Work as if working for the Lord Christ.

Colossians [3:23]-24

Recently I received an email promotion that said I had won a free airline ticket. Immediately I opened the email to see how I had won a free airline ticket. Suspicious, I scoured the fine print and discovered I really hadn’t won a ticket. It was just a request to read more about the company and had a minimal chance of winning the ticket. In return, I would have to fill out a lengthy form, which asked for things like a phone number, my address, and email address. Quickly, I deleted the email and thought to myself, why be so deceptive?

It probably seemed like a good idea to the company, hoping to land new customers. In reality, it likely turned off a lot of potential buyers. Why not just send an email that explained the benefits of doing business with the company. Or better yet, provide excellent customer service to the loyal customers and let word of mouth generate more sales.

Too often, we receive these suspicious emails, which do nothing more than clutter up our email. It makes me wonder, How would Jesus want businesses to create raving fans? I am pretty sure Jesus would want these businesses to take a different approach. He would like them to treat their customers as they wanted to be treated. Jesus would ask them to hire people committed to providing great customer service. These businesses should also produce a product as if they are working for the Lord. And finally, always be truthful. Four simple but essential business practices to attract lifelong customers and, in the process, create raving fans.

The Golden Rule

In Matthew [7:12], Jesus says, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. This is wise advice. Before we put any marketing effort to work, we should ask ourselves, Is this the way we want to be treated? If our answer is no, then we shouldn’t. Deceptive methods in marketing will never produce raving fans of our business. Instead, our reputation will be sullied.

Loyal customers who are raving fans will create a firm foundation for any business. Not only that, they will provide repeat business and attract other customers. We should never forget that most purchases from new customers come from the reviews of the existing customers. Yes, Jesus is giving us wise customer service advice with the Golden Rule.

Hire Great People and Pay Them Well

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus tells the story of a manager who had to leave for a while. The manager gave his three employees tasks to perform while he was gone. Two of the employees did their job and doubled their efforts. When the manager came back and saw the bounty created, he gave them a raise and more responsibility.

I am sure all current business managers would want these two people working in their company. These workers are the type of people who will also treat customers in the same manner by going the extra mile to make sure the customer is satisfied. Over time having workers like this changes culture and helps sales.

Continually seeking great employees and treating them well will always produce excellent results. And managers should be quick to reward, and these rewards will reinforce what is required.

Produce Products As If They Are For the Lord

Having the right attitude and the right employees is very important. Equally important is to produce quality products. Jesus has a simple mindset to accomplish this facet of business, work as if working for the Lord Christ. (Colossians [3:23]-24) What a great perspective! Simply work and produce products you would proud to give to Jesus.

All flaws in production would be attended to immediately. Saving money at the customer’s expense by not addressing product quality is a flawed strategy. Companies that employ this attitude will have people meet to collaborate to make sure everything has been properly thought through.

The company would quickly become a place that desires to create raving fans. A commitment to excellent customer service will replace a penny-wise, dollar foolish mindset. In turn, the company will become far more sustainable than one which cuts corners.

Never Deceive Customers or Employees

In business, there is always the temptation to stretch further than you should in generating sales or a better outcome. Perhaps the pressure of making sure you hit a certain sales number to make the month-end goals. We have all witnessed this in our business careers. And perhaps in the short term, these efforts produce the immediate desired results.

However, lurking in the future is a payback moment that will often be greater than short-term gains. Customers will sometimes complain about the deception. But most will avoid the confrontation and silently begin moving away. It will show up in reviews posted on the internet. Soon, the once-strong sales base will become weak.

Maintaining a strong sense of Christian ethics will help avoid this dilemma. It may sound corny, but if all our actions are connected to the often-used phrase; What would Jesus do, short-term decisions will be replaced with longer-term choices.

Customers are the life-blood of every business. Serving these customers well will ensure a great future for any company. Every company’s goals should start with making their customers raving fans. It doesn’t happen with deceitful marketing efforts. It happens with a company’s commitment to excellence, great employees, truthfulness, and empathy for the customer. We only need to turn to the lessons of Jesus to create an environment that, in turn, makes raving fans.

I can only do what I see the father doing.

-John [5:19]

In my counseling practice, I help people who have been displaced from the workplace. Many times unusual circumstances cause these people to be without a job. When they come to me, they are usually shaken and highly anxious. Their loss of a job was caused by occurrences out of their control, and left without a way to provide for their family.

I am not sure why I receive these clients. But I sure Jesus sends them to me and asks me to help. They arrive in ways that cause me to know it could only be providence. In this practice, I voluntarily pay back the many blessings I have received from the Lord. In my practice, I meet wonderful people with remarkable life stories—all who have the potential to help any company that will hire them.

