praying man

A Desperate Plea and God’s Answer: You Are Worthy!

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

He sat at his kitchen table, desperate, and knew that time had run out. He was faced with eviction, and in a few days would have to leave the house that he had lived in for over two decades. While some of the issues that led up to this moment were self-inflicted, many were from a life that hadn’t always been kind to him.

How would God help?

His family had tried to help, but it wasn’t the right answer for him. Sure, he had passed on other opportunities to solve his problem. Now, sitting alone at his kitchen table, he silently cried out, “Why isn’t God helping me? Why have I been abandoned?” He knew the answer was in turning to God, but how would God help?

He did have to move out.

Disabled for over forty years, he ended up living in a hotel room. He could only stay for two days, forcing him to look again for housing. On the third day, in a new hotel, he woke up early to once again search for a place to live.

It was six-thirty in the morning, and he saw it on Craig’s list—a house that he could afford in a nearby town he loved. Immediately, he sent a note asking if he could see the house. The poster wrote back and said, “Sure, meet me at eight-thirty.”

When he arrived, he met a gracious man whose kindness emanated from everything he said. He knew from the owner’s behavior that he was Christian. The kind man listened to his story and said the house was his. No credit application or background check—he could move in right then and there.

God had heard his plea

The house was better than his previous home and addressed the issues of his disability. The neighborhood was filled with people and not isolated in some dark off-the-grid place. In a moment, his life changed. God had heard his plea. By noontime, his family was bringing his belongings.

His mother and father showed up to help him arrange the boxes and his house. As only a mother could do, everything was made to look like and feel like a home.

That night, he reflected on the dizzying events that had transpired when all seemed lost. He was tired and feeling exhausted. He didn’t know that his body was being ravaged by a deadly infection; the fatigue and exhaustion of the last few days had worn down his immune system.

Soon he was lying in a hospital bed and had IV drips pouring antibiotics into his body. Once again, he was desperate. Why had his luck changed so quickly?

Keep your chin up

Forty years earlier, he had been in a terrible accident and nearly died. It had left him disabled. For those forty years, he’d had to live in a world built for the able-bodied. People didn’t always understand the loneliness of being disabled. They just said, “Keep your chin up,” leaving him trying to figure out how to fit into a world that isn’t made for the disabled.

His sweet and kind behavior exuded warmth, but his rebellious nature forced others to turn away, which created many of the issues that had left him homeless. His need for attention had caused many problems.

Within a week of finding his new home, he now had one more prayer for God. He was told he needed to go to rehab to prevent the infection from returning. He now wanted to go back to the same place that had restored his life forty years earlier after the accident.

Again, this prayer was answered. When he was well enough to be transported back, he went to the organization that helped him so many years earlier.

It was a familiar place filled with kind and professional people who cared.

He is in his new home today. He now knows God considers him worthy because of his restored health and home. I remember him asking me, “Am I worthy in God’s eyes?” Undeniably he is…as we all are. His question is one we all have at some point in our lives: “Are we worthy?”

A friend of mine, Will, says that to ever think we aren’t worthy of God’s love is bad theology. God loves all humankind, regardless of our past.

He was worthy

He had received his answer of his worthiness, through God’s answers to his prayers – He was worthy. I pray deeply now that he remembers this and doesn’t need to cry out any longer. God is always with him. I pray that he holds tight to God and does what he needs to continue to heal.

His is a tougher road than the one for those of us who are able-bodied. Perhaps his rebellious nature will be soothed by this knowledge.

He is worthy. We all are!

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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prayer for miracles

Giving Yourself Up and Getting a Miracle

My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as my will, but as You will.

Matthew 26:39

He lay on his bed, exhausted from the last few days. He’d been filled with terror as his wife’s condition worsened. He had just gotten home to check on his house and pets. He’d been spending most of time in the intensive care unit of a local hospital. His wife had become gravely ill, and the doctors hadn’t given him any hope that she would survive. Adrenaline had been pulsing through his body over the previous few days, and now he was spent.

Searching Deeper

Like a lot of husbands whose spouses fall ill, his heart ached for his wife. His partner of over thirty years was dying, and despite his desire and attempts to do something—anything—to help her, he had run out of options. So he laid there. At first, he prayed for her to get better. But feeling he was being too robotic in his request, he searched deeper. He changed his prayer to beseech God’s will. He prayed for his wife’s comfort. He prayed the terror of her condition would subside. He was no longer worried about how he felt but instead focused on how she must feel. He asked God, “Not my will, but yours. Take care of my wife.”

