united methodist development fund

The United Methodist Development Fund, a Model to Follow

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters

Colossians 3:23

I have become very careful where I donate my time and money. Life is very busy, and we are all pulled from here to there. But like most, I strongly desire to help the world, and especially through the church. I want to make a difference and pitch in where I can. The tug from God to help the world is, many times, a constant and pervasive feeling for many of us.

Not all non-profit organizations are focused and creative.

While all try, not all hit the mark. Deciding with whom to work and what to do in order to satisfy our natural desire to make a difference can be daunting. No one wants to be stuck in hours-long meetings or at places where decisions are slow in coming. It is our very nature to like action, especially actions that make a difference for the world. There is no better feeling when we know we work with like-minded people who are collaborative, get things done, and listen to learn. We become energized when we are with these people and our assets of time and money are valued.

Finding organizations that can use our special gifts can be challenging and require a lot of trial and error. One that I have found is called the United Methodist Development Fund. As a Methodist, I am always naturally inclined to help their causes. But the United Methodist Development Fund (UMDF) isn’t a wonderful organization because they are Methodist. Rather, it is because it’s run by a mixture of like-minded clergy and business people.

One of the things I noticed about this group is that they possess the four qualities of successful people: they listen to learn, develop each other, analyze effectively, and get things done. This collaborative group is making a difference for the church and the world.

The UMDF is essentially a bank for churches.

When churches need more to grow or start, the UMDF lends them money. The UMDF also provides leadership training for United Methodist clergy and lay people. Training not in doctrine, but how to be missional in the world. In other words, how to turn churches into centers of mission.

They invest in churches that don’t just do the same-old, same-old. Instead, they support churches that are entrepreneurial in their approach. Creative in the way they approach church and mission.  Churches  that don’t just seek to help those of low income/low wealth, but also to encourage this group in recognizing their individual gifts.

These churches become social banks that identify community needs and seek to solve them. And now there are green shoots beginning to sprout. Churches are becoming more missional. Clergy are being rewarded for becoming social entrepreneurs. Churches are finally recognizing the need to think differently and move outside their four walls.

It is just a beginning, but the future is bright.

Thanks to organizations like the UMDF, differences are being made. There is a long road ahead to overcome the years of decline in all the denominations. But in the sea of decay is an island that provides hope, run by a collection of serious and mission-minded leaders.

While that sounds good on paper, it sounds better in results. The UMDF has lent almost one hundred million dollars to churches. The money is being used wisely and is being paid back. For every one hundred dollars loaned, there is less than one dollar thirty days overdue. Even for the strictest of lenders, who have two percent of their loans more than thirty days overdue, this is a testament to the quality of the loans and the mission the money serves.

But UMDF isn’t just a bank.

They distribute the profits made from the interest on the loans to help clergy become missional social leaders through grants to mission-minded entrepreneurs and education to leaders.

So while we all want to help and though we want our help to reach the right people who will do the right thing, our help is not always productive. Perhaps organizations like the UMDF can become the beacon of change.

Even in your own community, there are wonderful organizations that are strong and great contributors. If we pay attention to how they operate, we will get a clue if our time and money is well spent. If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you have found a worthwhile place like the UMDF to spend your time and resources:

  • Do they focus on getting things done?
  • Do they focus on developing those they help and work alongside?
  • Do they listen to learn?
  • Are they thoughtful in analysis?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

We love to give credit to budding photographers

old text books

Revealing the Gospels (Part one): The Gospel of Mark was First and Foundational 

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark 1:1

One of my first classes in theological school was called “New Testament Study.” Our instructor, Dr. Stephen Moore, was a learned professor who believed strongly but also listened to his students patiently. Our first topic of study were the four Gospels.

I always had wondered why there were four Gospels; why couldn’t they all be combined so we didn’t have to flip through each one to get the whole story. I also wondered why there was so much repetition between them.

I was soon to discover why.

My first task was to research and write about Mark. Huh! Why Mark? It is the second Gospel. Well, I came to discover it was actually the first to be written. The exact date isn’t firm, but scholars put it at between 66 AD and 70 AD. In fact, all the Gospels were written after the books written by Paul, such as Romans, Galatians, etc..

Still curious about why there were four different Gospels, I found an ancient book written by Origen—one of the early church fathers—who lived in the late second and early third century. He viewed the Gospels as having a different meaning targeted at very distinct audiences. For instance, Mark was written for the gentiles—the general population outside of Judea. Coincidently, these were the same people Paul visited on his three missionary trips. The other three Gospels are directed toward distinct groups as well, which we will discuss in future writings.

The book of Mark

The book of Mark is part of what is called the Synoptic Gospels, which also includes Matthew and Luke. The reason for this is that they share common sources of information. The Gospel of John was written much later and is more spiritual than historical, and, as such, is not considered one of the Synoptic Gospels.

Mark was written first, and much of Mark is contained in some way in Matthew and Luke. The original text was written in Ancient Greek, which was the common language of the Roman Empire. This is what led many scholars to conclude it was written for the gentiles.

