marquis goodwin

Living to be a Father

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who know and follow him.

Psalm 1[03:13]

The ball was headed right for him as he swooped downfield past the only person covering him. As he looked up, he watched the perfectly passed football drop into his hands. In front of him was open space with no one to tackle him. With extraordinary speed, he raced for the touchdown.

When he arrived in the endzone, he quickly kneeled and gave the sign of the cross and blew a kiss to heaven to acknowledge who had given him that moment of glory and to a now-lost son. As an NFL player, it was his first touchdown for his new team in a game that would become their first win of the season.

He had experienced God

His teammates surrounded him as he collapsed with emotions that ranged from joy to thankfulness to sorrow. Each teammate patted him on the back and joined him in this emotional experience. They stayed with him far longer than any usual celebration of a touchdown. They all knew what he had gone through that day. It had been both a dark day and one where God had visited him. Marquise Goodwin had experienced God and the loss of a son on that sad day.

Earlier in the day, his wife had delivered a stillborn son. Goodwin had wanted to be a good dad and husband and wanted to stay with her instead of playing football. Goodwin’s own father had abandoned his family when he was young, leaving his mother to raise the family. That family had included a disabled child. At a young age, Marquise Goodwin became the male figurehead in his family. He vowed to himself throughout his life that he was going to be the father he’d never had.

Marquise was a blessed athlete.

He as not only a standout football player but also a speedy track star. As a senior in high school, he recorded the second fastest time in the 100-meter dash. His long jump became the national high school record.

Goodwin received a scholarship to the University of Texas and became a two-sport star both in track and field and football. He qualified for the Olympics in 2012. It was through track that he met his future wife, Morgan Snow.

When the two first dated, Marquise dropped by his mother’s house to introduce his new girlfriend—a step way too early in any relationship. While a bit put off by this, Morgan still hung around. She would later notice his commitment to his family and especially to his disabled sister. Their bond grew, and at halftime on senior day, Marquise proposed and Morgan accepted.

After college, they moved to Buffalo, where Marquise was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. For four years, he played with the Bills, never really making progress despite his unusual speed. He only started ten games during this period.

The following year, in 2017, he went on to the San Francisco 49ers. On a very weak team, he was inserted into the starting lineup. That year, his wife became pregnant and was due during the football season. Early Sunday morning of November 12th, his wife woke up with discomfort and knew her baby was in trouble. They quickly went to the hospital and received the devasting news—their son wasn’t going to make it. Still, she was able to deliver the baby and the two were able to hold him. Marquise wanted to call the 49ers and say he wouldn’t be able to play that day. But his wife said no—go play for your son.

Marquise protested.

As he’d grown into adulthood, one of his main life goals was to be a good husband and father, driven by the absence of his own father. The decision to play cut across the grain of an important life goal, but his wife persisted. He left her and the baby to play football that Sunday.

When Goodwin arrived, the coaches and players knew about the events earlier in the day and told him it was okay if he wanted to go home. Despite his grief, he suited up and assumed his normal starting role. His team had played poorly to this point in the season, but Marquise was having his best year as a pro, though still with no touchdowns to his name.

Then he made the catch and ran into the endzone. He knew God was watching over him, and he gave praise and recognition to his lost son.

Later, Morgan and Marquise had the baby cremated, and the ashes today sit in a vase on their nightstand where they can touch their lost baby.

We read many stories about over-selfish athletes.

They are the ones that make the headlines. But most are like Marquise. They give back to their communities. They visit the hospitals with sick children. Some ring the Salvation Army bell at Christmas. They aren’t looking to be self-important heroes. They just want to be good parents and community citizens. We don’t always get to know about the backstory of these types of athletes. They are still human beings with tragedies and joys in their lives. They raise families and help communities.

We won’t see the football players who meet in the center of the field after each NFL game and hold prayer sessions. The networks won’t show that scene, assuming it could be offensive to some. In a spirit of political correctness, the networks don’t show the more human side of these athletes.

Attached is the NFL 360 film featuring Marquise’s story. Click the link to know more. https://www.49ers.com/video/nfl-360-tells-the-story-of-marquise-goodwin

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

The Maccabees and Hanukkah

The Maccabees and Hanukkah

One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: “What do you expect to learn by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

2 Maccabees 7:2

Seven sons had been captured by the Syrians in 200 BC. They were being tortured in front of their mother. The oldest and first son was told to eat pork, to which the son would not relent and said, “What do you expect to learn by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” After his refusal, he was tortured and murdered.

So it went with the other six.

Each were asked to break the Jewish custom of not eating pork. The final son said, “My brothers are dead under God’s covenant of everlasting life.” After the seven had been put to death, their mother, Hannah, was also killed.

The Syrians ruled Jerusalem and its surrounding territories at the time of this story. They had come to rule the Israelites by taking over the lands in the Middle East that Alexander the Great had conquered two centuries earlier. In the aftermath of Alexander’s death, much of what he had conquered fell into the hands of other rulers.

