Friday, June 29, 2018
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Monday, June 25, 2018
Sunday, June 24, 2018
Submission To Authority, the Bible, and Common Sense
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
For website, phone or tablet viewing, click here :-)
Although I don't often have to write follow-ups to my postings, I'm making an exception with this Sunday's commentary. (For those who may have missed it, you can read last week's column from right here.) Here in the early 21st century, we live in a world where authority has gotten completely out of control, even to the point of being abusive. This abuse of authority has now reached such an extreme that we treat toddlers like criminals! The problem with this is those who enforce America's laws have been proven to be criminals themselves! America was lied to back in the 1950's so our government could start the Viet Nam war. We were lied to about President Kennedy's assassination by the Warren Commission, and we were lied to again five years later concerning the murder of Robert Kennedy. We were lied to yet again about Rev. Dr. King's assassination that same violent year of 1968. President Nixon lied to us about Watergate. We were lied to in 2003 as a pretext for invading Iraq the second time. And we were lied to by president Obama when he won the 2008 election while telling us all that he would bring us “change we can believe in”. We got some serious changes all right, resulting in the largest spy and unmanned drone network the world had ever seen.
Meanwhile here at home, the police have become thoroughly militarized and they are having lots of fun on the job thanks to all their new toys and gadgets, not to mention fully automatic weapons and even tanks! They can stop you and search you without cause and without the Constitutionally mandated search warrant. They are breaking our doors down in the middle of the night and murdering unarmed citizens. A 92-year-old Black woman was shot 19 times and killed by the police more than a decade ago right here in Atlanta where I live and work, and people of color as well as the poor are being arbitrarily killed everywhere by the police, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. Back in 2012 when I tried to renew my drivers license, I was turned away due to a speeding ticket I got back in 1994 in North Carolina – even though I had paid the fine more than two decades previously. So now I no longer own a car, but I'm saving a lot of money by relying on public transportation and “going green”. Still, the state of Georgia's refusal to renew my drivers license makes me feel resentful and disenfranchised by the very system that is sworn to protect and serve us all. (Earlier this year I finally managed to pay off the $418.00 fine for allegedly being clocked at 70mph in a 65mph zone).
US attorney general Jeff Sessions recently quoted Romans 13 as being sufficient justification for America's immigration policies. Speaking as a minister of the Gospel and as an ambassador for Jesus Christ, I have done a little research as to what the Bible says about governmental authority and the abuse of power. It turns out that there is ample argument to be minted for both sides of this same coin. The first part has to do with submission to authority in the context of being a law-abiding citizen as the apostle Paul saw it when he wrote the Book of Romans approximately 1,950 years ago. At the time when this was written, all of what is now modern-day Israel was under the military occupation of the Roman empire. Similarly, much of the world today is occupied by the American Empire. Paul wrote these words in that context, so I will begin with the book of Romans, chapter 13 and verses 1-5.
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13: 1-5)
At the time the apostle Paul wrote this, the death penalty was commonplace. Capital punishment existed as a means of intimidation and absolute control, and that punishment was carried out with utter ruthlessness and without mercy. Moreover, unlike the Jewish religious establishment of that era, Paul was a Roman citizen and as such he was given rights and privileges that were not shared equally with his fellow Jews. But how does this compare with life in the early 21st century? Although the death penalty is still administered for capital crimes such as murder and treason, it is carried out with relative infrequency compared to the days of the Roman empire. There were also debtors prisons in Paul's day. People who ran into financial trouble back in those days were routinely imprisoned until their debts were paid. In contrast, today if one gets into financial difficulty, bankruptcy laws exist that are much more fair and equitable than prison. Compared to the times in which the apostle Paul lived, we get a complete picture of a much more fair, equitable and even lenient world in the present day. Let me now make some comparisons between Paul's world and ours using this passage of scripture as a backdrop to the picture that I will now paint for you with my words.
“The authorities that exist have been established by God”. Although Paul sincerely believed at the time that he wrote these words that he was absolutely correct, he was speaking more as a Roman citizen and a Hebrew religious scholar than he was as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In modern America, our rule of law is the Constitution of the United States and so I am writing today in this same context, but as an American citizen. We have the right to free speech and freedom of religion today that did not exist in St. Paul's time. That right, which is established under the first amendment to the US Constitution, allows me to write these words without fear of punishment. As such I am within the law and I will remain so for as long as the law is fair. It's when it's unfair, unjust or both that things can get pretty dicey. But hold that thought as I continue.