Instantly, he felt relief. An overwhelming feeling of grace came over him, leaving him sobbing on his bed—not out of grief but from a feeling that God had heard him.

Rising from his bed, he finished his chores and headed back to the hospital. When he arrived to his wife’s hospital room, he was greeted with smiles. The nurses told him that her condition had suddenly changed. The fever was down, and it looked like the infection that had threatened her life had abated.

She did get better.

Slowly, day by day, she emerged from the grip of a deadly disease. It would take a month before she was well again. But hope now existed.

In a private moment in the room, he told his wife about his experience. She told him that while he had been away for those few hours, she also felt a presence and peace.

What had seemed dire had changed. The husband’s prayer was one of giving himself over to God and letting God do what he couldn’t. It was a cry of desperation. He just had to let go.

There is a Greek word for this emptying of ourselves. It is called kenosis. While in theological school, we were told about this word and its importance in prayer. To pray not for what we want but to find out what God wants. Jesus did this in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus was praying about the events that lay ahead of him the next day, Good Friday, he prayed, “My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as my will, but as You will.” It is a model of prayer for all of us, but it is also a wonderful example of kenosis.

Letting go

A friend of mine told me about this story of his wife. I hear these stories a lot. Whether it be a man who suffered a stroke, a woman facing homelessness, or an alcoholic alone on the side of the road knowing a change was needed. Desperately, they pray when all hope seems lost. It is a prayer from very deep in the heart that turns into asking God for help. They have become so desperate that they give up themselves to know what God desires for their lives.

Many ask if I believe in miracles? I always answer, “Yes!” During my interviews while writing my new book, Your Faith Has Made You Well, I heard similar stories many times. In almost every case, as they told their stories, emotions rose to the surface that brought streams of tears. Not tears of sorrow, but of thankfulness. In each case, they had arrived at a point where they turned their life over to God. They no longer wanted to be in control but chose instead to rely on God.

Miracles do happen

Miracles do happen, and they can’t always be explained by the ways of the world. But it doesn’t mean they are less real. Many times, the miracle is so intimate and personal for the individual that they know it was related to their prayers and carry it within their heart.

Maybe today is the day we give ourselves up to create a miracle in our lives. God is ready!

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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Jesus of Bethlehem

Seven Interesting Facts About Jesus

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Much of what we know about Jesus comes from the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels. The reason is that 97 percent of what is contained in these three Gospels is repeated in at least one other Gospel. Mark was written first, and most of Mark is included in either Matthew or Luke. Matthew and Luke contain most of what is Mark, but likely also used a document called Q (for the German word Quelle). It is believed that a separate document existed with Jesus’s sayings and life history that helped fill in more of the story in Matthew and Luke. This document has never been discovered. This is not that unusual, as most documents from the first century were plant or animal-based and would have disintegrated over time. Scholars believe it did exist because of the literary consistency of Matthew and Luke.

The Gospel of John was written much later than the first three. Scholars put it at late in the first century. The book of John has in it some of the same material, like the feeding of the 5000 and the turning of the tables in the Temple. It is a more philosophical Gospel and contains more spiritual information.

So much of what we know about Jesus comes from these four sources. Together they are considered the complete history. Individually, they were written for separate audiences. Matthew for the Jewish community; Mark for the Gentiles. Luke is called the Gospel of the poor and is connected to the book of Acts. John was more spiritual in content.

However, by piecing together some clues, there are many more aspects to Jesus’s life. Here are seven other interesting facts about Jesus:

Jesus’s name was quite common.

In the first century, the name Jesus was as common as John Smith in America today. Mary was given Jesus’s name by an angel who said, ”You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” Jesus’s name, while common, means “Yahweh saves.”

Jesus had at least six siblings.

In Matthew 12:46 it mentions Jesus’s four brothers by name: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. But it also mentions sisters. While their names aren’t mentioned, there were at least two.

Bethlehem means house of bread.

The town Jesus was born in had a deeper meaning. Bethlehem in Hebrew is actually two words: Beth means house, and Lehem means bread. It is easy to see the significance in this name and its connection to Jesus’s ministry.

Jesus’s first miracle was making wine.