After finding out why they were displaced, I ask what they want from their next job. Mostly they want to be productive and able to help. But they are desperate and will accept any job. They want to work again and support their family. Desperation is a bad place to start a job search, but understandable. My first job is to give them hope they will find a position equal to or better than their last job.

I tell them it starts with the right mindset. First, they must believe they are positive, trustworthy, and competent. They always say that it seems too simple. It is true that it is simple, but these three characteristics are all anyone needs to show to get hired. Acquiring this mindset is much more challenging. To accomplish this, they must rid themselves of anger at being dismissed and become resilient.

Sure, there are long, complicated personality profiles, and many companies will require future employees to take tests to see if they meet their requirements. But frankly, getting hired requires just three things, showing you have a positive attitude, are trustworthy, and are desirous of being competent. Nothing fancy; it all comes down to these three things, no matter how complicated the tests or questions. Three go-to attitudes that will answer any question correctly.

Even every question on a lengthy personality/aptitude test is related to one of the three traits. These three traits are the bedrock of an outstanding employee, and all we need to do is demonstrate them in an interview.

Jesus Wants Us To Be A Positive Team Player

This is where Jesus and His lessons can help. Being positive isn’t about being cheery and smiling. Instead, it is being confident in how you can help. It is demonstrating you can be a team player. After all, didn’t Jesus say, I can only do what I see the father doing. (John [5:19]) Talk about being aligned with the goals of God. Likewise, when we are in an interview, the company will pick up quickly if we have a positive company-first attitude.

Any organization that doesn’t have employees who have a positive alignment with its mission will always fall short of its goal. This is what hiring managers look for in future employees. And frankly, this is precisely the attitude we should have. It is being ready to cooperate and jump in to help at a moment’s notice. When you have and demonstrate this positive attitude, you are well on the way to getting hired.

Jesus Wants Us To Be Trustworthy

Jesus also stresses the importance of being trustworthy. Read the Parable of the Talents, Matthew [25:14]-30. In this wonderful parable, Jesus describes trustworthy employees. People who don’t have to be micro-managed. They just need to know what has to be accomplished. To be a trustworthy employee, just imitate the first two employees in the parable. Even when the boss is gone and out of sight, you still do a great job. In fact, you do a better job than expected. Trust me, showing you are that person in an interview will go a long way in getting you hired.

Don’t just say you are that person, have ready examples to demonstrate you understand you don’t have to be watched every second of the day. Ensure the hiring manager knows that you will give more than expected when they are out of sight.

During an interview, stress and show truthfulness is a significant character trait. Above all, answer every question honestly, with no embellishment. Yes, no exaggeration! Experienced interviewers can spot even the slightest hint of overstatement. Besides, can you imagine Jesus not telling the truth?

Jesus Wants Us To Be Willing To Learn

Finally, be able to show you are an eager and willing learner. Let people know you aren’t afraid to learn new things. And not only that, have examples from the past where you not only took on new tasks but excelled. The more you desire to be better, the more valuable you become to any employer.

Think about Jesus; God needed an emissary to visit us and reveal God’s plan to us. Jesus did just that as the incarnate God here on earth. When God wanted the world created, Jesus jumped in and accomplished the task. God wanted all humankind to be freed from their sin. Well, Jesus walked to the cross to accomplish that as well.

Now, it is a stretch that any employer will ask you to do as much as Jesus has done and will do. But always being ready to learn new things will help any employee. During the interview, express this desire. Employers want employees who are willing to learn and excel.

Studying and preparing for any interview should start with demonstrating you are positive, trustworthy, and an eager learner. Before the interview, ask yourself questions and see if your answers fall into these categories. Also, learn everything you can about the company. When you do this, you won’t have to worry about taking tests or doing a great job in the interview. You are sure to impress the interviewer!

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]

As I entered the church, I was impressed by the age and size of the church. A monolith that had been built in the mid-19th century. I found the reception desk and politely asked if I could see the pastor. When asked, what would you like to talk to him about? I replied, I have just published a new book called Jesus & Co. and wanted to introduce him to my book. The woman took a copy of the book and went into an office. After a few moments, she returned and told me to go right in.

As I entered the room, I saw the trappings of a well-appointed office. Far grander than those I had seen during my time as a CFO for Fortune 500 companies. The office was filled with memorabilia and expensive furniture. A comfortable place where I am sure the pastor spent many hours preparing material for Sunday services and greeting guests. I sat down, introduced myself, and handed the book to the pastor. Silently he sat thumbing through my book, leaving me waiting for him to talk.

After a while, he raised his eyes from the pages and told me, what I had done was sinful. Very far from what I expected he would say, and immediately I was off balance mentally. I had been visiting churches in the area that day with copies of my book and hoping to garner some interest. A day that turned out to be very long and extraordinarily unproductive. Now I heard the reason why.

