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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carpenter

Jesus the Carpenter: Why?

Isn’t this the carpenter?

Mark 6:3

Early in the Gospel of Mark, we get a small statement about Jesus’s other profession—that of a carpenter. The back story of this small statement is from Jesus’s visit to his hometown. Previous to this, Jesus had preached the Sermon on the Mount, spent forty days in the wilderness, and had been baptized. Along the way, he gathered up his twelve disciples. He had cured many and cast out demons. Now it was time to return to his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus was around thirty years old at the time of this visit.

During this time in his hometown, he spoke in the synagogue and preached on the streets, but those in his hometown couldn’t accept that he was now this great missionary of God. Amazed, they exclaimed, “Isn’t this the carpenter?” His hometown folks couldn’t separate his past from who he had become. They got angry and rejected Jesus, prompting Jesus to say: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Jesus left Nazareth and continued his earthly mission.

We all know the rest of the story.

He became a great speaker and the human messenger of God. He died on the cross and rose on the third day. Most of the rest of the Gospels focus on his earthly mission. But, like all items in the Bible, this reference to being a carpenter stands out. It certainly isn’t just a “throw in.”

It is important in what is missing. Consider that there is a silent period in the Gospels about Jesus for approximately eighteen years. We know about his birth and a vague reference to him being in the temple of Jerusalem at the age of twelve. Historians and scholars place his age at around thirty when he started preaching and healing. So what happened to Jesus during this eighteen year period commonly called by scholars as “the hidden period?” It is unlikely Jesus sat on the family couch and did nothing during this time. This statement about being a carpenter gives us a clue.

First, what was the original word for a carpenter in the early first century?

The original language of Mark was ancient Greek, as the Gospel was written for the Gentile audience. The word in the original document was Tekton, meaning craftsman. But did it mean carpenter or something else? Some scholars believe he was really a stonemason, as there was little timber in the area around Nazareth.

Fortunately, we do have some later, non-Biblical writings that give us a clue. For example, a few generations after Jesus’s life St. Justin wrote, “Our Lord, made plows and yokes.”. This seems to suggest that Jesus was, in fact, a carpenter. Okay, so what kind of carpenter? It was the tradition in the first century that the son would take up the craft of his father. Here we get another clue.

In Matthew 13:55 it says, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”

Circumstantially, there is strong evidence that Jesus worked as a carpenter during the “hidden period” from age twelve to thirty. If Jesus did work in Nazareth, a relatively small town, he and his father would have been the only carpentry shop in town, meaning he was likely a capable general carpenter. Perhaps the wood they worked with came from Lebanon or Syria.

So, knowing this, what does this mean in the larger context of Jesus’s life? Well, that depends on how we view Jesus’s awareness of his divinity. Scholars describe it this way—a low awareness of his divinity is called a “Low Christology.” A high awareness by Jesus would be a “High Christology.” What kind of Christology Jesus had at the time is open to much debate amongst scholars. Some say Jesus wasn’t aware of his divinity until he rose from the dead—a low Christology. Others will say, he was very aware throughout his life—a high Christology.

Personally, I think he had a very high Christology based on his constant references to the future. But this is a hotly debated issue among theological scholars. As such, readers have their own thoughts about Jesus’s awareness of his divinity.

However, it doesn’t change the story.

If it is a low Christology, then he had to learn the life of the masses. He didn’t preach to the elite, and his twelve disciples weren’t professional clergy. His message was to the masses. So, what better way to learn than to be one of the everyday people of Judea by being a carpenter. In this way, he would learn what to say and how to reach people. In the first century, nine out of ten people lived at or below subsistence levels. There was no middle class. Most of Judea worked. Becoming familiar with their lives would have been a great asset to Jesus.

If it is a high Christology, then Jesus was fully aware of the subsistent life. As such, perhaps he worked to make himself identifiable—someone the people, other than those in his hometown, could trust.

One thing is clear: of the forty-five parables, thirty-five have a direct connection to everyday life and work. Either he developed knowledge while working as a carpenter, or he worked as a carpenter to become more identifiable. As a carpenter,

Jesus had experience that most would value and trust.

While much of the Gospels relate to Jesus’s teachings and healings, there are hidden clues for the curious as to what he did before the age of thirty. It was a period of preparation for the most remarkable life in human history. Jesus knew the everyday person and was with them. The word “Emmanuel” best describes this. Emmanuel means “God is with us.” Jesus, as a carpenter, was with the first century people and is still with us 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.

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heart for lebanon

Heart for Lebanon

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

2 Peter 1:2

On a recent Sunday in a refugee camp in Lebanon, 300 people of Muslim and Lebanese heritage showed up at a worship gathering (church), many saying they had never heard the story of Christ. These refugees were part of the 2 million people who have fled Syria and are now semi-permanent residents in refugee camps throughout Lebanon.

We all have read about war-torn Syria and the devasting impact of ISIS there. Many of its citizens have fled to other countries. After eight years of war, more than half of the pre-war population— eleven million people—have left their homeland. They are now nomadic people looking for a place to live. Many hoped that, by now, they could have returned to their native land, but after eight years, hope is abating that they can ever go home.

