Athanasius, the Original Pillar of the Church

Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?

Job 12:12

Lost amongst the noise around the Catholic church are great founding members of the world’s largest Christian denomination. Augustine gets credit for his witty prose and writings. Certainly, there are Saint Francis and Thomas Aquinas too. But one person who has existed in relative obscurity this last millennium is one of the most important early fathers of the church—Athanasius.

Athanasius lived in the desert around Alexandria during the early part of the fourth century. He was the long-serving bishop of Alexandria and was credited with many of the theological understandings of Christianity and the Trinity.

The first person to name the twenty-seven books of the New testament.

Athanasius served as the chief defender of the trinitarian view of God at the age of twenty-seven during the Nicean Council. At the age of thirty, he was made bishop of Alexandria and served in that capacity intermittently for forty-five years. He constantly rubbed the Roman emperors the wrong way, who would then ask that he be replaced. This happened five times. He railed against political influence in the running of the church, and four separate emperors had him removed.

He was known in his times as Athanasius Contra Mundum—Latin for Athanasius Against the World. His defense of the Bible and the church against heresy and politicians was a constant struggle, but he never submitted to going along to get along. His primary focus in life was in defending the Gospel and the church. After his death, Gregory of Nazianzus called him “the pillar of the church” in recognition of his life-long commitment to it.

He was born between 296 AD and 298 AD. His parents were wealthy enough to provide him with a secular education, but they were not part of the Egyptian aristocracy.

As a child, he was observed imitating the ritual of baptism with his friends in the school play yard by the existing bishop of Alexandria. Athanasius was imitating the bishop during this youthful event. Upon this discovery, the bishop took Athanasius under his wing and would serve as his mentor for almost twenty years.

Give us Athanasius

When Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, was on his deathbed, Athanasius fled, fearing they would make him the new bishop. However, the Catholic population surrounding the church would accept no person other than Athanasius. At an assembly to decide who the candidates would be, the crowd yelled: “Give us Athanasius!” Finally, Athanasius submitted and began his long and tumultuous forty-five-year service as bishop. Athanasius was unbending in his support of the Gospel and his belief the substance of God, in the form of the Holy Trinity.

When others would give in to appease the emperor, Athanasius stood firm at great personal peril. It wasn’t that he was trying to be difficult—his points of view were firm and well-founded. Each time he was exiled, a group would come back to his defense and request: “Give us Athanasius.”

Athanasius was also a prolific writer.

His most famous book was the biography of Anthony the Great, called the Life of Antony. Athanasius spent many of his years in exile in the desert residing among early monks who were called the Desert Fathers. These men and women sought to separate themselves from the world while living in caves meditating or writing about Jesus. Antony was a monk that Athanasius admired.

Whether the book is a factual or fictitious account of his friend Antony is a matter of debate amongst scholars. Some say it is a collage of the lives of the many who lived in the mountains of the desert of Egypt. Others insist it is a true account. Regardless of how it was written, it is a story about turning from the ways of the world toward a life of reflection about God. In it is also an early depiction of monastic life which many Catholics would mirror in future centuries.

Athanasius today is revered by the three separate denominations— the Coptic church, the Eastern Orthodox church, and the Roman Catholic church. This young boy who’d imitated the baptismal act in a schoolyard rose up to become the great defender of the Gospel and a well-loved patriarch of the church.

The common people loved him, and their cry of: “give us Athanasius!” was his support for most of his life. When rulers tried to subdue him, he stood up for faith. He was the Pillar of the Church because he stood up for his beliefs when others sought to please emperors through compromise.

The Catholic church has many great historical figures like Augustine, St Francis, Mother Teresa, and others. Athanasius was the pillar when those of our Christian faith first started to create the New Testament and many of the doctrines we have today.

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 Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

 

thurgood marshall

Thurgood Marshall: an Effective Advocate for Civil Rights

I recently watched the movie, Marshall, and became interested in Thurgood Marshall, so I did some research to discover more about him. The movie portrayed him as a bit of a rabble-rouser, but like all movies that are “based on true events,” it was a bit off the mark. I found him to be a more enlightened individual than the movie portrayed. Skillful in pushing change, he used the Constitution and the word of law to enact his agenda of universal rights for all.