The apostle Paul continues with this same theme as he writes further: “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” The same applies today. Take the “patriot movement” and so-called “preppers” of today. Organizing any armed revolt in modern-day America is an idea that I am totally against, preaching and teaching as a man of peace who tries his best to emulate Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Besides, the police have well-armed SWAT teams, and there is always the National Guard that exists within any given state. So, I think one would be foolhardy to try and take on authority in an American armed revolt.
On the other hand, it is perfectly legal, and I would also say that it is even necessary, to engage in peaceful protests and passive resistance against laws and policies that we disagree with, mainly because they are unjust. The US Supreme Court's decision that money equals free speech is one good example. The counterproductive and sometimes downright stupid War on Drugs is another one. The first amendment gives us this right, something that did not exist during Paul's time all those centuries ago. In this regard, we can interpret this passage of scripture a little differently than what Paul wrote back then.
Paul then continues making his point, and so will I. “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.” It is sad to say that this is not always true in the modern world. Trying as I do to be a law-abiding citizen, I often find myself looked down on by the many godless, faithless people living in our world of today. I put up with the occasional ridicule and those who troll my blog just because I am openly Christian, but I do so knowing that God is watching everything I do and He is listening to everything I say. But to get back to the topic at hand, it is wise to be “free from fear of the one in authority”. The best way to follow this principle is to obey the commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Just by doing this, we can keep ourselves out of a whole lot of trouble. Besides, the Bible says in the Old Testament to “obey the laws of the land, that it may go well with you in the place you are abiding”. Those words were written at least three thousand years ago, and they are still just as true today as they were back then.
I have, however, another Bible verse or two for Mr. Jeff Sessions that he, and his entire staff, along with the rest of the Trump administration, seems to have overlooked. For example, what does the Bible say about so-called “illegal aliens”? “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress them, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 22: 21). For those who were unaware, the ancient Israelis (or Israelite's, as the Bible calls them) were slaves to the Egyptian Pharaoh's for 400 years prior to being led out of Egypt by Moses. This applies to the US as well, since America has the world's second-largest Jewish population. Only Israel has more. If it wasn't OK for Israel's ancestors to be oppressed by Pharaoh, it's not OK for her descendants here in America to be mistreating so-called “illegal aliens” either! Especially when we are breaking up families and traumatizing children!
Allow me just one more verse, Attorney General Sessions, before I conclude this week's message: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalms 9: 9). Based on this verse of Scripture I would say America has been demonstrably acting in exactly the opposite way that King David wrote about. There are other things happening and situations unfolding within the US government that are similarly contrary to God's laws. Take the ten commandments as an example. The eighth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”, which can be expanded to include this simple command: You shall not lie and gossip about people you dislike. Yet America found itself embroiled in a war in Iraq that was based on a lie. Specifically, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was still in power. Of course, those WMD's turned out to be non-existent, and it took more than 4,400 US fatalities – and well over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, nearly half of which were children – to find that out!
The same applies to Afghanistan – our troops have been there for 17 years! At first it was to find Osama Bin Laden even though everybody in Southern Asia and the Middle East knew he was in Pakistan. Now that he is deceased, are our troops all back home yet? Absolutely not, effectively making Afghanistan a defacto US territory with an open ended US military presence. And what are US troops still doing way over there? They're guarding the vast fields of opium for the CIA so American pharmaceutical companies can have an ample supply to fuel America's opiate epidemic, that's why!! (The CIA mainly handles the brokerage and logistics.) The US government has been spending $6 billion dollars a week on this occupation, a thoroughly obscene sum of money by any standard. Well over 50,000 Americans per year die from heroin and opiate pain-killer overdoses as a direct result, something I find even more obscene.
Yet all the while, there is unemployment here in the USA that is officially around 3.5%, but that doesn't count all the millions of long-term unemployed who have stopped looking for work, as well as those who are working part-time when full-time work is what is needed. If these facts were figured into this equation, the true unemployment rate is hovering at around 21 percent. There is no money to create over a million badly needed jobs in our country, but there is an unlimited supply of cash for multiple illegal military occupations and drone strikes all around the globe. This is a moral outrage, and anybody with even a little bit of a conscience should be out in the streets protesting against the US military-industrial complex, of which ICE is an integral part. That may not be in the words of the Bible, but it most certainly is in the Spirit thereof.
In closing, Paul then writes in verse 5, “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” This is just as true today as it was when it was first written. Being an outlaw will only get us into trouble, and jail is no place for anybody to be except for the worst criminals. For example, it is a bad idea to drive your car at 90 miles an hour because it is against the law, but also because it is dangerous. By the same token, the ten commandments must be obeyed, and let's be sure to include the teachings of Christ while we're at it. We should not steal, lie or commit adultery, nor should we have any false gods in our lives. This includes electronic devices like computers. To find out if something is an idol, simply compare how much time you spend in front of screens to how much time you spend in prayer (time spent in church doesn't count – sorry!).