He proceeded to scold me on combining the sacredness of Jesus with the sinful nature of business, even saying that all marketing was inherently evil. He boldly believed all business was bad. A comment that completely went across the grain of what I had seen in my business career.

As a Fortune 500 CFO, sure, I had seen some instances of evil, but far more often saw people committed to doing the right thing. This was the business world I knew. Ethics and fair play were usually the primary concern.

As I sat there stunned at the pastor’s comment. Not just because of what he said, but how quickly and directly he blurted out his statement. It had unnerved me and left me off balance. It was one of those moments when you think later about what you should have said but couldn’t because you were taken by surprise.

I listened to his narrative about how corrupt businesspeople were and how sinful they lived—surprising me with his negativity towards my previous life. His narrative was not created by experience, instead what he had learned from reading newspapers. Sheepishly, I left his office dismayed and discouraged.

Later, after collecting my thoughts, I realized I had a long road to go in helping people see Jesus was good for business. Both an experienced business person and trained theologian, I thought, why couldn’t Jesus be good for business?

The Importance of Jesus’ Golden Rule

It seems to me; first, we must let go of our biases and look factually at what Jesus said and relate Jesus’ comments to various facets of business. Let’s start with the Golden Rule and excellent customer service.

In Matthew [7:12], Jesus says, So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. This verse directly states how a business should treat its customers. Simply treat customers the same way you want to be treated. Customers are the lifeblood of any company, and when they are satisfied, the company will be healthy. And there is no better way to accomplish this strategy than treating customers the way we want to be treated. It really is this simple.

Work As If Working For The Lord

The work of any business and its employees needs to have a great attitude towards its efforts. And there is no better attitude than what is described in Colossians [3:23], where it says; Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. Wow, imagine if every effort you attempted during a workday was designed to please Jesus. It would undoubtedly sharpen your efforts. And certainly, help ensure all your activities are honorable.

Imagine the outstanding reputation that would be created. A business filled with trust, positive attitudes, and desirous of being the best all the time. A company with a Jesus-first mentality will attract the right people and loyal customers. Short-term practices with weak moral values will disappear and become replaced with longer-term, more ethical practices.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Another aspect of being successful and ethical is being riveted on the truth. Jesus in John [8:32] tells us why, Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Companies and people that look for the truth don’t make bad decisions. They know the facts, which leads to better, more sustainable solutions. These companies and people will not have to worry about what they did or how they accomplish their work. They will become free of future disasters because they know the truth and acted morally.

The point here is Jesus is good for business, and mixing Jesus with business isn’t sinful. While I am sure the pastor who was so abrupt with me didn’t mean harm. He probably thought he was helping. There is temptation in business, as there is any facet of life. But the message and ways of Jesus help us navigate life in a positive and trustworthy manner. Whether we are doctors, scientists, authors, or business people, knowing Jesus and using his lessons are the most essential facets of our work.

Jesus is good for business!

“ One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

— John [9:25]

THE “AMAZING” STORY OF JOHN NEWTON’S JOURNEY TO WRITING AMAZING GRACE

John Newton, the former slave ship captain, wrote the famous Christian hymn “Amazing Grace.” Included in the lyrics is the verse from John [9:25], “Was blind, but now I see.” However, John Newton’s past was very checkered. He was known for extraordinarily bad language. One sea captain considered his vocabulary the worst of any seaman he had encountered. He frequently was disobedient and  even was forced to spend time as a slave in Sierra Leone. In spite of his life’s circumstances he continued to be drawn to the sea. Because he was an extraordinarily good seaman, his faults were often overlooked. He endured a number of close calls at sea, where his ships were either close to sinking or in such bad weather that men were washed overboard. Even though he had turned away from God, during these difficult moments he would still cry out, “God have mercy.”

It was through these moments that Newton began to turn to a different life. He became associated with the early Methodist movement in England and became well known to John Wesley. Wesley encouraged him to write and become a pastor. Later he became a rector at a small Anglican church. While at this church he helped write hymns. Included with these hymns was the song “Amazing Grace.” Later in his life,Newton became an avowed abolitionist and was a good friend of William Wilberforce, the person largely responsible for ending the slave trade in England. 

“Overtime, the continued proximity to death and a restless heart forced him deeper into his relationship with Christ.”

John’s conversion occurred over a number of years. He would come close to turning his life around and then fall back. Overtime, the continued proximity to death and a restless heart forced him deeper into his relationship with Christ. And then it became inevitable and it eventually took hold. It was at this point that he was no longer blind, but could see. The words to “Amazing Grace” were many years off, but he could see. 

“Jesus’s healing of the blind man symbolizes our own moment of seeing and giving in to having a relationship with God.”