Thurgood knew how to beat a bully

It isn’t through emotional outbursts or loudly spoken demands. Instead, it is by carefully and coolly using the weapons at hand—in this case, the law. And much of what Thurgood accomplished was through making allies and not enemies.

For instance, he didn’t apply to the University of Maryland Law school, his local school. In the early part of the last century, African Americans couldn’t attend the University of Maryland School of Law, which Thurgood knew. Instead, he went to Howard University to get his degree. After some strong mentoring by the new dean of Howard University’s law school, he went into law to protect the oppressed. Once he had his own law practice, he met another young African American who actually had applied to the University of Maryland law school and was denied acceptance. While representing Donald Gaines Murray, Marshall eventually prevailed in getting Murray accepted to the school, winning his case before the State of Maryland Supreme Court. He had won the battle against the school to which he had once known he would be denied attendance only when he had the tools at his disposal to fight.

Fighting for what is right

Thurgood strongly believed in fighting hard for what was right and knew the law would follow. He was one of our country’s strongest constitutional attorneys. Thirty-two times he represented people not getting a fair break in front of the United States Supreme Court. He won all but three of those cases. He won his first case at the Supreme Court at the age of thirty-two.

His most famous case was Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. He successfully argued that “separate was not equal,” setting the stage for other public schools to accept people of all races. This landmark case broke apart the barriers that had prevented African American students from going to the schools of their choice.

Thurgood founded the NAACP legal arm and served in that post for twenty-five years. During that time, he created much of the legal legwork to support the later civil rights movement.

While other civil rights activists worked against J. Edgar Hoover, Marshall found a way to make Hoover an ally. He pushed President Kennedy on civil rights and encouraged him to appoint more African American judges. In turn, he was appointed to the federal appellate court as a judge and later was appointed, by Kennedy, as the country’s Solicitor General.

When Lyndon Johnson became President, he appointed Thurgood as the first African American Supreme Court justice. It was post he filled for twenty-four years. His service as a federal appellate judge had provided him with the necessary training to serve on our nation’s highest court.

Many may not know the deeper history of this wonderful American.

His story isn’t just about what he accomplished, but more about how he accomplished his goals. He was certainly liberal in his views, but not blindly so. He didn’t vote strictly on party lines but on what he believed was right. The most conservative judges respected him because he fought for his causes based on what he believed was right. He didn’t push for change until he had the right tools and information.

Thurgood knew that getting into wars of words with bullies was a dead-end street. He needed facts and the law to support his causes. He avoided celebrity to focus on the truth. As with his battle with the University of Maryland, he didn’t forget; instead, he returned to fight when he was prepared as a lawyer and used the Constitution to win his case.

Jesus tells us to stand up for the weak and to fight for the downtrodden. But Jesus also told us to be wise and kind as doves. This was Thurgood’s approach. In a very Christian manner, he pushed hard but not at the expense of civility.

Finding support

While others will squawk about what’s unfair, they forget to make allies. In their haste to get what they want, they forget about the barriers that angry discourse creates. Thurgood knew that any cause that is just will attract honorable people while name-calling attracts the wrong supporters.

While Martin Luther King felt that civil disobedience without violence was the right way, Thurgood believed it was through the legal system. Despite their difference, King driven by the Bible and Marshall by the law, they respected each other. When Marshall received harsh criticism by the more militant of the civil rights leaders, he stood his ground. He had been toughened up many years earlier in southern courtrooms while fighting for civil rights. He was there when they were young. Their criticism was nowhere near the violence he had faced many years earlier, like the time he’d had shotguns pointed at him on a train platform.

Rights for all

Thurgood Marshall is not the most visibly famous of the advocates for the universal rights for all people. But he is certainly the one who most changed the course of civil rights in America. Martin Luther King knew this, and despite their differences in approach, wrote to both President Kennedy and Johnson asking that Thurgood being made a Justice.

They complied.

Wrong is wrong and always needs to be corrected. There is always a need for immediacy to all change. Importantly, change needs two things: allies and intellect. Thurgood was a model for others to follow in affecting change. Angry rhetoric will not move the angry bear called injustice, calmness will. Power isn’t given up by clanging cymbals together but through genuine intellect. Those who seek to push back injustices while obtaining celebrity will not succeed. Those who seek to remove injustice with compassion in their heart will succeed.