Another interesting aspect of Mark is that, while it was written first, it was likely finished last. The original writing of the Gospel ended at 16:8. 16:9-20 was almost certainly added by a scribe later and gives the account of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances.

The word Gospel means “the good news.”

Specifically, the good news about Jesus. As such, Mark follows the life of Jesus. Mark can be very macabre at times, as many Christians were suffering some form of persecution. imposed by the existing  Roman emperor. The Gospel of Mark also portrays a dim view of the disciples understanding of who Jesus was. Personally, I am more optimistic that the writer was actually portraying that the common path to the acceptance of Christ includes a lack of understanding. Our Faith increases over time and is especially  reinforced by significant events. In this case, the death and resurrection of Jesus would have been the significant events for the disciples.

The very first line of Mark—”The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”— also gives us other clues. The first clue lies in the words “Son of God.” The capitalization of the word “Son” indicates Jesus’s divinity. But it is also a direct connection to Jesus’s relationship in the Holy Trinity. The second clue we receive is the intended purpose of the author. By saying, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the author intends to state the history of the good news of Jesus’s life. Ironically, or perhaps not, the words “the beginning” are true in terms of the whole account of the Four Gospels—the book of Mark itself is “the beginning.”

An interesting note about Mark, is the twenty occurrences of miracles or healings at Jesus’s hands, further highlighting his divinity. This may also make the reader ask: “why did the Disciples take so long to truly believe the messages of Jesus.” Again, I wonder if this interplay isn’t more of an indication of the human condition which caused them to move slowly in coming to believe in the power of Jesus.

The human author of Mark is believed to be unidentified.

While tradition holds that it was John Mark—Peter and Barnabas’s associate in the Book of Acts—scholars doubt his connection. While I describe a human author, it implies that the human author was inspired by God. This in an important distinction. If we believe that the Bible was written by human authors without divine inspiration, then the Bible itself loses its importance. We could also believe that God himself wrote the words of the Bible, and some do. However, scholarly critique suggests divine inspiration. Whether divinely written or divinely inspired it doesn’t change that it is the word of God.

I finally understand why Dr. Moore had us start here first. Mark is a great way to enter the Gospels and lays a good foundation for understanding.

While I express my opinions and provide scholarly interpretations for the text, each person experiences the Bible differently, and perhaps Mark will affect you differently than it has me.  

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

We love to give credit to budding photographers

valley forge

Ten Days that Saved the Country

This is the first of a three-part series that will run each Wednesday for the next three weeks. The series will explore the influence that George Washington had in forming the longest-surviving democracy in the world and the importance of religious freedom in its creation.

We start with the dire events that existed on the country’s first Christmas in 1776. Washington had lost all the battles with the British Empire up to this point. The Continental Army had been embarrassed and forced out of New York City. The army had retreated to Valley Forge just miles from Philadelphia, the then capital of the emerging nation, and were followed closely by the British and their paid helpers—the Hessians of Germany.. The British seemed poised to end the revolt and restore the thirteen states as colonies.

Washington knew something bold had to happen to reverse the trend. His army, which had once numbered over twenty thousand was down to seven thousand. Having lost many on the retreat to Valley Forge, the army was made up mostly of the destitute and a few remaining Patriots.

Christmas Night

Washington’s plan was to cross the Delaware River and attack the Hessians who were holed up in Trenton. It was Christmas night, 1776. The weather was very poor, and the Delaware was laden with floating ice. The crossing would be dangerous. On top of that, the Continental Army was in poor shape, lacking supplies. Many had no shoes or blankets. Into the icy water, this band of winter patriots went to save the nation.

When they got to the other side of the Delaware, they were three hours late. It was 3:00 a.m., and any chance of surprising the Hessians had passed. Washington, after some thought, decided to press on. His army walked for another five hours to get to the outskirts of town.

They Were Ready

At 8:00 a.m., Washington sent two columns down two different roads to attack. It is commonly thought that the Hessians were drunk from celebrating Christmas, which is not true. In point of fact, the Hessians had sensed an attack and were on full alert. The previous evening, they had gone to bed fully clothed with guns loaded. They were ready.

When the first column arrived, it opened fire and put the Hessians in disarray. They began to retreat, only to meet up with the second column. Trapped, many surrendered while others fled.

The Continental Army captured nine hundred Hessians and a bounty of supplies. This was their first real victory in many months. Two critical factors helped them achieve this victory. First, American marksmen were better shots than the Hessians from years of hunting and practice with their long guns. Secondly (and ironically), a German general had helped train Washington’s men while they rested at Valley Forge. His knowledge of Hessian strategies and discipline had significantly helped the Americans.

Temporary Joy

While this victory in itself was a confidence builder, Washington knew it would only be a temporary time of joy. Many of his men had enlisted on the previous New Year’s Eve, and in just a few days, their time of service would be up. Few new recruits were coming, and this brave band of men that had created the victory in Trenton would be going home.

Washington wanted to continue pressing the attack but would have no army to do so. He gathered all the men together and gave a passionate speech, asking for one more month. For this, they would each receive ten dollars in coins. Moved by the speech and the money, most accepted.