Today’s verse is about a blind man Jesus healed. The local religious elite, seeking to discredit Jesus, were questioning the blind man, whose sight had been restored. Today’s verse is the blind man’s answer to his questioners. Jesus’s healing of the blind man symbolizes our own moment of seeing and giving in to having a relationship with God. Like Newton we fight back and sometimes have to endure a great deal of hardship before we see. We struggle at times to pursue this relationship with God. Sometimes we are in and at other times we are out. But God persists through Jesus to bring our sight back. We get close and fall back.

Then at some moment the events of our lives tip over our resistance and we are now no longer blind. 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 


PARTING THOUGHTS

How is our story similar to John Newton’s?

What holds us back from accepting Jesus?

When do we see?

whoonga

 Whoonga; The New and Evil Drug of South Africa

Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

Luke [13:16]

In Luke, we find Jesus healing a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. She had been bent over in an awkward position for all this time. Jesus had met her on the Sabbath in a synagogue. Jesus put his hands on her and immediately she stood up and praised God.

The synagogue leader and other parishioners became angry because Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. To which Jesus said; Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

In this amazing statement by Jesus,  it wasn’t just that He fought back about healing on the Sabbath, but that he blamed her illness on Satan, the dark force of evil. Evil that had caught this woman eighteen years earlier, and despite all efforts, it took the hand of Jesus to heal her.

Evil comes in many forms, in this case crippling a woman.

But like all of the stories in the Gospel, this story is remarkably transportable to the 21st century. We certainly have evil in this world. In comes in the form of addictions, bad life habits, depression and bad decisions.

As I was reading this verse, I instantly thought about addiction, to alcohol and drugs. I am not sure why, but this is what stood out for me in this story. I am sure others would focus on the grumbling about a healing on the Sabbath, and they would be right. It is one of the messages of this story. But addiction stood out for me and particularly, the onslaught of new and more dangerous drugs that have emerged. Evil that catches it victims and relentlessly keeps them trapped.

In my research, I discovered a new drug, I had never heard of before, called Whoonga. A particularly addictive drug that is crippling people in Africa. It is so addictive, that one hit of the drug will hopelessly entrap a person. Turning a productive life into a desperate daily search to find money to pay for the next hit. In this search, I found a recovery story about a woman named Sesy.

Miraculously, Sesy has been drug-free for more than a year.

This mother of one was now looking to turn to college. She had been hooked on a Whoonga, for a couple of years. A drug that is a cocktail mix of low-grade Heroin, cannabis and rat poison. It is first smoked during the early part of the addiction.

Sesy, stated she was prone to experimenting and trying things new. When her friends introduced her to Whoonga, she quickly agreed. And as she tells the story, she was immediately hooked.

Over time, her family noticed substantial changes in Sesy. Changes like quitting her job, sudden disappearances, and especially loss of weight. They got Sesy into a rehab program sponsored by The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) SANCA was set up to provide resources to those with limited resources to fight drug addiction.

Sesy, described her withdrawal time as more painful than childbirth. Bouts of nausea and unrelenting body aches. With the help of SANCA and her family, she made it through to recovery.

There are not many stories like Sesy’s. Most people addicted to these new drugs can’t win the battle of withdrawal. Trapped by a drug they no longer like, but desperately need. They have become modern zombies. Their deep wish of being drug-free is not as great as the drug addiction and the sickness of withdrawal.

Each year evildoers create more addictive drugs, cocktails of destruction. People get deeply entrapped and ruin their lives. In fact, ninety percent of those trapped have an underlying mental illness and they use these drugs as a form of self-medication. Then as they drift down into addiction, they become outcasts. A vicious cycle and descent.

Even in America, this drumbeat of evil is accelerating.

Today, if you are under the age of fifty, the leading cause of death is through an overdose. Fifty thousand people a year are dying from an overdose. Worldwide almost half a million people a year die from drug overdose.

When I was younger and a teenager, I would hear every night about the numbers killed in Vietnam on the nightly news. Yet today, when more people are being killed worldwide by drugs than the whole of the Vietnam war, I wonder why isn’t this worldwide crisis made more public.

We will hear about the Corona Virus, and the arguments between petulant politicians on the news. But the rise of these evil drugs goes unnoticed. This is why I write about drugs. While I am a mere pebble causing a very small ripple, I pray that more becomes published about this vicious preying on innocent souls.

I can only ask and pray that Jesus finds these people, like the woman crippled by satan, even if it is on Sunday, and touches them. I know there are Christian warriors, like my friend Gary Frieze and Lou Strugala, who have given up successful careers to tend to the addicted. But they fight a lonely battle.