Thurgood Marshall was a great American, and he knew our Constitution well. He may not be the most famous civil rights advocate, but he was certainly one of its most effective.

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.”

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

 

bohemia

Jan Hus: The Unknown Protestant Reformer

In 1519, two years after Martin Luther had distributed his ninety-five Theses and started the Protestant Reformation, he was asked if he was a Hussite. To the shock of all those listening, he affirmed that he was.

Leaving their mouths agape.

Luther had just told them he wanted to completely separate from the Catholic church. Being a Hussite was heresy and an admission that Luther, who had at first wanted to reform the Catholic church internally, no longer desired that course. He was done and ready to move on to creating a separate church in Germany.

Being a Hussite was akin to treason.

The movement had been named after a Catholic priest from a hundred years earlier named Jan Hus. Hus was born in 1372 in the country currently called the Czech Republic. At the time, it was called Bohemia and was loosely associated with Germany. Hus was born in a small, rural town on the outskirts of Prague. He was certainly not born into wealth and would not even have been considered middle class. Hus wanted more from life than to labor in the fields.

He applied to the University of Prague to study theology and was accepted. This was not because he was interested in developing a higher morality but because he wanted to live more comfortably than those who lived in his hometown.

It is important to understand how the political state of Bohemia impacted how the University of Prague was run. Knowing this helps explain why future events occurred. The brother of the Emperor of the Holy Empire was the political leader of Bohemia, and the Emperor was also the king of what is now Germany. Further complicating the political situation in the 14th century, the Emperor of the Holy Empire had a very heavy influence on religious life and served with the Pope. As a result, most of what happened in Bohemia was heavily influenced by Germany and the Catholic church.

The University of Prague was affected by this entanglement.

More than 75 percent of educators were German, while more than half of the students were Bohemian or Czech. At the University, Hus was an excellent student and went on to earn a master’s degree. He also developed a stronger sense of his connectedness with Jesus. He prepared himself for ordination and to go on to obtain a doctorate degree.

In Prague and in a number of urban areas in Europe, there were chapels where young ordinates, like Hus, could hold service. Hus went to the Bethlehem chapel.

Remarkably, he became a minor celebrity. People flocked to his chapel to hear his sermons. He preached in the vernacular—the language of the people. Having studied Wycliffe and Wycliffe’s notes while at the University, he tried this form of preaching. For the students at the University of Prague, he became someone to look up to as well.

At the same time, the students at the University of Prague began to resent the heavy influences of Germany and the Catholic church. Like Hus, they admired the new theories of Wycliffe. Their resentment of outside influence coupled with the radical ideas of Wycliffe led to a movement.

Naturally, they followed Hus as their leader.

When the Archbishop of Prague got wind of Hus’s efforts, he asked him to stop. Hus refused and kept preaching. Then the Archbishop excommunicated him.

As we all know, the worst thing to do is to try to silence a young person who believes fully in their mission. The Archbishop’s attempts to suppress Hus didn’t work; he continued to preach and became louder in his protests.

Hus didn’t believe in selling indulgences, as most of the population and clergy did. His belief was that, if the church had the power to prevent people from going to hell, then church leadership should do it without thought of profit. Otherwise, selling indulgences was nothing more than extortion.

He had other views as well.

For instance, he disagreed with the church’s view of not letting those taking communion to share in the wine. In other words, they only received the bread of the body while the wine, or blood of the body, was reserved exclusively for the priest.

Hus saw this an insult to the parishioners—a sign that they weren’t considered as worthy as the priest. Again the populace agreed with Hus.

As time wore on, Hus was excommunicated a second time—this time by the Pope. Again, this did not put out the fire of revolt; it only increased the native population’s resolve and emboldened Hus’s voice.

The Emperor saw the potential danger of the situation and offered mediation. He invited Hus to attend the Council of Constance in 1414. Hus, excited to go and resolve the issues at hand, left before he received his letter of invitation.

This is important, as the invitation also contained a safe-conduct agreement. In other words, he would be safe to travel there and back. But the Pope had carefully worded the safe conduct agreement and only arranged for Hus’s safe arrival and not for his return home.

If Hus had waited, he would have realized the ruse.