On New Year’s Eve, the ragtag army once again set off into the cold Delaware River to attack a small garrison of British regulars in the town now called Burlington. Once again, the crossing was difficult and laborious. Though they did not win the battle, they held off the British army three times.

Preparing for the Attack

When the British staying in Princeton heard about the attack, they sent reinforcements. Washington and his advisors sensed danger for the next day. During the early evening, they sized up their situation and decided to abandon their position. They knew if they stayed with British reinforcements coming, they would be trapped with the Delaware River at their backs and would be facing a much stronger army than the previous day.

Instead of fleeing in the night across the Delaware, they decided to attack what would be the largely abandoned town of Princeton. They left in the middle of the night, leaving their  campfires burning to disguise their move north. They marched eleven miles to Princeton to engage in what would be their third battle in ten days.

As they were approaching Princeton, a band of British reinforcements headed south to Burlington spotted the back end of their army. Not realizing a larger force existed, they attacked the Continental Army’s rear. They quickly realized their mistake and fled, with Washington leading his band in pursuit.

The remaining British retreated and gave up Princeton. In those ten days, Washington and his army had strategically and bravely confused the world’s best-trained soldiers. When the famed German general Frederick the Great  heard about the events of those ten days, he declared them the most masterful stroke of strategic genius in the history of war.

Washington made one more strategic decision. Even with his army low on sleep and weary from the previous ten days, he headed north to the safety of Morristown, New Jersey. There they would spend the rest of the winter. You can still visit the site, called Jockey Hollow, in Morristown. There you’ll find replicas of the soldier’s quarters and fencing from that winter respite.

Ten Days that Saved the Country

While the war wouldn’t end until 1783, these ten days saved the nation. The war would finally end with the British army worn down by the constant hit-and-runs from the Continental Army and militias throughout the country. Also, aided by France who entered the war as American allies. Low on funds and public support, the British ultimately gave up on September 3, 1783.

These historic ten days set the stage for the creation of a new country built on the principle of government for the people by the people—a government that wouldn’t have a state religion like its European counterparts. America would be built, in part, on the freedom of religious beliefs which would help forge the morality of our burgeoning nation.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

beautiful church ceiling

God Revealed as the Holy Trinity

One of the most interesting and complicated facets of Christianity is the Holy Trinity. Simply put, the Trinity is the three essences of God: the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I get a lot of questions about this concept and its meaning. From a theological standpoint, it is very complicated, but once understood, it is invaluable to our lives.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (from the Latin “trinitas” for threefold) holds that God is one God, but three coeternal and cosubstantial persons. While not completely evident in the New Testament, there are a number of Trinitarian formulas or references. The early leaders of the church sorted this out in the early part of the fourth century.

God itself as a concept and God’s existence was never the issue; the question for early Christians to resolve and decipher was: how did Jesus and the Holy Spirit enter the realm of God?

First, was the divinity of Jesus.

Some thought of Jesus as a being that achieved divine nature through being “begotten by God”—in other words, created by God. This concept was formulated by Arius in the early fourth century. While controversial and later dismissed, this theory launched an important debate amongst the bishops and theologians of this period. It was ultimately resolved at the Nicean Council in 325 AD. Central to this debate was: when did Jesus exist? The answer to this question establishes a second figure of the Trinity.

Critical to this debate is the first line in the Gospel of John which says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In this line, the “Word” is Jesus. We know this because of the capitalization of “Word” and the intent of the Gospel of John, which was to persuade early first century people to believe in Jesus. With that understanding, if you substitute Jesus in the sentence, it will read: “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.” In other words, Jesus existed from the beginning and was both with and was one with God.

At the council of Nicea, the Arianism views were successfully dismissed by Athanasius. The early church leaders agreed with Athanasius and proceeded to include this concept into the approved Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

The third and perhaps most difficult entity to fully grasp is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is within each of us. In First Corinthians 6:19 it says: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” When I first came across this verse, it was a remarkable revelation for me personally. It gave me hope and a greater sense of my personal sacredness.

The idea of the Holy Spirit was wrestled with for many years by the early church fathers. The major question was: Did the Holy Spirit exist from the beginning or was it added later by Jesus and God? Some denominations believe the former and others the latter.

The essence of the Godhead

God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as three entities in one has been debated for centuries. When I was in theological school, I would hear various opinions from my professors and fellow students. Each had opinions that were uniquely different, leading me to the conclusion that, while the debate is very important, it is also about how one feels and how they have journeyed with God. Some, like my fellow student Wendy, feel very attached to the Spirit. For Peter, another fellow student, it was about the authority of God. While both believed in the Trinity, they expressed their feelings differently based upon how they interact with God.

This debate will continue for many years to come, driven by the many and varied relationships that people have with God. To me, it is more important that we know that God (the Holy Trinity) meets us where we are. Like snowflakes, each of us has a personal and unique relationship with God (the Holy Trinity).

Our lives have shaped the lenses of how we view and interact with God. It is never static and ever-changing. We can see this when we read a verse in the Bible and feel a certain meaning. Revisiting this same verse later, it might mean something else entirely. Both meanings are sacred but reflect how our personal relationship with God has changed.

