Sunday, August 30, 2015
What Would God Say About All These Police Killings?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
The United States of America is 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 are epidemic and notorious. Lately I have begun to learn, much to my own horror, that civilians have begun taking matters into their own hands by assassinating police officers while they are on duty and in uniform. We had two more such incidents this past Friday – 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? I can sum up the answer in one sentence, and it's a quote from Christ: “He/she who lives by the sword will die by the sword”.
Of course, there are always two sides to every story. In several of the shootings of unarmed Black men, police officers have been charged with murder just recently, as you know. Yet by the same token, there was a nationally reported incident earlier this week where a 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. God gave me a passage of Scripture earlier today that would fit 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 Isaiah and Ezekiel. I am going to take this just a verses 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: 1-2, NIV) 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 church in America to stop what they are doing and hear these words. Otherwise, He is saying, you have no business coming in here. 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!” (Jer. 7: 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 ancient Israel in the years leading up to its downfall and 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. (Jer. 7: 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 2014). A person in the US working full time at a minimum wage job takes home approximately $640.00 after taxes. So these “illegal” immigrants, as they're called by all the right-wingers (many of whom identify as Christian) see their take-home pay increase ten or 11 times just by relocating to America. Is it any wonder they are coming 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, the taxpayers spent $35 billion 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 can run 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 find 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!
What about “shedding innocent blood?” Does America, 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 millions of civilian casualties in the two Iraq wars, Afghanistan, Viet Nam, 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 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! Turn off your cable TV and save money, watch Christian stuff on the Internet instead, 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! 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.” (Jer. 7: 8-11, NIV) How are we trusting in deceptive words that are worthless, you ask? What is God talking about here to 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, Christians. 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, lie, cheat and steal and think we got away with it because nobody saw us? Those who do 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, since they apparently didn't learn their lesson the last time our Lord administered it 2,000 years ago. “But I have been watching, say the Lord”! God sees all of it, He is totally fed up, and judgment is coming to America as a result. As I write this in late August 2015, judgment is only weeks away, mark my words.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
I have a combined 5,000 friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Linked In. If I could get just 320 of them to please donate $10.00 or more apiece, I could reach my musical goal in just one day! Could you please help me record my albums? Thanks! http://www.gofundme.com/c49h8365g
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Poverty and Inequality Are Everybody's Problem
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
As I was watching the GOP presidential debates this past week, I was struck by the fact that several key issues were completely ignored. One was the urgent need for development of clean energy and a green economy. Another big one that got brushed aside was 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 got ignored was economic inequality, the fact that 99% of America's wealth is in the hands of 1% 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! My further observation of both of the presidential debates was that most, if not all, of the candidates running for the top office in the land are these same 1%-'ers who crave the Oval Office and the power that accompanies it. It seems that the same people who are part of the problem are putting themselves forth as being the engineers of the solution. 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.
According to statistics published by the Economic Policy Institute, and backed up by US government data, 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 that we are all made in the image and likeness of the same Almighty God who made us all (see Genesis chapter 1).
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. For one thing, jobs are disappearing. Many of these jobs were 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 one another'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, NIV) 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, NIV)
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 NIV) 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 forfeit! Total disaster will overtake all of you who put yourselves into your careers and climb 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 NIV) 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 Donald Trump is still considered the GOP front-runner in the early part of the 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, is the Donald, the one with the most money. The most eligible Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has reported earnings together with former president Clinton at $140 million over the last seven years. That's a cool 20 mill per year, there are a lot of professional sports players who don't make that much. So, the bottom line here is that the two front runners in the 2016 election are both 1%-ers who profess to have the solutions to the plight of the remaining 99% 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 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.