I have enough. Occasionally I buy them a burger and fries, particularly if they are in really bad shape or when the Holy Spirit encourages me to do so.
It’s just that being a follower of Christ has filled me with compassion, and I allow His peace to overshadow any anxiety I may have about whether the homeless strangers I encounter pose any threat to me or not. The majority are harmless. Jesus always comes first with me, others second and myself third. That’s what it takes to be a true follower of Christ. We are to emulate His example of unconditional love for us by showing that same love for others. And as hard times continue to get harder and meaner, an increasing number of folks from all backgrounds find themselves emulating Christ in one way or another whether they realize it or not.
As a rapidly growing population of long-term unemployed begins to congregate regularly at shelters, churches, soup kitchens and food banks, a good number of them volunteer in order to help give back what these charities have given them. In so doing they are finding themselves interconnected in ways that they may not have been previously. It is one thing to be connected on Facebook or Twitter, but being in groups of people and having direct contact with others while we all maintain our “social distancing” is another thing altogether. The exponential growth of the Internet, as well as computer and information technology in general, has been increasing the amount of time we spend in front of our screens than we do with other people. Of course, that is only counting the people who still have the means of acquiring the trappings of being solidly middle class. As I write this, an increasing majority of unemployed American workers are putting these items into storage or dumping them at pawn shops in a desperate attempt to get some money in their pockets.
What do we do to solve this dilemma? What are we going to do with all these displaced workers who desperately want to restart their careers and their incomes, but can find no way of doing so due to a complete lack of opportunity that is beyond their control? First, we have to come to the realization that our economic system is broken and in need of replacement. Not just fixing it, mind you, I’m talking about starting all over again on a clean sheet of paper. For some detailed commentary on this subject, you can order a copy of my book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto 4th Edition”.
For now all I will say is that the entire concept of profits and its benefits needs to be reexamined. When we have literally trillions of dollars in liquid wealth or assets of one kind or another in the hands of so few people, any claims of democratic government by this tiny but extraordinarily powerful group of people becomes completely ludicrous. We have been stuck in worn-out concepts of representative democracy that worked much better when the population of the earth was far lower than it is today. This has caused us to believe that it’s by getting the government to do things for us that we progress.
The Internet and information technology have made these concepts obsolete. If we can interconnect directly with one another, then who needs big government? Big government and the bureaucracy that accompanies it clearly creates more problems than it solves here in the 21st century. And I think that we’ve reached the point now where we’re stuck with a whole lot of antiquated concepts, so that when movie moguls like Michael Moore speak about the relatively small number of people who make all this money while so many other people don’t, it sounds as if we’re struggling for equality with them. We don’t want equality with the rich, we want equality equally for everybody. Who wants to be equal to the rich? Who wants to imitate people who hoard billions while formerly middle class people are living in vehicles, shelters, and in cardboard boxes under bridges? I think we have to be thinking much more profoundly than mere capitalism and the empty acquisition of material wealth for its own sake that accompanies it. The earth’s population has become so great that we would all be far better served by spending our time helping others instead of helping ourselves. The needs of the many far outweigh the needs of the few – or of the individual.
Actually, if you go back to what Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto over 150 years ago (and I’m no fan of Karl Marx, OK?), when talking about the constant revolutions in technology, he ended his explanation by saying, “All that is sacred is profaned, all that is solid melts into air, and men and women are forced to face with sober senses our conditions of life and our relations with our kind.” We’re at that sort of turning point in human history right now. And I think that, talking about recovery, talking about democracy, we too easily get sucked into out-of-date notions of what we want. So I’m expecting massive civil unrest in the near future. I don’t mind protests, in fact I encourage them at times.
But what happened in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2011 in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and England, plus the ongoing civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia, that is when people have gathered to say another world is necessary, another world is possible, and that we’re all longing for something better. It’s already started here in the 2000’s in the US with the Occupy Wall St. and the “We are the 99%” Movements. (For more details, have a look at my book, “Occupying America: We Shall Overcome”) These movements are the new civil rights marches of the 21st century by Americans who are becoming aware that our governmental – and particularly our economic – systems are broken. In Detroit, for example, – or what is left of it – people are beginning to say the only way to survive is by taking care of one another. This could easily happen in your city or town too.