He arrived and was immediately defrocked. Not allowed to defend himself, he was only allowed to answer yes or no to inquiries. He was found to be a heretic. On his knees and disrobed, he prayed and asked for forgiveness for all his enemies.

He was bound, led outside, and burned at the stake. His ashes were thrown into the river so that his followers and loved ones would be denied any physical remembrance of him.

The outcry back in Bohemia was enormous. The populace revolted, and went to the building in Prague where all the powerful men worked and threw them out of the windows. They all either died from the fall or were killed by the mob waiting below.

The local churches separated from the Catholic church and became independent. The Pope and Emperor asked for crusaders to invade Bohemia to regain control. After five unsuccessful attempts by the crusaders, a peace deal was finally struck. Bohemia was free, and the people there worshipped in churches that preached in the vernacular and had wine during communion.

They remained free for three hundred years.

While Luther gets the credit for the Protestant Reformation, his real contribution was carrying on the efforts of Wycliffe and Hus. Luther would mature their theology in later years, but he was certainly inspired by their lives.

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 Richard Hodonicky on Unsplash

 

wycliffe

John Wycliffe, the First Protestant Reformer

The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

Isaiah 40:8

In the summer of 1348, the black plague hit the shores of England. For nearly two years, it ravaged the British Isles, and forty percent of its inhabitants lost their lives, throwing society into upheaval with food shortages and economic disarray. All tried to discern what has caused the death and destruction.

During that time, John Wycliffe was a resident teacher and theologian at the University of Oxford. Prior to the arrival of the Black Death, Wycliffe had observed the rise of what he termed “the Royalty of Clergy.” Wycliffe had long wondered about the contradiction of the existing priests’ lavish lifestyles with the teachings of Christ.

Wycliffe also noticed that the existing clergy had a higher death rate from the plague than the non-clerical population and made the unscientific observation that must have been related to their contradictory lifestyle.

At the same time of the Black Death, the nobility of England had begun to resent papal influence in running their empire. Local nobles saw this conflict as competition for resources from  far away rulers.

As Wycliffe formed his theories and began to go public, he gained political support and encouragement from the noble class. He called the clergy “a pest on society.” The more vocal Wycliffe became, the more support he gained from the nobles who also resented clergy holding political office.

One strong supporter of Wycliffe was John of Gaunt.

He was the third of the five surviving sons of King Edward III. Through his birthright, advantageous marriages, and significant land grants, he was one of England’s richest men.

Initially, Wycliffe benefited from John of Gaunt’s protection. A strange confluence of events had formulated his ideas regarding the Black Death and the rise of English nobility. His early writings and speeches centered around the question: what right does the papacy have to meddle in English affairs?

He was the grandfather of the idea that the Bible and only the Bible was the central authority in spiritual matters. He believed that local populations should be able to hear and read the word of God in their native languages. While Luther would later famously call the pope the Anti-Christ, Wycliffe actually used this phrase almost two centuries earlier.

Wycliffe also believed in the theory of pre-destination. In other words, God selects those who will go to heaven. As such, why was there a need for the existing church to intercede?

All of this coincidently tied in with the rise of the noble class.

While Luther is credited with the first translation of the Bible into the vernacular or native language, it was once again Wycliffe who accomplished this first. He is credited with personally translating sections of the four Gospels and supervising the translation of other parts of the Bible. In fact, 150 completed or partially completed manuscripts still exist today.

In his later years, Wycliff’s writings became directed at all authority and not just the Catholic church. This included English nobility. Though still protected by the noble class in his later years, he faced a period of temporary imprisonment. Though never formally abandoned by his native people, his last years were complicated.

Wycliffe died in 1384 at the age of sixty-four.

He was still attacked posthumously. In the early part of the 1400’s, his body was exhumed and burned at the stake. All likenesses of him were burned as well. The paintings we have of him today are from a much later period.

So, while Luther is often credited as being the originator of the Protestant Reformation, much of what Wycliffe did came first. He is the grandfather of the movement.

But like all periods in history, there is more to the story. Certainly, Wycliffe was sincere in his beliefs. But other factors were necessary for his voice to be heard. This is true of all future reformers like Hus, Luther, and Calvin.

Wycliffe was influenced by the horrible scourge of the black death.