Early in the Gospel of John, Jesus is asked by Mary to help out at a wedding that was running out of wine. Jesus made great wine out of water.

Jesus spoke and read at least three languages.

The language spoken in Jesus’s community was Aramaic, which he would certainly know. But we also knew he read Hebrew—as a young boy his parents discovered him reading Hebrew scrolls and discussing them with teachers(Luke 2:46-49). He also had conversations with native Romans—the Centurion and Pontius Pilate. Romans of that day spoke Greek, and it is likely this was the language spoken during these conversations.

Jesus existed before time.

In John 1:1 it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is the “Word.” This verse at the start of John is remarkably similar to Genesis 1:1.

Additionally, Jesus says in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was born, I am.”

Jesus appeared twelve times after the resurrection:

  • Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9–11)
  • The women at the tomb (Matthew 28:8–10)
  • Peter (Luke 24:34)
  • The travelers on the road (Mark 16:12–13)
  • The disciples without Thomas (Mark 16:14)
  • The disciples including Thomas (John 20:26–31)
  • The disciples while they fished (John 21:1–14)
  • The disciples on the mountain (Matthew 28:16–20)
  • The crowd of 500 (1 Corinthians 15:6)
  • James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
  • Those who were at His ascension (Acts 1:6–9)
  • Paul (Acts 9:1–6)

The number twelve is very significant in the Bible. It appears 187 times. It represents the perfect number and symbolizes God’s power and authority. Jesus’s twelve appearances after his resurrection is probably not a coincidence.

There is a lot to the Jesus story—much more than just what we read or heard in Sunday school. He is, undoubtedly, the most important figure in history. Below the surface of what we read about Jesus—which is a mighty story in itself—are facts that further round out who Jesus was.

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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word of god

The Word of God for the People of God

But the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was preached to you.

1 Peter 1:25

As part of my theological school experience, I was an intern for a small church on the coast of New jersey. Three of us were assigned to three small churches and asked to rotate between them each Sunday. Andrew was one of the three, and he was by far the most radical. During his first Sunday sermon, I visited the church he was preaching at to observe. He used his smartphone when he read from the Bible.

Immediately after the service, many in attendance protested the use of his phone to read the Word of God. They viewed it as inappropriate and a slight against the Bible.

As I listened to the loud voices, I reflected on the history of the Bible and whether was Andrew wrong or if this was a matter of defiled tradition. None of the congregants knew the history of the development of the Bible; they just knew this was different. Trying to soothe those who were angry, I stated, “That the Word of God was for the people of God and that was what was most important.” That didn’t work in calming them down; they just wanted their Bible readings done the way it had always been.

A New and Radical Way

What many don’t know is that Christian writings were created in a new format called a “codex” and is essentially the book format we have today. Many of the first Christian writings, including the New Testament, were created in this new and radical format. The current form or “codex” and was developed in Rome. But prior to this, almost all documents were written on scrolls made out of papyrus. The Bible itself was one of the first documents written using the page format we have today.

By 300 AD, half of the material produced was written in the codex format with the other half using the old scroll papyri. The codex format is considered the most important advance in the development of writing, leading to an easy transition to the printing press and bookbinding.

The codex used parchment paper and was first sealed with wax. Later, as parchment became better quality, waxing the paper was no longer needed. The codex was superior because of its durability, compactness, and ease of reference. Early Christians developed this format, and the first Bible was written in the codex format.

Scrolls were the traditional format, and many objected to the new codex format. But scrolls only lasted fifty years or so because they were written using plant-based materials, like papyrus. To maintain the information on them, it was necessary for scrolls to be rewritten by scribes. It wasn’t uncommon for a scribe to complete a scroll and start rewriting immediately after it was completed, knowing what they had written would fall apart sometime in the future. Many scribes worked on only one document their whole lives.

Needless to say, many began to use the codex format, especially Christians. However, it wasn’t until 600 AD that the codex became the standard format for all writers.

The first version of the New Testament was written by Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, in 367 AD and canonized by the councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD). The earliest copy in existence today is in the Vatican library and dates back to the fifth century.

Communicating the Word of God

For many years, the Bible was only written in Latin, and it wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that the Bible was translated into native languages. Martin Luther had Bibles in Germany written in German, and John Wycliffe was the developer of the English Bible. The complete Bible has been translated into 670 different languages.