The Syrians believed they could control the native Jewish population by eradicating their customs and beliefs. Beyond insisting that pork be eaten, they also desecrated the great temple of Jerusalem. In the famous hall of the Holy of the Holies they set up a gymnasium where men would work out naked. This was an abomination to the pious Jewish population.

Every aspect of Jewish life was put to the test.

Naturally over time, the Jewish population either succumbed or rebelled. At the center of the rebellion was a man named Mattathias. Mattathias was a local priest from a town near Jerusalem. He protested both those who were collaborating with the Syrians and the Syrians themselves. After one particular incident when he forcefully struck a collaborator and killed a Syrian official, he fled with his sons to the hills. There in the hills, the rebellion took hold with many joining Mattathias.

The struggle went on for a few years and Mattathias died. His son Judas took over. Judas led a successful rebellion and, in 164 BC, claimed victory by retaking the great temple in Jerusalem. Many who’d helped and participated in the rebellion noticed Judas’s forcefulness and called him Maccabee. In English this means the hammer. The name was passed on to the rest of Judas’s family as well, including his deceased father.

Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, comes from the events of recapturing the temple. The priests who had entered the reclaimed temple believed they had only one day’s supply of oil to light what has become known as the menorah. But the oil provided eight days of light.

Today,  Jewish people throughout the world celebrate the retaking of temple and the miracle of the oil during the period now known as Hanukkah. For eight evenings, they read verses and light the menorah. It is also a time of gift-giving— traditionally, a present is given each night.

The most important Jewish holiday is not in the Tanakh

The full story of this event in Judaic history can be found in the two Bible books called 1st and 2nd Maccabees. But here is where the story gets a little more interesting: the Maccabees do not appear in the Tanakh or, as Christians call this section of their Bible, the Old Testament. It might seem unusual that the story of one the most important Jewish holidays is not in the Tanakh. But the book of the Maccabees was not fully written by the time of the completion of the Tanakh, in 93 AD.

To further add more color, the Protestant version of the Old Testament also does not include the Maccabees. It is only found within the Catholic version of the Bible. While there are many theories on why this is, many are obscure and create more confusion than provide answers. Another Bible does exist—called the Harper Collins Study Bible—which includes the Maccabees and other non-canonical books. This Bible is one of many theological schools use in their curriculum. It is not included as a point of deciding what books should have been included in the Bible, but to ensure the students’ awareness of these disputed books.

The point of this article is also not to give an opinion of whether or not the Maccabees should be in all Bibles but to tell the history behind Hanukkah and its origin. It is a story of a people who would not submit to human demands but remained loyal to the values of God. By doing so, and though at times things may appear dire, victory is still assured. Certainly, human foes can be mighty, but the lesson of the Maccabees is that God is mightier.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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grace is enough

The Song “Your Grace Is Enough”: A Universal Statement of Grace That Connects All Denominations

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9

After leaving a Catholic church, my wife said to me, “we are all Christians first and denominations second.” We travel a lot and, on many Sundays, find ourselves going to churches that are different than our Methodist church. The more we attend churches of other denominations—and even non-denominational churches—the more this simple quote rings true. We are all connected, as Christians, by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

There are different worship practices from denomination to denomination. The Catholic service always ends with communion, while Protestants generally hold communion once a month. Some churches baptize with a sprinkle, while others engage in full body immersion. But what we notice when visit other denominations is the sacredness that the clergy and congregation have during Sunday service. It is a piety that is universal. We don’t always agree with what we hear in the sermon but, for the most part, the churches we visit have a sacred sincerity in worship.

When I was studying the song, “Your Grace is Enough,” I noticed its complex connection to multiple denominations. The song was written by Matt Maher, who identifies himself as a charismatic Catholic. A lifelong Catholic, Maher became inspired by contemporary music written by other composers. As a graduate of Arizona State University with a music degree, he became a music leader in various Catholic parishes and began to blend these songs into Sunday worship.

Your Grace is Enough

In 2003, the burn out from parish life began a time of spiritual hardship for Maher. After reading 2 Corinthians 12:9, he wrote the song “Your grace is Enough.” He was inspired by the Apostle Paul’s story of asking Jesus to relieve him of the thorn in his side, to which Jesus replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This was a revitalizing moment for Maher, when he understood that a life of following Jesus would not always be easy. With a renewed sense of dedication, he wrote the song, “Your Grace is Enough.”

Later that year, due to his rising popularity, he was invited to play his new song at a Pentecostal Evangelical youth event. Chris Tomlin and his band provided musical support. Tomlin was moved by the words and had asked Maher if he could record the song, to which Maher agreed. In 2004, the song was included on Tomlin’s album Arriving. Today, many credit —a  Pentecostal contemporary singer—with the song, which was, in fact, written by a lifelong Catholic. It has now become a staple at many non-denominational churches and is also included in the contemporary worship song books of many mainline denominations.