We are collectively arriving at the conclusion that greed is bad and that excess profit always equals equally excessive greed. Human progress, on the other hand, depends on pursuing goals collectively for all our mutual benefit. In so doing we are evolving as human beings. Jesus commanded us all to “love your neighbor as yourself” and to “love your enemies”. Natural disasters tend to draw people together, with volunteers flooding into the hardest-hit areas where the need is greatest. The current economic instability we are experiencing due to the pandemic is turning out much the same way. More people are volunteering to help the poor and the less fortunate, which now includes much of the former US middle class.
So in closing I would encourage each of you to find something or someone that needs help and go and find out what you can do to help. By the same token, if you are in dire straits, take heart and do not be afraid. Your guardian angel (everybody has one) and Jesus himself are right there with you. You are not alone. “Be of good cheer,” said our Lord Jesus. “I have overcome the world”. This means Jesus hasn’t just mastered your situation, it means he has overcome all the bad luck on the entire planet, including yours. Remember, if you are in need of help, there is no shame in asking for it. And, if you don’t need help, there is no shame in showing it. So show it by helping someone else, even a total stranger. God is watching you and you will be rewarded according to all your good works.
On Being the Light of the World
by Minister Paul J. Bern
We’ve all heard or seen the expression “let your little light shine”. This is a truism that dates all the way back to the time of Christ, and it is documented in all the Gospels in one way or another. The apostle Paul also mentioned it in his letter to the church at Ephesus, more commonly known as the book of Ephesians. However, I am posting this commentary because I am becoming increasingly aware that much of the world has been turning from light to darkness. It has been my observation for quite some time now that the four lights of justice, truth, empathy and compassion are being snuffed out all over the world. The ultimate Light, that of Jesus Christ the Son of God, never goes out. The apostle John, the younger half-brother of Jesus, wrote about it in his story, known simply as the Gospel of John: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John chapter 1, verses 4-5)
Two thousand years later, things are much the same. The reason some evil people stay that way is because they prefer the darkness to the light. They perceive the Light of Christ, but they despise it because evil people have dark minds and souls. They naturally gravitate towards things like murder, kidnapping or hostage-taking, sexual or other physical assault, and all kinds of thefts. They cannot be trusted under any circumstances. They are dangerous and they are prevalent. Such people should be avoided at all costs. I’m sure just about everybody reading this knows at least one.
The apostle Paul also wrote on the topic of the Light of Christ, and I quote: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians chapter 5, verses 8-14)
When any person becomes a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, they become an entirely new person. Without Christ, one is in darkness because they rely only on their five senses, which can deceive us. But with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our senses are taken to a higher level with the addition of a Spiritual sense known as discernment. A discerning spirit within any given individual is not easily taught because it takes a lifetime to acquire one. You’ve heard or read that the best things in life are those that take the longest time. Discernment is one of those things, a subject that I myself have yet to master. But I continue to learn from the Lord daily.
The “fruit of the light”, Paul wrote, consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth. Paul then wrote, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” I can think of one person who has been in the news off and on for the last year or two who has made it his mission in life to do exactly that. Of course, I’m talking about Mr. Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor and government whistle-blower who blew the lid off of the NSA’s and FBI’s massive secret collection of people’s mobile phone data. Secret spying of American citizens is prohibited by law. As such, this domestic espionage can be defined as deeds of darkness, and Mr. Snowden, who is a modern-day hero as far as this preacher is concerned, has gone out of his way to expose them just as the apostle Paul said and wrote.
Those who take videos of police brutality against citizens are another modern-day example of following this precept of the apostle Paul’s. But then Paul wrote, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible…This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’.” What light was Paul referring to here? The Light that is the person of Jesus Christ, of course! It is said that the only thing those Roman soldiers who were guarding Jesus’ tomb saw when Jesus rose from the dead was a blinding light. When the dead in Christ arise with the rapture of the Church, we too will be instantly transformed into Spiritual beings of light. This is likely to happen in our lifetimes. Now there is something to look forward to!
Last but certainly not least, let’s examine what Jesus himself had to say about walking in and being a part of the Light we are discussing. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew chapter 5, verses 14-16) If we are in fact “the light of the world” in the sight of Christ, shouldn’t we be acting more like it? And if we are the light of the world in Jesus’ sight, how much more can we be for the Father, if only we will aspire to it?