So what had Andrew done by using his smartphone to deliver his sermon? Was it similar to the conversion from scrolls to the codex or akin to delivering the message in a person’s native tongue? Is it sacrilegious to read from our phones or from print in the codex format?

Personally, I don’t think God cares. I think this debate may rage on for a while, but to me, it’s more about communicating the Word of God for the people of God in whatever format it takes.

Certainly, new technology has improved the storage of information and made it easier to reference. I have the entire English Standard Bible in my phone. I can use it to research passages. It can take me directly to an intended verse. And I can even make notes! The Bible is even a free app we can all get on any smartphone. But what should we do during a church service?

I have seen pastors read from their iPads and phones. In Catholic churches, a well-adorned Bible is used by the priest.

I am not a traditionalist, but I do understand the importance of tradition. For some, tradition is soothing and invites people to listen. Railing against tradition can have the unintended effect of causing some to not listen.

My advice to Andrew was to use the traditional Bible for the flock he tended. But that didn’t mean he shouldn’t privately read the Bible from his phone or in other context use his phone. But his primary goal was to “Deliver the Word of God to the people of God.”

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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Beyond Basketball on a Navajo Reservation

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

Josiah Tsosie couldn’t believe the words he’d just read. For four years, he had kept his head down and thought of only two things: playing basketball and studying hard in high school. He was a quiet person whose face showed quiet determination. He was unwilling to give up when things were tough and was unbending in his resolve to be the best person he could be. But now, in this moment, four years of stoic determination had been rewarded.

Josiah is a Navajo American who went to high school in Chinle Arizona, an extraordinarily poor Native American reservation. Most homes do not have plumbing, and many families go to the local wells to get water for the day. There are only two paved roads in this town of 4,500 people. When Josiah shoots hoops with his friends, he does it on a dirt basketball court.

Josiah’s father died when he was young, creating a large hole in his heart. Josiah thought of his father constantly, and his spirit was with Josiah daily.

Chinle is located in the center of a massive reservation that is part of three states—Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The reservation is larger than ten of the fifty states. The 300,000 Navajos who reside there are the second largest of Native American nations.

The Navajo were fierce warriors and skilled horsemen. However, they were no match for the United States Army and, in the late nineteenth century, they were imprisoned on the land that is currently part of their reservation. 9,000 Navajo were forced to march 300 hundred miles. Many died. The Navajo call this journey the Long Walk.

A proud history

The Navajo people are proud of their history and have worked hard to assimilate into our larger society. They were critical participants during World War II, many performing the role of “code talkers.” Despite efforts to segregate the Navajo, they were fully integrated into the armed forces. In fact, the Navajo have the highest percentage of people who serve in our armed services.

The Navajo story today is one of poverty and limited resources. They have won some money in the form of repayment for the land that was taken from them, but the general populace earns below minimum wage. Forty percent live below the poverty level.

Medically, they are four times more likely to have diabetes and are highly susceptible to alcoholism. Unregulated uranium mining has increased the risk of cancer.

The future for their youth is dim. However, the Navajo nation has invested heavily in education, and their high school facilities are equal to those in other parts of the United States. In fact, the basketball facility in Josiah’s high school rivals that of a medium-sized college.

This is Josiah’s world.

His only way out is through college. His basketball team, the Chinle Wildcats, have historically not been good. But in his senior year, they hired a new coach who had a history of success—Raul Mendoza. Mendoza is also a native, though from another tribe. Josiah’s other teammates were strong, and they could potentially now compete for a state championship.

They finished the regular season ranked eighth in the state of Arizona, with the entire community supporting and cheering them on. Many times, their away games required travel of two to three hours. In the state tournament, the team won the regional title and then it was on to the round of sixteen. The boys and town had high hopes. Was this their year?

Undersized but faster than their competitors, their style of play was one of quickness, strong defense, and great shooting. They called it “Rez Ball.” They won their next two games and were in the Final Four. However, their basketball story ends here; they lost in the semi-finals.

Josiah was disappointed and dejected.

Here was a chance for him and his nation to be on top. That chance was now gone. All that appeared to be left for Josiah was to finish high school and prepare for life on the reservation.

After the tournament, the athletic director asked him and his mother to meet him in his office. They were unsure of the purpose of the meeting. The director slowly slid a yellow envelope over to Josiah and asked him to read the material inside. Josiah pulled out the letter in the package and began to read.