Another twist in the story of denominational connection with the song comes from the United Methodist church. The Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church, recently declared “Your Grace is Enough” as one of the top Wesleyan songs, stating it’s lyrics were strongly Wesleyan in a theological sense. In other words, they were strongly connected to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. It is remarkable that a song written by a lifelong Catholic songwriter would have such a strong Wesleyan support.

Enjoying the Debate

While I was in theological school at Drew University (a Methodist-affiliated school), the professor who taught Methodist history and doctrine would lambast contemporary songs weekly, calling them thin and weakly thought out. Dr. Williams was deeply devoted to the traditional Methodist songs and saw these contemporary songs as a threat to his tradition. Privately, I got to know Dr. Williams well and would spend many moments challenging him on his views. As was the case with most of my professors, he enjoyed the debate.

My Argument

My main argument was that even if the song didn’t have long discourses on faith, if they inspired the contemporary listener, it was enough. Dr. Williams would look at a song like “Your Grace is Enough” and conclude there weren’t enough words. True, the traditional hymns of the Methodist are very wordy and, when studied closely, provide an in-depth theological explanation. But the melodies are slow and tedious, reducing the enthusiasm of the listener.

So, when we turn to the words and know the history behind this song, there is a rich and theological meaning. From a simple verse in the Bible, come the main words, your grace is enough. For the original author that meant he needed to rise above the pains of being a parish music leader and focus on Jesus. To let go of those things that bind us and focus on the majesty of God’s grace. It is a redirection of how we look at life.

Click on the following link, and you will hear Chris Tomlin’s wonderful rendition of  “Your Grace is Enough” along with its lyrics

This is a song that crosses many denominations and simply states an important theological message: Your Grace is Enough.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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millennials

It’s Time for the Baby Boomers to Move Over and Mentor

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy this year, a stunning reversal for a company that just a few years ago was the darling of all retail stores. When you read about the reasons why Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy, and there is a list of many reasons why. None address the fact that they missed an important demographic shift. Their core customers—the Millennial generation—grew up and became adults. The generation behind them—Generation Z—is much smaller and, while attracted to Forever 21’s merchandise, is not sufficiently large enough to generate the sales the millennials created. This shift burdened the former retail giant with a structure that could no longer support its costs and overhead.

This phenomenon of the millennials is not just affecting retailers. It is impacting our churches as well. Millennials are less inclined to worship where their baby boomer parents worship—or even how they worshipped.

Millennials are now between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-six years old. They number 75 million, roughly twenty-five percent of the total U.S. population, which now exceeds the current baby boomer population. They represent a full forty percent of the U.S. workforce. They are no longer the “future generation.” They are now the driving force of American cultural, economic, and societal issues.

Are Millenials Spiritual?

Many religious groups are complaining about millennials lack of religious views and attendance at church. But, much like Forever 21, these views miss the mark. Studies show that, while they stay away from traditional church, they still are as spiritual as their parents at the same point in life. Traditionally, for all generations from young adulthood to middle age is a period of declined spirituality. Spirituality becomes more important as we age.

These studies don’t address that a change is needed in the church’s approach. Not to bemoan their lack of attendance, but to upgrade to the way millennials want to experience God. Millennials are far more interested in missional work. In fact, the average millennial gives money to 3.3 non-profit organizations. Millennials are far more likely to go on mission trips than to Bible studies. These tendencies developed when they attended church in the past, not as participants in worship service but as members of their youth groups. While we baby boomers were in worship, they were learning to help.

When they were younger and in church, millennials didn’t sit with the adults. They were whisked off to classrooms. They didn’t pick out the music or the scripture; they picked out the places they could help. Too often they heard they were the future, while they were actually there in church.

Changing the Mindset

If the church doesn’t want to go the way of Forever 21, it must adjust to the reality of this enormous demographic bubble. Some churches are making this change and finding success. The campus pastor of New Life Church in Virginia Beach, Jeremy Miller, states, “we don’t focus or target the group, but instead see people in the fullness of who they are in God.” They have stopped telling the millennials that they must worship their way and seek to find out how this demographic wants to worship.

The church leaders act as a mentor and not a demander, in effect creating an authentic desire to hear their voice. They are permitted to pick out the music and scripture, making them actively involved instead of merely passively involved. Giving them a voice, while sounding obvious, hasn’t been the approach of the past. It has been more lip service than an authentic appeal. Pastor Miller has seen that this approach works, and his attendance by millennials has grown.

Consider the ordination process to become a clergy…

At a recent conference of the United Methodist church recognizing the retiring pastors and the incoming new pastors, I noticed that there were far more retiring than new. The reason isn’t that this generation is less religious. It is more about the many rules that are needed to become a pastor. These rules didn’t exist when the retiring pastors were ordained. It may take many years after they graduate school to become a pastor in the United Methodist church. They would rather help in a different way than wait in line.

This group doesn’t want to deny mentorship needs but insists it be authentic. Otherwise they politely turn away. It is time for us baby boomers to stop controlling the lives of our children; they are now adults. It is time we offer advice and not demands. This is a hard transition for the baby boomer generation. We raised our children with a more controlling approach than other generations were raised. It was always in the spirit of trying to help, but many times, it created embarrassing moments.