It affected his gloomy view of the clergy and the world. In fact, Wycliffe believed the whole human race would be gone by 1400 AD. He correlated the high death rate amongst clergy with their contrary lifestyle.

Like other parts of the Reformation, the support of nobility was instrumental in creating the strength of the movement. This is not to say that Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, and Calvin were not sincere, but they were greatly aided by an aligned group of native elite who protected them. Protection that they gave quickly to benefit themselves.

I do not believe we should view the Protestant Reformation as a win but as the creation of another way to worship. The early Protestant reformers were external to the Catholic church. Internally, the Catholic church has also had reformers. The confluence of these two types of reformers have led to a strengthened Christianity. The church—both Catholic and Protestant—have many who believe in reformation and improvement.

We should always remember, we are all Christians first!

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 Piotr Gaertig on Unsplash

 

women leader

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.

Nellie Jackson

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 Mike Labrum on Unsplash

 

julian of norwich

Julian of Norwich: A Different View of Life

All shall be well, and all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.

Julian of Norwich lived most of her life sealed inside a room and yet held a very positive and upbeat Christian view of life. Julian was the author of Revelations of Divine Love, the first English-language book written by a woman. Yes, she was the first woman to write a book in English!

Julian lived a large part of her life as an Anchoress in a secluded room in a church in Norwich, England. The church she lived in is now called St. Julian’s church and is still in existence today. An Anchoress (or Anchorite) committed their lives to serve Jesus and agreed to be sealed in a room attached to a church for the balance of their lives. In theory, their only human contact would be as they received, food, water, and other items through a small opening. Their rooms would have windows so they could see the outside world. Their only companion would be a cat—this was a practical necessity to keep small rodents away.

Julian’s view of life came from a small window.

While anchorites were confined to a life of seclusion, in reality, they ministered and were connected to their local community through these windows. They offered prayers to those needing comfort or advice to those who were troubled. Locally, they were an important part of town. A common saying in these towns was: “if you want to know the latest news, you either speak to the local barkeep or the town’s Anchorite.”

Norwich, during Julian’s time, was second only to London in terms of commerce and religious activity. Julian wasn’t alone in her life as an Anchoress. Of the sixty-three churches in Norwich, thirty-six had an Anchorite in residence. Julian became the most famous.

Her book, Revelations of Divine Love, written late in the 14th century, did not receive much fame until 1670 when it was finally published. It continued to be reintroduced over the next few centuries and can still be bought today on Amazon.

Because there are no references to her in the local priory, Julian is believed to have been a young, widowed mother and not a nun. Little else exists that gives much background about her.

Much of what we know comes from her writings.

Prior to writing Revelations of Divine Love, and perhaps after the death of her family, she prayed that she could experience the same pain that Jesus had on the cross. Later, she became deathly ill for seven days. During this period, she had sixteen visions from God. The most famous is called the walnut vision. From these visions, she wrote her book.

Her theology of a loving God and the condition of humankind is often used in theological schools as an alternate view of the essence of God and humankind. Her most famous quote: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be exceedingly well, reflects this condition of a loving God.

Julian believed that sin would always be overcome and that, while humankind would be tempted and travailed, God would never let us become overtaken by sin. She believed that sin itself was worse than hell but that it’s value eventually led to an acceptance of God and a certainty of God’s love.

She also saw God similar to a parent. She even referred to Jesus’s role as part of the trinity as the mother who is loving, merciful, and wise.

Julian contended that God saw humankind’s potential as perfect and waits for the day when we mature to the point where sin and evil no longer affect us. She described this attachment by God to humankind by saying, God is nearer to us than our own soul. This is certainly a positive view of our relationship with God.

Recognition well deserved

It was only in the 20th century that Julian of Norwich became a darling of scholars and theologians. Even then, her fame seldom escaped beyond the halls of academia. We can theorize that her writings remained in her secluded room and were only discovered after her death. Any promotion of her ideas would have necessarily come later when others discovered her writing. Maybe the original document or book was put in a church warehouse and was later stumbled upon by a researcher before finally being published in 1670.

The Catholic church has not made her a saint, but she is included in the studies of the Catechism. In theological schools, she is part of Church history classes.

But there she resides in relative obscurity.