In a moment of disbelief and shock, Josiah began to understand what the letter meant. His four years of hard work, strong peer leadership, and commitment had paid off. He was going to be able to go to college after all. He had been accepted on a full academic scholarship to Arizona State University. In that moment, the clouds of his life parted, showing a patch of blue.

Only time will tell

The many years of stoicism and determination had paid off. His eyes reddened and tears dripped down his nose as the reality of the moment hit him. Likewise, his mother sat stunned and weeping, finally free of worry for her son. He’d gotten a long-deserved break, he had a future beyond basketball.

The athletic director had noticed how hard Josiah worked over his four years in high school. He knew Josiah was too small to get a basketball scholarship and took it upon himself to apply for an Obama scholarship for Josiah. President Obama had set up a program for disadvantaged youth to go to college who otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Josiah was one of the recipients that year.

Josiah’s prayers had been answered—not in the way he had expected—but in God’s way. Josiah had worked hard and was a model son and brother. He was a leader in school through his high character and quiet demeanor.

God often works this way.

Our prayers are not always answered in the way we expect them. Many times, they are answered in unusual ways, intimate and very personal. That is how we know God hears us. God had heard Josiah’s prayers.

Josiah’s answer changed his future; he would now go to college and then return to Chinle to help his people with their futures.

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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Stay-at-Home Parents

“They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’”

—Matthew 8:27

Faith in Jesus Means Not Being Afraid

Jesus is sleeping in the cargo hold of a boat that also contains his disciples. From seemingly nowhere, the wind picks up, and the seas begin to roil. The waves become so large that they threaten to swamp the boat. The disciples begin to panic. Trembling, they awake Jesus and with terror in their voices say, “Lord save us! We are perishing.” Jesus arises and rebukes the disciples by saying, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Immediately, Jesus stops the wind and calms the sea. Upon seeing this, the disciples say, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

An amazing part of this story is the lack of faith of the disciples. By now they had witnessed healings and other miracles performed by Jesus. They had seen demons cast out, had heard the wonderful Sermon on the Mount, and seen destitute lives changed. We can well wonder, how could they still doubt that they would be saved from the sea? How had they let their human fears override their knowledge of who Jesus was? We, in turn, can wonder, would we be different?

Jesus replies, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26) His reply contains a universal message about the difficulty of faith. Despite all they had seen from Jesus, those with him still allowed their worldly fears to swamp their faith. Just as with us, despite all we have seen from Jesus, we sometimes allow our faith to do the same. Each time Jesus visits us we are left with amazement—many times wondering why we doubted.

Also, in this story is a universal question of “What sort of man is this?” Who is Jesus that he calms the wind and seas? Who is Jesus that we can have confidence in him as our savior? While the heavenly answer to these questions exceeds humankind’s understanding, we are shown on a regular basis Jesus’s value to humankind. We are told to have faith because we should. This is easy to say, but a simple platitude is not enough. Faith, in part, is experiencing and knowing “what sort of man this is.”

Jesus is undefinable. Some will see him as a savior, others as a redeemer. Some even view him as a sage beyond any that has walked this earth. He does have the power to heal miraculously. He does make our paths straight. No one person can ever fully capture the entire essence of Jesus, but when we have faith, we only need to follow.

What sort of man is Jesus? He is many and all things. We can debate endlessly with each other and still only touch the surface. For each person, Jesus is different, just as each of us is different.

Over the next few weeks on Wednesday, we will post more about Jesus and what sort of Man he was.

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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A God of Second Chances? No, Even More!

“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy seven times.”

Matthew 18:22

When I was in theological school, my classmates and I watched as our biblical heroes became ordinary people. They no longer lived perfect lives, but in some way, they all became flawed. Yes, every one of them.

In the first year of our three-year master’s degree program, we received intensive study in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. We couldn’t read what we wanted to read; we had to read every verse.

Deep within these stories, we found darker tales than those we had been taught in church or through common societal impressions. For us, it was a period of biblical deconstruction. In our first year, all of us attended classes for over forty hours and were asked to read close to 700 pages and write 30 pages every week. It was theological boot camp.

For the most part, we all survived, but in so doing, we learned to think more critically about the Bible and to form our opinions differently—to go deeper into the Bible and hear what others had to say. It was an effort to not merely believe in the saving grace of Christ but to know why we believed.