We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your strength, all your mind, all your soul and all your spirit”, and to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves”. We can and should worship the one true God and Him alone, who sent His only Son to die for our sins and then to rise from the dead on the third day after He was crucified. In the same way that we submit ourselves to God, we should, as far as it is possible, submit to authority here on earth. And we should do so not only “because of possible punishment but also because of conscience”. But here in the 21st century we can and should oppose and protest against the government's immigration policies, also because of matters of conscience. It is part of the laws of our land, and we should exercise this right because our rule of law says we can. This is also in keeping with God's commands, and I hope and pray that it always remains so.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Sunday, June 17, 2018
A Few Words About Separating Children From Their Parents
and What the Real Bible Has to Say About It
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
For better small screen or website viewing, click here :-)
By now most everyone has heard about the outrageous remarks made by White House Propaganda Minister (um, I meant Press Secretary) Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You know, when she said that since the Bible says we have to be law-abiding citizens, it's perfectly fine to forcibly separate children from their parents at America's southern border. Before I get too deep into this, let me give a partial quote from the original article.
By now most everyone has heard about the outrageous remarks made by White House Propaganda Minister (um, I meant Press Secretary) Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You know, when she said that since the Bible says we have to be law-abiding citizens, it's perfectly fine to forcibly separate children from their parents at America's southern border. Before I get too deep into this, let me give a partial quote from the original article.
White House cites Bible to defend child separation border policy
Sarah Sanders slammed for saying US-Mexico border policy was justified because it's 'biblical to enforce the law'.
(Al Jazeera News) “White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has seemingly invoked the Bible to justify the Trump administration's policy of separating children from migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border, drawing anger and ridicule from many online. At a press briefing on Thursday evening, Sanders responded to a question put forward by CNN journalist Jim Acosta on US Attorney General Jeff Sessions' use of Christian scripture to justify detaining children separately from their parents. Acosta asked Sanders to point out where in the Bible the policy found its moral justification. "Where in the Bible does it say it is moral to take children away from their mothers?" he asked. Sanders responded: "I am not aware of the attorney general's comments or what he would be referencing ... I can say it is very biblical to enforce the law, that is repeated a number of times throughout the Bible." When pressed to point out a specific verse justifying the policy by Acosta, Sanders lashed out at the journalist. "I know it's hard for you to understand even short sentences I guess," she said, before going on to blame "loopholes" created by the Democrats for the policy. The comments from Sanders and the similar sentiment expressed by Sessions have earned the ire of many on social media.”
“Some cited biblical passages that emphasized the need to do justice by the poor and oppressed, while others pointed out the contradiction in justifying a policy, only to blame (the Democrats) for its existence..... "So, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is blaming Democrats for the Trump regime's ripping children away from their families and throwing them in prison camps whilst her and Jeff Sessions are citing the Bible to explain why it's all okay. They are about as Christian as Kim Jong Un is," wrote twitter user Ricky Davila.”
“The issue of child separation on the US-Mexico border has drawn widespread protests since it came to light last month..... In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated the threat to prosecute those who made the crossing. "If you're smuggling a child, then we're going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law." The "zero tolerance" approach has drawn criticism from those on both sides of the political spectrum, including from the UN human rights office, which said the practice "amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of a child". The number of interior removals - or deportations of those already in the US - grew by 37 percent during Trump's first year in office when compared with the same period in 2016, according to government data. Sessions has also recently come under fire for issuing a ruling that may make it nearly impossible for domestic abuse and gang violence survivors to seek asylum in the US.”
First of all, I assume you saw where this article came from – Al Jazeera! The reason I picked this article was to show you all you can't trust the American news media to tell you the real story. And the real story is that we now live in a country where many people – but not all, since people like myself practice unconditional love and compassion – think it's perfectly OK to forcibly separate children from their parents because they are allegedly “illegal aliens”. Let me remind Sarah Sanders, president Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that there is no such thing as an illegal human being (“The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it”, Psalm 108: 1 and, “The whole earth is full of His glory”, Isaiah 6: 3). People have been coming to America illegally for 400 years, so this is nothing new. Some came on slave ships, but that was legal. So how come it's illegal to cross our borders when they are not slaves?
Moreover, America's northern border with Canada is at least as porous as its southern border, if not even more so. Nobody says a word about this. Do you know why? It's because Canadians are mostly white. Latino/Latina people are mostly brown. It's all about race, Jeff Sessions and Sarah Sanders and all those before you, the multitudes of bigots who insist that it's 'my way or the highway'. Nonwhite people please stay away from us Anglo's, they say when no one is around. Blacks and Hispanics are not welcome in many Caucasian neighborhoods, and would be told (not asked, mind you) to leave most conservative white churches. The state of American spirituality is pathetic indeed!