The millennials are not the future.

They are the present. It is time for us to listen and collaborate. It is time for us to back down on our demands and become partners.

As they mature, like all past generations, God will find them. They will move back to the church as we did. As was the case in our generation, we heard we weren’t as religious as our parents, and now we are repeating those same comments.

Baby boomers only have to look back at the time when they were emerging adults. We fought against Vietnam while our parents insisted we didn’t understand. We brought the idea of peace into the political discourse. In our own protest of  the then status quo, we found resistance. Eventually, we overpowered the status quo and got our way. Millennials are now doing the same. Their sheer numbers will also force the status quo their way.

If we want our children to attend church, it is time to bend to the new reality and hear their voices. It is time to reevaluate and not simply dismiss millennials because they are different.

Their time is now.

Our role is now to become authentic mentors not committed to our own ways but to collaborate. It’s time for us to move toward sharing the steering wheel. It’s hard to move over, but it’s time. After all, we are good parents.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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gospel of john

Revealing the Gospels (Part four): The Gospel of John

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John1:1

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of only the Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John [1:14]

 

The last Gospel we studied as first-year theological students was John. Our professor, Dr. Moore, asked us to understand the word, “Word.” This was kind of a speed bump for first-year theological students, who had to read hundreds of pages and write many papers each week. To have to stop and study one word created a lot of consternation. This exercise was laborious but very important in understanding this Gospel. Once unlocked, the Gospel would flow and the essence of God was revealed. Just through the study of one word.

So, what did “Wordmean? It was a reference to Jesus. After much reading and deciphering of the ancient Greek word “logos”, most came to this conclusion. Others got there after being encouraged by our professor.

If you take out “Word” and replace it with “Jesus,” John 1:1 takes on a powerful new meaning: In the beginning, was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.

There is a lot to this first sentence of the Gospel of John. Notice the similarity to the first line of Genesis, “In the beginning….” This indicates that Jesus was not created but was there at the start. This is also remarkably similar to Jesus’s famous saying: “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” (Omega being the end and Alpha the beginning.) Then it says: “the Word was with God.” So, Jesus was there at the beginning as the creator. Finally, it says “the Word was God.” Jesus was part of the Holy Trinity from the start.

In a later verse in the opening chapter it says, “and the Word became flesh.” This tells us that Jesus descended to earth in human form. In these two sentences from John 1:1 and John [1:14], we are shown the essence of Jesus and his arrival on earth. These critical statements make the book of John a more philosophical Gospel than the first three.

John was written very late in the first century and perhaps even in the early second century. At the time of its writing, it is likely that the early Jewish Christians had separated from Judaism and were no longer a sect but an independent belief structure. Also at that time, Greek philosophy dominated the Roman Empire, and its influence is evident in the Gospel.

Who the author was is very much in debate. Tradition holds it was John—one of the twelve apostles. Scholars hold that this is unlikely. So, like the other three Gospels, John’s authorship is disputed.

The Gospel of John is sometimes called “the book of signs.” There are seven of these signs, or miracles, demonstrating Jesus’s power and authority. The first one occurs in John 2 when Jesus turns water into fine wine. The last sign is the resurrection.

The Gospel is also very specific about the Holy Spirit. For instance, in John [14:15]-17 it quotes Jesus as saying, “If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” While this is not the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned, it is a very complete theology of the purpose and residence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is humankind’s advocate and source of wisdom and resides within each of us.

Later in my studies, I began to become focused on the actual words of Jesus. Fortunately, you can get a copy of the Bible that print Jesus’s actual words in red. The book of John has far more red-lettered words than the other Gospels. With one of these Bibles, a wonderful Bible study is to read only the words of Jesus. This allows you to get a complete and accurate depiction of Jesus’s values.

Personally, I find John to be a wonderful book because of its intimate connection to Jesus and its many sayings that came directly from Jesus. But this book is so rich in the philosophy of Christianity that it is very accessible to different points of view. Some can read this book and have the Spirit give very different meanings. All different walks of life will see that Jesus is available to all.

So ends this four-part series on the Gospels. Perhaps starting with Mark, read all four consecutively, taking just fifteen minutes a day. Within a month you will have read them all and will have a wonderful understanding of Jesus and Christian beliefs.

 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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slavery

A Life Led by Choosing Self-Worth Over Net-Worth. The Story of William Wilberforce

The battle is not ours, but God’s.

2 Chronicles [20:15]

On July 26th, 1833, William Wilberforce received word that the British government had agreed to the required concessions resulting in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. It marked the end of a decades-long battle for this witty, compassionate, and deeply faithful person.

Three days later Wilberforce died.

William Wilberforce was born into a life of luxury. During his childhood, he benefitted from a life of privilege and, even with his father’s early death, his relatives provided substantial support. Wilberforce thrived, was well-educated, and went on to Cambridge to receive his higher education.