Revelations of Divine Love does not have a high Amazon ranking, partially because of Julian’s relatively small fame and because the book is very dense. It is more a book of reflection that is to be savored and not devoured. It is the kind of book where you read a paragraph and can meditate on just that paragraph for the whole day, like a companion who has given you an intriguing but difficult question.

But what if Julian’s theology is right?

That God is filled with love for humankind. That God will constantly pursue us and never give up on us. That the very essence of God is love. That God doesn’t judge or condemn, but instead provides hope and love.

It gives me hope—not only for myself—but for humankind. Reading her book can be hard, but perhaps a few of her quotes will give you a deeper understanding of Julian of Norwich. Just click this link, and you will be transported to a different and optimistic theology.

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 irvin Macfarland on Unsplash

 

apostle paul

Apostle Paul: The Final Story of a Life Lived for the Lord

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13

When Paul returned to Jerusalem, he was initially well-received. He had brought money for the local community from the many churches he had started. But over time, his desire to speak of the heart of God as opposed to the law of God irritated some of the more traditional locals. Eventually, he was run out of a local temple and nearly killed. Centurions rescued him because of his birth status as a Roman citizen.

He was whisked off to Caesarea and imprisoned from 57 AD to 59 AD. During this time, a new Roman governor took control and opened Paul’s case. Not wanting to be tried in Caesarea, Paul asked if, as a Roman citizen, he could be sent back to Rome to stand trial.

He was.

The journey to Rome was difficult; he was shipwrecked near Malta. The people of Malta showed him unusual kindness before he continued on to Rome. While in Rome, he was put under house arrest but given the freedom to preach while he waited for his trial. By then, three years had passed, and it was now 62 AD. Paul’s biblical story ends here.

One legend has it that he was freed and traveled to Spain to continue to spread the good news of the Bible. Other legends say he was beheaded on orders from Nero.

It is believed that, after his death, he was buried outside the walls of Rome, and in 325 AD, Emperor Constantine built a church on his gravesite.

What had Paul accomplished in his lifetime? In the beginning, he was the great persecutor of the early members of The Way, but he was ultimately converted and evangelized throughout the Roman empire.

Fourteen of the books in the New Testament were either written by or attributed to Paul—more than half of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament. Scholars are sure he personally wrote Romans, first and second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, first Thessalonians, and Philemon.

When you read these books, you are actually reading letters that Paul wrote to churches.

Amazing!

While Romans is first in the New Testament, it was actually written after the other six books. Romans was written in 57 AD, while the others range from between 50 and 56 AD. Scholars believe Romans was chosen as the first book because of its matured theology.

The book of Romans, more formally known as the Epistle to the Romans, is considered Paul’s masterpiece. It is a wonderful book filled with subtleties and extensive theology. The Epistle is believed to be have been written in Corinth. Even though Paul had not been to Rome at the time of the writing, he knew of those in Rome who had started to believe. This letter was designed to help them grow in their faith.

Galatians, written earlier, is similar to Romans but less dense and shows Paul’s developing theology. But its impact on Romans is very profound.

The other seven books, Colossians, Second Thessalonians, Ephesians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews, were written by students of Paul, who used his name. It was common in the first few centuries after the birth of Christ to write in someone else’s name. It wasn’t considered wrong, but honorific.

Besides Paul’s impact on the Bible, he was the person directly responsible for changing a backwater sect of Judaism— called The Way—into Christianity.

Ironically, the roads the Romans used to control their empire were the same roads Paul walked. In turn, the religion the Romans tried to suppress for many years was grown because of their own infrastructure. In the early part of the fourth century, after centuries of persecution, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. It would later become known as the Holy Roman Empire, which controlled most of Europe for the next millennium.

There are many facets to the story of Paul.

He was the first brave missionary of a worldwide faith that now has over two billion followers. By 2050, this small group of believers from Judea will have grown from two billion in 2019, to nearly three billion believers. Paul started the journey that many others are now finishing.

The End

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 Adrian Dascal on Unsplash

 

moving fog

Mitch, A Life Described in the Beatitudes

Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

I received a call back from Mitch. I wasn’t available to take the call at the time, so he left a message. In it, he confirmed he could move us from our house in eastern North Carolina to our new home in Asheville. His tone was simple and professional. At the end of the message, he said, “God Bless.”