So what was the Bible passage Jeff Sessions and Sarah Sanders were quoting from? It was Romans chapter 13, the first 5 verses, and I quote: ““Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, then pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
There is another infamous person from history who quoted from that passage of scripture often to control the masses – Adolf Hitler. The problem with using this passage of Scripture in this context is that it says nothing about separating children from their parents. It sure as hell says nothing about locking children in cages away from their parents just after locking up their parents while the children watch helplessly. These poor kids will be traumatized for life by what's being done to them, and still more people will hate our country because of all these things. This is no way to run a country; separating parents from their children in the name of 'law and order'. Separating children from their parents is also unconstitutional because it's an 8th Amendment violation!
What are some additional examples of what the Bible says about the treatment of children? “Train a child in the way they should go, and when he gets older he will not forget about it”, (Proverbs22: 6) is one example. How can these incarcerated children learn when their parents are not there to teach them? Another example is Proverbs 29 verse 15, “A child left to himself disgraces his mother.” Jesus mentioned children on numerous occasions. One of his most memorable is from Matthew's gospel chapter 19, verse 14: “Let the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them. For I tell you truthfully, the kingdom of Heaven is made of such as these.” So you see, people, God made all the little children just like you and me. And God made these various children from various cultures, backgrounds, races and ethnicity's with different skin colors to teach us all about the richness of diversity, as well as teaching us to have some tolerance for those whose physical appearance and mannerisms are different than our own. Never forget that the same Almighty God has made us all!
Sunday, June 10, 2018
The American Dream Has Become a Nightmare
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
To view this on my website, or for small screen viewing, click here :-)
The “American Dream” has at its core an escape from the real world to build a personalized utopia, a custom-made fantasy island of sorts. When we were taught to pursue this dream back when, we were 'taught' that if we work hard and diligently enough we'll be able to make enough money to buy a house in the 'right' neighborhood so our kids go to the 'right' schools and buy enough stuff so as to please ourselves, stay even economically with our neighbors and relatives, and shut out the rest of the world so we can keep it all to ourselves. But the house and our neighborhood are not the only part of our island. Our cars and our Internet gives us the power to choose almost everything such as where we work, or where our houses or churches are. Not to mention who our friends are, too. Our cars allow us to escape what we don't like about the neighborhoods we must sometimes live in.
If that is not enough, our TVs and our Internet connections allow us to filter out whatever else could intrude on us. Not that we need help to filter out what is unpleasant, the 'lame stream media' does that for us already. All one has to do is talk to those who are from other countries such as Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Israel/Gaza. Our media protects us from the real life negative stories about what our country and corporations do to others. In lieu of the unpleasant truth, our media reports only that which does not interfere with our consumption of their sponsors' products. And out of that small selection that is left from all of this filtering, we use the remote to choose shows based on how they make us feel. What a dumb life this is! Ever considered turning off your cable TV and pocketing that money each month? Thank God we have the alternative media outlets such as Israeli News Live, We Are Change, SGT Report, Jason A and many, many other high-quality channels or websites to choose from!
Christendom as a whole sees this self-imposed isolation by its secular fellow Americans as an affirmation of his own similarly withdrawn theology. For example, I rarely see any articles or postings that call into question the extreme immorality of waging war. In its place their articles, Christian books and TV shows are concerned with fine theological points, pointless evangelical arguments, how to better manage church services, all about miracles real or imagined or engineered, and all the while oftentimes overemphasizing fund raising.
But it is not just the articles that show how we distance ourselves, but we use our gospel of individual salvation to shut out what we find disturbing. We so reduce our standing before God – in our own eyes – to our current state of inner self and beliefs that we become hyper vigilant over ourselves while ignoring the needs of others. As a result, we become agitated and even panicked when the concerns of the world ask for our time. And it isn't just the negativity of the news that disturbs us, it is its complexity. Since things are simple when we only have to care for ourselves, we prefer to pay as little attention as possible to others. The apostle Paul wrote, “we have the mind of Christ”, but some 'Christians' aren't acting like it.