Time for change

In 2011, Lebanon adopted an open-border policy, and two million people flocked there. But things changed in 2014 as the amount of people fleeing to Lebanon grew. Their borders are now more tightly watched, and refugees now have to promise they won’t work and are required to pay for a six-month residency permit.

So here they sit, in tent communities, in the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon. Many have been there for all of the last eight years. There are few regulations controlling local practices. Many work without pay and the women are exposed to gender violence. The children are not allowed to go to local schools and after so long, many have fallen far behind.

There are no formal UN camps, and help only comes from the non-profits of other nations.

These are desperate people—three quarters live below the poverty line. Half live in substandard housing, and 75 percent do not have a legal residency. Women and children are the majority of those who reside in these camps. Husbands and fathers—the main protectors within the Syrian culture—have been lost to the war or have abandoned their families.

So why would 300 of them show up to a worship gathering, especially when you consider they are Muslim and, in their culture, Christians are not looked upon favorably? They came because of the wonderful work of an organization called Heart For Lebanon. Based in Asheville, North Carolina, Heart For Lebanon has set up a very sophisticated network of relief in Lebanon, paid for through the donations of many in our country.

Their Vision

Their vision states: “Driven by the compassionate heart for Jesus Christ, Heart for Lebanon exists to see lives changed and communities transformed.” They live this vision every day. They distribute mattresses, diapers, hygiene items, clothes, rugs, and food through their on-the-ground support network.

They also run a program called Hope On Wheels that provides a safe environment for children to play and learn, allowing them to just be children again. A majority of these children are orphans, and their only source of schooling is through this wonderful organization. They are trying to help these children lift themselves up out of poverty through education.

At the same time, Jesus is introduced to them through Bible studies and local chapels. Just attending a Christian church can be dangerous for them.

What is also remarkable about Heart For Lebanon, is that almost 90 percent of the money they raise goes directly to help the refugees. The remaining amount largely pays for the administrative efforts of organizing the relief and the cost to raise money. They have received a perfect four-star rating from a national charity evaluation firm.

There are many things we see and hear on the news about the refugees. They are desperate people and mostly the weakest of their society. These people aren’t marauding pilferers or criminals, they are just dads, moms, and children like those of us in America. They got caught up in a cruel game of power and lost their homes.

They all want to go home but can’t.

Thankfully, Americans are coming to their aid and trying to help, and donors are hearing the story of their plight and ignoring the image portrayed by some. They are giving of both their time and money.

Will, a friend of mine, told me about this organization, so I visited their facility in Asheville and came away impressed with the faithful commitment of the staff. They are sensible and humble people who believe in the mission of mercy that is requested of us by Christ. They blush when you say how wonderful they are. They are a connected team committed to the mission of service in the name of Christ. They aren’t looking for personal glory but for the glory of helping Christ tend the flock.

If you want to know more please visit https://heartforlebanon.org/

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

roman empire

The Apostle Paul: God’s Wandering Preacher (Part One)

I Can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13

Saul was lying on the side of the road. He had been blinded by a bright light and thrown from his horse. Lying on the ground, he heard a voice that said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul answered, “Who are you, Lord?” The voice answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what to do.” The others with Saul were speechless. They had also heard the voice but saw no one. This band had been on the way to Damascus to chase down those who belonged to “The Way.”

The Way

The Way was the original name of those who believed and followed the teachings of Jesus. It was the first century, and this event happened about ten years after Jesus had risen on Easter morning. They were a backwater sect of Judaism and were growing faster than the local religious leaders liked. Saul, a leading member of the Pharisee’s, was the main pursuer and sought them out to be arrested, or worse, stoned.

Saul was blinded by this event, but he did find his way to the city of Damascus, where he remained blind for three days. In Damascus, a man named Ananias received a vision from Jesus to cure Saul of his blindness. Jesus had told him in this vision to go to a street named Straight to find a man from Taurus named Saul. Jesus also told Ananias to lay his hands on Saul’s eyes to make his blindness go away.

Ananias knew about Saul and his mission to find and bind the members of The Way, and he questioned Jesus as to whether this was a safe thing to do. But Jesus said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”  Ananias obliged and went to Saul to cure his blindness.

Why had Jesus picked the great persecutor of The Way?

Because Jesus saw in Saul the great gifts he needed to spread the word of the Good News throughout the world. Saul was a strong biblical scholar and at a young age had risen up through the ranks to become a well-respected member of the Pharisees in the first century. Saul was a determined person; when he believed in something, he could eloquently state his positions. Saul was fearless and zealous in his activities. These were all traits that he would need for the rest of his life’s journeys.

Saul was also known as Paul.

Many think Jesus had him change his name to Paul. However, the real story behind his name is that Saul was his Jewish name and Paul was his Roman name. His father was a citizen of the Roman empire, and Saul translated to Latin is Paul. So, in some quarters he was called Saul, but later, as he traveled throughout the Roman empire, he was referred to as Paul.