I was struck by his frankness in expressing his Christian values and the warmth that “God Bless” brings. In this age of political correctness, it surprised me that he was so bold in leaving this message. But it told me a lot about Mitch that, through subsequent conversations, I would confirm.

He is humble

He is a humble businessperson who respects his customers and is committed to doing a professional job. I had received Mitch’s name from my trusted friend Larry, who told me Mitch was the only person he would trust moving his clients. Larry warned me that Mitch was in high demand and might not be available.

I had called two other moving companies to see if they could help—large national companies with big advertising budgets. They were “just okay” in their effort to help. As with most large companies, I knew I would have to do a lot of follow up to make sure I got all the answers I needed. As I expected, when I discussed my move with these firms I was doing all the follow-up and pushing them to give me complete answers. It was at this point I stopped calling around and decided on Mitch.

Mitch was amazing.

He took pictures of every piece of furniture and of the contents in every drawer. His quote was detailed and thorough. There was no item left out. He even asked for a picture of the street in front of our new home so that he could make sure where to park on moving day.

What you should know is that Mitch was a person who came from very meager beginnings. As an African American who grew up in the South during the fifties and sixties, he was subjected to segregated schools and restrooms. He knew what to say to avoid being harassed. He minded his place—not because he agreed with being forced to take leftovers, but because his parents had taught him the values of Christianity.

While he knew his early life was wrong, it didn’t change the way he treated others – He didn’t give into the evil of others; he chose a different path. His path was that of following Jesus.

Mitch started his business with just a truck and a few friends. There was no grand strategy or business plan. Only that he worked as if he was working for the Lord. Every customer was treated the way Mitch thought they should be treated. He doesn’t lose his cool with angry people; he always keeps his smile.

His smile and Christian values helped make Mitch a busy man.

Soon, word spread about him and his business. Local real estate agents began to recommend him. The locals knew and trusted him. He didn’t have a big advertising budget to attract new customers, he only had his smile and a desire to earn his customers’ trust. Now he is in high demand.

In this day of political correctness, it was refreshing for a businessperson to say, “God Bless.” You won’t hear that on most of your voicemails, probably not this year or next.

But Mitch built his business on his values, which are those of Jesus. This is Mitch’s stronghold and place of refuge.

Jesus’s first great sermon is called The Sermon on the Mount. It is fully available to be read in Matthew 5-7. It states Jesus’s mission and purpose. Included first in this sermon is the section called the Beatitudes, from Matthew 5:3-11. They are called the Beatitudes from the Latin word, beati, which means blessed. There are nine Beatitudes—four are blessings, and four are woes, which mirror the blessings. The last refers to the perseverance of being Christian.

The Beatitudes are also in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:20-22. The Sermon on the Plain is Luke’s version of Jesus’s first sermon. It is similar but was directed more to the poor of the Judean world.

A direct connection

When I read these Beatitudes and think about Mitch and his life, I see a direct connection. It is almost as if Jesus knew Mitch and how his faithful life would turn out. He was meek and will inherit the kingdom of God. He is pure of heart and, surely, he will see God.

I could never describe Mitch and his life as accurately as it is expressed in the Beatitudes. Listed below are the exact words from the Sermon on the Mount.

The Beatitudes

He said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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 Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 

you are worthy

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.

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.

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. And, 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?

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 formed 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 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. You are all worthy!

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 Credit: Dalene Johnson

 

Apostle Paul Part II

The Apostle Paul: Three Journeys That Would Change the World: Part II of III

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

Acts 15:36

In our previous blog about Paul, he was converted to serve Jesus and went on three extensive missions throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. We pick up the story where Paul has now retreated to Tarsus, his hometown, and is waiting for a sign of what to do next. As a professional tent-maker, he was kept busy tending those who needed his services. For a zealous person like Paul, sitting and waiting for his next path in service to Jesus was certainly hard. But events had to line up before Paul could precede.

Peter, the leader of The Way, had a dream that showed him the next step—it was time to spread the word about Jesus beyond the confines of Judea. Peter began to visit other cities outside Judea and realized that the message of the Gospel was a universal one by saying:

“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

All the world needed to hear the story of Jesus.

Also, by now, people outside of Judea had heard about Jesus and had begun to believe on their own. Peter felt they needed help with the message of Jesus and Peter turned to Barnabas.  So Barnabas went to Antioch to help investigate this phenomenon of the growing desire to know Jesus outside of Judea. Realizing he needed more than himself, he went to Tarsus to get Paul.