And when we do see and respond to the suffering of others, it is only to a chosen few fellow Christians or to those whom we cannot avoid. But such an approach to helping others goes against what the Bible teaches. Isaiah chapters 58 and 59 and Jeremiah 22:16 (“He defended the cause of the poor and the needy, and so all went well. 'Is that not what it means to know me', says the Lord?”) closely tie helping those in need with having seen the light. Likewise, Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats (see Matt. 25, verses 21-46) not only taught that those who helped others in need were the sheep who received eternal life, it also showed that those who neglected the needy, looking after only themselves, were banished from heaven forever! He also demonstrated this latter principle in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
In Jesus' parable of the rich man, who built extra barns to hold the excess of his harvest and told himself to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow he could die – well, sure enough, he did. He begged Lazarus from the fires of hell to give him just one drop of cool water, but Lazarus could not. Last in my list is the book of Proverbs, containing such tasty nuggets of wisdom as, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (chapter 14, verse 31), and “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor, and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them” (chapter 22, verses 22-23).
But perhaps the most pathetic way that Christians fail in their missions of service, prayer and worship is by blindly submitting to authority. It is not that Christians are not called to submit to those in authority – quite the contrary! But many of today's Christians do so as a way of shielding themselves from the risks that come with confronting evil, such as opposing corruption and speaking truth to power (think Rev. Dr. King, the Kennedy brothers, Huey Long, Malcolm X, and many more like them). Submission to authority, then, is sometimes practiced not in order to love God and others, but to secure for oneself the kind of world that is most comfortable.
And so when evil prevails in either the private or public sector, this legitimate command to submit to the authorities is used to hide the very ones who are perpetrating evil and mayhem, and especially government and workplace corruption. But not only are we negligent in our Christian duty when we fail to confront those who abuse their power, we also become complicit in their evil ways. And we do so in order to ride on the coattails of evil and power rather than risk any reprisal for challenging it. If we as a people – regardless of religious affiliation or the lack thereof – continue to allow abusive and corrupt authority to run our country, we will soon lose it forever.
Martin Luther King faced this very dilemma when he stood up to the legalized racism and racial hatred that was rampant in the American South. He wanted to honor and follow the commandment in Romans 13 that told him to submit to the authorities. At the same time, he knew that many authorities were enforcing unjust laws while allowing abuse and even murder. He could have submitted and just gone along with the status quo and he would have avoided making himself a target. But that would have been the coward's way out! Had he remained quiet, others would have continued to suffer horribly. So King concluded that he could meet both responsibilities by using political dissent and organized passive resistance as forms of peaceful protest. When arrested, he made no effort to resist. He did not challenge the authority of the police, but he most definitely did challenge the validity of unjust laws and the society that profited from that authority. The institutionalized racism that Rev. Dr. King stood against exists to this very day! What are white or Caucasian Christians doing about this?
There is a Biblical reason why the American Dream is so desirable to Christians. It is because we see the American Dream as the Garden of Eden restored and thus it's our Christian duty to make it so. In fact, some think that the purpose of God's Word is to make Paradise accessible again, not understanding that we who call upon the name of the Lord are destined for a Paradise that will put the Garden of Eden to shame. Such Christians argue that basing one's life on God's Word is like following the right blueprints when constructing a building, and they have a point. The more we follow God's Word, the more we can avoid the hazards of sin. But the big question becomes, did God give us His word to return us to the Garden or to help us through the wilderness? But before answering that question, we must understand why would Jesus commanded us to collect our treasures in heaven rather than on earth, and why the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us we are to look for a new home to come rather than a home here.
To believe that God's Word tells us how to regain Paradise is inaccurate, to put it nicely. By the same token, the real attraction to the American Dream isn't the opportunity to restore what was lost but to worship what can be found – the twin false gods of money and materialism. The American Dream is a monasticism with benefits. Its preachers assure us that we can be righteously selfish. The “prosperity gospel” is taught in churches like a canned sales pitch, and is gleefully and mistakenly received as truth by the gullible. It allows us to flee from what is unpleasant and distasteful in the world while enjoying its corruptible fruit. This makes America a trap for 21st century Christians. For when we try to take what we want instead of waiting on God, we become deaf and blind to both the world God wants us to share His love with, as well as our own depleted spiritual conditions.
My conclusion, then, is to reject materialism and the pursuit of economic gain! Jesus said, “One cannot serve two masters. He/she will either love one and despise the other, or cling to one while rejecting the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon (materialism)”. Choose today whom or what you will serve in life. You can either pursue wealth and material goods, or you can pursue a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and all that goes with it. There is so much more to choosing Christ than there is to choosing riches, which can be here one day and gone the next without warning. One cannot serve them both, since from the vantage point of the believer they are in opposite directions from each other.