So, while I concur that trying to understand the Holy Trinity is a rich and educational experience, it is also important how we both approach and meet God. This makes our experiences more personal.

Reflecting on this relationship in our daily prayers and conversations with God is a healthy state of being and one from which we all grow in our faith.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

Photo by David Siglin on Unsplash

protestant bible

The Protestant Reformation

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Romans 11:6

Tradition holds that in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. Actually, the legend is wrong. Luther, a professor at Wittenberg University, circulated these Ninety-five Theses to his compatriots at the university. Later, an unknown person nailed them to the door of the church.

Aided by the Gutenberg printing machine, the Theses spread throughout Europe in a matter of three weeks. In this age of immediate news, three weeks may sound like a long time, but in the early part of the 16th century, three weeks was remarkable.

The First Two Theses

The first two Theses are the most important part of Luther’s text. His first thesis was, that God intended believers to seek repentance. In other words, Luther believed that in humankind existed the compelling force of God pushing us to seek good and not evil.

The second was, that faith and divine grace alone, and not deeds would lead to salvation. In other words, actions are not relevant to salvation, but it is only through our faith in God and belief in the free and unmerited gift of grace by God we are provided salvation.

Luther studied Augustine’s writings and was heavily influenced.

Out of this study, Luther came to believe that the Bible was the central document for all believers. Luther extended this belief by stating the Bible shouldn’t be just written in Latin but in the language of the people. In fact, Luther’s translation of the Bible became the foundation for the existing German language.

Centuries before Luther, others had proposed similar ideas, but the reason Luther’s ideas “went viral” was because of the times and the Gutenberg press. The environment was ripe for these ideas to take hold and the Guttenberg press, akin to the introduction of smartphones in the 21st century, propelled the Theses in the 16th century.

The selling of indulgences also gave rise to the acceptance of Luther’s Theses. At the time, the Catholic church needed to raise funds to renovate St. Peters Basilica and so began selling indulgences to pay for the renovations. Indulgences were sold as a way of “buying” one’s salvation. In Germany, a local friar named Johan Tetzel was the chief salesperson. Many saw through this scheme, which created dissent among the intellectuals and clergy. Luther himself a Catholic priest, recoiled at this selling of salvation.

The political climate was also changing.

Luther had local support from the German princes. This nobility was seeking more freedom from the church to grow their business enterprises. These princes railed against the influence of the Holy Roman Empire and sought to distance themselves from it to become more powerful. Luther was a vehicle for them to create this power.

Luther, a Catholic priest, never really wanted to leave the church. His goal was only to reform internally. But subsequent events made this impossible.

The leaders of the Catholic church were obviously upset with Luther and declared him a heretic, a crime punishable by burning at the stake. Ona number of occasions the pope asked Luther to come to Rome and discuss his position. Luther, well aware of the trickery that had befallen Jan Hus a century before, refused. Hus had accepted a similar meeting and was captured then burned at the stake.

Protected by the German princes, Luther was able to continue his campaign. The crisis reached its apex when Luther called the pope the “Anti-Christ.” After this, no resolution would be possible. This was when the Protestant Reformation took hold.

Many followed suit, like Calvin and John Wesley.

Other nobles, sensing an opportunity to be free of the pope, took action and joined in. Henry the Eighth wanted a divorce, and when the pope denied him, he started his own church called the Church of England, also known as the Anglican church.

The Bible was soon translated into native languages, and the Protestant churches started to develop.

The church services themselves changed. They didn’t follow the Catholic church system of prescribed services. Instead, the local pastor decided on the structure of the service.

In many churches, the Eucharist was no longer held at the end of every service, as still occurs in the Catholic church. Eventually, it morphed into a once-a-month celebration in the middle of the service.

The pope had warned Luther that by allowing the individual to decide what the Bible said would lead to a fracture in the church, which it certainly did. Today, eight hundred million Protestants are members of hundreds of individual denominations.

Luther is considered the father of Protestantism.

He benefited from the times, political support, and a temporary ebb in Catholic morality. Luther was the right person at the right time in the right place. His independent thinking and bombastic style also made him the best catalyst.

He was able to appeal to both the noble and peasant classes. Both were in an emerging state of growth in the early 16th century. Luther was valuable to the nobles because he created a way for them to separate from the influences of the church. And for the peasant class, Luther made God more accessible.

However, there were many grandfathers of Protestantism who hide in obscurity, notably Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, whom we will discuss in future writings.

Before we take too harsh a view of the Catholic church, we must remember that of the 2.5 billion Christians, 1.5 billion are Catholic. They are faithful Christians with many wonderful traditions. In many parts of the southern hemisphere, it is the fastest growing branch of Christianity. The Catholic church has slowly reformed over the years, and ironically, many of Luther’s original theses have been adopted.