Finally, Paul had a way to pitch in and work for Jesus.

The last few years had humbled Paul and cut away the clumsiness of his overly exuberant approach. He was ready and now was his time. Thus began the first missionary trip of Paul.

On this trek, Barnabas and Paul first went to Antioch. They continued to minister to the faithful there but eventually left to go Cyprus and then on to southern Asia Minor before finally returning to Antioch.

While in Antioch, they were invited to speak at the local synagogue on Sundays. Paul took the lead and accurately depicted the history of Israel—from the wanderings of Abraham to King David. Paul then introduced Jesus as the continuation of this story. He explained the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Many were amazed, and Paul and Barnabas were invited back the next Sunday to preach. The next Sunday, most of the town showed up to hear Paul. Again, many were converted. This upset the local Jewish officials, who spoke against Paul.

For Paul, this led to an important decision.

No longer would he preach in front of the traditional Jewish community, but only to the Gentiles. This left Paul with a problem to solve.

Many of the followers of The Way in Judea viewed themselves as a sect of Judaism and, as such, all those who converted must also agree to continue the prevailing Jewish customs—things like circumcision and eating only kosher foods. Paul’s argument was that Jesus wasn’t looking for obedience, but for a conversion of the heart. True belief didn’t rest with adherence to customs, but to a heart that loved God.

It was hard for those in Jerusalem to agree with Paul.

After a lifetime of following the prescribed rituals, this was a big hurdle. At a council meeting, of which there was much debate, they eventually agreed to let Paul proceed.

Paul’s first Journey is estimated to have lasted as long as eight years. But in this journey, two thoughts developed that clarified Paul’s direction. First, his mission was to convert the Gentiles. The second was that a heart for God was more important than following local customs and traditions.

Paul’s second journey would take him further.

Starting in Jerusalem, he would visit places like Athens, Corinth, and Philippi. Before the start of this second trek, Paul and Barnabas went back to Antioch. There they had a disagreement about a fellow traveler—John Mark. Paul was disappointed that John Mark had left them during the first journey when things got tough and didn’t believe he should join them on the next trip. Barnabas disagreed with Paul. They agreed to part ways, and now Paul was on his own. The last vestige of connection to the group in Jerusalem was now gone. Paul would join up with Silas and Timothy on his subsequent journeys.

But Paul thrived.

In Athens, he was invited to speak at the famed Areopagus—a place where the intellectual elite of Greece gathered to hear speakers and philosophers of great reputation. As Paul roamed the city of Athens, he noticed the many statues of the Greek Gods. One of these statues was of the unknown God. The statue of the unknown God became the centerpiece for Paul’s message to the Greeks. After he presented the history of Israel and the story of Jesus, Paul asserted that because they didn’t know the story of Jesus, perhaps this unknown God was Jesus. The full sermon can be read in Acts 17:22-31.

While not all were converted, all were amazed at Paul’s gift for oratory. Later, the Greek Orthodox church became an important part of Christian history. In fact, during the Dark Ages, many of the forward movements of Christianity came as a result of the Greek church’s involvement.

In Philippi, Paul met a fortune-teller of great repute. She was the servant of a few locals and generated a substantial amount of income. Paul converted her, and she immediately gave up telling fortunes, which naturally upset her masters. They turned the city against Paul and his companions, who were jailed. An earthquake opened the doors to the jail, and Paul escaped, converting more people, including the jailor who was an eyewitness to the doors being opened by the earthquake.

During his second journey, Paul established himself as an independent street preacher who converted many around the Mediterranean world.

Paul went back to Antioch to rest before he started his third journey. From here, he went back to many of the communities he had previously visited to strengthen their faith.

The importance of the third journey was that many of Paul’s writings come from this period. Notably, Paul’s great letter to the Romans. While Paul didn’t visit Rome, he knew that there were many who believed there, and the letter was instructional. But it stands today as the first book in the New Testament after the book of Acts. Its placement is symbolic of the encompassing story of our faith.

Paul returned to Jerusalem after the third journey, where he was initially warmly received. This would be his fifth and last visit.

To be continued….

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 Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

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