Our heroes, like Abraham, became different when viewed through this new lens. Abraham was a great man, but like the rest of us, he was flawed. When God promised Abraham and Sarah a child when they were well past their childbearing ages, Abraham and Sarah didn’t fully believe. Instead, they asked Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar, to have a baby for them. They named this son Ismael.

Much to their surprise, they later did have a baby—Isaac—as God had promised. Abraham’s doubt made us question whether he should be considered the father of three religions.

Or Moses, who murdered an Egyptian in his youth. When God first came to Moses, he doubted God’s voice. Moses needed many signs before he believed.

Consider David, the person whom God praised by calling him “a man after God’s own heart.” This same man would later have the husband of a woman he desired murdered.

Rahab, who is listed in Jesus’s genealogy, was a prostitute.

Jonah, the person who survived being consumed by a whale, needed three lessons from God.

Paul, the great communicator of the Good News of the Gospel, had previously chased down Christians to have them arrested.

And certainly Peter, who denied the Lord three times on Good Friday.

There are many more stories of people from the Bible whom we loved, but all were flawed.

Initially, all of us in the first year missed the point of these stories and at times questioned what we believed. Why did these superheroes have flaws?

But it is not so much about their flaws as much as it is about God. Our God is not a condemning God but a God of second chances and love for humankind. Everything God does is born of love.

All these flawed people of the Bible got second and third and fourth chances. In each of their hearts, God saw greatness when humankind saw only weakness. Our God is a forgiving God, as Jesus pointed out to Peter when he asked Jesus if he should stop forgiving after seven times. Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  In biblical terms, this meant always.

It is hard to forgive, and for some, it is even harder to forgive themselves. No life can go even a day without some trespass. This isn’t to say that making mistakes is good, but rather it is how we handle and learn from our mistakes. We always get to choose whether we have a hardened heart or a forgiving one.

After the first year of survival and deconstruction, we began to reframe how we thought through exploring Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi, and many more. We learned how to think differently and interpret what we read.

At the beginning of my third year, I watched the bouncy and enthusiastic first-year students walk the halls. Much like any seasoned veteran, I knew what lay ahead for them and wanted to tell them what they would discover. But I knew they would have to go through the same things that I and my fifty other compatriots had endured to reach the same conclusions.

I found a new way to look at our forgiving and loving God. The stories of the Bible are to be idolized but also wondered about.

It isn’t people God hates; it is the sin God hates.

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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cross

Stay-at-Home Parents

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14

Recently, when playing golf, I spontaneously made the sign of the cross. My playing partner saw me make this simple gesture and said, “I thought you were a Methodist; are you Catholic?” He had assumed because I made the sign of the cross that I had changed denominations.

No, I hadn’t, but I sometimes feel compelled when I feel the presence of God to outwardly thank God for existing and being in my life. Long ago, a friend of mine, Joe Bongiorno, explained to me what the sign of the cross meant to him. And I thought to myself, What a magnificent way to show my love for God. For me, it became a simple and personal way to recognize God and the importance of God in my life. A simple gesture to recognize the driving force of creation and all that is born of love.

Admittedly, while a stronger believer in the Methodist way, I admire the Catholic Church. Yes, I just said that. It doesn’t mean I am disloyal to my tribe, the Methodists; it means that I am a Christian first and admire any and all that is good from other denominations.

Some will criticize the Catholic Church.

There are things that the denomination has done to engender this criticism. Certainly, the child abuse debacle is one of those things. It is a horrific stain on the denomination.

There are also the indulgences that were sold in the Middle Ages and the Spanish Inquisition. The burnings at the stake for those who were considered heretics. And let us not forget about the scandals of the popes during the Holy Roman Empire. Yes, there are many horrific things that we can choose to judge the Catholic Church by.

But all denominations have had their problems.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist religion wasn’t always the righteous man of legend. He reneged on a marriage proposal and was thrown out of the United States in the eighteenth century. Martin Luther’s writings late in life contained anti-Semitic views that were later used to justify the massacre of six million Jewish people.

The Thirty Years War saw both the Catholics and Protestants fighting one another, leaving one quarter of Germany dead.

These acts, whether done by both Catholics and Protestant humans and are not acts of God. They are flawed and misguided acts of evil enacted by humans. Similar to humankind, all religious denominations have skeletons in their closets.

We always have the choice to focus on the good or bad in people and their beliefs. I choose to focus on the good. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the bad, but we should also not forget the many great contributions.