Creating other options

To me the reformation was more about creating other options for worship. Expanding the way we worship versus a repudiation of the Catholic church. All organizations have blind spots and the Catholic church is no exception. But I don’t feel comfortable judging the Catholic church, rather admiring its wonderful history and the saints it produced. I remain a Methodist because it fits me. And it is more than okay for others be members of other denominations. We are all Christians first and denominational second.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

credit score

What Is Your Credit Score and Is It Right?

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13:7

I had gone into a Ford dealership to discuss buying a car. In order to get the best deal, I wanted to look at all the options: leasing, a loan, or cash. The salesperson took all my information and went to the dealership’s business manager. I could tell by the look in his eyes when he came back that something was wrong. He informed me I had a really bad credit score. I asked him why, and he said, “You have twenty-three credit cards!”

At that time, I did.

Anytime we went to a new store, they would offer us a discount if we opened up a credit account. To take advantage of the offer, we would get a credit card. Once the purchase was paid off, we would cut up the card or put it in a safe place. So, I was confused—why did it matter that I had twenty-three credit cards if those cards had no balance?

Well, as it turns out, having too many credit cards is a red flag, regardless if you have no balance. But it opened my eyes to how we get a “FICO” score—your credit rating. It matters if you pay you bills on time, but other factors go into determining your score as well.

Later, in speaking with my friend Les, I discovered more facts. He was complaining that his score was abysmal, and he had no idea why. He paid his bills, owned his house outright, and had only two credit cards. When he looked at his credit report, he noticed he had a good payment history and a good score for that factor. But he didn’t have a mortgage, and that was a big hit downward to his credit score. Also, he only had the two credit cards, and that also lowered his score.

His final dispute

His final hit was a dispute he’d had with a medical service company in which he thought the bill was too high. He had been charged more than his insurance company said was fair, and Les had only paid the amount they believed he owed. The provider didn’t agree and sent his bill to a collection agency, who filed a negative complaint. That was it—just one dispute and his score was lowered.

It turns out the ideal number of credit cards to have is six. And you should have a mortgage or at least one installment loan. Plus, even if you dispute a bill, the credit bureaus side with the one who overbilled!

The Rules

This probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but these are the rules. What surprised me more was that after I had canceled all but four of our credit cards, my score didn’t really improve. Again, the reason was, I didn’t have enough credit.

For those with no debt or history of debt, its worse! Both of my two youngest daughters had been lectured by us to avoid debt. As such, neither had ever accrued any debt at all. Their credit score was at 300—the lowest possible score. To solve this, they had to apply for credit cards and put a deposit down to cover their limit in case of default.

Even more remarkable is that I get credit card solicitations from my credit scoring company, Experian, that they recommend for me! Huh, when did the credit bureaus get into the business of promoting debt?

Debt is bad in most cases.

Things like paying off your house, limiting what you spend to only what you can pay for, and paying on time are great life lessons and biblically supported. But some credit is necessary, like taking out a mortgage to buy a house, or to lease a car, or in some cases, to buy a business. Personally, I like the points I get for using my credit card instead of paying cash and then paying the balance off at the end of the month.

Credit Rules

Unfortunately, the rules of how the credit score is determined by the FICO corporation don’t make sense. The three credit reporting companies, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax agree. In turn, they recently banded together and have started testing their own credit scoring system, called Vantage. Much of the silliness of the FICO score is addressed, but many lenders still use FICO. However, the Vantage score is becoming more accepted and slowly taking hold.

So, should we have exactly 6 credit cards, a mortgage, and use credit to pay our bills? Yes, if you want to have a good credit score. But don’t forget to pay your bills on time!

The system may eventually work itself out, and some of the inane things you have to do to maintain a good credit or FICO score will change. But in today’s verse, the Apostle Paul gives a simple solution in Romans, where he says: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” It is good advice regardless of whether or not it always helps your credit score. Doing the right thing is always good.

The rules will eventually catch up; they always do.

Dr. Bruce L Hartman, Christian Author and Story Teller. A former Fortune 500 CFO who left the corporate world to engage in a ministry of “Connecting The Lessons of the Gospels to the Modern Life.”  His life mission is “Helping People Walk into a Brighter Future.”

He is the author of Jesus & Co.  and Your Faith Has Made You Well

Visit www.brucelhartman.com

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

Photo by Two Paddles Axe and Leatherwork on Unsplash

marriage

Why Can’t Catholic Priests Marry?

I am often asked, “Why can’t Catholic priests marry?” This is certainly a long-standing debate and one that rages throughout history. According to Pew Research, 60 percent of Catholics believe priests should be allowed to be married.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis seems to be giving this issue real consideration. Politically, it would be a big movement for the Catholic church and, as such, he is treading carefully. But he has opened the door by suggesting perhaps priests could be married in those areas where there is a shortage of priests, such as the Pacific Islands and parts of South America. These are both places where there has been a significant rise in Catholicism.

A term being used is Viri Probati, which means “Men of proven Virtue.” The term is being used as a bridge to ending the marriage ban. Many in the Vatican are discussing this transition. But, as with all large organizations, change comes slowly.

It’s about discipline

The issue of having married priests has been with the church since at least 305 AD. At the Council of Elvira, married priests were asked to maintain a lifestyle of abstinence. Later, in 325 AD, at the Council of Nicaea convened by Constantine, a proposal to forbid married men to become priests was rejected.