Evil does exist and cripples’ people.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Whoonga; The New Evil Drug of South Africa

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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fruit tree

Faith Built by Stealing Fruit: The Story Of Saint Augustine

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned

Romans [5:12]

 

Augustine, the great doctor of the early Christian church, famously said, Give me chastity, but not yet. An amazing statement when you consider his elevated status as a great ancient leader of the church. Augustine had a significant influence on many church doctrine, especially the Doctrine of Original Sin. Yet as a wild youth he stole fruit, because he was told he shouldn’t! As a young adult he enjoyed the illicit pleasures of life. This statement and his actions as a youth makes us wonder; How did this man become the great leader of the early church?. The answer is complicated, but when we know the back story of his life, we will know why.

Augustine was born in Algeria, in 354AD. His father was moderately wealthy and was a pagan. His mother, Monica was a devout Christian and likely a Berber. Because of the family’s wealth, Augustine was well educated. In fact, the family only spoke Latin at home and not the local language. He was a brilliant student, who excelled at both mischief and his studies. Later in life he was so skilled in reading and writing he was recruited to Milan to teach oratory.

As a youth, Augustine was prone to explore the seamier sides of life.

Which left his mother praying for his soul. In one particular incident, as mentioned before, Augustine and his friends stole the fruit, not because they wanted to eat the fruit, but because they were not permitted to take the fruit. This particular event would significantly shape his views on sin.

At the age of 21, he had a relationship with a woman from Carthage, but would not marry her. Further aggravating his mother Monica. Instead of Christianity, he followed a pagan religion called Manichaeism. A form of religion that existed only from the 3rd to 7th century. What attracted his interest was that it was more reason-based and less faith-based then Christianity. Believing in something he couldn’t see, or touch seemed illogical. He remained a follower for around ten years.

He was in constant pursuit of the origin of life and how we fit into the universe. His mother constantly told him that he would find the answer through Jesus. Not surprisingly he resisted all her attempts and focused on philosophical and physical explanations.

Later, through a contact, he was asked to go to Milan and teach.

He left, with his mother Monica chasing after him, still pleading with him to convert. While in Milan, he was introduced by his mother to Bishop Ambrose. Over time they became good friends, but Augustine resisted any attempt to convert. But still searched for an answer. His heart was unquieted.

Eventually, the graciousness of Ambrose overwhelmed him. One day sitting desperately tormented in a garden, he heard a child’s voice say, take up and read, referring to the Bible. To which Augustine did and providentially opened to Romans [13:13] which said;  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

A message he could identify with and in that moment he committed his life to Jesus. And his heart rested with Lord and became quieted.

As the story unfolds, Augustine goes back to Africa and becomes ordained and eventually becomes the Bishop of Hippo.

In his role as Bishop, he worked with his compatriots on many church doctrines, because of his skill in language he could easily decipher and explain critical aspects of the Bible. By nature, he was a leader and was soon leading numerous theological discussions.

One doctrine in particular, that he is credited with is, is the formulation of the thoughts of Original Sin. Essentially, it states that all humankind is inherently sinful, as a result of Adam and Eve’s eating the apple in the Garden of Eden. That it was inherited by us through them. However, what is not quite agreed to is the severity of the inherited sin. Augustine believed that humankind was much enfeebled by original sin. A few didn’t take it that far. However, in many quarters, notably the Catholic church and many segments of Protestantism, adopted Augustine’s point of view on Original Sin.

So let’s go back to the fruit that Augustine stole as a youth,  his view of human nature and sin were derived from this moment. He believed that the total depravity he showed in this instance was universal and that all humankind shared this characteristic. He didn’t take the fruit because he needed it, but because he was told he couldn’t have the fruit. Thus became the center point on his and the later church thinking about original sin.

So here is where I disagree.

I don’t believe that humankind was enfeebled as Augustine decreed. I have seen many acts of kindness in my life to buy into his viewpoint. Frankly, I am in more agreement with great saints like Julian of Norwich, who didn’t see sin as so disabling. It’s not that I don’t agree with original sin, I do believe we all fall and fail, but no to the extreme of complete depravity proposed by Augustine. I have seen too much kindness in my life to agree.

My own belief is that Augustine saw the whole world as he saw himself. What I mean by that, it is to be expected that people with good self-images have a healthier view of humanity.  Augustine’s stolen fruit and his love of pleasurable things affected his viewpoint and in his assignment of the severity of sin.

But I must also admit, this goes against two thousand years of Christian thought. And I know there will be people who write and will vehemently disagree.

But remember Augustine who stole the fruit and was the one who said, Give me Chastity, but not yet.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Faith Built By Stealing Fruit

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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do you want to get well

Do You Want to Be Made Well

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him,

 “Do you want to get well?”

John 5:6

 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus performs seven miracles. In one case he changes water into wine. With another person, Lazarus, he raises him up from the dead. But not all these healings or miracles required the supernatural power of Jesus. For instance, in John 5:6, Jesus asks a man lying on the ground;

Do you want to get well?