Paul’s first steps into becoming the great preacher for Jesus were awfully clumsy. While in Damascus, he zealously preached the power of Jesus to any and all. But many in the local Jewish community became furious at Paul for what they viewed as blasphemy. He had to be saved from Damascus by being lowered in a basket at night over the city walls.

The Book of Acts

Much of Paul’s early conversion and preparation comes from the Book of Acts. But like most things in the Bible, you have to connect stories from other books. In this case, we have to make a detour to Galatians to fill in an important piece. Paul, who wrote Galatians, describes the period right after he left Damascus. Tradition says he went straight to Jerusalem which is mostly driven by the fact that in Acts this was his next step. But according to Paul’s own words in Galatians, he instead spent three years in Arabia alone.

For those three years, he stayed and meditated on his next steps. In verse 1:12 he says, “For I did not receive it from any person, nor was I taught, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” For three years, this man of zeal and a desire for action was alone in a desert contemplating his next path—to minister to the Gentiles and expand The Way outside of Judea.

He had to be saved once again

He left to go back to Jerusalem where he tried to get the members of The Way to like him, but there was a great deal of distrust. Barnabas, an influential member of The Way interceded and supported Paul. Reluctantly, they accepted him. However, Paul preached against the Hellenist and created more enemies. He had to be saved once again, and he left for his home town in Tarsus.

Like most Christians, particularly the new ones, he had to wait once again for God. In his waiting, events began to line up that would send him on three magnificent journeys that would change The Way into a world-wide belief of the value of the Gospel. And it would eventually change the name of a backwater sect in Judea to Christianity.

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.

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parables

Jesus and the Parables: What was Their Purpose?

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and he did not speak to them without a parable.

Matthew 13:34

When Jesus spoke to the crowds, or even to small groups, he would tell stories called parables. These stories were rich in vivid imagery to reinforce the listeners’ memories. In total, there are forty-five parables. Most are found in the first three books of the Gospel: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There is only one parable in John.

So why did Jesus use this vehicle to convey his message?

The primary reason was to create a lasting memory. Most communication in the first century was done orally. Scholars put the literacy rate in Judea at just three percent in the first century. Not because the average Judean was inferior in intellect, but because the format of language in the first century was far different than what exists today. Hebrew was written right to left, as opposed to today where almost all languages flow left to right. Secondly, Hebrew didn’t use vowels. The last and final impediment was that there was no spacing between words. So the sentence, “See Jane Run,” would be expressed as “NRNJS.”

The hurdle to become literate was much higher in the first century. Speakers of this generation would use vivid stories to convey their message, like Aesop’s fables. Likewise, Jesus used parables. Jesus knew that for the masses to receive his message, he had to use a vehicle that could be easily understood and, as importantly, retained.

Thus the use of parables.

Jesus also used everyday life in the parables to explain the messages of God. Jesus didn’t talk above the heads of the masses but instead spoke in ways by which they could identify. Thirty-five of these parables related to people’s occupation. For instance, in Matthew 9:16, Jesus says, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.” Jesus is making a point that his message is new and a matter of the heart, and that attaching it to the legalism of the Pharisees would not work.

Thus the comparison to cloth.

Certainly, the crowds would have understood that rough wool would not create a reliable patch. By connecting a common and understandable metaphor of sewing to the message of transitioning one’s faith from legalism to one coming from our hearts, Jesus made it accessible and relatable to the masses.

Consider perhaps the most famous parable—The Prodigal Son—found in Luke 15:11-32. We all know the story of the son who received his inheritance in advance and then wasted the money only to later return embarrassed and dejected. Fully expecting to be admonished and punished, his father instead throws a party to welcome him back. Jesus’s point in this story was to describe how God treats those who fall from faith and return.

A classmate describes her understanding of the story by saying, “I immediately felt welcomed and have come to realize that our Father’s love is perfectly described in the person of the father of the Prodigal Son. Not only was he ready to welcome me back, he was waiting for me, greeting me with unconditional love—not dismissing my absence, but celebrating my return, and fully embracing me, whether I deserved it or not!” Ditto for me.

What is the universal message and purpose of the Parables?

Thomas Rauch, in his book Who Is Jesus?, explains this as follows: “They challenge our customary way of seeing our world, draw us out of our complacency, force us to ask questions, to rethink our values.” They create imaginative thoughts from hearing or reading them. They aren’t long texts that require extensive time to be set aside to absorb and analyze them. They become visual by connecting our daily lives with short bursts of insight.

This was Jesus’s way of talking and speaking. He didn’t use long theological, polysyllabic words – He used common words and expressions. He didn’t come to convert the Pharisees, he came to speak to the masses. Jesus definitely was not an elitist.

He showed he cared about the people enough to speak their language, not to talk down to them. He was their shepherd and wanted them to know that he heard their voices.

Jesus knew that people want to be respected and not talked down to. He knew the way to their hearts was through their ears. No, Jesus wasn’t an elitist seeking power. He already had the power; he wanted to share the message.

This was God speaking to the people of God.

What is remarkable, is that the Parables still are that way for the twenty-first-century reader. Perhaps an interesting Bible study would be to read all forty-five in forty-five days. In this short amount of time, we will get the messages Jesus delivered in a year’s time in a little over a month.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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

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