It wasn’t until 1139 AD, at the Second Lateran Council, that an edict came out against married priests.

It is important to note that having unmarried men be priests is a discipline and not a doctrine. This means the pope can more readily change the rules.

Of all the reasons I have read in favor of this enacted discipline, the most prominent is the creation of a group “set apart.” Garry Wills suggested in Under God that the ban on marriage was adopted to lift the status of priests at a time when their authority was being challenged by nobles and others.

Separation of Church and State

In other words, the idea was to create a group that was freed from the politics of the twelfth century—a form of separation of church and state. In the preceding thousand years, the papacy and the church were influenced by political powers who sought to gain an advantage by controlling the church.

There is also ancient history from before Jesus’s time that has influenced the church. Early Druid priests were asked to not marry. This was also true of other pre-Christian religious sects. The thought was based on maintaining purity and a commitment to living a higher life.

Early Protestant reformers rejected the concept of having clergy not being married. It was viewed by Luther as a deviant lifestyle. Other than small groups like the Shakers, most Protestant sects still hold this position. It should be noted that Luther himself, a former Catholic priest, married a former nun whom he’d rescued from a German nunnery.

In 2012, a small scrap of parchment was discovered that quoted Jesus as saying, “My wife…” Scholars have reviewed this scrap and determined it was from antiquity and authentic. Does this mean Jesus had a wife? Maybe, but more likely it was the start of a quote about Jesus and the church. Jesus, in Revelations, is compared to a bridegroom, and his bride is New Jerusalem—the church of believers. So, while there has been speculation for centuries about whether or not Jesus was married, it is doubtful that he was.

Paul, in his letters, discussed marriage, and while he didn’t come out on either side, he left it up to the individual but cautioned that marriage could affect our following of Christ.

Biblically, there is no guidance about whether clergy should be married. The issue is one of custom and discipline.

It would be easy to say that those of the Catholic faith should follow the Protestant direction. However, the Protestant tradition was created by individuals like Luther who believed it was okay for clergy to be married and that to not marry was an invitation to lead an aberrant life.

Pope Francis currently holds the key to solving this issue. Because marriage by the clergy is not a doctrine, it could, in theory, be changed fairly easily. But tradition is not easily broken. There is still a large minority who believe that priests should not marry.

Pope Francis himself has said that chastity on the part of the priest is a real gift to the church. But, at the same time, he recognizes its potential impact on morality in terms of priestly conduct and the recruitment of future priests. He also realizes that this is a sensitive subject that could cause a schism in the church if not handled carefully.

Personally, I do think priests should be given the option to marry if they feel they can best serve the church through marriage as opposed to a life of celibacy. But that is a very Protestant view. There is something to be said for those who would choose to stay single as a symbol of their virtue.

The days when noblemen and kings could influence the church are long past and perhaps the rule is no longer needed.

There are places in the world that are growing in Christ that do not have enough clergy to guide them. Marriage can be a detriment to recruiting priests. Pope Francis recognizes this and has floated a trial balloon to potentially relax this discipline in those areas. Perhaps it is his way of easing the rules so that, eventually, all priests would be permitted to marry.

Pope Francis currently holds the key to solving this debate. I do not envy his position. Regardless of his own feelings, he has constituents on both sides of the argument who believe strongly in their views. This is a river he must try to navigate for the sake of the church.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

mississippi

Looking Deeper Before We Judge

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7

She was an African American born in 1902 who grew up in southern Mississippi. Throughout her youth she endured segregation, learning where she could go and what she could say. It was a tough life that required her to be vigilant so as to not offend the white folks. As she approached her teen years she started to think about her future. She saw the jobs the older African American women had: most were wash maids, servants, or wives of sharecroppers. She saw them struggle to make a life. It was not the kind of life she wanted for herself.

At the age of eighteen, she gathered up what few belongings she had and walked twenty-eight miles north to the town of Natchez. It was bigger than her small, rural town—perhaps here she could fulfill her dream of a better life. She quickly found out that not much was different for an African American woman in Natchez.

The only job she could find that paid well was as a prostitute in a section of town called, “Under the Hill.” It was a tough place filled with brothels and bars and a place where people would sometimes disappear.

It was especially dangerous for a prostitute.

She learned her craft well and squirreled away a large amount of money. She also developed a clientele that included the powerful men of Natchez and the surrounding communities. By the age of twenty-three, she’d saved enough money to buy a house on Rankin street in an upper middle-class part of town.

Here she continued her trade, safe from the dangers of working on the riverfront. Over a few years, many came to the screen door in the back of her house, and she hired other workers of the night.

By 1930 she had a full-blown brothel operating in the heart of town. She would run the brothel for another sixty years.

She was clever in how she ran her business. She kept a black book containing the names of the powerful men who visited her. On Christmas, she delivered expensive liquor to the mayor, police chief, and local sheriff.

All promised to leave her alone.