During his teens, he caroused and was hardly interested in studying. Because of his extraordinary wit, wealth, and intelligence, he was able to successfully position himself in society. He was invited to the best parties and traveled throughout Europe. Through the death of his grandfather and uncle, he inherited a sizeable fortune and became independently wealthy.

A Renewed Journey

But nagging thoughts about doing more to help the world began to enter his psyche. In 1785, he began a renewed journey of discovering Jesus. In his youth, he had become attracted to early Methodist, but his mother steered him away from this new renegade denomination, and with that, he put away his Christian yearnings. They then resurfaced in his early adulthood. Now, he knew he had to change— to no longer be driven by achieving fame and net-worth but to instead live morally and chase self-worth.

Together with his friend William Pitt, who would later become Prime Minister, they decided to run for parliament. At the age of twenty-one, Wilberforce won his election, buoyed by his gift of oratory and personal funds. Pitt was elected as well. This began a lifelong journey together in politics.

Pitt would become an important influencer of British politics for many years. Wilberforce took another course—that of fighting against injustice. Wilberforce was certainly capable of following Pitt’s path, but his moral compass led him to defend the disadvantaged.

In 1787, Wilberforce was noticed by abolitionists as a potential leader in the fight against slavery. His oratory and across-the-grain speeches made him standout in Parliament. He began to study the issue of slavery and heard about the horrid conditions in which the slaves lived. Wilberforce agreed to help, even with the knowledge that this would be a hard fight and would likely isolate him from his friends.

One of the turning points for Wilberforce was an arranged meeting between himself and Pitt under an oak tree. Encouraged by Pitt, it was here that Wilberforce became convinced of his purpose: to fight slavery. It was a purpose he felt came from God. The oak tree is dead now, but a seat and plaque commemorate the meeting.

Today this place is called the Wilberforce Oak.

Wilberforce began to speak out in parliament. At first, he made little headway. Later, as it became clear to those who ran the slave trade that Wilberforce was gaining traction, they began to circulate rumors and to vilify Wilberforce. People slowly began to distance themselves from him.

The opposition had very strong monetary backing. Almost eighty percent of the foreign income for Great Britain came from trade associated with slavery. The slave trade and the products slaves produced were very lucrative.

Essentially, ships would leave England and sail to the coast of Africa where they would pick up captured Africans and then journey to the Caribbean. After selling the slaves to local distilleries and plantations, the ships would be loaded with rum and molasses. They would then sail back to England to deposit the goods produced by the slaves. It was a triangle that created wealth at the expense of innocent human beings.

The slave’s life was very hard.

Ten percent died on the way from Africa to the Caribbean. Once there, they were subjected to a dark life of hard work and very poor living conditions.

For the slave traders, plantation owners and rum runners, any thought of interrupting this lucrative trade system would mean a large reduction in profits or the end of their business enterprises altogether. Like all social justice changes that bump up against money, resistance is always very strong.

Wilberforce continued despite the isolation and other effects on his social life. He and the abolitionists decided that trying to completely eliminate slavery would be a long and hard battle. They instead focused first on just eliminating the slave trade and not slavery itself. For nearly two decades, Wilberforce worked on introducing bills to end the slave trade. These attempts were often denied by parliamentary procedure. Even when the issue was brought up for a vote, the bill was defeated.

The English public began to become vocal about the issue of slavery.

Politicians began to run on an anti-slavery platform. Over a period of years, they began to win elections to Parliament. Finally, in 1807, there were enough votes to pass the bill. It passed 283 to 16. As the bill was read, and while many members of parliament paid tribute to Wilberforce’s efforts, Wilberforce sat overwhelmed, and his eyes teared from the emotion of success. The first phase of ending slavery was done.

With the passing of the bill, Wilberforce and his allies—a group that was now much larger than when he had begun—began to focus on the complete abolishment of all slavery throughout the British Empire.

Wilberforce never had a completely healthy life. He was often sick and suffered from colitis. During this last push to end slavery altogether, he was ill for lengthy periods. He continued his fight, but because of declining health delegated the task of gathering votes to others. A key factor was creating concessions for the landowners who would lose their slaves. These concessions amounted to twenty million dollars. This money was to be given to a group of people who had profited from the horrendous scourge of slavery. With this difficult compromise and concession in 1833, a bill was passed, finally ending slavery. Another decades-long fight had come to an end.

William Wilberforce had suffered for months before this final vote.

While he was bedridden, many others picked up his flag and pushed the final steps up the mountain of resistance called change. Finally, so near to the end of his life, word came: his efforts had paid off.

Wilberforce’s greatness could be expressed in his dogged determination and also in his charming wit and persuasive oratory. Instead, it resides in a choice he made at a young age—a choice to take a more difficult life journey than one of privilege and wealth. He could have continued to attend all the right parties, have tea with the rich and powerful, or simply enjoyed his wealth. Instead, he put all of his effort into fixing a terrible wrong. He chose to follow Jesus. It was a difficult course that temporarily removed him from his friends and at times isolated him.

Still, he chose to increase his self-worth and not his net-worth.