Our wealth and possessions die with us or are willed to others after we are gone, but Jesus Christ lives today, tomorrow, and forever! It is He and he alone that is the correct choice for us to make. It is Christ alone who offers us the eternal salvation our souls urgently need. Right now would be a perfectly good time to do this (for those readers who haven't already done so). Simply pray within yourself to Jesus and ask Him to take charge of your life. It doesn't matter how you surrender to him, just do it. He always does a perfect job anyway, so there is no profit in resisting him. Ask Jesus now, he is waiting eagerly for you! And he loves you unconditionally!
Saturday, June 9, 2018
Coming this fall from Author Rev. Paul J. Bern: the 4th updated edition of his popular 2011 nonfiction work, "The Middle and Working Class Manifesto"
The second part of the Manifesto is what I will devote this chapter to. It summarizes the 11 Demands of the People and then organizes them into 7 basic human rights in such a way that they can be legislated into existence. How do we accomplish this? One way would be for a large group of people to go to Washington and demonstrate our disapproval by surrounding Congress outside the main Congressional building where the House of Representatives and the US Senate preside, and continuing to surround it while demanding that the Eight Fundamental Rights Of Mankind be passed into law in the form of a US Constitutional amendment. Nobody leaves until our demands are met. Our demonstrations will be peaceful, and weapons will be prohibited. I have lots of other ideas about how to go about changing the system, but for now let us take a chapter from this book to explain and analyze these basic human rights, how they apply to us middle Americans, and why these basic human rights are what this new Civil Rights movement represents.
 Rights of Workers and Independent Contractors
The basic rights of all workers can be broken down into six parts; fair minimum wage, right to unemployment protection, right to free vocational re-training for life, right to choice of career path regardless of economic status, right to organize, right to a flexible work week, and right to family and maternity leave.
The first thing on the list is also the highest priority, that of a fair and realistic minimum wage. As I write this the current minimum wage is only about $7.50 per hour. That's a gross pay of $300.00 for a 40-hour work week, about $210.00 after all applicable taxes for a single person. Now, let us ask ourselves one basic question: could I live on $840.00 per month? Of course you can't! But the need to raise the federal minimum wage to $14.00 per hour is only part of the solution because it is only part of the problem. The real problem that I see here is a moral issue that is disguised as an economic issue. The cost of living is so high today in the early 21st century that the true minimum wage should be close to $35,000.00 annually before taxes. That is what it costs a family of four to live week-to-week in 2018 dollars. If the US business community and/or Congress refuse to agree to any such thing, and it's a sure bet that they will, then let there be protests and worker walkouts all across the country. We could even haggle down from the $14.00 level to, say, $12.00. The important thing will be to keep them talking to us. Sooner or later we will get the large increases we urgently need, even if it means shutting down the whole country for a day or more, or even a week.
But what about the times when the cost of living overwhelms us and a real financial emergency sets in, such as an unexpected car repair or a medical emergency? This brings me to the point that I wish to make, and it is this. In today's world, if the net take-home pay of any given individual does not meet, or just barely meets, that same individuals daily cost of living, then that is tantamount to economic slavery. Let me say that again because this point simply cannot be overemphasized. If your take-home pay won't even take you home, you are a slave. Oh, you are free to move around and to come and go as you choose, that is true. But if after you stop at the grocery store, pay the light bill (assuming you are fortunate enough to be able to do that), put gas in your tank (assuming you are lucky enough to still own a car) and set some money aside for next month's rent or mortgage, then you peek into your wallet and realize that you have $7.00 left for the whole stinkin' week, that's when you know you are a slave. What happens to the people whose incomes are at or below minimum wage? They go hungry and are often homeless. And this is happening in the United States of America, supposedly the greatest country in the world, while millions of its people live in abject poverty. How much longer do we wait before taking matters into our own hands? After all, it's the only way we are going to accomplish our goals.
On this point alone, there are enough issues on the collective dinner plate of the American people to foster open revolt throughout the land. Never mind everything else that I have written about. Think about it for a minute. How does it feel to be an economic slave? Makes you feel kind of angry, doesn't it? It make us all feel violated because we have all been slaves, often without realizing it. The time to rise up and say, “No more!” has arrived. It's time for all of us to get out from in front of out TV's, our computers and our phones, and to get ourselves out into the streets and start protesting. Never mind your game consoles either, there's no more time for that. And that's just for this issue alone. Now allow me to mention the rest of these basic rights.
The second right under worker's rights is the right to better unemployment insurance, and to also allow independent contractors to draw unemployment provided certain conditions are met. Any worker who has lost his or her job through no fault of their own will be entitled to up to 52 weeks of unemployment compensation instead of the current maximum of 26 weeks of non-emergency benefits. Once the benefits have been exhausted, if the job seeker is unable to find full time work, they will have two options. The first will be to enlist in free vocational re-education, which will be offered for the lifetime of that worker or until retirement (more on that further below, so please stick with me). The second option will be to enlist as a worker in new public works projects, which will be described later in this chapter. Under this new 21st century plan, we can and will wipe out unemployment and poverty forever.