Whether we get a positive reaction from others when we try to do this for others – or not – is besides the point. Because ultimately, we’re not doing this for them, nor for ourselves, but for Christ Jesus, because he is watching us. A city at night cannot be hidden when it is lit up. Let’s not hide the light that exists inside each of us. Whether we realize that or not is besides the point, so that all who claim to be believers be held to that higher standard. Those who refuse to let His light shine, or who won’t let it in at all, dishonor God, themselves, and even their family and friends. Since we are all God’s unique and distinct creations, let’s honor God by expressing our thankfulness and gratitude towards Him for creating us, and for keeping us alive and safe, even after all these years. After all, what better starting point is there?
Loving One Another Without Being Judgmental
Romans chapter 14, verses 1-12
Today in our ongoing study of the book of Romans, I will move on to chapter 14. Since there is a lot of subject matter to discuss, I am going to divide this portion of the study into 2 halves for all the new believers who are reading this posting. After all, I would not want to give you too much information all at once and risk losing anyone from ‘information overload’. Instead, I will lead this study with the first half of chapter 14, beginning at verse 1.
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14, verses 1-4)
We are not supposed to be passing judgment on those whose beliefs and values are different from our own. Those who behave this way do so because they are motivated by pride or jealousy, and sometimes due to their own deep-seated contempt. Some folks such as myself can eat and thoroughly enjoy all kinds of food without feeling any particular sense of guilt or conviction. Others, on the other hand, are vegetarians, and they behave this way because of their convictions, which may well be entirely different than ours. Jews and Muslims do not eat pork. Neither do some Christians, although I personally am not one of those, but neither do I judge those who abstain. But what the apostle Paul was saying when he wrote these words is that we have no right to pass judgment on one another because of our differences, be they real or perceived, and particularly when they are baseless and without foundation (such as racial hatred). Judgment is God’s job – it’s not ours and it never was.
When God made each of us, when He formed us in our mother’s womb, He made every one of us to be a completely unique individual. God did this because He knew that there is much richness in diversity. But God also did this to teach us tolerance and mutual respect for each other. There are no two people exactly alike, and this was God’s good and perfect intention for us all. So we can conclude from this simple truth that God intends for each of us to be tolerant of people from different religions, cultures, races, national origins, genders, sexual orientations and generations. He also commands us to show more understanding and empathy towards others who may be different from ourselves in a variety of ways. And we are to be continually doing this no matter where we are from, or what we have said or done in the past. God isn’t interested in where we have been in the past, He is far more interested of where we may be going in the future. That’s because where we are headed is far more important than where we have been, and what we are presently doing is also far more important than what we have done in the past. The past needs to be left where it is. Paul continues this train of thought in the next verses of this chapter of Scripture.
“One man considers one day to be more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14, verses 5-8)
Jews celebrate Hanukkah and the Day of Atonement (among other holy days) while others do not. Muslims celebrate the month of Ramadan while others rarely do. Gentiles, which are basically everybody else, do not celebrate any of those. Christians have days of fasting (hopefully, and if not, why not?). Non-Christians do not fast as a general rule, but some fast for personal reasons. No matter what each of us is doing with the intention of pleasing God and glorifying His holy name, we do so with our minds and hearts directed towards God because we worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Each person does so in their own special way, and none of us may pass judgment or be critical towards one another because of it. As Paul the apostle said in verse 5, “each one should be convinced in their own mind”. Paul then continues in verse 9.
“For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me, every tongue will confess to God’. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14, verses 9-12)
Here Paul is reiterating the single most central point of the Christian faith, which is that Jesus died by crucifixion and was then raised from the dead on the morning of the third day. Jesus rose to everlasting life so that we too, who worship Him in Spirit and in truth, might have everlasting life with Him. Therefore we are not to be wasting time and energy judging our brother and our sister because all who believe have already been judged, and they who do not believe have similarly been judged, except with a different outcome. Those who believe in Christ have the Father’s promise of everlasting life, and we pray for those who do not, so that they too may come to a realization of the Truth. After all, the Bible is very clear about this particular point, and the teachings of Jesus also state this with absolute clarity. And that teaching, which is found in all four Gospels and in numerous other places in the Bible as well, is that those who believe sincerely in the shed blood of Christ will be saved, but those who refuse to believe will face eternal condemnation in the fires of hell, and there for all eternity without end in just the same way as those who go to heaven when they die will also be there without end.