After he died, Wilberforce was buried in Westminster Abbey next to his friend William Pitt—an  honor only given to those who achieved greatness. Those who had abandoned him in his youth now honored this great warrior of justice.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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watchtower

Body Snatchers: When Is Evil Good and When Is Good Evil?

Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.

Luke [9:60]

In 1536,  Andreas Vesalius, a twenty-two-year-old medical student, began stealing bodies from local cemeteries in Paris. Vesalius would take the bodies back to his home and boil the skin and flesh off until the only bones remained. His goal was to develop more knowledge of skeletal structure. At that time, the only book available for Vesalius was an ancient text written 1300 years earlier by Claudius Galen. With his new knowledge he made over 200 corrections to Galen’s book and brought the study of the human skeleton up to date.

Resurrectionists

While this is a very early account of a practice called body snatching, it reached its zenith in the nineteenth century. Medical schools desirous of cadavers would secretly pay clandestine body snatchers to bring bodies to their schools to educate and experiment. Those performing the task of body snatching were, ironically, called resurrectionists. They differed from another group of marauding night people called grave robbers. The difference was that the resurrectionists or body snatchers did not steal personal property, they took only the body. Stealing the body was a misdemeanor, while grave robbers took personal belongings from the grave which was a felony.

In England, the practice became so prevalent that ingenious methods were created to protect the grave. Today’s image is that of a graveyard watchtower in Edinburgh, in which a person would stand guard over the cemetery overnight. Relatives also installed iron fences around the cemetery plot or grave to prevent the removal of bodies. Night watchmen were hired as well.

As medicine became more interested in the workings and structure of the human body in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the need for cadavers rose significantly, especially in England and throughout Europe.

In some cases, people would show up at local morgues claiming to be relatives of the deceased and take their bodies. Another common source was the local Potter’s field, where it was unlikely that a relative would notice a tampered-with grave site.

In England, medical schools needed 500 bodies a year. Some came by way of the execution of hardened criminals. At the time, if you were convicted of a major crime and sentenced to death, your body was made available for dissection in a medical school. However, by the nineteenth century, only fifty or so people a year received a death sentence.

Thus, the medical schools turned to resurrectionists.

In the United States, where medical researched lagged behind the European schools, the phenomenon didn’t start until later in the nineteenth century. In fact, President Benjamin Harrison’s brother, John Scott Harrison, was one of the bodies stolen, which led to universal outrage in the United States.

The resurrectionists would look for fresh graves to make the digging easier and often used wooden shovels to prevent clanging. They became very skilled in where to look and find bodies. Of particular note, African American gravesites were especially attractive, as the relatives of the deceased might complain, they were frequently dismissed.

Dr. John Gorham Coffin

Late in the mid-nineteenth century, Dr. John Gorham Coffin—a prominent and aptly named professor and medical physician—asked a question that best sums up the ethics of body snatching: “how could any ethical physician participate in the trafficking of dead bodies, just for the sake of gaining scientific knowledge.”

If future patients might be healed from the research, are the means justified by the end results? At first,  some may say yes. But to others, thinking about the stolen bodies of their relatives, it would be horrifying. But was it also right for those that were destitute or of color and with little legal protection to be the primary victims of removal?

Thorny questions, further complicated when you read Jesus’s words. Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. (Luke [9:60]) Perhaps Jesus is telling us to focus on the living and not the dead by supporting the practice which benefitted those in need in the here and now.

Or, perhaps Jesus is referring to the spiritually dead.

Since I researched this article, I have waffled back and forth. I can make arguments both for and against. I feel compassion for the relatives of those who were taken. And I’m certainly opposed to the use of clandestine means to gather the bodies. On the other hand, what if one life was made better through the research of these dead men and women? What if a significant breakthrough in medicine occurred because of this practice? In the end, I side with Dr. Coffin—progress obtained through the use of questionable means seems an inadequate answer. However, I am sure others would see this differently.

While body snatching is, by itself, a horrific practice, it is a subject that naturally leads to the question of what Christians should do when evil produces good. It is a worthy debate on medical ethics, but also in other matters of our lives. Does the end justify the means? Is it fair to put progress ahead of using questionable practices?

I follow the idea of removing evil in all that we do, not necessarily through just my intellect but through my instincts to try to avoid evil. Whether you agree or disagree, it is still a worthy debate.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

gospel of luke

Revealing the Gospels (Part Three): The Gospel of Luke

It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:3-4

The Gospel of Luke is actually part of a longer book, referred to by scholars as Luke/Acts. This is because both books are written by the same author in a continuous manner. The section called Luke is the period from birth to just after Jesus’s resurrection. Acts continues the story from Pentecost until Jesus ascends to heaven and is followed by the story of the disciples post ascension. Later it includes Paul’s story. In effect, it is a complete history from the birth of Christ to a period near the end of the first century.

Luke, by itself, is the longest of the four Gospels.

It is believed to have been written very late in the first century with revisions being made into the second century. The earliest date given to the writing of Luke is 60 AD, but other estimates date it as late as 110 AD.