We normally see Jesus in the Gospels, as a white knight who heals with miracles. But in this case, Jesus hesitates and sternly asks the question, Do you want to get well? . The answer to why Jesus asks this question is found in the preceding verses. The man, posing as an invalid, had been going to a pool called Bethesda for thirty-eight years. The pool was a place to go and be healed. Many went; the lame, the blind and the paralyzed. Legend has it that the pool would be stirred up by a spirit and if you entered the pool during this time you would be healed.

But for thirty-eight years the man never entered the pool. Knowing this Jesus, asks the question, Do you want to get well? To which the man meekly complains that there is never anyone around to help put him in the water. Jesus knew this was a weak excuse. Certainly, in thirty-eight years someone would have been able to help.

So we can also ask the question, Why after thirty-eight years did the man keep going back? Many that I tell this story have the same question.

Jesus then tells the man, Take up your mat, and walk. Now, no-where in the story does Jesus say he healed the man. Only the man says he was healed. In fact, the Jewish authorities who complained mightily to the man that it was unlawful on the Sabbath to take up you mat, never state he was ill or healed.

What Jesus did was a different kind of miracle and not the way we normally think about Jesus. Jesus simply reframed the man’s circumstances and told him to give up going to the pool for healing. Instead to stand on his two feet and get on with life. Jesus’s miracle was getting the man to see how futile it was to do the same thing every day and not get a different result.

We could imagine or even assume that the man was trapped in a bad habit. A habit that lessened his existence. He had become so used to his routine, that the routine became more important than living a productive life. In following this destructive habit he had become stuck.

Sin no more

Interestingly, Jesus says to the man at the end of the story, See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you. Jesus wasn’t talking about his ailment, but about how he had approached life. Jesus wanted him to be productive in his life, not trapped in a life of bad habits and routines.

While it is easy for us looking into this story to be amused that someone would do the same thing, over and over for thirty-eight years, are we really any different? Hopefully, not for thirty-eight years, but we all get caught up in routines that don’t help our lives. And I must confess, I can rattle off a few in my own life.

Bad habits limit our lives.

So this is not a miracle in a supernatural way, but a miracle of good advice on Jesus’s part. But also a lesson for us as well. Many of us know the saying, what would Jesus do? This is part of the life we sign up for when we accept Jesus. Not to be healed, but to follow his example. Certainly, if the man had asked himself, would Jesus being doing what I am doing? He would have given himself the same answer Jesus gave him.

Sometimes we don’t need to be healed, but our minds reframed. What we are doing isn’t working and we need to change. Or what we are doing is limiting ourselves as Christians to live a fuller and more productive life.

Is there something in our lives we can change to give ourselves a more productive life.

Maybe today is the day we; Take up your mat, and walk. 

Listen to the Full Podcast – Do You Want to Get Well?

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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emperor constantine

Was He Really A Christian? 

for whoever is not against us is for us.

Mark [9:39]-40

 Flavius Valerius Constantinus was born in Serbia in 280AD. While not a native Roman, he would rise to become the Roman Emperor in 324AD. Later in life, he shortened his name to Constantine. His rise to becoming the Roman Emperor changed the course of Christianity. Christianity would move from being a persecuted underground religion to becoming the state religion of the Roman Empire.

Constantine’s father had been the Western Roman Emperor, during the period when the Roman Empire actually had three co-rulers. Because of his birthright, Constantine rose quickly up the military ranks, but in his own right, he was a great general and administrator.

Too late

Constantine was skillful in politics and convinced a superior over wine to let him be assigned to his father, which would help his career. To ensure the decision would not be overturned the next morning. Constantine rode multiple horses through the night to give the news to his father. At each outpost he would leave his horse and mount up on another. By the time he got to his father, it was too late for the decision to be reversed.

Constantine worked under his father in Great Britain and was key in a number of the battles. As his father was dying he was appointed to take over his father’s position. But his status was always in question. Like many of the rulers of Rome, having a strong army was the key to gaining and keeping power. Over the next few years, Constantine fought a number of battles to keep his position.

The Emperor

One battle, in particular, was critical for Constantine and Christianity. During this period of civil war, his main competitor Maxentius, was threatening Constantine and would engage in battle with him at the Milvian Bridge on the Tiber river. The winner would be the emperor of the western Roman empire.

Prior to the battle, Constantine had a vision that prompted him to have the letters CH put on his soldier’s shield. CH being short for Christos or Christ in English. Even though Constantine was outnumbered two to one. He won the battle.

While previously a worshiper of the Roman Sun god, he became a quasi-Christian. Not fully in, but curious about Christianity.

The following year in 313AD he issued the Edict of Milan, which legalized the Christian religion. Essentially, ending all persecution and allowing Christianity to move more freely in the western Roman Empire.