In conclusion, we are not to be judging and second-guessing other people no matter who they are. Judging others is God’s job, it is not ours. We are to leave God’s work to him alone. We are not to go dabbling in it because it is none of our business. But instead, as the Bible says in the book of Philippians, we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord” (Philippians chapter 2, verses 12-13). Yes, we are to do so armed with the knowledge that it is God Almighty and God alone who judges, and in so doing, “each of us will give an account of himself (or herself) to God”. Therefore we are to fear God’s holy judgment because it is He alone who gives us everlasting life according to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for each and every one of us. As such we are to conduct ourselves accordingly, knowing full well that we will adhere to this teaching according to the measure of faith that the risen Lord Jesus has implanted in every one of us. And we are to do so because as Christians we are to obey the commandments of God. In this case the commandment is that we are to be loving, charitable, tolerant and empathetic towards one another, knowing that we are going to be judged accordingly. Let us all resolve to do this to the best of our ability each day, and in so doing to make a better world in which to live. After all, a better world is what we all want, for that is what God intended. Ans next week we’ll go over part 2 of Romans 14.
How Churches Need to Change the Narrative About Mental Health by Replacing the Stigma with Love
It should not be ‘breaking news’ to anyone that we are experiencing a mental health crisis in our country. Mental health issues affect people of all ages, but its impact on our youth is staggering. Between 2015 and 2019, there has been a slight decrease in the number of adults self-reporting a mental health condition. The number of youth dealing with mental health disorders continues to rise. All the reasons why are beyond the scope of this article, but will be covered in a future piece.
Despite the attention given to mental health disorders and the significant rise in resources available, the suicide rates among teens and young adults has reached its highest level since 2000. With more awareness of the issue and more preventative programs in place, children and young adults continue to take their own lives at an alarming rate. Suicide has become the second-largest cause of death among teenagers; second only to traffic accidents. Far from being immune, recent studies have found that those with deeply held religious beliefs are more prone to suicidal idealization. How do we, as the body of Christ, do more to help those struggling with mental health issues? The most important first step is to remove the topic from being a taboo topic we do not openly discuss. We cannot help those we do not know are hurting, and we do not know they are hurting because our world has created a culture of shame around mental health issues.
It is time to break the cycle, stamp out the taboo and open a narrative about supporting those who feel isolated in their illness. It is a simple ministry to ease a large burden during a time of need. However, I have never brought a meal to a family because mom was suffering a major depressive episode, or because a child was just diagnosed with schizophrenia. This is not because those who serve in this ministry wouldn’t love to help, it’s because they don’t know. That’s because the culture of silence and shame about mental health issues keeps people suffering in silence.
It is time to educate ourselves, and then our workplaces and church families, about mental health awareness. Someone you know suffers from a mental health disorder whether they realize it or not. Boldly refuse to cave in to the idea that it is taboo to talk about mental health. Ask if they are okay. Create a safe place for them to answer honestly, without fear of reprisal, gossip or shame. Those involved with youth ministry need to be trained to recognize the signs of mental illness and should have an action plan to reach any young person who seems to be struggling. Talk about mental health in your youth groups, and don’t be afraid of the hard topics like suicide.
We know these people are living in a world where virtually all of them know someone who has attempted or completed suicide. It isn’t putting ideas into their heads to talk openly about this and other sensitive subjects. Right now, their information is coming from their peers and social media. Why not counter that with candid conversations grounded in Biblical truths? To those who live with a mental health disorder, we need your boldness and your bravery. Step forward with your wisdom about what can be done to support yourselves and others. You can break the chains of fear that keep so many from seeking the help they need.