It was the Catholics who died bravely in the Coliseum.

It was Peter, the first Catholic, who nursed a backwater belief structure into becoming a powerful voice for Christ. And let us not forget Paul, who roamed the known world preaching the good news of Christ, despite many beatings and personal suffering.

Sure, we Protestants could take a position of judging the Catholic Church. But without the brave Catholics, there is much we would miss.

The Nicene Creed—a powerful statement of all Christian beliefs—was created by 150 Catholic bishops in a remote corner of Greece. Mother Teresa tended to the “untouchables.” Catholic charities here in the United States feed the poor, act as advocates for social justice, and are always one of the first to lend a hand during natural disasters.

It is more about how we look at and judge life. We always have the opportunity to either light a candle or curse the darkness. To only focus on the bad would mean missing the noble acts of millions of pious Catholics. It would mean missing the fact that Catholicism is growing worldwide. Since 1965, Catholicism has grown 70 percent and is expected to continue its growth. Not here in the United States, but in other parts of the world. Its message and ways are still bringing people to Christ, just like it did 2,000 years ago.

I can make the sign of the cross and still be a Methodist. But I am a Christian first and remain an admirer of the Catholic Church. I don’t ignore the harm done by some of the humans in the church, but I do want to remember the legacy of the many Catholics who have made the world better.

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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Stay-at-Home Parents

Train up a child in the way they should go; even when they are old they will not depart from it.”

Proverbs 22:6

On a sunny Tuesday, I took the afternoon off to pick up my two youngest at school, mostly to get an idea of what their day was like. I met my friend Rick at the school, who was a stay-at-home father. Upon arriving, I noticed a large group of other stay-at-home parents waiting for their children as well. We were fortunate to live in a town where the elementary schools were close enough that many of the children could walk home, but most parents chose to walk home with their kids.

I asked Rick why.

He explained to me that their days didn’t end with school. Many of the children had after-school activities, doctor or dentist office visits, or even tutoring. Rick’s job was to shuttle his kids off to their various post-school activities. He commented that he was “just” a bus driver for his kids every afternoon.

Rick’s wife was a very successful corporate executive and they had long ago decided Rick would be the stay-at-home parent. Each day, Rick had three children to nurture, drive, and help with homework. And, I must say, he was great at his assignment. Affable, always smiling, and very encouraging. He was this way with his kids and friends. He always had a pleasant smile and a wonderful joke to tell.

Family flexibility

Rick would introduce himself to new people as “just” a stay-at-home parent. Rick was unusual in that, even in today’s world, most stay-at-home parents are women. Today 27 percent of women are stay-at-home parents and 7 percent of dads stay at home. These are far smaller numbers than in 1967 when, during the “Leave it to Beaver” generation, 50 percent of all households had a stay-at-home parent. Today, the blended number, including dads, has dropped to 20 percent.

The primary reason stay-at-home parents exist is for “family flexibility.” In other words, to raise the children and run the house. 90 percent of stay-at-home parents cite this as their reason.

But the words “I am ‘just’ a stay-at-home parent,” aren’t really accurate.

They are extraordinarily productive people whose workday can be fifteen hours long: rising at 6:00 am to get the family ready for their days; running errands in the morning after everyone has left; tending to the house or the family financials; being a family “bus driver” after school, and then meal preparation.

Their daily to-do list is long.

I have been lucky to know many wonderful stay-at-home parents: my mom, Connie, Rick, Emily, Amy, and Ken. In my eyes, they are more than “just” stay-at-home parents. They are kind, smart, and caring people. They are like those of us who work outside the home.

The virtual worker is on the rise as well, and since 2000 there has been a 20 percent increase in stay-at-home parents. This is a trend that is good for the family.

We have many days to honor various segments of our society. There are Mother’s, Father’s, Nurse’s, and even President’s days. I think it would be nice if we had a “Stay-at-Home Parent’s day for the invisible people who “just” stay at home.

Creating our future

These are the people who raise children who will create our future. They are the people that hear and share the joys and fears of our kids. They are financial engineers, part-time therapists, chefs, house cleaners, bus drivers, and fix-it people. There is no training for this large segment of our population—it is real on-the-job training. They are the ones who have to wait in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles or at the doctor’s office. They do their jobs invisibly and silently and they raise our children.