She would not let black men into her brothel for fear of reprisal. Every day she had southern comfort food for her clients. She sold beer and kept a cheery house. Not only did the locals visit, but soon she became Mississippi’s most famous madam. There was an Army base nearby, and on Saturday nights, the young serviceman would line up for blocks, waiting their turn.

But there was another side to this successful and tough businessperson. She and her girls made food for the local orphanage and delivered it secretly to the back door. She gave generously to the local Catholic church.

She paid for neighborhood improvements. If a neighbor needed money for repairs, she gave it to them.

During the civil rights era, when many local blacks were arrested for peacefully protesting, she used her pull with local officials and had them released.

The FBI would visit her house early in the morning to get information about the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the danger, she told them all that she knew and was instrumental in eliminating the Klan from her community.

She had one rule that she never broke.

After one of her girls was murdered by a drunken client, she refused to serve anyone who’d been drinking. It was a rule that would ultimately cost her her life.

On July 4th of 1990, a young man appeared at her back door, belligerent and drunk. She refused him entry. He left and went to the local gas station where he filled up a canister with gasoline and then went back to her house.

This time, she came to the door with a pistol she kept for protection. The man threw gasoline on her through the screen door and lit a match. Not only did she catch on fire, but her assailant did too.

As he ran away, he looked like a running fireball.

The house caught on fire, and she stumbled to her bedroom where she collapsed with severe burns on 80 percent of her body. A young female firefighter who responded to the scene comforted her while rescue vehicles arrived. Barely alive and breathing heavily, her last moments were lived in agony.

She and her assailant both died the next day. Pastor O’Connor, the priest from the nearby Catholic church offered to arrange her funeral. It was the same church that she had helped many times over the previous sixty years.

During the next week, some of the parishioners complained bitterly about their church being used for a madam’s funeral. Despite this, the following Sunday, Pastor O’Connor delivered a fire and brimstone sermon about judging others. He quoted the above verse from John 8:7. It is the story of a woman who was stoned for leading a life as a prostitute. When Jesus arrived, he asked the crowd to only cast a stone if they had never sinned. As we all know, the crowd disbanded.

The woman’s name was Nellie Jackson, and you won’t find a Wikipedia page about her. But if you google her name, you can read her story from newspaper accounts, and in 2017, a local produced a documentary called Mississippi Madam.

If you watch it, you will discover that she attended many World Series—the last one in 1984 in Detroit. Her tickets were given to her by Bill Harrah—yes, the man who started the Harrah casinos.

Nellie was befriended and beloved by many.

Not because she ran a brothel but because she gave to her community. She was a person who listened to those that needed comfort. Those who worked for her loved her, and so did her clients.

I don’t write this to support brothels or to glamorize prostitution. I write it to tell a story about a woman who did the best she could when society tried to keep her in a box. Could she have become a doctor and saved lives? Could she have become a great stateswoman and fought for democracy? Maybe, but given her background it’s unlikely.

Jesus defended the prostitute because he knew one thing—we all fail. Ours is not to judge but to pray for understanding. Ours is not to hate, but to love. We are all made in the image 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.

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

china trade

Is it Right for America to be Engaging in a Trade War with China?

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

-Matthew 7:12

I recently read a CNN story about how President Trump’s trade war with China was nationalistic behavior at the expense of the global economy. Much of the impression that Trump is a nationalist comes from his quote, “Make America Great Again.” I already thought America was great, but we could always be better. I also think countries like Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and many others are great countries as well, but I believe that they, too, can be better. The fight with China is not a “nationalistic” fight but instead pushing back against unfair trade practices.

As a former business person who had to do business with China, I knew of many of their unfair practices. Technology companies had to give up their hard-earned intellectual property to do business in China. China subsidized their businesses in industries that they wanted to expand, such as the steel industry. These subsidies almost wiped out our own steel industry. Not only did Americans lose jobs but other steel-producing companies felt the same impact.

In some cases, payoffs have to be made to Chinese local officials. The companies I worked for did not comply and refused to engage in bribery.

China also supports its currency to provide an unfair advantage to their companies, while other nations allow their currency to float naturally.

China’s industries do not comply with international environmental standards and have become one of the most polluted countries in the world. Other nations that comply bear a significant cost disadvantage because they are good world citizens.

China produces 90 percent of the drug Fentanyl, which has contributed to the extreme drug crisis in America. While not an economic issue, it is a social issue that is costing America and other nations billions of dollars to address.

China regularly engages in cyber espionage to steal America’s and other countries’ hard-earned technology. Even my own website has “bots” that probe for information. Most coming from Russia or China according to my web hosting provider. Thankfully, I don’t have any great secrets and a strong firewall to prevent attacks.

It’s an abuse of its citizenry is currently being played out in Hong Kong, where the people want more freedom but are being denied. And let us not forget that they engage in some of the world’s most extreme persecution of Christians.

The trade war isn’t just about trade, it is about our country standing up against a despotic regime. President Xi recently had the Chinese constitution changed to make him president for life. This is a tough battle against a tough foe. This isn’t about nationalism, it is about fair play.