Give your testimony if you can. Boldly proclaim your needs and how the churches and workplaces can help meet them. If that is a step you are not ready to take, then turn to trusted members of your church family, and confide in them what you are dealing with. When you speak out about your struggle, you educate those who do not know about the struggles of living with a mental health disorder. More importantly, you give courage to those who are still silent and afraid to speak. Remember what Jesus said at the Message on the Mount; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew chapter 5, verses 3-4)
We need to join together to start a dialogue about what we, as the body of Christ, can do to support families who are impacted by mental health issues. When we do that, we begin to peel away the stigma and open the door to new ministries. Does your church have a ministry for those with mental illnesses? If so, please share the scope of that ministry and the effect it is having in the comments. Share your ideas and suggestions, because we need to break these chains of shame and silence and start a dialogue that effects real change in our churches.
Being the Light of the World This Holiday Season
by Minister Paul J. Bern
The time-honored expression “let your little light shine”, is a truism that dates back to the reign of David (see Psalms 27: 1) and later by Isaiah (Isaiah 2: 5), and it is documented in all the Gospels in one way or another. The apostle Paul also mentioned it in his letter to the church at Ephesus (see the Book of Ephesians). However, I am posting this commentary now because of my own increasing awareness that the lights of justice, truth, empathy and compassion are being snuffed out all over the world. The ultimate Light, that of Jesus Christ the Son of God, never goes out. The apostle John, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote about it in his story, known simply as the Gospel of John: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John chapter 1, verses 4-5)
Two thousand years later, things are much the same. The reason some evil people stay that way is because they prefer the darkness to the Light. They perceive the Light of Christ, but they despise it because evil people have dark natures. They naturally gravitate towards evil things such as murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, sexual or other physical assault, and all kinds of thefts. They cannot be trusted under any circumstances. They are dangerous and they are prevalent. Such people should be avoided at all costs.
Having said that, the apostle Paul also wrote on this topic of the Light of Christ, and I quote: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of Light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is Light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians chapter 5, verses 8-14)
When any person becomes a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, they become an entirely new person. Without Christ, we are all in darkness because we rely only on our five senses, which can deceive us. But with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our senses are taken to a higher level with the addition of a Spiritual sense known as discernment. A discerning spirit within any given individual is not easily taught because it takes a lifetime to acquire one. You’ve heard or read that the best things in life are those that take the longest time. Discernment is one of those things, a subject that I myself have yet to master. But I continue to learn from the Lord daily.
The “fruit of the light”, Paul wrote, consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth. This lines up with what I wrote back at the beginning of this post. Paul then wrote, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” I can think of one person who has been in the news off and on for the last year or two who has made it his mission in life to do exactly that. Of course, I’m talking about Mr. Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor and government whistle-blower who blew the lid off of the NSA’s and FBI’s massive secret collection of people’s mobile phone data. Secret spying of American citizens is prohibited by law. As such, this domestic espionage can be defined as deeds of darkness, and Mr. Snowden, who is a modern-day hero as far as this preacher is concerned, has gone out of his way to expose them just as the apostle Paul said and wrote.
Those who take videos of police brutality are another modern-day example of following this precept of Paul’s. But then Paul wrote, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible……This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’.” What light was Paul referring to here? The Light that is the person of Jesus Christ, of course! It is said that the only thing the Roman soldiers who were guarding Jesus’ tomb saw when Jesus rose from the dead was a blinding light. When the dead in Christ arise with the rapture of the Church, we too will be instantly transformed into Spiritual beings of light. This is likely to happen in our lifetimes. Now there is something to look forward to!
Last but certainly not least, let’s examine what Jesus himself had to say about walking in and being a part of the Light we are discussing. I quote from the Gospel of Matthew: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew chapter 5, verses 13-16) If we are, in fact, “the light of the world” in the sight of Christ, shouldn’t we be acting like it? And if we are the Light of the world in Jesus’ sight, how much more will we be for the Father?
Whether we get a positive reaction when we “make our Light shine” or not is besides the point. Because ultimately, we’re not doing this for them, nor for ourselves, but for God, because He is watching us. A city at night cannot be hidden. Let’s not hide the light that exists inside each of us (whether we realized that up until now or not is besides the point). Those who refuse to let His light shine, or who won’t let it in at all, dishonor God, themselves, and even their family and friends. Since we are all God’s unique and distinct creations, let’s honor God by expressing our thankfulness and gratitude towards Him for creating us and for keeping us alive all these years. After all, what else can we do but be thankful?