Proverbs 22:6 is a great verse about the importance of stay-at-home parents: “Train up a child in the way they should go; even when they are old they will not depart from it.” How true this is! My children still repeat the words, my wife, Connie, told them many years ago. Like their mother, they are filled with grace. They admire their mother, just as I am sure Rick’s kids admire him.

There are no statistics to tell us the emotional value a stay-at-home parent has to their children, but it is large. They are the unsung heroes of our society. The wheels of life turn because of them.

Today, reach out and thank a stay-at-home parent. Perhaps send a note or flowers to thank those who gave up their careers for their children.

They are not a “just.” They all work incredibly hard for their family.

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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Taking Responsibility and Being Accountable

“Each of us must take responsibility for doing the creative best we can with our own life.”

Galatians 6:5

I love the movie, Pursuit of Happyness. It reminds me about taking personal responsibility for my life. Sometimes I am good at it and sometimes not as good as I would like. Movies like this remind me of how I should be and what I ought to do.

If you aren’t familiar with the movie, it is a true story about a single father who has to care for a two-year-old boy without money or a job. For one year, Chris Gardner struggled mightily. He was an unpaid intern for a large brokerage firm, pursuing his life’s dream of becoming a stockbroker. He was forced into homelessness because of a bad business deal he had made. His wife left him and their son. While some of his problems were of his own making, many were not.

He never gave in to feeling sorry for himself

He accepted his lot and worked hard to correct his life. While at his internship he acquired many new customers for his firm. His personal style of friendly collegiality was critical to new customers. They knew they could trust Chris. While trouble swirled around him for that difficult year, he kept an attitude of taking responsibility for himself—no excuses or self-pity, just hard work.

Fast-forwarding to today, Chris is wealthy and gives graciously of his time and money. He did land a job with the brokerage firm where he served as an intern. He became the first African American to start a large brokerage firm, selling it twenty-five years later for a large amount of money. Today, he speaks around the country about faith and accepting personal responsibility. Not from the eyes of someone who hasn’t been there, but from the dark moments of his early life.

I am fortunate to know other people in similar situations.

Not necessarily as dire as Chris’s, but tough. Like Rich, who created his own mess and fixed his problem. Or Bill, who keeps helping the world when it doesn’t always help him back.

I marvel at these people. Life hasn’t always been fair to them, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t fair back. They quietly accept that it is their problem to fix. You help them when they are down, and they take your help with grace, then pay you back many times over. Not with words, but with deeds.

One man whom I know well hit hard times.

His son had just died, and his wife had left him. On top of that, he had been let go from his job. He was also an alcoholic. In a matter of a year, he went from having a good life to one of trouble. Like Chris, he didn’t make excuses. He knew he’d screwed up and checked himself into rehab, spending eight months away from his life in a place far from home.

He is in recovery today and has been for a few years. He’s since started his own business, which is thriving. I had loaned him a small amount of money to get started and helped him think about how to run his new business. He paid me back on time. He fixed his problem and moved forward.

Today’s verse, written by the apostle Paul, describes who is responsible for our lives. It is us. Some will have big problems and some small. But ultimately it is our life to lead, and our problems are ours to solve.

There are three sources of help—God, our neighbor, and ourselves. Some will see God as more than just a “genie” and will work with God. This is the way God works. God helps those who help themselves.

All of what God does is done with love. Enabling isn’t something God will do. Sometimes love is not giving what shouldn’t be given.

It is the same with friends—only we can create the action our friends suggest. Only we can stop the behavior that got us in trouble in the first place. We have to be standing beside our friends and shoveling our way out of our ditches.

Otherwise, we wear people out.

When we only have our hand out, our friends grow weary trying to find a way to get us to see that we hold the solution. Eventually, they may tire and move on.

People like helping people those who work with them. This is the greatness I see in humanity. People love helping people who creatively, and with ingenuity, work their way out of problems. Those that act get more.

We all have come upon desperation or tough times. Times we have to be creative and work hard. If we haven’t, we are way past due. Our character is improved and strengthened when we fight back against tough times.

What I have observed about successful people is that they take responsibility and are accountable in all things. They do what they ought to do, not what they want to do. They see failures as chances to learn and grow.

I love the movie, Pursuit of Happyness because it reminds me of I what I ought to do. Or as the Apostle Paul says in the book of Romans, “Each of us must take responsibility for doing the creative best we can with our own life.”

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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