It is important to note that the author addresses the Gospel to Theophilus. In  ancient Greek Theophilus means “lover of God.” While Theophilus might have been a real person, it is just as likely a translation referring to early Christian converts. This interpretation becomes even more likely when you take into account verse 4, which says: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” However, there is wide disagreement about who Theophilus was.

Luke, like Matthew, uses Mark and the document Quelle.

It also seems likely that the author had a copy of Matthew due to the similarities in some sections. Luke also contains language unique to only this Gospel. Luke is the third and final of the Synoptic Gospels. Together, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain similar material.

There is much debate as to Luke’s intended audience. Some scholars say the Gospel was originally intended for early followers to read during the celebration of the last supper—similar to the Jewish tradition of reading the story of Exodus during Passover. Other scholars, like my New Testament professor, declared it as the Gospel of the poor. This is in part because of the use of the word “poor” in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, which he called the Sermon on the Plain. Others believe it was intended for the educated Greco-Roman early converts.

Personally, I believe that because of its comprehensive history, these views depend on how those interpreting the Bible experience the Bible. In other words, one’s life experiences and connection with the Holy Spirit dictate how an individual sees and hears the words. I believe this is true of all other books of the Bible as well.

I like Luke for many reasons.

As a history buff, its historical narrative satisfies a lot of my questions about the foundational history of Christianity. The Gospel is filled with parables that are direct and frank. Of particular interest is the story of the Prodigal Son, which is a wonderful discourse on the essence of God as a God of redemption and forgiveness. The story portrays humankind’s struggle with God—to leave but then to return. Not as an inferior figure, but as a redeemed figure.

Another interesting aspect of this Gospel is the comparison of the rulers of the world to evil or Satan. These passages are somewhat hidden so as to prevent the ruling authorities at the time of its writing from banning the book. But its contrast is evident when you read the Gospel with this in mind. Conversely, Luke is strong in insisting that the Christian voice of authority is God through Jesus. Like the other Gospels, it also portrays the Pharisees as the main oppositional force to Jesus, painting them as villains in this wonderful story of salvation.

Read both Luke and Acts together

While lengthy, an interesting Bible study exercise is to read both Luke and Acts together with the knowledge that it was written as a complete history of Christ and the lives of early Christians. While reading, jot down in a journal after each chapter what was important to you. This will reveal some of what is most important to you in your relationship with Jesus. This will become even more apparent when you later read the journal in its entirety.

Just reading both Luke and Acts together will serve a primer on the history of Christianity—a solid base by which to get to know the Jesus story.

My primary focus after the first few years in theological school narrowed to the study of the Gospels. This is a common occurrence for most who become involved in advanced theological studies. Luke/Acts became a centering point in these studies for me. Because of its historical nature, it propelled me into deeper research of the Gospels. Then, transitioning from Acts to the letters of Paul increased my understanding of Paul, allowing me to gather a more complete theology.

Why not try this yourselves?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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washington monument

George Washington and Religious Freedom (Part Three):

Some scholars have proposed theories that George Washington may not have been a Christian, but a Deist. Deists believed that the existence of God was determined by reason and not divine revelation. In other words, both Jesus and the Bible did not prove the existence of a supreme being. Rather that belief was determined by reason and study of the natural world. During Washington’s lifetime, Deism was a popular religious thought.

Deists would use words like “providence” to both explain the existence of God and the reason for events that occurred. Washington, himself frequently used the word providence, leading many scholars to believe Washington was a deist.

Part of the confusion about Washington’s religious belief was in his very private nature about expressing them. Washington’s usual demeanor wasn’t to express his views without first hearing other points of view. He also expressed his religious views not from what he believed but by making sure others felt comfortable expressing their views. This was especially true after he became president. Also adding to this confusion is Washington’s later-life practice of not taking communion.

Circumstantial Evidence

However, we can find evidence that Washington’s Christian beliefs are determined by circumstantial evidence. During both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, Washington ensured there were military chaplains for those under his command. In fact, during the French and Indian War, when chaplains were few, he would lead services on Sundays himself.

The issue of Washington not taking communion in his later life, which led many scholars to believe that he was a Deist, provides other clues. As president, he would often attend church on Sunday but would leave just before communion was taken. This act drew criticism from pastors. But based on what we know about the prevailing spirit of communion at the time of his presidency, it actually isn’t that odd. At that time, many believed that you should only take communion when you were in the right state of mind. Washington’s days were filled with the responsibility of being president. Like all things Washington did, he wanted them to be done right. This might lead one to a conclusion that he never felt like he was in the right state of mind.

Another Theory

Another theory is that, as a former military leader, he had a difficult time reconciling the acts of war he led with personal piety. Later in his life, he struggled with thoughts of slavery. Was it moral and right to hold people against their will? A final thought was that as president of a new republic, he didn’t want to show bias to any form of worship, and perhaps giving up communion was his compromise.