The third human right listed is the right to free vocational retraining for life. Anybody can go back to school and get retrained at will, up to and including a 2 year degree, and under this new system it will all be free of charge. We will be able to pay for it with the new tax code that I will describe to you later in this chapter. Students in the program who have children will, upon qualification, be given taxpayer-funded day care free of charge so they can get their education without having to worry about their kids. Much is being made right now about the fact that higher education is becoming more financially out of reach for an increasingly large percentage of the US population. Offering free taxpayer-funded reeducation will take down this barrier, and can be thus used as a tool for peaceful and orderly wealth redistribution.
The fourth human right under worker's rights that I have written about is the choice of career path without economic qualification. This is basically a continuation and clarification of the above right to vocational retraining. It adds a civilian draft which is designed to eliminate unemployment and homelessness. Every able-bodied homeless person, newly released prisoners, and the long-term unemployed will be put to work in a public works program that I will explain in detail later in this chapter.
The next right I mentioned is simply the right for workers to organize. It will include a provision making it illegal for states to outlaw labor unions and it prohibits companies and corporations from preventing unionization. American workers will get worse working conditions, not better, if they do not organize. They also won't stand a chance of getting pay raises, better benefits and investment opportunities because company management isn't about to give away any of this voluntarily. The workers are going to have to collectively go to management and make their needs known.
The fifth human right that I mentioned is the right to a fair workweek. All workers who work more than 40 hours in a week, and all salaried managers who work more than 50 hours per week, will be entitled to compensation at time and a half. All companies with more than 100 employees will be required to offer either a four day workweek with a ten hour workday, or a five day workweek with an eight hour workday to all its workers. Workers who are paid biweekly will be paid overtime for all hours worked in a 40-hour week. It will be illegal to require such workers to work 80 hours over Less than two weeks before paying them overtime.
The right to family leave, which will include maternity leave for women, is the final right for all workers and independent contractors. It will be illegal for any company to fire any worker for taking maternity leave or family leave. Any worker who loses their job due to family or maternity leave will be required to be compensated by that employer with a minimum of 30 days pay to a maximum of one year's salary pending arbitration.....
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Friday, June 8, 2018
Sunday, June 3, 2018
God Wants Justice and Mercy, Not Religion,
and We're Falling Short
by Pastor Paul J. Bern (Isaiah 58)
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For this week's message I have been inspired to write about the true meaning of the twin brothers of the Spirit of the Lord known as justice and mercy. I saw an item of general human interest on the evening news on one of the local channels here in Atlanta about a man, one Sonny Bharadia, who has been locked up for 17 years for a crime he did not commit. It has only recently come to light that the DNA evidence in his case points to another man who is already serving a life sentence for murder in a separate case. And yet the state prison system here in Georgia is refusing to hear the evidence and release the man (to view the whole story, click here). This is injustice at its absolute worst! So I took this to the Lord in prayer, as I often do, and inquired as to what part of the Scriptures I should use to deliver a message condemning the State of Georgia's refusal to hear the evidence that would exonerate this man. The result of my communication with the Lord will be a message on Isaiah chapter 58, and I will begin at verse 5.
“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58, verses 5-7)
Fasting, from a Biblical standpoint, is the voluntary abstention from all food and drink except for plain water. This usually means abstinence from sexual relations as well, and for a certain period of time, usually for anywhere from 24 hours up to an entire week or more. So, when God defined fasting through his prophet Isaiah, he meant different kinds of fasting besides simply doing without food. What can we compare this to today? In the first place, what we call 'dieting' today is what used to be called 'fasting'. When we're dieting we're still eating, but a lot less of it. But when we're fasting, we're doing without everything all at once. By doing this, we rely on the Lord for our sustenance and him alone. That's why fasting brings us closer to God. Although my fasts are of the 24 hour variety because I have medical issues, I find even little fasts like those can bring me into closer union and harmony with God.
False humility will not cut it before the Lord either. Go ahead and give your unwanted clothing and chattel furnishings to the charity of your choice, tithe your 10% to the church of your choice, and when you attend your charity gala's, be sure to be there to see and be seen. Those are the people who gladly humble themselves when everyone is looking at them, but when they are out of sight they turn into ravenous beasts of prey. But we know who they are, don't we? But then the Lord corrects us in verse 6: “Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and …. to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke?” To me at least, 'loosing the chains of injustice' would include the injustice that has been committed against men and women like Sonny Bharadia. Although the Bill of Rights contained in our still-beloved Constitution says we are all innocent until proven guilty, oftentimes in today's American criminal in-justice system the defendants in these cases are considered guilty right from the start, which is clearly unconstitutional. This is apparently what happened to Mr. Baradia.