The Nicene Creed

During the next few years,  he consolidated his power and became the sole Roman Emperor. At the same time he moved closer to becoming a Christian. One thing he noticed was the amount of discord with the theology of Christianity. Particularly with the divinity of Jesus. Knowing this could create discord and upset harmony in the Roman Empire, in 325AD he called for a meeting of the bishops in Nicea. Out of this meeting, Jesus’s divinity was affirmed, and the Nicene Creed was developed.

Constantine still didn’t give up his worship of the sun and in a way merged in his mind Christianity with his sun God worship. For instance, He made the first day of week into a day to worship the sun, a day of rest. To which he made Christian’s move the Sabbath to “Sunday.”

Not only that, he is responsible for making Christmas the 25th of December. In those times the Winter Solstice was thought to be on December the 25th. To honor the birth of the new sun, he made it a feast day. Merging the birth of Christ with the birth of a new sun.

He also was anti-Semitic and thought celebrating Passover was inappropriate for Christians and had Easter replace the Passover. Easter at that time was a feast for springtime fertility.

Once again merging Roman theology with Christian theology.

Constantine held off being baptized until he was near death. Afraid his sins would be taken into account. So even at the end of his life, he bent the rules.

It would easy to say that Constantine wasn’t really a Christian. Perhaps he was just happy that Jesus helped him win an important battle. Maybe that is true. But it is also true that he released Christians from having to worship underground. He supported and created some of the Christian holidays, while in a misguided way. And he did become fully Christian at his death.

It reminds me of the verse that Jesus said to the Apostles, who were complaining about a person who was driving out demons in Jesus’s name but wasn’t one of them. Jesus said; for whoever is not against us is for us.

I think about this verse often.

As humans, we all don’t follow Jesus exactly,  and some stray more than others. And Constantine certainly mangled a lot of Christian theology. But in the end, he was for Christianity and not against it. While some scholars will doubt this an accurate portrayal, I prefer to give Constantine the benefit of the doubt, because I succumb to my own weaknesses on how to follow Jesus. As do others. We all have our shortcomings, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t Christians. It means we sometimes let our human impulses get in the way.

I suppose Jesus is right, not all of us follow exactly as we should; it is more important that we try with all our heart and soul to follow Jesus.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Emperor Constantine

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by guille pozzi on Unsplash

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acts of the apostles

Acts of the Apostles: A Hollywood Story

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Acts 1:3

A new phrase in modern times is called binge-watching. A new television series comes out and we watch all the episodes from beginning to end, sometimes in one sitting or perhaps two or three. It makes me think of how worthy some of the books of the Bible would be to binge-watch. Certainly, Genesis with its great stories like Noah’s ark, Joseph in the well or the intrigue between Jacob and Esau. A book filled with subplots, hero’s and villains. Certainly, The book of Acts is the same.

In Acts, we have jail cells collapsing. A missionary braving dangers and wanders for close to twenty years to spread the good news about Christ. We have the Holy Spirit teaching people to talk in tongues. And a story of the first Christian Martyr. Hollywood could easily make this book into a series. I know I would binge watch it in one sitting.

Why does Acts Exist?

Some have asked me why does Acts exist or what is its purpose. Simply, it is the bridge between the Gospels and the great Christian Epistles in the New Testament. It is also the history of the early church and its development from 33AD to 60AD. A support system to moving from the Gospels to the letters written by Paul and other great early Christian writers. Without it, we would have to rely on circumstantial evidence to get the whole story.

Acts is the second half of the letter to Theophilus written around 80AD. The first half of the letter is Luke. This entire manuscript, as the author says,  was to write an orderly account. And it certainly is, from Jesus’s birth to the resurrection, to Peter becoming the leader of the early church, to Paul’s wonderfully successful but dangerous journeys, all spanning the first 60 years of Christianity.

Let’s go to the drama scenes and intrigue.

Imagine yourself in Jerusalem and Jesus is standing in front of you. Know that he has just risen from the dead to save us from all our sins, and in an instance, a cloud takes him out of sight. And while he is going up two men stand by you in white robes, telling you not to worry. A few days later, you hear a rushing wind and all-around people start speaking in other tongues. Is this a Marvel comic book story or the Bible?

Later Peter organizes the church and begins converting thousands at a time. The authorities getting nervous and throw him in jail, only to be released by an Angel.

Then we have a Paul, the chief persecutor of Christians, traveling to Damascus to murder and capture early Christians, only to be dramatically struck down by Jesus. Jesus revives and converts Paul, who goes on to become the ambassador for Christianity.

But we also have political intrigue. The early believers want the new believers to comply completely with Jewish traditions. But Paul says no, knowing that it is only important that you believe and have faith in Jesus. On one side you had James the Just arguing vehemently for compliance to the Jewish traditions and on the other, the skilled orator Paul arguing against. In the middle was Peter, who has a vision that tells him that it is okay for the Gentiles not to have to comply.