In the period before the American Revolution Washington frequently went to church. At times he was the leading member of the laity and was responsible for running the church and its affairs. Going to church while he was at Mount Vernon was difficult. Mount Vernon was very large and located in two Anglican parishes. He attended both churches on different Sundays. Neither were close, and it often took up to two hours by buggy to arrive at church. He still went.

Washington bought Bibles for people, especially for his wife Martha, who herself was a very devout Christian who took communion. Washington strongly believed in the value of the church and would often say it was the pillar of society.

We must also remember that Washington took being the first president very seriously. He knew what was at stake and the direction he wanted to country to go—to be a true republic not dominated by royalty or aristocratic elite. In this spirit, he rebuffed the many who wanted to make him king or serve as president for life. He also knew about the persecution by some to those of different faiths. He had a strong desire to allow religion to be free for all people. But, He also knew he was model for the citizenry and strongly desired to show no partiality. With this mind, it is easy to understand why, during the period of his presidency, he was extraordinarily careful about expressing his religious views or acting in a way that might show favoritism.

Morality

Washington strongly believed that the health of any country or society was based on morality. He saw that morality coming from religious thought and expression. He acted to ensure all people could practice religion freely. From that, the new republic experienced a tremendous surge in spiritual growth. At the time of the Revolution, there was a church for every four hundred citizens, yet only eighty attended church—a mere 20 percent. In the following decades that would rise to as much as 80 percent. Today it stands at 65 percent.

While scholars can say Washington wasn’t a Christian, what was accomplished under his leadership brought religious freedoms to all people, which catapulted religious expression from a minority to a majority of Americans.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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shoots of hope

Green Shoots of Hope

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah [29:11]

In the early part of the 20th century, many churches were built to house the growing population of Christian worshippers. At that time, because of the relative cost of building, churches were often large and statuesque buildings. They often served not only as a place of worship but also as a central place for the community. Many of these churches became artistic monuments and a great source of pride for local communities.

However, fast forward to today, thousands of churches are closing each year. This is a result of declining congregations and burdensome costs to maintain these older facilities. Some churches now spend the largest part of their budget maintaining these grand buildings, forcing them to cut back on community mission work and worship.

Attendance is Declining

At the same time, despite the growing population in the United States, worship attendance is declining, and population centers have shifted. In fact, 35 percent of churches today are experiencing declines in attendance. Much of this has affected the mainline denominations.

Non-denominational churches are also emerging and, in many cases, rent spaces at local schools or community centers, in effect lowering their operating costs and providing more services to the membership and local communities.

The effect of all these factors is the need to abandon these once-great pillars of our communities. Nostalgic memories are now not enough to keep them open.

Some churches are sold to create new housing, and others are just left abandoned. Millions of dollars’ worth of space is being sold or left vacant, while God’s work still needs to be done.

But there is a new trend starting to pop up like Easter flowers in the spring. New rays of hope for churches whose mighty edifices serve their communities. It is a trend to bring vibrancy back to these beacons of Christian light.

We recently moved to Asheville, North Carolina and came across one of these great churches from the past—the Bethesda United Methodist Church. Their membership had shrunk to a mere ten attendees each Sunday. Facing the inevitable decision to close, sell, or choose a new way to serve, they chose to continue serving, but in a new way.

Creating a Community Center

The congregation created a community center called Haw Creek Commons. Inside their building, they opened up meeting spaces for local businesses. They turned their kitchen facilities into a place for local chefs and bakers who needed space. They opened a retreat center that can sleep nine and started an Alcoholics Anonymous group and retrofitted space for local textile and woodworking artists, creating studios in an area where space is at a premium.

The congregation didn’t stop there. They changed their outside spaces as well. They constructed a community garden and food forest. The Haw Creek Bee Club needed space and were given a place for beehives. Next door was a school that had limited playground space. Once again, they responded to a community need and built a playground.

Instead of giving up, they changed.

They changed how they served their community. They didn’t stay riveted in the ways of the past. Ten people responded to save their Father’s House.

Today, the church is bustling with activity that creates and inspires. From a desperate situation, God answered their prayers by providing wisdom on how to make the bleak look bright.

A side benefit is that the church now has fifty attendees a week attending service—a welcome byproduct of change.

I can only imagine the discussions of the ten people that had to make this change. The hand-wringing and tough debates. Like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea many years before, this group had to walk between two walls of water into a brighter future. They trusted in God that the way forward, while unusual and dangerous, was the only course to take.

Change is Needed

We have all been in these situations, where the present conditions are no longer sustainable. Change is needed to step into an unknown future while seeking God’s will. It takes bravery and faith.

What Bethesda United Methodist Church has done is to show a way forward for the many churches in decline. This is no longer a mysterious step forward but a path created by a group of Christian pioneers. This isn’t the only place these new green shoots of life are arising for declining churches. It is happening at White Rock United Methodist church in Dallas, which has invited preschools to pop up in their building and they too are creating community gardens. And there are organizations like the United Methodist Development Foundation which is seeking to help these religious entrepreneurs change the course of what church life can look like.

Hope in the unseen is the very essence of faith. It takes blind faith in the power of God and a willingness to move forward.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.