To “set the oppressed free” in today's world means, to me as an American, normalizing relations between Native Americans, other minorities and people of color with the remaining majority white Anglo/Caucasian population. To 'set the oppressed free', then, should be defined as normalizing race relations in America. As we have seen from the police shootings of unarmed Blacks, not to mention Rosanne Barr's racist tweets and Neo-Nazi's openly running for political office in states like Illinois and Virginia, my country has a long way to go towards 'setting the oppressed free'. What about this, people? Please, we have to do something about America's race problem immediately! Otherwise, our 'Christian faith' becomes little more than a Sunday morning social club.
What about “breaking every yoke”? This would presumably mean yokes of bondage. Nearly 2 ½ millennia ago when these words were written, 'bondage' meant being sold into slavery, or living one's life as a slave. Although human slavery still flourishes here in the 21st century, the number one form of bondage in modern times is debt, the second is very low wages and the third is taxes. Never mind the latter two – I have already written expensively on the need for a $15.00 per hour minimum wage, and I outlined a simple way to overhaul the tax system in chapter 9 of my 2011 book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, which is still available in its third edition on Amazon from here. Debt is a topic for yet another day.
“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” What happens today when somebody sees a homeless person rummaging through their trash, or when a vagrant camps out on the porch of a vacant house on their street? Does anybody share food or offer any warm, dry shelter? No, they call 911 and watch triumphantly through their windows while the cops haul the homeless guy off to jail for trespassing. Provided, of course, the homeless guy survives being arrested. There are even people being put out of whole families – banished, actually – for reasons real and imaginary. The reason this condition exists to the extent that it does in American society today is because forgiveness is no longer being taught in the home. How can we expect our children to learn forgiveness and loving kindness when many of us are lacking in these qualities ourselves? One thing is for sure – this is a time of reckoning by a lot of people. It is a time of reckoning and taking stock of ourselves and the world in which we live. And when we have done these things, only then can the repair work begin. Now let's finish up this week's message starting at verse 9.
“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: 'Here am I'. If you do away with the yoke of oppression; with the pointing finger and the malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58, verses 9-11)
Those who practice true justice and mercy, those who show compassion and empathy, those who put others before themselves, they are the ones who, when they cry out to God for help, their prayers get answered. So, if you're crying out to God for help and it seems he's not listening, try doing something really nice for some people. Bake them a cake, mow their grass, babysit their child, you get the idea. Whatever you do will come back to you. But as the prophet went on to say, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression; with the pointing finger and the malicious talk....” It's time for America to pack up her outdated and mean-spirited racial prejudices and carry them to the curb. It's also time to clamp down hard on human trafficking – too many women and children have become sex slaves for the rich and powerful, and not enough people are talking about this. Well, I am one who is, and I want to know why there aren't more joining with me in exposing this distasteful business! In the meantime, these same people maliciously point their fingers at others and judge them for perceived wrongs real or imagined. As you judge, so you will be judged. Never forget that.
“.... if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday.” Notice that Isaiah wrote “spend yourselves”, not 'spend your money'. How is this accomplished? By devoting our bodies to a little work, maybe get a little sweaty, or giving our precious time to a cause greater than ourselves, such as helping the survivors of a natural disaster. You can even make a career out of this kind of work, people do it every day. “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs....” But, mind you all, only if you walk in His ways instead of your own. I know, I know, this seems counter-intuitive on the surface of things. God gave us a brain, it's our own responsibility to use the darn thing. So making our own decisions based on our own best judgments is the responsible thing to do, and that's right. Except, our minds can sometimes play tricks on us, causing us to see or hear things differently than they actually are, creating what we perceive as audio or visual distortions. Our emotions often give us even bigger problems than that. So consequently we take the wrong actions. Whether this is purposeful or not is besides the point when it still turns out to be wrong.
“.... he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden....” There are hidden benefits – more like bonuses, actually – to consulting with God prior to putting our plans into action. Are our plans congruent with God's? Better yet, does that work both ways as well? Because if it does, God doesn't just reward us. He reinforces us in ways that we cannot do ourselves. God can and will give us an overhaul – sometimes whether we ask for it or not! Trust me, I've been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt. But God doesn't allow us to go through these things to be hard on us, or to be mean to us. He does it to build us up and to strengthen our character. So cheer up! Life isn't so hard. You're just like a well-watered garden when you consult God first. Who else would know any better except for your Maker?