The Center of Christianity

Next, Paul travels over ten thousand miles and preaches to all who can hear, the story of Jesus. He as well ends up in jail. Likewise, he is released through supernatural and divine intervention. On these journeys, Paul is beaten and ridiculed. But he never gives up. Staying the course, he creates followers throughout the Roman Empire. Even in Rome, which would centuries later, become the center of Christianity.

Paul later returns to Jerusalem as he had promised, having firmly entrenched Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Only to encounter more drama, and is arrested, and sent to Rome for trial.

Certainly, we have popular television series made up of less dramatic events airing every week. But they’re right in front of us, is a story even Marvel or Disney couldn’t replicate. We don’t need to watch TV or visit the local cinema. The story is there for us to read in the Bible. A wonderful historical account of our faith.

The story of our faith is written in God’s technicolor for us all to see. Maybe we can’t binge read it one sitting, perhaps in two or more.

The Acts of the Apostles, an orderly account, is for all to believe and read.

Listen to the Full Podcast – Acts of the Apostles

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by guille pozzi on Unsplash

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original artwork

Finding Jesus in A Tree

Zacchaeus come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.

Luke 19:5

Jesus enters the town of Jericho and is met by a throng of people. As he walks into the town, he passes under a sycamore tree. He looks up and sees a man in the tree. To the man he says; Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today. To which Zacchaeus agrees and has Jesus stay at his house. After the visit, Zacchaeus a very rich tax collector states he will give half his wealth to the poor and any that he has defrauded, he will pay back four times.

On the surface, this seems like a simple conversion and change of heart created by Jesus. An interesting story that we pass through when reading the Gospel of Luke. But it isn’t so simple, especially when we consider the historical and deeper theological implications.

First, Zacchaeus was a tax collector and not only that, the chief tax collector in Jericho. Jericho was a very wealthy commercial center in the first century and as such a tax collector could and many did amass a fortune. Tax collectors were locals who worked for Rome and were given quotas to collect. Whatever they collected above the quota they got to keep. In Jericho, that could be a sizeable amount. Naturally, they were despised by their neighbors and considered to be no more than thieves who preyed on the local population.

Zacchaeus was not only a tax collector but the chief tax collector.

He amassed a large fortune through his own efforts and from the kick-backs he got from the other tax collectors. In his lifetime, he had defrauded many. He was considered to be the worst of society. Ironically, Zacchaeus means pure of heart in Hebrew.

Zacchaeus had heard Jesus was coming to Jericho and desperately wanted to see Jesus. But the crowds were so large, the only viewing place was in a sycamore tree. So, up he went into the tree. His goal was just to see Jesus, and was stunned when Jesus called him down from the tree.

The crowd grumbled when they heard Jesus wanted to stay with a tax collector. Amazed that someone of such ill-repute could be singled out by Jesus.

After the visit and when Zacchaeus stated he would give back a large sum of his wealth, Jesus declares; Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

This statement by Jesus contains many thoughts.

For instance, note that Jesus said, this man too, is a son of Abraham. Implying that we are all worthy, regardless of our past. Which brings us back the meaning of Zacchaeus in Hebrew, pure of heart. This is what Jesus saw in Zacchaeus, a pure heart, and this is why Jesus searched him out.

We could ask and judge, how can this man be pure of heart after he bilked his neighbors? But that is the point of the story. We don’t really know where a person’s heart is, and it is not ours to judge. Jesus’s point is we have all fallen short at times in our lives, not because we are inherently bad, but because we made bad choices.

I can imagine, when Zacchaeus started his life journey as a young man, trapped by his ability to scheme and ploy. He turned to tax collecting to become rich. Not thinking about his impact on other peoples lives. Later, in life he became trapped by his wealth, left empty and unsatisfied.

But we could also ask, why did he want to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree? Simply, I suppose he wanted a change. Which leads to the age-old theological question, Do we find God or does God find us? In this story, it appears to be both. In a recent poll I took of believers, the overwhelming response I got was that both happened to them.

For Zacchaeus, he was ready to meet God and God met him.

Likely none of us has gotten as far off course as Zacchaeus and had such a dramatic change to make. But I think this makes the story more relevant for us. No matter how far we get off course, we can always find God and God will find us. And as believers we should try to help those returning to God and not judge.

Each person’s Journey with God is special and very personal to them. It takes turns and twists along the way. God never gives up on us, even the Chief Tax Collector.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God. Does this mean Zacchaeus as well?

Listen to the Full Podcast – Finding Jesus in a Tree

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

By Niels Larsen Stevns – Own work (photo: Gunnar Bach Pedersen) (Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark), Public Domain,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1428023

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