In my book Jesus & Co., It talks about the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is an important moral and business concept spelled out in the book. Any business that wants to survive in the long term should follow this concept. The same is true for countries. History is littered with companies and countries that eventually suffer due to having a bad moral compass.

While we read headlines every day about the latest updates in the trade war, it is silently having an effect. China’s growth has slowed, and in the last year they have lost 10 percent of their manufacturing orders, with more losses to come. As their economy has slowed, their debt has risen dramatically. In an effort to mask the deterioration in their growth, they have increased their debt. According to the Institute of International Finance, today, China’s total debt stands at $40 trillion or 300 percent of its gross domestic product, which accounts for 15 percent of the total world’s debt. And that number is growing. Much of China’s debt is shadow debt and not reported.

China is under pressure and needs to find a deal that is workable for the world. For too long they have bullied the rest of the world and gotten away with it. Companies who want to do business in China have to give in to their abuse or risk losing out on the world’s second-largest economy. This is largely because politicians around the world have not pushed back.

While I often disagree with Trump’s rhetoric, I do agree with his fighting back. He is standing up to a known world-wide bully, and he is winning. Not only will Americans benefit, but the rest of the world will as well. You don’t hear much from other countries, but they are silently on board with the trade war. Not only is manufacturing returning to America but other countries are also benefiting from increased orders. Ultimately consumers around the world will have lower prices, and their countries will have more jobs.

We need to be careful when we label things good for the world as nationalistic. In this case, the trade war is good for all world citizens. Whenever any country stands up to abuse it benefits all its global neighbors. I know Jesus wouldn’t approve of Chinese business practices or their social abuses. This isn’t a nationalist issue, but a moral issue.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

Wanda: a Story of a Faithfully Lived Life

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:14

At our after-church Bible study, I went up to a woman and thanked her for giving us a wonderful testimony of a life lived fully with faith. Each Sunday after church, one hundred or so people gather for this Bible study group. It is definitely the largest I have ever attended. Each Sunday, one person gives a short testimony about their life.

This particular Sunday it was Wanda’s turn.

As I greeted Wanda after the Bible study ended, I noticed how frail she was. She walked with a cane, and her skin told the story of a woman whose earthly body was wearing down. But in her eyes, I saw a humble and joyous woman. Each time I told her that I was amazed at what she had accomplished, she said, “It wasn’t me; it was our Lord working within me.” She took no credit for anything that had happened in her wonderful life.

She had been very nervous speaking to this large group.

Her mouth was still dry as she talked with me, revealing exactly how nervous she had been. She confided that up to the moment she started speaking, she was sure she would fail. With a silent prayer, she started talking and held the audience’s attention throughout her riveting talk. Again, when I told her what a marvelous speaker she was, she said, “It was God and not me.”

When Wanda had first gotten married, she and her husband decided they would devote their lives to helping others and joined a missionary group that served in the States. First, they went to Colorado Springs for one year of training and received their certificates to be missionaries. Their early life was hard, with little in the way of financial resources, yet they continued.

They went to San Diego and worked in a house that harbored the poor. Wanda was a cook, cleaning lady, and baby sitter. Her husband was a general fix-it person. To supplement their income, her husband went to work with General Dynamics.

Later, she heard of a man who also worked as a missionary whose wife had died and left him with three young children. Through prayer, she felt that God was asking her to help this man with his children. She talked with her husband who, coincidently, had the same thing on his heart. So they approached the leaders of their missionary organization and mentioned they were willing to help him. They replied, “Thanks, but he is going to have a nurse help him.”

But Wanda had felt, through prayer, that God wanted her and her husband to help this man. She also felt that God had told her that she and her husband would have a child after they were done. By that time, Wanda and her husband had been married for seven years and had no children.

It looked bleak for them to be able to raise a family.

A couple of weeks later, the mission group called to say that the man could use their help after all. Wanda and her husband moved in at the mission where the widower was staying. For a couple of years, Wanda took care of the children while her husband and the widower worked in the mission.

When her assignment was over, she got a call that a young sixteen-year-old was about to have a baby and wanted to give the child up for adoption. They asked Wanda if she would care for the infant until adoptive parents could be found. She said yes. They took the baby, and her husband went back to work at General Dynamics. She applied to adopt the baby herself, and the mission she had been working for provided the money for legal help. After a few months, she and her husband became the child’s adoptive parents.

Later, another adopted child arrived.

Wanda now had the family she’d always wanted. Her husband got promoted and was transferred to Fort Worth, Texas, where he continued his climb up the corporate ladder. They lived there, raising their two children for thirty-four years.

Their children grew up and had kids of their own. Both ended up in the mountains of western North Carolina. When Wanda’s husband retired, they moved to Asheville to be with her children and grandchildren.

Today, Wanda has been married for sixty-six years and has grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She has never stopped helping others. Through her church, she worked on many missions. Even today, at nearly ninety years old, she stills works for the Lord.

Wanda is frail today and slowing down, but her eyes are still bright. She will only thank God for the wonderful life she has led. While younger versions speed around and build their own lives, Wanda stays in the fortress of the life she built with 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.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill / Sincerely Media on Unsplash